Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Social media: friend or foe?

As I mentioned earlier this week, last night I attended the Social Media: Friend or Foe? event hosted by our Change & Internal Communications team here at Hill & Knowlton. This event represented a bit of a break in format for our recent events. Rather than the traditional expert presentation followed by a Q&A, our host and Head of Internal Communication, Scott McKenzie, challenged the audience to field two debate teams from amongst their number.

This was a great approach for a number of reasons, not least because it highlighted that there’s not really such a thing as a “social media expert” (one of the problems of a medium that changes exponentially while you’re asleep). In this context then, the challenge for our guests and attending H&K-ers was to coordinate either a Friend or Foe argument, and the results were particularly interesting given our debate teams.

From a crisis management perspective the outcome of the debate isn’t nearly as important as some of the observations the debate itself triggered. Some of the more poignant among these were:

  • As social media becomes more pervasive it also becomes less social. (this is similar to the old “alternative” music debate – if everyone’s playing “alternative”, doesn’t that just make it mainstream?)
  • As mobile technology continues its upward evolution it becomes a social media lifeline. How then does a company possibly enforce a social media ban amongst its workforce if they have their own mobile phones in the workplace?
  • When it comes to engaging with audiences via social media, you have to be brave because you cannot be selective. This was from our very own global Director of Marketing Technology, Niall Cook (or follow him on Twitter here).

For crisis managers then, the key take-away from the night was this: social media is here to stay. So deal with it.

This cold, hard truth has several important ramifications, which are not exactly new, but are definitely more pronounced with the rise of online networks. Here are three of the more confronting ones:

  • The “how” of a story supercedes the “what”. Relatively simple issues, the kind that used to be classed as “just the cost of doing business”, now take on a life of their own. All it takes is one connected individual to decide they don’t like the way your organisation has behaved, and it’s enough to start a landslide. Snowflakes and skiers have known this for years.
  • The relevance of social media to your primary target audience is irrelevant to your actual crisis. It used to be that if a special interest group took offence, you could rationalise your level of engagement on the basis of whether or not that special interest group had any bearing on your ability to continue doing business. Now, though, if that otherwise irrelevant interest group can stimulate significant attention in their own right, then to the world’s media that actually is a story. It may still have no bearing on what your original problem was…but by now, that no longer matters.
  • Yes, engaging with a social media-based crisis does reinforce a positive feedback loop. So, think carefully before you do it. This is a real sticking point in the crisis vs. digital communication debate because the pro-social media camp is very much singing the “two-way communication promotes transparency” hymn. Fact: that statement was just as true before the internet was invented. It was just harder to tell if you weren’t holding up your side of the deal.

The point then is that you don’t have to get on facebook/Twitter/foursquare/insert-your-preferred-platform-here in order to engage with your audience. So have a good, hard think about whether you even should. Absolutely, the odds are you should engage with your audience. But if they’ve created a space on a social network that’s akin to an old-fashioned lynch mob, why on Earth would you do it there? Be creative and find a better solution (do something completely out of the box – actually meet the leaders of the mob one-on-one, for a coffee and a chat).

It’s all pretty daunting stuff, and depending on which school of thought you subscribe to it will make the lives of crisis managers either infinitely more difficult, or somewhat less painful. And the reason for that is a simple one: how people respond to your corporate behaviour is well and truly beyond your control. So instead, we need to take a leaf out of our Internal Communications colleagues’ handbook, and focus our efforts instead on what our corporate behaviour actually is in the first instance.

In other words, do the right thing by people and chances are, they’ll do the right thing by you.

(For any readers who haven’t yet, you can also check out Scott’s Collective Conversation blog here)

Social media and internal communication, two things crisis managers need to get

An alternative title for this post was going to be “Do you know what your employees are doing while the world’s falling apart around you?”, but we were a bit concerned that it came across all Big Brother-esque.

However, it’s always worth remembering that effective internal communication is integral to the successful management of many crises – whether that’s by engaging your biggest, most readily available army of ambassadors, or alternatively, ensuring that the right people know the right information to get a problem sorted with a minimum of fuss.

It becomes doubly important when you through the issue of employees’ access to social media into the mix.

Because of this natural affinity, the Issues & Crisis team works closely with our Change & Internal Communications team here at Hill & Knowlton. Fellow H&K Collective Conversation blogger and head of our C&IC team, Scott McKenzie, is hosting the Social Media: Friend or Foe? event next week. Click here for further details and to register – some of the Issues & Crisis team will be there as well, reminding people that not all communication happens on the internet.

One of the issues we’ll be looking for an answer on is that of effective social media monitoring. Knowing what your employees are saying about you in the midst of a scandal-driven media storm is a very good thing, but there are some obvious problems with monitoring them (ethics and privacy come to mind immediately, shortly followed by practicality). Check back next week for an update.

When crisis plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on

Our recent Public Health Crisis event drew out a number of observations from our guest panellists, one of which was the importance of training for crisis teams and spokespeople.

While crisis management plans are important, they should always be regarded as a tool to help your crisis management team do what you need them to. Fundamentally though, your crisis will be managed by real people, who make real decisions, which have real consequences.

For this reason it’s essential that your crisis management team is well trained. Governments and emergency services run highly sophisticated training drills to keep skills up to date – and so should your organisation. Crisis management teams tend to involve people from quite disparate roles within the business. A crisis should be an unusual event, which means in an ideal world there won’t be many reasons for the crisis management team to work together in their crisis management capacity. Unless you’re regularly experiencing business-wide crises, your teams’ skills will deteriorate over time. You literally must “use it or lose it”.

Here are five things you can do today to immediately make a difference to your crisis management team’s preparation to handle a real crisis:

  • Establish a regular training calendar for the crisis management team. This needs to take into account your organisational culture, team members’ day-to-day responsibilities, and the physical location of team members, but ideally we’d recommend having some kind of formal crisis management training scheduled every six months as a minimum. Include the induction of new team members into this calendar in addition to your scheduled training
  • Conduct a technology audit for your crisis management team. Your plan should include a designated meeting room or control point, equipped with the technology the team will need in order to do its job. However, it’s not uncommon to find that “spare” equipment (i.e. that is usually set aside specifically to be available in the event of a crisis) disappears when you need it most. Pull out your list of required equipment and go see if it’s all where it should be. This can also include checking that all of your team’s phone numbers are still current (it happens…)
  • Develop a scenario library. When we run crisis training and simulations for clients, we tap into a global knowledge bank of scenarios that we can tailor to be fit for purpose. Some of these are developed in creative brainstorms, but almost always the most left-field crisis scenarios are things that actually happened in the real world.
  • Get your crisis agency in for a familiarisation day. When you’re in the middle of a crisis you need to know everyone on your support team is a trusted, capable member of the team. Make sure that you know who your agency will have on hand for you if you need support. A great way of building that sense of teamwork is to have the agency team come into your organisation for a few hours, meet the crisis management team and then take a tour of your operations. This gives them a first-hand experience of the scope of your business, and it also gives your agency team the chance to identify potential fail points (very helpful for developing future training scenarios)
  • Organise a team outing. Crisis management is a serious business, which means you need your team to be comfortable working with each other under intense pressure. During a crisis there’s little time to nurture those relationships, so getting together in a more social sense can help here. There’s something disconcerting about watching a crisis team meeting each other for the first time five minutes before running a crisis simulation

Bonus tip: If your organisation has identified a back-up control room that’s situated in a nearby hotel, then getting the team together at the actual venue means you can also work on your relationship with the hotel’s management, including the all-important AV team and catering staff. 

Note that for the purpose of this post, we’re assuming your organisation has a formal crisis management team, and a crisis management plan – if you’re missing either of these things then get in touch with us so we can help get your organisation’s crisis management function up and running quickly.

The importance of stakeholder relationships in a crisis

One of the key points to come out of last week’s Public Health Crisis event was the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with your stakeholders – before you need to call on them.

This is often a challenge for organisations because relationship management takes work. You have to commit time and resources to something that usually doesn’t deliver an immediate benefit. But as we saw in our case study, successfully managing a crisis can often depend on those relationships.

For an organisation that feeds into the consumer supply chain, many of these relationships will be self-evident. For example, our hypothetical farm consortium can easily trace its relationships to its veterinarians, its customers, its shareholders, and consumers of its products. Specifically in the case of our exercise, it should also draw a straight line to the pharmaceutical company trialling its vaccine in the farm’s cows.

However, where things often fall down is in managing those relationships. Public relations is about doing just that, through ongoing communication (ideally that would be two-way, which is PR jargon for listening as well as talking). In our case study, this absence of coherent communication between stakeholders set the company up for failure. It’s a scenario that repeats itself all too often.

Here are five things you can do today to start improving your relationships immediately (or if you have a PR agency already then get them to help you do this):

  • Identify the stakeholders your organisation deals with most frequently, and which ones you’d likely need to call on in a crisis
  • Map them out so you can see the connections your stakeholders have between each other, as well as with your organisation. Any line that you’re not connected to has the potential to be part of the rumour mill, so it’s helpful to know just how big a network you’re potentially dealing with
  • Find out (if you don’t already know), who the spokespeople are for each of your stakeholders, as well as who your organisation already has existing relationships with in your stakeholder organisation
  • Get in touch. Every solid relationship has to start somewhere, so make a call or send an email today, and arrange some getting-to-know-you time. The occasional coffee is always a good idea
  • Reciprocate. You’re trying to build a network of people who you can call on in times of crisis – so make sure that you can also fulfil that role for someone else

A crisis might not start with you, but that doesn’t mean it won’t affect your organisation down the line. Make stakeholder engagement a habbit, and not a campaign activity, and you’ll build one of your greatest defences against a future crisis.

Issues & crisis event update: a public health case study debate

Hill & Knowlton's Public Health Crisis looked at the whole supply chain from farm gate to table

Hill & Knowlton

Last night we welcomed more than 80 guests to Hill & Knowlton’s Public Health event, hosted by our Issues & Crisis and Healthcare & Wellbeing teams. Hosted by journalist Lois Rogers, the format of the night focused on a hypothetical crisis scenario involving “killer milk”, which stimulated an insightful and often lively. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to our guest panellists:

  • Dr David Heymann, Head of Global Centre on Health Security at Chatham House
  • Dr Rob Drysdale, veterinarian
  • Dr Simon Wheeler, Novartis
  • Mr Bart Dalla Mura
  • Mr John Kelly, Partner, Schillings

Following is a brief overview of the scenario, which is entirely fictitious, designed for simulation purposes only, and any similarity to businesses, individuals or actual scenarios is purely coincidental.

 

For the purpose of the discussion we created a scenario that reached from one end of the consumer supply chain (farm) to the other (consumption), and spread across multiple industries (agriculture, dairy, pharmaceutical, retail). The focus of the scenario was a trial of a new vaccine, developed to treat a common and relatively harmless condition in cows that can cause a major drop in milk yield. As the scenario rolled on over six days, hundreds of patients presented at local hospitals and a number of fatalities were recorded.

 

Key points from the discussion included:

  • The importance of relationships with stakeholders in a public health crisis
  • It’s not enough to have a crisis preparedness plan (you have to train for it as well)
  • Why media training is important – for your organisation, your stakeholders and for journalists
  • How to deal with aggressive journalists
  • The role of experts
  • What you can do in the first four minutes of a crisis

We’ll take a closer look at each of these points – please drop back for updates.

More than 80 people attended Hill & Knowlton's Public Health Crisis discussion forum

More than 80 people attended Hill & Knowlton

Issues & crisis event: a public health case study debate

Our first post from Issues & Crisis MD, Tim Luckett (we’re still setting up his account):

 

Tonight we’re hosting an important event alongside our colleagues from our Healthcare & Wellbeing team. Our team works with a variety of companies, big and small, to develop business continuity plans and communication strategies. With a very recent event still reverberating through the press in the UK, we’ve developed a hypothetical case study to show how to best cope with ‘trial by media’. It doesn’t really matter what business you’re in, this event will provide a solid framework from which to build if you ever find yourself in a position that might harm your reputation. Moreover, tonight our guests will have the opportunity to network with experts from a variety of industries and to ask questions of people who have experienced a crisis and come through it. – Tim

 

Check back tomorrow for a summary of the event. – Grant