One of the major contributions of public relations is in curtailing and managing issues and crises before, during and
after they might have occurred. Through anticipating trends, issues and events that will destroy the reputation of the organisation,
effective communication management provides public affairs solution to reduce negative impacts of a public outcry as attempts
are made to influence the behaviour of stakeholders.
It is unfortunate that
many organisations fail to appreciate the value of their Public Relations Officers as they often resort to fire brigade approaches
at the dying minutes. This unbecoming attitude may be due to the failure of the management to take the image-maker in confidence.
It is quite disturbing that it is only after the eruption of crisis that companies seek the skill of the crises manager to
provide his professional services.
Disasters, which are accidental, occur unexpectedly in the productive sector of the economy like in factories and industrial
sites. Most, if not all, are due to carelessness and failure to put in place an emergency team and precautionary measure to
avert escalation of the precarious imbroglio.
Financial crises are predictable and can be averted once the Public Relations Manager is able to monitor trends and
happenings in the operations environment of the organisation. A typical major financial crisis was the distress in the banking
sectors in the 90s when many banks were closed down and their Chief Executives prosecuted for unethical practices. Needless
to say that the turn of events also affected some insurance firms and reputable chartered accounting firms which were expected
to audit the accounts of some of these financial institutions.
This financial crisis also resulted in the ultimate option of giving out these businesses through take over bids of
the firms, which are attainable by means of merger and acquisition or lighter approach of diversification of investments.
In a public institution, any problem that arises from fiscal or monetary disequilibrium or distortion in budgetary
provision, is considered an economic crisis. It is that period when the citizens and/or through the media, cry out against
the government’s inefficiency in the face of galloping inflation, foreign exchange instability, capital flight, high
rate of unemployment and other related economic problems which may bring down the image of the government of the day, unless
appropriate actions are taken to remedy the problems.
In all of the above, what is needed in the face of those crises while decision is being made is that, the public needs
timely and correct information from the organisation or the body responsible for the problem. And the best bet is to allow
the Public Relations persons take charge of the situation.
Technically, the use of public relations manager in the event of crises is to advise the management on the best steps
to take in winning back public confidence and acceptability. This is also to seek for their sympathy and support in the face
of the challenges. In addition, it is expected that the department should delegate the responsibility of reaching out to the
public through appropriate information network. This network may include the use of trained telephone receptionists to respond
to enquiries and for senior officers to visit relevant institutions and publics to explain the situation at hand.
But most importantly, the public relations officer should be able to handle a hostile public and aggressive media enquiries
as this is always the time when tension rises higher. Protests and demonstrations are very likely at such critical periods
when the relevant publics are disenchanted with the way and manner the organisation responds.
According to Di Burton, there are four stages (techniques) of handling difficult aggressive personalities. These, he
said, include giving them time to cool down. This is by talking to them, as they are relaxed and in positive moods. Before
approaching them, some specific ways to gain their attention should be prepared. This is by breaking good news, compensation
and rewards or improvement in the service of the organisation to them. The manager should also acknowledge the aspects of
their ideas that he believes are true and/or important. This acknowledgment does not necessarily mean agreement.
The essence of this is to diffuse some of their aggression and make them more open to organisation’s stand. And
lastly, the Public Relations Manager should hold his ground and stand up for his organisation’s position. This can be
achieved by consistently backing down or giving ideas to appease them, as they will not tend to reinforce their aggression.
In the face of financial crises, the management should give the public relations department the full support to operate
and discharge its duties satisfactorily. It is expected that the officer must have acquainted himself fully with the event
through media reports and clips. As an insider too, he has an option of either getting out from the problems by his healthy
relationship with other management staff or by an effective monitoring of the company’s services and products and its
operations within a given community to be able to predict and foresee.
Since crisis is always viewed as an unexpected occurrence, a time of great difficulty when immediate and important
decisions must be made, the only friend to turn to is the PR man who is saddled with the responsibility of getting and retaining
In a crisis situation, Michael Blend, advises that the public relations person should be prepared at all times and make sure the following are observed
(a). Preparation: The
organisation should maintain contact with its host community at all times. These will include the opinion leaders and the
(b). Crisis Room: A
special team or think-tank should be in the organisation. Apart from the Chief Executive who should lead the team in deliberating
and seeking the way out, the team should include the public relations man, legal adviser, and the head of operation or officer-in-charge
of the issue at hand. It is recommended that the crisis room must be an isolated environment with minimal interference and
(c). Resources: When
crisis erupts, there is a tendency to receive large crowds, who may be the organisation’s target audience, trooping
in or trying to get in contact with the organisation by all means. The organisation should provide telephone numbers, mailbox,
special e-mail address and relevant items that may be required to douse the tension. Also, some staff should be designated
to receive and respond politely to all enquiries as they come in.
(d). Message: The spokesperson,
if necessary the Chief Executive, may address the public through appropriate media. It may be in form of press-releases, paid
adverts or through press conferences. The message should be designed in such a way that it gives assurance, tenders an apology
where necessary and seeks sympathy and goodwill while expressing, in an honest and polite manner, the possible reason for
the development. This is the main stage of all crises management, that is informing the public truthfully and honestly on
the situation to avoid rumour mongering and gossips that may compound the already critical situation.
(e). Target: As in any
public relations stages, the target audience of the organisation must be known. But in crisis situation, not only are the
relevant audience but large targets considered too for their understanding. Therefore, the targets include stakeholders, local
community, pressure groups, the government and the media.
At all crises situations, it is the responsibility of the PR Unit to make sure that its communication technique has
a timely and precise quality, so as to build goodwill amongst its general public, showing care and concern. While anticipating
action from pressure groups, whose approach may be highly demanding, a crisis management team should be raised and trained
on-the-spot. The more reliable hands are involved, the better the representation to reach wider targets.