Sunday, March 14, 2010

Real Data on How Best To Manage a Crisis or "No Comment" No Good!

In past articles I've suggested that we, as communications and business people, should question our assumptions rather than blindly building programs and campaigns based on common knowledge or our gut feel.

However, I do not mean to suggest these necessarily are wrong, only that we should test them.

The last few months have provided two very high-profile examples of brand reputation crises: Toyota and Tiger Woods. For those of us in the public relations and communications profession, common knowledge is to get out in front of the media as soon as possible to tell them what you know and what you do not know and to apologize for any potential wrong doing and then to keep the media updated as new information becomes available. For those in the legal profession, common knowledge might be closer to "say as little as possible to avoid liability."

Kellogg Insight, an eZine published by the Kellogg School of Management, recently ran an article ( based on research that tested these two assumptions. The research was conducted by Eric Luis Uhlman, George E. Newman, Victoria L. Brescoll, Adam D. Galinsky and Daniel Diermeir.

They ran five experiments. Three examined a range of responses to crises and two explored how a crisis affected perceptions of a corporate logo and water product usage. The following is from the Kellogg Insight article:

Participants in all studies reacted more positively when the company involved in the crisis gave an engaged response. When the company involved in the sexual harassment case firmly stated that inappropriate behavior was not tolerated and that allegations would be taken seriously, participants thought better of the company, drank more of their water, and said it tasted better than when the company gave a defensive or “no comment” response. In the harmful food additive case, the results were strikingly similar. ....

.... Executives believe a “no comment” statement will inspire the public to reserve judgment until all the facts are made public, Diermeier thinks. .... But “the moment you say something as a company, the level of trust you have is much lower than if you say it as an individual,” he adds. “Companies are really not trusted a lot.” ....

... Many legal departments will advise executives to stick with “no comment” to limit their company’s liability. But by giving such a statement, executives may lose far more in brand value than they could gain in minimizing legal risks, Diermeier says.

“There is a clear sense that a crisis strategy that’s engaged and reaching out works better than one that is self-justifying,” Diermeier says. “And most important is that saying nothing, being quiet in these cases has basically the same effect as if you are confrontational.”

Now, PR and other communications professionals have some real data to present to their CEOs when the lawyers are saying to keep mum. And, in this case, our assumptions, based in large part on a body of professional experience, appear to have been right.


Gina Cuclis said...

Thank you for providing the data behind what I have always advised clients. When you say "no comment" you can hurt your reputation. You may be perceived as having something to hide, or that you don't have control of the crisis. I provide, in this short article, a few alternatives of what to say instead of "no comment" when you're not prepared to answer questions.

Forrest W. Anderson said...

Thanks for reading and commenting Gina. I'll take a look at your article.