Why organisations need a functional communications arm

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Boardroom set up
NAIROBI, KENYA: Most corporate organizations meet with crisis storms when it is too late. At that point, you see a story online or one published on a mainstream media or a gutter press, and as an organisation you feel helpless as to what you will do to rescue the situation that now endangers the company’s reputation.

As a communication manager for your organisation, you know things will go south when your boss or Board start calling you to explain how that story appeared on such a platform. As an agency, you are doomed to explain to your client how you could not mitigate the inevitable. But is the communication manager or agency to blame for such a scenario?

A Management or board of an organisation always think communication specialists are magicians and so will just whisk away such a tsunami that has now hit the reputation of their organisation. But as an organisation you need to start thinking where the rain started beating you before you start blaming your agency or communication manager.

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Failure to diagnose your vulnerabilities in an organisation is a recipe for disaster. It is important as a communication manager to map out all the issues that maybe bedeviling the organisation, either recently or in the past. It is also important to anticipate issues that may hit your ship, sinking it to more trouble.

If you ever watched the Titanic movie by Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicarprio, it was a honeymoon before a disastrous funeral. It was a beautiful story that had a bad ending. But when you analyse the situation, you realise that the Captain and all those who worked in the ship believed in the enormous body structure of the Titanic. It was the ever massive vessel in the history of humanity after Noah’s Ark. And despite Noah building his Ark according to God’s instructions and surviving the massive stormy rains that swept the entire face of the earth, Titanic did not survive it.

You maybe this massive fortune 500 company but when crisis hits you, you can be reduced from a giant mammoth to a squirrel. It is usually important to diagnose your vulnerabilities and probably that is what the Titanic Captain did not foresee when sailing in the new waters of North Atlantic. He checked on the iceberg when it was too late. The dire consequence that followed saw 1500 people die in the phenomenon voyage. This is exactly what happens when you don’t map out issues within or without your organisation.

On the other hand, Media headlines at times are like Icebergs that hit an organisation and make them sink like the historic Titanic. Although some organisations live to survive another day, some go under when issues of corruptions, governance, sexual harassment or even fraud are highlighted in the press. They tear away the very spirit mission, vision and goals of such an organisation.

Many people say that good or bad publicity is good for the organisation. But I differ because bad publicity is very toxic to the image of your company. Companies listed at the bourse understand the consequences it has to deal with when a bad story is published to their name. It is very costly to repair. It is like repairing a scratched Bentley or Rolls Royce.

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That’s why I always advise that some of these issues can be avoided when organisations allow their communication managers to sit in some of the boardroom meetings. When an organisation makes a communication manager part of its ExCo and Boardrooms meetings then you allow a voice of reason to be within the room to save the day.

It is important to note that communication managers or agency executives are not branding or banner caretakers. They need to be at the same table with their executives to illuminate reason where it is not.

At the same time, after mapping out your issues, it is important for the communication manager to craft a plan or strategy on how to deal with certain issues when they erupt. The issues could unfold internally or externally. Therefore, having a crisis plan that covers both scenarios is very important not just a feel good thing.

Once the plan is done, it is not to be printed, filed and left to gather dust in drawers. This is a guided document that is used internally to track and monitor issues that may erupt and how they can be curated or managed before they get out of hand.

Have a short term and a long term crisis strategy as a communication manager or agency. This will help you cushion yourself from any potential media attacks or crisis.

It is important for listed organisations to be transparent and honest about their dealings. A communication manager or agency is not a magician. It is important to also clean house and ensure that what efforts are being placed out there to protect the external image of an organisation are fruitful.

Notably, the most frustrating thing for a communication manager or agency is when the internal issues bedeviling the organisation are more operational and you are expected to do magic and control the media from exposing them.

A Management or Board of an organisation should always put its house in order to ensure that communication efforts being applied to mitigate a situation have a progressive tangent to saving the face of the company.

As I conclude, communication experts must also cultivate a good relationship with the media to ensure that they protect the image of the organization in case of crisis. The relationship I envisage is not about compromising the media to ensure bad stories die but ensuring that the media is furnished with facts to avoid any speculation.

I have seen organisations who do not or delay to respond to issues that are raised about them in the media and assume they will die a natural death.

That sometimes is a wishful thinking because this is usually a developing story and like a ravaging fire, it only becomes stronger when it is not properly quelled. I therefore advocate for organisations to respond to their issues in a more honest manner. That is what will kill a bad publicity when you respond accordingly and with facts rather than sweep issues under the carpet and expect a miracle.

I would recommend that If need be walk into a media house and have a candid discussion with respective editors. It is also important to constantly brief the media of the organisation’s progress about an ongoing issue to avoid speculation. It can be through a press briefing or a press statement. Silence is a killer tsunami and it is expensive in the long run. It is like the proverbial “no comment” phrase that most organisation’s spokespersons use when confronted by the press to provide insights or information on a crisis.

As a Board or Management, don’t entertain a docile or sleeping communication manager or agency. If they are not proactive in ensuring that issues are resolved, fire them. Dead weight is expensive and costly to an organisation trying to protect or guard its image.

But as an agency, if the client is not being transparent about the issues bedeviling them and they are not allowing you to prescribe solutions, it will be counterproductive to work for such a client. It is effort applied in futility.

As an organisation be vigilant, proactive and responsive to issues affecting your organisation. Don’t wait to seal your leaking roof on a rainy day but seal it on a sunny day.

The author (above) is the founder and Managing Director for Alexander PR and Communication Network

Public RelationsCrisis Communication