When an organization is facing a crisis and struggles to improve its reputation, then the suitability between its performance, behaviors, and communication will be tested.
Two cases that caught the public’s attention throughout August 2022, eroded the credibility of the state and educational institutions that should be an example. Through a warm virtual conversations, Wednesday night (14[9[2002), CEO & Principal Consultant Kiroyan Partners Verlyana Hitipeuw spotlights two important things that can be a lesson, especially for public relations (PR) practitioners.
Basically, no single organization is immune to crisis. Where at the very least, an organization through the role of PR can minimize the risk. The first lesson that can be learned from the events above include crisis management and post-crisis reputation management.
Veve, that’s how Verlyana best known, said, there are certain ways to deal with the crisis quickly and precisely, as to recover reputation. First, by telling the truth to the public. Information submitted to the public includes what, when, where, who, why, and how(5W+1H). Second, providing information transparently and precisely. Public relations or a spokesperson can convey the cause of the incident. Such as human error, management mistakes, or incidents. This includes providing information to the public when the investigation is still ongoing.
Third, if proven guilty, the organization must admit the mistake. Fourth, deliver progress and action taken against the perpetrator and victims. Then, communicating commitment and the company’s efforts to minimize the same incident in the future. According to the woman who is also a lecturer in reputation management at Swiss German University, this commitment needs to be proven as to prevent a new crisis from arising.
In a time of crisis, PR plays a role in helping orient the spokesperson. Especially, related to ethical navigation or delivery methods. Because, said Veve, in a crisis, the organization’s code of ethics will be tested. PR can help the spokesperson to avoid inappropriate words even amid precarious situations. In this situation, the public will see how the company reacts. “The public will see the honesty and the position of the company,” said Veve.
Veve said, in times of crisis one should be careful with the challenges that come from within the organization. This is because, usually the high-levels want PR to act fast so the company can quickly get out of the crisis. This is where the need for education about the importance of a crisis management team consisting of interdivisional personnel comes into play.
When facing a crisis, PR must show a higher degree of empathy to internal stakeholders who are facing various problems. On one hand, PR needs their support for gathering any data and facts that will be used as material to be communicated to the stakeholders or public.
When in comes to crisis management, without intending to compare it with the case that happened, Veve invites PR INDONESIA readers to reminisce about the crisis experienced by Johnson & Johnson and the company’s response to Tylenol poisoning. Even though the accident happened 40 years ago, even now it is still considered as one of the classic stories concerning crisis management and has become a reference in the implementation of crisis management.
Quoted from www.nyctimes.com on March 23, 2002, the series of crisis management that occurred at the end of September 1982 began when the headquarters of Johnson & Johnson received reports of seven victims who died in the Chicago area, United States (US), after consuming Extra Strength Tylenol which contains cyanide. Tylenol is a pain reliever produced by McNeil Consumer Product Company, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, and is a contributor to 17 percent of the company’s net income.
The value of the company’s shares immediately plunged by 20%. But only two months after the incident, Tylenol returned to the market in tablet form and anti-damage packaging to prevent a similar incident in the future. A year later, Tylenol was able to control 30% of the market for over-the-counter analgesics in the US from 37% before the crisis. Certain media also gave positive responsive for the handling of the crisis that has been carried out and commended the US multinational company for being honest and open to the public.
Meanwhile from the article written by Jerry Knight for the Washington Post on October 11, 1982, noted that there are several “features” that were the key to success for Johnson & Johnson in the face of a crisis to regain public trust. The corporation communicated a message showing that the company is honest, remorseful, and committed to resolving cases and protecting the public.
The company acted fast, with full of openness, they conveyed events that were happening, and the efforts made. James Burke, chairman of Johnson & Johnson at that time, gave an order to close the production line and withdraw all capsules of Tylenol from the market based on the worst scenario. In other words, the company didn’t have to wait for the evidence to see the possibility of widespread contamination. The product didn’t return to the shelf until the company could confirm it could provide better protection for the product.
The company also tried to ensure that all possible steps had been taken to prevent the reoccurrence of the problem. This action gave the public an idea that the company was willing to do the right thing regardless of the costs they had to pay. In addition to that the company also showed responsibility by bearing short-term costs for the safety of consumers.
On the official website, ourstor.jnj.com, that PR INDONESIA quoted on Sunday (2[10[2022), Johnson & Johnson said, transparency policy and effectively responding to the incident was a factor that made the product recover quickly. From the study case, it can be concluded that reputation is very expensive.
The second lesson is post-crisis reputation management. Veve said we are probably one of many people who agree that communication is the most important thing in reputation building. Though, not the only one. From the book Reputation Management 4th Edition, The Key to Successful Public Relations and Communication (2021) it is known that reputation is a combination of performance, behaviors, and communication. To put it simply, the reputation management formula is as follows: Reputation = performance + behaviors + communication.
Therefore, when an organization is being tested by a crisis and is struggling to improve its reputation, the real meaning to be tested is the suitability between the three factors listed earlier, being performance, behaviors, and communication. Different from the image, which is something that we say about us, the reputation is something that other people say about us or our organization. Often there is a mismatch between communication, performance, and behavior, which makes the image connotation turn bad. According to Veve, organizations cannot polish their appearance only from the outside. Because the public will monitor and wait for evidence of the sincerity and commitment that has been communicated to the public.
In the era of freedom of information, reputation management is not something that can be compromised. A bad reputation can cause a corporation to stop operating. Meanwhile, if something similar happens within a government institution, the impact in the future could be that the best people won’t be willing to work there. “The currency is called reputation and trust,” she said. However, building behavior and performance is not entirely a PR task. The task of PR is to communicate efforts the organization has been doing to improve its behavior and performance to internal and external stakeholders. By communicating behavior and performance, it can increase public trust and create positive perceptions of the organizations.
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 90th edition issued on September 2022, page 16-17.
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