Crisis Communications Playbook

Crisis Communications Playbook

What do you do when you discover one of your employees has behaved inappropriately?
How do you respond when people challenge your business practices on social media?
What do you do when you get a customer complaint?
The list could go on.

Using experience and nous to assess and respond to live issues, based on the specific set of circumstances is absolutely the way to go in an emerging crisis.

Recently however, clients have asked us to compile a “playbook” of responses for the most frequent and reputationally damaging issues, after we’ve completed a reputational risk audit of their competitors and the wider sector.

A playbook is more than collating your “lines to take” or communications responses. Done well, this live document should become part of the Communications Team’s armoury with which you can effectively respond to issues as they develop. The playbook provides important insight such as :

  • stakeholders, reactions and patterns in their responses
  • social media activity including trends, keywords used and priority channels
  • topics which cause the most activity
  • duration of interest
  • key journalists
  • as well as the existing communications to help build a response

All too often the post-crisis sands of time slip away and soon the next issue is upon you. Taking time to stop and reflect on how you responded and what you can learn should be part of the ‘playbook’.

By taking a quick and thorough sweep of actions post-issue you will assess; did we get our message out there or are we just repeating the same old tired platitudes which don’t cut it with our customers / stakeholders.

Questions to ask post-event are:

  • did our last response achieve our objective
  • are our response times working
  • are the comms consistent with commitments made in the past
  • is now the time to review our corporate key messages to make them better reflect our current reality and after effects of an issue

Your playbook is the bible you refer to so the next time you’re challenged about the business, you approach it kitted up with knowledge from previous experiences as well as a starting form of words to use in response.

Background image by Joanna Kosinska , book composition by Studio JERO

Do you know how to identify a crisis?

Can you identify a Social Media Crisis?

This blog was first published on the Brandwatch Blog.

A single social media post can now do as much damage to a brand’s reputation as a front-page article in a national newspaper. This shift from offline to online has forced brands to rethink how they manage a crisis and made social intelligence one of the most important and undervalued tools in the modern crisis management playbook.

With 95% of business leaders saying their crisis management capabilities need improvement, it’s clear that businesses are struggling to adapt. One easy win is to integrate social listening into their crisis management capabilities.

The adage knowledge is power has never been more true. Understanding what is being said about your brand, in every corner of the internet, is paramount. Brands failing to track conversations, mentions, keywords, and relevant issues are blind to the crisis that lurks around the corner.

Thankfully, there has never been a better time to understand what people are saying about your brand online. Social intelligence gives brands a critical edge and is the greatest early warning system of a potential problem coming their way. Used correctly, social intelligence is the 24/7 team member who you’ll come to rely on in good times and bad.

Not every negative social media mention represents a crisis

Unexpected situations outside a brand’s control happen every day. We see this at Mangold Consultancy with all types of brands, as we support them getting their crisis management preparation in order. It’s inevitable that people will say things online about your brand you wish they didn’t.

What’s important is knowing how to distinguish between isolated negative comments which can be managed in-house away from public scrutiny, and an emerging crisis that requires immediate action in a public setting.

Defining a crisis and understanding the situation

When a situation occurs (something unexpected that should not be happening), understanding the source and spread of the information is critical.

If the situation is known only to those inside your organization, and people outside your organization:

  • won’t get to hear about it or
  • don’t need to know about it or
  • won’t have a strong reaction if they do hear about it

you’re dealing with an incident.

But if the outside world…

  • knows about it and is concerned or will likely find out and have a strong reaction to it
  • and this situation poses a risk to reputation and the credibility of your business

then you’re dealing with a crisis which needs to be managed internally and externally.

Incidents can be managed as normal and require no special measures. A crisis must be managed immediately, with swift action from multiple areas of a business, often with a public response.

The importance of speed

The quicker an issue is known, the faster a response can be initiated.

The Incident management procedures and protocols we create, help our clients to pre-plan, rehearse, and stress test and should be activated as soon as an incident occurs to avoid a crisis.

The most common reason for a small-scale or isolated incident turning into a larger crisis is a slow or inadequate response (eg lack of action internally to correct a situation, failure to respond to a social media complaint, falsehoods posted online, or a slow rise in negative sentiment on a specific issue).

Social listening is your automated early warning system

Using a social listening platform like Brandwatch Consumer Research to monitor keywords, track conversations, and scan for sensitive issues is like having a new team member who spends all their time searching for potential risks. But unlike you or I, this team member never sleeps! They monitor millions of conversations across multiple platforms in real-time, 24 hours a day, and alert you when something is happening you need to know about.

But that’s just the start. Your new team member shows you who is talking about you, where, and what impact they’re having. They also show you when an issue is evolving, who is joining in, and how it’s spreading across different platforms. This is all essential information when planning how to respond.

Sounds nice, right? We could all do with a team member with these skills and stamina.

At Mangold Consultancy, Brandwatch Consumer Research is that member of our team. It gives us unprecedented insight for our international and national clients – from the FMCG sector to the health sector. It informs our crisis and corporate communications counsel with a depth of detail our clients truly value.

The reality is that without even the most basic social listening in place, you run the risk of being forced onto the back foot when an unexpected situation occurs. Your ability to react quickly and take action to reduce reputational damage has gone – this is not the place you want to be when negativity spreads like wildfire on social media.

Data-driven decision making

Social listening provides a data-backed evidence base for your organization/brand to make decisions. All too often in a crisis it’s easy to think you must be doing or saying something to actively manage it. This is not always the case – sometimes you need to be patient, but without knowing what is happening in real-time, it’s impossible to make decisions with certainty.

Source Fire image by Max Kukurudziak. Phone image by Jeremy Bezanger. Composition by Studio JERO

Sport, Social Media & Mental Health – Gratitude Games

Gratitude Games, a new sporting event raising funds to support Emergency Responders mental health

It feels good to be a sports fan these days. Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic medal haul, Emma Radacanu’s tennis win and a football team respected for performance off pitch, as much as on.

So the Gratitude Games – a new multi-sport event in recognition of emergency responders – comes at just the right time. Continue reading “Sport, Social Media & Mental Health – Gratitude Games”

Perspectives from the President’s War Room

“I did need to make sure that they knew who was in charge… teams function better when the leader asserts himself. And I wanted them to know that we needed a plan to deal with it and that everybody had a role to play.”

A candid comment from the former US President giving a rare window into decision making and leadership during an exceptional moment in modern history. Over 90 minutes, the documentary 9/11 Inside The President’s War Room scrutinised the 24 hours after the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers which claimed thousands of lives, impacting across the world in ways we are still discovering today. The programme featured interviews with the then President, his accompanying entourage that day and decision makers elsewhere, inside a bunker below the White House.

In bringing together these perspectives, it helped join the dots between the multiple ripple effects of this crisis.

  • The nature of leadership, or as one presidential aide put it “You are who you are. Whatever you’ve got in you will come out in a moment of crisis.”
  • The importance of working technology, including a good TV, which was incredulously lacking in Air Force One, making them reliant on patchy signals as they flew over major cities, to get rolling TV news updates from the ground.
  • The exposure to misinformation and miscommunication, such as a caller warning about a threat to Air Force One, who was in fact misreported by the person on the other end of phone. “The amount of information that is wrong, when you are in a moment of crisis, the filters are down, people let information through just in case, is staggering.”
  • And even flickers of tragi-comedy, such as a mistaken overdose on anti-anthrax medication, having missed the prescribing advice of the President’s physician. This staffer was unharmed although remains known as the person who tried to OD on the President’s jet.

Huge congratulations to one of my former bosses, Neil Grant, for Executive Producing such an astonishing piece of TV – the programme afforded a rare insight into a crisis, even more so given the global magnitude of those 24 hours. This is a must watch for all leaders and their teams for its historical significance, and because it demonstrates how we must prepare for challenges and then face into the force of the moment, by drawing on the collective expertise and insight in the room.

9/11 Inside the President's War Room

5 Lessons from Senior Business Execs to make you a better leader

Lessons from senior business leaders

Tips from media interviews with Senior Business Leaders: a year of learning in the virtual room

Global Media and Entertainment; Health, Sports and Fitness; High Street Brands, City Law Firms and Entrepreneurs. Over the last 12 months we’ve trained senior leaders from some of the world’s biggest and most successful brands.

When we pivoted to virtual media training, we never imagined the roll call of people we would work with. And yet a year on, we have had a privileged and unique insight into a diverse roster of senior leaders from many industries.

Continue reading “5 Lessons from Senior Business Execs to make you a better leader”

Who’s checking your boss’s content?

Who is checking your boss's content?

The Chairman of Beattie Communications, Gordon Beattie, resigned last week for comments he made in a LinkedIn post. You can see the post for yourself below.

"We don't hire blacks, gays or Catholics" Gordon Beattie

His only defence was that his post was made with “the best of intent”. Others have called his comments insensitive, racist, homophobic, utterly unacceptable, and abhorrent. I don’t disagree with any of these descriptions.

The nature of the comments is one thing.

The language he used is offensive, outdated, and demonstrates how far removed this ‘PR juggernaut’ (as described in the media) is from the society in which we live today. The recent resignation of FA Chairman Greg Clarke for using similarly inappropriate language shows that Beattie’s ‘error’ is not an isolated incident.

But what this highlights is how even the most senior people in a business require external support; a second pair of eyes from someone outside the organisation provides the objective sense-check that can stop these incidents from happening, especially when communicating on such a sensitive issue. After all, it’s often difficult for staff to say no to senior figures in the business.

Beattie’s post brings to the fore another major issue in the industry – using provocation to gain likes, higher reach, and attention. Social networks are often fuelled by dissent, disagreement, and polarisation. Unfortunately, being provocative ‘works’ if all you want to do is reach a wider audience.

But it’s lazy practice and a cheap trick. It’s for people who have run out of ideas. It can be damaging, dangerous, and as Gordon Beattie is realising, can destroy reputations in an instant. He was clearly trying to be ‘clever’, but the provocative approach was all wrong. Instead of shining a light on an important issue, his lack of understanding of the platform, the nuance of messaging and the society in which we live, has been his undoing.

Featured Image by Steve Johnson

 

Who’s talking now?

BBC 50:50 The Equality Project

As a BBC producer I heard many outstanding female voices – from presenter Anne Robinson cross-examining CEOs on BBC Watchdog, to numerous female Executive Producers standing up to big bullying businesses trying to kill a great story.

I was part of production teams crafting complex programmes in challenging circumstances. These experiences shaped my own voice, including in the media training room, where I support people preparing to go on the record or in day to day interactions providing crisis management and corporate communications support.

Continue reading “Who’s talking now?”

Why good biscuits won’t cut it in a pandemic – putting our crisis comms tagline to the test

Why good biscuits won’t cut it in a pandemic

Good biscuits plated up on arrival and participants hovering at the door ahead of schedule. Throw in a tailored crisis simulation – part challenge, part playing to individual strengths – and all the positive omens are there for a good training day.

Continue reading “Why good biscuits won’t cut it in a pandemic – putting our crisis comms tagline to the test”

From COVID-19 Crisis → Business-As-Usual

From COVID-19 Crisis → Busines-As-Usual

As COVID-19 silently crept onto our shores you may have been in regular crisis meetings as the virus’ huge impact took hold. Now, you may well be moving from that heightened crisis state to living with the new “normal”, whatever that looks like for your organisation.

As we all bed into week 5 of the lockdown we thought we’d share some insights on how to adapt from crisis to business-as-usual with some suggested next steps and evidence from our client work.

Continue reading “From COVID-19 Crisis → Business-As-Usual”

How do you keep communicating when the crisis is never-ending?

Coronavirus - Crisis Communications

I have seen some brilliant emails and posts in the last few days – from my local Indian restaurant, Haweli, to Sainsbury’s, to other small business owners like me.  It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small; clear, regular and relevant communications are critical.

As we all adjust to the new “normal” personally and “business as usual” professionally, it occurred to me that there are some really simple tips for communicating in a crisis.

Continue reading “How do you keep communicating when the crisis is never-ending?”

“Be Kind” – Yorkshire Tea’s reputation management masterclass

Rishi Sunak "Quick Budget prep break making tea for the team. Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew."

Take one senior politician, one well-known and much-loved brand, and add social media. Stir together and what do you get?

That’s right, the perfect recipe for a Twitter storm.

That’s exactly what happened to Yorkshire Tea this weekend when Rishi Sunak MP, the Conservative MP for Richmond (in North Yorkshire as it happens) shared an image of himself making a cup of tea, standing next to a giant bag of the famous Yorkshire brew.

Continue reading ““Be Kind” – Yorkshire Tea’s reputation management masterclass”

Baftas, Bags and B Corp

Bafta is axing celebrity goody bags from this weekend’s ceremony. Opting instead for gifting wallets made from recycled plastics.

Bafta is axing celebrity goody bags from this weekend’s ceremony. Opting instead for gifting wallets made from recycled plastics. It’s a timely plot twist to the 2020 award season. The buzz of a new bag – the colour, the look on the arm, the cramming of essentials into one place, is the ultimate pleasure purchase. But against heightened ethical and environmental consumer standards, is it possible for a Tote to do greater good?

Continue reading “Baftas, Bags and B Corp”

Social Media & Mental Health

Social Media & Mental Health

Why social media companies should (but probably won’t) act responsibly and lead the conversation on mental health

Social media companies are some of the most powerful and influential business entities on the planet. Their decisions shape how the world communicates and how we as individuals consume information. Unlike most large-scale global commercial industries, social media is self-regulating. This puts social media companies in a unique position of global responsibility.

A new report published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists last week said social media companies should be forced by governments to hand over their data for independent research into the risks of social media use.

Continue reading “Social Media & Mental Health”

That Newsnight Interview – Think; Stop; Look and Listen; Wait; Look and Listen again; Arrive Alive

Pedestrians Wait - Photo by Matthew Feeney

Prince Andrew would have done well to follow the Green Cross Code as he stepped into the path of the oncoming Newsnight interview. There has since been much scrutiny of the Royal’s press advisors and why they failed to follow the basics when it comes to media handling in a global reputational storm.

Taking time to stop, look and listen to external communications advisors during a crisis is critical to long term reputation. Like a friendly Green Man, people like us, reiterate life outside the crisis bubble and wider public perception both in the moment and the hours, days and weeks to follow.

Continue reading “That Newsnight Interview – Think; Stop; Look and Listen; Wait; Look and Listen again; Arrive Alive”

Doing the doorstep challenge – can you win when cameras arrive unannounced?

Doorstep Challenge

Most people over 30, remember the well-known washing powder ad, which challenged unsuspecting mums to a live clothes wash, to see whether the product delivered its ‘whiter than whites’ promise. This was a filmed doorstep where everyone was in on the gag. Viewers understood it was an advert, just as the at-home victim knew their kitchen would appear on national TV. Continue reading “Doing the doorstep challenge – can you win when cameras arrive unannounced?”

Are you prepared for a social media crisis? Here’s 7 tips you need

Social Media Crisis

We all know the feeling.

Your phone pings, then again… and again… something has happened.

Twitter is “blowing up” says the voice on the other end of the line. Five minutes later; “it’s all over Facebook”. The on-call Press Officer rings next; local media want a response to the hundreds of comments on Twitter.

So, what’s your next move?

If you’re asking this question now, it’s too late.

Continue reading “Are you prepared for a social media crisis? Here’s 7 tips you need”