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How not to handle David vs Goliath crises

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In 2019, a Republican Congressman from California sparked controversy by suing a satirical Twitter account named ‘Devin Nunes’ Cow’, known for mocking his political stance. The lawsuit, widely criticized as an attack on free speech, inadvertently propelled the parody account to fame, gaining over 500,000 followers. This incident underscores the delicate nature of crisis management, particularly when confronting perceived imbalances in power dynamics.

The Yoruba adage says, “When a fly lands on your testicles, killing it requires great patience and wisdom”. If you react too fast, you will hurt yourself. If you apply force, you will hurt yourself. This is why I often say that, “in the world of public relations, navigating crises is often akin to a delicate dance, especially when the involved parties are perceived as unequally matched.

The recent clash between Chioma Egodi and Erisco Foods Limited epitomizes this, evolving from product criticism to a full-blown reputational catastrophe. Erisco’s heavy-handed response, including legal actions and public vilification, has only worsened the situation, leading to significant backlash and potential financial losses.

In situations where one party holds significant power over the other, such as a corporate giant versus an individual, a carefully crafted strategic approach becomes essential. Here’s why:

  1. Perception of intimidation and tyranny

Attempts to silence dissent or manipulate the narrative can backfire disastrously. Erisco’s aggressive PR tactics, including attempts to tarnish Egodi’s family reputation, have only fueled public outrage and damaged the company’s credibility. The CEO of Erisco’s PR agency, Cornel Osigwe, crossed ethical boundaries by engaging in such actions, further perpetuating a negative image of the company.

  1. The wrong approach

Dragging family members into a corporate dispute is a strategic misstep. Not only does it escalate tensions unnecessarily, but it also exposes vulnerable individuals to public scrutiny. Erisco’s attempt to involve Chief Eric Umeofia’s family in the crisis only invited backlash and cyber criticism, tarnishing the CEO’s image.

  1. Self-damaging interviews

Allowing Umeofia to participate in the Arise News documentary without proper strategic planning was a grave error by his PR Agency. The resulting portrayal of him as a heartless villain and Egodi as the victim only worsened Erisco’s reputation. Effective crisis management demands careful consideration of media angles, key messaging, tone, and overall positioning. Allowing a client to engage with the media without these considerations is a critical failure on the part of any PR agency.

In essence, navigating crises involving unequal adversaries requires a nuanced and empathetic approach. Failure to recognise and address power differentials can lead to irreparable damage to reputation and credibility. Effective crisis management hinges on strategic planning, empathy, and a deep understanding of public perception.

Key lessons for PR practitioners

  1. Avoid overreaction: Responding hastily or aggressively to criticism can exacerbate the situation. Take time to assess the situation and respond thoughtfully rather than reactively.

Erisco Foods responded hastily and aggressively by involving legal actions against Egodi, including her arrest and a lawsuit for a staggering five billion Naira. This overreaction escalated the situation and garnered significant public backlash.

  1. Empathy and respect: Treat all parties involved with respect and empathy, regardless of their perceived power or influence. Engaging in personal attacks or attempting to discredit individuals can backfire and damage your organization’s reputation.

Empathy and respect: Instead of treating Egodi with empathy and respect, Erisco Foods chose to retaliate aggressively, attempting to silence her through legal means and involving her family in the dispute. This lack of empathy and respect contributed to the negative perception of Erisco Foods.

  1. Strategic planning is essential: Before engaging in any public communications or interviews, ensure thorough strategic planning. Consider all potential angles, messaging, tone, and how your actions may be perceived by the public.

Erisco Foods lacked strategic planning in their crisis management approach. They failed to consider the potential repercussions of their actions, such as involving Egodi’s family or pursuing legal action, which ultimately worsened their reputation.

  1. Family should be off-limits: Dragging family members into corporate disputes is generally unacceptable and can result in public backlash. Focus on addressing the issue at hand professionally and without resorting to personal attacks.

Erisco Foods disregarded this important principle by involving Egodi’s family in the dispute. This not only escalated tensions but also exposed vulnerable individuals to public scrutiny and backlash.

  1. Transparency and authenticity: Maintain transparency and authenticity in your communications. Attempts to manipulate the narrative or mislead the public will likely be exposed and further damage your organization’s reputation.

Erisco Foods’ response lacked transparency and authenticity. Instead of addressing the issues raised by Egodi openly and honestly, they chose to retaliate aggressively, which undermined their credibility in the eyes of the public.

  1. Recognise power dynamics: Be mindful of power differentials between your organisation and other parties involved. Avoid actions that may be perceived as bullying or intimidation, as this can lead to public backlash.

Erisco Foods failed to recognize the power dynamics at play in their dispute with Egodi. Instead of engaging in a fair and respectful dialogue, they attempted to suppress dissent and control the narrative, which only fueled public outrage.

  1. Learn from mistakes: When mistakes are made, acknowledge them openly and take steps to rectify the situation. Use crises as opportunities for growth and learning within your organisation.

Erisco Foods did not demonstrate a willingness to learn from their mistakes. Despite facing significant public backlash, they continued to pursue aggressive tactics, which further damaged their reputation and credibility.

  1. Stay calm and collected: In the midst of a crisis, remain calm and composed. Emotions can cloud judgment and lead to poor decision-making. Take a step back, assess the situation objectively, and formulate a strategic response. show how Erisco food failed in all of these key lessons

Erisco Foods’ response to the crisis lacked composure and rationality. Instead of remaining calm and assessing the situation objectively, they reacted impulsively, which ultimately worsened the situation.

In summary, Erisco Foods failed to adhere to key principles of crisis management, leading to significant damage to their reputation and credibility. Their aggressive and ill-considered response only served to exacerbate the situation and highlight their shortcomings in handling David vs. Goliath crises.

Ayodele is a distinguished and multiple award-winning strategic communication expert who specialises in Message Engineering. He helps organisations, brands and leaders communicate in a way that yields the desired outcome. He is the author of the seminal work, PR Case Studies; Mastering the Trade, and Dean, the School of Impactful Communication. He can be reached via ishopr2015@gmail.com or +234 807 793 2282

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