Three reasons why I don't judge someone else's communications crisis

Schadenfreude literally means 'damage joy' – and it is one of the quirks of becoming known as a crisis communications specialist that people want to know your views on someone else's problems.

But I have stopped doing that for three reasons:

1. You don't know enough

You see the outputs and public consequences of a situation and course of action, but you don't have the full picture. No two crises are the same: factors well beyond the words you use, actions you take or tone you strike affect the situation. From available resources to commercial context and even down to understanding what a successful exit from the situation would look like, it is impossible to judge everything from the outside. Sometimes, success might mean riding a wave of criticism; negative headlines don't intrinsically mean you have failed. You don't know enough.

2. The temptation to brand an event a crisis management 'failure' or 'success' is unhelpful

Most crises are a jigsaw, with different stakeholders viewing success in different ways. After the initial news of Toyota's major recall broke (‎because its accelerators were sticking), its share price continued to climb. The major impact came after a much wider recall ensued, which resulted in a 20% devaluation of the business, which it is still recovering from now. The available information on the impact of a situation changes as time progresses. Snap judgements about success or failure from the outside rarely reflect what's going on (excuse the pun) under the bonnet.

3. ‎Not every crisis reaches the public domain

Part of my job, sometimes, is to manage decision-making to improve the chances of this. Commenting on crises we all know about is therefore a) just the tip of the iceberg and b) largely useless because of the above points. I would be much more interested in a behind-closed-doors discussion about those events you and I know nothing about.

Crisis communications isn't always about what you say – it's also about what you do. Analysing someone else's crisis is therefore fraught with risk because onlookers simply cannot evaluate the impact of every decision. It's a jigsaw, and I'd rather have all the pieces in place before judging whether it looks the part.

Billy Partridge is director and head of northern region at Grayling

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