A guidebook for organizations in times of crisis.
Disasters can occur at any time in a large business, government, or nonprofit organization—everything from a fatal accident to a sex scandal that captures national attention. Such occurrences can have an immense impact on how the public views an institution, notes PR expert and debut author Hunt, and managers should not take them lightly. The question is not how to avoid a crisis, but what can be done when something unexpected arises. Hunt (with debut co-author Leavenworth) presents answers in this terse and highly readable guide. In modern times, he notes, companies must not only answer to traditional media but also to the instantaneous and unpredictable sway of social media: “Local stories can rapidly become global stories,” he points out. What is one to do in such an environment? The book offers a range of real-world examples on what has and hasn’t worked for organizations in the past. In 2010, for instance, when the Deepwater Horizon accident occurred, British Petroleum had a public relations nightmare on its hands. As bad as the situation was in the aftermath, the author points out that it was made worse by a CEO who complained, “I want my life back.” Hunt argues that, instead of projecting such a lack of empathy, BP could have followed a path like that pursued by the Tokyo Electric Power Company following the nuclear meltdown at its Fukushima Daiichi plant, less than a year later. Although TEPCO initially received criticism for its reaction to the disaster, the company was able to show that employees who’d stayed behind to tend to the plant were heroic in their efforts. In this way, Hunt notes, TEPCO was able to associate itself with heroes, instead of a whiny executive.
The book is full of such examples, and it comes across as an indispensable primer for business managers and their equivalents in other organizations. Although the book is dotted with full-page quotations that are sometimes more obvious than helpful (such as “Create content so strong that people want to share it with their friends”), the advice is varied and succinct. Penn State University, Blue Bell Creameries, and Volkswagen are just a handful of the brands mentioned, and Hunt tells readers just enough information about their struggles to be useful. The advice is very clearly presented, as when the author asserts that a company must not go silent in the wake of a fiasco, as doing so is “almost always a losing strategy.” The book will also hold value for those outside of public relations. After all, the general public may never truly know whether a corporation in hot water is actually sensitive to what’s happened, or if it’s merely constructing a narrative to woo the public. But the information in this book effectively gives the average reader a look behind the curtain to show how organizations handle (and mishandle) times of big trouble.
An essential resource for
those involved with and affected by crisis management.