Crisis management: Who says you can’t buy time?

Following a series of corporate crises this summer, Focus PR’s managing director Hilary Crossing, unveils an innovative strategy to protect clients from reputational damage.

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Some categories are perhaps more likely to have crises than others. Specialising in food and drink (alongside luxury and lifestyle) certainly puts Focus PR in the frontline.

Over the years we have managed a variety of crises, from a contaminated mineral water source to broken glass in baby milk.

But this summer has been especially busy. You almost wonder whether the metaphorical bombs are timed to go off just as senior clients hope to head off on summer breaks with their families.

The major issues we were toiling with during July and August both fell into the food and drink arena, though neither related to brand contamination or sabotage. Demonstrating integrity and honesty could have led to beating the crisis and indeed establishing strong foundations from which to build; but at risk was the very survival of the brand.

It became so apparent that not reaching for a crisis management manual was the key, that I feel moved to write about one of the issues we dealt with in particular.

First of all, keep the people handling the issue tight, and keep them informed 24/7. We were dealing with people globally, so email becomes your friend to iron out time differences and allow those involved to sleep and restore perspective.

This is one occasion where without doubt chief executives earn their remuneration. It is their leadership that can escalate or limit damage, sometimes in a single sentence. We were in direct communication with the company chief executive throughout the several weeks when the crisis was waxing and waning.

We had one big video conference call – right at the start – to get everyone’s thoughts on the table. Then a group of six became the core crisis- management team. From start to finish, all half- dozen members were copied in on every inbound and outbound communication.

Of course, anyone else who could have been drawn in was advised to forward enquiries to one of the six. This ensured complete clampdown to avoid miscommunication and guaranteed each query was correctly and fully answered in a timely manner.

One critical factor was to work out where and when to speak publicly, and when to speak privately offline.

There were three essential planks to our issues-management plan: – The CEO published a letter to put the record straight. He set out the brand’s stance on the issue and gave specific examples of commitment to the brand’s declared strategy, over many years, in many markets around the world.

He stated the facts quickly, clearly and openly.

  • The CEO made himself available to every world-renowned media outlet, but did not participate in every one.
  • The influencers who were vocal in heavyweight media around the world numbered fewer than 10- and to varying degrees they were misinformed. Focus PR made personal approaches offline with a view to beginning and nurturing an ongoing, private, open dialogue between the client’s CEO and each individual influencer. 
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When a brand’s reputation is threatened, the company’s very survival can be at stake – making prompt, decisive action is essential

Protective measures

Going forward, for brands tainted (or thus far untainted) by external challenges, we have co-developed an ‘insurance policy’ with social media specialist www.TrueVoic.es to protect clients from reputational damage.

The TrueVoic.es team, in conjunction with Focus PR, is able to audit and monitor – then alert, manage and simulate or engage – on behalf of retained and project clients as necessary. Our collective offering begins with TrueVoic.es, which offers 360-degree professional services to help brands secure their social media and prevent online crises.

At the point an issue could become a crisis, Focus PR becomes proactively involved. An additional option from TrueVoic.es is protection against infiltration. This enables businesses to defend themselves against security attacks – in other words, against cyber-hijacking.

While TrueVoic.es has been in its beta phase, we have trialled our protocol as issues in the public domain have arisen, enabling us to refine and improve it organically.

Every day, businesses are facing precisely the kinds of problems that the TrueVoic.es early warning system is designed to combat.

The alerts work a little like severe-weather warnings, with various levels of escalation. The software – which monitors social media – mines, for example, the 500 million tweets posted each day globally. When a predetermined volume of ‘noise’ is reached, it alerts those concerned (ideally the chief executive of the client organisation, for the very highest alert) about a specific issue.

The client can pre-set a number of risk levels, from low-level good-humoured banter to high-level, business-critical comments and allegations.

If the highest alert is reached within up to five minutes, the CEO can be advised, personally, by TrueVoic.es of an emerging crisis.

Who says you can’t buy time? You can. We sell it.

Before an emergency…

Do:

  • Define a strategy for social listening
  • Listen through monitoring systems to digital, broadcast and print media Set alerts to pick up escalating stories
  • Media-train likely spokesmen and women (good, comprehensible spoken English will almost always be crucial)
  • Assemble a small ‘command centre’ of individuals with different skills, led by the most senior client possible – ideally the CEO G Carry out risk assessment
  • Assess cost implications and ensure there is a budget available for crisis containment
  • Get everyone in a room to collate early input G Identify ‘skeletons in the closet’ early on and in private
  • Think slowly and calmly
  • Draft one central briefing statement
  • Draw up one central Q&A, which needs to be expanded and refined as the clock ticks
  • Have a small number of approved, high-resolution, relevant photographs of spokesmen/spokeswomen
  • Prioritise key media outlets and seek questions in advance
  • Schedule briefings with influencers and media commentators, one-on-one and offline
  • Ensure that every social media channel the company uses has clear, updated messaging about the issue, and that consumer enquires are dealt with immediately, consistently and in a personable way
  • Ensure those involved get rest and sleep

Don’t…

  • Ignore it
  • Panic
  • Speak off the record
  • Do live interviews, if possible
  • Involve everyone who tries to get involved (it’s a waste of time and potentially disastrous)
  • Play out every aspect in public
  • Overlook defences against long-term security threats, such as infiltration of the company

For further information please contact:

Hilary Crossing
Managing director
Focus PR

020 3117 1801
www.focuspr.co.uk
hilary@focuspr.co.uk

www.twitter.com/focuspr

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