29 January 2013

5 Laws for Communicating in a Crisis

How not to treat clients, partners and the media when your company runs into difficulties

The reputation of Aerosvit, one of Ukraine's national airlines, has been seriously damaged during the past two months. What began as flight delays in December before the holiday high travel season snowballed into bankruptcy proceedings and significant disruption for thousands of travelers around the globe. Aerosvit's story provides important crisis communications lessons for national champions, particularly what not to do in a crisis.
Crisis events require immediate attention and response by company management. There are three keys to effectively managing communications during a crisis:
  1. Clear definition of company executive roles and responsibilities
  2. Quick response in the communications effort
  3. Accurate and controlled dissemination of information. 
By its own admission, the airline acknowledged that “Internet publications” are to “blame” for the confusion among passengers and potential customers. However, first and foremost Aerosvit’s management and PR services should take the blame for violating the basic laws of crisis communication.
 
Law #1 – The story will be written with you or without you. Aerosvit decided to let the Internet shape the story rather than actively communicate with airports, passengers, potential customers and the media.
 
Law #2 – Tell the truth and act immediately. The Aerosvit crisis was brewing for weeks and began when airports in Moscow refused to let Aerosvit aircraft land at ports due to indebtedness. Aerosvit paid the debts but created a “time bomb” when it was not truthful to passengers about the situation recurring in other airports around the globe, thus stranding passengers.
 
Law #3 – Educate and correct misinformation. Aerosvit did little to communicate directly with passengers directly stuck at airports and allowed them to be mouthpieces of bad news that further hurt the company’s reputation.
 
Law #4 – Show compassion and understanding. Aerosvit’s responses have been paper based and have not shown any compassion or understanding for the inconveniences caused to passengers.
 
Law #5 – Communicating during a crisis is crucial to your company’s reputation and future performance. Aerosvit’s poor crisis response has undoubtedly caused reputation damage to its brand. This has not only hurt its reputation with passengers, but also with regulators, business partners and potential buyers.
 
Unfortunately, rather than using the crisis to turn around its reputation, Aerosvit has let the crisis destroy its market position, which is now being taken advantage of by regulators and competitors.
 
By Myron Wasylyk
 
This article originally appeared as a commentary piece on Forbes.ua.
 

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