Tag Archives: crisis preparation

Can cyberattacks improve your reputation?

Think Target and the hit it took when hackers stole the private information of millions, requiring many to update credit cards and the like. It’s a disaster that most executives believe will happen to them–not if, but when. So, that makes it even more amazing to find out that most executives think, according a study published in the Economist, that two thirds of CEOs think a good response to such an attack will enhance their reputation.

PRNewser from mediabistro reporting on the Economist story notes that while 66% think they will come out of such an event smelling like a rose, only 17% surveyed say they are “fully prepared.”

Hootsuite, perhaps the best social media management and monitoring tool that I know of, today experienced a hack attack in the form of a Denial of Service attack. One client emailed me Ryan Holmes’ response. The CEO of Hootsuite was fast, empathetic, transparent and almost completely on target. (Only thing missed in my mind was an apology, but perhaps he felt there was nothing to apologize for and he may be right).

A couple of things stand out to me in this new arena of crisis communication:

– CEO’s seem to get the idea that fast, transparent communication can actually enhance a reputation even when customers/stakeholders have been hurt

– There seems to be quite a gap between the confidence displayed and the level of preparation. That is surprising. I would think the confidence would come after preparation, not before.

– The reality (certainty?) of this kind of crisis seems to be quite well accepted.

Now, we will see how it all turns out. My prediction: Another Target-type hacking will occur and the press and social media pundits will be better positioned to blame the company. “They knew it was coming but did not take the steps they needed to to prevent it–it was profits above people all over again.” Then, the crisis communication game really begins.

Five Simple Steps to Crisis Preparation

I was asked by a local business publication to do a column on crisis management. Since the audience is quite broad from mom and pop operations to some pretty sizeable industrial and healthcare organizations, the assignment helped me think through the basics.

So here is my take on the most important steps in preparing for a crisis regardless of the size and type of organization.

Five Simple Steps to Prepare for a Crisis


By Gerald Baron, Agincourt Strategies


Even though nearly every day we see a new business crisis happening, most organizations have not prepared to face a major crisis. That’s especially true of online or social media crises, even though that is the fastest growing type of crisis most face.


One reason to take a head-in-the-sand approach, is that many tend to think that crisis preparation is difficult, expensive or even impossible. But, there are a few basic actions any organization leader can take that will go far in eliminating crises from happening in the first place, and help them deal with them more effectively if they do happen.

1. Imagine your worst case scenarios.

Crisis preparation begins with a thorough examination of the kinds of events that can do you in. Might be data loss, maybe a major flood or earthquake, sudden loss of senior leaders, a bad review that goes viral, a product recall, toxic release or illegal immigration problem that hits the news. Prioritize them using a Risk Matrix, evaluating which are the most and least likely and highest and lowest impact. But, don’t fail in imagination. We’ve seen mega-disasters like the BP spill and the Fukushima tsunami in part because planners just didn’t think such worst case events were possible.

2. Take preventive measures.

If you know that an ammonia release could be devastating, you will probably double check your precautions. If you feel vulnerable about customer service, the scenarios may lead you to focus on significant improvements. The devastation of a product recall may be prevented by doubling down on quality control. And so on. The great thing about starting with scenarios and the Risk Matrix is that you know where to start in preventing a crisis. Estimates are that 75% of all business crises are smouldering–there was smoke well before the fire. Your entire organization needs to be prepared to smell the smoke and report it.

3. Character and actions matter most.

A study out of Oxford clearly demonstrated that the impact on share price on a company during and after a crisis was directly related to the perception of the public about the character of the leaders. Actions matter, and the actions that matter most are the ones that demonstrate the leaders care more about how the event is hurting others than how it is hurting them. That’s why Johnson and Johnson’s response to the contaminated Excedrin is still the gold standard of crisis response: they acted as if it was their fault and did a nationwide recall at their expense even though they were the victim of the criminal as well. And its why former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s comments about “wanting my life back” were so negatively received. Actions must be about helping and protecting others. Crisis communication should be mostly about effectively telling the caring actions that the leaders are taking.

4. Know who you need to talk to and how you will reach them.

Far too many think that crisis communication is about dealing with the media. The media are important, however, they are not nearly as important as your key stakeholders. These are the people whose opinion about you matters most for your future. Large customers, major donors, key employees, labor leaders, elected officials, regulators, community leaders–your future may be in their hands.  The media are important only because of how they can affect key stakeholder opinion about you. But, if you connect with those important people and tell them straight up, honestly, openly what is going on and what you are doing, you will earn their trust even if the media doesn’t get the story right. Media are in the business of attracting an audience–these days at almost any cost. Do you really want to trust your future to them with that agenda?

More than knowing who you must communicate with, you must know how you will interact with them. Phone? Email? Website? Social Media? Snail mail? Meetings? All these can be critically important. It is their preference of channels to use that is critical–not yours. If you don’t know how they expect to hear from you in a major crisis, now is a good time to find that out.

5. Prepare key messages in advance.

Any casual look at business crises today will show that the story of many failings is “too little, too late.” Often companies do the right thing, but too late. In today’s instant news world, you have to be able to engage and communicate almost immediately. And the only way to do that is by preparing in advance. When you think through those scenarios, also think through what questions will be asked of you and what key messages need to be communicated. Involving key decision makers including legal advisers in preparing key messages in advance will mean you can move much quicker, with assurance and authority. And that feels real good when it is hitting the fan.

Gerald Baron, former publisher of Business Pulse, is a crisis communication consultant who has worked with many Fortune 100 comnpanies and government agencies from the federal to the municipal level. He writes the Crisis Comm blog for Emergency Management and the crisisblogger.com blog. He owned Baron&Company, a Bellingham marketing and PR agency for over 30 years and founded PIER System, the world’s leading supplier of crisis communication technology.

Former BP crisis comms leader, Neil Chapman, provides some of best crisis prep advice

I’m very pleased to share Crisisblogger with my good friend and associate Neil Chapman, with Alpha Voice Communications. Neil recently left BP where he served in a number of communication leadership positions, including leadership roles in the Texas City, Alaska corrosion and Deepwater Horizon events. Few people on earth have been on the frontlines of communication during so many major events or crises, which have also included natural disasters such as Katrina. But it is also true that few have the ability to turn those gut-wrenching experiences into practical lessons learned that can help others prepare and respond. As they used to say about a major investment firm, when Neil Chapman speaks, crisis communicators listen.

Goodbye 2010.  Last year saw different crises –the horrific Haiti earthquake, the ash cloud air chaos and snow muddle, both in the UK and US. Along with scores of communications professionals, I was caught up in the BP oil spill for too much of 2010,

Both a human and environmental disaster, the event was complex and extremely expensive in its emotional and economic toll. Any organisation facing an emergency or crisis would be wise to learn lessons from the incident, without the costs that befell BP.

Reports and inquiry testimony are readily available to study. BP has produced its own investigation report and a technical lessons learned document with accompanying DVD –  http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/Deepwater_Horizon_Containment_Response.pdf

Many pundits have shared opinions about where BP went wrong and what it should have done. Here are some observations, that can point to where organisations might start to look for lessons relevant to them:

Readiness – an every day investment

In a crisis, time is precious, priorities key. Whatever the world thinks, BP was readier than many organisations. Meetings need a purpose, priorities established, decisions taken efficiently, communications clear and concise. All good skills and habits worth cultivating for every day business. But it takes training and practice.

Know the system

If outside agencies, especially emergency services, respond to a corporation’s incident, it will likely be managed using an established response system with tried and tested procedures and protocols. Corporate responders – including senior management – need to be familiar with the system.

It’s an on-line world

On-line is where most of the conversations and coverage about a crisis now occur. Corporate communicators who believe they should focus solely on traditional, mainstream media during a crisis – however demanding they are – will miss most of what is being said about them by default.

Social media smart

A crisis is not the time to learn the challenges and opportunities of social media such as You Tube, Twitter, Facebook etc. These channels can hurt and help at the same time. Corporate communicators need to be social media savvy, knowing when and how they can use these channels in a crisis. And tomorrow there will be a new one to learn about …

A mobile world

As well as being on-line, the world carries the internet on its hip or in a purse. To reach key audiences on the go, corporate communicators cannot be hidebound by the technology they are permitted or know how to use.

Information discipline

To provide timely, accurate on-message information to the outside world as soon as possible across an organisation requires discipline to ensure it is shared effectively inside too. Information discipline gets harder over time, as people shift in and out or they are spread over geography and time zones. Has your organisation got a system other than email?

Plan for help

Chances are a corporate communications department will need extra people to cope with the tremendous information demand during a crisis. To bring them on-board takes time and effort, just when you need both for other priorities.  Learn how to integrate extra resources quickly as well as how to coordinate with other agencies.

Communications processes

A corporate communications manual provides clear ‘how to’ instructions that save time and help integrate the ‘new hands’ an organisation needs. Have you got one?

Leaders – be hard, be soft

A crisis tests any leader’s people skills. Responders need honest feedback, positive and negative. If something or someone isn’t working, the problem has to be fixed quickly to keep the response on track. But at the same time, people need to be ‘nurtured’ when the going gets tough for them.

Beware of the toll

Crises wear people down. The strain can show up at work or at home. Relationships may break. Any corporation that sees its people as an important asset needs to provide effective employee support in a crisis. The first step is to make sure they are trained.

Think strategic

It’s hard to see the writing on the wall with your back to it!  It’s too easy to get trapped into focusing on an immediate challenge – and not to look far enough ahead. A team, or someone, needs to be thinking long term from the outset.

Don’t make it worse..

Until the world thinks the crisis is fixed, there’s a lot an organisation can say to make things worse for itself. Stay on message and talk ‘actions, actions, actions’.

BP’s crisis was the first energy industry disaster of the social media age. The result was that information – good and bad – travelled at an exceptionally fast rate, was dominated by digital and saw demand for it go through the roof. But some of the most effective communication took place face to face.

The communications landscape is now much, much broader than it was. Organisations – particularly corporate communicators – should take note and learn because 2011 will bring its own crop of crises.

Neil Chapman worked as a communicator for BP until last year. He has 25+ years experience dealing with crises and difficult public affairs issues around the globe. He founded Alpha Voice Communications consultancy to focus on crisis communications readiness, presentation training and issues management. Go to:www.alphavoicecommunications.com to find out more.

Jonathan Bernstein’s 10 Questions for Crisis Preparation

I’ve known Jonathan Bernstein for a number of years now and he is one of the best at advising clients in major crises. He’s definitely been through the wars, so when Jonathan speaks I know I listen. Here is his top ten list of questions to ask to see if you are ready for a crisis.