What is a philosopher doing in a Crisis Room?

By: Alfredo Betancourt

Connector CCK Guatemala


In the era of the digital revolution, we conceive of companies as entities that have an identity, a reputation, profess their own culture and defend interests beyond economic profit. If anything defines this era, it is that communication has ceased to be unidirectional and stable, and has become a constant flow of interactions where audiences are empowered and actively judge everything that organizations do or fail to do.

Reputation is no longer a hidden intangible. It is now at the center of the consumer's decision. But have you ever wondered what is behind this change? Why do we value a company positively or negatively based on how it relates to society?

In this blog we will explain the whys and wherefores of communication crises from an unconventional analysis, discovering the philosopher (or philosophers) that are hides in the room.

  1. Why do crises happen? Putting a price on smokers' deaths

Let's take the case of a tobacco company that, knowing that taxes on tobacco consumption will be raised, decides to carry out a study to evaluate the company's contribution to society and the State. The study concludes that, considering premature deaths, savings in pensions and health care due to the death of smokers, direct and indirect taxes, it turns out that smoking is profitable for the State, representing a net benefit of 147 million dollars per year.

Can we put a price on the lives of smokers? would we accept a rational calculation where the death of some could mean an improvement in the living conditions of others? if smoking is a free, conscious and consented choice, why is it wrong for us to assign an economic value to their premature death?

The study triggered a reputation crisis and, within days, the company's chief operating officer was apologizing to the public.

Suppose now a Central American technology company decides to move its factories to an Asian country, where production costs and labor force are cheaper. As a consequence, hundreds of employees lose their jobs and the company relocates its tax headquarters to reduce tax payments.

Is the company acting correctly? why should the company hire people from the country where it operates? what responsibility has the company acquired with the country? what is it that bothers us about this type of action?

In both cases, reputational crises arise from the clash of opposing ways of understanding morality. On the one hand, companies follow utilitarian and libertarian arguments, reasoning 1) that it is the search for the greatest profit that should motivate their actions or 2) that we are only responsible for those commitments that we have acquired consciously and voluntarily. On the other hand, we have arguments that defend that life has intrinsic value and that, as political agents, we have a responsibility that binds us to our society.

  1. Why do we value companies?

The fact is that the involvement of companies in society is becoming increasingly decisive. According to the report "Another consumption for a better future", According to the Spanish Consumer Organization (OCU), "73% of consumers avoid or prefer to buy certain products for ethical or sustainability reasons". In market terms, according to the RepTrak Spain 2018According to the Reputation Institute, "improving reputation by 5 points increases consumer intention to recommend by 5.69% and purchase intention by 5.83%".

The key is that, as consumers, we have begun to make decisions based on the political and social positions of companies. And this is because we believe that brands have more tools and advocacy capacity than governments to solve certain social ills.

Let's now think about the campaigns of companies that join social movements. Let's ask ourselves why they decide to leave neutrality and support movements such as #MeToo or the defense of the rights of LGTBI people. Is it a decision motivated by principles? have they taken into account the consequences on their sales? is it a sign of their commitment to the community? These questions are, in essence, the debate of what kind of morals should prevail in our society.

Philosophers such as John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham would see the commercial and social benefits that companies can generate as sufficient motivation to do so. Others, such as KantThe argument would be that it is the principles, not the consequences, that should lead companies to make these decisions. We could even argue that companies are seeking to clean up their corporate image with this type of action (pinkwashing) and exempt themselves from responsibility for other problems.


  1. What is a philosopher doing in a Crisis Room?

Let us put ourselves in the mind of a philosopher and think about whether companies have moral obligations to society, whether they should remain neutral in social demands, whether they should be driven by principles or by the consequences of their decisions. Let us now ask ourselves whether the crises we have discussed can be analyzed from this perspective.

Acting as philosophers in a Crisis Room allows us to ask ourselves the same questions that scholars of public morality have been asking for centuries and apply them to our field of work. It is to recognize which values are in contradiction, why they are important and, above all, why they have triggered a negative reaction to the company.

With these approaches, it is likely that the above examples would have avoided reputational crises by understanding that, beyond rational calculation, community values are more important in our society than utilitarian calculations.

As a company dedicated to the strategic communicationIt is up to us to put ourselves in the shoes of the philosopher to correctly identify these conflicting values, read the moral inclinations of society and make recommendations that, as a whole, are consistent with both the company's identity and the principles that move its audiences.

Today more than ever, in the era of the digital revolution and the automation of processes, we need to return to a humanistic approach and focus our attention on the relationships that bind us together as a society.