What exactly is a crisis?
In many companies, the distinction between a crisis and a permanent state of emergency is increasingly blurred.
Crisis communication - which spontaneous associations come to mind with this term? Generally speaking, extreme cases such as Brend Spar and Exxon Valdez - both of which should undoubtedly be assigned to the category of worst-case scenarios. But what really determines the definition of so-called crises in companies? If we consider current economic developments, it is difficult to reserve the word ‘crisis' only for extreme situations. The boundaries seem to be increasingly blurred, since crisis in the true sense of the word - namely ‘turning point' or ‘decisive situation' - is already a characteristic of everyday business. The permanent state of emergency is becoming normality. Let us consider the example of Lufthansa: since 9/11, the airline company, like the entire branch, has been forced to issue crisis communication in order to keep clients. No sooner had the situation calmed down slightly than SARS heralded the arrival of the next crisis. To add to this, the subject of redundancies crops up repeatedly. In other words, normality is nowhere to be seen.
A similar situation looms over companies which - in the face of globalisation, rapidly changing markets and the ever-present question of the right business strategy - are put under increased pressure to provide explanations ... permanently. The circumstances are even worse for companies like Grundig which continue to have no idea where they will find themselves tomorrow. Or providers on the telecommunications market which, in order to survive on the highly competitive market, need to change their strategies, offers and products almost constantly. Is this change, corporate or crisis communication? In any case, all of these situations require permanent, process-orientated communication which recognises exceptional circumstances as the continuum, assuring those involved that they are in charge of the situation - at all times. Against this backdrop, the term crisis communication is given a further meaning and often even seems anachronistic.
If classic crisis communication predominantly aims to ensure technologically perfect screening of issues to identify potential problems as early as possible - namely, the formation of a crisis management group and the development of courses of action - process communication requires permanently applied tools. Accordingly, functional infrastructure, networked and carefully aligned media architecture and, above all, a sophisticated process management system that guarantees security in terms of both content and processes are necessary. In addition, communication tailored to top management is indispensable.
In today's climate, therefore, crisis management is no longer a mere stand-alone consulting instrument for the worst-case scenario. Instead, it has become a tool which must be consistently linked to other consulting areas.