With the ongoing supply chain disruptions, the energy crisis, skyrocketing inflation, employee strikes and countless other economic, environmental and social issues looming, companies and executives are feeling under constant pressure and need to constantly be on problem-solving mode.
According to the 2022 Edelman Connected Crisis study, 31% of executives mentioned that their company has dealt with supply chain difficulties over the past three years, while 21% acknowledged struggles when meeting ESG targets and 24% noted problems with DEI (diversity, equality, inclusion) initiatives.
Under siege by this unprecedented level of business and societal challenges, companies need new communication strategies with carefully chosen key messages, a distinct tone of voice, and strict principles, as well as a knowledge of cross-cultural communications to protect their reputation and forecast crisis scenarios.
Predictive Crisis Management is the "New Normal," But Companies Aren't Prepared For It
Crisis management has become the fastest-growing area of responsibility for CCOs and CMOs, yet 60% of them believe there is nobody in their staff who is well-equipped to manage the wide array of problems the business could potentially face. There is also serious pressure to take immediate action, with 72% of executives stating that stakeholders are increasingly demanding rapid responses to the most pressing issues.
However, it is important that we are not afraid to hit the pause button. While crises demand decisive action, there are times when pushing ahead might do more harm than good. If you see a problem, listen to your intuition and stop. Often, stopping helps us gain clarity and notice unexpected threats that may have otherwise slipped under the radar, giving us more time to address a situation before it gets out of hand.
Instant decisions are often wrong, especially in a crisis. Therefore, the only way to ensure effective crisis communication is to be as proactive as possible in anticipating these situations.
This is where implementing a predictive crisis management culture can save you. As Edelman's global communications experts say, "Actions matter." And to add our own PR expertise to their wisdom: PR inactions may matter even more. In fact, they can destroy you.
Today's companies must do more than forecast the potential risks; whenever possible, they must take action before the crisis hits home.
The Five Rules of Predictive Crisis Management That Will Save Your Reputation
1. Ensure you have consistent messaging and rational decision-making processes.
Yes, there's an increased consumer and shareholder expectation that companies take a clear stance on social, economic and environmental issues. But even though 54% of customers expect brands to communicate how they feel about current events, the truth is that no company should take a position on every issue. More importantly, stakeholder expectations should never be the key driver for deciding which issues to address.
Instead, the company should have firm, defined values and principles that align with its business goals. Let these be the determining factors when deciding which public opinions are communicated, and which topics are addressed.
How you communicate is just as important as what you choose to take a stance on. Everyone who speaks to the media should be trained on how to answer the tough and direct questions that journalists often ask during a crisis. As a first training step, outline the areas of responsibility for each speaker so they know which topics are their focus. Next, introduce Q&A documents and practice the concept of scripted scenarios in a “problem-solution” format so everyone can get a feel for these situations. You can also supplement their training with case studies of similar situations and how those speakers handled them.
Finally, be sure to have a plan for which channels your company should monitor and how you’ll focus on each of them. Prioritize according to your goals - e.g., Are media comments more important than news releases?
2. Foster a fair and trusting workplace. Your employees should be your ambassadors.
The external environment is volatile, and labor issues are the next wave of potential crises to contend with. To counterbalance this threat, companies should make every effort to prevent internal reputation damage.
Prioritize internal communications that are honest, transparent and empathetic. Ensure the whole team understands the company's values and mission statement, and use a wide variety of feedback tools to give each person a chance to be heard.
Doing all of these things can also help to stop any “leaks” within the company. It’s important to explore any avenues where you think information may be slipping out, because this undermines your overall communications strategy.
3. Listen to your audience and pay special attention to Gen Z, even if you're not directly targeting them.
Gen Z is uniquely positioned as a power player in disrupting the way business is done. Their priorities differ from previous generations, and they demand much higher standards overall. They are more discerning, and 49% of them state that they would refuse to buy from a company if they disagreed with its stance on an important social issue, even if that brand made the product they like best.
This level of commitment to social and environmental causes means it is no longer enough to connect with customers on a fundamental level. The future generations of buyers are looking for more from the brands they trust, so it's up to businesses to consider Gen Z, even if they are not the primary demographic.
4. Build a well-trained crisis team with deep understanding of global trends and cultural nuances.
Inevitably, something will go wrong. Whether there's a marketing campaign blunder or a misspeak during an interview, a communication crisis will come up.
To ensure the diverse views across your company are well-represented, this new level of crisis prediction team should include not just seasoned PR pros and HR experts but also trusted, respected "culture builders" with a global perspective and nuanced cultural knowledge. This helps provide a broader context and allows the company to respond faster when a problem arises.
Remember that you need to be proactive when assembling and training well-rounded crisis specialists. Your company must take the time to appoint employees long before there’s any danger on the horizon. At a minimum, there should be a speaker, media liaison and a social media monitor, and each of them should have a total understanding of their role in a crisis so they can act swiftly without “hand-holding.”
Another important point here is cross-training. We can’t schedule a PR crisis, so it’s critical that everyone on the team, plus some or all of the executives, has knowledge about everyone else’s job. This way, there is overlapping experience if, for example, disaster strikes and your media liaison is unexpectedly sick or unavailable.
5. Actions matter. Prove your positive societal impact with tangible efforts.
As mentioned earlier, you cannot and should not engage with every issue out there. Determine which global issues you can impact based on your company values and available resources, and develop corresponding initiatives backed by quantifiable action.
For instance, there is a considerable gender gap in startup fundraising. In 2022, U.S. female-only founding teams received just 2.1% of all venture capital investments. VCs that wish to support change in this arena could support female entrepreneurs by promoting programs like Virgin Startup's 50/50 gender funding pledge, proving they're serious about gender parity in fundraising.
Times May Be Tough, But Adjusting to the New Normal Doesn't Have to Be
The current global landscape might feel like a reputation-blasting minefield, but being proactive is the best way to cope with it. Instead of waiting for a crisis to happen, start building a culture of resilience, transparency and strong principles now.
Doing so will set your company up to successfully navigate any troubles that come your way, and minimize any damage to your operations and to your reputation.