How do you define successful crisis comms?

By Adam Smith on Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A few years back I changed the way I described what I did as a profession. When talking to people, I used to say I was the Managing Director of a Public Relations firm. It became pretty apparent that if you’re not in the marcomms industry, or indeed, not actually in Public Relations, the term PR feels ambiguous. Some people would have a vague understanding of what I did, some thought I was Malcolm Tucker from In The Thick of It, while others thought I handed out flyers.

So I took advice that I often give my clients and rebranded. When someone would say “so what do you do?”, I would say, “We’re in the business of safeguarding and building reputations”. It’s what every good PR should be doing. Our role isn’t about column inches, it’s about communications strategies that protect and grow businesses. And no business can grow without focusing first on its reputation.

In PR, often the glory lies in the building of a brand’s reputation. You observe the build in brand awareness, you see how the media campaigns and actions of the businesses you work with are changing perceptions. You even see how customers and industry stakeholders are talking about that brand in their own circles. It’s great. And often judging success is simple. We did XYZ and we achieved XYZ. Lovely.

But when your role is to protect a reputation in a crisis, it’s incredibly difficult to define success. And I’m sure all PR professionals who work in crisis comms would agree. You prepare, you plan, you message, you control, you succeed in managing a message.

Marvellous job. Sounds simple.

What actually goes on in the background is often truly gruelling. Rigid message discipline, proactive audits of future risk, being proactive in being reactive, and most of all building and maintaining strong and trusted relationships with the media.

Now we've picked up the PRCA Best Crisis Communications award for our work for Link Group on the collapse of Neil Woodford’s investment empire - arguably the biggest financial crisis of the decade.

If asked why the award came our way, I would have to say that a massive component is the diligence of our hugely talented team. A team that had precision at its heart. Creating a plan, advising the client, maintaining media relationships, digesting complex information and importantly – being ready at a moment’s notice to react. Which they were able to do because of all the planning that proceeded the need for reaction.

But what does success look like? One could say that managing the message of over 3,400 media articles over an 18 month period to ensure that over 90% were balanced or indeed positive is a success. But for me personally, it’s the praise form the media itself.

One national journalist said “The team have been fantastic throughout the crisis, and deserve nothing but praise”. Another added “the team’s undertaking exemplified the value that specialist knowledge, strategic counsel, and service ethic achieves.”.

Any company can find themselves embroiled in a crisis – often not of their making. And the age old adage of ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ is all too relevant. You need to know who is in your trusted crisis team - from comms professionals, the lawyers, the risk managers, the C-suite, you need robust bullet proof media training, you need media monitoring from every angle AND you need an agreed and precise process in the event of an issue arising. If you have prepared, and prepared diligently, that will go a long way in helping you to navigate that crisis effectively.

So dont fail to prepare…