There is a tendency amongst CEO’s to treat crises as PR problems as opposed to business problems. As a result, they assemble the best PR talent they can get, to advise them how to write press releases, Q&A cheat sheets, how to handle radio, print and TV interviews, social media etc., Often times, executives also receive media training, coaching etc., and go through dress rehearsals to ensure they stick to the script and answer questions correctly. At times, the object, at least from some PR quarters, is to limit the shelf life of “the story” emanating from the crisis.
This approach has its merits, but it is misplaced and misses one vital point. The point is, it is not about coverage, number of mentions, the S-Curve, nor the amount of time that the story takes to move from one point in the S-Curve to another. It is also not about coming across weak or strong as a leader, apportioning blame nor about admission of guilt or culpability. It is about the business.
The point is, end users have placed trust in your business or brand and truly believe that they will derive value by possessing, consuming or using your product or service. This is demonstrated by their willingness to part with their hard earned cash, time, effort and associated opportunity costs. Equally, the public who bear negative externalities emanating from your production or distribution processes give your business or brand, the social license to trade, believing that the social value that they will derive will far outstrip the social costs they have to bear that your business or brand does not pay for.
Equally, governments and regulators, give your business or brand, the legal license to trade believing that your business or brand will complement their efforts to deliver social benefits, whether in terms of providing work, healthcare etc., that you will comply with the basic standards and have have risk management plans as well crisis management protocols to manage business failures and their impact, should they occur. Most importantly, everybody believes that your businesses or brand’s reason for being is to do good and not harm. Do not give them any reason to doubt.
Channel partners as well, help you take the product or service to end users, with the belief that your product or service, delivers end user and/or social surplus worth paying for in whatever way, and that by carrying your product or service, channel partners will also derive value for themselves and their shareholders. The same applies to providers of funds for your business.
Net, when a crisis breaks out or a business failure occurs, the first starting point is to protect the very same people who placed trust in you and who part with their cash to obtain your product or service. The second priority, is to ensure that those that are affected or are at risk of being affected are attended to quickly, especially if the business failure impacts on people’s health or mental well being. The third priority is to contain and stabilise the spread of the impact, not the story. The fourth priority is to recover from the crisis, both operationally and commercially.
Apart from this being the right thing to do from a purely “good corporate citizenship” point of view, this also makes good business sense. Firstly, you need your customers to be healthy so they can work, do business to earn wages or profits. Secondly, you do want them on a sick bed. This takes out of the market for however many purchase cycles. Thirdly, you do not want them to lose trust in your brand or even the category. Otherwise, business recovery will be a hard and steep curve.
The media, like many other social partners, should be viewed as partners to help you to protect, stabilise/contain and to help with the recovery process. Understand that the recovery process will also hinge on the psychological and behavioural recovery of end users and those around them.
Notes About the Author: Kheepe Lawrence Moremi
Seasoned strategy & market facing professional with strong business acumen, operating experience and entrepreneurial flair. Former founder board member of the Marketing Association of South Africa, former founder marketing director of Brand South Africa, executive lead of customer strategy at Deloitte Digital, Advisor to the Board Chair of Eskom, head of strategy, innovation and marketing at FNB (a division of First Rand Bank), marketing manager at Nedbank, brand manager at African Bank and Procter & Gamble.
Beta Gamma Sigma Lifetime member,
Executive MBA From Brown & IE Business School
Strategy & Innovation from Oxford