WE Communications Blog: Amplified Engagement
I thought I was a dab hand at managing crises for my clients: outages one week, hacking the next. But I was proven quite wrong at PRWeek’s 10th annual Crisis Communications Conference. ‘A crisis takes place once in a career or generation’, said Serco’s Director of Comms, Charles Carr.
Carr’s right – what I’m dealing with day-to-day are minor blips, at most. That becomes strikingly evident when you’re in a room with the likes of TSB, Save the Children, The Co-operative Group and Network Rail, who were responsible for resolving some of the biggest crises in recent years. But because the average comms professional is sheltered from the world of oil spills, disease outbreaks and horsemeat… oftentimes we’re not prepared to deal with a crisis of that scale when it does take place.
Over the past decade, the news has been rife with crisis-led stories. We’ve seen organisations like Germanwings emerge, whose speedy, empathetic response to the crash of its A320 plane into the French Alps earlier this year garnered respect from media and customers alike. And topping the list of ‘what not to do’ is Thomas Cook, whose insensitive response to the death of two children on a vacation in Corfu left most outraged.
So how can organisations get crisis comms right – or so very, very wrong? On review of the case studies, a few patterns emerge. Companies that focus on protecting their reputations, as well as growing their business, are best poised to deal with a crisis – such as Apple and it’s bendy iPhone 6 Plus. Using a spokesperson who shows empathy and gives the organisation a human tone is essential – Nick Varney’s response to the recent accident at Alton Towers is a masterclass in this. For those that got it wrong (and the list is alarmingly long – Fifa, Tesco, Uber, Sony to name a few), there was a key recurring theme: ethics. All of these crises brought into question the company’s trust and integrity, and showed it’s not always the operational crisis that causes damage; it’s the response that’s being judged. I don’t think we’ll forget Tony Hayward’s ‘I’d like my life back’ response to the BP oil spill in a hurry.
During the Crisis Communications Conference, we also got to hear from the media about their experiences working with comms professionals on crisis coverage. Sky News’ Simon Bucks shared his ‘5 Ps’ of reporting a crisis to help us better understand what finds its way onto the front page:
The bottom line when it comes to working with the media during a crisis is: a good comms professional recognises the needs of a newsroom. Sometimes a comms person lacks that perspective, which means an apparent non-issue can land at the top of the BBC News homepage.
At the Crisis Communications Conference we heard from a range of comms professionals about their career-defining experiences managing crises for some of the world’s biggest organisations. I’ve boiled down their lessons learnt to a PR-friendly list of 10.