Pr Crisis Case Studies in Real Time

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Open any public relations textbook and the section on crisis management will include examples of how organisations have demonstrated “best” or “worst” practice. And, it’s not just the textbooks, as recent incidents (eg Tiger Woods or Toyota) have seen plenty of advice from PR “experts” through online and social media. But, just as with the dead tree versions, these case studies are simplistic fictions.

Heroes and villains are the main narrative, with a modernist approach reinforcing a recommended crisis management strategy. There’s just one way to communicate during a crisis – regardless of the organisation, the situation, the social context or the significance of the incident.

This is the Tylenol way – presented as the right approach thanks to the swift action taken by Johnson & Johnson. The reality (as previously clarified at PR Conversations as a misleading myth) isn’t allowed to get in the way of the lesson. After all, it promotes a way that PR, and organisational management, can be in control and preserve reputation through a few simple steps.

Every case study reinforces the mantra – Exxon Valdez is presented as the epitome of poor crisis management; too slow to respond. Likewise Coca Cola and the Belgium “mass hysteria” case. Whilst the Pepsi “needle in a can” crisis is hailed, Perrier’s benzene example is criticised.

The nature of textbooks is that authors synthesise cases into easy to understand advice that students can repeat in assignments, and practitioners can recall if they ever find themselves handling a crisis.

It’s a comfort blanket of how to…, what not to do…, common mistakes and miracle cures.

In the social media world of 24:7 global connections, the right way is repeated – only at warp speed. Tell it fast becomes tell it before you know anything. Tell it all means let the media and its rent-a-quote experts speculate about worst case scenarios. Be open – means unlimited social media engagement (regardless of what the...
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