Among the many reasons why institutions fail to plan before a disaster strikes, it is perhaps culture that is the most difficult area to change. The “bahala na” and “puwera usog” mentalities are very much present to date even among corporations, said experts.
Amor Maclang of Geiser-Maclang, a PR agency, said this mindset wouldn’t do for highly sensitive industries like tourism, where the slightest security breach can cause uncontrolled publicity and cancellation of bookings.
In a September 28 Tourism Congress of the Philippines assembly in General Santos, Maclang said that Mindanao, in particular, needs to ensure that it has plans for each potential problem, calamity, or conflict that may arise. An advantage of Mindanao, she said, is that the problems in the past, save for natural disasters, were predictable and thus could be prevented. For instance, while the Bangsamoro was being laid out by both the MILF and the Philippine government, it was only a matter of time before a rebel faction would take its opposition to a higher degree.
Prepared for the unexpected
Crisis management is a specialization among communications professionals and can be a complex process for organizations to do, touching on plans from the pre-crisis to post-crisis stages. Gina Virtusio, a crisis management and communications expert, said four C’s are followed in handling a crisis: control, coordinate, communication, and compassion.
The importance of being proactive cannot be stressed enough. “It’s easier to manage when you’re proactive,” said Virtusio pulling deep from a case she handled over a decade ago, when she was with the PR department of a shipping line. It is described as the “Philippines’ deadliest terrorist attack and the world’s deadliest terrorist attack at sea,” where 116 people died.
Handling the media
Part of crisis communications is understanding how media work. “Give them the right content, give them the right information, and they will put it out. You should have good relationships with all these networks, all these media. And you should establish that even before any crisis happens; ‘yun ang trabaho ng PR. Kaya kapag may problema, nandyan sila sa yo, katabi nila. Hindi nila papatayin ang istorya pero balanse ang istorya,” Virtusio said.
Communications play a significant role in making sure the rest of the three C’s are done properly. But Maclang advised that handling a crisis will not always just be about managing the media. “Reputation management goes way beyond managing the media.”
Since “anyone” can basically publish something via the Internet, Maclang advised, “Prepare your key action steps; forget key messages… Plan action steps and the key take away. If this happens, what would you like the tourism sector to say? If Scenario B happens, what would you like investors to say?” Start with an end in mind and move backwards, she said.
During a crisis, a locality or institution typically goes in siege mode and becomes defensive, seeing the media and critics as enemies. “Your emotions get the better of you,” Maclang said, emphasizing the need for objective people to run the implementation of the crisis plan and reputation management.
A “transition campaign” comes in a few weeks after the crisis, when the institution needs to “bridge the issue to a bigger, more positive issue” and ensure its stakeholders that business will go as smoothly as in the past. While this campaign is implemented in the post-crisis stage, Maclang cautioned about getting too lax and confident about surviving the crisis. At any point in time, another of the same scale or nature can erupt, thus continuous update of the plan and people involved is needed.