By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith
- Do crisis debriefs regularly and thoroughly with a structured approach
- Conduct a crisis simulation – real-time or tabletop
- Be reputation aware, not reputation nervous
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen a crisis or two in the news lately (see Uber, United, American Airlines and Pepsi). As crisis communications experts, we are called when these crises happen– either to help companies mitigate the issue, or to advise clients on how to avoid getting themselves in a similar situation. We often compare it to a house being on fire, because that’s often what it feels like for clients in crises.
On fire or not, we help clients be better positioned to manage their reputations and emerge from crises unscathed. How? By implementing innovative and comprehensive crisis planning and readiness techniques.
The first element of our crisis planning and readiness approach is the Kith Risk Framework. In our 20-plus years of working with the world’s leading corporations, we realized that company leaders don’t plan for reputational risks the way they do for other business risks – but they should. We adapted a model used in the financial planning sector and created a new framework for crisis planning.
All risks can be categorized into one of three categories:
- Strategic: Strategic risks are those that a company intentionally takes that will result in significant investment returns.
- Preventable: Preventable risks are those that are preventable, meaning a company should have a zero-tolerance policy for risks like these, because they can be avoided via training or following protocols.
- External: External risks are those that come from outside the business that are out of a company’s control.
When you view risks that can result in crises through this framework, your planning becomes manageable. Instead of dozens of binders full of crisis plans for every imaginable scenario, you are able to view and plan for the three types of risk. And three is certainly better than dozens. To learn more, I’d encourage you to view our webinar on the topic here.
The second element to effective crisis planning and preparation is case study evaluation. As leader of your the crisis communications team, chances are you have seen a news story about a crisis, then shared a link to the article with your team with the expectation that they’ll read it and learn from it. While this is value in paying attention to current crisis events, viewing crises in a vacuum isn’t always effective.
Understanding what impacts a crisis and a company’s response to the crisis helps you learn about less obvious facets of situations across industries. To help guide your discussions with your teams, we’ve created a step-by-step guide for you to use with your teams to better analyze and learn from crises. To download the guide, click here.
Utilizing this thoughtful discussion guide helps you and your team uncover insights that are applicable to your unique organization. Take United, for example. United Airlines faced severe backlash when videos depicting a passenger being forcibly removed from a plane went viral. United’s response to the issue was widely criticized, but many communicators mistakenly believe that unless you’re a multibillion dollar corporation or in the aviation industry, there’s nothing to be learned.
Yet when discussed using the steps outlined in our Crisis Debrief, companies of all sizes and industries make uncover unique insights. For example, when identifying what went wrong with United, many agree that their response took too long, and lacked empathy. You and your team can utilize a key learning from this case study: responses to preventable risks should be swift and have a human touch.
The final element of our approach to crisis preparation and planning is conducting crisis simulations. Crisis simulations allow your team learn in a realistic crisis environment without the risk. For the most realistic crisis simulations, we partner with Social Simulator, UK-based firm that provides clients with create customized, highly-realistic crisis exercises that test your team’s responses. I recently had a chance to chat about crisis simulations with Chris Malpass, director of Social Simulator, to discuss the benefits of crisis simulations and how crisis response has evolved over time. You can view the entire conversation here, but Chris’s key takeaways are:
- Your crises are unfolding online, typically on social media, so your crisis prep training, too. This is the best way to understand the pressure and intensity of a crisis.
- Data breaches, product contaminations/recalls, and active shooters are the most-requested crisis simulations, which represents a significant shift in topics from even just five years ago. That’s why companies need to regularly update their response plans– the issues are constantly evolving, so your crisis plans should, too.
- When deciding which scenarios to train with, companies should determine which risks have highest probability as well as high reputation impact. Be intentional and honest about which scenarios you wish to train for in order to maximize your resources
As you can see, planning and preparing for a crisis requires a multi-pronged approach, but most importantly, it requires awareness. We like to tell our clients to be reputation aware— understanding what key stakeholders think about you, as well as your reputational weaknesses and strengths. Your reputation is of critical importance, but you shouldn’t let that make you fear planning on envisioning potential crises or becoming reputation nervous. Effective crisis planning and preparation is the best line of defense in reputation management– are you ready?
More information about Reputation Management is available in Bill Coletti’s upcoming book Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management.