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Crisis Communications and Case studies

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Centre for Corporate Public Affairs – Melbourne, Victoria 1997 - 2008

Centre for Corporate Public Affairs – Melbourne, Victoria 1997 - 2008

"A stakeholder is anybody who can get their message heard and influence the outcomes."

Important elements in undertaking a successful response are:-

  • Ensure your organisation has an active crisis plan;
  • Have the ability to capture the agenda;
  • Be able to understand and therefore plan for a worst case stance sufficiently early to be proactive; and
  • Know who the stakeholders are and what they really want.

Case studies discussed in 2005 included both events and issues crises – “Iron Baron” grounding in Tasmania 1995; North Sea Helicopter Crash; Corporate Governance; Cultural differences in dealing with casualties; and an Oil Refinery Fire.

The key learning from the case studies is the stakeholder communications formula and timeline which enables positive stakeholder management in the face of adversity.


Crisis Planning - Small Steps to Help Manage a Crisis

Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) – Darwin, June 2006

"Communications is increasingly becoming “the crisis tool”. If you have limited resources, at least get organised with robust crisis communications planning. This means having the ability to control the communications agenda”

What does this require?

  • Undertake a communications risk assessment and incorporate the communications overlay to business risks;
  • Implement a fail safe call out system of communications professionals;
  • Have the skills, approval system and distribution mechanisms to be able to issue a press release within one and a half hours of the incident;
  • Develop pre approved background materials and Qs and As for immediate use;
  • Have pre approved website crisis design and management and the technical ability to post immediately after an incident.

Case study reviewed the Beaconsfield mine rescue.


How to Crisis Proof the Crisis Plan

Australian Food and Grocery Council, November 2005

"It's not a crisis under external people find out about it and care enough to do something about it”

A crisis is not always a big bang (30%); it can be just as detrimental if it is a slow burning issue (70%). The key factors in crisis proofing the plan are:-

  • The whole of company crisis plan must be operable & written to address the “worst scenario”
  • The nominated team members are trained proficiently and regularly
  • The Communications Plan must be able to address stakeholder needs - fast , factual & frequent
  • The senior management must be committed & “on the team”


In the trenches – Risk Jockeys by Caroline Hamilton

In the Black – CPA Magazine – April 2005

"If an organisation has a crisis plan and training in place to address the worst case scenario it can act efficiently and effectively with confidence."

“It's important to do a risk analysis of what's in your business. Some businesses can handle more financial risk than others. Some work in different geographical locations, which can put a different perspective on things. Some will have different social or cultural issues. Then there's environmental issues, or issues affecting image and reputation. Some issues may be because of the way the management system works. There is no one size fits all solution.

“We see lots of clients who think they need a plan for every scenario, which isn't the case. What you need is a plan that encompasses the worst, then you can step it down as needed. You'll be well placed for everything if you've planned for the worst.

“It's all very well for organisations to think they can spin their way out by putting out press releases or having a spokesperson saying things that are confusing, but at the end of the day the organisation is going to be measured by how it responds, not what it says….the actions have to match the words.

“If an organisation has a crisis plan and training in place to address the worst case scenario it can act efficiently and effectively with confidence. If you have a crisis plan and management has not been trained in how to effect it, it may as well not have been written.”


Crisis Management – Acknowledging the Risk – Preparing for Adversity – Protecting and Enhancing Reputation

Australasian Fast Moving Consumer Goods Impact 2005 Summit, April 2005

“If adversity strikes, having crisis systems and relationships in place that protect image and reputation are paramount not only for best practice, but also for longevity of the organisation and/or brand”

Crisis does not happen in your organisation everyday! A crisis can be defined as “an occurrence that will negatively impact the long term viability of your organisation”. It is an event or issue which, if not effectively managed, can severely damage reputation, pose a significant legal or financial liability and may lead to complete collapse.

Is your organisation's crisis plan robust and your people trained to effect the plan?

The case is compelling for such preparation. Research shows that companies in the US* that have crisis plans recover at least 2.5 times more quickly than those that haven't. Even more sobering are figures from the UK** that show of companies that face a major catastrophic event, 40% of organisations collapse outright, 40% fail after 18 months, 12% fail after 5 years, with only 8% surviving [in their original form] in the long term.


The Interface Between Public Affairs and Legal Counsel in Crisis Management

Centre for Corporate Public Affairs – November 2005

“Tension almost always exists between the public affairs and legal disciplines in crisis situations. For any organisation to get the best of both disciplines, it is fundamentally a matter of balancing the immediacy of stakeholder reaction and response with the preparation for litigation which may be years away”

Public affairs is concerned with controlling the stakeholder agenda and airwaves, any stock exchange materiality advices, the image and reputation of the organisation and possibly government relations and employee communications.

On the other hand, the legal fraternity is concerned with future court cases, current regulatory rights and obligations, potential compensation claims, possible criminal or civil complications with much of the issues sub judice.

It takes a maturely crisis trained organisation to understand and overcome the friction and get the best of both of these disciplines.

Training together is important, pre approved documentation and proformas can assist and recognising stakeholder expectations crucial.


The Vital Role of Communications in Controlling Crisis Response

13TH World Conference on Disaster Management – Toronto, Canada 2003

"If you want or need to be the big player, you must be the big sayer – otherwise somebody else is controlling or manipulating the agenda."

Emergency services operational outcomes can be severely impacted or go unnoticed because of poor communications. The flawed communications may even spiral into a second and more serious crisis turning to catastrophe.

The paper suggests emergency services communications could do well to model many communications elements of the corporate image and reputation approach, which seeks to control the stakeholder and response agenda with proactive, informative, timely information delivered by well trained media cognisant spokespersons.


Communications Risk – The missing element in business decisions

Minesafe Conference – Perth, Western Australia 2003

"Business risk is done by most organisations. Communications risk remains in the domain of few – what is it? It is the risk that needs to be overlaid over business risk. In most cases it increases the risk to the organisation."

Assessing operational, commercial and market risk in now almost universal but the overlay of communications risk is generally not considered. The point is made that if any of these “normal” risks occur, the impact on image and reputation can be greatly magnified if the communications risk is omitted. Irrespective of this there are many “stand alone” communications risks that are also ignored such as gagging by legal opinion, and senior management not being media or stakeholder aware.

The paper explores how these risks can be assessed and mitigated.