26.09.2016 Five things you need to know about crisis communications

Last week’s CIPR Cymru Autumn Conference, held at Hensol Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, provided a fascinating and at times eye-opening insight into building trust in the PR industry.

Whether you run a business or work in an in-house comms team, here are five key lessons about crisis communications and reputation management that are worth remembering:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-39-22Speakers: L-R Steven Dodds, CIPR Cymru vice chair Rhian Moore, Andrew Garratt, Tim Lloyd, Rachel Moss, Kate Rawlins, Magnus Carter (photo courtesy of @CIPR_Cymru)

There are two types of crisis

In his workshop ‘A Crisis Quick Fix’, former journalist turned reputation management expert Magnus Carter described two types of crisis – Cobra and Python.

A ‘Cobra crisis’ is sudden, takes you by surprise and you are seen as the victim, whereas a ‘Python crisis’ creeps up on you because you failed to spot it, often arises from more than one issue and you will be blamed.


Social media heightens a crisis

cipr-2The Social Simulator workshop begins (photo courtesy of @CIPR_Cymru)

One of the workshops, run by the Social Simulator company, tested how delegates would handle social media in a crisis using a real-time simulation.

The scenario involved a disgruntled interviewee who believed she had been turned down for a job because of her mental health, and delegates had to act as the company’s comms team and deal with the fallout on social media.

The fast-moving situation soon turned into a full-blown “Twitterstorm”, with campaigners and celebrities getting involved and even parody accounts being set up to criticise the business.

Although much of it was tongue in cheek it illustrated how a crisis can quickly spiral out of control on social media, and how you need to be on top of your game to deal with it.


A crisis comms plan is essential

Magnus Carter said all companies should have a crisis comms plan and carry out a crisis audit to anticipate potential risks.

He said: “Ask ‘what if’? Does it fit a theme? Is it what journalist are writing about at the moment?”

The plan should be simple, six pages or fewer (but with detailed appendices),and you should carry out crisis simulation and training at least once a year.

However, Magnus added: “Even if you haven’t got robust plans and even if you haven’t tested them regularly it’s still possible to use common sense and professionalism to drag yourself out of a hole.”


Reputation is key

Magnus revealed that many of the clients he works with are increasingly claiming it is hard to persuade the higher-ups about planning for crises because they fail to understand the value of reputation.

“Reputation is predicated on trust,” he said. “Reputational damage is formed by the gap between what you say you do and what you are perceived to deliver.”

Your mission statements could be setting you up for a fall if you are not living up to your promises.


You sometimes have to ride the storm


The conference in full swing (photo courtesy of @CIPR_Cymru)

Rachel Moss, head of communications for the Wales Audit Office, talked about a particularly difficult crisis comms situation she had to deal with several years ago that attracted national press attention.

Rachel said the “rollercoaster ride” continued over a number of days and took a number of different turns, including old issues being dragged up again by the press.

Rachel told delegates: “You sometimes have to ride the storm; some major crises can’t be ‘PR’d’ overnight.”


Here at Brighter Comms we understand the importance of reputation and are skilled at dealing with crisis situations, including those on social media. To see how we can help your business’s reputation, or if you need help drafting a crisis communications plan, drop us a line: darren.evans@brightercomms.co.uk