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Digital age: How social media has changed crisis communications

Ian Pope of MAGNUS Investor Relations + Corporate Communication speaks to Corporate Risk's Donna Sawyer about crisis communications in the digital age

Video transcript below:

Interviewer:  Ian Pope of Magnus Investor Relations, thanks for joining me.  How has the crisis communication landscape changed since the advent of social media?
Ian Pope, Magnus Investor Relations + Corporate Communication
Ian Pope:  The crisis communications has changed with the advent of social media in one main area and that is speed.  Speed is the overarching thing that’s changed.  Previously, there is three key points to this.  Previously management teams or the Boards executive teams so forth would have the golden hour.  The golden hour would be the time in which a situation are broken or there may have been a leak or something’s broken in the news media and then there will be an hour in which you could prepare statements, holding statements and so forth.  That time has now shrunk to about 15 minutes.  That’s the generally accepted rule now.  To be able react within a 15 minute time frame.
Secondly you have multiple stake holders talking about you.  Social media has opened up your company to a range of stake holders who all have the license and the platform to talk about you and your actions.  So that’s changed the focus and thirdly it’s changed, social media has changed the level of channels in which you have to communicate through.  
Previously you would have had your main stake holders, partners, share holders and investors and media.  Now there are those who are the key stake holders, but there is a whole different level, all of those are interacting on social media.  You need to judge each accordingly, accordingly and who you should deal with, but social media has changed the amount of channels in which you have to deal and communicate through.
Interviewer: Is the business community adequately prepared for the challenges that social media will create when it comes to crisis communications?
Ian Pope:  Broadly speaking some businesses are taking the steps to prepare for social media and how it can affect their business.  Overarching message is probably that no, companies are not taking necessary steps.  Many companies will rely on their corporate affairs or their public relations team to deal with an issue as it breaks.  Many companies will rely on their business continuity planning processes to deal with an issue when it breaks.  It’s no longer enough.  Social media has changed the speed at which an issue breaks and preparation is vital.  Preparation is everything from having robust protocols and principles and materials ready to deal with an issue as it breaks.  Engagement is everything during a crisis, being open, transparent, engaging with the concern of your audiences and to be able to do this quickly and effectively, you have to be prepared and preparation is a long process and it can require quite a bit of resource and quite an investment from key stakeholders in a business, which does make it difficult, which is probably what is holding back some companies from making the necessary investment in this preparation.
Interviewer: How business continuity planning practices adapt to the shortened crisis communication reaction time?
Ian Pope:  Put simply business continuity planning processes need to consider communications, the role of communications as a paramount or equal importance to all the other areas of the business and its operations.  Communications is about being able engage with the audience very quickly and that has to be the top of a business continuity plan.  It’s now not just operations and safety which are of course primary considerations, but it’s also communications, that has to be right at the top of the agenda with a BCP plan, so that a company and its management team is ready to react and move quickly.
Interviewer: What are the key hallmarks of effective crisis management?
Ian Pope:  The key hallmarks of effective crisis management is essentially management.  It’s the management of a company and its credibility, crisis and issues exposes the company’s management and its credibility.  If you are a listed entity, the markets and multiple stake holders price in the response of management to a stock.  If there are some key things that stand out about effective management, the first is preparation.  Management teams that engage in an open and transparent in a crisis have the right preparation in place.   They have prepared for scenarios.
Secondly they have the right processes and people.  They are able to respond and they have the right level of information being pushed up through an organisation and being pushed down.  So they are across all the information.  And thirdly they are prepared in terms of just engaging with their audiences.  They understand the concern of the audiences and that is one of the key parts to engage with.  Not necessarily how an issue is affecting the company and how it’s affecting management, but engaging with the concern of the audience, that’s one of the key parts and it’s management and its credibility that is the effective hallmark of a good crisis management plan.
Interviewer: So what should risk managers be asking themselves when it comes to preparing for an impending crisis?
Ian Pope:  Risk managers should be asking themselves the worst case scenarios.  What is the worst case scenario that could affect our business and if we are a listed entity, what is the worst case scenario that affects the price of the stock.  They need to ask themselves, how would the management team respond and how quickly can they respond and how well will they respond.  How will they engage with our stake holders.  The other questions to ask are what are the chances of an acute situation affecting us this year, that could be redundancies, it could be logistical issues, it could be a fatality or some operational issue within the company or it could just be negative media coverage, that needs to be dealt with on the day.  They need to ask a range of questions, but the key question to ask is, management its credibility how can we engage and how ready are we to engage quickly and therein how well prepared are we.
Interviewer: What can companies do to immediately improve their crisis communications strategy?
Ian Pope:  Immediate improvements in crisis communications is in preparation.  Simply finding the resource, the time, particularly at the executive level to engage in how to, and how to react during a crisis.  You have to have these protocols.  It’s no longer enough to just have a communications team or a group of external advisors or a business continuity plan.  When something happens, it’s going to happen incredibly quickly and there are not many businesses across different industries and sectors that are not going to be exposed to multiple stake holders and social media.  Management must be able to respond quickly, think of that 15 minute window and ask themselves how prepared are we to do that and what are we going to say if something breaks.
Interviewer: Ian Pope of Magnus Investor Relations, thanks for joining me.