In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, the swift dissemination of information has given rise to a new reality for businesses that reputations can be shattered in an instant.
While it can often be hard to anticipate where the potential next threat comes from, too many organisations opt for a reactive approach to avoid expending resources on second guessing the future. However, taking the often more difficult and time-intensive decision to pursue a proactive strategy can pay dividends in the long run.
The consequences of not doing so are all too evident. A minor reputational issue can rapidly turn into a PR crisis. It is crucial to involve communications professionals in the decision-making process at the earliest opportunity.
The first steps in any crisis are to gather and validate information; then evaluate the reputational risk; and escalate appropriately. When complaints were first made about conduct of Huw Edwards, one of the BBC’s most senior and best-known journalists, the corporation failed in step one and were playing catch-up thereafter. The story ran out of control and became a drawn-out saga. Repeating the same mistakes it had made when presenter Gary Lineker was accused of misusing social media. A minor difficulty became an existential crisis in a matter of days.
Similarly, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) became engulfed in a full-blown controversy after The Guardian revealed that more than a dozen women had made allegations of sexual misconduct, including rape. Its slow-footed response led to the mass defection of leading members; the departure of its director-general; and the near collapse of the organisation as its entire culture was called into question.
These examples should act as a warning and spur those with the relevant responsibility into taking a proactive approach. A well-thought-out crisis plan offers a prior strategic vantage point and is vital in both mitigating any potential damage but also in expediting the recovery process.
Identification is the first step of any proactive crisis strategy. There are now a range of cutting-edge platforms which provide both data analytics and monitoring tools. Which allow businesses to detect and address issues before they potentially escalate. Constant vigilance is imperative.
The next crucial step involves developing a crisis management plan tailored to the unique challenges that the client in question faces. This encompasses the establishment of communication protocols and the designation of a specialised crisis management team. Media training should also be considered in conjunction with this approach to proactively identify in advance spokespeople who may be able to externally assist in extinguishing a crisis before it’s even developed by getting out on the front foot. Our Media Training offering is led by former newspaper editor Tim Jotischky, who spent 25 years as a senior journalist with The Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Metro before joining The PHA Group in 2014.
Another facet of proactive crisis management is scenario planning. It is important to identify in advance potential crisis scenarios and develop response plans for each. These will vary from one organisation to another, but there are also some constants. For example, cybersecurity breaches; misconduct by a senior leader; allegations of discrimination made by a whistleblower.
Scenario planning streamlines the response process when a crisis hits. But also ensures that employees at all levels are familiar with the protocols. Reducing the risk of errors during a high-pressure situation. Creating a transparent and open culture in a business ensures coordinated and authentic responses when a crisis does arise.
Anticipating challenges preparing for the unexpected is vital. The importance of proactive crisis management cannot be overstated. But it requires an investment in time, resources and, more often than not, a cultural shift. Which is why bringing in external advisors to offer a fresh perspective can be invaluable.
In the digital age, reactive strategies are often too slow and cumbersome. Embracing a proactive mindset gives you a better chance not only of surviving a crisis but emerging from it stronger.