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PR is not a quick-fix tool to handle crisis

16-March-2004
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PR is not a quick-fix tool to handle crisis

Every organisation, at some time or the other, faces a crisis. And, the answer doesn't lie in calling on the PR guy. How well one is prepared to deal with it, especially in the critical initial phases, determines the impact of the crisis.

Forty-eight hours after a Surat-based vernacular eveninger ran a story on the falling stock markets with a mention that the ICICI Bank may face a liquidity crisis as an aftereffect of the crash, it was a make-or-break effort by the media to reassure the near-hysterical public of the bank's sound fiscal position and stem the rising mass panic before it ballooned out of control.

The ICICI Bank crisis management is a clear example of how PR could be effectively utilised to quell rumours and stem rising panic. However, conglomerates cannot just rely on PR as a "quick-fix" tool and sit back; there are other things that come into play. In this case, the media blew the whistle on the rumours surrounding ICICI Bank by directly approaching the bank, which responded promptly, and brought out a detailed version of the facts. But apart from educating the mass of the truth, demands were met by stacking money at every branch and ATM in the affected region, to establish credibility; the bank, reportedly faced withdrawals of Rs 550 crore in 72 hours.

So how does a conglomerate prepare for crisis management? "Every large organisation has its share of crisis, large or small. Communications play an important role in helping the organisation to go through this phase with ease and achieve normalcy," said Manoj Chandra, Head - Corporate Communications, RPG Enterprises. "At RPG, we have had some of our businesses going through this phase and we have helped them by preparing the management for media scrutiny, which follows any such incident. We had to ensure that communication barriers were not broken and factual information was made available to the media quickly so that rumours were not reported. This helped the situation to get diffused very quickly," he explained while discussing with exchange4media.com.

Going one step further, there are corporates who arm themselves for a crisis. The Apeejay Group has outlined a crisis manual, which leaves nothing to chance. "A specially created 'Crisis Management Manual' is in use within the companies. It details all the necessary steps that need to be taken by each department. This is a working document that is revised every 6-8 months," said Deepa Dey, Director, Corporate Communications, Apeejay Surrendra Group. Her view is to follow the straight-and-narrow. "Nothing can beat the truth. Accept your mistakes and address them. And go on with business as usual. There is no use being defensive as that makes others feel that the issue is more serious than it is. More often than not, these crises act as eye openers for the management, who can use them as corrective tools," she explained.

Discussions with Corporate Communication heads clearly show that corporates today are not viewing PR as a "quick-fix" tool, contrary to the general perception. And, that's the way the PR Industry likes it too. "PR has become synonymous with crisis management and is expected to deliver miraculous results; but one should realise that PR is a systematic and ongoing process, and cannot always achieve immediate positive results," said Troy Ribeiro, Managing Director, Litmus.

Is there then any key to crisis management? Although the machinery depends upon individual situations, there is a general dictate. "Crisis management basically involves three important steps - recognising the crisis, identifying the possible crisis and putting systems into place to avoid/minimise the effects of the effect," explained a PR official.

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