Learning from the Best at our Crisis Comms Event

Our recent event, hosted in Leeds, was centred around crisis communications and what to do when your brand is facing a crisis. We had the pleasure of listening to two amazing talks from experts in communications who spoke in depth about their experiences dealing with a brand crisis.
The first talk was given by Rachael Pearson. As a former Morrisons Internal Communications employee turned freelance writer, Rachael has seen her fair share of PR crises. Her presentation embodied the five core rules that should be applied to any crisis.

  1. Channels – In any form of crisis you need to get in touch with the right people to rectify the situation. However, it is vital you use the right channels. She provided first-hand experience of the Morrisons data breach crisis. To handle this event, they created an entirely new channel in the form of an employee Facebook page, where management could coordinate with team members quickly and efficiently.
  2. Research & Review – When a business is facing a crisis, the comms team needs to create a solution. To do so, they need to review the entire situation and assess all the details.
  3. IC & PR – Both the PR and Internal Communications teams must work together throughout a crisis. They must ensure that a clear unified message is being given to both employers and external stakeholders.
  4. Message – Once a company has established a defined message that they would like to relay, they must ensure to release it as soon as possible as silence can be deadly.
  5. Use Your Values – When a business is establishing a PR crisis plan, they must ensure the response is in line with their brand. She presented a great example of KFC’s response to their chicken shortage, producing a funny but sincere apology to their customers in a channel that research showed their key customers used most frequently.

Our next presentation was given by Toby Higgins, Senior Communications Manager for Network Rail.
Running the comms for the Network Rail is no small feat! Toby explained how any unsafe scenarios that places either a passenger or driver at risk, is considered a crisis to their company. Interestingly, the UK has the safest railway in Europe, so anything that could harm this reputation needs to be dealt with immediately.
He presented the Flying Scotsman crisis which was one the largest crises the Network Rail has faced over the last 10 years. This was a charity project to restore the iconic train for a nationwide tour. However, on the first departure from King Cross, it was brought to a grinding halt as bystanders had begun walking on the tracks to get a better view on the train. The halt of that train alone costs £80,000 in paybacks due to the delays in other journeys.
Many other companies may have ended the project there and then, however, the Network Rail comms team decided that would be even more damaging to the brand. They ran a crisis comms campaign for a year and a half preceding the original departure to ensure no incidents occurred during the nationwide trip. Alongside this, he explained the comms strategy that they have in place for predictable eventualities, e.g. bridges collapsing. The team trains and practices this strategy ever year to ensure when a crisis occurs, they are prepared.

The session was finished with an engaging Q&A session chaired by IABC board member and founder of Halston Marketing, Georgia Halston. There was a clear level of intrigue as both speakers were quizzed on their talks and our delegates probed a little deeper into the processes carried out in both instances.
Drinks and canapes, as well as a little networking bookended the evening.

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