Interview – Compliance on Top Yearbook 2022

Media | December 15, 2022

Interview given by the founder partner for the Compliance on Top Yearbook 2022 about Crisis Management, considering his remarkable expertise on the area.

“Crisis management requires experience and expertise”

Working with crisis management for more than 30 years and having advised in emblematic cases such as the crater on São Paulo’s subway, the colapse of the crane at Corinthians’s Stadium (“Arena Corinthians”) , the landslide at Santana’s Port, in Amapá, the alleged “end of the world leak (confidential data)”, besides the rupture of Mariana and Brumadinho’s dams and even in impacts of the Snowden Case in Brazil,  among many other cases of national and international repercussion, the lawyer David Rechulski, name partner of the firm, is recognized as one of the leading experts in the field. In this interview, he talks about relevant aspects that not always are approached on the crisis management topic, but that make all the difference for those who need to deal with one.

When a crisis situation experienced by a company leaves the spotlights and ceases to be a daily subject in the media, do companies end up neglecting its management? The crisis has its incandescent moment, when the situation is on fire, but, after that, even when things calm down, there are reflex moments, like the anniversaries of the event, especially in major accidents with victims. A crisis may subside, but it doesn’t simply die out. This is a super important point. Everything depends on the maturity level to deal with the crisis of each company. The company can not underestimate the scenario. A crisis has consequences that extend over time and space, including motivating legislative changes. 

Regarding the tone of the company’s communications in moments of crisis, how to find the balance in this communication, which may even have legal implications to the company and its executives? This tone you identify with experience and expertise. That is why crisis management is not a job for amateurs, nor for “occasional specialists”. You have to seek for help from those who really have crisis management as their professional focus. It may seem banal, but it is the pure truth. We live today on the world of pseudo-experts. This balance that you raised is indeed essential. The truth is very important in a crisis management scenario, but this truth have to be stated correctly. It is necessary to understand that there is a lot of psychology supporting what is going to be said, but there is also a legal component, because each detail, each wording, the tone and the very structure of concatenation of the information that compose a simple communication, will generate reflexes in the legal environment, on the company’s reputation, on the lives of the executives and on the business continuity itself, extending, expanding, shortening or reducing the effects of the crisis, especially in times of social media courts and the non-existence of the right to be forgotten .

In the process of disseminating and expanding the impacts of a crisis, how to deal with social media? It is essential that companies understand very clearly the power of social medial. When we look at the mainstream media, in a country where crisis and scandals are a daily occurrence, it is not uncommon for one situation to overlap the other, often diverting the focus of attention. But the social media court today may generate a reputational crisis with a much longer resolution scenario than it would be if it were necessary to deal only with traditional media. The monitoring of networks and the treatment given to what is reverberating in them is very important. Especially because what is posted on the networks remains there forever, there is no right to be forgotten, which only helps to perpetuate the effects of a poorly managed crisis.  

In this kind of situation, the public expects from those responsible for the company to show genuine sensitivity. At the same time, it is necessary to be cold to deal with decision-making, considering that they continue to have to defend the company’s interests. Is it a situation any executive can handle?  You need to know how to deal with a scenario like this, to be true to your feelings and demonstrated commitment to supporting people, the authorities, making it clear that they are working to better understand what happened and share the information. The person in charge or the company’s spokesperson should not give hasty answers, of which he does not even have control or certainty at first, as well as one cannot speculate about what happened. Then, instead of showing safety, doubts will be passed on and showing unpreparedness.

Much is said about the importance of providing quick responses in a crisis situation. Could this be an additional risk? In crisis management, speed matters. But everything that you externalize has no return. It is very important that you are safe. Hasty decisions may guide the crisis treatment in a biased way from the beginning and then, from the crisis, another crisis arises, invariably ending up aggravating the criminal scenario that is fed daily in the media, in the responses to the countless letters that the company ends up receiving from Public Authorities, which evidently have their agenda to respond to society and, in this way, needs to show its presence and action. It is usual to say that every crisis is an opportunity. This is not true. Every crisis is a chaotic scenario, a watershed moment that can lead a company to extinction, which can put executives in the defendant’s bench. Obviously, after it passes, certain lessons are learned. But it is important to learn and draw lessons from the crisis of others, preferably preventively. In your company, you must be ready, prepared to face them when they happen. The “if it happens”, today, is nothing more than an extraordinary exception!

And are companies prepared? Mostly, they are not. They don’t prospect probabilities, don’t study sectoral casuistry, do not simulate events and there are still few that have a multidisciplinary committee and established procedures to deal with crises. I have seen situations in which the legal manager calls his boss and he hangs up without giving room for the report, because was boarding on a plane and the crisis was happening. Then, a new call is made to the boss’s boss, who is on vacation and with his mobile turned off with hours and hours of time zones in the middle of the scenario. In the end, he only managed to speak with the decision-makers the following day, 8 or 9 hours after the crisis had began and the problems blowing up in the hands of someone with “hands tied”. It is part of the preventive crisis management process to stablish a clear message to communicate that this is an urgent crisis situation and that people should prioritize it immediately.

How do you evaluate the profile of the executives, to know if they are capable of dealing with the situation?

It is necessary to identify and prepare someone who has knowledge of the business, experience, credibility, delegation capacity, availability, and, specially, knows how to properly measure their own limitations and the need to involve experts! Crisis is not a place to play hero nor for self-projection. It should be noted that in a crisis, at times, you will have to show a physical face and that face will be responsible for a statement. But, predominantly, the company must communicate in writing.  Moments of physical appearance must be carefully thought out and are high risk moments. A poorly placed word, one diverted look, anything can trigger external criticism when you’re on the spot.  

And how not to fall into provocations or conflicts that can arise from this type of situation? One of the main rules in crisis management is that one should not argue with authorities in the media or with the media itself at a time of high exposure and contrary public opinion. The truth is a dish that is often eaten cold! First because the spaces are different. A prosecutor will have much more space in the media to accuse than the company will have to defend itself. The right thing is to respond within the case records, the appropriate place for this, or in a strategically structured way. It takes maturity not to take the bait that could push the company into this scenario of confrontation and public debate. That is why I reinforce that this is a matter for experts and not for those who think they know!

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