11 Mar 2021

Every business faces a multitude of different issues every week. Some are easy to tackle but some will, eventually and inevitably, cross the line and become a full-blown crisis.

While every company dreads and fears the unexpected ‘Black Swan’ crisis – a global pandemic that shutters businesses and locks humans in their houses, for example – the vast majority of crises that any business faces are predictable events, that you can prepare processes in advance for, to tackle and put right.

It is this premise that prompted us to launch White Swan: The Crisis Podcast.

In the first four episodes of White Swan, we’ve heard from four very different business leaders about how they handle crises. They’ve told us about the processes they have put in place to tackle issues before they arise, and how they’ve organised crisis response teams to ensure the smooth-running of their business when a crisis dominates the conversation.

We’ve gone back to look at the key takeaways from the first four episodes of White Swan, ahead of the latest episode, which lands in the last week of March.

The Three C’s

When you’re faced with a crisis, how do you get through it? How do you maintain a clear head and set the right objectives? Former Virgin Atlantic COO Phil Maher talked to us about his “three c’s”: Customer, Communication, and Company – incorporating brand reputation, investor risk, and long-term damage.

“If you make every decision with the customer in mind, you’re not going to make a bad decision,” he told us in episode one. “Once you’ve made sure the customer is looked after, it’s communication. That’s the one I go to time and time again. That’s the area that needs the most attention.

“Am I doing the right thing per customer? Am I communicating sufficiently internally and externally, and am I looking at the company, and making the right decisions to protect the interest of the company? This is what I keep in my head at all times”.

The importance of prevention

At the outset of any crisis what people in a business are looking for is a sense of clarity, and for experience to help guide them through.

Emma Tottenham of Virgin Money told us about how they unite different areas of the business and put structures in place to understand what is coming down the line, to help identify crises before they develop.

“The crisis muscle is one of those muscles that you need to keep really well trained and flexible,” she told us in episode two.

“And if your organisation has the right purpose, has the right set of values, the right focus on people and planet, not just profit, and has been able to embed that really deeply fundamentally across the business and into its culture, then theoretically there should be very few things that come up for any comms team to worry about, or to cause issues for any business leaders in terms of reputational or crisis risk.”

Tap into the power of the press

Communication when a crisis hits – both externally and internally – is vital. If your story makes the news, how can you control the narrative and work with the press to get the right messages out there? Ian Walker, Executive Editor at Mail Online, told us the key is proactive relationship building and,

“When there is a crisis, proactivity would be fantastic, rather than us having to chase people around,” he told us in episode three.

“If a business or an agency came to us, then I think that would be getting on the front foot. That’s never a bad thing – particularly when you’re dealing with a crisis. Trust doesn’t come easily, anywhere in life does it? But once you build trust – the PR is being honest with a journalist, and the journalist then doesn’t twist the words of the PR – that has to be a good way of moving forward.”

Get the method of communication right

Covid has been a crisis like no other. But the principles of crisis management are still important to help you maintain ‘business as usual’, as Sarah Binder of Pizza Hut told us in episode four.

“I talk quite a lot about being ruthless about your priorities. Every week you have to look at your list of priorities and work out what has to be moved forward, and what can wait,” she told us.

“The big learning we had was that you don’t need to react to everything. You’ve just got to be really realistic about it. We maintained a continuous approach of ‘what can we get done this week’?”

Listen to previous episodes and subscribe to White Swan: The Crisis Podcast HERE so that you get the latest episode as soon as it is released.