Don’t hope it won’t happen and don’t be afraid of a crisis

About the author

Mike Evans is co-managing director of Herdwick Communications, sponsors of PR Week’s Crisis Communications Conference 2022

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Herdwick Communications sponsored PR Week’s Crisis Communications Conference 2022 and Co-Managing Director, Mike Evans, gave a keynote speech on the most important 15 minutes of your career: a practitioner’s insight on how to handle issues and crises.  In this article, he develops upon the themes discussed at the conference in more detail.

‘Hope’ and ‘fear’ are two states of minds that communications practitioners should do everything to avoid.

‘Hope’ can lead to positive emotions in everyday life, however many of us use it in our professional careers to play the odds against a crisis happening. Crossing our fingers is no more helpful to our organisations than turning our mobile phones off when a crisis happens. ‘Hope’ suggests an intervention beyond our control, but we are in control.

By working with our colleagues across the business, we can understand what the potential threats are and, through our communication, how we can prevent them from destabilising business operations and compromising our communications objectives. We do this through planning, understanding who the stakeholders are and what we need to do to prevent them from reacting adversely.

Most crises start as issues that, in their own right, seem innocuous or inconsequential to the overall plan, hoping they will pass without long-term damage.

Often this is the case, but in our ‘hope’, we have abdicated the responsibility of their management. If we do not take control and manage them as part of everyday communications, there is the chance that they will trigger broader stakeholder responses and develop into a crisis. Manage the issues as they happen and, at worst, they become but a ‘bump in the road’.

Then comes the second state, ‘fear’. ‘Fear’ manifests in three ways.

Firstly, the ‘fear’ of not delivering business priorities. There is so much work to do that there is insufficient time to plan for the issues and crisis readiness. This is a false economy. Planning and preparedness are not luxuries; they are necessities. Sometimes it can be overwhelming when we look at what needs to be achieved, but by planning, priorities can be set, anxiety lowered, and ‘fear’ diminished.

The word crisis creates ‘fear’. Why? This is a vital part of our role. There is no mysticism; it is about planning and preparedness, knowing what to do calmly and logically. Maybe the ‘fear’ comes from the way we prepare. Recently, we were asked to prepare a crisis simulation for a group of professionals and often the brief is to make it ‘tough and scary’. This does not create an environment for learning and confidence building. Surviving a crisis or a simulation is not a rite of passage or a badge of honour; it is our job. We must develop crisis communications professionals through active learning, not ‘dread’ and ‘fear’. The ones that thrive in such an environment are not the ones we want to manage a crisis!

Finally, the shock is difficult to deal with if there is a significant crisis with loss of life. Combine the ‘shock’ and ‘fear’ and you become immobilised and incapable of performing. This is why the ‘fear’ needs to be eradicated and the plan needs to be second nature. This is the only way it can be executed to protect reputation.  It offers the capability to deal with the ‘shock’ and work out what needs to be done next.

A crisis is not easy, but it is manageable and we can remain in control.

If you hope it won’t happen, the ‘fear’ will stay with you and that is because you are not ready.

Mike Evans and Herdwick Communications co-founder Elizabeth Maclean were featured in a PR Place Insights #50over50 profile.