Recently, we sat down with Peter White, our crisis communications and consulting expert to have a discussion on the topic of crisis communication. In this chat, we spoke about the different types of crises that companies might face and recommended strategies on how to best handle them. We have analysed this discussion in the article below, keep reading!
What are the different types of potential crises that a company can face that might damage its reputation in the long term?
Looking at the bigger picture, Peter reports on 3 main types of crises.
First, there is ‘behaviour’. A main one rising with a bullet these days is sexual harassment and problems of a sexual nature within a company. The issue of workplace bullying, however defined, is another with an apparently rapid upward trajectory.
Second, there is ‘misreporting and financial malfeasance’ within a company. A subscription to the Australian Financial Review is all that’s needed to watch this topic repeatedly play out.
Third, there are environmental issues. Of course, ESG has rapidly become integrated into businesses of all levels, but environmental negligence and disasters continue to abound and they generally have a very long tail. Witness the 2015 Dam collapse at the Samarco mine in Brazil involving BHP and its partner Vale. The firms lost an appeal to a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit in mid-2022 and the quantum and pace of reparations is an ongoing issue.
What strategies would you recommend for a company’s management to take on board to mitigate any PR crisis?
“The first strategy is to have a strategy”
There are three classic rules for dealing with crises. Firstly, you must tell the truth; you must be open, and you must be transparent. History has shown the many attempts by companies to cover up and lie about things that have happened, but a major recommendation is to always tell the truth and to tell it quickly.
The second recommendation is that the crises need to be handled by the number one person in the business, the CEO must take ownership, be accountable for the actions of the business and prosecute the responses themself. This will show that the company is taking the issue seriously and doing everything they can to stay on top of it.
Lastly, the speed of the CEO of the business getting involved must be instant, and they must be on deck straight away. Letting things fester won’t help, it’s important that you recognise you’ve got a problem and deal with it quickly from the top.
Overall, credibility is so important in these crises. You could have the worst crises, but if you are credible and if you have contrition, and deal with the issue with openness and honesty, it will be a better overall experience. Remember, everybody is human, and everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how you deal with it that is important.
Who in the past comes to mind has handled a crisis exceptionally well?
“In the last 18 months to two years, there’s one person who stands out to me in the business field. And that’s Matt Comyn, the CEO of the CBA,” says Peter White. “When I see Matt Comyn on TV, I believe him, and I respect him. And that’s what you want”
Peter chose Matt due to his ability to be open and transparent and the fact that he is able to communicate in a manner that reinforces his mastery of the subject, his earnest determination to solve the problem and his empathy with those negatively affected by the issue at hand.
In terms of prosecuting an argument, Peter looked to politics and nominates Penny Wong as someone to use as a template in terms of style and content. He notes her ability to prosecute an argument without emotion is remarkable.
Overall, handling a crisis well involves combining the skills of advocacy with an ability to demonstrate/communicate honesty and empathy and a determination to fix the problem.
To find out more information about handling PR crises, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.