Getting Ahead of the Tsunami
Really enjoyed my interview with Investor’s Business Daily about what companies like BP, Goldman, Tylenol and Toyota have in common when it comes to addressing crisis communications. My take?
Deal With Public Fallout
By Adelia Cellini Linecker
It’s inevitable. Even the best companies have to learn to deal with a public crisis every now and then.
Take Toyota (TM), long revered for producing quality cars at reasonable prices. As news spread about mechanical problems with some of its models earlier this year, the carmaker struggled to minimize damage to its well-cultivated public image.
When it finally sent top brass to Congress to answer questions about safety issues, Toyota quickly regained its footing.
New York-based corporate communications expert Michael Maslansky, author of the new book “The Language of Trust,” says firms facing a public relations crisis must do more than they first think is necessary to protect their image.
• Act fast. ”Assume the worst and bring as many resources to bear as early as you can,” Maslansky told IBD. “Some companies try to slow-play the crisis — they react instead of being proactive — and that just adds to the problem.”
Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, zip news all over. A decade ago, a CEO had time to call a meeting and talk strategy for hours before publicly dealing with a crisis. Not anymore, says Robin Cohn, author of “The PR Crisis Bible.”
“Reporters can be on a company’s front steps before a CEO even knows there’s a problem,” she wrote. “A CEO has to be ready, fast.”
• Spend. Amid the BP (BP) oil spill off the Louisiana coast, Maslansky says the company has options.
“Companies often fail to spend against these kinds of problems upfront, and it always costs them more later,” he said. BP “needs to throw maximum resources and dollars at this problem; they made around $4 billion (in 2009′s fourth quarter). It is worth every penny to spend on fixing this mess.”
• Take responsibility. At first, BP tried to shift blame for the oil spill to Transocean (RIG), which owns the drilling platform that blew up. That strategy never works, Maslansky says, because the public gets to decide whose fault it is.
Now BP is focusing on plugging the leak. Maslansky said BP must become more visible: “They need to be on all the news shows and take all the big questions. All the resources they are putting into fixing the problem should bear its BP logo to show people they care.”
• Communicate. Tylenol isn’t new to the public crisis arena. The current recall of its children’s medicine will put it to the test again.