Archive for March 15th, 2010

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 1)

It’s not unsual for Hill & Knowlton’s Head of Change & Internal Communcation, Scott McKenzie, to catch me on the hop, but he had a couple of good cracks last week at our panel discussion about the role of communication in managing organisational change.

One of the questions he hit me with last Wednesday night was around the issue of what do you tell internal audiences about a change program, compared to what you tell external audiences.

My answer at the time was: tell them both the same thing, because whatever you share internally will find its way out, and if you tell external audiences something you haven’t told your people then you’re in for all kinds of trouble.

In the post-event melee it was suggested to me that I hadn’t given enough credit to employees who know what constitutes commercially sensitive information. So, I feel I should expand on my response (not changing it mind!). There are three areas I want to address, which we’ll do in three parts:

  • Consistency of message
  • Information security
  • The inevitablility of social media

From an issues or crisis management perspective, change is usually something that one or more of your audiences will already perceive as a Very Bad Thing. This perception comes from the fact that different audiences have different needs, incentives, cares, problems etc. They’re all valid, but that doesn’t mean they’re all helpful.

This being the case, what I would see as the single most important consideration for communicating any major change would be to find the common ground that all (or as many as possible) of your audiences share. Usually, that’s the future health and success of the organisation as a whole.

By using this common ground as an anchor point for the rest of your messages, it’s easier for your various (and disparate) stakeholders to 1) understand how the change impacts them, and 2) understand (and possibly even appreciate) how the change impacts other stakeholders.

By extension, if those audiences can understand each other better, they’re likely to find more points of commonality. If those points of commonality are aligned with what’s good for the organisation, then this is obviously a Very Good Thing. That being the case, you want to create as many potential points for your audiences to connect on as possible – ergo, tell them all the same stuff.

In the yet-to-be-written Part 2 we’ll look at information security in more detail.

How regulators deal with a PR crisis: EFSA releases crisis simulation report

Food and beverage companies operating in Europe would do well to take a look at the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) recently released crisis simulation exercise report. For a number of reasons.

First of all, it reinforces the importance of training when it comes to crisis management. A great process, and a motivated, action-oriented team are both essential, but the glue that holds it all together is an established training regimen that builds team competence. Football fans know there’s a huge difference between a champion team and a team of champions.

Secondly, if you’re in the food and drink business, it’s really important to understand how regulators are likely to react to your issue or crisis. Crisis communication reinforces the importance of well-managed stakeholder relationships, and if you have a significant enough crisis of your own, chances are you’ll be giving EFSA a call yourself. It’s a good idea to know how that’s going to go down. When our Issues & Crisis team runs simulations, we always take a broad view of stakeholders (it’s no good just worrying about media – you also need to think about government, or your social media audiences).

Thirdly, simulations are resource-intensive. While regular training and testing is important, it should also be incumbent on staff to maintain a minimum standard of self-education. Reviewing other organisations’ case studies and reports is one way of helping to achieve that. Even better, if you’re familiar with your stakeholders’ crisis management procedures then you’ll be in a better position to help them out should they need it. And helping people out of a bind is a great way of building your relationship with them.