Opinion: Collaboration and crisis comms

Victoria Cross, managing partner at Instinctif Partners, argues that preparation for a crisis relies on collaborative communications.

Victoria Cross 1

Victoria Cross

I chaired a panel debate recently for a room of technical product quality and safety experts on ‘Effective crisis communication’, and it got me thinking… How do we explain the real importance of crisis communication to those who think communication is a one-way street or worse, “not my job”?

Announcing a product recall in the media or putting up a recall notice in store are both communication tactics. But, how do we know if they are truly effective in driving the (sometimes life-saving, certainly reputation-saving) outcomes that crisis communications demand?

We always urge our clients to think about collaboration rather than simply communication. Indeed we have recently completed an intensive four-year training project with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for EU Member States and neighbouring countries on exactly that theme. Meanwhile, our 24/7 crisis response team relies heavily on effective collaboration with the best in the business from laboratory testing to site security.

Only with true collaboration, and an open two-way flow of information, can you be sure that you are communicating effectively during the fast-pace and pressure of a crisis.

That said, how many organisations have ever really considered the bigger picture in terms of crisis collaboration? Try asking yourself the following questions today when (hopefully!) you are not dealing with the pressure of a live crisis:

  • Who are your potential internal & external crisis collaboration partners?
  • Who is responsible for nurturing those relationships? And at what levels?
  • What inter-dependencies exist between you and both your internal and external collaboration partners?
  • Are the relationships strong enough to stand the test of a tough crisis situation?
  • Crucially, do you have a culture that makes collaboration easy or puts unintended barriers in your way?

This includes regulators, industry bodies, the scientific community, customers and consumers, and, most important of all – but often overlooked – colleagues.

One of the key components in dealing with a crisis is preparing for outcomes and aspects preemptively. So how can you be certain, in peacetime, that you have considered all the options, and have the full picture in your sights?

We advise a proactive approach – encouraging collaboration and making sure the channels of dialogue are open within an organisation before a crisis hits. All businesses should ensure they have covered off a range of areas, from governance and risk management to operational response. What we often see in diagnostic workshops is that collaboration is a natural by-product of crisis preparedness – it encourages cross-team communication to ensure that all areas are anticipated.

Similarly, this theory should be applied for product recall preparedness. There have been numerous instances of high-profile product recalls in the past year, in a range of sectors from automotive, to food, to technology. Anticipating a recall can be used to inform policies, procedures and capabilities to strengthen processes and preparedness.

For organisations which are looking to focus their crisis mitigation efforts, taking a truly collaborative approach to crisis management would be the best place to start.

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