Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Essay on Crisis Management

Essay on Crisis Management

This particular section will assess the role of Shell’s PR practitioner as a crisis manager. In the first part, we will consider the perception of this aspect at SML, how it is dealt with and then we will use the 3Ps: Prevention, Preparation and Provision as benchmarks for assessment purposes.

The Institute of Crisis Management (ICM) defines a crisis as a “significant business disruption, which stimulates extensive news media coverage.” (

At SML, though, depending on the level of risk involved and the probability of occurrence (i.e., time scale), two different appellations have been given to such probable calamities. In fact, the ‘crisis management’ and ‘issue management’ concepts used at SML are just different words which bear the same meaning as Jefkins’ (1998) 2 kinds of possible crisis namely, ‘unlikely’ and ‘likely’ respectively.


Thus, at SML, ‘crisis management’, as they understand it, is a rather broad and vague concept, which relates mainly to unlikely (but not impossible events). What they do cater for is the concept of ‘issues management’. According to Mrs Teeroovengadum, this appellation describes more likely crisis, which have a high risk of occurrence. Hence, at Shell, they consider this concept as being more focussed. However, as Ashcroft (1997) stated: “ Issues management is the latest American import, which, as yet, has rather a rather blurred division from crisis management. There are many similarities… an issue can develop into a major crisis”.

Whatever be the appellation, SML, does consider these probabilities. As a matter of fact, at SML, they have a crisis plan as to how to deal with any crisis situation or any major issue that may crop up. This is fully supported by Ashcroft (1997) who claimed that “an organisation’s reputation is as important as any other corporate asset, and many organisations have some kind of crisis plan intended to protect that reputation should something go wrong.” In addition, at SML, this plan is not rigid. Rather, it is reviewed each year to cater for unexpected changes. At SML, a crisis team has devised this particular crisis plan, which focuses more on issues management. The team comprises such people as the MD, the Brand and Communications Manager from the Department of Public Affairs and managers. Furthermore, all team members know specifically what their roles should be in such situations. In fact, each department has a plan, as to how to deal with a crisis situation, which is fully aligned and integrated with the overall crisis plan.

At SML, quite interestingly, not all cases related to the oil industry have direct repercussions for the Mauritius branch. For instance, major oil spills happening will not have so much impact on the local company, though publics may ask certain questions. Even, if a major international affair occurs in Mauritius, this becomes a Group issue, i.e., it concerns the whole of Shell Group and so, it is the Public relations practitioner at the international level, who tackles the problem.

Quite surprisingly, even the Iraq War is not a crisis, not even an issue, for SML. In fact, according to the Brands and Communication Manager, SML, is only a distributor of petrol in Mauritius. It is the government through the State Trading Corporation that imports this product, and so it is not an issue for the company.

Nevertheless examples of probable cases, as given by Mrs Teeroovengadum, that may affect SML are for instance, say, a Jet Al Lorry has an accident or there is the explosion of a gas cylinder while moving from depot to the airport. If ever, such likely issues are to occur in reality, well, SML is prepared to face the ordeal. In this connection, they have set down plans on how people should deal with it, i.e., who to contact and what to do.

Before the assessment part, let us consider one latest case considered under the issues management concept, rather than as a crisis management situation – the Leaded/Unleaded petrol issue.

The Leaded/Unleaded Petrol Issue
Regarding this issue, by virtue of its sense of social responsibility, there was a deliberate attempt on the part of SML, to launch a sensitisation campaign to inform its stakeholders, and this was done in collaboration with other oil companies and the Ministry Of Environment. In this connection, brochures (See Appendix…) were published on ‘ Frequently Asked Questions’. Also, to cater for other publics that might have missed the information campaign, they decided to train gas stations’ managers and pump attendants to respond to queries from clients. In this context, workshops were organised by Mr Gino Finette, Training & Marketing Manager and the main aim was to make the managers and attendants “ULG” Champions” (See ULG Champion Assessment).

Assessment Of The PR practitioner role as Crisis or Issue Manager
Based on what has been discussed, we can see that the 3Ps of crisis management namely Prevention, Preparation and Provision can be applied, to a certain extent to SML.

The prevention procedure should be based on trying to anticipate what could go wrong. This is in line with the classic crisis management-adopting a “better safe than sorry” policy. Also, “…the thinking is to avert, rather than deal with, disaster by looking for issues that might arise over a set period – an issue audit.”(Ashcroft, 1997). The two lists under the appellations of crisis management (more unlikely issues) and issues management (likely cases) devised at SML, caters for this prevention aspect.

As far as preparing for crisis is concerned, seconding Jefkins (1998) idea, we would say that “it is essential that any organisation should set up a permanent crisis management team.” Like the typical crisis management team of Jefkins (1998), SML basic crisis committee does comprise the MD, the Brands and Communications Manager from the Department of Public Affairs and other departmental managers. What is a shortcoming here is perhaps, the fact that there is no regular contact by meetings or correspondence to enable review and update of the crisis plan. At SML, the latter is reviewed only once per year. For more effectiveness and efficiency, this exercise should be done more frequently.

Besides, more emphasis should be laid on communication among team members so as to be consistent and agreeable on what and how to divulge to the media, hence improving even on the ‘provision’ stage of crisis management. The latter seems to be a real pitfall at SML and this should be counteracted since “communicating effectively was now more often seen as of the same importance as putting problems right.”(IPR Journal, 1995, p.14). It should never be forgotten that “effective management of information at a time of crisis is even more vital, when damage to an organisation’s reputation or damage to established goodwill can result in severe damage to operations.” (Ashcroft, 1997)

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