[VIEWPOINT]To foreign firms: Be preparedAcquiring crisis management know-how for Korea’s unique environment is one of the basic tenets of corporate management for foreign businesses in Korea. Potential causes of crises for companies doing business in Korea have become ever more diverse. If a company isn’t prepared for these problems, it can’t succeed.
Although Korea has much in common with the United States, Europe and other Asian nations, it also possesses unique differences. For companies to practice effective crisis management, it is important to fully take into account the reality of the Korean environment. Foreign businesses should take note of a number of unique local factors.
First of all, the media environment and the customs of media relations here are different from those in other nations. When reporting on a crisis situation, the Korean media are not always objective in presenting both sides of the matter. At times, they are overly nationalistic. Sometimes there may be inaccuracy in quotations.
Some reporters get upset when foreign businesses refuse to respond beyond a “no comment.” So it is highly advantageous to develop allies among reporters during normal times. Also, many TV stations are increasingly airing investigative programs that can portray even the best business in a negative light, for whatever reason.
Secondly, there are also some special characteristics associated with Korean nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.
Ever since the onset of the “participatory government” of President Roh Moo-hyun, the influence and political orientation of NGOs, including civic groups, have gotten noticeably stronger. NGOs exercise their influence in various ways when crises arise, and their nature is different from that of the generally non-political NGOs of other countries.
A third fact to consider is that the groups that shape public opinion in Korea are not the same as those in other countries. Here, opinion leaders who influence public sentiment are those who are central to political circles, certain media outlets and NGOs. And there are some who are known to be strongly biased against foreign businesses.
A fourth factor to consider is that the digital media era has arrived in Korea. A new chapter in the distribution of rumor and public opinion is under way in Korea with the high-speed capabilities of digital media, including mobile phones and the Internet. The unique nature of Korea’s Internet culture, including online media such as Cyworld, has become increasingly instrumental in the formation of public opinion.
Fifth and finally, the corporate culture and the labor-management relations of Korea are nothing like they are in the West. This is particularly true when it comes to labor-management relations. As a result, the corporate culture and labor-management relations of Korea are critical variables when a crisis emerges.
In Korea, businesses’ crisis management strategies must be developed only after considering all the aforementioned elements of the Korean environment. The following are some useful guidelines for businesses in Korea that run into trouble, which were devised with these unique local concerns in mind. They can be regarded as the “Ten Commandments for Crisis Management” and, more specifically, “Ten Commandments for Responding to the Media When Crises Have Occurred.”
The following are “The Ten Commandments for Crisis Management”:
1. Turn crises into opportunities.
2. Make the public’s interests a priority.
3. Build up a positive reputation during normal times.
4. The CEO must actively intervene and present feasible solutions.
5. Undergo media training and designate a corporate spokesperson in advance.
6. Prepare comprehensive plans that include a worst-case scenario.
7. Learn the lessons of crises experienced by competitors and relevant case studies.
8. Develop relations with third-party opinion leaders during normal times, and positively use these resources during a crisis.
9. Undergo simulated crisis training.
10. Prepare a manual.
“The Ten Commandments for Responding to the Media When Crises Have Occurred” will also be helpful to corporate staff during times of trouble:
1. Provide as much accurate information as possible to the media.
2. Do not miss the deadlines of TV stations and/or daily newspapers for submitting press releases.
3. Thoroughly scrutinize direct quotations.
4. In the case of an unfounded report, promptly take corrective action.
5. Deal with foreign correspondents and foreign media separately.
6. If possible, avoid jargon or technical terms.
7. Provide newsworthy information and materials with a human-interest perspective.
8. Always deal with news reporters chasing after scoops with caution and prudence.
9. Do not discriminate against less influential media.
10. Provide pertinent information to news reporters, relevant desks and bureaus and editorial writers.
As for businesses in Korea, if their crisis management strategies until now had been reactive, they are now focusing more on the formulation of proactive strategies by identifying the root causes of crises and related aspects through auditing efforts and continuous environmental monitoring.
For the continuous monitoring of related issues and the environment in order to prepare for serious problems here, crisis management techniques must be tailored to Korea’s situation. In Korea, efforts are needed to develop a new crisis response model that is ideally suited to the unique situation, based on systematic and scientific techniques.
* The writer, the CEO of Communications Korea, is the president of the Korean Institute of Crisis Management and Strategy.
by Kim Kyong-hae