Crisis Communication in Japan: 6 Steps to Navigate the PR Typhoon

“In today’s fast-paced and unpredictable world, no organization is immune to crises. Yes, not even you.”

The ability to effectively manage a crisis and communicate during tumultuous times is crucial for protecting an organization’s reputation and maintaining public trust. While crisis communication is a well-established practice globally, there are certain things that make Japan’s playing field fundamentally different. This blog will explore the key steps involved in crisis communication, helping you anticipate, respond, and recover from challenging situations. In addition to these 6 steps, I have included some personal insights derived from handling actual crises in Japan.

Step 1: Anticipate!
Prepare your soldiers for war!

“You can anticipate that something might happen…”

To protect your organization, start by getting ready. Choose your spokespeople, and set up a crisis team. Identify possible problems and plan how to deal with them before they happen. Train your spokespersons to talk well during a crisis. Also, create a crisis “war room” with everything you need to make decisions and respond quickly. This room can be a physical space or a group of trusted stakeholders, including legal and PR experts (like us), inside your organization.

What I learned in practice: You can’t really anticipate what is going to hit you. However, you can anticipate that something might happen. This is the kind of problem-solving attitude that you need to have in order to be as ready as you can possibly be.

Step 2: Crisis Strikes!
Know the Facts and Listen to Your Lawyers 

(But Don’t Blindly Follow Their Advice…)

The presence of lawyers in any crisis situation in Japan implies guilt…”

When faced with a crisis, it is crucial to gather all the relevant facts before formulating a response where accuracy and transparency are key. While legal counsel is important, it’s essential to strike a balance between legal considerations and maintaining open communication with your stakeholders. Don’t just follow legal advice blindly, think about how it affects your reputation.

What I learned in practice: Lawyers are good at legal procedures, but they need to stay in the legal realm and out of your press conferences. The presence of lawyers in any crisis situation in Japan implies guilt. The further you can keep your legal team from the spotlight, the better off you will be from being perceived as guilty.

Step 3: Analyze!
Measure the Damage and Create Your Action Plan

“Think about the risks and figure out who matters most (like your stakeholders).”

To handle a crisis well, you must know how bad things really are. Study the situation carefully,  conduct a thorough analysis, think about the risks and figure out who matters most (like your stakeholders). Then, make a plan with clear steps to fix the crisis quickly and effectively.

What I learned in practice: Keep it simple. The harder you try to analyze a crisis, the more time you waste not responding to it. Focus on what’s important then make your move. 

Step 4: Respond!
Move Fast and Be Transparent

Don’t try to hide the ball.”

In a crisis, it’s important to communicate quickly and honestly. Acknowledge the issue, and don’t just make an “empty bow” – admit mistakes when appropriate and provide reassurance that lessons have been learned. Also, anticipate potential challenges from adversaries and be prepared with well-crafted responses, because they will keep on coming.

What I learned in practice: Don’t try to hide the ball. If your adversaries know you’re hiding something , they won’t stop until they find it. And when they do, you look like the bad guy. Japanese audiences are much more sympathetic to an organization that is transparent and apologizes, than one who gets caught with their fingers in the proverbial cookie jar.

Step 5: Monitor & Contain
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse and Start Doing Damage Control

Monitor, monitor, monitor. The Japanese press is 24 hours.”

In a crisis, it’s crucial to stay updated on public opinions and the changing situation. Utilize social media listening tools and traditional media monitoring to gauge public perception and identify any emerging issues. Take quick action to manage the situation, like arranging additional press conferences or media interactions, to control the crisis from getting worse. If your initial efforts don’t succeed, then you have to keep trying.

What I learned in practice: Monitor, monitor, monitor. The Japanese press is 24 hours. The media will wait outside your office, give the spotlight to ex-employees and adversaries, and even ambush your executives at their homes. If you know what’s going on, you can respond effectively. If you don’t, you’re a sitting duck about to get cooked.

Step 6: Recover!
Rebuild Your Reputation

 “If you play the long game and keep your focus on the future,  you can eventually prevail.

Rebuilding a damaged reputation requires a long-term strategy. Organizations should concentrate on regaining trust and credibility through consistently keeping their promises. Efforts should go beyond merely addressing the immediate crisis; they should include implementing measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and also make sure that the public believes that the organization is being a responsible corporate citizen.

What I learned in practice: While a crisis situation is not fun and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the stress, if you play the long game and keep your focus on the future, you can eventually prevail.

Here’s to hoping that you never need to implement these tactics, but whether your organization wants to be prepared or has found itself in the eye of a public relations typhoon, Prepare your war room with us, at Parthenon Japan.

About the Author

Parker J. Allen established Parthenon Japan in 2018 with the goal of bridging the communication gap between business, government, and society, based on extensive experience as a government relations & PR consultant for global firms in Japan.