I’ll put this up again at the end, but just wanted to reassure everybody that if you miss anything I say or want to send a complaint then there are plenty of opportunities.
One of the biggest challenges we see in crisis management, from a consultancy perspective, is discriminating between a “crisis” and a “bad day at the office”. There are a lot of unpleasant or inconvenient things that happen in business – not all of these constitute a crisis. There are also a lot of fairly innocuous things that happen in business, which can turn into a disaster if they’re not managed well. Our role is to help identify these things, and one of the ways we can do that is by questioning whether the brief actually requires the crisis management function to be performed. By this I mean, does the current issue stop my client doing business as usual (or could it if left unchecked).It’s also important to discriminate between crisis communication and crisis management. At Hill & Knowlton we work on the principle that crisis communication is integral to overall management of a crisis, but the primary focus of crisis management should be alleviating the source of the crisis. Usually, that’s an operational challenge, with an operational solution. Communication is often the cement that holds all of the management bricks together, but when you build a house you don’t draw a plan for where you’re going to put the cement.Ultimately, the goal is to restore business-as-usual. Ideally, we’d like to improve our business-as-usual position, either by increasing the trust our stakeholders feel for us, or earning greater respect for the integrity with which we’ve conducted ourselves, but the important bit is minimising overall business impact.
There are two main points I want to make here. The first of these is that crisis management is a particularly hands-on area of public relations. It’s one of the few times the Communications department has the ability to eyeball every other business unit on equal footing, because there’s inherently a massive risk of failure associated with a crisis that isn’t necessarily evident with, say, a twelve-month thought leadership campaign. We have to work in the here and now. Speed and precision are paramount.The second point I want to make is that we love a three-letter-acronym, and so I’ve condensed the next three minutes into the word PIT. This stands for Procedures, Infrastructure, and Team, and we’ll take a quick look at each of these.
This is pretty self-explanatory because it’s all about the system you have in place to guide your actions.If you look at the best crisis management case studies, and I’m thinking of things like the famous Johnson & Johnson Tylenol case, the underlying strength of the response was the decision-making framework. When we talk about procedures, that’s really what we mean – how good is your system for evaluating information and making decisions. All of these points feed into that system. I think as the practice of crisis management has evolved, what we’ve tried to do is predict the steps a crisis management team is going to need to take, and then tried to plot that out so when an actual crisis hits, the management process becomes much faster – it’s not so much about taking a lot of the thinking time out of the system, rather it’s reallocating time to the right kind of thinking. Rather than asking “what should our statement say”, we ask “should we be responding, and if so why, and if so, how”, and then opening the manual to that particular piece of communication, putting the necessary details in and hitting send on it.
This comes under the “boring but important” heading and is about making sure you have the hardware to function effectively. Things like: do you have a central control room of some sort, do you have enough phones, do you have internet access. It’s not just about the PR or management function though, it’s also the little things you take for granted every day. For example, if you’ve got a control set up, it’s usually in a board room or something like that. Ok, great, but where’s your boardroom? Is it somewhere you can come and go from without too much hassle, or is it smack bang in the middle of your office? How easy is it to get to the toilet? If you have a dozen people sitting in a room for 8 hours they’re going to need biology breaks. Have you got catering organised? This is worth thinking about because it’s an example of covering your bases – you’re ordering in, because a) you don’t want to waste time with people wandering off to get lunch, and b) if they have to go outside and across the road to get a sandwich then you’ve just increased your risk profile. All it takes is for someone to answer their phone as they walk across the road, get distracted and step in front of a bus, and there goes a key part of your crisis management team. Not to mention you now have a fatality to deal with.That moves us on to contingency resources – do you have back-up hardware, IT, facilities? Can you work remotely? What happens if the crisis is an explosion in head office and you can’t use your control room? What if it’s a pandemic and you can’t be in physical contact?Third point on here is social media, and I know I’m going to get complaints for this but if you’ve read the Media and Crisis blog at Hill & Knowlton then you’ll already know I’m a big fan of pragmatic crisis management. To me that means doing what you need to do to get the job done. It’s not about telling everyone in the world everything about what’s going on, and if your organisation isn’t already social media savvy then a crisis is not the right time to start embracing the connectivity of social media. However, if you are already engaged in the space, you don’t really have a choice other than to use these channels because your stakeholders are going to use those channels to get to you. That’s exactly what happened with Eurostar. This isn’t to say you have to sit someone on Twitter 24/7 from now until the end of time, but this is where there’s a really high rate of failure at the minute and it’s something more organisations are going to need to deal with.
I’ve told you there are three things that are important to crisis management, and in an ideal world you’d have all three in place, but if you had to focus on just one element then I’d say it’s your crisis management team, and here’s why.You need people to do things.You need the right people to do things properly and well.Everything else can be improvised if you need it to be – the right people can work without a rigid process in place. It won’t necessarily be pretty, but they can get it done. The right people can also work around little issues like an internet outage, or an outbreak of swine flu, or any one of a hundred other physical challenges, because part of the reason they’re the right people is that they’re innovative under pressure.The problem is, you never have the right people when you want them. People take holidays, get sick, can’t get a mobile phone signal, get new jobs...whatever it is, your actual team is both your greatest asset and your greatest liability. The Procedures and Infrastructure pieces are there to enhance the good and help mitigate the bad.
Get in touch<br />www.hillandknowlton.co.uk<br />blogs.hillandknowlton.com/mediaandcrisis<br />.../hank<br />.../energy<br />@HK_London<br />@grantsmith8<br />+44 (0) 207 973 5921<br />20 Soho Square<br />
Understanding crisis management<br />The function, not the definition<br />Communication vs. management<br />The goal<br />
How it all works<br />Good crisis management is like a well-trained PIT crew<br />Procedures: how we’re going to work<br />Infrastructure: the tools we need to get the job done<br />Team: the people who make it happen<br />
Procedures<br />How we work<br />Crisis manual<br />Risk assessment / scenario planning<br />Pre-formed responses<br />Call-out procedure<br />Order of service<br />
Infrastructure<br />The tools we need to get the job done:<br />Physical facilities<br />Contingency resources<br />Social media sits here<br />
Team<br />It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it!<br />Do you have the people you need<br />Do they have the training they need<br />Does your team structure have appropriate depth and breadth<br />
Get in touch<br />www.hillandknowlton.co.uk<br />blogs.hillandknowlton.com/mediaandcrisis<br />.../hank<br />.../energy<br />@HK_London<br />@grantsmith8<br />+44 (0) 207 973 5921<br />20 Soho Square (yes it’s old fashioned, but we’re on Foursquare so it’s ok)<br />