Dave Mason is an author, journalist and the owner of Mentor Media Training. Specialising in communications coaching, Mentor Media Training offers a bespoke programme of remote, e-learning media and crisis training with experienced consultants.
Businesses are starting to take a closer look at their PR and crisis management, and it’s no surprise. 2021 brought global health scares, changing regulations and a wide-ranging mix of social issues, and these well-publicised problems have got us all thinking about what we say, and how we say it.
So, how should you approach crisis comms as a business, and what can we take away from the past 12 months?
Lessons in Crisis Communications from 2021
The danger here is to get drawn into government communications and the continuing crises which face No.10 Downing Street. The situation is always distinctly different for politicians and their advisors, than it is for corporate or public bodies.
However, some simple truths emerge from the government’s handling of the pandemic in 2021 and they’re steeped in trust and the culture of leadership, meaning some more general questions need to be asked:
- How open to transparency is the leader / a CEO?
- Is the culture relaxed or laissez faire about following regulations by the book?
- Does the leader / CEO have the emotional intelligence to know when to say ‘sorry’?
- Has behaviour, a lack of action or slow-burning issue resulted in an erosion of trust?
There are numerous crossover issues, and non-government organisations weren’t without reputational dilemmas in 2021, leading to communications crises, some of which included:
- The Monarchy: House of Sussex versus House of Windsor.
- Deliveroo pay scandal and flotation.
- The Met Police and its response to issues of violence against women.
- The race row in cricket and the mismanagement by leaders at Yorkshire CCC.
Crisis Planning for 2022
Let’s apply some simple do’s and don'ts for crisis preparedness and planning as we go into 2022:
- Sweep risk issues under the corporate carpet - review your crisis plan at SMT (Senior Management Team) level.
- Think, ‘it’ll never happen to us’ – it happened to all of us in 2020 and 2021.
- Treat communication as an operational after-thought – make sure it sits at SMT.
- Say ‘no comment’ when asked for a response.
- Send a corporate-sounding two-page statement to a media outlet, (that’s ‘old-school’ and probably won't go down well).
- Audit your crisis communications plan together with its neighbouring BCP/CMT plan.
- Take a 2022 strategic approach to your comms mix: 50% of news is consumed via social media.
- Begin upskilling your comms/marketing team and SMT to create ‘owned’ video content.
- Identify and create a ‘digital space’/virtual studio for delivering webinars/media at HQ.
- Proactive v reactive: ensure two tiers of SMT are media trained for crisis and proactive communications.
Why Planning is Important
We live in a volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous world. Leaving crisis communications planning and scenario testing to the last minute is reputationally dangerous, but it’s easy to see how training is not an operational priority day to day, until something happens. Then, effective reaction and response is the number one priority. And it’s much more than about how to handle pushy journalists.
Perfecting Your Crisis Comms Strategy
If you plan, train and test for worst-case scenarios, you are creating a more resilient organisation, and don’t forget, if you have new senior leaders, they’ll need some refresher training too. Get in touch with Front Door Communications, or send me an email to find out more.