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The PR Practitioner's Desktop Guide Ajc

The PR Practitioner's Desktop Guide Ajc

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Published by Tao Huyen Trang

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Published by: Tao Huyen Trang on Dec 05, 2010
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08/21/2013

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Introduction

Definitions

Issues and crisis audit

Issues management

Crisis management

Evaluating issues and crisis management

Checklist

chapter ten

130

chapter ten

Introduction

Issues and crisis management

Corporate and financial public relations has been a great success.We –

and the media – are now interested in organisations,in the rises and falls,

the successes and failures,the good guys and the bad guys.Organisations

make news and the best news has some element of controversy or

conflict,tension and human interest,intrigue and cover up.Given that

corporate ethics and responsibility are now widely discussed organi-

sations need to get it right and behave themselves or there will be trouble

ahead.The media spotlight is on organisations,whatever the sector,

whatever the business.So the organisation that finds itself in difficulties,

commits real or perceived misdemeanours or causes harm to human life,

animal life or the environment is certain to make the headlines.

Some organisations call in the media team when the issue is about to

break or when the crisis has taken place.This is just too late.The defi-

nition of public relations talks about a planned and consistent

approach and this is just what issues and crisis management is all about

– preparation before the event and performance when it – whatever

itis – happens.No organisation can afford to ignore this planning.The

reputation which you have worked so hard to build and nurture should

be protected in the event of the unexpected.

You will need to be scrupulous about your preparation and interrogate

both the broad issues facing your sector or industry in general and then

the particular issues facing your organisation.

•What are the worst things that could happen as a result of your

corporate activities?

•How would your organisation respond?

When an issue breaks or a crisis occurs,do not ignore your own

responses which may include:

Physical effects – raised heart rate,sickness,the shakes,fight and

flight

Psychological effects – anxiety,fear,anger,guilt,sadness,paralysis

You will be under particular stress – issues and crisis management is

a 24/7 job and you’ll need to be ready for every eventuality.Good

planning for issues and crisis management will help you take action

even if you feel paralysed by the events which may overtake you.

If your organisation faces an issue or crisis,friends may desert you if

you fail to communicate properly as they may feel they will be

embroiled in your problems.Foes may use the opportunity to gain a

competitive advantage or even put the boot in.They will give their

version of the story if you don’t talk to the media and you can be certain

they won’t do you any favours.Don’t go underground and never,ever

say ‘no comment’.You are abdicating your corporate responsibility.

Organisations facing an issue or crisis tend to behave in one of two

ways – they either take a negative approach (we have something we

must minimise/ignore/cover up because it will threaten our reputation

– let’s say nothing) or they see the positive side (we must face up to

this and be proactive as this will help to rebuild/enhance our reputa-

tion – let’s tell people what’s happened and what we are doing).

You need the buy-in of your top management in issue and crisis

planning.When the going gets tough and corporate reputation is at

stake,the senior team will need to get involved and lead by example,

demonstrating that they are taking this seriously.The reputation of the

organisation is ultimately their responsibility.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you think now so that you can

act positively when you need to.We will look at the preparatory stages

necessary for good issues and crisis management and then the main

practical issues and the immediate action that is needed.The good news

is that it is all common sense,tempered with a liberal dose of pragma-

tism and humility and a strong willingness and ability to communicate.

131

chapter ten

Issues and crisis management

132

Is it an issue – or is it a crisis?

Dictionary definitions imply an issue is less dramatic than a crisis – the

difference is rather like that between a chronic illness – which goes on

for a long time – and an acute condition – with a rapid onset and

potentially equally rapid conclusion.

issue– a topic of interest or discussion – an important subject

requiring a decision – (legal) the matter remaining in dispute between

the parties to an action after pleading’

crisis– a crucial event or turning point – an unstable period especially

one of extreme trouble or danger – a sudden change in the course

of a disease’

Many public relations practitioners have offered other definitions:

issue– unexpected bad publicity’

crisis– an issue in a hurry’

crisis– a serious incident which has or will affect human safety, or is

threatening to life and/or health and/or the environment’

The newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst said that ‘news is

whatever someone, somewhere does not want published’.

The fact is that a major issue can be at least as damaging to an

organisation as a crisis. If we ignore this fact we ignore a great truth –

that the professional and effective daily handling of an issue,

sometimes over months and years, is as critical as the immediate

handling of a dramatic incident.

I would offer the following definition which attempts to capture the

close relationship between an issue and a crisis for the public relations

practitioner:

‘A sudden incident or a long-term problem – possibly triggered by a

sudden incident – which could damage an organisation’s reputation,

affect its share price and impact upon the way it is able to conduct

itself in the future.’

chapter ten

Definitions

Issues and crisis management

The first step is a thorough audit of the organisation’s interests and

activities to flush out risk areas and vulnerabilities.You can call in

specialist risk managers to help with this process if your organisation

is particularly large or complex.Risk managers seem to be particularly

good at defining the potential financial impact that loss of reputation

might have on your organisation or brand – and this seems to help

focus corporate minds on the subject!

Some organisations have an ethics panel or ethical review process.This

may be a good forum to tap and a fertile place to harvest ideas about

issues your organisation may be facing.

Use the following list of questions to get you started – and brainstorm

others.You must be completely honest – it’s usually the issue that has

been swept under the carpet that proves to be the most problematic.

What are the main industry/sector issues? (e.g. health and safety,

‘excessive’ profitability, exploitation etc.)

Are there any legislative issues which could have an impact on our

ability to conduct our affairs? (e.g. tax measures, employment law etc.)

Are there any global issues which could have an impact on the way we

conduct our affairs? (e.g. commodity prices, war zones, sanctions etc.)

Is there any area of our operations which could give campaigners

cause for concern on any level? Is our industry, sector or organisation

being targeted by pressure groups? (e.g. ethical, environmental,

human rights, animal rights, religious groups etc.)

Are there any issues relating to the integrity or good character of our

management team/staff/consultants/suppliers/past employees?

Are there any issues regarding our premises or sites? (e.g. health and

safety, security, upkeep, locality etc.)

Are there any issues regarding the quality of our

work/products/services? (e.g. repeat customer complaints, product

failure, withdrawal etc.)

Have we ever had an issue in this organisation in the past? How did

we handle it? Has the problem been resolved? Could it recur?

133

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