One of the most important issues facing public relations and communications professionals around the world remains the need to be prepared to deal effectively with crises. A massive international study of practitioners has ranked the importance of crisis preparedness second only to dealing with the speed and volume of information flow. And of course increasingly rapid information flow these days makes crisis management even harder.
This decisive data comes from what has been called “the largest, most comprehensive study of leadership in public relations and communication management ever conducted,” involving almost 4,500 respondents in 23 countries in nine different languages.
The study found that three closely linked issues – the speed and volume of information flow; dealing with crises; and managing the digital revolution – ranked way more important that other popular communications issues, such as employee engagement; measuring communications effectiveness; finding and retaining top talent; corporate social responsibility; and improving the image of the profession. Indeed, improving the image of the profession came dead last, dragged down by significantly lower ranking in the United Kingdom, the USA and German-speaking countries.
On crisis preparedness, planning was ranked by far the most important priority. The research, by the Plank Institute for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama, identified five key approaches to dealing with crises or preparing for them.
Starting from the most important, the priorities were:
- Developing effective crisis communication plans for action
- Implementing effective issue management programs to reduce the risk of crises
- Using issue scanning and monitoring technologies to identify and track problems
- Educating stakeholders about emergency communication and response systems
- Providing employees with training for crisis management procedures
Planning was the highest ranked approach in all but one of the 23 countries surveyed, although the study showed many practitioners believe the line between issue and crisis and emergency has blurred.
But the importance of crisis planning and issue management for crisis avoidance was absolutely unambiguous and this result is hardly surprising. However it is a powerful reminder that it is not enough to just talk about the need to be prepared.
It was not long ago that renowned crisis expert Ian Mitroff concluded: “Crisis-prepared companies make up only 15 percent to 20 percent of all companies at best. The remaining 75 percent to 80 percent are thereby crisis-prone. They are mega disasters just waiting to happen.”
Looking back over the last few years reveals a trail of damaged brands and shattered reputations. When it comes to record-setting corporate fines, think GlaxoSmithKline and BP. Or for huge penalties for shameless dishonesty in the financial sector, think UBS, HSBC, Standard and Chartered, J. P. Morgan. In fact, Time reported midyear that 24% of Wall Street executives surveyed said illegal or unethical conduct may be necessary to be successful in finance.
If that’s the world we live in, this might be the best time to make sure your crisis plans are in place.
Tony Jaques is an internationally-recognized expert on issue and crisis management and author of the online newsletter Managing Outcomes (www.issueoutcomes.com.au). Contact him at email@example.com.
MissionMode’s smarter mass notification and incident management applications enable organizations to take control of crises, and reduce the time and cost of the response. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a demonstration.