Sunday, September 26, 2010

Role of Truth in Crisis Communications

Singapore.  (26 Sep 2010).

At a recent presentation to a group of executives on crisis communication, I was asked what role absolute truth played in crisis communication.  While the executive acknowledged the fact that in the modern information environment nothing can be hidden forever, he posed the question in the scenario that being less than truthful at the point of the incident may (a) "buy" time for public outrage to subside; or (b) allow some other incident to over-shadow it

Basing my response on my research findings (where being 100% Truthful was one of the 5 components of effective crisis communications), I replied as follows:

Being "less than truthful" at the point of incident is a technique of crisis communication.  In the case of the former (i.e. buying time time to allow public outrage to subside), I believe that it will only delay the outrage.  In addition, once stakeholders discover that they were lied to, the organisation would face an additional level of crisis.  In the case of the latter (i.e. hoping for some other crisis to over-shadow the incident), while this is entirely possible, it is unfortunately beyond the control of the organisation to ensure that something does happen.

I then reminded the executive that the objective of crisis communications is the protection (and where possible, the enhancement) of the company's brand value.  As such, the crisis communication approach adopted should be aligned to the organisation's strategic objectives and espoused values and brand.  Being less than truthful, or being out-right deceptive, will therefore do more harm than good when the truth is discovered.

In short, in a crisis, many executives may be tempted to adopt approaches that may be less painful in the short-term.  These approaches will however usually have more negative implications in the longer term.  PR Professionals and Crisis Communications Manager must thus ensure that the crisis communication approach adopted not only addresses the incident, but is also be aligned to the organisation's strategic values and branding.

In essence, think long term.  Not short term.

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