Here at FGS Global, we were lucky to attend a virtual fireside chat with our Co-Chairman Paul Verbinnen and Sidley’s Thomas A. Cole on their new book, Collaborative Crisis Management: Prepare, Execute, Recover, Repeat, based on long careers of advising companies in crisis from both communications and legal perspectives.
Here are some nuggets we gleaned about crisis management from the conversation, moderated by our own Lisa Green:
The best crisis plan is really a file with the numbers of people you're going to call. It’s critical to make sure you have the right people in the room.
A collaborative culture goes a long way. If this culture already exists in the company, that gives you a huge advantage. If not, the stress of the crisis will exacerbate existing friction.
Preparation is everything. Know what your mission critical risks are and be prepared for them. Have basic plans in place for how you’ll reach stakeholders in a crisis.
Keep your enemies close. It's as important to know what critics are saying as allies.
Response is everything. Crises are inevitable, but how you handle them makes all the difference. Most people will give you a pass if something happened, but they won't forgive you if you bungle the response.
Figure out what it is you want to do. Until then, people will see through your words and criticize everything you say.
Thanksgiving is the holiday most likely to be interrupted by a crisis, according to both of our authors. Who knew?
Stay vigilant. Some people think the sky is always falling, others are slow to recognize a crisis. Sometimes not responding to small brushfire can lead to the conflagration.
If a member of your leadership team wants to devote more time to building his or her profile in the press, it can be challenging to know where to start. Building an executive's profile is a long process, but it can be helpful to think about in three key steps.
Our Health Media Insights team has some thoughts on getting started.
Identify a message. Reporters ultimately want to speak to experts who have something meaningful to say. Before reaching out to press, sit down with your executive to talk through priority messaging. This session should be focused on identifying a platform that meaningfully adds to the media conversation, not just as a press release for your organization.
Focus on the building blocks. In the early days of building an executive’s profile, penning an op-ed for a local outlet or trade publication is a good way to build a baseline presence, as is participating in industry conferences or panels – bonus points if those conferences are filmed (more on that in step three!).
Leverage what you’ve built. Now that you have a foundation, you can weave existing materials into your pitches at higher-profile outlets. For example, an op-ed can help establish an executive as the type of thought leader a reporter wants to talk to. If you’re looking for broadcast opportunities, we also recommend including examples of past live appearances – whether it’s on a local TV channel or a conference panel – so producers know your executive is telegenic.
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For decades, no one expected companies to take positions on socially divisive issues. But with an increasingly polarized electorate leading to waning trust in the public sector, stakeholders of all types are looking with ever more frequency to today’s business leaders not only to show financial acumen but help guide the country’s moral discourse.
This has created new and unique challenges for companies across industries and sectors.
Those watching closely have witnessed this change from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism building for close to a decade, with today’s external advocacy groups and internal employee affinity groups stepping up with increasingly complex demands. The last year has shown those demands coming from the right and the left, with diametrically opposing desired outcomes.
Stakeholders are threatening companies rhetorically and in some cases moving against certain corporate benefits. The landscape has grown even more fraught as the Supreme Court hands down controversial decisions.
The net-net is no company has the luxury of kicking the can on how it will engage.
What will make the difference, as communications and government relations professionals know, is preparedness – taking the time now to look at your industry, company, culture, employee base and customers and be prepared – and make sure your leadership is prepared - to make decisions on issues that often arise with little warning. No day goes by when one or more of our clients doesn’t ask for help navigating this area. If we’ve learned nothing else, we know the solution is always unique. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, leaders must make decisions following a rigorous, dispassionate process tailored to their organization’s facts, people, impact, environment and past – and then must engage authentically. We have a number of offerings helping our clients do just this.