Happy New Year — have you planned in case bad turns to worse?

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, there is no hiding from problems, mishaps, disasters and accidents, in addition to the current COVID pandemic. Those who need to be prepared include the spectrum of start-ups and SMEs comprising disruptive technologies from autonomous vehicles, fintech and blockchain to Software as a Service (SaaS), medtech and drones. Philip Hicks, principal consultant and founder of strategic comms agency Pravo Consulting is an award-winning crisis communications practitioner and provides a few pointers to help C-suite execs sleep at night….

The UKs health secretary repeatedly refused to answer if he regretted voting against the extension of free school meals.

It seems that 2021 was ushered in by a world in 24/7 crisis mode. The COVID-19 pandemic has unified a spectrum of global players in ways that perhaps many would never have foreseen.

Set against the stark reality of a brave new world, public health messaging has become a core element of government communications from the United Nations through to sovereign states. In the UK, as elsewhere, the regular and often daily media briefings showcase the latest charts and spotlight the key pre-requisites to communications (either in a good or bad light depending upon your viewpoint): clarity, transparency, timeliness, consistency, sincerity. I’ll leave it for others to judge how successful current initiatives have been. It strikes me that many could do worse than check out the McKinsey authored: A leader’s guide: Communicating with teams, stakeholders, and communities during COVID-19.

So, what can corporate world learn from this? At the close of last year an industrial accident sprung me back into crisis communications mode, and I continue to offer support to that client throughout the aftermath of this tragic incident. It is clear that with the constant output of social media and self-published content, the rules of engagement have irreversibly changed. In this world of instant Twitter you better have a plan and be able to cope with messaging — good or bad — concerning your brand or business.

There are several commentaries and predictions on risks in 2021 for businesses world-wide, including the continued ramifications of the global battle against the pandemic, and how much will return to normal after what is hoped will be the successful roll out of vaccines. But the world still turns and that means a need to be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly that may come your way.

For the many businesses operating across the US and China, and across other jurisdictions where bilateral relations are set to remain strained or deteriorate further, they will face a range of potential challenges in 2021. According to leading strategic risk consultancy Sibylline, “these may include formal restrictions and sanctions, unofficial penalisation and excessive scrutiny by governmental and regulatory bodies, and grassroots-level harassment, such as public boycotts and targeted protests”.

The key to successful handling of crisis communications is in the planning. That means planning for the eventuality, planning your resources, planning when the S**t hits the fan!

The team at Penn State have produced a succinct diagram that distils the basic elements of crisis communication:

Companies face a number of pressure points such as ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) agendas and the continued kick-back against what is perceived by many as the unrelenting creep of globalisation and back-pedalling on sustainability commitments. The vulnerability of companies to hacking and cyber threats is yet another box to tick in the risk register, on top of economic pressures and the change to patterns of work.

Some insights that C-suite marketeers might monitor include:

· Top influencer participation (proportion of mentions made by key media outlets and influencers)

· Stakeholder group sentiment analysis and public brand perception

· Threat intelligence: Identification of threats in real-time in combination with an effective alert system

· Entire industries: With providers like AI-empowered Ubermetrics, communicators can now monitor entire industries and build up a substantial data repositories of relevant competitors, industry mags, social media accounts and much more. This database can help to inform decision-making within crisis situations and even address unforeseen issues.

What’s certain is that however much communications and media change, the need for considered messaging, and engagement with stakeholders will continue to define an organisation and in large measure contribute to its success.

For more information on formulating a crisis communications plan and strategy and for a free-initial consult contact:

phil@pravoconsulting.com

Mobile: +44 (0) 7467 510339

Philip Hicks on LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/philiphicks

Director, founder at Pravo Consulting. Board-level/C-suite counsel, strategy, execution: PR, crisis communications, stakeholder engagement in a connected world