Perspectives on crisis communication

2. The in-house corporate perspective 

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

Ché DonaldChé Donald is Communications Manager for Leyland Trucks. Newly Chartered, he completed the CIPR crisis communication diploma in 2021 while Head of PR and Communications for the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).  

What motivated you to do the CIPR crisis communication diploma? 

It was always on my to-do-list from a continuous learning perspective, but finding the time was always an obstacle. Then in 2020, while at PFEW, we were subjected a significant cyber incident bringing the organisation to a standstill. While a crisis communication plan existed, I had never been exposed to a crisis of this magnitude before, and while it was an extremely stressful and challenging situation, it was an excellent lesson in learning and preparedness. It was this experience that gave me the impetus to complete the diploma, gaining a deeper understanding of models and theory, while also upskilling myself, and therefore the organisation, in crisis management. 

What sort of potential crisis communication or issues does the organisation face? 

Leyland Trucks is a unionised manufacturing plant, producing over 20,000 light, medium and heavy-duty trucks annually, with one truck rolling off the production line every 7 minutes. We operate out of one of the most technologically advanced factories in Europe, on a just-in-time basis. There are numerous incidents that could result in a factory shut down and trigger the need for crisis communication.  To name but a few: a cyber incident, significant breakdown in the supply chain, a serious H&S incident, a product malfunction that results in a recall, industrial disputes, compliance Issues (Anti-bribery/Privacy/Competition Law/Money Laundering/Trade Restrictions) and environmental events. 

Did your perspective on crisis communication and /or issues management change after doing the course? 

Yes, firstly it provided me with a broader understanding and equipped me with additional tools. By doing this, it also improved my confidence.  Often, we can get quite complacent within our roles with regards to crisis/issues management, particularly if you operate within a low-risk setting. The simple fact is none of us knows what tomorrow might bring, being prepared for fire, beats trying to work out where the extinguishers are when you need it, and the course does just that. 

What do you think were the main take aways from a) the course and b) your personal experience of implementing issues/crisis planning in the workplace? 

For me it was taking an objective view of how to deal with what you are presented with and then define it as an incident or issue, and internal or external, which helps determine your response, along with the impact such issues can have on brand and reputation (I still find myself referring to Andrew Griffin’s book.)

One of the first things I do when starting a new role is have a look at their crisis comms manual, and refresh and update it, and then set about reminding everyone of their roles and responsibilities in dealing with such a situation.

Strangely, one of the first things I do when starting a new role is have a look at their crisis comms manual, and refresh and update it, and then set about reminding everyone of their roles and responsibilities in dealing with such a situation. Experience tells me that if the first time your key individuals are seeing the crisis comms policy or manual, is at the point of a crisis, strap yourself in as it is going to be a bumpy ride… 

What advice would you give to a practitioner who is trying to get the organisation to think about crisis comms planning? 

There is no shortage of examples out there of companies who have had to deal with a crisis, there are also no shortage of examples of when it has gone wrong. It does not matter how big or small, established, or new you are, it happens. 

Assemble these examples and present it to the C-Suite, identifying your organisation’s own vulnerabilities/risks and ask them what the plan is when/if it happens. While the risk/vulnerabilities may be identified on the risk register, without a comprehensive crisis comms plan in place with clear and defined roles and responsibilities, those risks are elevated as is your brand and reputation. The crisis comms plan seeks to mitigate and manage these risks, it is PPE for a company. 

Can you tell us a bit about your professional development journey? 

I had been a member of CIPR for a while and find it an extremely useful resource for ongoing learning, especially with the rapid growth and application of AI within communications and PR. The idea of becoming chartered shows that on-going commitment to learning, while also recognising your knowledge, experience and understanding to perform this vital function in an ethical and professional manner. I did it to show my commitment to subscribing to these standards, and I believe doing so adds value to my organisation, and therefore how we deliver our comms and PR. 

The assessment requires you to draw upon your work experiences, and where you can evidence your knowledge and understanding of key areas. For my assessment, the focus was on ethics, strategy, and leadership, and thinking back to the Bow Tie model from my crisis diploma certainly helped in the strategy section. 

How would you advise anyone who is planning their professional development journey?  

As a starter, I would say join CIPR if you have not done so already. CIPR has a wealth of resources available, so start with something you enjoy and want to know more about. Reach out and speak to someone in the industry or seek a mentor or coach depending on your needs or requirements, I am always happy to be contacted. Learning and development should not be viewed as onerous, it should be fun and when you are learning something which you are interested in or enjoy, it makes it so much easier. You can tell that I didn’t like studying to be a Civil Engineer, because I am not one!  

Perspectives on crisis communication