Keep calm and carry on

The slogan that launched a thousand tea towels fits today's crisis management pretty well.

The 2011 riots were a benchmark example of conventional reporting being overtaken by the digital world, with comms control being ripped away from a business at speed and in multiple directions at once. It's not pretty. But it is effective for those outside the company walls.

Gone are the days when a company can be confident of accurate messaging, linear progression or at least some ability to deal with incorrect reporting. Today, a crisis can spiral out of control before the words 'let's get the Q&A written' can be uttered.

Clearly, not everyone who uses social media is a raving lunatic. Many are more sensible than some of the organisations in control. For example, a client recently alerted us to an incorrect online petition against his company - they had in fact got the wrong company - and emails, phone calls and faxes (remember them?) to an organisation in California had no effect. However, joining the site, signing the petition and contacting the petition organiser this way resulted in the immediate amendment of the petition, with an apologetic email.

Exercising that sort of control regularly in the digital age is perhaps the greatest challenge to the crisis professional. But as well as a fair amount of chaos, digital comms can be beneficial in dealing with a crisis.

The public face of a crisis is more often than not the opposite of the back end of the crisis. Calm and efficiently prepared companies, maybe hiding the panic inside, follow carefully prepared plans and make rational decisions based on evidence-based criteria. While the traditional crisis management manual still plays an important role, digital tools are increasingly being used to plan, prepare and deal with crises before and as they arise.

Within Nexus, we have developed an online platform that brings together all the essential functions and players in the event of a crisis, even to the extent that we can check if someone has signed in to the crisis team.

Coupled with in-built teleconferencing facilities, SMS alerts, apps and collaboration software to ensure the right materials are in play, even a global crisis suddenly becomes much more controllable. Though we can't always avoid getting the Australians out of bed ...

Keep calm and carry on seems to have become an anthem for a generation and it fits pretty well with today's crisis manager.

Sure, there are increasingly sophisticated tools to deal with social media monitoring, tracking and responding, but these are for nothing if the company does not take decisive and appropriate remedial action.

Anything you say will count for nothing if you do nothing - after all, actions speak louder than words.

Look at social media posts on a case-by-case basis - if you're genuinely dealing with the problem, you have something to say, if you are not then whatever you say is puff and likely to lead to further problems in the long term.

If the posts are untrue or libellous, then there are other remedies, though again this should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Many of the crises we deal with are short lived, but the repercussions can last for a generation.

We need to ensure our clients are well prepared and well trained beforehand and well directed and well advised during it.

If we don't do the first part, then the battle is already lost and if we fail on the second part, the war could be over before it has begun.

Kevin Coles is a director at Nexus.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

Corporate activists have occupied the reception of one of your biggest clients. Who do you call first?

Hopefully, my clients would pick up the phone to me first. The rest would depend on who and how.

What is the best way to keep employees informed during a crisis?

There are too many variables in a crisis to be specific about how you keep employees informed - and in some cases you may not be able to. But it is important that all companies have a plan in place so they know how they'd do it and they do it in line with or ahead of external comms.

From PRWeek's crisis supplement, June 2012

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