Corporate Crisis Management

While every entity is unique and there are many different ways in which experts exercise what is known as ‘damage control’ there are a few fundamentals which I hope to share with you today.

Simply put, damage control is reactionary. It is in most cases, dealing with a crisis after it has taken place. Note that I stated in most cases. This is because some decisions and topics are so sensitive that even what may be the best business decision can have some negative feedback. It’s according to the adage, “You can please some people all the time, but...” You know the rest, so here we go…

Let’s deal with the last scenario first and deal with before the perceived damage has occurred. It is important to determine the main stakeholders in your business or interest at the moment. Your
partners, customers, employees, directors, contractors and those persons who directly impact your business are the most important ones in a crisis. In the event that something goes awry, these are the people who must know as soon as possible. Therefore, a list of stakeholders, along with contact information and the best possible mode of reaching them should be kept on file in case of a crisis. This is because when things go topsy-turvy, you don’t want to spend valuable time and resources trying to find important contact information.

The next step would be to communicate to the relevant audience what has occurred and immediate steps being taken to deal with the matter. For example, if external customers have been impacted in some way, they would be the persons with whom direct contact must be made.  We see it in many circumstances today. For example, a car dealership may have had reported issues with airbags. A message is usually posted on its website, in the press and even via email to the customers who would be affected.  That is a very simple example of damage control.  An apology must also ensue, especially if the fault is at your company or product. I remember reading one of Sir Richard Branson’s books (forgive me, as I cannot recall its title) where a Virgin train was derailed in 2007. The essence of what he stated was that he immediately found himself en route to the scene of the accident. When he arrived, the level of empathy was so deep, it was noticed by what could be a very unforgiving press. He publicly apologised for the loss of life and showed empathy. Note the sincerity in the apology – empathy.  This can be contrasted with the 2010 BP oil spill disaster. Then CEO, Tony Hayward, in taking guidance from the crisis management experts was doing a great job until he went off script and innocently stated, “I want my life back.” Well, that was compounded damage for BP!

This has brought us to the next tip: unless you’re Obama or Sir Richard, stay on script! Take the advice of the damage control experts around you and never venture off the preparation which they have handed to you.

Finally, I don’t have to explain this one: action. Follow up with action. These are the three tips on
damage control for now. Hopefully, you never have to use them!

Lots of love & good vibes, Veoma Ali

Veoma Ali is an Advertising Executive, with a Ph.D in Communications and a Masters in Business Administration.