Crisis Management – Yes, Stupid, You Need A Plan

Following on from news of Burson Marsteller’s research in to European companies’  level of crisis-preparedness – I wrote about it recently – which revealed (in addition to such gems as ‘crises may affect share price’) that while 60% of companies polled had encountered some sort of crisis, 53% didn’t have a plan – PRWeek sees fit to inform its readership that “Crisis Comms Is (a) Hot Topic”. (What is this? Some sort of uncontrolled outbreak of the Galloping Bleedin’ Obviousnesses?)

Now, in fairness (because, when all’s said and done, I’m a reasonably fair bloke) PRWeek is reporting that ‘more than 60 communicators from large international corporations across the EMEA region were set to meet in London to discuss the findings” (of the Burson-Marsteller report).  Which I find both terrifying and very difficult to believe in equal measure – what are 60 communicators going to do with the loosely-structured, scaremongering collection of motherhood statements that is the B-M report? Will they agree with the statistics – ie 36 of their number have experienced a crisis, while 32 of them don’t have a plan in place? And will the 28 who do then jeer and point at the others?

I suspect, given that the keynote speaker at this – judging by the breathless PRWeek copy (“Senior comms executives were set to convene this week to thrash out crisis comms strategies in the wake of new research” – oh, please) – hastily-arranged gathering, is the owner of a security and risk management advisory firm, that this is more of a paid-for training session cum conference. But, hey, call me an old cynic.

Two things then. All you 60 communicators set to gather in London – what are you doing? If you haven’t got a crisis plan – and you don’t know where to start –  don’t spend your money on coming to London to listen to a lecture. Get in touch with the CIPR or the PRCA and ask for their recommendations on a crisis management consultant, and then go and have a conversation. Quick-smart, choppy-chop.

Thing two. PRWeek. Instead of reporting this horseshit in a breathless fashion, could we please, please have a three page feature on creating a robust crisis management plan – some case histories maybe? You could even shadow one of the 32 of the 60 who don’t have a plan as he or she goes through the process of getting one together. Just a thought.

Corporate Comms – What Wouldn’t You Do?

It’s a question of ethics – not the county to the north-east of London – no, the whole moral rightness and wrongness deal.

At various points in what has passed for a career, I have been asked the question ‘is there anything you wouldn’t handle communications for?’ (I’m aware that this is grammatically lacking and should be phrased ‘is there any brand, company or organisation for whom you would not manage a communications strategy’ but that wasn’t the question. Lesson #1 for today: No-one likes a clever d*ck.)

Well. Mostly, my answers have been flippant. Deodorants. Catfood. Superglue. Gentlemen’s shaving requisites. And why – because they are all as dull as penguins. No fun whatsoever. And I know, that in answering the questions in this way, that I’m not endearing myself to the questioner.

But the truth is, what some may see as morally unsound stuff – fags, booze, chips – I have no real problem with. For instance – and seriously for a moment here – I’d absolutely love to work on a tobacco brand. Yes I’m aware it’s mostly issues management (and that’s not a problem) but it’s also a massive opportunity. I was having a beer in Zagreb recently – where smoking is still vaguely tolerated – and there, on the table, was a black ashtray with a red triangle on it. Now I’m a committed Marlboro man, but even had I not been, I would have recognised it. But it gets by all the rules – no overt branding, no name, no guidance, no relevance (apart from it being an ashtray, obviously) – it works because the brand itself is so strong.  That’s genius.

As an aside, there’s a lesson for us all here, no matter what we work on. How would you promote your brand, company or organisation (or your clients’ etc etc etc) if it were suddenly decided that you couldn’t promote it through any traditional means. I think that if we all focused on that question as an intellectual exercise, then our current efforts would probably be that much stronger. And we’d probably have the influence on brand/corporate strategy that we so obviously lack currently.

Anyway. Just this week, right. The one thing that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. A very long bargepole. Even if I was wearing gloves. And lead body armour.

Nick Griffin.  The BNP.

As far as I can see, there’s two people handling their comms – John Walker and Simon Darby. C’mon, PRWeek – I think a decent, in-depth interview with them – and their views on spin and obfuscation – would be quite enlightening. And a salutory lesson to the rest of us. And fairly topical, given Mr Griffin’s impending appearance on Question Time.

Has the world gone completely insane?

It’s The End of The World As We Know It……..

….and I feel fine. Sorry. Gratuitous REM reference.

Listen chaps, sorry I’m a bit late coming to this one, but it is quite important. So listen carefully.

Great story in PR Week, couple of weeks ago. (I know, I know, I’m not a fan of PR Week, but credit where credit’s due, eh?) It was about the Guido Fawkes blog – see, here – more specifically, the chap behind it, Paul Staines, avowing to take on and reveal ‘the fat cats of spin and their hidden hand in politics’. He said his primary targets were Matthew Freud (almost had a Freudian spelling slip there – irony at its most pure), Alan Parker and Roland Rudd.

What Mr Staines is reported as saying is that ‘there is a legitimate role for lobbying, but (not) over coffee and cigars after a meal.’ He also said ‘people are coming to me with information and I’m building up a picture of who. what, where.’ Our august industry journal went on to reveal that ‘lobbyists privately dismissed Staines’ efforts, but were reluctant to go on record’. Hold on – where’s all that smoke coming from?

Personally, I think this is brilliant stuff. If Mr Staines delivers on his promise, then we (as an industry) are in for some very interesting times. Spin will have been proven. All those terrible rumours about PR behind closed doors will be exposed as truth – in the minds of most Daily Mail readers, anyway. What I would really like to have seen, mind, is some response from Messrs Freud, Parker or Rudd – but I am a realist and it’ll be a cold day in hell etc etc etc.

The real star of the piece, mind, was Lionel Zetter. “The Tories have been using the letters page of PR Week to send a clear message to lobbyists that it will not be ‘business as usual’ if they win the next general election.” Excellent.

Wait a minute, though – is Mr Zetter saying that it IS currently ‘business as usual’? And am I right in understanding that ‘business as usual’ in the context of this article is the ‘coffee and cigars after a meal’ that Mr Staines talks about? Confirmation, perhaps, that Guido Fawkes is on to a winner?

Anyway, I know nothing about the subject. I think it is a marvellous story though and I look forward to the follow-ups.

The only thing, and it’s just a thought, why was it buried on page whatever of the magazine, while the front page was graced with a ‘story’ about research that showed that professional footballers are not in touch with their fans?

Surely some mistake? Or is Mr Staines considered too dangerous for the front page?

Public Relations – Worthy of the Term ‘Profession’?

Sorry. I’ve been reading PR Week again.

I know I shouldn’t, and there’s nothing to be gained, and that if I continue to do it, I’ll end up as a bearded, wild-eyed, string-shoelaced, shambling apparition, destined to ride on the Circle Line forever, muttering ‘buggrit, buggrem, I told ’em it weren’t right, ‘advertising value equivalent’, they says to me, buggrit, what, says I, I do, it means nothing, shrimp and spanners, buggrem’.


Anyway, PR Week. It makes me cross. Sometimes it makes me REALLY cross. It is distinctly possible that I shouldn’t take it so seriously. It is even possible that the magazine is staffed by a bunch of post-modern ironists who are so clever, so sharp, that what, on the surface, can appear inane drivel is, in fact, the most telling commentary and satire, but so finely-honed that its real message is hidden from all but an enlightened few. Right.

This week, the thing that’s made me cross is one of the biggest issues facing our industry. I’m assuming I’m right in saying this because it’s certainly something that better minds that mine have been discussing since I first sat in a chair and made a weak attempt at trying to interest a journalist in the ‘news’ of a revolutionary hair removal system. (Don’t ask.)

It’s the issue of why isn’t PR taken seriously? Why doesn’t PR have (very often) a seat at the top table? Why, when PR is described as a ‘profession’ is there always an echoing of sniggering in the background? (Even when there’s no-one there.) Why is PR described as ‘lightweight’ and ‘fluffy’ – and why do people believe that it is? Why is PR not seen as a ‘proper job’? Why is it, at worst, ignored and at best, barely tolerated?

(And before anyone starts, you know this is, in the main, true. Yes, there are some organisations where PR is given the respect it should command – but they are few and far between.)

There are many possible answers – and maybe I’ll come back to them. Today, let’s concentrate on one of the biggest culprits – in fact a load of the biggest culprits – us – the industry itself. How is anyone going to take PR seriously if we persist in perpetuating the myths and prancing around like a bunch of knobs.

Yes, we don’t all do it. In fact, I’d imagine, very few of us do it. But. But. And this is why PR Week makes me cross this week. You see, according to the rules of communication, it only takes one incident to ruin the reputation of the industry. Especially if that incident is kindly emblazoned in the pages of what purports to be the voice of the industry. So, this week, step foward Deborah Clark Associates ‘celebrating the launch of the ‘Cornwall Twestival” – what were you thinking of?

I’m not going to link to the picture here. Suffice it say it smacks of ill-conceived sixth-form amateur dramatics. It was lightweight AND it was fluffy. But, ignoring for the moment the obvious question of what possessed these people to do this in the first place, the other obvious question is what in the name of all that’s holy were PR Week thinking of when they decided to print it?

It’s tough times for PR. We all know that. But with friends like PR Week, who needs enemies?

Canny Tweeters – Gotta be Rhyming Slang, Right?

Today, I is mostly loving PR Week.

(Oooh, oooh – and its £3.70 cover price. Why £3.70? Why not £3.50? Or, for the amount of bearing that it actually has on reality, why not £763.27? These are the people after whom ‘Twitter’ was named.)

Which segues me, more smoothly than a freshly-oiled smarmoset, into my subject matter. PR Week and a small ‘news’ story about how Twitter saved the day for Boris Johnson. (For those of you not of a London persuasion, Boris is the rather shambolic chap who spends some of his time as Mayor.)

The first para of this ‘story’ reads “London Mayor Boris Johnson has won plaudits from PR professionals for apparently using Twitter to deal with roasting hot buses last week.” Implication – Boris was replying to tweets about the hot bus situation. Read on, young Paduan learner, and discover that the Mayor was ‘inundated’ by tweets (although how many is not revealed) and then that ‘after a number of days of tweets and  re-tweets’ he went to see his transport adviser and asked him about it. After a number of days? Isn’t Twitter supposed to be about what you’re doing NOW?

Oh, yeah – and then the Mayor’s transport adviser (and I quote) – wait for this – “I immediately fired off a letter to transport for London.” Sent second-class, one can only presume. Yes, the world may be changing, we may be in the digital age, we may be able to IM and Skype, but thanks to the civil service, the time-honoured tradition of ‘firing off a letter’ is still alive and well. Brilliant.

So all in all, Twitter didn’t really save the day for Boris. It was one more medium of communication that alerted him to a situation which it took him a number of days to resolve. Let us reflect on the fact that it took him days to resolve an issue as serious as the heating being switched ‘on’ on London’s buses. How long do we think it would take him to resolve an issue like – ooooh – the pollution of the Thames by an antiquated sewage processing system? (Hint – it’s a couple of years, so far.) Going  back to hot buses, Boris did (finally) respond to the heeted tweeters, but you can bet your bottom that other communications media were used more widely to disseminate the action that was taken.

The story was illustrated – presumably to illustrate how effective Twitter is in saving the day – with some figures for Twitter usage. I’ll repeat them here, for your delight and amazement:

900 tweets per week – Innocent Drinks

100% – Hyatt Concierge’s engagement with followers

738 – people following Asda

226 – number of updates by Boris Johnson

14m – total number of Twitter users

Now is it me, or are these statistics – while on the face of it quite impressive, even compelling – on closer inspection, in one way or another, wholly meaningless? 900 tweets – what about and why? 100% engagement – in what way and to what benefit? 738 followers – Asda’s got more stores than that, hasn’t it?

It gets better. Underneath the Boris story was a small piece with the head “Dell, Innocent and Kodak named as canny tweeters”. I’m not going to bore you with the whole thing – you can do your own clickery and find it should you so wish (or you can go and buy a copy of PR Week for $547.32) – but here’s an excerpt. Dell claims to have made more than $3m (the price of a copy of PR Week) worth of sales since 2007 via its @DellOutlet Twitter stream. That’s $1.5m a year. Loose change. Probably cost them more than that to activate and maintain the Twitter stream.

It’s not really compelling, is it? You know, I think a lot of the chasing around after the social media of the moment and the breathless reportage on how it is changing our lives irrevocably is down to the fact that – deep down – everyone loves science fiction. Everyone wants to be part of a Star Trek world. Which is great.

But to be part of the Star Trek world, it isn’t enough to know what a tweet is and to be able to throw the names of a couple of social networks into conversation. Or even to be part of an MMOG, like W0W or Second Life.

No. You see Star Trek world exists and deals with ddos attacks (which are real) and botnets (which are also real – and huge). Read this – it’s better than William Gibson.