As every crisis management expert will say, one of the key signals that you are no longer dealing with an incident, but something much more critical, is when perception becomes distorted from reality.
It is at that moment, of course, that effective communication becomes critical. Get it right and a crisis can be managed and one's reputation protected; get it wrong and it can spiral out of control with disastrous consequences.
Unfortunately, this can also be the moment when business leaders may feel most nervous and risk-averse, and consequently look to their legal counsel to help protect them.
For lawyers, emotional outpourings are anathema to their way of working. It's their job to uphold the rules, to focus on proportionality. But it's the job of the business leader to listen to different perspectives and make the right call for the business, taking those emotional considerations into account as much as legal factors. Let the legal tail wag the corporate dog and very quickly one can lose control of the agenda.
There are many things that will be learned from the handling of the oil spill crisis. Let's hope it doesn't become what Shell's Brent Spar incident has been since the mid-90s - a case study in how not to manage a crisis.
- Vicky Bacon, head of group communications, Future PLC.