Communication Breakthrough #5 with Philip Lewin

We all experience ‘lightbulb’ moments of insight or inspiration that shape how we think and work. Sometimes they are defining moments in our careers. In our ongoing Communication Breakthrough series, we share our members’ stories in the hope they will inspire your own professional journey.

Welcome to our fifth issue in which we see how the right preparation, training, tools and processes are critical in managing crisis communications.

Introducing … Philip Lewin

Philip has been an IABC member 10 years in total between the US and Switzerland. He was a Silver Quill region judge in the US, and served as Vice President and President of the Switzerland Chapter.

Philip Lewin

Based in Switzerland, Philip has over 25 years experience helping businesses find their voices in ways that help customers and employees alike live and celebrate the brand.

What’s your specialisation, Philip?

I focus on corporate communications including management and internal communications, M&A, financial reporting and crisis communications.

I began my career as an art director and have experience in brand management, trade fairs and events, and helped my company develop and deploy its social media strategy and policy.

What was the background of your breakthrough moment?

I was working as ad-interim head of internal communications for a global engineering company. We had a very tragic workplace violence incident where a factory worker killed seven other people and then took their own life.

This was a complex situation as verifiable information from credible authorities was very slow to come — yet social media information spread like wildfire. At the same time, my company was involved in a lawsuit over administrative fees in our pension plan which the media had spun as a possible motive.

Our goal was to minimise the negative mainstream and social media coverage as much as possible while supporting the management team overseeing the response, and helping the workers with both emotional issues and practical matters such as retrieving their personal belongings and vehicles from the site, which was now a crime scene.

And what was your actual breakthrough?

My company has a very robust crisis training program in place, and had ironically done a simulation with that country’s management team just weeks before. The crisis tools and processes were all used and things went as well can be expected given the severity of the situation.

We prepared extensive Q&A for the plant and country management, the situation was especially contentious due to the media spin on the lawsuit and because issues from gun control to racism permeated the social media discussions.

Managing the media coverage of the lawsuit was challenging as there were limits on what we could disclose about an on-going legal case. 

At the time of the crisis my company had recently added a commenting feature to our intranet site. We decided to take advantage of this by inviting people around the world to share their words of support. We received more than 1,700 comments in some 40 different languages.

The breakthrough moment for me was getting feedback from people on-site on the very emotional day of the factory’s re-opening. We had captured all these comments and turned them into a 1.5 x 7 meter banner that welcomed the people back to work.

According to witnesses, the workers stood in front of this poster for hours, reading all the comments and trying to figure out the meanings of the foreign language posts. This global show of empathy really helped make a difficult time easier.

I’ve been involved in many business successes, but this crisis especially stands out as a milestone moment in my career. I am grateful that my communications skills could bring a small measure of comfort to people who were going through an unimaginably difficult time.

That is quite some story, Philip. Do you have any lessons to share?

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of being prepared for a crisis with the right tools and processes in place and active training. You cannot prepare for every possible scenario, but this is an important muscle to exercise and prepares you to communicate with agility and efficiency. Such training is also good for identifying and fixing problem areas such as internal arguments over ownership, trust and transparency issues, etc., before they come to light during a crisis.

Connect with Philip
E-mail: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=12998586
Twitter: @LEWINP

Want to share your own story?
Drop us a line on [email protected]
We’d love to hear from you!
— IABC EMENA Board