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Kim Kyong-Hae Column
Crisis Management Manual, the Bible of Crisis Management
Special Contribution
By Kim Kyong-Hae
The South Korean ferry “Sewol” capsized on April 16, 2014 en route from Incheon to Jeju. The Japanese-built S, Korean vessel sank while carrying 476 people, mostly secondary school students from Danwon High School in Ansan City. Some 300 people perished in the South Korea’s worst maritime disaster.

We do not yet know the full, official causes of the Seweolho tragedy, but we can definitely say that what transpired after the boat began to sink was a travesty of unskilled crisis management. If there were a crisis management manual in advance and if the crew had full knowledge of the manual and dealt with the accident appropriately, many more lives could have been saved.

It is often said that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the world’s most reputed crisis management organization, starts from manual and ends in manual, demonstrating that the crisis management manual is the most fundamental element required. If your organization does not have one, then it should go back to basics to be fully prepared for “known unknowns.”

In the wake of the Seweolho tragedy, the Park Geun-Hye Administration has outlined plans to establish a “National Safety Authority” to manage safety effectively and systematically. With the government moving quickly in this direction, there could be a strong impact on how foreign corporations manage safety here in Korea. In particular, each city and provincial government is expected to launch a new bureau that will exclusively handle safety and crisis matters. Foreign enterprises with manufacturing facilities in those cities or provinces will be closely monitored by the new bureau, meaning that they will need to be fully prepared for this “new era” of crisis management.

The fundamental element that must be developed and put into practice is a crisis management manual, and the first step in doing so is a crisis audit with employees, management, media and outside experts. The audit can help identify potential crisis types, and we can use those hypothetical situations to develop major categories around which the manual can be built.

The manual must concretely and clearly identify the role of the spokesperson. It must also create a taskforce team that will quickly assemble should a crisis break out. According to the characteristics of the crisis, someone from that team should be designated as the spokesperson. In some cases, more than one spokesperson can be designated, assuming that roles and responsibilities as well as messaging are clear. It need not be the case that the PR or communication director is automatically made the spokesperson.

In the initial period of any crisis the media will request an official statement, so a holding statement should be created in advance. The details of each crisis will obviously be different but a holding statement can speed up the process of getting out the initial communication, while also providing clear guidance on what needs to be said and—most importantly—how it should be said. Liaising with the media quickly in the immediate aftermath of a crisis breakout is critical, and the manual should also include a sample advertisement that can be placed in key media with the company’s public apology if it is deemed necessary.

After the production of the manual, the emergency contacts list must be continuously updated. The three P’s (Prepared, Proactive, and Practice) of crisis management are required for effective crisis management and, through these three P’s, crisis management can become deeply rooted in the corporate culture. It is useless to produce a crisis management manual that only sits on a shelf gathering dust. It must be put into practice and all the identified scenarios rehearsed. The government will demand ever stronger crisis management capabilities from all Korean and foreign corporations but, regardless of the government’s expectations, crisis management is an indispensable element that must be undertaken, without fail, if a corporation wants to survive.

There is also opportunity in a crisis. Crisis management has become a hot issue among media here in Korea, and journalists are eager to identify a multinational company that outperforms in terms of crisis preparedness. The resulting media spotlight can substantially enhance the company’s image and standing in Korea.

Creating a crisis manual is an investment for which we must hope there will be no payoff. But because we cannot predict when a crisis will occur, we must prepare for the worst. When a crisis does transpire, a company will be inundated with media inquiries and public outcry. At this time, a foreign CEO operating in Korea will be faced with a dilemma to which they must calmly respond. If one learns the techniques of delivering messages and dealing with the media by preparing in advance when times are good—particularly with media training that introduces Korea’s unique media landscape and how journalism here is practiced—then one will be fully prepared to turn crisis into opportunity.

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CK (Communications Korea) CEO Kim Kyong-Hae is called “pioneer” or “father” of S. Korea’s PR industry for his dedication to and authority on the development of the industry. The former Reuters correspondent has produced hundreds of PR experts through CK or by lecturing at universities. Kim served as president of Korea PR Association (KPRA). The prolific author of many PR books also serves as contributing columnist for various newspapers.






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