Posts Tagged ‘crisis simulation’

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.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #8 Dial up the fear factor for your scenario plans

In case you haven’t been reading the news lately, a recent issue with a number of trains has been garnering headlines for all the wrong reasons.

We’re going to take a look at this after the dust has settled somewhat, and given that from time to time we’re also on the receiving end of public scrutiny what we’re not going to do is attempt to evaluate anyone’s “performance”. Instead, we’ll look at some of the lessons we can learn from watching the issue unfold, and break them down so they can help guide future crisis management efforts. If that sounds like something you’re interested in then please check back over the next few weeks for an update.

However, there’s already one glaring lesson for all crisis managers (and trainers) to take on board (pardon the pun). Often when our Issues & Crisis team runs a crisis simulation, or in the occasional media training scenario, we’ll be met with the kind of skepticism that’s usually reserved for spoon-benders.

The cry of: “That’s not realistic. That could never happen”, rings loudly from the naysayers, usually members of the crisis management team we’re working with. In all honesty, they’re probably right – it’s probably not realistic. But here’s the thing. That’s absolutely not a reason why it couldn’t happen. Just look at our trains issue.

It’s one thing to have a single trans-national train break down. It’s quite another to have six go all at the same time. And then when you compound that by scheduling the breakdowns for the weekend before Christmas, and then you add in an unprecedented cold snap that’s seen most of the UK’s airports either closed for action or running drastically reduced schedules…all of a sudden the scenario starts to look “unrealistic”. Except it isn’t, because it’s still having an impact, five days after it happened.

This is why at Hill & Knowlton we train our clients for the “nightmare scenario”. It’s not something we expect to happen. Rather, it’s a scenario that’s designed specifically to test and train at the limits of the organisation’s capabilities. There’s an adage about bleeding more in training so we die less in battle. While corporate communications is usually a much safer environment that requires very little bleeding, the principle still holds. It’s no good training for what happens when just one train breaks down if you’re running a fleet of 20.

Similarly, if you’re training for a product recall, it’s a no-brainer to use a scenario that involves some kind of threat to consumer health or safety. But to get the most value out of your scenario, dial up the element of fear. Work within the constraints of a climbing mortality rate, or an international recall across markets with different regulatory requirements for example.

So for crisis managers working on your 2010 training calendars, pour some fuel on your scenarios and give your team a truly incendiary problem to work with.

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.