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.