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A crisis is any threatening situation that could harm an individual, people or a property. A crisis may gravely disrupt operations and damage the reputation of an organization or business. Characteristically, crises often come as a unique, surprising moments and experiences in the life of an organization, pose threats and often require prompt response to solve the situation. The society continually encounters unique crises. Some of the crises are intentional, such as terrorism, workplace violence, and unethical leadership and sabotage while others are unintentional, such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters and unforeseen accidents. In the event of a crisis in an organization, effective communication is imperative to mitigate and affect the outcome. Therefore, this paper presents a case of perceived failure in crisis communication and its aftermath. The paper also provides the fundamentals of crisis communication and its importance in an organization.
Crisis Communication in the BP Company (2010)
The BP Deepwater Horizon Spill, which occurred in April 2010, marked the major maritime disaster ever in the petroleum industry. An exceptional explosion caused the oil spill accident, which caused the death of eleven people. Some months later, it was reported that gallons of oil (millions) leaked into the sea and thereby caused more damages in the U.S. The oil disaster led to damaging the environment, the economy, the tourism sector and to the BP Company. Briefly, the damage to the company was both financial and reputational (de Wolf & Mejri, 2013). The company used crisis communication during and after the crisis to address the disaster. However, the review of the crisis presents the possibility of inefficient crisis communication during the event, and consequently, the company suffered much damage due to the inefficient communication strategies (de Wolf & Mejri, 2013).
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The researchers suggest that the organization lacked a pre-event planning strategy. The lack of a crisis communication plan in the organization heightened the effect of the disaster. Reportedly, the organization neglected some of the warnings that were given prior to the accident at the Gulf of Mexico. Organizations that operate without pre-event plans in times of crisis face challenges especially with the media scrutiny, and this damages the organizations’ image or reputation. The chief executive officer (CEO) of the BP Company admitted that the company was not well prepared to handle the media scrutiny (Jupiter Reklam AB, 2008).
Effective crisis communication involves prompt acknowledgment of the problem and showing of empathy to the affected. Such faster responses to the crisis influence the public opinion about the organization. However, researchers established that the BP Company was too slow to react to the crisis. The management team took four days to notice the leaking well and was not prompt in showing concern or apologizing to the victims affected by the spill and neither did it give assurance to the stakeholders (de Wolf & Mejri, 2013).
The organization did not notice the significance and the role of the spokesperson during the crisis. The CEO of a company, as a spokesperson, should be good at communicating with all the parties involved including the media, employees, stakeholders and all other third parties. Notably, the BP failed in this, and the CEO made a number of mistakes in his negligent statements. For instance, the CEO never considered the significance of the media during the crisis. An open and honest communication with the media facilitates the conveyance of the information to the public and the stakeholders through the news media. However, studies reveal that the BP limited the media exposures and consequently delayed the information flow to the public. The delayed information translated into a lack of trust, transparency and accessibility, which are vital fundamentals of crisis communication (Jupiter Reklam AB, 2008).
The above discussions elucidate that the crisis communication in the BP Company was not efficient and never took into consideration the fundamentals of effective crisis communication before, during and after the crisis. De Wolf and Mejri (2013) cite that the company concealed some of the vital details on the extent of damage caused by the disaster and only disseminated information that could rebuild its image and pass the blame to others. Consequently, the company had both financial and reputation losses and encountered several boycotts of its products.
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The Importance of Crisis Communication Plans to Organizations
Communication challenges are often exacerbated in times of crisis when there is a limited time, and prompt decisions are necessary. The challenges mount pressure on the organization and may lead to further financial, reputational and personal damages. Lack of understanding and poor communication in a time of crisis contributes to the failure to manage a crisis. Therefore, it is important that organizations have a crisis communication plan as part of the crisis management.
Crisis communication plans provide the means of disseminating and releasing information quickly during a crisis. Plans help organizations provide relevant and accurate information to the public who demand responses during an organization’s crisis. Notably, poor management of a crisis due to lack of a crisis communication plan can result in the ruin of the company’s or organization’s reputation. A plan provides the communication procedure both to the internal and external sources, and the roles and responsibilities of the parties are concerned.
Other than providing the news about the event, a crisis communication plan provides the overall preparedness of an organization to handle the crises that arise. Furthermore, companies should not only communicate to the public in times of crises but also prior to and after the crises. Such communications should be strategic and efficient to minimize any damage to the reputation and image of the company (Lando, 2014). A crisis communication plan provides for the media relations department and guides the company to ensure that it does the right thing and keeps the public informed of the efforts in handling the crisis.