taking the long view


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taking the long view

  1. 1. Taking the Long View Companies are increasingly emphasizing proactive approaches to crisis communication by Caroline Sapriel C orporations have long understood that they must be prepared to respond effectively to crises. But today many are emphasizing anticipation, preven- tion and mitigation of crises as well. Communicators in particular have an opportunity to help shape best practices in this critical management function. In response to the threats posed by a more complex world, crisis communication over the past two decades has become more sophisticated. Gone are the days when corporate spokespeople could work with their journalist MARLENA ZUBER contacts to mop up bad news when things went wrong. Crisis management used to consist of having the PR department write up a crisis manual and organize media training to make sure top management was ready for the worst. 24 Communication World • September–October 2007 www.iabc.com/cw
  2. 2. Today, proactive crisis management and mitiga- Rethinking crisis communication plans tion includes a more deliberate process of identi- Shift your organization’s focus from reactive to proactive crisis communication: fying risks and issues early and managing them G Establish cross-business line risk and issues management systems to monitor, assess before they escalate to crisis levels. Especially since and manage threats. For example, instead of having the communication department September 11, 2001, both the public and private and finance or planning departments manage issues and risks on behalf of the entire sectors have come to recognize that communica- organization, best practice calls for all functions to manage their respective risks and tion is a strategic tool that’s not only useful in the issues under an umbrella of cross-organizational issues and risk management systems. midst of crisis, but may be even more important This approach ensures alignment and consistency across departments and functions in the pre- and post-crisis phases. and enhances the organization’s ability to detect risk. Communicators are uniquely positioned to G Establish and manage risk based on well-defined common assessment criteria that are integrate crisis communication into the overall adopted throughout the organization. business strategy. “Professional communicators G Manage risk and issues through clearly assigned areas of expertise. For example, assign understand the environment their organization responsibility for risk management to people with particular knowledge in that area. operates in, which provides them with a keen G Identify stakeholders and map out their potential actions early in the business planning, understanding of emerging discrepancies that can project management and market entry cycle to build resilient strategies. evolve into a crisis,” says Dr. Arjen Boin, director G Plan for potential scenarios for each case based on detailed stakeholder analysis and risk of the Leiden University Crisis Research Center in impact assessment. the Netherlands. Because they have their fingers G Define communication strategies to anticipate, prevent and mitigate escalation. on the public’s pulse, Boin continues, “they also —C.S. have a good grasp of the credit level remaining for an organization hit by crisis. This allows for a smoother transition back to a state of normalcy.” Consequently, organizations are shifting their Statistics show that most business crises today focus to issues and risk management to monitor are non-event-related, or so-called smoldering new and unimagined threats and, if possible, to crises (see “Sudden vs. Smoldering Crises,” anticipate and prevent their escalation. For below). This implies that a great majority of busi- instance, when Hong Kong hosted the World ness crises could be prevented or mitigated. Trade Organization conference in 2005, the com- munication groups in all the key companies of one of Hong Kong’s leading multinational con- Sudden vs. smoldering crises glomerates put in place contingency plans to mit- igate potential incidents, alerting management to Sudden possible complications and escalation (such as in 31% the case of SARS), ensuring crisis management procedures were in place and well maintained, and capturing and sharing lessons learned by senior management. 1996 Need for integration 1997 1998 Corporations recognize more and more that crisis 1999 management must be institutionalized and that 2000 2001 all key business functions must formally antici- 2002 pate, prevent, mitigate and recover from a crisis— 2003 2004 a task made more challenging by the complexity Smoldering 2005 and size of today’s organizations, and the effects of 69% restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and divestments, and the ever-growing number and Research from the Institute of Crisis Management diversity of stakeholders. has shown that nearly three-quarters of all organi- “Today we see a more integrated approach,” zational crises are “smoldering,” that is, non-event- says Bjorn Edlund, vice president of communica- related, and therefore potentially preventable. tions for Royal Dutch Shell. “The higher level of www.iabc.com/cw Communication World • September–October 2007 25
  3. 3. transparency or permeability that has been weather test of established relationships, and not brought into the business world by the stick of abrupt ruptures in a company’s networks.” stricter reporting rules and the carrot of construc- Historically, high-risk industries have led the tive societal interaction has made crisis manage- development of emergency response and crisis ment less of a deep-foxhole activity.” Now, he management capabilities. In the past decade, both says, crisis management is more of a “rough- the public and private sectors have emphasized risk detection and management as well as business continuity, with a focus on protecting people, the The business continuity framework environment and assets. To date, though, these efforts are mostly evident in improved operational Pre-Loss Loss Post-Loss and IT resilience, but probably less so in the less tangible reputation domain. Risk & Crisis Management, Business Continuity/ “Shell is a process-oriented corporation with a Issues Management Emergency Response Disaster Recovery focus on risk mitigation,” Edlund says. “In the energy business, with a large oil and gas portfolio, Strategic planning, Stakeholder management we have to be. So risk management and business and Communication continuity are part of ‘normal’ business reality. It is a corporatewide responsibility that cuts across PREVENTIVE REACTIVE CURATIVE business lines.” Best practice shows that integrating issues and Anticipation Response Resumption Recovery Restoration risk management with crisis management enhances organizational resilience and vigilance. ©CS&A Return to business as usual However, risk management, crisis management and business continuity are often managed In this integrated model, issues and risk management are loss-prevention functions; independently by different functions. This lack of emergency response and crisis management planning focus on being prepared to coordination often generates gaps and/or overlaps handle adversity, minimize impact and facilitate the management process during in processes, which reduce overall effectiveness. chaos; and business continuity planning concentrates on post-loss recovery. Strategic To provide an integrated approach to crisis communication planning runs through the full process and provides the glue that anticipation, prevention, mitigation and recovery, facilitates more effective results. it is essential to assign ownership of the entire business contingency planning process (see “The Business Continuity Framework,” left) to a custo- Prepared for crisis SWIFT is a cooperative of global ity plans and crisis scenarios when things go wrong, the banks, broker-dealers and invest- covering a range of issues. priority is often on the opera- ment managers that supplies The plans are formulated and tional aspects, because under- secure, standardized messaging reviewed at the highest levels standably, there is a belief that services and interface software to in our organization, which is a if you fix the problem it will nearly 8,100 financial institutions clear indication that crisis pre- go away. As communicators “We must sensitize in 207 countries and territories. paredness is not an afterthought know, this is not necessarily We talked to Euan Sellar, public but rather is integrated into true. Moreover, nonoperational more people in affairs manager for SWIFT in SWIFT’s corporate management risks and issues are often harder Belgium, about how the group planning. We even hold high- to discern and more complex the organization to handles crisis communication. level crisis simulation exercises to resolve because they cut with authorities in the major across many divisions and nonoperational risks Can you describe in general currency markets, which involve many stakeholders. terms how crisis management various corporate functions, Nevertheless, SWIFT is and issues.” is structured in your organiza- including communication. getting better at issues plan- tion today and where crisis Making management aware ning. For example, in our recent communication fits in? of reputation issues in an envi- case of compliance with com- At SWIFT, communication is ronment focused on operational pulsory subpoenas from the an integral part of crisis preven- ones is a challenge. At the plan- U.S. Treasury for access to sub- tion. Corporate communication ning stage it is relatively easy sets of SWIFT messages, we contributes to business continu- to get everyone’s attention, but prepared early. At the early 26 Communication World • September–October 2007 www.iabc.com/cw
  4. 4. dian, whether an individual senior staff member age reporting, plan for different scenarios and or a department, and embed it into corporate mitigate effects, can actually unveil opportunities management planning. for improvements and enhance efficiency across When the business contingency planning the business (see “The Crisis Management process is not assigned to a custodian in the Culture Ladder,” right). organization, corporate communication depart- Moving up the ladder from reactive to calcula- The crisis management ments are increasingly called on to take on its tive to proactive and finally generative, organiza- culture ladder coordination. tions must examine the external context more Forward-thinking companies are “While crisis management and communica- closely and listen to their stakeholders’ percep- taking a look at how they view tion today definitely play a much more promi- tions and needs while staying on track with busi- crisis management. The “ladder” nent role than, say, 10 years ago, I observe a dual ness goals. In crisis mitigation, the communicator below describes the various evolution,” says Marianne Amssoms, vice presi- is often best placed to link these. states of readiness to crisis, from dent of corporate external communication at Not all crises are preventable. However, having least prepared to fully prepared InBev, the Belgian-Brazilian multinational brew- effective risk and issues management processes in for almost any kind of crisis. ery company. “Many companies have embraced place will help organizations plan and be more crisis management, introducing the necessary proactive, deciding whether to take, treat, transfer Generative: Crisis anticipation procedures and tools to increase crisis awareness, or terminate the risk. and prevention is how we do preparedness and management, and external cat- More than ever, communicators can make their business around here. alysts have multiplied over the years. Consumer mark on crisis management not only to facilitate Proactive: We continuously work organizations, shareholder associations and pres- preparation and response but also to anticipate, on problems that we still find. sure groups have become more organized and prevent and mitigate. Communicators in profes- Calculative: We have systems in outspoken. Our role as professional communica- sional organizations are recognizing and seizing place to manage crises. tors is to drive the agenda to get to an integrated this opportunity to demonstrate the long-term Reactive: Crisis management is crisis approach.” strategic benefits of a proactive crisis management important; we do a lot every culture in their organization. time we have a problem. Moving up the ladder So is the role of communication truly gaining Pathological: Who cares as long Across industry sectors, best-practice organiza- momentum in an integrated crisis management as we’re not caught? tions are busy designing a sustainable crisis antic- approach? ipation, prevention, mitigation and recovery “I am not sure whether this is a general trend or capability, and building a proactive crisis manage- a growing realization among trendsetters,” says ment culture—one where the continuous drive to Boin. “Recent crises suggest this may not be a detect problems and identify issues early, encour- widely shared insight, but that it should be.” G stage, because the federal gov- How does SWIFT approach the organization. It is our role ernment program had to remain risk management and business to pick things up and escalate confidential, we established a continuity in relation to crisis them appropriately. That does confidential project team to management? not mean corporate communi- address leaks. Second, we devel- Our plans are integrated. Busi- cation should be the only depart- oped our strategy so that when ness continuity planning focuses ment doing that. It is sound The New York Times published on operational continuity, and business to build a culture that about the author the story [detailing the govern- our corporate crisis manage- encourages the long view, where Caroline Sapriel is founder ment’s efforts to access the ment process manages the fall- employees are encouraged to and managing director of CS&A, financial records of people with out of incidents. These processes anticipate issues and bring them a specialist risk and crisis ties to terrorist organizations include triggers to activate vari- to the fore. A big challenge is management consulting firm such as Al-Qaeda], we were ready ous response mechanisms. Risk sorting through all the informa- headquartered in Hong Kong, with our response. management is still a challenge: tion to end up with usable intel- with offices in the U.K., Belgium, Another example is our pan- We must sensitize more people ligence. Another one is learning the Netherlands, Singapore, Los demics team, which monitors in the organization to non- how to deal with an expanding Angeles and New York City. She developments globally, regularly operational risks and issues. and more complex range of is based in Brussels, Belgium. exchanges information and stakeholders, particularly since adapts our preparedness accord- What role can the professional the compliance case. Corporate ing to the feedback and input communicator play in crisis antici- communication at SWIFT is defi- we receive from our team mem- pation and prevention? nitely leading this initiative. bers around the world. I believe we are the antennae of —C.S. www.iabc.com/cw Communication World • September–October 2007 27