Learn ahead of the event

Baden-Powell had the right idea when it comes to crisis management - be prepared.

Anyone working in crisis management will be familiar with Murphy's Law: what can go wrong will go wrong. At Link we have added O'Shaugnessey's Law: Murphy was too optimistic. Benjamin Franklin famously opined, 'In life there is nothing certain other than death and taxes'; we add crises to that.

We work with our clients to deliver sustainable crisis comms; not something you pluck off the shelf when things go wrong, but rather something that is part of your own ongoing corporate governance.

The riots were a good demonstration of that. For those readers old enough to remember Boy Scouts and Baden-Powell, 'be prepared' was the motto. Lessons learned, we believe, are best learned ahead of the event and, likewise, best practice is best established before the event.

The watchwords are readiness, competence and tested capability.

This, necessarily, means rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Define what's the worst thing that could happen to your company and then work out ways of dealing with it. Think 'prudent over-reaction' and you may never need it.

Does all this really matter? Well, think how much your reputation is worth, not just as a 'nice to have' but the impact that it can have on the bottom line.

Reputation is hard to win, easy to lose, difficult to regain. We all have our own war stories of what that means.

We inhabit a new landscape of media coverage: instantaneous, intensive and incessant.

In addition, we have the blogs and citizen journalism. Information flow is no longer through limited nodes and single points of contact that can be controlled.

One of the most telling issues about the riots was highlighted by Paul Lewis, special projects editor of The Guardian. In trying to pull together the story of what was happening, he said he spent much of his time talking to answerphones or the phone was just ringing out. Hardly the crisis comms response for 2012.

At Link we have pioneered the concept of 'reputation on the line'. It's a system to help avoid the tipping point where an issue turns into a crisis.

We encourage companies to scan the horizon, collect the data - who is saying what about you and where - analyse, then manage the issue and factor in crisis avoidance.

Deal with it now and you might never reach the tipping point. Ignore it and you could be well on the way to being a corporate casualty.

When applied to your business, 'reputation on the line' lets you develop systems to gain an early warning of emerging issues; provide tools to analyse threats - real or perceived - and then use a straight line approach to sustainable reputation management; strengthen the stakeholder engagement approach; and support corporate comms to have a robust system in place for responding to media questions. Nobody ever said this would be easy but given the right tools, you could finish the job.

We train our clients to be:

1. Proactive as well as reactive in crisis comms.

2. Resilient in terms of people, processes and technology.

3. Capable of effectively managing issues, business impact and stakeholder expectations.

4. Able to ensure the long-term survival of the company.

One key message to take away: to achieve a sustainable system, the roots of communication need to be derived from the building blocks and immersed in the DNA of the company.

Mike Hogan is senior consultant at Link Associates International.


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

1. Have a 'dark site' on the intranet that is password-protected and store the FAQs to be activated in times of crisis.

2. Deliver key messages to the site so all audiences have the same story.

3. Constantly update in the light of changing circumstances.

I have had personal experience in large corporates of this technique and it worked; your own people are your best - or worst - ambassadors. Try to avoid the exit vox pop of the disgruntled/ill-informed employee. That will make the news.

From PRWeek's Crisis supplement, June 2012

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