Random PR Thoughts

The Sixty Minute Challenge

Just how much can you get done in sixty minutes?

If your organization became the center of a crisis, in sixty minutes could you:

  • Get Management and Legal to approve a statement and post it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the corporate website?
  • Shoot and upload a video of the CEO responding to the crisis?
  • Brief vital external constituents, such as regulators and legislators?
  • Record a blast voice mail message informing all employees of the incident and reminding them to refer external inquiries, especially media, to Corporate Communications?
  • Monitor the acceleration of social media traffic and evolution of the “story?”
  • And can you do all of this while fielding an onslaught of media, customer, legislator and employee calls and emails?

It wasn’t so long ago that fielding a response to a crisis within eight hours was considered good, and four hours was miraculous, especially given the time needed for internal legal, management and regulatory review.

In Q3 2012, the world reached a milestone.  Over 1 billion smartphones were in use globally.  One billion people are now armed with the technology to photograph, video, tweet, post or otherwise report about your organization — and it’s rarely good news.  In not much more time than it took me to key in this sentence, your supposed failings – once they’re blogged or tweeted about — will be retweeted, YouTubed, Facebooked, LinkedIn, iReported, remixed and re-blogged.  Now it’s a big problem, most especially if what is being said about you just isn’t true.

Fueled by technology and social media, pressure on communicators has accelerated to the point where today you’ve got about one hour – one hour! – to respond to fast-moving events before your crisis gets blown all over the internet. That’s the standard.  This surely accounts for why numerous studies have shown public relations to be second only to air traffic controller as a stressful occupation. Crisis communications specialists have it the worst.

Just how much can you get done in an hour? If you haven’t thought about this before a crisis hits, probably not much.  Long before Armageddon knocks on your door, you need to answer the six questions listed above, just for starters.  Time spent thinking about how to mobilize the people necessary to achieve the sixty-minute response – and gaining their commitment to do it — is worth 100 times what you put into it. But even then, you’ll only have a schematic for the machine, not the raw ingredients to make it churn.

Assembling those ingredients – approved statements, tweets, Facebook postings, video and the like—eats up precious minutes. And the technology we have at our disposal today often means we simply can make bigger mistakes faster than ever.  Tweeting the wrong thing can worsen the situation. But writing a compelling statement – whether a tweet or CEO script– takes time, more than you will have if you are going to beat the clock.

Organizations that take risk-management seriously anticipate the misfortunes that can happen and are prepared with high-level response plans just in case. But even without knowing the details of a particular event, we know this: The pivot point between a “problem” and a “crisis” is the moment your customers and other stakeholders are hearing about your problem through every possible channel – except yours.

Most of the time, we know what people need to hear: that the company is concerned about the problem and is committed to finding and reporting the facts as soon as possible. Simply tweeting those sentiments can slow down the re-tweets and the digital piling-on, allowing you the chance to engage in a more constructive dialogue. The key is communicating through every available channel as effectively and as quickly as you can.  And that takes forethought.

Talk to management now about the need to respond fast– in what may seem to them to be breathtaking speed.  Also try out the content of the early responses you’d be prepared to issue. Today most management teams understand the importance of risk management and the need to respond effectively and quickly to a crisis; there have simply been too many bungled responses in the news to ignore.

You might start by posing this question: “If a crisis were to occur, how would we want our company to be seen by our most important constituents a year later?”  If the answer is “A valued asset in our community, well-managed and competent in a tough situation,” then there is no substitute for foresight and preparation.  That includes getting the CEO to agree that at a moment’s notice he or she will need to drop everything and sit down in front of a camera, and also identifying an appropriate stand-in if necessary.

When the crisis hits, you’ll have to work fast to tailor your response to the specific situation, but preparing your tools in advance and gaining the commitment from the top to speedy engagement will greatly shorten the time it takes to mount an effective response.

Are you prepared to be a “Sixty Minute” responder?  Getting this right is one of the most important contributions we can make to our companies.  And the clock is always ticking.

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Categories: Random PR Thoughts

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