Understanding the Journalists and Media Environment for effective Crisis Communication
Part 3 of the 5-Part Series on Crisis Communication
While owned media and social media play crucial roles in helping the organization communicate with its stakeholders during a crisis (Verhoeven et. al., 2014), I agree with Van der Meer and Verhoeven (2013, as cited in Verhoeven et. al., 2014) that traditional media has significant importance due to its ability to prevent escalation of the crisis by damping the social media mentions by stakeholders about the crisis. Thus, media relations and personal communication with stakeholders, especially the media, by organizational leaders become vital factors of crisis response and image restoration strategies (Verhoeven et. al., 2014).
We first look at the significance of media relations in corporate communication. While it is evident that media relations perform an important information-subsidy function and is crucial to ensure that organizations do not garner poor news coverage (Pang, 2009), Pang (2009) highlighted three themes which cause journalists to dislike communication practitioners. To help practitioners manage relationships with journalists better, Pang (2009) developed the ‘mediating the media model’, which focuses on both internal and external factors influencing media relations and guides practitioners on building a collaborative relationship with the media. To understand this model better I tried to analyse the worm infestation crisis faced by Cadbury’s India (CI) in October 2003 (Vaid, 2006). CI initially responded to the reports with denial and blamed it on poor storage by the retailers. But, following strong retaliation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and some public exchange of statements between CI and FDA, the organization saw 30% dip in sales – forcing it to start taking corrective actions (Vaid, 2006). With its strong brand equity, CI maintains good relations with the media, and this was evident from the crisis management and images restoration strategies the organization adopted to garner earned media (Shah & D’Souza, 2009) after completely supressing its paid media campaigns following the escalation of the crisis (Vaid, 2006).
CI first shared their point of view of the crisis with the media. Then it started addressing the media based on what Pang (2009) posits as ‘journalist mindset’ by giving regular updates to the media on the steps taken by the organization with its trade and retail partners and urged the media to educate consumers that their products were safe, but the consumers should exercise same care in buying chocolate as they would for other food products. Next, to satisfy information subsidy, appreciating schedules and deadlines of media, in line with what Pang (2009) posits as ‘journalist routines’, CI setup a media desk to answer all media queries – both positive and negative. The next factor Pang (2009) highlights is ‘newsroom or organizational routines’, which CI addressed by organizing one-to-one sessions between their organizational leaders and editors from 31 key media organizations. Pang next posits the factor of ‘extra-media forces’, which was carried out in two phases – CI first promised the media that they would improve their packaging within two months, which was then delivered in January 2004 with CI announcing that it has made an investment of INR 15 Cr to introduce new metallic poly-flow packaging, with the details being made available to the media. Finally, in alignment to ‘media ideology’ as highlighted by Pang (2009), CI brought in Amitabh Bachchan as the brand ambassador in January 2004 to lend his voice and credibility to the brand and launched an elaborate paid media campaign (The Economic Times, 2004) –prompting different segments of the media operating in the country to cover the developments in CI’s factories and its improved packaging; thus garnering earned media.
We next shift our focus to personal communication by organizational leaders. To understand the recurring theme in verbal, visual and vocal cues that came out from the study by Waele et. al. (2020), I analysed the statements by Tony Hayward, CEO of BP after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill crisis (Pallardy, 2021). Based on my understanding, Hayward, when making his statements, was aligned to verbal, visual and vocal cues, which the study posits. However, his use of the words “I want my life back” (CNN, 2016) gave rise to another crisis for both Hayward and BP (Reuters, 2010).
CNN. (2016). HAYWARD - LIFE BACK [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZraCNZZ7U8
Pallardy, R. (2021). Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Deepwater-Horizon-oil-spill
Pang, A. (2009). Mediating the media: A journalist-centric media relations model. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 15(2), 192-204. https://doi.org/10.1108/13563281011037955
Reuters. (2010). BP CEO apologizes for "thoughtless" oil spill comment. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-oil-spill-bp-apology-idUSTRE6515NQ20100602
Shah, K., & D’Souza, A. (2009). Advertising and Promotion: An IMC Perspective (pp. 59-61). Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
The Economic Times. (2004). Cadbury ropes in Amitabh as its brand ambassador.https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/brand-equity/advertising/cadbury-ropes-in-amitabh-as-its-brand-ambassador/articleshow/410769.cms
Vaid. M. (2006). How Cadbury's won the battle of worms. Rediff.com. https://www.rediff.com/money/2006/dec/24cad.htm
Verhoeven, P., Tench, R., Zerfass, A., Moreno, A., & Vercic, D. (2014). Crisis? What crisis? How European professionals handle crises and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 40, 107-109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.10.010
Waele, A. D., Claeys, A., & Opgenhaffen, M. (2020). Preparing to face the media in times of crisis: Training spokespersons’ verbal and nonverbal cues. Public Relations Review, 46, 101871. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.101871