Last week the Conference Board of Canada asked me to talk to the Council of Public Affairs Executive about emerging industry trends in crisis management. We all recognize that we are living in a shifting landscape with a 24-hour news cycle. But how do we address the challenges of a crisis in a world where journalists break the news in real time via twitter, and where Youtube videos, blogs and the rise of citizen journalists gives everyone a forum via which they can wade in on the discussion? Earlier this month Jon Ostrower at The Wall Street Journal reported on the growing Boeing Dreamliner problems with a minute by minute account beginning with sightings of smoke coming from the a grounded Air Nippon 787. And the scary thing for those of us in public affairs is that you could actually track the drop in share price by the number of stories that followed.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Amanda’s moving video blog plea to Galen Weston, I urge you to do so. With almost 250,000 views, it hit the mainstream papers and Mr. Weston had no choice but to play catch up. But the really sad thing for his organization is that it didn’t have to be this way. According to my friend Steven Fink, who authored a book called “Crisis Management” up to 90% of most crises give ample warning before they erupt. Mr. Fink advocates a process of prodrome identification — listening to the rumblings in your organization and creating an environment where people are welcomed to feed their concerns up through the company. This is particularly true when it is so easy for a disgruntled or concerned employee to go viral if they feel they aren’t being heard.
In my remarks I suggested that public relations advisors are clearly responsible for crafting messages. But more and more today, we have to be more than spokespeople. We have to be the conscience of our organizations AND we have to be their eyes and ears, watching for those early signals of pending upheaval and addressing them before they ever reach the tipping point.