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Communicating More, Communicating Better. The Best Response In The Face Of A Crisis

Communication is an intangible asset that ends up becoming a measurable factor in every corporation’s statement of results.

Andrea Secaira
2016-09-06

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Andrea Secaira (KREAB Ecuador),
MSc in Political and Corporate Communications

Communication is an intangible asset that ends up becoming a measurable factor in every corporation’s statement of results.

A company’s reputation can crash in a matter of seconds due to rumours, information breaches, or downright mistakes that will spread on social networking sites like wildfire, and may even be broadcast as headlines on the media. Although it may seem contradictory, this can be an opportunity where communication must be the main player in an uncertain scenario. Take, for instance, the case of Volkswagen (VW), who in 2015 suffered one of the worst crisis in its entire history. Last September, it was discovered that for years, this mega-corporation had been manipulating the test for contamination emissions in several of its automobile models.

As well as the huge economic losses, the company had to face the consequences of betraying their customers when it was proven that the products were more harmful to the environment than was previously thought. The reputation of these great German car manufacturers was severely deteriorated. In a matter of hours, it translated into losses of USD 15,6 billion upon the opening of the stock market in the aftermath of the scandal.

The news was quickly spread worldwide: it even got its own hashtag #dieselgate. Faced with this catastrophe, the delegated VW spokesperson publicly admitted that the company had perpetrated one of the largest scams in the history of the automobile industry. After apologising, he called 11 million vehicles back for revision. This process is expected to last until the present year. The company then designated a new spokesman to be in charge of communicating in a transparent way in order to reach all audiences on different channels (traditional and digital).

According to the newspaper El país, in an article published on October 15th, Volkswagen presented a crisis management plan on which some redeeming actions were proposed as a means of favouring the clients’ interests and recuperating their confidence.

This transformation becomes clearly manifest when there is an awareness that the world has changed, and a part of that is that corporations in a globalised world must adapt themselves to new realities where an adequate communication strategy along with technology can, indeed, result in palpable benefits and economic returns for the corporation.

In the case of Volkswagen, their strategic communication planning in the face of a major crisis, allowed them to avoid potentially worse scenarios, and even contributed to the public regaining its trust in the trademark. According to data obtained from the aforementioned article in El país, VW is steadfast maintaining the first place in sales and on the rise by 6,1% with respect to last year.

IN THE FACE OF A CRISIS, WHAT IS THE BEST REACTION FROM A COMMUNICATION POINT OF VIEW?
According to the World Bank, in Ecuador at least 43% of the population have access to the internet. This means that information reaches us even faster than in the past.

Presently, corporations are constantly looking for recognition about the work they do, however, they do very little or nothing to take care of certain aspects that contribute notoriously to their reputation during a crisis.

Seen from a communicational point of view, in the country there is a minimum percentage of companies who consider the opportunity provided by ICT in terms of added value. This is even more pronounced in the event of uncertain scenarios. In this same context, the number of corporations relying on a crisis manual in order to manage given situations as part of their inherent structure is very limited. The same can be said about their willingness to seek help from a specialised consulting firm.

1. How to begin?
One basic norm is to keep calm so as not to create reason for alarm in your audiences, and not to give the wrong perception. Another crucial thing is to be quick on your feet when reacting to these events.

2. Reconnaissance
The next step is to be clear about what would be considered a crisis at the corporate or institutional level; this will help in defining the issue at hand and identifying what exactly could potentially be affected.

Recognising the degree of mediatic impact that the situation has generated will allow for the definition of strategies and lines of action to be applied for each stakeholder and scenario. At this point, like they did in VW, it is necessary to designate a spokesperson who will be in charge of issuing transparent information to the public through different communication channels.

The spokesperson will be the corporation’s most visible person before the media; depending on the case, he or she will communicate the current state of affairs.

Stakeholders are a fundamental pillar of any company and/or institution. They have contributed to the growth of the company, and have helped it to build its credibility and confidence, therefore the crisis management team must define specific strategies applicable to each one of its interested parties: employees, clients, stock holders, distributors, community, media and social networks.

3. The need for communication is inherent to any crisis
It is necessary to know the situation and the actions that the corporation is performing in order to resolve the crisis through different communication channels.

Finally, a strategy must be drafted for the following-up of and evaluation of how the crisis was handled.

The importance of adequate communication in a crisis scenario can help corporations not only to survive tough times, but also to take advantage of opportunities that can arise from the situation. A communications director must have be able to perform holistic analyses and think critically. The key is to be efficient and not lose track of any detail that could be create a crisis and affect the corporations’ other areas.

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