EDITORIAL: Technology alone won't aid crisis PR

The plans put in place by the Roman Catholic Church, to help it deal with major threats to its reputation, come at a crucial time. News from the US that clergy failed to clamp down on child abuse by priests is hugely damaging. The church is to issue guidelines placing greater emphasis on transparency, to avoid a deterioration of trust in its good name.

It has done this without recourse to the sort of interactive methods recommended by research this week from Edelman PR Worldwide. The agency says that among the FTSE 250, 94 per cent claim crisis planning is a priority, but barely a quarter named their website as a useful crisis tool.

The research into crisis readiness should concern all comms professionals.

More than half of those surveyed had not tested their crisis PR systems since 11 September, while almost a third had never put their crisis planning to the test.

As well as stressing the need to be prepared, the researchers are also right to stress the need to integrate crisis PR planning with interactive communications. Doubtless there is a role for the web in ensuring the smooth flow of information if ever such a crisis engulfs the Catholic Church in the UK.

But there are limits to the value of technology. The temptation must be resisted to use technology as a security blanket. The system established by the Catholic Communications Service is not especially hi-tech but - let us hope we are not tempting fate ahead of this system actually being needed - it looks likely to meet the organisation's needs.

Having multi-lingual dark-site-enabled portals has a value in a 24/7 global media environment. But this is undermined without the basics: thinking time for message development, common sense and old-fashioned firefighting.

It is also very expensive, and will be beyond the means of many organisations.

The Catholic Church here has been handed an opportunity to see how crisis management actually works because of the situation in Boston. However, the church is in a stronger position to handle things if a crisis were to strike in the UK.

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