In times of crisis, top executives try to find solutions to problems considered outside the purview of their daily operations. Suddenly they need someone to help explain who they are, their philosophy and cast them in the best possible light in an effort to stay in business.
Unfortunately, public relations, the discipline that has the people with the skills to do so is overlooked in the good times. In good times, however, is when companies should be sowing the seeds of goodwill through relationship building and social initiatives.
Corporate social responsibility initiatives are thought to cushion the negative perceptions of the company that follows a crisis by building mutually beneficial relationships with a wide range of stakeholders during normal times which act as a type of insurance policy for periods of turmoil, such as we are currently experiencing. But whether you have done so or not this worldwide pandemic has thrown every business into some type of crisis and for each industry the challenges are different.
In Barbados, like other countries as much as 30,000 persons are reportedly unemployed because of COVID-19 with the expectation that this number will increase. So, what should companies be doing to protect their reputations?
Despite employees and customers understanding the need for some austerity measures there will be fall out from employees due to loss of salary and from customers because of a reduction in services. The notion that companies and society are intrinsically linked, and therefore companies should use their resources both for-profit and benefit society is currently a fundamental expectation of stakeholders. The Edelman Trust Barometer special report of March 30 conducted a 12-market study of 12,000 people and found that “Sixty-two percent of respondents said that their country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges. Fifty-five percent said that brands and companies are responding more quickly and effectively than the government. At the same time, 71 percent agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.” Companies, therefore, should act with compassion in their decision making.
Stakeholder Emotions During A Crisis
Managing expectations is key to managing the range of emotions people experience during a crisis. Stakeholder emotions are thought to be important in aiding or impeding a company during a crisis as stakeholders work out their feelings; however, there is a major gap in the literature on the mechanism that drives such an emotional response and contributes to those feelings. Some of the emotional responses to a crisis that have been identified include fear, joy, surprise, sympathy, and anger. It has been suggested that outcomes of organizational public relations relationships are trust, satisfaction, control mutuality, and commitment. Stakeholder emotions may be divided into two categories: emotions that are fostered through CSR relationships (satisfaction, trust, loyalty, and sympathy) and emotions that reflect our body’s natural defenses against negative stimuli (fear, anger, and skepticism). The amount of the latter emotion expressed by stakeholders is moderated by preexisting levels of satisfaction, trust, loyalty, sympathy garnered during the good times.
Eldeman suggested some practical solutions which I endorse. Companies must keep stakeholders well informed of what is happening and demonstrate empathy in their communications and actions. They must also educate stakeholders and stay connected with them and in tune with their needs. This time is not one for individual motives or goals, but the company must be seen to be working for the collective good if it is to emerge from this crisis successfully.