Tag Archives: crisis management plan

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 1

2009 Research by Burson Marsteller (a PR company) into European companies’ level of crisis-preparedness revealed that while 60% of companies polled had encountered some sort of crisis, 53% didn’t have a plan in place to deal with a crisis when it happens to them. Just so the full horror of this has time to sink in – I’ll repeat it in slightly different terms.

Over half of European companies, it would seem, are wholly unprepared for the ‘phone call at 3.00am that tells you your factory’s on fire, or one of your planes just came down. The Monday morning call from the Department of Health to say that hospitals up and down the country are stuffed to the gunwales with patients, poisoned by your range of ready meals. The sight of two of your workforce plummeting past the window, having been issued with badly-maintained harnesses. Your CEO shooting himself in the foot, describing your product range as ‘off the record, real shit, know what I mean’, or your CEO simply shooting himself, having realised that the whole fraud game is up.

Do I need to go on? Everyone knows that a good crisis – or sometimes just a minor issue – can destroy a company, brand, organisation, or person’s reputation overnight if it’s not handled in the right way. Think of the examples. Hoover and the flights debacle, Ratners, Nestle and the baby milk, Coke and Dasani, Thierry Henry, Goldman Sachs, Britney Spears, Enron, Exxon Mobil – the list is, quite literally, endless.

And still, over half of European companies do not have a crisis plan in place. Without labouring the point, a crisis can happen at any time, and it’s one of those strange serendipity things that at any time is exactly when crises do happen. There’s no warning and it will be the middle of the night – that much is guaranteed. It is tantamount to malpractice for any communicator daring to describe himself or herself as professional to ply their trade in, or on behalf of, a company that doesn’t have a plan in place. Think about that for a moment.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. If you’ve not created a plan before it might, understandably, seem a bit daunting – and it’s not made any easier by the fact that there are a million conflicting opinions on what a plan should look like and what it should contain.

It’s also all to easy to put off, or ignore. Hey – your company, or your client’s company has never had a crisis – why’s it going to start now? Anyway, how difficult can it be? And just think of the cost, time and effort involved in putting a plan together! All perfectly good arguments – until such time as you are bitch-slapped by the big, wet, metaphorical haddock of crisis. At which point you are going to be really, really, abjectly sorry. Trust me.

In a perfect world, one would expect the industry bodies, or the industry’s ‘bible’ (copyright PRWeek 2009), to provide a handy cut-and-out-keep guide for the benefit of their members and readers – something to get you started. But it’s not a perfect world, and they don’t. In fact, as far as I can see, during the lazy and brief trawl of t’internet I conducted earlier today, there’s not much out there that doesn’t have a price attached to it.

So, for the good of mankind, I’m going to do a partwork here, just for you, my faithful blog snorkellers. Over the next few days – could be weeks, depends how deeply I dive into my subject – I shall, I hope, give you enough information on the key aspects of crisis management for you to develop your own skeleton plan. I shall deal with what constitutes a crisis, when issues become crises, who is responsible for the various facets of a crisis, preparing for a crisis, communicating during a crisis, business continuity and getting back to normal after a crisis. And, most likely, one or two spin-off topics.

So – tomorrow, in Creating A Plan 2, I’ll deal with What Is A Crisis.

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Blatter Microblogs – Sepp’s Twatter?

OK, OK – I am guilty of writing the headline before I wrote the post – but the combination of Blatter and Twitter was just too good to be passed up. (Although, on reflection, I could, possibly, have done something better with it. Suggestions on a used, non-sequential £20 to the usual address. Winning entry will be featured on this blog.)

So, gentle reader, a further apology for being late to this issue but, as they say, and rightly so, better late than never. Clearly, this is all about the loathsome Sepp Blatter (clearly, just my opinion, never met the man etc etc etc) and his frankly disgraceful meanderings around the issue of rascism in football. (Now, is it just me, or does he remind anyone else – in terms of appearance only, obviously – of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian Grocer of London, as was?)

When you read the transcripts of the man’s pronouncements, you really have to wonder what planet he’s on. Or what interesting and expensive substances. But – whoa – there’s me being rascist, as it’s fair to assume that English is not his native tongue and, gor’ bless ‘im, he’s having a go. Clearly, it might be better had he, in fact, NOT had a go, but there we are. Too late now.

So, a couple of lessons to be drawn from this, communicators all – and, as I’m late to this, you’ve probably all drawn these lessons already – but, no matter, they bear repeating.

This is the real power of social media – you mess up and there is nowhere to hide. Once you have messed up, regardless of whether it’s a real mess up or not, whether it’s your fault or not, whether you meant it or not – too late. There is nothing you can do but be contrite and – if you can justify yourself – put your point of view across. But be warned – your point of view had better be squeaky clean and beyond reproach – if not, then shut up and apologise, abjectly, for all you are worth. Blatter’s Twatter didn’t do this. His continuing refusal to do the decent thing and throw himself off the top of FIFA Towers – sorry, did I say that out loud? – the decent thing and resign is not going to make it any better. And while he hangs on, the already tarnished reputation of FIFA will continue to lose the little shine that remains.

And do I really have to say anything about the decision to release a picture of Blatter with his arm round Tokyo Sexwale? Do I? Just proving that no matter how sophisticate we think communications has become, in the heat of battle, we still make really stupid choices. Now, in fairness, I can only surmise that the decision to release a picture of Blatter hugging a black man was made right at the top, and the hapless comms person really didn’t have a choice. But this goes back to something I’ve said before – we all should try and remember what the true role of the communicator is. It is – in cases like this – to have the presence, respect and sheer brass b*lls to stand up and say ‘ no way – over my dead body’. Think on’t.

Finally – and on a completely different topic – may I commend The Sun newspaper for coining the term ‘Sunemployment’ which, I believe, refers to all the ‘good work’ the newspaper is doing highlighting and addressing the issue of rampant unemployment. (Some may say, remembering the closure of the NoW, that this is a little ironic – but I’m not one of them.) I don’t know why, but when I read ‘Sunemployment’ I was taken directly back to the 70s – strikes, three-day weeks, power cuts, austerity and unemployment – the newspaper in my hands went all black and white and somehow things were a little darker, a little colder and a little less broadminded.

I do hope this is not one of those self-fulfilling prophecy thingies.

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Social Media – Best Practice Social Media Policy

This was first posted in 2010. Starbucks are still global coffee shop of choice and divide opinion in much the same way as political allegiance, ‘leave or remain’ and the debate over whether Wonder Woman is really a feminist icon and, if she is, why does she go into battle wearing wedges? And yes, I know the answer, which is ‘because she can and because she wants to’. And who’s arguing with a god?

The Coca-Cola Company are still displaying the document that I found so praiseworthy and, revisiting it, I still find it so.

Two firsts in one week – Starbucks display best practice in reinventing themselves through employee and customer care (yes, I know, I had difficulty as well) and now this.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. It is a document entitled ‘Online Social Media Principles’ from The Coca-Cola Company, and it is – dear blog snorkellers mine – as near to a best practice social media policy as you can get.

OK, it’s not quite draconian enough for me – I’d like to see a list of cruel and unusual punishments for those found to be in breach of the policy, but – hey – you can’t have everything.

What I particularly like about it, however, is that it’s not all evangelical. It doesn’t start from the position that social media is the biggest thing since the Bible, and that it is going to transform the world as we know it and everything in it. It is sensible, and considered, and everything I would not necessarily have expected, rightly or wrongly,  from Messrs Coca and Cola.

It also – beautifully – can be easily adapted and plagiarised. These guidelines could be applied to any business or organisation – go ahead, fill your boots. It’s also, as I’ve recommended on this blog before, something of an ’employee benefit’ – in that it advises employees on how to use social media in their personal lives as well as on company time. It demonstrates a duty of care – without ramming it down their throats.

Finally – another big thing of mine – it would sit very nicely in a crisis management plan, and provides a good basis on which to build the social media section of that plan.

It is genuinely brilliant. I’m lovin’ it.

(Oh – hold on……..)

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Filed under Communications Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Guides, External Communications, Social Media

Social Media – Social Media Policies in Practice

Came across this on Mashable – it’s a story about this, which is social media policy devised and published by Australian company Telstra for the benefit of their 40,000 employees. To date, according to the company, 12,000 employees have been ‘trained’ or ‘educated’ in the ways of social media.

I’ve said,  in previous posts, that a good social media policy might actually be seen, or used, as an employee benefit – Telstra’s policy is exactly that. This is something that has, quite clearly, taken time, resource and investment to put together, and has been formulated to educate employees and provide them with a skill, or skills, which are applicable in their day-to-day lives as well as their work lives. I particularly like it because it doesn’t shy away from threatening disciplinary action should anyone contravene the policy.

What it doesn’t do, however – and it’s telling – is explain how employees can help the company through their social media activity. It doesn’t explain the company’s social media strategy. It might be said that it begs more questions than it answers. It strikes me as a guide to social media – all well and good – but not a social media lever. It’s about stopping people making inadvertent (or deliberate) mistakes – rather than ’embracing the social media opportunity and bringing everyone in to the conversation’ (as I imagine the cyber-hippies would have it).

This is not a sign that social media has become mainstream and infiltrated Big Corporate – rather it’s a sign that Big Corporate has recognised the damage that can be caused by social media and is attempting to mitigate its effects.

This is pre-emptive issues management, nothing more or less.

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Social Media Damages Brands – No Sh*t, Holmes

Now I know that this story, from Communicate Magazine’s super website, is more about social media exacerbating a crisis, rather than social media starting a crisis, but the principle holds true.

Social media, by its very nature – independent, free-thinking, anti-establishment, rapid-response, quick-to-anger, react-first-think-later and accessible by all sorts of random wingnuts – is dangerous. Everyone should have social media as part of their crisis plan – here’s my post on the subject – and they should have a rigid social media policy in place, governing what employees can and cannot do with it on company business and on company time.

In fairness, however, in the cases of KFC and Hennes, social media is not to blame.

It’s the stupid, stupid people who decided that running ads that could be misconstrued or shredding clothes rather than donating them to charity (respectively) were good ideas. And it’s the communications people who probably knew about this stuff, but didn’t have the authority, the gravitas or the balls to fulfil their role.

Which is to stand there, and in their best Alistair Campbell, shout “There is no f*cking way that you are doing that.”

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Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 10

Key to crisis management and business continuity – and, clearly, enshrined in the crisis management plan that (if you’ve been following this series of occasional diatribes) you’re on the cusp of completing – is employee communication, for reasons which should (really) be obvious. In case they aren’t, here’s a taste.

Your employees are your greatest asset and your largest potential liability – if they’re on side, then you have a network of ambassador/evangelists, spreading your messages. If they’re not on side, mind, then you have an uncontrolled flow of misinformation, biased opinion and perhaps even vitriol

When disaster strikes, your employees need to hear from you – preferably before they hear from anyone else

In the case of a crisis, your employees will need to know what to do and where to go, and they’ll need to know quickly

Most importantly, in the crisis scenario, your employees will need to know what NOT to do and to be reminded what policies and rules they are governed by, as employees

These are just a few of the things you should be considering, and incorporating within your plan, and within the communication process around the finished plan. I’m certain you can think of others. (And if you can’t, then sit in a darkened room, or have an ideas shower, or go and see your boss, or whatever it takes for you to be able to think of others. Because there are some others.)

So, briefly – because I know you like brevity, dear blog snorkellers – here’s some of the mechanisms you need to have in place and a selection of the communications issues that you might need to consider. It’s not extensive or complete – I want you to think for yourselves.

  • Have you got an ‘employee hotline’ number? This is a dedicated telephone number that any number of employees can call at any point in time to get an update on their employer’s status. That update is, normally, something along the lines of ‘This is the XXXXX Corp Employee Hotline – at the present time, it is business as usual’. Obviously, it would be best to prepare a selection of messages that can be put on to the hotline as soon as something occurs. ‘This is the XXXX Corp Employee Hotline – an event has occurred at/near the XXX site. All employees should remain at home unless otherwise directed. Further details will be available at (time).” Or similar. You get the idea.
  • If you’ve only got a few – or a manageable number of – employees, do you know where they all live? Do you have their telephone numbers and personal email addresses?
  • Does your workforce have access to the company’s computer systems when they’re away from the office – if not, is it something they should have?
  • Do you have, or is it worth arranging, some kind of text message alert system for your employees?
  • What are you going to say to your people – there might be different messages dependent on who it is and what they do – those who may be indispensable in a crisis and those who can stay in bed.
  • Who’s going to take responsibility for employee communications and welfare (because it might not be you, the communicator) and how is the interface between internal and external communications going to be handled?
  • How are you going to remind people of your social media policy and how they should be behaving?

Bear in mind that these are just a few of the things that you should be thinking about, and that there will be more – and that they will change and develop as your crisis unfolds. The key point here is about scenario planning – preparing everything before hand so, when the time comes (as it inevitably will) you can act immediately. An ill-informed workforce left to their own devices and free to speculate are at least as potentially damaging as any crisis or issue that your organisation may be facing.

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Filed under Communications Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Guides, External Communications, Public Relations

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan – Eurostar

Ooooooooh, ouch. Eurostar provide an object lesson for everyone in how not to do it. The reason I come to this now is because of this piece – which I have lifted from Steve Virgin’s blog (most excellent, by the way, wholly recommended) – which details Eurostar’s commercial and marketing reaction to the – well – cock-up, frankly.

It mentions their social media concerns and demonstrates that social media was not included in their crisis management plan. Oooops.

It simply isn’t something you can ignore. Be prepared – or be prepared for the consequences.

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Filed under Communications Strategy, Crisis Management, External Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media