Platform: You can’t hide your head in the sand over Y2K - Companies need to start making contigency PR plans now if they want to prevent Y2K brand damage, says Giles Fraser

Most large UK companies are well advanced in the preparation of their IT systems for the year 2000 (Y2K), however there are still communications issues to address - in particular recognising the potential threat of Y2K to corporate brands.

Most large UK companies are well advanced in the preparation of

their IT systems for the year 2000 (Y2K), however there are still

communications issues to address - in particular recognising the

potential threat of Y2K to corporate brands.



In October 1998 leading research analysts, the Garner Group, estimated

that only 15 per cent of businesses in the US or UK would experience

Y2K-related business problems and 90 per cent will fix their problems

within three days. However, they believed the percentage would go up to

an alarming 30 to 50 per cent in continental Europe.



The likelihood is that we are unlikely to see major failures in the

provision of basic services over the new year period. Safety-critical

systems, such as air traffic control, appear, by all accounts, to be

well-prepared.



Nevertheless, most companies are still unprepared for Y2K in terms of

reputation enhancement and protection planning.



It is still seen by most top management as a technical, rather than a

business problem. It is not enough to ensure your own systems are

ready.



What if a competitor or a sister company in a developing country has a

problem? With the speed of global communications today, a combination of

media ignorance and corporate ill-preparedness could cause permanent

damage to the brand of any organisation related to the affected

company.



The real challenge now is to ensure that senior management recognises

the brand issue, engage their IT department counterparts in a discussion

of communications policy and, together, agree a policy which will help

drive Y2K communications requirements across the organisation.



The best way to persuade management that the issue requires attention is

to draw parallels with other business-critical issues such as fraud,

environmental protection and product recalls. The lessons learnt from

these case studies can put Y2K discussion in a new light.



It will also highlight the need for pro-active communications to all

audiences, especially staff, in advance of the day of reckoning and the

need to scenario-plan communications requirements if public concern gets

out of hand.



Organisations need to start communicating pro-actively to all audiences

from now about their progress towards Y2K compliance - even if they

believe they have, and will continue to have, some vulnerabilities.



Management of exposure as well as the exposure itself is a critical

issue.



Although there are clearly legal arguments not to do so, we believe that

it is too late to start communicating when the climate of public concern

becomes hotter.



All staff need to know the state their company’s Y2K programme is in and

how they can help to educate and reassess all the company’s key

stakeholders.



Ignorance will be dangerous as we near the end of the year.



Moreover, for understandable reasons, the media is starved of companies

willing to talk about their Y2K programmes. Like any issue of concern,

openness is vital. While the first companies to put their heads over the

parapet may increase their vulnerability, they will be able to show

leadership, corporate responsibility and concern for the well-being of

their staff, customers and suppliers.



So far caution with regard to communications has been the right

approach.



The challenge is for companies to work together under the aegis of their

industry bodies to communicate their progress and concerns from now on.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.