The high-profile United Airlines incident in April where a passenger was forcibly removed from the flight to accommodate a member of the airline’s flight crew resulted into an instant public backlash, fuelled by sharing of the incident on social media. This raises a number of issues about how companies should handle a major public relations crisis.
It seems that few senior executives, or board members, really know how to effectively prepare and plan for crisis at the board or operational levels.
Shareholders and stakeholders are placing greater expectations on boards to assess risk, protect the company’s reputation and act proactively, responsively and responsibly, in the face of a crisis.
New York-based management consultancy firm, Temin and Company, has outlined 11 crisis rules for directors to consider in the event of a public relations nightmare.
1. The buck stops with the Board. It is imperative that directors deny the very human instinct to go into denial when they first hear of an incipient crisis, and skip straight to due diligence, acceptance, responsibility, and positive action.
2. Become the guardian of your company’s reputation.
3. Help your company see clearly; don’t let their first response be naïve or a lie. Insist upon proactive wisdom, appropriate transparency, and an attitude of solution-finding.
4. Proactivity is needed before, during, and after a crisis:
• Monitor risks at least twice a year, through the audit committee, as well as by the entire board.
• Insist the company have a crisis plan and review it yearly.
• Know who will lead and who will be a member of the crisis team.
• Know who will speak for the company in what situation.
• Understand and agree upon the role of your board in a crisis.
• Be a part of the feedback loop. Make sure to conduct what the military calls an “after action review” and make sure to capture all the learnings for the future.
5. Increase the board’s input and impact…”noses in, thumbs out” turns into “all in.”
6. Know immediacy is key, especially with social media, so make sure the company acts quickly and appropriately, don’t let them retreat into silence.
7. Make sure your board is high-functioning and impactful before a crisis occurs… All the warts will come out.
8. Provide a moral center for the company to do the right thing in a crisis…not only what is expedient. Limit liability but not humanity.
9. Work to assure the company becomes a visible and real part of the solution – no matter what it takes.
10. Practice board crisis management through elaborate role play games.
11. Make sure the company does not make the same mistake ever again.