Authenticity is Inviolable in Public Relations

When companies land up in crisis, how quickly and how well they respond determines the impact that the crisis is bound to have. More often than not what goes out is either legalese or a ‘not so sorry’ kind of statement from companies and spokespersons. It is not surprising because legal teams are engaged in such situations and the only motto is to quickly get out of it and save them from litigation. Sometimes companies choose not to respond and may simply want to let it cool down. That is a perfectly okay thing to do and is also encouraged when there is no other way out of it and it is the best course of action for medium sized companies. You know let us just forget crisis for a moment. These days companies freely put out advertisements and messages that border on discrimination on various fronts. Companies are after all just a reflection of our larger society.

An organisation’s values and purpose is truly tested during a crisis and how they respond during a crisis. A communications professional has to play a role of their lifetime to safeguard the brand value during this period. One particular incident that stands out to me is when Airtel put out a detailed statement when twitter users alleged that Airtel bowed down to a discriminatory request from a customer. The way that Airtel went on to respond won a thousands of hearts. No Jargon. No Legalese. Just 100% authentic response. They responded to the incident as is and did not attempt to make their way out of it or pander to any kind of power.

You can read up all about that incident in this link

Compare this to an Edtech company that chose to fire a significant number of its workforce one day and next day announce Global Icon Lionel Messi as their ambassador. This is nothing but absolute insensitivity on part of the company. These are basic tenets of PR and one can’t afford to go wrong with this!

In my career, I have come across so many situations when management wanted to do something reckless while responding to a crisis and the best I could do was de-escalate the situation to a no comment, which is a lot better than aggravating an already worse situation.

The alignment between a brand’s actions and consumer desires is the foundation of authenticity in branding. It is a demonstration of how a company goes beyond the quest of profit, whether it is through educating consumers about a product’s ingredients to help them make healthier decisions or by making their daily lives simpler so they can spend more time with friends and family.

A crisis is also a time when you realise how valuable relationships can be. That editor that you have on speed dial? That Principal Correspondent who is your mentor? The other journalist who is almost a friend! A crisis is when you can turn around and seek their help to put your side of things out.

A press release, or a social media post, or a public apology needs to be authentic and clear. Your stakeholders will automatically assume that you are skirting the truth when you use technical language or unnecessary jargon. Often, the answer lies in being as simple as possible. The truth is always simple.

Basically in a crisis, take responsibility, own up, be clear and concise in your response. If you can’t be any of this, stay put and save your face and fight the battle another day!

Also, the worse thing to do than not commenting would be to make false promises or claims. If we simply remember that customer love and trust is hard to earn, we will make every effort to keep that trust intact.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nadhiya Mali
Nadhiya Mali is a communications professional with a 13-year experience in PR, reputation management, CSR, and Sustainability. Currently she leads the Corporate Communications of one of India’s leading chains of laboratories.

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