In a crisis, and in crisis communication, timing, and time, is crucial. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Sony Corporation (TYO) both faced crises over the past seven days. They were quite different, as one was unfolding, so it is unfair to compare the actual events. The purpose of this post is to illustrate the importance of time in crisis communication.
J&J held their annual shareholder meeting last Thursday, and prior to the meeting CEO William Weldon gave a few private interviews. There was a lot of positive news to share – J&J had increased their earnings forecast for 2011, were raising the dividend, and were making a major acquisition (Synthes). This stood in sharp contrast to the recent past. In less than 2 years, J&J (NYSE: JNJ) has had close to two dozen recalls, including popular products such as Tylenol and Motrin.
So what did Mr. Weldon say in the private interviews? Here’s a snippet:
“I am accepting accountability for what happened and I’m giving clarification about what we’re doing,’’ Weldon said. “We’re making sure we do everything we can to make sure (this) never happens again” (Star Ledger).
While this was obviously only one topic on what would be a full agenda, Mr. Weldon’s handling of it was well done.
Last week, Sony Corporation’s Playstation network was breached. Since then, the Company has unveiled a series of measures to reduce the risk of this happening again, including creating the position of Chief Information Security Officer and adding new firewalls, encryption and monitoring services. Really positive stuff, but negative headlines persist. Why?
It took days for Sony to alert customers about the breach and the new measures, and an apology were delivered on Sunday, after members of Congress asked Sony to explain what happened. It is being reported that the Sony Online Entertainment site has been taken offline, and here is a snippet from an article on C-NET:
There are a number of key points. Here are a few:
1) Offering pre-meeting interviews afforded Mr. Weldon the opportunity to deliver J&J’s message before the annual meeting; Sony executives did not afford themselves the same opportunity.
2) Mr. Weldon’s honest, straightforward answers actually garnered some positive headlines; Sony’s lack of an immediate response garnered headlines as well.
3) The press since the J&J Shareholder Meeting has been mainly positive, reminding us that the response to a crisis can often become the story, in a positive way. The Sony situation continues to unfold, and it is unclear how it will unfold.
4) In my opinion, and my experience, there is no substitute for the oldest rule in the political playbook – define yourself before your opponent does it for you; in a crisis situation, it means defining your organization and the situation before anyone else does it for you.
Once you are in the position of reacting to events, coverage, etc., it is very, very difficult to get back in front of the story again, or to ensure that your message is effectively delivered.