Opinion /

“No Comment” a long distant memory in Crisis Communications and Issues Management

“Reputation is about much more than communications and corporate affairs. It’s about what others feel and believe (about a brand).” – Wally Young

I recently completed the PRII Certificate in Crisis Communications and Issues Management, which was “developed to give communications and other professionals a deeper insight into the challenges facing organisations when managing crisis events and high profile issues, in the full glare of the media.”

The course director, Wally Young, was enlightening and interesting and as full of anecdotes and case studies as he was expert knowledge.  The format of the course was designed to facilitate group exercises and discussions, where we shared our approach to issue and crisis situations and Wally appraised our responses, providing his feedback and insights.  Overall, it was a brilliant experience and I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow PR professionals who undertook the course.  As Nick Purdom of PR Week said, “The PR industry has an important role to play in helping companies identify and manage risks that could damage their reputation.”

As part of the course, I completed a 3,000 word assignment which, in short, revolved around planning for a crisis or issue management event in an organisation.  In a recent article, ‘Crisis communications planning’ in Accountancy Ireland, Niall Quinn, Deputy Managing Director and Head of Corporate Advisory Practice at The Reputation Agency, said, “Planning is the best insurance policy for protecting a company’s most valuable asset – its brand and reputation.”

During the course, Wally Young advised that “no comment” is no longer an acceptable response by an organisation to media enquiries when faced with an issue or crisis.  Accuracy and honesty should form the cornerstone of any statement.  A measured, calm response is vital and decision makers must initially distance themselves from the pressures of media and social media, where possible.  Wally advised that decision makers should “focus on what is relevant in a crisis and set it as the priority.  Good people emerge in a crisis – normally it’s their focus and calm approach.”  Accuracy and truth is of utmost importance when communicating to stakeholders in order to protect the organisation’s reputation and credibility.

In “Crisis, Issues and Reputation Management”, Andrew Griffin said, “Issues management is the management over time of non-acute risks to an organisation’s strategic, commercial and reputational interests which, if left unmanaged, or ignited by a ‘trigger’ event, could escalate into crises.  Issues management has the same reputational goal as crisis management, but it implies more space and time: there may be periods of pressure and scrutiny, but it takes place within a ‘business as usual’ context.”

In an issue or crisis situation, an organisation should employ strategies to ensure any potential damage to an organisation is minimised and reputations remain intact.  Issues and crisis communications professionals understand clearly that reputation is of paramount importance for an organisation and that its management is a fundamental cornerstone of an issues and crisis communications strategy.  The title of chapter 5 in “Risk Issues and Crisis Management in Public Relations.  A Casebook of Best Practice” is “An issue ignored is a crisis ensured”, which perfectly summarises the relationship between an issue and a crisis and the importance of planning ahead and reacting appropriately within certain timeframes.

I absolutely loved the course and am always a firm believer is upskilling and continuously learning.  I can’t wait to put my learnings into practice for our clients.

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Orla Clancy recently completed a Certificate in Crisis Communications and Issues Management at the PRII.  She also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Relations and Event Management from the Fitzwilliam Institute (accredited by the PRII) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick. Orla is a Senior Account Manager at AM O’Sullivan PR and designs bespoke packages to suit the different requirements and budgets of clients.  She is also PR Officer of Network Ireland West Cork.  Contact Orla at orla@amosullivanpr.ie / 087 9388882.

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