Being prepared to deal effectively with crises remains one of the most important issues facing public relations and communications professionals.
A massive study of practitioners around the world 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 23 countries surveyed, except for South Korea which had the highest mean average of all countries for using technologies to identify and track potential problems. Even though the study showed many practitioners believe the line between issue and crisis and emergency has blurred, the importance of crisis planning and issue management for crisis avoidance was absolutely unambiguous.
This result is hardly surprising, but 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 year 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, 2013 might be a great year to make sure your crisis plans are in place.