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Some crises demand tangible actions, not rhetoric press statements

by kenya-tribune

Crisis management remains one of the most complex task to deal with in many organisations, as it is with individuals in normal daily lives.

This is because crises are often very uncertain in nature, which trigger all manner of emotions like panic, anger, fear and paranoia from the expected damage of the issue at hand.

However, how well a company or a brand navigates through these uncertain ugly situations, especially communicating to its publics, determines if the storm will calm down or things will worsen both in the short term and in the long term. 

No matter how small or big a situation is, it is good to keep in mind that the key target audiences are the one who determines how a narrative kicks off and whether or not it goes south.

The latter is especially when the crisis involves victims (stakeholders related to the organisation) of any form of abuse, be it physical, emotional or psychological or other situations that tend to capture the emotions of the public and spur up conversations particularly in this digital era. 

I would like to cite a recent BBC report that exposed sad allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in local tea firms owned by two British Firms for decades.

The report found that more than 70 women, who worked in these firms, had experienced sexual abuse in the hands of their managers some of whom narrated their disturbing ordeals. 

One thing that comes to mind after watching the expose is nothing other than justice for these women. At all cost.

From a communications point of view, without going into details, my attention was drawn to how one of the firms responded.

They took control of the narrative by first acknowledging the issue as per the video clips evidence, then expressing empathy for the victims, and primarily, taking tangible and immediate actions on the alleged mentioned culprits.

The last thing stated was elaborating company values that go against these kind of heinous acts and so on and so forth. In this case, there was no time for mucky statements considering the sensitivity of the matter, which might take long to resolve. Clear actions needed to be stated.

It is human nature that when our image is threatened in any way, we tend to jump into knee jerk reactions as far as our emotions can go.

However, whether the allegations are true or false, it is our responsibility to be keen on every crisis and how we handle it becomes the real litmus test for our values as an organisation.

Due to panic, most organization focus on quick reactions with their brand in mind, instead of well thought out responses.

Some will tend to shoot the messenger and try to distance from the issue or manage the public narrative through rushed hollow statements or far worse, try countering the issue with uncanny facts’ that raise even more swirling fog. 

A public relations crisis can be scary no matter how long you have been in the game or how lit and prepared your crisis communications team is.

As we all know, some of the worst communications decisions are made during these ‘all hands to the pumps’ moments, when managers, the staff or your PR agency have to make one big decision after another.

However, if handled correctly a crisis can actually display your company’s integrity.  

Above all, try and stick to the crisis communications principles; act first then communicate second, communicate with empathy, tell the truth and tell it often and if not sure how to immediately handle a crisis, speak your values. Also, silence and observation, can be an action too. 

Wahito Margaret is a writer and communications consultant. 

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