During my research for my dissertation on crisis management in Public Relations (PR), I did some thinking about some crisis that arose in Vietnam in the last two years and asked myself this question “Whether or not the spokesperson could be someone who cuts the rope holding your brand/organization and lets it drop dead?”
This issue became serious in so many cases in Vietnam when the press did some interview with the spokespersons on both sides after some conflicts occurred, then published their answers after twisting it so it sounded like something totally different from the actually meaning. The journalists just take the words out of context on purpose so the public misunderstood it. Then the chaos arose.
Needless to say how bad this was. Of course some journalists do not have anything called the code of ethics in the way they did the interview, but that’s what they do to get the attention from the public. They sometimes don’t just write A when your answer is A, but try to make it more dramatic and catchy by adding some comas to turn it into A’ (which sometimes take the whole interview to the wrong direction)
But having said that, it also raises some questions about the role of PR people in this situation. Why did this happen? Is there anything a PR person could do to prevent it from happening?
In my opinion, in order to minimise the risk that might badly affect our reputation, during a crisis, a spokesperson is supposed to be (or must be!) the one who understands about the crisis the most, not the CEO, not the PR person.
Why? Because he/she will bite his/her own tongue if the question is about something that he/she does not know at all. The PR person or the CEO, or president is not an expert in the field (well it would be ideal if they were). At the interview (or worse, the press conference!) he or she cannot postpone the answer because the media will not stop until they get the information that they want. “During a crisis, the media become so active in seeking information about the crisis that organizations cannot control the information going to the media even though they try mightily to do so.” Spokesperson cannot say “No comment” either. Hunt and Grunig have cited Howard and Matthers “Bad news will not go away if you refuse to comment on it. In fact lack of cooperation with the media may expand then story and make it last longer than if you handle the crisis and get it over with.”
So in short, PR person always has to be on the move when issues arise. They cannot let it spread out and become a crisis then try to solve it. Who is going to be a spokesperson needs to be written in their PR plan, and some training has to be done priorly or parallelly with the crisis. There’s no term “after crisis” here. Because sometimes there will be no “after”. It is already the end.
Public Relations Techniques (1994) – Todd Hunt, James E.Grunig