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Global Practices

Your Past Condemns You. Or Absolves You

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A version of this post was originally featured Meio&Mensagem.

No crisis management can thrive without an effective engagement program. No matter how well prepared a company is to deal with a crisis, the results can only really be satisfactory if the company has done its homework beforehand and dedicated itself to creating networks of relationships aligned with those who really have a stake: employees, clients, associations, consumers, neighbors, governments, press, influencers and a wide range of companies, institutions and people that form the relationship network of any brand.

On the other hand, when it comes to even the most basic aspects of crisis management, there is still a long way to go. Few companies in Brazil – yes, just a few – are concerned with a well-structured crisis prevention program. Despite working in the field for 30 years, I am still surprised, frightened even, by this situation. Such companies are medium and large-sized, domestic and global, and in most cases are concerned with the crisis with it is already under way or is just about to occur. When it comes to foreign companies, it is very common to receive a plan from headquarters that is shelved, or is filed away somewhere, without updating or adaptation to the local reality, and without any concern about translation.

Let’s consider the ideal situation: the company has prepared itself, conducted all the vulnerability surveys, developed a risk matrix, focused on communication, prepared a list of stakeholders, and has internal and external public positioning ready and pre-approved by all areas and the legal department. Additionally, the crisis manual has been prepared, the crisis committee established with its alternate members, and everything is in place and up to date. Even better, a crisis simulation was executed and such training is repeated every six months. All set. This company is prepared to face a crisis!  In theory, yes. But not necessarily.

Managing communications during a crisis situation for and with well-prepared companies is much easier and less stressful, yields better results, and achieves goals faster and more effectively. Working with a trained team, in which each member understands his or her role, recognizes the importance of deadlines, and respects communication as one of the most strategic tools in critical situations are the best ways to maneuver out of turbulent situations or for the impact to be minimized in the way we desire. It is always good to remember that a company is judged by public opinion not only for the crisis itself, but by the way it was prepared – or not – to face the crisis. If the brand was indeed well prepared, things get a bit easier.

Experience has shown me that this is a great truth. But this alone is not sufficient. There is no way to create relationships and achieve a minimum level of engagement or sympathy and empathy when in the midst of a crisis. What specialist, academic, consultant or even journalist will be willing to listen carefully to your version of the story – and even stand up for you if he does not even know who you are, has never before sat down with you, and does not know about your past?

In order to earn the license to be heard or, better yet, the license to make a mistake, a brand or company needs to constantly nurture its relationships. The manner in which a company acts, the purpose and values that guide its behavior, and the way it shares value with the society are the basis for building strong and real relationships – and helping to fortify its reputation when the crisis finally arrives. A brand with long-term links and connections is more resistant to the damage brought on by a crisis, is more able to emerge strengthened from a turbulent period, and can recover more swiftly

The communications maxim which states that ‘there are two types of companies – those that have already experienced a crisis and those that will experience one’ is increasingly true, especially in an era in which the time for reputation management is the real time.  Therefore, a company may be behind the curve in this process, but it is never too late to start reflecting on the topic.

Cristina Schachtitz leads Corporate Engagement, Edelman Significa.

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