Holistic Approach & Accountability

How would you respond to negative media coverage? You’re an organisation with clear roles and responsibilities and none touches on crisis management.

Will your response be shock, denial, anger, buck-passing? What if the crisis was triggered by your client or supplier? Your products have an enviable reputation for reliability. They are rigorously tested, conform to international standards, and used by thousands of people around the world.

Executives in a UK manufacturer realised they had been taking their reputation for granted and turned to Proteus Communications Group for advice. Chairman Paul Davison explained “Leaders were experienced in their own roles, but also complacent with little thinking outside the box or openness to challenging the way things were done.

“There was also little cross-over between teams, with everyone working in silos and plenty of cracks for responsibilities to fall down. I knew we needed, from the outside, an objective insight that would help managers and leaders face the way the company was behaving.”

Keeping the client accountable

Proteus considered bringing in a specialist crisis communication agency, but that would have meant shifting responsibility for managing any crisis away from company managers and leaders.

“We decided it would be better for our client to be involved throughout the process so they took responsibility from beginning to end,” said Paul.

“I’d been impressed with Jo Ann Sweeney when I was a delegate on a training programme she led. I re-checked her out on LinkedIn, where you can pick up much more subtle indicators, and confirmed she had the technical insight and understanding we wanted. Plus, we were confident she would be direct and frank, as well as highly constructive, in her feedback and input.”

Too many people see crisis management as communicating with the media during a crisis, when actually it is all about preventing crises in the first place. Then should a crisis occur - planning a structured pan-organisation response, that honours company values and protects key business goals.

Companies can emerge stronger from a crisis when behaviours and communication activities are focused on stakeholders – there are plenty of examples of this. But companies also fail when they focus on shifting blame and responsibility away from themselves – again lots of examples.

Rather than just developing a crisis communication plan, Paul and Jo Ann persuaded the client to follow the five-stage crisis management process. These steps are identifying potential crisis, assessing their impact on key business functions, developing risk management strategies and business continuity plan for key functions, and a business recovery plan.

5 stage holistic process

They began with a workshop for board members to identify all the issues that could become crises, ranking them according to their likelihood of occurring and potential impact on the organisation.

This workshop was then rolled out to each of the business functions – technical, production, distribution, finance, HR, marketing, security – with senior managers developing their own versions of the prioritised issues.

“Managers were shocked by how many potential crises they had been ignoring as they focused on day-to-day targets,” said Paul. “As an example, the manufacturing team realised it would take at least three months to restart production following a fire, resulting in significant market share and revenue losses to competitors.”

Each department developed a risk management strategy, facilitated by Paul and Jo Ann, that stipulated resources per department to prevent issues becoming crises. They clarified which risks would be actively prevented and which would be monitored. Projects teams were then formed to manage the prioritised issues.

For instance, manufacturing now has service level agreements with other production sites to take over European manufacturing following a fire or flood. While the technical team has an IT systems recovery plan for critical technology platforms and telecommunications infrastructure that ensures uptime, data integrity and availability.

Executives have agreed the critical business functions that will continue during a crisis, and those which will cease temporarily, freeing leaders and employees to help manage the crisis.

The crisis management plan stipulates how executives will lead the organisation’s response, overseeing disaster recovery, ensuring business continuity, liaising with emergency services, steering communication activities and protecting brand and reputation.

Communication planning sits underneath this master plan and includes a traffic light tool that helps communicators decide severity and how the organisation should respond, questions for collating data as the crisis unfolds, agreement on who key audiences are and ideal channels to reach them, a calling tree for disseminating key information, roles and responsibilities, guidance on positioning, messaging and collateral including the initial holding statement, and monitoring the crisis and media coverage.

Preparing in advance includes annual media training for all spokes people, and regular testing scenarios to ensure teams continue to be ready for any crisis. There are also questions and answers ready-prepared for media queries along with briefings for staff, key clients and investors.

Productive and enjoyable journey

“Progressing through these stages was painful, there were challenges with some departments initially putting off getting involved. Those teams who were enthusiastic and quickly developed risk assessments and continuity plans persuaded the others, meaning we did get client buy-in across the organisation.

“Jo Ann’s frank and honest exchange of ideas confirmed for me that we do need broad experience to anticipate where problems may occur. Because of her experience we were able to work together with the client to come up with solutions. It was really quite enjoyable working with her,” said Paul Davison.

He added that working with Jo Ann has given him and his team a confidence boost and also new skills.

“We now think more routinely about the way we approach challenges and develop solutions and are confident these are relevant for our clients. We are offering greater services and pushing clients slightly harder than we had done in the past. It is good to have a slightly different approach and way of working.

“Taking this particular client along with us took longer than I was anticipating. I could have got quite frustrated, but Jo Ann kept me calm. There was a logical sequence and we got there in the end. It was a productive, focussed and enjoyable journey.”

If you would like to explore crisis management in your organisation, book a discovery call with Jo Ann at

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