I blogged a couple of days ago about an interview with crisis manager Eric Dezenhall who is promoting his new book. Because of this blog I have been able to meet some incredibly talented and capable people involved in crisis management and communication around the world. One of those is Mark Harris who is a very experienced crisis manager and works for a London-based strategic communication firm College Hill.
Mark and I were carrying on an off-blog email conversation and he sent me these very thoughtful comments on the interview with Dezenhall I referenced earlier. Here they are reprinted in full:
Having read through the Eric Dezenhall piece, and also noted your comments, I have a few comments of my own which may add to the debate.
I do not believe the Tylenol case is a bad model for crisis management. It is a very dated model; a great deal has changed since Johnson & Johnson had to manage this issue. In addition, no “best practice” crisis management practitioner would hold this case study up as the “template” to all crises: each situation is different and will require a bespoke response.
With regards to Eric’s thoughts on crisis communications, “Traditional crisis communications is rarely up to the task”, I believe there is a great deal of truth in this. Unless a company or organisation responds to a crisis with a robust crisis management system then crisis communications will not be able to “fix” or “spin” the problem. In the short term you can paper over, or fill and paint cracks in a wall, however, to do the right thing in the long term, you have to find out why the cracks have occurred, fix that and then you can redecorate.
I believe Eric is wrong when he states “the truth is the public isn’t listening.” The public is not only listening and watching, it is commentating either through MSM or through citizen media. What you do and what you say will be noted and commented on.
I agree in part with some elements of Eric’s argument that PR isn’t the best discipline to combat a crisis and his discussions on who should be in the team. Fundamental to any management team responding to a crisis is that it is small, has authority, has stamina, can be objective and can take “knocks”. Lastly, the team must have experience, must be trained and should be supported by external experts where necessary, or where appropriate.
I find the comments on “apologies” quite simplistic and very obvious. No you should not always apologise, but, if you have done something wrong then when you do apologise, make sure you tell people what you are doing to fix things and what you are doing to attempt to ensure the same mistake will not be repeated. In this case Eric remarks favourably on Jet Blue’s apology with which I agree.
I do not agree with the concept that “belief in the plan really is the ultimate PR avoidance strategy; it really should not be like this and if this has been Eric’s experience then he has been dealing with some badly prepared companies. My experience to date has been that unless a company or organisation has a plan, has developed strategies, has a trained team, has rehearsed and tested the plan, then come the moment of the crisis they are paralysed. You need to have prepared for issues and crises to make sure you can perform and respond in a robust and timely manner. Not every company or organisation will have the “personality” who can leap into action and save the day.
London, Friday 13th April.