Nataliia Osadcha, the co-founder of S&P Agency Investment Risk Management, told LDaily about the most common mistakes companies make when entering the public domain.
I have been long talking about the need to use crisis communications to resolve business conflicts of any complexity, including ones with government or law enforcement agencies.
Let’s start with the definition of crisis communications. What are they? According to the theory, crisis communication is an activity aimed at establishing effective relationships between the organization and the public in order to maintain a sustainable reputation and minimize reputational risks before, during and after the crisis. In other words, when a company is facing a crisis situation or a business conflict, crisis communications help build an entire communication strategy between the parties to the conflict and the public.
Observing colleagues’ cases, I often notice significant mistakes in crisis communications or even a complete lack of strategy during quite serious business conflicts.
Why are crisis communications essential in business conflicts?
Firstly, it is a truly effective tool that helps companies convey to the public objective information about the sense and the company’s position in this conflict. So, it is a picture of reality as you see it. This tool is efficient if it is used correctly and with the full understanding of how it works. Most often, external or internal PR specialists of the company build the crisis communication strategy. Sure, they create it together with lawyers or legal advisers who conduct the case because a PR specialist doesn’t see the full depth of the conflict, its nature, and what position each party takes. At this point, issues may arise, as in Krylov’s famous fable “Swan, Pike and Crawfish”. Lawyers usually believe that there is no need to aggravate the situation and don’t understand what information should be disclosed, and in general, why disclose it. Noteworthy, our company establishes both an anti-crisis strategy in the field of crisis communications and legal protection during business conflicts. We have many years of successful experience both in the development of anti-crisis strategies (including crisis communications) and in their implementation (including channel sampling, presentation and spreading information). The group of our divisions includes a news agency and an online business publication, and the anti-crisis team includes highly professional journalists and top legal advisers. All members of the team collaborate to achieve a single result. They clearly understand what to emphasize, what to pay special attention to, and what is important in the public field. We are fully aware of what and why we are doing, and what the purpose of each message is.
It is necessary to keep in mind that an anti-crisis strategy (in the crisis communications area) doesn’t mean you go public and shout out your thoughts. You must clearly be aware of what and why you are saying, and what results you want to get.
This way, the most significant mistake in crisis communications during a conflict is that information is presented in a very chaotic and unsystematic manner. Moreover, incorrect messages during a crisis or conflict can only complicate matters.
As an example, let’s analyze the message I saw not so long ago: “A company is under pressure from law enforcement agencies, in particular, they conduct searches on the company’s territory”. I can state that this wording is incorrect from the legal perspective, as earlier this company had already stated that a criminal case had been opened against it, and it had not been closed at the time of the search. To talk about “pressure on the business”, you need indisputable and consistent facts. After all, the very fact of an open criminal case, as well as the procedural actions carried out within its framework, including searches, are absolutely legal from the point of view of the Criminal Code. So, such inaccurate wording in official statements may not only not lead to the desired weakening or ending of the conflict, but, on the contrary, lead to its intensification. Law enforcement agencies may take a tougher stance on such a company, because in public they were accused of “pressure”, although, the fact of a search in an open criminal case can not be qualified as “pressure”.
The second common mistake is the lack of any risk assessment of public messages. If a party has already dared to go public and declare that there is a conflict, there must be an understanding that it has to choose words and statements accurately in the public domain. The opposite approach leads to sad consequences, such as accusing a party of spreading false information or putting pressure on law enforcement agencies.
The third significant mistake is the concealment of the conflict and the non-disclosure of the party’s position on it. This significantly reduces the chances of the conflicting party to a peaceful, successful and transparent solution to the problem.
That’s why seemingly simple things such as organizing a conference, interview, publishing an official statement or engaging business associations (it’s has become a trend, so they should definitely be used as support in resolving conflicts) must be very carefully selected and calibrated “to the millimeter”. Every word will resonate. However, whether this impact will be positive or negative, depends on the correctly designed and implemented strategy. Don’t forget that the main purpose of crisis communications is to resolve the conflict, not to intensify it.
As you can see, crisis communications are an effective tool but only in skilled hands and only if every word of what is conveyed to the public is clearly verified to show the situation as you see it. Only then crisis communications will help you resolve a conflict, even legally.