Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) recently launched the H+K Crisis Control app, a platform that offers clients the ability to communicate and collaborate with their H+K crisis team as well as their own colleagues using instant communication. The agency also relaunched FlightSchool+, an online crisis simulation programme that allows businesses and individuals to test their crisis response capability in a controlled setting. Alec Peck, APAC Head of Issues and Crisis at H+K, shared some tips on how companies and brands can re-evaluate their crisis strategies.

We are in an age where every organisations’ customer, detractor, regulator, employee, has a voice. Just ask United Airlines. They are still suffering reputationally 18 months after footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from flight 3411 was posted online and caused a social media storm that quickly turned into TV and newspaper headlines across the globe. This event, perhaps more than any other, shows that the manner in which an organisation responds in a crisis has fundamentally changed.

In the past an organisation would have had hours, possibly even days, to gather the facts, prepare a statement and train their spokespeople before the issue became widely known – if it ever did. Had the flight 3411 incident happened 20 years ago, how many people globally would know about it? 20? 50? 100? It certainly would not have blown up into the media maelstrom that it did.

Technology now dictates that organisations no longer have the luxury of time to respond in a crisis. If they don’t respond quickly, others will fill that information void with their view of events. The CIPR International Global Practice Conference last year highlighted the 15-30-60-90 rule for organisations responding to a crisis. After 15 minutes, acknowledge the incident via a holding statement. At 30 minutes, provide an update with the information that is known. At 60, be prepared to offer your spokespeople for interview and after 90 hold a press conference.

Now of course that is aspirational and would depend entirely on the nature of the crisis and the organisation, but I can say from experience that very few large organisations would be able to even get close to that timeline. What it does highlight however is that sufficient preparation and a speedy response are now the key to protecting an organisation’s reputation when a crisis hits.

The other dynamic that is challenging traditional thinking on how to respond to a crisis is the evolving nature of the potential crises themselves. In the past when we spoke to our clients they were concerned about labour issues or the collapse of their supply chain. Then clients became focused on environmental and governance concerns. But now we are increasingly seeing clients from all sectors approaching us to help them prepare for crises surrounding cyber-attacks and data breach.

What’s challenging about cyber-attacks and data breaches from a communications point of view is that it’s very difficult to quantify the damage. If you injure an employee or cause environmental damage you know what the damage is and can take steps to put things right. But with a data breach you have no idea what the scale of the damage is. Yahoo reported a data breach in December 2016 that took place in August 2013. They thought that around 1 billion accounts had been hacked. Yahoo later affirmed in October 2017 that all 3 billion of its user accounts were impacted.

Ultimately what this means is that organisations need to be more prepared than ever before. Be prepared to react more quickly. Be prepared to engage with stakeholders across more channels (with more emerging every month). Be prepared to be more agile. But most importantly they need to be prepared to embrace the very technologies that are driving the need for re-evaluating their crisis readiness.

Apps can be developed specifically to help organisations communicate and collaborate in those crucial first few hours of a crisis. The activation of the crisis response mechanism can be automated. Chat groups and crisis simulation software can be established to put the response teams through their paces before an actual crisis hits.

In summary, organisations can no longer simply hope a crisis will simply go away and leave their reputation intact. They must acknowledge and embrace the new challenges brought about by technology and prepare for a fast ride when the time comes to activate their crisis response for real.


(This article first appeared on the Telum South East Asia newsletter, 10th October 2018)

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