|Jessica Berk Ross|
After several years of FOMO, companies, countries and organizations around the world are eager to convene, host, keynote and just generally seek meaningful engagement and powerful exchanges.
And with this renewed momentum, we’re seeing the redoubling of efforts to be “caught in the act of leading.” And of late, that doesn’t always turn out to be what they had in mind. The spotlight can illuminate, but can also expose imperfections or, in some cases, even near-fatal flaws.
Countries are vying for soft power and fortified reputation as they’ve dealt with the global exigencies of war in Europe, the pandemic and the looming R-word, to name just a few factors. Companies are eager to demonstrate that they’ve been quietly—or boldly—leading through the pandemic, rethinking their supply chains, building and fortifying resilience, engaging employees remotely and otherwise navigating the zeitgeist that has sparked the great resignation.
And our academic and non-profit clients have spent these past few years reinvigorating and re-inventing how to deliver real world-impact in a shifting landscape.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '23 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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But the immutable element of risk is ever-pervasive. The more we build, grow and drive, the greater number of challenges and threats arise. Many nations around the world clamor to be both partners and destinations of choice, to be traded with and invested in and to rise up in global rankings.
Brands can be made or undone by the “too visible” CEO or by betting on the wrong influencer—that list is long and painful. Culture wars seek to undo or recast meaningful programs, good works and needed interventions.
And at the same time that there’s evolution, there’s meaningful adaptation. The world is asking for more. No, actually—it’s demanding more. Many consumers want to see a real dedication to sustainability, to diversity, to meaningful engagement. Citizens across the globe are demanding freedoms, human rights, access to healthcare, education, information … and the truth.
But our national conversations can deride and divide. And for every demand for better, there are malignant voices who seem to want the worst, or just less.
But despite detractors and pitfalls, in every state, region and geography our clients are delivering more. With breathtaking innovations, focused futurecasting and the weaving of sustainable and more equitable threads through every part of the work, this is a time of purpose. All around us there’s a powerful dedication to making a world that we would actually like to live in. But the stakes are high and the market is a fickle master.
So, how do we navigate the complexities of the new and the now—what’s that evolved crisis playbook as we venture out of the pandemic era and into a world that has made many, many adaptations? Given the tumultuous landscape, what are the business and communications imperatives to ensure a state of readiness?
Sure, some of the rules of old still apply, but with a few updates. Crisis communications is its own ecosystem with its own set of skills necessary for survival. There are three key imperatives to having a future-ready stance.
To paraphrase an old trope, a crisis situation has run its way all around the world before the holding statement has finished lacing up its sneakers. Information—and disinformation—move inconceivably fast.
This upscaled urgency is well met with rigorous, thoughtful preparation. Crisis assessment and planning need to be more frequent, more forward-looking and more readily deployed. Knowing the who, what, when and how to respond is increasingly critical to managing any potential, evolving or already incendiary issue. That requires regular maintenance and workshopping replete with critical thinking and key players. A smart facilitator can help move towards an agile framework for future-proofing.
Those who lag and deliberate too long lose the window and the narrative is cast for them. The ecosystem is unforgiving.
Crisis communications demands that leaders speak with forethought and integrity. What’s the authentic voice that’s essential to navigating the most challenging of times. Communicating with purpose and communicating in a way that’s fit for purpose in troubled moments is an art and a science.
This is where seasoned counselors can help senior leaders find and share their true north, especially during difficult moments.
For many, the antics and stunts that drive hits and grab likes are part of their playbook. But this is all disappointing performance art.
History will not look kindly upon these players, and those with measured and authentic voices of reason will be the real leaders—the durable truth-tellers that outlast the viral spikes and vicissitudes.
The crisis ecosystem is a demanding environment and requires that we iterate, learn and grow. If these challenging times have underscored anything, it’s that we all must be in a constant state of learning. It’s essential. Research, intelligence and real-time analytics help us to understand the scope and scale of the reputational impact of an issue or crisis. Using the latest data and insights are key to clearer understanding and to crafting effective strategies moving forward.
We’ll often see that when a program or campaign hits a roadblock or even a speed bump, there is a tendency to put the brakes on. To bunker. But it’s important that as communicators, we learn from challenges. The most difficult of situations can help to inform the road ahead if we’re savvy. Building in post-mortem murder boards or after-action evaluations is an important framework for growth and for building that needed agility.
And thank goodness, data can help to fortify that process.
These three crisis-readiness imperatives underscore that the real takeaway here isn’t the “what” of crisis communication, but rather the “how.” Purposeful, ethical, evolved engagement with audiences is at the heart of navigating both the new and not-so-new challenges of an evolving world.
Jessica Berk Ross is Managing Partner and Global Publics Affairs Practice Leader at FINN Partners.