Sometimes communicators should temper their view of where they fit into the world with a note of realism. Too often PRs rush into a crisis with missionary zeal. If only the communications had been better all the drama could have been avoided, they say.
Undoubtedly that can be true, but not always. Talking heads often claim it, but don’t do communicators any favours. They are wrong. Often, a crisis is a crisis not because of bad communications, but because of bad practice. No amount of transparency and authenticity can get past that.
Of course, public pronouncements that are awash with lawyers, executives protesting their innocence while pointing at others, no clear view of the facts, institutional paralysis and distracted management all come into play.
Here’s the FT’s December 2015 analysis of the communications gaffes that landed VW in the mire. Except it wasn’t communications gaffes that were the problem for VW’s image. The problem was the egregious wholesale systemic intercontinental law breaking. The horse had bolted long before they mucked up the communications.
A year later is it also confounding that such a massive, headline-grabbing, law-breaking, compensation-inducing scandal should be kept in perspective.
For all the talk about its Armageddon, VW ended 2016 with a record 10.3 million worldwide sales, up 3.8% on the year before. They are on the brink of overtaking Toyota to become the world’s biggest car maker.
Now here’s the rub. If the role of communications is to support the commercial objectives of a business, how would you start to assess VW’s PR performance in the year of record fines topped by near-global commercial dominance?
The expert members of the Measurement Practice have each written their own take on the impact of 2016 events on communications and research. You can read their thoughts here.