Crisis Communications and the Effect on Brand Reputation
Roughly, each day, organizations, government corporations and people come across situations they consider as crises. However, a large number of these incidences are mere routine annoyances; they do not meet the criteria of crises. More appropriately, such situations can be perceived as inevitable challenges or problems that are normal to any person or organization. However, an actual crisis is a rare experience. Nevertheless, crises do arise frequently to organizations, government institutions and individuals.
During crises times, unlike mere problem or incidence, concerns will flow from different circles with interested parties making calls that seek to understand what is taking place within an organization. In some cases, crises also threaten the actual existence of those affected. Unlike the day to day incidences and occurrences with insignificant effects on an organization, crises often have irreversible impact as such, it is important that the best mechanisms be employed to respond to the challenges. Crises can also have a negative impact on an organization causing members to be uncomfortable thus leading to decreased productivity (Griese, 2002).
In all manner of crises from societal crises like accidents, civil disorders and crimes to common business crises like negative coverage by media, litigation and customer boycotts, crisis communication plays an important role in addressing problems that cannot be underrated. Griese (2002) observed communication during and after a crises is important especially in relation to reputation restoration within an organization. The approach government organizations and corporations employ in communication during such incidences is of great importance as the kind of information they pass.
Communication with the public is of great importance during a crisis to maintain the reputation of a band. In modern days, the opinion the public has about the brand is not influenced by what one says but how they say it. Apologies and/or information is received and accepted today by the public in social media differently when compared to past traditional communication strategies.
Communication during Crisis
According to Timothy Coombs, crises act as a threat a company’s reputation. During such incidences, both product and organization brand/reputation is vulnerable to damage. Crisis affects how clients and stakeholders interact with the company. Coombs and Holladay in their works of 2005 made the observation that post-crisis communication plays an important role in repairing prevalent reputation damage. The field of crisis communication also has several case studies that attempt to explain how response strategies either lead to destruction or repair of corporations or organizations.
Coombs (2007) argued crisis management calls for “evidence-based crisis communication guidance” (p.163). Evidence that s based on guidance is supposed to be supported with scientific evidence, which should employ empirical research opposed to individualistic preferences as well as intuitive experiences. SCCT (The Situational Crisis Communication Theory) facilitates creation of frameworks that are based on facts, as such, seeking optimization to safeguard the brand or reputation as it is provided for in after-crisis communication.
While attempting to explain how an organization is able to restore normalcy in its brand, Fearn-Banks (2010) identifies a couple of steps that aid in serving to enhance communication after a crisis. The first step is upholding crisis communication whenever an organization is undergoing a crisis. At no point stop enlightening stakeholders on what is taking place within an organization or what is expected from them. The second step is development of a service or product that has the capability of promoting the brand, making sure communication plays a significant role in updating stakeholders and the consumers. While rebranding might serve as the ideal strategy for arising crises, leadership is supposed to be careful when it comes to the communication technique used in publicizing a new brand since it is at transitional stage that most organizations crash.
Fearn-Banks although argues that the third step which is reexamination of social commitments like corporate responsibility has too little to do with crisis communication, communication between and amongst stakeholders determines how successes an organization is in terms of responding to such issues. An organization in hopes of promoting its brand after crisis is supposed to use crisis communication skills in order to enlighten the society of the intentions it has in relation to activities of public relation before their position is communication from other quarters that are unreliable. The last step involves making a public announcement to the public on enhanced productivity and performance as well as revival from the crisis. Such approach is aimed at calling clients back and other stakeholders who might have lost their confidence in the said organization (Fearn-Banks, 2010).
During the Yuhan-Kimberly crises in 2005, the company’s salvation was the result of appropriate and speedy crisis communication mechanisms. The company’s management kep communication going with explanations that were timely regarding what was taking place within the organization and how it planned to overcome the difficulties. The recovery of the company’s market share was facilitated within the shortest time by communication. By 2005, February, the ‘wet wipes market share recorded 50%… and dropped to 21% two months later; however, it recovered after that and recorded 30% in June and 40% in October’ (Fearn-Banks, 2010,p.242). The observation made by the author was that 2008 annual market share was over 46%. General evaluation posited Yuhan-Kimberly’s communication program during the period of the crisis received high level of trust from spectators and stakeholders due to the concerns it expressed regarding consumers.
Though the reputation of the company was in part damaged as a result of the crisis, consumer confidence was recovered within a short duration. The unswerving and prompt response synonymous with crisis communication and reputation building program an organization employs plays a major role in quick recovery. Though the longstanding reputation of the company contributed to its recovery, this might not have been achieved without use of communication approach. Between 2004 and 2006, the company slipped from position four to six within Korea’s Management Association’s Most Respected Companies list. However, the focus of the company on image rebuilding through sharing its strategies and experiences wisely with the public to overcome crisis, the company was able to recover to the fourth position by 2006 and in 2008, it advanced to third position, a position that it maintained in the 2009 listing (Fearn-Banks, 2010).
When the crisis began in the company, the management acted swiftly by appointing its representative from whose office all the relevant communication with spectators and external stakeholders were carried out. The representative has the duty of understanding and knowing the progress of the company to overcome the crisis and followed selective communication of information to the public. He used different kinds of media including radio, magazines, newspapers, social media and telephones to promote the company while also responding to public concerns. He created great confidence among people regarding the products of the company and helped customers to see indestructibility of the company. Fearn-Banks (2010) observed that at the time of crisis, a company adopts some novel crisis prevention measures that also communicate to stakeholders thus helping a company become better and prepared to better deal with similar future crises. The prompt communication and action during crisis facilitates minimization of negative opinion that can cause long term effects on an organization.
Efficient Crises Communication
While attempting to understand the effectiveness of communication during crisis, Valackiene (2010) posited primary steps in effective communication in times of crisis are not multifaceted, though they call for work to be carried out in advance to reduce the extent of possible damage that emanates from the crisis and also redeems the institutions or organizations reputation.
Bernstein (2004) in his works on communication crisis implemented ten steps relevant in crisis communications. He posited the first 7 steps should be taken prior to emergence of any kind of crises. The first step is selection of crisis communication team which should ideally be led by a CEO and other executives at the top in an organization. Identification of representatives is the second step in which the potential of a person is determined from their previous performance. Step three encompassed spokesman training so that they can be equipped on how they will redeem the reputation and brand of the organization after and during crises. The fourth is establishing notification systems through which internal and external stakeholders interact. Identification of stakeholders both external and internal as well as disaster anticipation are the 6th and 5th steps respectively. Step seven is preparation for what will be said and the representative is supposed to develop some holding statements though full statements must wait till the outbreak of the crisis (Bernstein, 2014). These 7 steps are supposed to be ready before the crisis emerges since it might prove too late to prepare for all the steps once the crisis begins.
During the eight step, an individual should evaluate the crisis situation and in the 9th step, they should identify key messages they intend to share with stakeholders and the public. In the 9th step, focus should be addressing the crisis while at the same time seeking to promote the brand or organization. The last step is referred to as ‘riding out the storm’, and involves looking objectively at stakeholders reactions and responding accordingly without risking the reputation of the company (Bernstein, 2004). Valackiene (2010) argues that the final step demands keen observation of the trends: “Decide if another communication to those stakeholders is likely to change their impression for the better. Decide if another communication to those stakeholders could make the situation worse” (Valackiene, 2010, p. 104).
Tylenol Poisoning Case
The Tylenol poisoning case of 1982 provides the ideal crisis communication case. Tylenol capsules became impure after contamination with cyanide leading to the deaths of 7 people. The market share of the company dropped drastically from thirty seven percent to a mere seven percent. The crisis communication involved saving both lives and the reputation of the company. Some immediate actions involved putting a stop to all adverts as well as recalling over 31 million Tylenol bottle throughout the country. A team was also formed with the role of looking into consumer concerns while saving Tylenol. The team was responsible for holding press conferences and making live satellite feed in the attempt of responding to the situation.
The crisis communication approach the company used involved assuming responsibility for the crisis as well as giving assurance to the public regarding safety by recalling all capsules. Reintroduction of Tylenol was followed by discounted prices, unique and new ads as well as triple seal aimed at resisting all kinds of tempering and media presentations thus making sure the product was more renowned (prbookgroup, 2009).
How to Communicate
There were varied questions asked from different quarters during the crisis. Stakeholders in the organization wanted to know what was taking place, what triggered it and the implications as well as the kind of solution there was. Internal members of the organization like the management and employees wanted to know their fate while the government was concerned about the people, the revenues as well as implications of the crisis; the desire of external observers was to know if there was hope for the organization due to the crisis. This implies during a crisis, majority of people are interested in knowing what happens for either shared or personal interests. Beckwith noted at this juncture, crisis communication is extremely important as it determines whether the reputation of the brand or the organization is jeopardized or not. The representative is supposed to be careful regarding what they say and how they say it carries a lot of weight (Beckwith, 2006).
Beckwith (2006) also made the observation times of crisis are not easy. When something bad happens and the stakeholders of the organization are not happy with it, whatever that might be, one is supposed to face reality and approach the situation head on. One way of facing the problem is by confronting the fears one has, speaking about the issues to interested parties as well as answering any relevant questions before the crisis is leaked out through wrong media. The author argues that:
“What you say is important, but so is how you say it…. Your face should reflect the gravity of the situation. If you’re tired because of the strain caused by the crisis, it’s okay to show that: At the same time, you want to appear strong and confident so you inspire faith in your organization as well as your words” (Beckwith, 2006, p. 142).
The author felt majority of situations can benefit from compassion and confidence attitudes: The compassion is supposed to be in respect of victims and opposite views while confidence should be related to doing the appropriate thing regardless of the crisis extent.
The endeavor of maintaining organizational credibility is one f the strategies for crisis communication and brand of the product is to “share what you know when you know it” (Beckwith, 2006, p.143). When an individual is faced with hostile situation with protestors, advocates and victims , emphasizing with them is important. One is supposed to put themselves in their show in order to understand their pain, argument, feelings and predicaments regarding the entire scenario. It is by understanding their perspectives and opinion that one is able to address such interests and concerns. Failure to address what is wrong therefore can leave them more confused and concerned. “When your organization is being painted as the bad guy—whether rightly or wrongly—you are automatically in the worst position: You are guilty until proven innocent” (Beckwith, 2006, p. 143). In such a position, one is supposed to use all non-verbal and verbal clues to show empathy and at the same time, pass the point home. The point one intend to pass is supposed to emanate from strategies set for addressing the crisis. Initially, before information was gathered about the issue, one was supposed to indicate they were aware of the situation and disturbed by it thus they are investigating it and are interested in sharing what they find once they uncover it.
With the current technological advancement, one is supposed to be careful in order to ensure they have control over the information shared. Failing in addressing issues and keeping those interested in the dark often triggers presumptions and rumors which can easily be shared via social media and which affect the reputation of the organization. Regardless of the nature of crisis, communication plays a crucial role in damage control, lack of distorting messages and accuracy aid in crises communication and they preserve or redeem the reputation of the brand in question. If for instance wrong information leaks through social media, it spreads to millions of people within an hour as such, communication experts in an organization are supposed to do their best in order to control information leaving the company in such occasions. One can use media like blogs, twitter, Facebook, radio, internet and television in sending the appropriate message to stakeholders in order to counter possible negative implications of information distorted (Beckwith, 2006).
It is also of great importance for management to make sure there is no internal information leakage. The objective can easily be realized through emphasizing to all staff members that information regarding crisis is serious as such, sharing the same with friends is not secure since the information can leak to the press and lead to downfall of the company or brand (Beckwith, 2006).
While crisis are not common, they do occur once in a while in government corporations, organizations as well as individuals. The major challenge during crises is brand reputation which can be greatly jeopardized. Once an organization fail to address the issue in time, especially through communicating with stakeholders, the damage caused by such an occurrence is irreversible and at times, it leads to downfall of the organization. As such, crisis communication is crucial in such instances as it relates to having an understanding of what one will say, when they say and more importantly, how they will say it. A communication team that is led by management of the corporation or organization and with representatives who are talented is supposed to assume the responsibility of keeping the public well informed, showing concern and empathy while at the same time safeguarding the organizational image as well as brand reputation.
Beckwith, S. (2006). Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions. Washington D.C: Kaplan Publishing.
Bernstein, J. (2004). The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications. Crisis Response, prevention, planning and, Training, 106. Retrieved from http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/docs/ the _10_ steps_ of_crisis_communications
Coombs, W., & Holladay, S. (2005). ‘Exploratory study of stakeholder emotions: Affect and crisis,’ in N.M. Ashkanasy, W.J. Zerbe and C.E.J. Hartel (eds.), Research on Emotion in Organizations: Volume 1: The Effect of Affect in Organizational Settings. New York: Elsevier, pp. 271 – 288.
Fearn-Banks, K. (2010). Crisis Communications: A Casebook Approach. London: Routledge.
Griese, N. (2002). How to Manage Organizational Communication during Crisis. New York, NY: Anvil Publishers, Inc.
Prbookgroup. (2009).Crisis communication: Case Study: Tylenol Poisonings. Retrieved from http://crisiscomm.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/case-study-tylenol-poisonings/
Turney, M. (2004). Six Steps to Preparing a Rudimentary Crisis Communication Plan, 29.
Valackiene, A. (2010). Efficient Corporate Communication: Decisions in Crisis Management. Inzinerine Ekonomika-Engineering Economics, 21(1), pp. 99‐110.