We’ve all heard of human error. Because organisations are human-run entities they have the potential to make mistakes of varying scale from a temporary blip to major disaster and all colours of the spectrum in between. The results if not appropriately managed can damage the reputation and image of organisations and individuals connected with them.
A crisis, from a communications standpoint, is anything that requires assertive and immediate decision making; it can vary from intense media attention to an event that could put stakeholders in direct danger. Examples of events that had a direct effect on a company’s reputation include the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Toyota recall of several models and millions of individual units in the latter half of 2012.
In an ideal world communications practitioners should have contingency plans in place to help deal with any potential mishaps, identify what can go wrong and how to deal with it in an effective way. For instance, if there’s a factory fire this will attract not only the media, but also public attention and raise questions from stakeholders. In this situation, the most effective course of action is to streamline the communication process and keep all players informed in what’s happening on-site to the best of the abilities of the communications team.
An interesting case study is the troubled relationship between technology giant Apple and one of their major suppliers, Hon Hai Precision Industry Company; more commonly known as Foxconn, in China.
The ubiquitous presence of the Apple brand means it is constantly in the news and the media circus surrounding issues can be greatly amplified. Along with every new Apple product to-date and the potentially heavily lucrative profits each one can make for the organisation, there’s inevitably a spat of coverage about workers’ conditions in their suppliers’ factories in the Far East, particularly China.
Apple responded with a rigorous internal audit of their foreign supply network to ensure worker safety and started a partnership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) who did their own audit of several Foxconn factories. These extensive audits took place within the first two months of the NYT report being published.
Following extensive protests across China over the treatment of workers, particularly unpaid teenage interns, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook met with the Chinese Vice Premier in a visit that sent out a strong image of Apple’s commitment to fixing wrongdoings and announced following the visit that the California-based company will be investing more money into China.
Apple’s stock continued to rise during 2012 and became the most valuable company in the world, with stocks diminishing in the latter three months of the year due to disappointing reception to the release of the iPhone 5.
As this example shows, it is crucial for the communications team of any organisation to identify the most critical scenarios the company may face and develop a contingency plan to act as swiftly and as decisively as possible. It’s important to remember that the degree to which the public and stakeholders hold the organisation responsible is paramount in choosing either accommodative (like above) strategies or a defensive approach.
This blog post was written by Piers d’Orgée.
Montpellier PR’s team has wide experience of crisis management for a range of clients. Executives have dealt with issues from industrial relations, redundancy programmes and product recalls to public health issues, factory explosions and fatalities, Montpellier’s work for an international client involved in production and distribution of chemicals won a PRCA Award and a CIPR Gold Award for Crisis Management.
Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net