Handling a communication crisis appears to remain a problem in Romania, whether it’s a political, economic, social or even media situation gone wrong. Companies need to understand that they must have a 112 call in their agenda at least to have a different, outside view of the situation from a communication/crisis expert, players say.
By Romanita Oprea
Despite all the efforts that some agencies are making, trying to educate the market (clients and other colleagues) through workshops and conferences, when a crisis blows up it is often met by a lack of prior preparation, but also a lack of knowledge of how the situation should be handled properly. So what steps should be taken and where does Romania really stand?
According to Ana Maria Diceanu, founder & CEO of Brain 4 Strategy, the nature of a crisis is that nobody can predict what, when and how something bad will happen. But, to remain with their reputation intact, or at least minimize the damage, companies should invest resources in understanding and acknowledging the possible risks and issues they might face. “One thing is certain, a crisis will happen. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that such things can happen, or that there is a weak spot somewhere in the business. I think this is one of the main barriers in crisis management in Romania; it is difficult for people to accept that not everything is 100 percent okay. I know that we want to be perfect, in the eyes of colleagues, bosses and consumers, but managers need to understand that it is smarter to list the issues before they happen. I think this is something that we miss in Romania. And when it happens, communication is the last thing on their minds,” said Diceanu.
Moreover, as Raluca Ene, managing director of Chapter 4 Romania, points out, the ever changing channels spectrum has made communication more complex than ever. Companies’ audiences are now present all across these channels, and they need quick, correct and clear information. “They have a reaction back and companies have to be there to answer in the next second. The transition from the unidirectional way of transmitting information to the conversation is the biggest switch in the history of communication. It needs self-awareness, resources, and trust. But we are getting there at a rapid pace,” said Ene.
A GMP PR study, conducted alongside CITR Group, revealed that the number of entrepreneurs that had faced an image crisis in the last year grew from 60 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 2017. Still, most of them remain positive as 74 percent don’t believe they will face this type of problem again.
The majority (60 percent) consider that at the core of their crisis were internal problems and business decisions, less social media (26 percent) or the product itself (14 percent).
Even though the number of those who had hired someone in-house to handle their communication grew from 38 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2017, still the crisis scenario and manual represent an untouchable technicality. Only 22 percent had worked on scenarios of possible situations that may damage their reputation and only 7 percent have had these scenarios in a manual.
Social media continues to be virgin territory for most of them: only 28 percent use it in a crisis situation, even though 45 percent believe that it’s important in communication. Still, there is a recordable improvement compared to last year when 72 percent weren’t using any social media in their corporate communication and wouldn’t even consider it in the event of an image crisis. The study had a sample of 85 entrepreneurs in Romania, most of them having between 20 and 100 employees and businesses older than five years.
“Their level of preparation depends on their previous history and crisis episodes, how exposed they are or how much they are willing to invest in their own communication specialists. And also, this depends on whether the company is part of a multinational group or not. My personal experience has taught me that companies are not ready for crisis – no more than they were in 2008, for example, although they now shout ‘crisis, crisis’ or ‘we have a crisis’ much more often than in the past,” said Raluca Negrea, managing partner at MakeSense.
She knows some companies that could survive and successfully deal with a tough crisis. These firms rely on people that she admires and envies in the best possible way on a professional level. Such people rarely shout “crisis”. “Otherwise, if I check my WhatsApp I am afraid I’ll find ‘we have a small crisis’ or ‘I will be late, I have a crisis at the office’ written in messages quite often. I sometimes have the impression that some people expect a crisis at any time, although the companies they are representing have never planned for one. I believe that this shout of ‘crisis’ comes from a general anxiety we all feel and because of the inexperienced people in crisis management – especially those who have been recruited in recent years. In a way, I understand and empathize with those who say that a crisis means a comma or a break misplaced in a public context. But, if you have never really been in a crisis, and you have in your job description the ability to manage one, I believe it’s natural for you to feel scared,” added Negrea.
How has the situation changed or evolved in time? According to Diceanu, because we have seen an increase in the number of difficult situations brands find themselves in, crisis communication preparedness has improved. The Brain 4 Strategy representative believes that even though there is still a lot to be done, we see more and more companies investing in crisis plans, crisis management strategies and crisis communication training. “Nevertheless, it is not enough to have a plan in place if the plan is not known by all members involved and not trained. Crisis simulations and training should be like fire drills, repeated once or twice every year,” Diceanu added.
In her turn, Ene believes that improvement came because companies learned the hard way to pay much more attention to not only how they handle a crisis situation, but also to ensure they are prepared to face a potential one. There are always a lot of variables at stake, companies are more exposed and their clients more involved and attentive with their actions than ever before. Nevertheless, by cultivating transparency and openness, preparedness is just a matter of information and time.
Still, the MakeSense representative believes that fear of a crisis is more and more present. You can identify it easily in almost all the people on the front line, responsible for communication. And she thinks that the capacity to deal with and manage a crisis, the know-how and the ability to act have decreased alongside the frequent personnel changes companies have seen in the past few years, with the emergence of start-ups which have less to lose and with the general superficial trends we are all confronted with. “Let’s be realistic here – crises do not emerge every day. It’s difficult to face them if the company does not have a plan or if the communication partners are changed like socks or chosen in a pitch where deliverables related to crisis are mentioned and put together just as a way to check them off from a chart,” said Negrea.
Change is within us
So where should the change come from then, and what further should and could be done in order to educate the market? In Raluca Ene’s opionion, preparation is the key word. Companies of any size should consider preparing for a crisis the same way they approach fire prevention, or natural disaster prevention: by continuous information and practice, together with the right team of specialists. “What we can do more is to be the consultants our clients deserve and raise the red flag every time a potential crisis situation arises, and not only to them, but to other similar companies, or the industry, or even at the level of the economy. By explaining to them the implications of the respective situations and learning from those experiences, we can raise more awareness of the high need for preparedness,” added Ene.
In her turn, Diceanu believes that alongside what has been done already, today social media teams should be included on crisis management teams. Social media guys should understand and know the difference between an issue and a crisis. They need to monitor and report, and they need to understand that when we are talking about a crisis the communication must be one – one message, one approach. “It is not nice to see a hasty response on Facebook now and ten minutes later a different response, a different message and even a contradiction. One other thing that needs to change is the way management looks at mistakes, errors. If they tend to ignore them or rather cover them up, then employees will do the same and possible risk will not be identified/recognized on time. Companies should encourage employees to speak up,” urged the Brain 4 Strategy representative.
Where should agencies do more, in Raluca Negrea’s opinion? There are lots of events and conferences which approach the issue of crisis, which create opportunities for debate and case studies. “But concrete and local examples are missing. Sometimes, we are meeting just to say we have met and we talk in order to hear ourselves more than we bring added value. Local case studies are missing, from which the interested parties can learn how the crisis was anticipated and how the agency and the company prepared for it, what exactly happened when the crisis started and what were its effects a few years later,” added Negrea.
But companies should also do a lot more than they do today. They should invest more in having better prepared people in managing a crisis. People with a minimum know-how and the ability to remain calm in critical situations. They should also do internal simulations (like a fire drill) in order to help their own team and the agencies they are working with anticipate the crisis and actually test their reactions in a difficult situation. “I believe that not even one out of ten companies in Romania really take an inventory of the potential crises that could appear and have a minimum action plan or a kit for rapid intervention and response. This adds more fear and generates even more empty dialogue on the subject of crisis,” concluded Negrea.
Moreover, as Diceanu points out, companies should first understand that, especially in the social media era, a crisis will inevitably hit. “So issue mapping, training and planning are a ‘must-do’, no longer a ‘nice to have’ approach. There must be allocations for crisis communication and reputation recovery in any corporate communication budget.”
Hopes for the Romanian PR industry in 2019:
Ana Maria Diceanu:
“To be in a better strategic position in companies and with a better reputation among board members. Reputation management will grow in importance and not only related to crisis communication. To stand out in today’s landscape brands need to bullet proof their reputation.”
“The expectations are low, if we are strictly speaking about crisis. I believe that, on the long term, companies and agencies will need to slow down, take a break from time to time, breathe, analyze. At that time, I hope we will all find more time to research, document and think.”
“From the crisis communication perspective, I hope companies will have more courage to assume transparency and build on stakeholders’ trust. Building trust is in fact the only way a company can establish a healthy and continuous dialogue with its stakeholders and ensure the correct reception of messages in times of crisis. That’s why it’s our job as specialists to get more refined in adapting the most modern communication tools to help companies build on their trustworthiness as well.”
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