Crisis management should be about protecting corporate reputations, not
promoting PR skills, says Peter Sheldon Green
It is to be applauded that crisis management has become a part of
corporate agendas and that, in the main, the PR industry has been
recognised as a prime source of crisis management skills, but we should
remember that the aim of crisis management is to protect corporate
reputation and to limit damage -not to show off communications skills
for their own sake.
Enlightened management knows that action must be taken in a crisis, but
it doesn’t always know exactly what action. However, we, in the PR
business, have learned to apply a whole range of techniques aimed at
protecting reputations in crisis and herein lies a major danger. We have
become so good at leaping into action in a crisis strike that all too
often we become more concerned with what we can do, rather than with why
it should be done.
Crises are exciting times for PR people: budgets are invariably
generous, management is co-operative, the media is pushing you for copy
instead of the other way around, and you are right at the centre of the
action. It is not surprising that, at this time, one is inclined to take
every action that seems in any way appropriate.
Less admirably but, unfortunately true, is the fact that during a crisis
any consultant must be aware, at some level, that the more he or she
does, then the bigger the fees are likely to be.
So a combination of factors leads to an attitude which says ‘because it
can be done it should be done’, and never is this attitude stronger than
when ‘crisis experts’ are called in to deliver quick solutions to a
situation which has already reached crisis proportions.
Crisis management experts do their clients no favours if they operate
programmes which are tactically highly successful, but strategically
ill- conceived. Of course sometimes, high-profile, maximum-intensity
action is required, but not always.
A great number of crises are avoidable, provided proper reputation risk
management programmes have been put in place and run on a regular basis.
Even when the unavoidable crisis has occurred it does not follow that
the best strategy is one which involves heroic action on a grand scale.
Crisis management professionals know this, but far too many PR
practitioners carry well developed PR attitudes into crisis management -
attitudes which have been formed in an environment where gaining
coverage is a primary aim.
In many ways the very term ‘crisis management’ pinpoints the failings of
much of the PR industry’s approach to the whole subject. Crisis
management is simply the sharp end of a continuing programme which
should incorporate issue management, reputation risk management,
preparation and training for crisis.
If a significant part of the PR industry continues to peddle high-
profile, quick-fix solutions when crises occur; if some practitioners
continue to offer a service which is beyond their experience and
knowledge; if we fail to position reputation risk management as a
continuing and legitimate discipline rather than just another PR bolt-
on, then we will continue a long and sorry PR tradition - shooting
ourselves in the foot while grabbing for a quick buck.
Peter Sheldon Green is MD of Sheldon Communications and author of
‘Reputation Risk Management’