On my question, why should we focus on crisis communications?
Indeed, why has it become a subject of significant academic study?
With policy-makers questioning why they should focus their efforts on
understanding communications when they would be
better served understanding how to respond to crisis?
Ulmer suggested in 2011, that if we do not study crisis communications,
organizations and the many people associated with them are likely to be stunned,
frightened, and depressed when enveloped by a crisis.
It is widely considered that Exxon's handling of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989,
the second largest oil spill in the United States history,
was badly managed through poor communications.
Their mismanagement led to Exxon suffering significant damage to their reputation.
Indeed, it was noted that Exxon handled the crisis badly by delaying its response,
downplaying the incident, and responding offensively to the media.
The company severely damaged its image and reputation.
The Exxon crisis led to organizations revisiting, and
in some cases, implementing significant crisis communications capabilities.
Whilst the lesson of Exxon Valdez was certainly identified,
one might question whether the lessons were learned and applied
particularly in the wake of BP's handling of
the crisis communication after Deepwater Horizon.
It has been proposed by a number of scholars that there are
arguments which emphasize the importance of crisis communications.
This includes Ray in 1999, who suggested that communication critical to
the control of the crisis serves to either manage
the situation or create further confusion.
Reynolds and Earley in 2010 expanded upon this when they argued that,
when faced with a new threat,
you'd want a consistent and simple recommendation to follow.
If officials cannot give people the information they need or think they need,
when they need it, others will.
When policymakers are required to activate crisis communications,
there are a number of options they face, in particular,
how to communicate their message to the interested party.
Because although each group will be required to be handled in a different way, what is
important is that a consistency of message runs through each statement to each group.