Crisis Management – Graeme Jack Responds
Graeme Jack, Managing Director, hatch-group in Scotland. Photography – Paul Hampton @ The Picture HouseThis MD has two problems – potential product contamination and no procedure to deal with it. The old adage about chocolate fireguards comes to mind.
His PR manager is either a peripheral figure within the organisation or is just plain frightened – good quality PR people should know how to track down key management at any time and should have no hesitation in doing so. The PR manager should also at the very least have established some sort of dialogue with consumer organisation Z in the past, and should be in a position to work these contacts now to better understand what is going on from their perspective.
It also seems surprising to me that the MD should be leaving for his holiday break without ensuring that there is someone with authority to mind the shop. That said, he now needs to recover ground. His first priority must be his employees and their families, and consumers. He must demonstrate that he has taken decisive and responsible action, by withdrawing the product from retail shelves and co-operating fully with local health authorities as they try to establish what is causing this illness.
There seems to be a suspicion of criminal activity, so he needs to get the police involved. Finally, he needs to get on a plane and return to Scotland to show active, visible leadership.
Media must be briefed on what the company is doing. The communications objective at this point is purely to demonstrate that company X is responsible, is taking appropriate action, and can be trusted. Stakeholders – staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders, political representatives, Food Standards Agency and other potential commentators – must also be briefed.
A flash briefing system should be put in place to ensure that new information is communicated to all of these groups in the format that best suits their requirements. This will include face-to-face briefings, e-mail updates, fax updates and posting fresh information on the company website.
With these communications channels in place, the company can start exerting a stronger grip of the news flow. As the situation stabilises and things start to look more positive, plans need to be developed for reintroducing the product. Research should be done to bottom out any consumer concerns, with PR materials developed to address these concerns properly.
Some words of warning: if a police investigation is launched, the latitude for the company to continue providing updates can be severely reduced.
It is important that the company and police work together. It seems to me that the PR manager may also want to think about retaining a consultancy on an on-call basis to help deal with any future issues.