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There is no such thing as a public relations crisis, says Jo-ann Robertson

Read the paper, go on Facebook, listen to the radio, or watch the telly, and you will witness organisations, companies, and people in crisis. The Government over Brexit, estate agents over profit earnings, and the East Coast Main Line over franchise failure. None of these are the result of communication. They are a result of organisational or personal failures. And that is why I believe that there is no such thing as a public relations crisis.

This view was reinforced at our latest ‘Creating the Difference’ panel discussion, which focused on crisis communications and was held at our London offices in late June. Attendees heard communications leaders from renowned brands and organisations such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Rescue Committee (IRC), multinational enterprise software company Sage UK and global beauty company Coty, as well as some our own expert communicators, share their insights and experiences on identifying and tackling an issue before it becomes a crisis.

The crisis is almost always a result of company culture, the failure to act, acting irresponsibly, not doing the right thing, human error. Ultimately, more than often a crisis is rooted in putting making money before the people you employ, the people you serve and the environment you operate in.

If you were expecting it, and did nothing about it, then that is reckless and you will almost certainly be on the back foot. That's why you need to have done your due diligence. Crisis processes and protocols put in place, crisis team identified and trained, expert counsel identified and ready to support.

Communicators in this situation need to keep calm, counsel and act with speed and accuracy. Your role is to mitigate the impact of the crisis and bring the external attention/interest to an end as quickly as possible, and you cannot do this alone. During a time of organisational crisis, it is absolutely critical that operations, communications and the senior executives with decision making power work absolutely hand in hand. In addition, anybody on the front line must understand organisational values and level of service that is supposed to be provided.

Also, before you declare a situation a crisis, it’s important to really understand what has happened and how it really impacts your business. Ensuring you have experienced advisors with a calm and can-do demeanour is essential. But they should also be supported with the right tools and data that help them make good decisions quickly, based on facts, as well as instincts and experience. That is why we put data and analytics at the heart of our communications process all the way through a crisis. Analysing volume, tone, influence and impact is core to the advisory and decision-making process.

Finally, it’s important to realise that the communications function does not have a magic wand. Our role is to advise what impact the external noise and interest is having on your organisation, communicate the decisions and actions that are being taken to rectify the situation to the right stakeholders and audiences and convey a sense of control and leadership on behalf of our senior leaders. And this is what will ultimately determine whether crisis management and communications have been successful.

Article written by Jo-ann Robertson, CEO of Ketchum London 

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