Seeds of Crises
One of the most common sources of almost completely preventable crises is the failure to "deliver as promised." That has been the seed of many crises to which I've had to respond, crises exacerbated by the breakdown between Marketing/PR and Operations functions in many organizations - an invisible line that should not, in my opinion, exist.
The first time many PR pros are aware of a pending crisis is when we're informed that an organization is threatened with one or more lawsuits whose genesis was in statements such as these:
* "You said that nothing would be built next to our house!"
* "You claimed that if anything went wrong, you'd fix it."
* "I didn't know that's what I was agreeing to when I signed your contract!"
* "You promised X but now I have Y and I don't like it!"
[The Beauty of Hindsight]
Where did the problem really start? Most typically, as a result of one of the following causes:
* Over-eager, perhaps greedy marketing/sales reps make promises just to make the sale, knowing at a gut level they may not be true. Or, in some ways even worse, they make promises out of ignorance about what can or can't be delivered.
* The organization makes operational decisions that modify the delivery of goods or services, but fails to inform marketing/sales and/or the customer.
* The organization's disclosures about the possibility of change, substitution, etc., are not written in plain English and/or marketing reps do not help ensure that they're understood by also delivering them verbally.
* Senior management, philosophically, MAY believe that it should always "do what it takes" to correct errors but does not truly empower customer service in terms of resources, direction or decision-making authority.
* Organizational management has not fully considered the marketing and PR implications of operational decisions and, hence, is blind-sided when there is subsequent backlash.
[Preventing the Crises]
* THOROUGHLY train and CAREFULLY supervise marketing/sales reps to ensure that they "stick to the script" when making commitments. ONE-TIME TRAINING IS NOT ENOUGH. It should be a topic raised very frequently.
* Use plain English and redundant delivery mechanisms (written and spoken) to communicate legal caveats, disclosures, terms, etc.
* There should be a check-and-balance system to monitor for breakdowns or conflicts between "operating philosophy" and "operating reality."
* MOST IMPORTANTLY: every major operational decision must be evaluated in terms of its potential long-term marketing and/or PR impact on all important audiences, internal and external. There should be marketing and PR representation on the executive/decision making staff of any organization.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. (BCM), http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, providing crisis prevention, response, planning and training services. The BCM website has more than 500 articles on crisis management available free to visitors.