Do brands still need 'war rooms' for major events?

Experts from Persistent Systems and M Booth argue the value of operating event-related communication command centers.

Yes

Ken Montgomery
VP of global communications, Persistent Systems
More than 15 years of experience in technology comms and strategy

"What an exciting opportunity!" I first heard those words 20-plus years ago while in the Gap’s management development program to describe any crisis. Your store just burned down? What an exciting opportunity to build a new store! Irate customer just cursed you for 10 minutes? What an exciting opportunity to make a new friend!

While I joked about it at the time, that mindset has greatly informed my outlook on life. Every day is an exciting opportunity. So here’s the thing, don’t call them "war rooms," call them "opportunity centers." Before you understandably cringe, think about it. "War" sends out the wrong message. You’re not looking to destroy things, or to shoot other people down. You want to find opportunities, both the obvious on which you just need to act, and the not-so-obvious where a smart action can get great attention.

Also, they’re only rooms in the most virtual sense. You neither need nor want everyone huddled in some room littered with pizza boxes (although I’m a big fan of the positive qualities of pizza)! Approaching it "globally" gives you better access and allows you to be more agile. At Golin, we had a client at the World Economic Forum in Davos. We implemented a global monitoring and response program where we would not only insert our client into conversations about what was happening, we’d help them on the ground so they always appeared to have just the right information at the ready for extemporaneous issues. 

At Persistent, we enlist our 9,000-plus brand ambassadors on social media. At events, we look for any opportunity to "own" a moment, and then amplify the message coming out of it. If the CEO of a major company stops by our booth, we’ll tweet a photo, and before you know it, that company has retweeted it, giving us the opportunity to tell people about our booth, which was not possible before. Customer presenting with us in a session? We social it out and engage the customer company in ways never thought of before social.

To paraphrase Edwin Starr, war is good for absolutely nothing. But as the Roman philosopher Seneca said of opportunity, "Luck is the matter of preparation meeting opportunity!"  The smart person opens the door before it knocks!

No

Matt Hantz
SVP of digital, M Booth
Expertise includes brand building, thought leadership, corporate comms, and social

Would the notion of a social media war room have become so mainstream if not for a 34-minute power outage at Super Bowl XLVII? Who knows, but the relevance of such command centers is fading. When Arby’s social media guru Josh Martin was asked about the process behind the Grammys’ scene-stealing Pharrell tweet, he said, "It was just me in a room at that moment." Kudos to Arby’s for giving Martin the latitude to pull the trigger on an in-the-moment tweet without an onerous review process that can kill or dilute great real-time marketing.

For some brands, especially those in highly regulated industries, the value of having decision-makers, marketers, and lawyers closely connected during big events is still very real. The main difference is that you don’t need the physical space and the capital investment required to create space-aged war rooms. The idea that you need a wall of LED screens to keep your finger on the pulse of the #Oscars conversation is becoming passé. When I hear [insert agency] is renovating a conference room to become a "social listening center," my first thought is that it’s more about optics than practicality. Anyone with a laptop, a high-speed Internet connection, and social listening software can tap into the same data that makes the social media world go round. Just make sure the people keeping an eye on the conversation know what to look for; it’s an all-too-common practice to relegate that work to the most junior members of the team.

Said another way, the purpose of the war room – preparation – is still very real. Racecar driver Bobby Unser famously said, "Success is where preparation meets opportunity." In the world of social media, this means more than congregating around big events. It means thinking about every potential scenario where the brand might have something to say and avoiding the pitfalls of inserting the brand when and where it doesn’t belong. You hear about the major "we stepped in it" social media fails, but there are countless more "meh" moments that are a waste of time and make the brand look stale.

Real-time marketing is still dependent on social listening, but seizing the moment has far more to do with smart software, smarter marketers, the courage to hit "publish" before the moment passes and the judiciousness to say "pass" when it doesn’t make sense.


PRWeek’s view: It depends on the event, and more specifically its length. One (brilliant and opportunistic) person can handle social monitoring and marketing for an event such as the Super Bowl, but a week-long conference such as CES will take a team.

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