A step beyond: what’s next for crisis comms

A step beyond: what’s next for crisis comms

If there’s one thing that this year has highlighted to business, it’s the value of crisis communications and the importance of having the right strategy in place to deal with said crisis.

But before we start using words like “unprecedented” and “new normal”, it may help to take a step back and ask ourselves what a crisis is — the first step in dealing with one. Simply stated, a crisis is a significant event that results in high levels of scrutiny which has the potential to affect an organisation’s normal operations.

Looking at 2020, the defining feature when it comes to the crisis is that the pandemic has affected all organisations; it’s a global challenge. Yes, it has impacted businesses differently in terms of customer service, logistics, supply chain, etc., but overall, everyone has been affected.

That said, the basic principles of crisis comms still apply and haven’t changed. What may change, and certainly should change, is the way we approach planning given the benefit of hindsight and experience from the year so far.

A case in point is scenario planning; a successful crisis comms plan includes preparing for a host of potential crises e.g. an executive scandal, data breach or natural disaster. Now, however, and moving forward, we’ll be including managing the impact of a global pandemic.

Because one key piece of advice we offer our clients is that you shouldn’t do crisis comms planning during a crisis. It can lead to hasty (and poor) decision making and a less than favourable outcome for the business and its stakeholders.

Our current situation might be an anomaly, but it has demonstrated how important the core principles are:

  • Plan for tomorrow
  • Respond rapidly
  • Work with local authorities
  • Position your management front and centre
  • Be open and honest
  • Demonstrate concern and convey integrity
  • Speak with one voice

It has also highlighted the importance of accuracy. During a crisis, it is crucial for businesses to only communicate what they know to be true. Speculation is never advised. Earlier on in the pandemic this came into sharp focus with many brands falling short after making bold statements about impact, job losses, etc. when they simply didn’t have the information available to back that up.

Brands that fared well include those that admitted what they didn’t know but balanced that with making it clear what their plans were to deal with the crisis.

Moving beyond 2020, it’s natural that the crisis comms landscape will continue to evolve, shaped by external factors — much like it’s changed from the 1990s (when it was primarily media relations focused) to now where multiple audiences are important and the use of social media makes it simultaneously more challenging yet easier to monitor what is being communicated.

While COVID has certainly taught us a lot, it’s the adherence to the basic principles and being prepared that will help organisations through. It’s about being proactive, understanding the situation and having the tools at your disposal (like the right message communicated to the right audiences) to ensure you’re addressing the crisis and demonstrating that you have a handle on things, even when there is information that you don’t yet know.

By James Kelliher, CEO, Whiteoaks International

Digital Trade Fairs – the new normal in 2021?

Digital Trade Fairs – the new normal in 2021?

What have we learnt in this crazy year 2020? Video conferences are the norm, and so is social distancing with colleagues. Work in the communications industry is largely the same, but what it’s missing is personal communication. Customers are physically absent from the shops, at meetings and events. And of course personal exchanges at trade fairs is missing. A trade fair was always something exciting — setting up on time, getting customer invitations out, securing press atttendees. And now? Everything is different. Companies that were regulars at trade shows are now doing virtual events instead.

Help, everything digital!?

Practice has shown in 2020 that trade fair organisers were sometimes technically and conceptually overburdened to reproduce a presence fair 1:1 digitally. Starting with the fact that only a few trade fair visitors take the trouble to take a tour of several stands online. Often the hurdles are too high, for example when logging in or during the registration procedure. If the trade fair server is overloaded, nothing works and the patience of visitors and exhibitors is put to a hard test. As a result, potential customers have often only made a few selected appointments. Virtually, only a few visitors saw the whole exhibition, unlike a physical event. Both trade fair organisers and exhibitors draw their conclusions from this experience and will continue to develop further.

As an agency, we have advised our clients to take a digital trade fair presence seriously. The rejection of the stand builder alone is not enough. A simple Q&A with a spokesperson from your company during a digital trade fair is not enough. A trade fair appearance in digital format should not be underestimated. Here too, companies are in competition with each other, and there are always companies that make the perfect appearance.

In order to provide our customers with the best service, we develop comprehensive consulting packages. Our core competence, working with media representatives, takes place digitally. Media and advertising planning in advance is largely unaffected, whether a trade fair takes place in in-person or digitally. What was really exciting for all of us was the planning of the actual trade fair appearance. What does a digital room look like, how many rooms are needed and which employees are available? In close consultation and agreement with the customers, we worked out the customers’ trade fair programme together and supported them in a technical and communicative capacity.

In order to be noticed in the digital space, the package included the regular use of all necessary social media channels such as LinkedIn, Xing, Instagram and YouTube. In the run-up to the trade fair, we advertised in trade magazines, the same channels we would use for a physical fair. We also placed PR articles in the trade journals.

Lead generation with content

Anyone who goes to a trade fair as an exhibitor or takes part in it virtually must have something to report. As an agency, we offer advice in finding the right topics and in creating professionally prepared content. In contrast to real trade fairs, German trade fair visitors do not first and foremost seek personal contact, but are looking for really good content. They prefer to use the time they spend on your stand to consume your content rather than chatting with you. For this reason: the content must be prepared in such a way that it attracts visitors to the virtual stand and thus becomes the best tool for your lead generation.

The target group

You also need to know your target group really well. So well that you can assess how they will react to the digital appearance of your company. “All business is local”, and this experience was reflected in the Intergeo digital 2020. The international audience was much less afraid to log into an event live and with pictures via video.

Summary and outlook

At present, we see no way back to normality before the corona pandemic. Video conferences and home offices are now part of everyday life and it is impossible to imagine life without them. Physical fairs have been in crisis for quite some time now, and in 2019 there was already a hail of cancellations of fairs in Germany. The pandemic has greatly accelerated this process. We think that decisions must be made on an industry-specific basis. There are industries where a trade fair fulfils its purpose, such as an order fair in the fashion or sporting goods sector. In many other sectors, negotiations take place throughout the year and there is no need for a personal meeting at a trade fair. Transferring a trade fair concept 1:1 into a digital space will not work for everyone. Smaller and more flexible formats will be required in the future. Companies should not wait and see what the market offers them, but should take action themselves. Why not offer a roadshow or an in-house exhibition virtually. As an agency we are called upon here to proactively develop concepts for our customers.

By Petra Winklbauer & Liane Lahl, Fortis PR