Cri­sis man­age­ment

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT: LOCAL -

In to­day’s com­plex world of un­cer­tainty, how does a com­pany pre­pare it­self to deal with a black swan, a high-im­pact, un­fore­seen event that un­set­tles the most wellthought through plans?

When Os­car Pis­to­rius’s man­ager Peet van Zyl went to bed on that Wed­nes­day night, what could pos­si­bly have pre­pared him for a dif­fer­ent re­al­ity of life on Valen­tine’s Day? Is it pos­si­ble that he could have re­sponded dif­fer­ently?

Ac­cord­ing to cri­sis man­age­ment best prac­tice, there is a ba­sic frame­work for man­ag­ing all crises – be it Os­car Pis­to­rius, Marikana, xeno­pho­bic at­tacks, Fi­den­tia, Eskom’s black­outs, Metro­rail train burn­ings, the El­lis Park soc­cer tragedy or the 1996 bomb­ing of Planet Holly wood at the V& A Waterfront. There is a sys­tem­atic way in which all crises un­fold that, if man­aged ap­pro­pri­ately, the cri­sis re­sponse strat­egy can shift the course of the cri­sis to min­imise its neg­a­tive im­pact.

A cri­sis is an un­fore­see­able, high-im­pact event that dis­rupts the nor­mal state of busi­ness, at­tracts in­tense pub­lic scru­tiny and forces trans­for­ma­tion in peo­ple, prod­ucts, places and par­a­digms. In the case of a per­son brand, the is­sues are more com­plex.

Says Dr Carla Enslin, a brands ex­pert at Vega School of Brand Lead­er­ship: “In deal­ing with a per­son brand, we do not have con­trol over a hu­man be­ing as we have over a pro­duc­tion line or distri­bu­tion net­work. Ev­ery point of con­tact inf lu­ences what peo­ple think, feel and be­lieve about t he brand.”

All crises go through f ive stages: the trig­ger­ing event, escalation, the cri­sis peak, turn­around and, fi­nally, re­cov­ery and clo­sure. the me­dia sensed a loss of lead­er­ship from Brand Os­car, a frenzy en­sued. Os­car’s life was dis­sected from all an­gles and painted with a dif­fer­ent brush. An anal­y­sis of me­dia re­ports in this phase re­veals that Os­car did not project his voice publ icly and did not have the re­sources to push back against the forces coming at him.

Within a mat­ter of hours, Os­car’s cri­sis rip­pled through the global sys­tem of ath­letic sports con­nected by spon­sors, reg­u­la­tors, ath­letic teams, fans, train­ers and me­dia part­ners. It is ev­i­dent that Peet van Zyl’s en­ergy was di­rected at re­spond­ing to the in­dus­try and he had lit­tle ca­pac­ity to deal with the me­dia. Os­car’s fam­ily took their cue from the le­gal team. With­out un­der­stand­ing the lo­cal me­dia land­scape and so­cial is­sues un­der­ly­ing pub­lic per­cep­tions in SA, Stu­art Hig­gins could not step in as Os­car’s spokesper­son. In the cru­cial f irst 48 hours, Os­car’s team flew blind, moment by moment.

By c on­trast, when a lead­ing South African dairy was alerted by a jour­nal­ist that a young woman h a d died af­ter eat­ing a tub of yo­gurt, a cri­sis team was as­sem­bled within an hour. In­side the spe­cial cri­sis r o om a t head off ice, the com­pany’s global cri­sis plan was fol­lowed sys­tem­at­i­cally. Roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were as­signed ac­cord i ng t o t he re­sponse st r ateg y mapped out for such a sce­nario.

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