What is the Perfect Crisis Response Team?

I recently spoke at a conference co-hosted by Ketchum Pleon London and PRMoment.com on “How Should Brands Prepare for a Social Media Crisis” (2 February 2012) alongside in-house communications specialists from HSBC, O2 (Telefonica) and eBay, and wanted to share a few highlights from my presentation on the perfect crisis response team.

The first thing to say is that a perfect crisis response team doesn’t exist. Every situation will require different skills, expertise and personalities – so it is important to be flexible. Often the most obvious team is probably not the best one! As you would expect, the team should be composed of communications professionals, but also has should include legal, HR, operations, and subject matter experts as part of the mix. Just because someone doesn’t have the ‘right’ title, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right skills and temperament, in a crisis you need the best people for the job.

It may not come as a surprise, but picking the right leader is crucial. This isn’t necessarily the most senior person, but should be someone who is able to see the bigger picture, who is respected by the wider team, and who is calm and decisive in the heat of the moment. This leader should also ensure that the business response is integrated with the communications response. Working to separate paths will only lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Ultimately, the key to effectively responding to a crisis is to prepare. There is an old saying that I like to live by ‘If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail’. Scenario planning and live simulations are the best way in which to build chemistry and trust in your crisis management team.

Social media is just another channel to communicate with the media, stakeholders and of course consumers. Ensure that your social media communications are timely and authentic – always listen and engage. As this is still a relatively new channel for some senior executives, it can often be the area where they over-react therefore it needs to be integrated in to any scenario and simulation work. Find tools that you have practiced using that can help you to identify the best and worst case scenarios, as this will help to inform your thinking and decision making.

These are the other top six insights from the conference as summarized by the conference chairman Bob Barker:

  1. Be the voice to fill the vacuum
  2. Engage your communities before a social media crisis hits
  3. Communications isn’t a department – it’s a way of being
  4. You need a team, leadership, know how, response plan / checklist – be prepared
  5. Speed of reaction and genuine / helpful response is critical to brand damage limitation
  6. Once a crisis has occurred, shift mindset from the event to the post-event – acknowledge, respond, answer

If you’d like to review the slides from my presentation feel free to do so below.