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2020: Year of the crisis

When we celebrated the New Year, I don’t think any of us were prepared for what 2020 had in store.

It’s fair to say that 2020 has been a rollercoaster for society, for politics, civil rights, health, and for businesses.

While many organisations have arguably been embroiled in crises of their own making, many have been swept up in broader issues that have impacted their reputation. COVID, Black Lives Matter, and economic issues dominating these.

Comms teams spend a significant portion of their energy looking forward, focusing on the positive for their organisations. However, it’s in times of crisis that PR and comms expertise is most visible, most valued and can have the greatest impact.

Having spent the last 20 years in the media intelligence industry I’ve worked with organisations during times of crisis, including the .com crash, the telecom crash, recessions, natural disasters, legal challenges, and even murder trials.

Over the course of two articles, I will share my what, in my experience, has proven to be the fundamental components communicators need to consider when monitoring and measuring during times of crisis. These steps are aimed at helping PR and communication teams, and their organizations:

  • Prepare for a crisis
  • Identify emerging issue
  • Deal with media and social media news flow
  • Turn this information into useful insights
  • Guide their organization throughout a crisis

Here are the first five.

1. Understand the main types of reputational crisis

Reputational crises come in a variety of flavors, all of them are bitter, but understanding them can help you form the right approach.

  • Centered on your business: e.g. product issue, consumer complaint, lawsuit, executive or ambassador issues
  • Industry issue: e.g sugar in drinks, data privacy, lack of women in construction, lack of diversity in PR
  • External crisis: global issues that any brand may be drawn into, e.g. COVID, Brexit, Environment or societal issues

There’s also a saying in strategic planning circles: There are:

“known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown knowns.”

The things that you can prepare for, the blind spots that you are aware of, and potentially mitigate. Finally, there are the bolts from the blue that can blindside you. The following tips will ensure that you have these bases covered.

2. Understand the typical stages of a crisis

While no two crises are the same, it’s useful to have a framework to inform thinking, and to guide approach and process.

There is a wealth of literature on the stages of crisis, both within the comms/reputation management community and for direct responders that deal with life-and-death crises.

The stages:

  • Pre crisis
  • Crisis detection
  • Crisis probing and prevention
  • Crisis response
  • Learning

Media Intelligence (traditional and social media monitoring, evaluation, analysis, research and insights) plays a vital role at each stage of these stages. We’ll cover below some general guidelines and some practical examples before circling back to bring the stages and tips together.

3. Have a plan 

Have a plan, plan ahead. 

It’s best practice for media monitoring to be: always on; reviewed regularly; informative for its users and stakeholders; a process that informs itself, by providing a wealth of information that can be used to further develop the monitoring and measurement brief. After all it’s far better to detect an issue early, and it come to nothing, than be caught unawares.

The middle of a crisis is not the ideal time to adopt a new service. 

PRs are time poor. Media monitoring often accounts for a mere fraction of their day. So it may appear that there’s never a good time. But ask yourself, “If a crisis breaks now, do I have everything in place to spot it and get on top of it”

If the answer is no, then now is as good-a-time as any to lay the groundwork. 

A great place to start is by creating a simple monitoring framework to capture the right information.

Track your company, key people, products, services, competitors, industry topics, key industry media. include anything business related that keeps you or your CEO awake at night! You can activate this list immediately, or just keep for such time as it’s needed.

If you are not sure where to start, begin with your company and a couple of competitors that represent the industry. Resist the urge to focus solely on your own output or organization.

4. Act fast and iterate 

When you enter a crisis, be prepared to act fast and iterate. Your previous monitoring and measurement plans, benchmarks and targets, might have to be changed or be put aside in the short term. Even the deliverables you generate, the cadence that they are delivered, and the content they focus on is likely to change.

But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s better to have something in place, even if it’s basic. This can be built upon. Test, learn, get the most from the information and move on.

Don’t go it alone. If you are using DIY tools, you may need additional manpower to support you during a high news time.

Better still, work with a proactive monitoring and measurement partner. Brief them on the situation. Ask for advice. They should be experts in the field, and this will not be their first rodeo. They should be well placed to guide you on best practices, options and recommendations.

How can they best adapt your current program during this time? Do they offer other crisis specific services and support?

Adapting the service to the situation, rather than carrying on business as usual will help you generate more value.

5. Monitor with a purpose

Information overload is a trap. Prevent this by setting clear objectives as early possible.

Be as clear as you can be about what you want to achieve from a comms and reputational perspective, as well as from a monitoring and insights perspective.

What information do you require? 

This may range from tracking the issue, to who is covering it; who is commentating from other businesses, academia or influencer groups; assessing the impact of traditional and social media and the relationship between them. If you are unsure of the specifics, you need. Brief your partner on the outcome you are looking for and ask for so they can advise.

What will you do with the information?

Perhaps you are educating stakeholders on a developing industry issue or delivering subject matter briefings ahead of an executive interview.

What will you do as a result of that information? 

Are you looking to measure and course-correct your performance; consolidate and step-up comms, or even minimize comms; identify and get on top of rogue spokespersons?

Setting objectives that you can refer back to helps you focus on what matters, answer questions, and move forward.

In essence, these first five components are focused preparing ahead of time to get yourself into a situation of action prior to a crisis arising. No one wants to assume the worst, but if the worst comes if less energy is spent on worrying about what to do, more energy can be applied to proactively managing the situation.

1. Understand the main types of reputational crisis, by taking time to consider how these different types may affect your organization, you’re already better prepared to deal with them.

2. Once you know what the different types of crisis look like, you can work through what the different phase of crisis are and how they may apply to your organization.

3. Based on steps one and two, create a plan. Should the worst happen, are you confident your current media intelligence will give you accurate and immediate visibility throughout the crisis?

4. Consider what additional support may be required during a crisis, by assessing that ahead of time means you’ll be better positioned to act swiftly should you have to.

5. Make early decisions about what’s going to be critical to understand about the crisis. You won’t have time, and won’t want, tons of useless data – you only need the information that matters.

Next week I’ll move on to cover the remaining five components that tackle the; ‘what and how’ of monitoring and measurement during a crisis.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.