'You need to see three steps ahead': Crisis comms advice from British Red Cross PR chief

British Red Cross comms chief Zoe Abrams - a speaker at the upcoming PRWeek Crisis Communications conference - discusses what to expect from her speech, what is most important in a crisis response and who has handled recent crises the best and worst.

Zoe Abrams, executive director of community and advocacy at the British Red Cross
Zoe Abrams, executive director of community and advocacy at the British Red Cross

The must-attend Crisis Communications conference takes place at Etc Venues in Victoria, London, on Wednesday 13 June. The full-day event will feature a range of speakers and case studies from KFC UK & Ireland, Virgin Trains, Samsung Electronics UK, Sky, Greater Manchester Police, the Civil Aviation Authority and more. Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Q: What was the best handled crisis of the last 12 months?

A: The British Red Cross was heavily involved in supporting the emergency services and victims of the terror attacks in London and Manchester last year and I was particularly struck by the Met Police's public communications response to the Westminster attack. It was so fast - their first tweet was within seven minutes – and based on a really clear view of what action they wanted to inspire in the public. Everything was geared towards protecting the public, reassuring people that the police were there and being clear on how the public could best support the police operation.

Q: What was the worst handled crisis of the last 12 months?

A: Many organisations are facing real operational and reputational challenges when it comes to data management, handling and security. There have been high-profile, data-led communications crisis across sectors - from giant digital brands, to third sector organisations, to technology companies, to the health service. With GDPR [now in force], all organisations need to make sure they are on top of this and that communications teams understand its implications.

Q: What do you think is the most important element of crisis response?

A: An authentic response balanced with considered action. You need to be able to both advise on how to respond to the immediate situation, as well as see three steps ahead. This needs to involve a rapid assessment of the situation, a clear understanding of the organisational role (both of the brand and individuals), and senior buy-in to the approach.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year's Crisis Communications conference?

A: I am looking forward to finding commonality amongst communications experts, from the private, public, and third sectors. Many of the communications challenges we face are the same, even if the contexts are different. For us in the voluntary sector, as charities come under increasing public scrutiny, we need to ensure we are as ready as corporates for unexpected events and as robust in our approach as government communications teams.

Q: What are you going to be talking about at the conference?

A: In 2017, the UK experienced a series of emergencies unparalleled in peacetime. The terror attacks in Manchester and London and the Grenfell Tower fire caused huge loss of life and trauma. It also became one of the most demanding years for the British Red Cross since World War Two, as we deployed over 1,000 staff and volunteers to support victims, families and the emergency services. We also launched three major fundraising appeals in a month, raising over £27m. I’d like to share our learnings from this challenging time.

Click for more information on the PRWeek Crisis Communications conference 2018 and to book tickets.

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