The word “crisis” conjures up many examples: the Global Financial Crisis, various political crises, environmental crises and more.
Stephen Bowey’s recent article for Commtract summarised how banks and financial services need to recapture customer trust in the wake of the many crises that were catalysed as a result of the recent Royal Commission.
The role of crisis management, supported by crisis communication, is to navigate corporates through this crisis minefield.
The incentive is there – research conducted by the UK’s Templeton College in 1997 shows there is a 22% difference in the share price between companies that respond well and those that respond poorly to major incident, a full 12 months on.
Clearly, the business value of crisis practitioners is justified, even if the rationale for a 1990 book to be titled We’re So Big And Powerful Nothing Bad Can Happen To Us is still prevalent today. So why is it the case that pop cultural depictions of crisis managers are seemingly few and far between, especially in comparison to journalists and public relations practitioners?
The most obvious portrayal is Scandal, the US TV show about a former White House communications director who runs her own crisis management firm. Other TV shows have provided a more humourous take on crisis management and, in the process, have highlighted some worst-practice examples for Commtractors working in this field to avoid.
The Office (US)
The Scranton, Pennsylvania regional branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company faces a major headache when Creed (Creed Bratton), the branch’s quality assurance director, skips his annual check at the paper mill, leading to an obscene watermark being printed on 500 boxes’ worth of “24-pound cream letter stock”.
Michael Scott’s (Steve Carell) response is multimodal: drawing on his relationships with key accounts (good) and scheduling a media call (attended only by the obituary writer and “Lighter Side of Life” columnist for The Scranton Times, not someone from the Washington Post as Dwight expects) to apologise to one of these key accounts, while admitting in private that she’s actually not that important (extremely bad!).
The media call goes about as badly as you would expect Michael to go when relating to others while facing up to his pride and ego. The key lesson here is that acknowledging responsibility and apologising is difficult, as former BP CEO Tony Hayward found out during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
In another part of Pennsylvania, businessman Frank Reynolds (Danny de Vito) finds himself in hot water after mistaking Boca Raton with a terrorist group also starting with “B” in order to sell his Wolf Cola line of soft drinks.
Reynolds, his son Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and daughter Deandra (Kaitlin Olson) appear on a local morning TV show twice to front up. Both appearances start well – the morning show’s social media feed attests to that – before being derailed by avoidable distractions.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth” applies here – with more spokespeople, the more chances there are of messages getting side-tracked, as the Reynolds family discovered.
While not intending to be serious, these shows provide key lessons for crisis communicators in demonstrating what not to do in a crisis.