Every organization might have to face a crisis, and it is important to have a previously developed sound plan for crisis management. There are various types of crises such as natural and technological crises, malevolence or misdeed crises, crises related to deception or misconduct, and crises caused by rumors. The effectiveness of handling such situations to a large extent determines the reputation of the organization and public attitude to this company. Thus, a crucial role in crisis management belongs to public relations.
The more popular the organization is, the more it is visible to the public. Quick reaction to crisis situations and the ability to use public relations as an instrument for shaping the success of the company are distinct features common to market leaders (Straubhaar & Larose & Davenport, 2009). Without an effective public relations policy and strategy, brand reputation might suffer and decline. The purpose of this paper is to study the role of public relations in the Ford Motor Company with regard to 2008-2010 crisis in the automotive industry, to analyze the dynamics of Ford public relations and to develop recommendations regarding further improvement of Ford public relations strategy.
1. Crisis Management
Overall, a crisis can be defined as an event which has quickly emerged (with some element of surprise), threatens the organization, requires the decisions and counteractions to be done in a short period of time (Elliot & Swartz & Herbane, 2009). Crisis is different from a particular incident or business failure because of larger scope and the need for change. In all crisis management strategies, it is possible to outline four steps: mitigation and/or prevention, preparedness, response and recovery (Fig.1). Several researchers also add a stage of learning to these stages, where the organization make appropriate changes in accordance with the lessons learned during the process of crisis management.
Figure 1. Major steps of crisis management (Crandall & Parnell & Spillan, 2009)
It is possible to identify seven key sources of crises: natural disaster, technology, confrontation, malevolence, organizational misdeeds, workplace violence and rumors (Elliot & Swartz & Herbane, 2009). Crises can also be classified into sudden and smoldering, basing on their speed of expansion. Threats arising from various types of crisis might relate to public safety, financial loss or reputational loss (Elliot & Swartz & Herbane, 2009).
Crisis communication management involves seven critical dimensions: operations, victims, trust/credibility, behaviour, professional expectations, business ethics and lessons learned (Crandall & Parnell & Spillan, 2009). In every business scenario, it is possible to outline these dimensions, and it is recommended to build the crisis management strategy basing on this multidimensional model of crisis handling. In addition to clearly defined crisis management plan developed prior to the crisis situations, companies should also designate and properly train a crisis management team. It is recommended to include professionals in human resources, legal issues, security professionals, operations and finance specialists and public relations professionals into crisis management team (Crandall & Parnell & Spillan, 2009).