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Crisis management

Managing crises has become a greater part of Lansons and our clients’ lives. Over the past four years we’ve won 7 major PR awards for helping the Co-operative Bank recover from one of Britain’s severest corporate crisis. Last year multiple clients were impacted by the “Paradise Papers” and we helped develop more “crisis playbooks” and conducted more “crisis rehearsals” in a larger number of countries, than ever before in our 28 year history.

Research by McKinsey suggests that there are ten times as many publicly known corporate crises than there were in the 1990s. Today, in the era of the ever present threat to corporate cyber security, it’s likely that almost every senior executive, reputation manager and corporate communications director will be faced with a crisis to manage in their career. This special Lansons newsletter looks at the key elements of successful crisis management, with four articles from senior practitioners:

  • Claudia Guembe outlines the 10 key steps to crisis management.
  • Ralph Jackson discusses the characteristics that make great crisis managers, and teams.
  • Scott McKenzie highlights the key elements that lead to the quickest possible recovery after a crisis.
  • David Masters outlines the particular issues facing asset management firms this year.

I have three key observations building on my colleagues’ thoughts:

Firstly, it is vital that organisations put in place the right management and decision making structure during a crisis. This is because they have to be able to act quickly and, more importantly, make the correct big decisions. The right structure often involves overriding many of the silos that normally exist within organisations and establishing a more streamlined structure for the duration of the crisis.

The key elements include: involvement of senior management, typically the CEO; regular (often daily) meetings or conference calls; involvement of communications people and, most crucially, free and unfettered debate of key decisions. The correct decision making structure is one of the biggest factors in the successful management of a crisis.   

Secondly, in times of crisis, it is crucial to consider all stakeholders and all audiences together – in an integrated way – when considering how to react and what to communicate. Many of the greatest mistakes have happened when corporations prioritised investor audiences, because the share price has been affected, rather than considering the whole of society.

Thirdly, and for me, the crucial element for everyone working in “reputation management” (which I’d suggest includes all senior executives as well as communications professionals) is the diligence and thoroughness of crisis preparation, scenario planning and rehearsal.

There are now so many publicly known crises that many of them are soon forgotten. The ones we remember, and that have a lasting impact, are those that were genuinely terminal (as for Harvey Weinstein) or where the crisis was mishandled to the point that a crisis also became a “PR disaster” (as for BP) or, as so often in politics, where the “cover up” becomes bigger than the initial incident (from Watergate through to Damian Green and images saved on his computer). 

The fact that we tend to remember the “PR disasters” emphasises the importance of professional crisis management. We hope that you aren’t aware of most of the twenty significant (and multiple minor) “crises” we helped manage last year, as in our job, that’s success. In our view, the best way to ensure successful crisis management, is to have prepared and rehearsed properly.

On that note, I’d like to wish you a crisis free 2018 but hope that your organisation has planned for a year that involves a crisis.

Tony Langham co-founded Lansons in 1989 and still leads the organisation and works actively with clients. He has been commissioned by the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) to write the PR industry’s handbook on Reputation Management, which is due to be published later this year. 

Tony Langham co-founded Lansons in 1989 and still leads the organisation and works actively with clients. He has been commissioned by the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) to write the PR industry’s handbook on Reputation Management, which is due to be published later this year.

This article is part of our special edition Crisis and Issues Management newsletter.