What is a crisis?
A crisis is a significant threat to an organizations operations that could result in negative consequences if not handled properly. A crisis can create three related threats:
1) Public safety
2) Financial loss
3) Reputation loss
Crisis Management is a process designed to prevent or lessen the damage a crisis can inflict on an organization and its stakeholders.
Coombs 3-Stage Approach to Crisis Management
Crisis management can be divided into three phases:
2) Crisis response
The pre-crisis phase is concerned with prevention and preparation. The crisis response phase is when management must actually respond to a crisis. The post-crisis phase looks for ways to better prepare for the next crisis and fulfills commitments made during the crisis phase including follow-up information.
Pre-Crisis Phase: Prevent. Prepare. Plan.
Crisis Preparation Best Practices
1) Have a crisis management plan and update it annually.
2) Have a designated crisis management team that is properly trained.
3) Conduct exercises annually to test the crisis management plan and team.
4) Pre-draft select crisis management messages including content for dark web sites and template for crisis statements. Have the legal department review and pre-approve these messages.
Crisis Response Phase: The Crisis Response is what management does and says after the crisis hits. The Public Relations team plays a critical role in the crisis response by helping to develop the messages that are sent to various publics during and after a crisis.
1) The initial crisis response– The initial crisis response guidelines focus on three points:
1) Be quick
2) Be accurate
3) Be consistent
2) Reputation repair and behavioral intentions
A reputation is how stakeholders perceive an organization.
Coombs emphasizes that the public relations department should play more of a support role rather than being the actual crisis spokespersons. The public relations department should be instrumental in preparing the spokespersons to deliver a clear and consistent message. The focus during a crisis then should be on the key information to be delivered rather than how to handle the media.
*It should be noted that reputation repair can be used in the crisis response phase, post-crisis phase, or both. Not all crises need reputation repair efforts.
A third step to Initial Crisis Response: Crisis managers should express concern and sympathy for any victims of the crisis. (Victims are the people that are hurt or inconvenienced in some way by the crisis.) Expressions of concern may help to lessen reputational damage and to reduce financial losses.
A well informed employee is a safe employee. Coombs identifies research that suggests that well informed employees provide an additional channel of communication for reaching other stakeholders.
When the crisis results in serious injuries or deaths, crisis management must include stress and trauma counseling for employees and other victims. Ex: Airlines dispatch trauma teams following a plane crash to address the needs of employees, victims and their families.
Crisis Types by Attribution of Crisis Responsibility:
Victim Crises: Minimal Crisis Responsibility
Natural Disasters, Rumors, Workplace Violence, and Product Tampering/Malevolence. Accident Crises: Low Crisis Responsibility
Challenges, Technical Error Accidents, Technical Error Product Harm. Preventable Crises: Strong Crisis Responsibility
Human-error accidents, Human-error Product Harm, Organizational Misdeed.
Organization returns to business as usual. The crisis is no longer the focal point of management’s attention but still requires some attention. Reputation repair may be continued or initiated. Follow-up communication is required. Release updates on the recovery process, corrective actions, or investigations of the crisis. The amount of follow-up communication required depends on the amount of information promised during the crisis and the length of time it takes to complete the recovery process.
Post-Crisis Phase Best Practices
1) Deliver all information promised to stakeholders as soon as that information is known.
2) Keep stakeholders updated on the progression of recovery efforts including any corrective measures being taken and the progress of investigations.
3) Analyze the crisis management effort for lessons and integrate those lessons in to the organization’s crisis management system.
No organization is immune from a crisis, so it is imperative that all organizations must do their best to prepare for one.
Coombs, W. T. (1995). Choosing the right words: The development of guidelines
for the selection of the “appropriate” crisis response strategies. Management Communication Quarterly, 8, 447-476.
Coombs, W. T. (2004a). Impact of past crises on current crisis communications: Insights from situational crisis communication theory. Journal of Business Communication, 41, 265-289.
Coombs, W. T. (2006). Code red in the boardroom: Crisis management as organizational DNA. Westport, CN: Praeger.
Coombs, W. T. (2007a). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, Managing, and responding (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.
Coombs, W. T. (2007b). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10, 1-14.
Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2002). Helping crisis managers protect reputational assets: Initial tests of the situational crisis communication theory. Management Communication Quarterly, 16, 165-186.
Coombs, W. T. & Holladay, S. J. (2006). Halo or reputational capital: Reputation and crisis management. Journal of Communication Management, 10(2), 123-137.