It’s a rainy winter’s day as we make our way down to London for the anticipated event, Crisis Communications in the Built Environment by the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
As a leading digital marketing agency who provides PR support for our clients, it felt right to attend the event. Pressure within the construction industry has been rising, the after effects of the Grenfell disaster have highlighted the need for an increase of standards across the supply chain. Everything from product quality, processes, training and methods of construction are being considered to meet these rising standards.
But, the reason for bringing up Grenfell, a horrifically tragic event, is not just to look at what could have been done to prevent the disaster from happening (which, of course, is necessary to do). But, to also consider how the actions of companies, governments and individuals can have a lasting effect after the event. When this tragic event struck, product manufacturers and contractors came under scrutiny to understand their part in the fire. Those companies would have implemented crisis plans to help communicate through a difficult time. This is just one example of a potential crisis, but we operate in a high-risk industry and must be prepared for situations like this.
So, why have we really attended?
Crisis happens all the time, and the worst bit about them is that they tend to be unforeseeable, unforecastable and a bit of a surprise. A horrible thought for any Marketing Director, CEO or business owner out there. Having a plan in place, regardless of your business size, is important to weather the storm when a crisis does happen.
We are an agency who helps to develop and implement digital marketing strategies for our clients, and PR plays a part in this. Sometimes the best thing to have in a crisis is an independent perspective, someone there to help you assess the situation and react in a fair and concise way to limit the damage. The harsh reality is that a crisis can deeply affect a company’s people, performance and profit.
The Crisis Communications in the Built Environment Event
The event took place at the Royal Institute of British Architects, a grand venue. Right up on the 6th floor, the bright, airy room had a lovely view of the London skyline.
The theme of the talks was clear and concise – when it comes to a crisis, you need to have a plan and be prepared. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Even if you must deviate from that plan when it comes into practice, it’s still best to be prepared.
All four presentations spoke from real-life experiences of dealing with a crisis. But, David Ing, from Fabrick, gave a really simple guide to dealing with a crisis in the built environment. The key takeaways were:
- Identify the risk to your business – sit down with key internal stakeholders (operations, sales, marketing, HR) and map out exactly where you could experience a crisis. Think as broadly as possible here – a crisis can be anything from factory/site fires (involving your products or your own site), employee use of social media (what they post can affect your business) to data breaches and contractual agreements.
- Plan out exactly what you will do when each crisis happens. Include points of contact, standard messaging and specific actions to be taken.
- Keep calm and identify the facts – Know exactly what happened so you can convey the facts about your business.
- Engage with the media, or injured parties. Ignoring them can cause you more harm than good.
- Never do the British thing and apologise – it’s essentially an admission of guilt. Complete point 3, and understand the facts before you do anything.
- Get additional support – A marketing agency (like us) to help you through the process above, or support when a crisis hits, lawyers (for legal reasons) and relevant internal departments.
Crisis Communications Example
We work in a high-risk industry meaning our potential to experience a crisis is somewhat likely. Every business, big or small, should be preparing themselves.
But, the Structural Timber Association have demonstrated that a crisis can be turned around.
Only 10 years ago, the timber sector nearly went out of business due to a series of fires from 2008-2010. Andrew Carpenter told a compelling story about how the industry managed to turn their story around from this dangerous, flammable building material, to the building material of choice.
The series of fires that took place all included a timber structure, and quickly the timber industry, and particularly the Structural Timber Association was under the attack to prove that timber was a suitable product for construction and could pass fire safety standards.
The STA drove the testing of the product and implemented legislation across the industry to prove that timber met fire safety standards for the following 10 years.
Now in 2019, and after a lot of hard work changing the perception of timber, it is perceived as one of the first-choice materials to meet the demands of the housing crisis and as a sustainable building material which can help towards climate change.
Andrew’s advice was to work closely with the parties who are applying pressure when a crisis happens to understand their frustrations, and ultimately, come up with solutions.
How to deal with a journalist effectively?
Ross Sturley, from Chartlane, gave advice on exactly what a journalist wants, and how to get on their side.
One of the main things to remember is, your crisis is unlikely to be the journalist’s specialist subject. But, they do want to present an accurate, true story. Just remember, a journalist is only trying to do their job. If you stick to the below points, you won’t go far wrong:
- Tell them who you are – why are you important to them, why are they talking to you?
- Can you help them – have you got the right information about the topic in question?
- Can you be quick? Journalists are usually on a deadline to get a story out, keep it concise.
- Do you have all the facts? Don’t make up lies, it’s simply not worth it as a savvy journalist is likely to go to multiple sources to fact check a story
- Can you validate your information? Is there a way to prove to them that you are providing trustworthy information.
The last thing to mention about dealing with the media is that if you don’t feel confident, gain support from someone who does. This might be an agency who has experience dealing with the media in crisis situations.
- Have a plan – take time to think about the types of crisis you might experience, and map out what you would do if it happened.
- Be flexible – if a crisis does happen, don’t be scared to deviate from the plan if necessary.
- Consider social media – It has created grey areas about what is a crisis & what isn’t. Everyone has a voice and is making it very difficult. All you can do is be authentic and do what you feel is right.
- Don’t lie to journalists, they’ll find the truth out and it’s in your interest to have good relationships with them.
- You can’t write a journalist’s story for them – but giving them the facts is key because they want to write an accurate story.
- If in doubt, get support. From Agencies, Legal or Internal Departments – don’t go through a crisis alone.