Monday, April 23, 2012

Simple is Good. Not Always Better

A crisis comms plan has to work. That's the standard for success or failure. My mentor and friend, Bob Roemer, says a crisis comms plan has to be simple enough so that the most junior member of your staff can execute the plan solo, if needed. Great advice from a great crisis guy.

That's why a recent post on Ragan's PR Daily Europe page really rubbed me the wrong way. It shows insurance giant Chubb's crisis plan and praises its simplicity. Here's the plan as shown on the page under "Here's an outline of Chubb's Protocol":

• Identify and prepare for potential issues.
• Communicate with the customer service and legal teams.
• Get the facts and prepare statements. 
• This covers traditional and social media.
• Respond and correct the record. 
• Get in front of the story.
• “No comment” is a last-ditch response.
• Accurately convey your side of the story. 
The problem here is that it leaves too much room to think. Thinking is one of the last things you want people to do in a crisis. People respond how they are trained, and in the absence of a solid training program, this set of guidelines will drive the company towards disaster.

Let's take the "Monitor" section. Yes, you need to monitor traditional and social media. You may want to tell your people how as there are myriad ways to do that. Some are more effective and faster than others.

Next up, "Respond and correct the record." Great advice. Except that it's not really possible today. I was one of several hundred communicators BP used during the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf Oil Spill Response. One day, June 17, 2010, there were 27,000 stories published in traditional and social media worldwide. There weren't enough people to correct the record and there won't be for your crisis.

Let's move along to the "Respond" section. Big fan of responding. This saves your bacon in a crisis. So, "Get in front of the story." is worth some discussion. How exactly? 50% of people in the US have smartphones and can post photos to the web instantly. I talked about this in "6 words to better Crisis Communications." Getting in front of the story is great if you're responding to a crisis in 1985. In 2012, it is a waste of time. Your employees or those impacted by the crisis will post, text, tweet or upload to Facebook or other social media before you're notified you've had a problem. You've got better odds of winning Powerball than getting in front of the story.

Gil Rudawsky, the author of the Ragan post, wrote that he's slogged through 100-page crisis plans and that simple is better. He's half right. Simple is better. Your crisis plan doesn't need to be 100-pages, but it does need to be more in-depth than Chubb's 54 words.

Bill Salvin