Posts Tagged ‘Events’

Five lessons for crisis managers – as taught by faux pas on the Election trail

In case anyone has been hiding behind the sofa in recent days, or indeed is currently residing outside the UK, then you may not be aware that it’s General Election season here. This means the next four weeks will see wall-to-wall media coverage of a small group (mostly men) talking to several other groups (mostly disillusioned voters) about the economy, healthcare, education and the ever unpopular expenses scandal.

This level of media exposure is something that most companies can only dream of. However, this exposure also presents a constant challenge for the political parties and their staff to maintain the 3 As for their key spokespeople: Appearance, Appeal and Ability to communicate.

The 3 As are particularly difficult for politicians on the campaign trail because, unlike the comfort of a broadcast studio, they’re at the mercy of the general public with whom they are interacting. Already in the past week we’ve seen two incidents which highlight the reputational problems this can present.

Firstly, on the day after the Election was announced, Gordon Brown encountered his first ‘heckler’ on the campaign trail. Brown chose to ignore his repeated questioning, instead heading for the sanctity of his ministerial car. Unfortunately the cameras caught the whole episode, and within hours the video was on the net and in the evening news bulletins. Cue the notion that the Prime Minister only listens when he wants to.

Then, it was the turn of the Conservatives to encounter public anger. When their home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, made some unfortunate comments about homosexual rights, the party was bound to encounter the wrath of gay and lesbian rights campaigners. What they perhaps didn’t foresee though was a demonstration outside party headquarters, swiftly organised via Facebook. Again, cue the cameras and subsequent reports on the evening news bulletins and next day’s papers.

In this second case though, the Conservatives at least made several of the right moves before and during the protest – they engaged with the protestors during the demonstration and also held meetings away from it with the protest leaders to discuss the issue.

Companies are often left with having to face and contain similar kinds of protests following job losses, poorly received pay negotiations or other unpopular decisions. There are no hard rules on controlling these situations to ensure a successful outcome. Nor are there any quick fixes or guarantees to avoid less than favourable media coverage of the event for your organisation.

What there are though are some good basics that can be done:

1. Dialogue – have meetings been arranged to try to prevent the demonstration or at least resolve the issues behind it? Will any senior company figures be available to listen to the concerns of the protestors on the day?

2. Briefing the staff - does everyone know about the demonstration? Do they know how to respond if/when they’re quizzed by media or protestors? Have you prepared Q&A documents, media statements etc for quick deployment?

3. Security – what measures and procedures do you have in place if things turn ugly?

4. Preparation – above all, have you anticipated and planned for this kind of event happening? If you have, great, but then ask yourself if you’ve tested or simulated such an event to see if you can really pull it off under pressure? If not, it might be time to think about doing this.

5. Future proofing – and finally, what have you done and what still needs doing to prevent the issues that lead to these kind of demonstrations in the first place?

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.

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!

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