No one can accurately foresee when a crisis will happen. They are sudden and unpredictable. The key to this is in how prepared one is to mitigate a crisis in the first place and then manage the process of returning the situation back to normalcy.
In the corporate world a crisis could either tank your business or serve as a catalyst for the improvement of business processes. Some areas prone to creating issues which eventually turn into crises are labour, operations, and management and environmental activities among others. Organisations need to be mindful of the potential of sour issues going incredibly wrong.
One organization currently facing a crisis in full bloom is Mawarko Foods. The company is one of the well-known brands when it comes to Middle Eastern cuisine. It is not uncommon to witness the unending queues of patrons, waiting their turn to sample a ‘Mawarco Shawarma’ et al.
Sadly, a recent incident involving the alleged maltreatment of staff on site seems to have shaken the foundation of business for this company. Organisations are not immune to crises. They need to insulate themselves from the devastating impact that crises can cause to their brands. History has taught the many of the effects of a crisis on the reputation of organisations with the likes of Enron, Domino’s Pizza and Johnson & Johnson.
In the grand scheme of things, one can use the Mawarko crisis as a case study on how a company should tackle any crisis and emerge reformed for future business operations.
The road to recovery starts with admitting that there is a problem (note that this may lead to and reach damaging proportions to the brand at the initial stage).Then a prudent switch to emergency mode and a prompt advance towards implementing a full crisis communication strategy to ameliorate circumstances must be pursued.
The purpose of the crisis communication strategy is to guide the organisation’s executives to communicate to its stakeholders and the general public on the events that have cast a negative perception on the integrity of the company; the crisis plan is the blue print of a clearly defined channel to alleviate negative repercussions.
One must always know that the media will do their job in sounding the alarm when things go wrong; but social media amplifies a crisis exponentially at astounding speed. This case is evidently a media crisis; it is important to understand the issues clearly, respond swiftly and to send out consistent messaging.
So, how did things get so out of hand for this company?
- Timing (delayed response): The issue happened on Sunday February 26, 2017; the company delayed their response (i.e. issuance of an official statement) until about a week after. By this time, different versions of the story had taken root in the minds of the public.
- Breach of crisis response protocol (the issue of spokesperson/s): It seems that there was no crisis management policy or strategy guiding the company in handling communications between the company and the outside world. Too many voices from the company were giving testimonies by granting interviews on behalf of the company.The official statement for instance, was attributed to the CEO, which should be no crime. However, two other staff, one is reported to be the “Public Relations Officer” and the other, a Supervisor, were heard on separate radio stations speaking on the issue and creating contradictions which undoubtedly inflamed tensions. Engagement with the media must strictly be for designated persons with the skill and approval from management.
- Social media and the missed opportunity: They missed the opportunity to actively use social media in time to reach the public. Public mob-waves began ganging up against the company with concerted cries from the public to boycott all services and products of the company. The issue began to trend and spread on many other social media platforms.
- A struggling statement: Aside being late, the official statement from the company seemed wrought with contradictions. There were different accounts to the story from the various statements in the public domain which opened the company up for further mistrust and anger.
- Whistleblower Protection: This one is tricky but from the official statement given, the company created the impression that their internal structures were not strong. They stated categorically that though the issue happened, and was being managed by the HR department, management only got wind of the situation after the police arrested the suspect. Whistleblower protection is serious business. To ensure organiations are aware of all incidents within their walls it should offer immunity or full support and protection to staff who alert management of mishaps within the organisation.
- The “Lebanese company” tag: It emerged that the organisation is Ghanaian-owned and is headed by a Ghanaian. This was announced in their statement address and re-iterated by Lawyers for the firm during court proceedings. Granted that this fact is true, the company missed the opportunity to water down the “Lebanese companies exploit staff rhetoric”. Obviously, the Ghanaian public got enraged largely because the Supervisor was perceived as a hostile expatriate. However, regardless of the origin of the company, should the organisation have had a proactive crisis management strategy or plan functioning, a large part of the company’s image could have been greatly salvaged.
- Distancing the brand from an individual: In relation to the previous point, a clear crisis management plan would contain the situation enough to buy time for further investigations to be conducted. Clearly, this was an act of indiscretion on the part of an individual which was most unfortunate but should not have impacted the brand so.
- Connection between suspect and CEO: Because of the said family ties between the CEO and the suspect, the public felt the company was trying to sweep the incident under the carpet. Again, the company could have been smarter with their internal investigations and indicated their readiness not to tolerate any acts of abuse or bullying from Line Manager towards their Subordinates regardless of the relationship between the alleged culprit and the owners of the company.
Someone aptly summed up the actions to take when hit with media crisis and the advise couldn’t be more concice.When handling a media crisis, be guided by these three principles:-
- If it cannot be explained, it cannot be defended:- If the issue is bad, own up to it and apologize.
- You’ve got to tell the truth; be selective. There’s a time and place for everything. Tell the truth and as little as you need to, but enough to please the media and the different stakeholders interested in the crisis. This is where a PR Specialist (in-house or retained) is needed to navigate the course of communications surrounding the crisis.
- When there’s a crisis, there’s also a great opportunity: the spotlight is already on the company: use it favourably to your advantage
Once the public sees a concerted effort to genuinely make amends all the tension will eventually subside.
Crises communication is a product of crises management. Crises management is a metamorphosis of issues management. Organisations need to deal with issues before they get out of hand. Ronald D. Smith, author of Strategic Planning for Public Relations, 2005 gave the analogy of issues management being somewhat similar to steering a sailboat which runs with the wind. When the wind happens to be blowing in the direction you want it to go you make progress against the wind. Sometimes you need to work to have the wind in your favour, sometimes you stall when there is no wind; you adapt to a constantly changing environment. In a crisis, the analogy can be likened to riding out a storm on the high seas; the best anyone can do is drop the sails, hang on and hope the boat is strong enough to survive without too much damage.
The Mawarko story is now included in the library of crisis communication case studies for organisations to learn lessons from and students of Communications to dissect and earn marks for exams.