Posts Tagged ‘crisis management’

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 2)

Yesterday I started to follow up a question from last week’s panel discussion about the relationship between organisational change and communication, in particular the idea that internal and external audiences should be given the same information.

In this post I’m going to expand on the idea of information security.

This particular issue came up in the case of an organisation undergoing some changes to its workforce (it’s fair that most of the world’s companies probably are at the minute, so timely…). The challenge presented was around the implementation of the change program – if, as per my contention, we’re supposed to tell everyone the same thing at the same time, how can we expect the changes to be implemented with minimal external disruption?

Good question, and having had a week to think about it, the exact answer I keep coming up with is…you can’t. To clarify, I think you should share the same central theme with your stakeholders throughout, contextualised to suit their needs. And broadly speaking you should try to communicate in as timely a fashion with each audience as possible.

That’s not to say tell everyone everything, all at once. Rather, if you have information that’s sensitive to the change program internally, and relevant to external audiences (e.g. customers or suppliers), then try to coordinate the information flow so that the right people get the right message at the right time. I like to think of it as giving people the information they need to do the job they need to do with it. Knowing what that information is…that’s the job of the change manager. Sorry.

This isn’t an issue of trust. It’s one of effective project management, and it’s one of balance. If you’re asking a team to implement something, and there’s a clearly defined process for them to follow, then they need as much information as it will take to achieve the outcome. If, however, you have an outcome but want the team to devise the implementation, then they need different information (and probably more freedom as well).

As Scott McKenzie often says: “Your employees are adults. Treat them like it.” I agree, but adults also get speeding fines, take documents out of buildings when they shouldn’t, email things home that they shouldn’t, have affairs, go to the pub, leave stuff on trains, have the occasional brain explosion…whatever it is, chances are it won’t be all that life-threatening. But if incorrect or incomplete information lands in the wrong hands, or the right hands at the wrong time, then a day-spoiling phone call won’t be far away. Shortly after that is when many organisations go from a well-intentioned change program to a call to our Issues & Crisis Management team (usually about half an hour after news crews have already lobbed on the doorstep).

I think it comes down to being sensible with what you share, when, and with whom. You’ll always have a knowledge gap between the change manager and their team, and the rest of the organisation and its stakeholders. By securing information until such time as the organisation’s ready for it to be released, you’re just helping to streamline the process. It’s a question of balance.

Tomorrow we’ll have a look at the social media ramifications of change programs in Part 3.

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.

Twitter terror: why business managers should be afraid of social media

In the past I’ve been rightly accused of getting a bit wordy on here with some of our more analytical posts, so today we’re going to try something a bit different.

Here’s a proposition I want to test before I do something as stupid as say it in public, and we’d welcome your feedback.

There are two reasons why business managers should be afraid of social media. Only two. Here they are:

  1. You are doing something you shouldn’t be, and people will find out.
  2. You are not doing something you should be, and people will find out.

The only caveat I’m going to put on the above is that what you “should be” or “shouldn’t be” doing is of course open to interpretation. But then, that’s why you have a PR department…

Thoughts, criticisms and opinions all welcome, but please try to stay on topic.

Communicating change in a crisis context

In a couple of weeks, our Change & Internal Communication team will host one of their world-famous discussion forums, this time looking at the relationship between change and communication. While a crisis isn’t usually the same thing as a change management programme, often times a change programme can be the trigger for a crisis.

Often we’re asked to define what we mean by “crisis”, and I tend to work on the broad principle that a crisis is anything that prevents you being able to get on with business as usual. By contrast, an issue is something that you’d proably have to deal with as part of your typical day-to-day workload (so in this example a customer complaint is an issue, 200 customers protesting outside your flagship store is a crisis).

By definition then, any kind of organisational change carries with it the potential to spark a crisis of monolithic proportions. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things that can go pear-shaped in a big hurry:

  • Redundancy / restructuring programmes
  • Appointing a high-profile new supplier (or ditching an old one)
  • Pretty much anything involving the implementation of new technology
  • Re-vamping an established and much-loved brand
  • Collective and enterprise bargaining negotiations

If you’re in London on 10 March I’d strongly recommend trying to get along to our event. You can register your interest by clicking through to Scott McKenzie’s blog post announcing the event. Members of Hill & Knowlton’s Issues & Crisis team will also be there (including yours truly if you fancy providing some in-person feedback on the quality of our blog posts!).

For those who can’t make it we’ll revisit this topic after the event to share some of the key points from the discussion.

PS about half an hour after posting this the BBC was sporting enough to post this story on anticipated public sector strike action in reaction to proposed cuts to civil service redundancy terms. You know you really want to come to our event now!

Tim Luckett talks crisis management in PR Week

With big brands dominating 2010 headlines for all the wrong reasons, PR Week’s feature on crisis communication is both timely and a good read. Contributions from Hill & Knowlton’s Managing Director of Issues & Crisis, Tim Luckett.

Are you getting the most out of the Hill & Knowlton crisis network?

One of the great things about having a blog is the ability to analyse in minute detail the behaviour of your visitors. When we kicked this one off back in October we had hoped that we’d be able to connect our UK-based readers with some of the best crisis management and media training thinking in the global Hill & Knowlton network. But while some of our readers have explored Collective Conversations, many have not.

So, here some of my favourite blogs from around the Hill & Knowlton world. This is one of the great benefits of being part of a big, global company, so take a spin around the network and check out:

  • Crisis Musings. Insights into current issues and crises from the US.
  • Brendan Hodgson. The platform for one of Hill & Knowlton’s leading lights in digital crisis management. We were fortunate enough to have Brendan in our offices last week and will be sharing some of his latest insights with clients and on this blog over the coming weeks.
  • Shaping Conversations. Hill & Knowlton London’s new community blog has a lot more scope for conversations about communication and PR in general, as well as being a great place to put faces to some of the agency’s names.
  • Bandwidth. Our Canadian social media gurus share their thoughts here.
  • Influencing the Influencers. Courtesy of our Australian Public Affairs team, some great insights into the workings of the people in government (rather than just the big machine itself).

Got a Hill & Knowlton favourite that’s not on here? Leave a comment and we’ll add a link for everyone else to enjoy.

Protecting your brand on Twitter is just one part of good crisis preparation

We talk about Twitter in the context of crisis management quite a lot on here – mostly because it’s a good way of getting people to visit our blog (fact: posts with “Twitter” in the headline average around three times the readership of our next most popular group as of writing this).

However, when it comes to practical applications, much of the world seems to be still coming to grips with what companies can actually use Twitter for, at least according to the moderator of this week’s Frontline Club meeting (yes, yes, we all know it’s fabulous).

What we do know is that like any other online activity, Twitter isn’t immune to hackers. In his post Is your brand protected on Twitter?, fellow Hill & Knowlton blogger, the irrepressible Dan Leach, gives a number of tips to help you get the basics right for your corporate (and personal) Twitter accounts.

The security of your Twitter account should be as important to your company’s Twitterers as the login details for their computers.

Eurostar’s snow crisis report released

Further to our previous post on Eurostar’s pre-Christmas snow crisis, today has seen the release of an independent report into the crisis, commissioned by the company.

This BBC story is among the most balanced pieces covering the release of the report (I haven’t been able to find a copy of the report itself, so if any of our intrepid readers want to forward a copy we’d love to receive it).

What’s to be expected is that across the board, media coverage focuses on the specific problems and who’s to blame, and in this respect it doesn’t disappoint. What I would have liked to see is a bit more prominent reference to the solutions. We’ll just have to be happy with Eurostar’s commitment to invest £30-plus million in implementing all of the review’s recommendations. It’s encouraging to see that communication featured prominently in the three core recommendations handed down by the reviewers:

  • Train reliability – engineering improvements to enhance the reliability of its trains
  • Evacuation and rescue – improvements should be made to tunnel evacuation and rescue procedures, to ensure passengers can be transported from the tunnel quickly and effectively
  • Managing disruption and improving communication – improvements to assist passengers better and provide more effective communication in times of disruption.

The key word here is “effective”. Communication for its own sake is pointless at the best of times, and a downright detriment during a crisis.

There have been a number of references over the past weeks about the importance of learning from previous experience and today’s report reinforces that message.

How good crisis management can protect shareholder value

Measuring the impact of PR is the bane of Marketing Directors the world over. On a personal level, I’d argue that measuring the marketing effect of PR is the problem, rather than measuring the impact of PR as a management function.

To support this heresy, I point to a study conducted a number of years ago by the researchers Rory Knight and Deborah Pretty. Their study, The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value, highlights two groups of factors that help companies to retain (or grow) shareholder value in the days, weeks and months following a crisis.

Direct factors largely consist of financial safety-nets, like the company’s insurance policy and cash reserves.

Indirect factors are largely attributed to the perception of competence displayed by the company’s management during and immediately after the crisis. And here’s where communication (crisis PR if you like) plays a massive role.

If you really think about it for a second, communication is the only way information ever gets out of the room and into the world – whether that’s into the brains of the company’s workforce, the pages of its annual report, or the copy of The Huffington Post. It’s all public relations because it’s all about relating the company to…the public.

As we often say on this blog, we can’t judge the performance of the people in the room by what we read in the media, simply because we don’t have the same information as the people in the room. However, when it comes to instilling confidence in an audience, that usually requires sharing some of that information, in a way that’s easily accessible to that audience.

That’s largely the point of the crisis management function. We help convey that information more effectively during times of distress. And because we can see what happens when that’s not done well, researchers like Knight & Pretty are able to demonstrate the impact of a job well done.

I’d strongly recommend downloading the full paper – it’s only 20-odd pages and makes a compelling argument for your communication investment.