The first step in transparency is effective crisis management

Perhaps one of the major failings of the Laura Chinchilla administration was the lack of crisis management.  That also seems to be the case with state agencies and private firms.

An example is the collapse of the Banco Nacional online banking Web site two weeks ago. There was no explanation from bank officials even after the problem was resolved. Customers were hung out to dry without any way to figure out if the Web site failure cost them any money.

A lot of firms and agencies adopt the it’s-not-my-fault approach when faced with unexpected crisis.  The Banco Nacional fiasco is trivial when compared to the four years of the Chinchilla administration. The former president summed up her approach in her May 1 talk to legislators.

An analysis of the news

The president blamed nature, the world economic situation, climate change, the hostile administration in Nicaragua, lawmakers and even the news media for her failures. There was not a hint of the buck-stops-here policy made famous by U.S. ex-president Harry Truman.

Ms. Chinchilla faced a number of crises, many of her own making. She was not very forthcoming with the media, and when accused of taking rides in a plane owned by a suspicious character, she fired a minister and aides.

Even when the administration knew that Intel Corp. was about to move its manufacturing arm out of the country to Vietnam, officials stayed silent and allowed rumors to spread the news.

Luis Guillermo Solís promises transparency in his administration. And transparency gives a top manager an opportunity to define the situation.

The classic example is the rapid and candid response by Johnson & Johnson to the 1982 Tylenol poisonings in Chicago. The company embarked on a major publicity campaign that probably prevented others from taking acetaminophen capsules that some mass killer had laced with cyanide. The company received universal praise and managed to recapture its market share.

The contrast is the way Metropolitan Edison handled the 1979 accident at its nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. In addition to continually understating the problem, the firm failed to acknowledge the release of some radioactivity.

Both approaches can be found as examples in nearly any public relations text.

Presumably Ms. Chinchilla did not have a copy of such a text. Apparently neither does Barack Obama. When a U.S. ambassador and others became the victims of terrorists in Libya,  the U.S. administration tried to blame the deaths on a Benghazi crowd irate about an anti-Muslim video.

“Wag the Dog” is a 1997 movie in which an expensive political manipulator played by Robert De Niro fakes a U.S. military action in Albania to distract the American public from a president’s indiscretions with a young girl in the Oval Office.

Unlike in the movie, such distractions have a short life. So the Obama administration just released a big report on global warming that some consider to be the second step in wagging the public.

According to the public relations texts, the first step in crisis management is personal involvement by the CEO or, in this case, the president. And absolute candor. With that approach the public and the voters generally are very understanding.

But lies, as Richard Nixon found out, are toxic.

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