L to R: Karthik S (Head of digital strategy (India) - Edelman India) and Amith Prabhu (Head, corporate communications, Starcom MediaVest Group)
Do you think clients are prepared to deal with sudden negative news?
Karthik S: Internally, perhaps yes. I have encountered HR divisions taking control of how to disseminate negative news to employees, but externally, given the kind of impact such news can have on assorted stakeholder groups...no.
Amith Prabhu: No company is prepared to deal with sudden negative news unless they saw it coming, in which case it is not sudden.
Do you think, in the instances that clients are not prepared, the media is able to cause more damage than in situations where clients are prepared?
Karthik S: Yes. That is a definite possibility. It amounts to information around the negative news spreading wider while the parties concerned have not made a good enough effort to clarify or add context.
Amith Prabhu: Yes. Lack of preparedness becomes a soft target. An issue well managed cannot turn into a crisis unless it is not given due attention.
Do you think clients should have an active CEO blog/ twitter handle so that they can instantly communicate with stakeholders and present their views?
Karthik S: Not necessarily. There are two aspects to negative news – (1) an action plan on what needs to be communicated (2) how should it be communicated. A CEO blog or a twitter feed only helps the second part (how – the mode of communication). The action plan and content of what needs to be communicated is perhaps more important. The mode, hence, could be owned media (blog, twitter etc.) or it could even be mainstream media. The only difference – you could say whatever you want (and face its consequences) in your own media, but for mainstream media, the company/spokesperson needs to be sure of saying the most appropriate thing in that situation. Having your own media (online) does help in sharing controlled information, but the two-way nature of online media ensures that what you say actually makes sense.
Amith Prabhu: In the age of social networks this is not negotiable, every CEO should have a presence on social networks which are easily accessed by media and customers.
Can you suggest a single company that is well prepared to handle sudden bad news? Can you expand on why you think so?
Karthik S: (As an aside, most of our clients are well prepared, thanks to us handling PR for them :)). I guess it is difficult to answer this question from a future-tense perspective. From what has happened, Nokia’s battery recall is a great example of proactive crisis management. Right from the scale of the communication and the timeliness with which it was handled, it was a truly wonderful effort. It had the potential to shake up the largest mobile player in India, but they turned it around to go even stronger!Earlier, companies could afford to ‘wait and watch’ how the news is picked in mainstream media. But these days, the damage is done long before mainstream media can opine on any piece of negative news...online. So, regardless of where one adds context or issues a clarification, timing is significantly more important.
Amith Prabhu: Nobody is really prepared for the unknown. But in recent times the fallout of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy verdict was well managed by Mahindra as a company despite Keshub Mahindra being convicted. Internationally, logistics and airline companies are usually well equipped to deal with a crisis.