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Most companies and their CEOs understand the importance of a communication strategy for what they perceive as crisis situations. However, they often forget or are unaware of the necessity of a strategy in situations which allow for proactive planning.
It's easy to appreciate the benefits of a strategy for coping with what are generally regarded as "surprise crises" such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol tampering episode or Hurricane Andrew. But recognizing the value of communication strategies for "non-surprise," business-related crises such as a reorganization, product recall, bankruptcy or layoff can help a company maintain a healthy bottom line during turbulent times.
In 1992, Sears, Roebuck and Co. experienced a non-surprise crisis with the controversy over its car repair operations. The company's commission and quota system in its auto centers was the subject of a government investigation by the California Consumer Affairs Department. In the true sense, this was a business-related event for which Sears should have been prepared with a crisis communication strategy.
In responding to the investigation, Sears' first course was to use a lawyer as its spokesperson, which automatically put the company in a defensive posture. Had Sears been prepared with a crisis strategy it would have reacted first to preserve its reputation. To Sears' credit, though, once it turned to its communications and public relations experts, the company righted its wrongs, abandoned its commission and quota system and invited media representatives into stores to show them how they work with customers.
The lesson to be learned from Sears' …