Crisis knowledge management: Where to start

The economic locomotive has so badly derailed that it is now certain: there is no going back to normality as we knew it. Especially in the UK.

Some businesses have stood out for their badly-handled crisis response. 

In the early crossfire of criticism, Virgin’s Richard Branson was branded as one of the real villains of Britain’s coronavirus crisis. Travelodge received a spate of negative comments for its handling of homeless and vulnerable people in the midst of the initial crisis. McDonald’s found itself in turmoil after four workers in Chicago filed a class-action lawsuit for failing to adopt government safety measures.

Bad examples of Covid-19 crisis response have been rife.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some organisations like Asda, Gap and Mark & Spencer, to name a few, have struck a chord for their leadership, authenticity and solidarity.

PR practitioners have a role to play in ensuring brands do the right thing as we learn to live with Coronavirus and move forward to recovery. 

Thinking about the future

We are not all on an equal footing for recovery. As professional communicators, a new lesson is to understand how different businesses and sectors have been impacted and how the information we hold can help our employers make informed decisions and take appropriate action. Ultimately, be #FuturePRoof (sorry, it was too tempting).

A recovery strategy should be evidence-based and embrace crisis knowledge management. 

This relates to the monitoring of key sources of information leading through a crisis (eg WHO, NHS England, Public Health England, etc); and also encompasses the collection and analysis of data internally to help guide organisational decisions and stakeholder management.

Rethink performance and preparedness

A tailored response paving the way for a recovery strategy means that leaders and decision-makers research and assess the degree to which their organisation contributed to the crisis and the history of how they’ve responded in times of crisis. 

There are four dimensions to consider:

  • Intentionality: The degree to which the crisis was created purposefully by a member or members of the organisation.
  • Preventability: The degree to which the crisis could have been avoided by the organisation.
  • Fault: The degree to which the organisation can be held accountable for the crisis.
  • Locality: The degree to which the crisis is an internal matter.

While Covid-19 might have taken us all by surprise and business may not have intentionally contributed to the pandemic, the question to ask is whether brands could have done something differently, something better in their response – and how they intend to behave going forward.

For practitioners keen to demonstrate the strategic value of public relations, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help guide the way.

The first step is to gather data to feed into the company’s mid to post-crisis review. Areas to investigate include policy and leadership, structure and procedures and people and culture. The assessment should be honest and offer a 360° overview of the business.

Start with what you have at hand

Internal activities and communications usually constitute an absolute goldmine of information for decision-makers in times of crisis. From employees to stakeholders, legal teams to directors, data can be gathered from the different meetings and calls that took place internally (provided that this is compliant with privacy guidelines, of course), but also from the organisation’s newsletters, surveys and social platforms. 

Questions to ask include:

  • Escalation of the crisis: Did we escalate the crisis on time? If not, what prevented this? What could we have done better? 
  • Decisions: Did we get the right people at the right time? Did the crisis team define SMART objectives? How did we assess our progress? How were key decisions perceived?
  • Implementation: How were important decisions communicated internally? Was accurate and sufficient information provided in a timely manner? Were all the targeted audiences reached? Did everybody within the organisation understand the effectiveness of the crisis response plan and were the facilities/tools in place to support this? 

The AMEC framework can help with knowing what to measure. For example: 

  • The volume of information in relation to the Coronavirus crisis (eg the topics discussed, by whom and through which channels of communication)
  • The quality of information communicated
  • The quality of relationships (interpersonal trust with key stakeholders and audiences)
  • Communication channels (with comparisons between official and unofficial channels)
  • The sentiment of the collected data (any positive or negative stories? Incidents?)

All these things can help PR practitioners provide recommendations to limit potential reputational damage, increase preparedness and work on improvement strategies.

Recovery should present a new opportunity: the chance to appear to a larger audience in a positive light. It should reaffirm the company’s core values, instil trust in its leaders and its services. 

“Normal” life as we knew it is now a thing of past. Not even the best recovery plans will take us back to where we were. 

But we can be game-changers and define what tomorrow’s “new normal” will look like. Let’s get to work.

This blog originally appeared on #FuturePRoof.

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