Friday, January 23, 2009

Crisis and management in an interconnected world

Crisis communications has always been of utmost importance in any organization. Its impact and, by corollary, its importance & relevance has become higher due to the interconnected world we live in. Speed of response and a well thought through strategy is essential in solving crisis. Crisis response time and risk of crisis are inversely proportional on a logarithmic scale. Meaning, a delay the response by a few hours (or days) and the potential risk of the crisis grows many times over.

We at Blue Lotus have a three stage crisis containment & communications plan. These stages are referred to as Anticipate, Participate and Mitigate. In the Anticipatory stage, we do scenario building, develop war-room situations, and conduct spokesperson training to be prepared for such situations. In the Participatory stage, we have our media relations cells in 9 offices keep a close watch on the story movement and evolution. Also, this is the stage where we are sensitizing the relevant media towards the balance of the story. The third and important Mitigatory step ensures that all ‘Critical hands’ are on deck, mouthing the company responses to the situation.

Though most companies are aware of the risk of crisis, most are unprepared for it. In fact, image risk is among the highest risks and is unfortunately treated with the least caution and care. Most companies and agencies make the mistake of thinking that crisis can be managed by some ‘smart’ spokesperson who is good with words. However, I have seen differently. Even the veteran spokespersons need to be prepared for the eventuality of crisis.

In fact, while many agencies talk about crisis communications, when you ask them what they would do, it would be a standard FAQ development. It does not go into further detail or planning. Both inexperience and wrong approach to crisis can lead to a compounding of the problem.

Further, I have seen many companies assign agencies that can ‘fix’ the crisis. The worst step that any company can take. Fixing is never the answer though even the best of companies will be swayed towards fixing. However, you need to have a permanent solution to the problem. You need a consultant and a thinking advisor during crisis, not a ‘goon’ agency which coerces and cajoles. There is a method to the madness in crisis management and the company needs to find the right partner to keep crisis at bay.

Crisis and the potential of crisis has to be viewed and managed at multiple levels at all times. The communication revolution in the world has already happened. Whatever comes about now is only an evolution. In fact while the internet and social networking and Web 2.0 User Generated Content mediums are bad and good. The bad part is that everyone can make their voice heard and the company can be inundated with negative responses, but the good part it is that you can find out about potential crisis and what’s brewing by keeping a close watch of such sites also. We need to remember that a crisis is usually never artificially created and sustained, it truly shows some chinks in the armour and therefore close connectivity with all the company’s stakeholders is actually a boon.

To summarize, never take the crisis and its management lightly else the situation can baloon out of control.