PRSummit: Corporate Communicators Must Fight Urge To 'Go Dark' After Crisis
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PRSummit: Corporate Communicators Must Fight Urge To 'Go Dark' After Crisis

Communicators were today urged to fight the instinct to “go quiet” after a corporate crisis.

Arun Sudhaman

MIAMI: Communicators were today urged to fight the instinct to “go quiet” after a corporate crisis, if they hope to fully recover from the damage inflicted on their brand reputation.

The comments were made during the Global PR Summit 2013, at a panel led by Citizen Relations CEO Daryl McCullough and featuring Aflac's Laura Kane, Carnival's Roger Frizzell and P&G's Paul Fox.

Each of the companies on the panel have faced grave crises in recent times, whether Carnival's Costa Concordia sinking or Aflac's troubles after the Japan tsunami. 

P&G external director Paul Fox noted that while companies often move quickly to address key crisis issues, they are often less willing to keep communicating during recovery mode. 

"The instinct is to go quiet," said Fox. "In the digital age we live in right now, when you’re dealing with a social media issue and you’ve built up a community that are often highly influential — how many times after the crisis do you walk away and stop talking to them?"

"A lot of companies do really, really well during the crisis," added Frizzell. "It’s after the crisis, their plan is over. A lot of CEOs allow their comms function to shut down. I think as communicators, one of the things we have to fight against is the judgment to go dark."

Kane pointed to Aflac's strategy after the tsunami, where it dropped the voice of its duck Gilbert Gottfried, after he made offensive tweets about the company's biggest market. Aflac then began a public search for his replacement.

"There was a lot of backlash," noted Kane. "We had a lot of different things to manouevre through. Ultimately it was a huge success story and we never looked back."

Fox also urged comms pros to ignore "urban legends", adding that good judgement is pivotal factor in dealing with a crisis or issue, despite a finding that companies nowadays typically have just a four minute window before they are expected to respond.

"One of the things we try and do with our people is get some perspective," said Fox. "You hear a lot about the urgency of the response. Today you have about 4 minutes before you need to say something. I’d rather take double that time."

He called on PR people to "understand the cues". "The truth of the matter is that 95% of our decisions are taken because it feels right. We make decisions very quickly as human beings based on fragments of information, because it feels right."

One of those judgments, explained Kane, is to keep the CEO visible, even when people are questioning the strategy. "Our CEO was everywhere," recounted Kane. "We might be wrong but we’re going to explain why we think what we think. We were very lucky because the decision was, we’ll communicate with everybody."

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