Sunday, September 20, 2020

Is classic Crisis Communication in today’s media landscape still as impactful as it should be?


13 June 2019, Geneva[Geneva and Zürich 13 and 25 June 2019] Toomas Kull, specialist in reputation and crisis management, presented a qualified yes. While indeed traditional crisis communication is still valid, organisations must consider the evolving media landscape (namely digital) and readers’ changing preferences. Also, recent experiences have shown that the CEO or a board member must be seen leading at the front. To preserve their reputation, companies must focus on maintaining trust. The difficulty is that they do not own trust, it is given to them by stakeholders.

The recent past has many good and bad crisis communication examples. When Germanwings flight 9525 crashed, the proactive and considerate reaction gave the company’s management credibility. By contrast, communication by BP during the Deepwater Horizon disaster was inadequate, causing considerable reputational damage to the company and CEO.


David Horobin, Head of Crisis Management at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, underlined the fundamentals of risk management and the importance of establishing the context, as documented by the ISO standard 31000 whereby communication is a key element. From there, an organisation needs to define its risk appetite and understand when a situation becomes a crisis or is still part of “routine” operation. Honest communication is then essential; any cover up would be soon detected by the public. Around 43% of commercial organisations undergoing a crisis were out of business after 3 years if they had bad communications strategies. It is also proven that successful crisis management is beneficial to a company’s market valuation.

 David warned the audience of current overreliance on technological tools. Many of them lack the essential redundancy demanded by a crisis situation. This needs to be taken into account during risk assessment and context definition. Equally important is to ensure the capability to communicate on various digital media.

A participant asked whether, based on recent crises, the organisation’s CEO was the best spokesperson? Not necessarily, Toomas replied: it depends on the crisis, and the right person is one who can communicate clearly and with empathy. To make the right choice, David emphasised that crisis training should reveal who, in a given organisation, would be able to attract the sympathy of the public and stakeholders.


25 June 2019, Zürich