Tag Archives: first reaction

It’s time to say “it” out

     There is an interesting phenomenon when people make their first reactions to the crisis-maybe they are over nervous, maybe they are quite panic, or maybe they don’t have time to think thoroughly-they are likely to deny the negative messages or use other information to cover up the fact.

    For example, Tiger Woodz refused to cooperate with the police and deliberately avoided exposing the fact. Toyota concealed the incident to reduce the severity of the truth and tried to cover up the negative information. Both of them handled the crisis and did sound crisis communications by a series of statements, apologizes, and activities. However, the unacceptable denial at first really expanded the crisis and had bad impact on the first stage of crisis management. 

    So since we still have to reveal the fact in the end, why don’t we tell the truth at the beginning? One principle we should always keep in mind when dealing with a crisis is that as the news has been exposed, there is no need to hide the fact.

    As the rapid development and wide usage of the Internet, once some news breaks, nothing can stop it from spreading to the whole world. When a crisis happens, people will get the information at first hour and make their judgment by their perception of the incident. As they have already caught one corner of the story, they have great curiosity and strong expectation to know the whole thing. So in this sense, it will be in vain if you keep silent or deny the news. The longer you cover the truth, the more various rumor will be produced by the public. As a result, the crisis will spread widely and things will be out of control, and this is absolutely not what you want it to be. Therefore, since you can not hide any more, why not lay it out to clarify yourself.

    One thing that we have to deal with when we make our initial statement is the public’s emotional reaction. When people first access to the crisis news, for example, a celebrity’s scandal or a company’s product safety problem, they will be somehow pissed off and generate resistant psychology without personal judgment or thinking further. The damage and injury of the news will cause people to lose their cool for a while and be unfavorably disposed towards the defendants. Under this circumstance, you’d better be cautious with the content that you make the initial statement. To deny or cover up is absolutely impossible. You should not only tell people what is going on, but also show your sincerity and firmness. Besides, you should be consistent in the whole process of crisis communication. People can’t forgive those who promise and then deny in succession.

    For public figures or celebrities, it is more important for them to stand up to admit the facts and tell the truth. Because people regard them as their idols or heroes, and they can’t allow their idols or heroes have any imperfection. Any little mistake can cause great response. If you express any concealment or false, the audiences will generate strong antagonistic psychology, leading to a lot of negative comments and negative publicity, which will again cause more negative response as butterfly effect.

    So personally, I think the first reaction to a crisis for a celebrity is to hold a press to tell the fact, and if needed, make an apology with openness, accuracy and sincerity. Don’t deny, don’t hide and don’t drag out time. The reaction should be immediate and elaborately designed that make sure you have covered every tiny aspect and considered the feelings of the victims. 

    Beside Tiger, the Edison Chen photo sandal is also a good example. The crisis in involved the illegal distribution over the Internet of intimate and private photographs of Hong Kong actor Edison Chen with various women, most of them are celebrities. The scandal shook the Hong Kong entertainment industry and received high profile media attention locally and around the world. At first, Edison didn’t take the responsibility or make sincere apology. This angered the public, especially those actresses. Eventually, under strong pressure, he made a public apology, especially to the women involved, and also announced that he would “step away indefinitely” from the Hong Kong entertainment industry. Apparently, it is his improper reaction that causes the scandal world known and ruined his acting career.

    There have been so many cases caution us to be frank when some disgraceful things are discovered. So here we go again, as the news has been exposed, there is no need to hide the fact.

About first reaction in crisis

    The ever more globalization, development of technology and new media create a complex communication environment for people to deal with business. Everyone can speak out his or her own opinion and let others get the message immediately. Crises can break so easily and unpredictably that it is important and worthy for us to pay attention to crisis public relations and study the principles to deal with it. With values and ethics playing a more important role in business, reputation has been placed on top of the agenda by many companies. As a result, how to establish, maintain and restore reputation is critical to a company’s long-term strategies and development. As public relations practitioners, helping organizations make strategic communication plan when they are forced to deal with crisis is an important indicator of the quality of their work. I would like to talk about here how companies make their first reactions when a crisis breaks, and what kind of first reaction strategy will be the most effective and appropriate in different situations.

    In one case, On Aug. 23, 2008, a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant was confirmed as being involved in the outbreak of the food-borne illness, caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. A day later, Maple Leaf upgraded a precautionary recall of 23 of its products, issued the previous week, to all 220 packaged meats from the plant, which has been shut down. The company has estimated the recall will directly cost it at least $20 million, with further costs expected due to lost sales and advertising to rebuild its image. The company has been highly visible since the crisis hit. The firm’s CEO, Michael McCain, held press conferences and posted an apology on its web site. A company spokeswoman did interviews in a wide range of media. The firm also ran TV spots and took out advertisements in newspapers.

    In another case, Ford Motor Company and its close ally Firestone Tires faced a serious crisis when many Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone AT/ATX tires rolled over as a consequence of tire failures. In 1999 the first fatalities occurred in Saudi Arabia and not much later similar accidents were reported in Venezuela. Ford immediately reacted by blaming the weather and vehicle owners for under-inflating their tires. However, Ford also began replacing tires. It was not until March 2000 when a Ford Explorer rollover in Texas USA left one of the car occupants brain-damaged and paraplegic that the American authorities intervened, triggering a massive tire recall and a lawsuit brought by the victim’s family. The case was settled out of court in January 2001 (Bowe, 2001), but by that time many more cases and fatalities were reported and therefore neither Ford nor Firestone could continue blaming the weather or car owners. They, instead, were blaming each other.     

    In the first case, the CEO of the company stepped up to make a statement promptly after the crisis breakout, making a positive reaction at first time. He was honest and transparent about the situation, and emphasized the positives by letting people know the company had taken measures and indicated it would continue to investigate, reassuring people that he was taking the situation seriously and wouldn’t risk the health of his employees or customers. The crisis was effectively controlled and reputation slowly restored as time went by.

    In the second case, they conducted their first reaction as denial of mistakes and refusal of making up. They didn’t make the appropriate initial crisis management to control the crisis and solve the problem, leading the negative effect wider and worse and badly damaging the reputation and images of the companies.

    The key point of the effective first reaction is quickness. Providing a response in the first hour after the crisis happen helps us tell the truth to the public and make clear our attitude, thus turning the negative position into a positive image and controlling the crisis in a short term. Another important factor is accuracy. People want accurate information about what happened and how that event might affect them. Speaking with one voice in a crisis is a way to maintain accuracy and make the company look consistent, which will help the company gain trust and support of the public. Moreover, initial crisis management should also take into consideration to express concern and sympathy for employees and victims that are involved in the crisis. Excellence theory teaches us to communicate symmetrically and achieve mutual benefit. Expressions of concern help to lessen reputational damage and to reduce financial losses. News media and internet play an important role in the crisis response strategy of first reaction. They are becoming valuable tools for collecting information about warning signs and crisis as well as options for communicating with stakeholders during a crisis. However, they also have added the risk of being in crisis and complexity of crisis. As speed and reach are more important at the initial stage of the crisis, it is reasonable and necessary for us to devote considerable attention to media relations.

    In other situations, making a statement at first hour is not the only way of initial crisis response. In some industries, like tobacco or fur clothes industries, the incidents involved are always controversial, referring to human rights, animal rights or environment issues. As we all say, if a plane lands safely, it isn’t news; if a plane crashes, it is news. The negative news or tragedies usually spread fast and widely, with people often paying more attention on them. So the more you talk, the more mistakes you will make; the more publicity you make, the worse the crisis will be.

    In this case, the proper way to make first reaction in a crisis is to keep quiet, take effective measures with a low key strategy and let time fade the unhappiness. Companies would be willing to talk about positive things that will benefit them, rather than more reluctant to reveal negative information. If the crisis will seriously damage the reputation of the company, they will make every effort to withdraw the information and keep silence at the first stage. Sometimes, it is the legislation and law issues that prevent the company to speak its voice at first hour. They will keep silence to the public on the surface and take seriously behind. They will investigate the incident, make up for the damage step by step, and maybe make the statement and uncover the details when the public are less interested in it. When it comes to conflicts of interest, excellence theory would be less useful than the two-way asymmetrical method in the crisis communication.