Updating the old fire drill

The discussion about restrictions and further lockdowns that has happened this weekend reminds us all that we are living with crisis. For communicators this means building crisis management into the daily business.

I have been developing how this can be done simply and there is one idea I would like to see a team introduce. The time is right for a crisis communication drill.

But what does that mean? It is similar to the old fire drills that we will have all been through at school or work. Fire drills are done to test people understand what they need to do in the event there is a fire. They have to know where to go, what to do and to do it at speed. It is exactly what communication teams need in the current world.

Once you have developed or revised your crisis communication plan I remind people that is not enough. What matters is that the plan is tested and that people understand what it says and what that means for them. It is no good having a plan that no-one knows. They key is regular discussion, testing and revision of it.

The crisis communication drill would be undertaken at random either quarterly or even monthly. It would depend on the amount of risk you deal with as a team.

What does it do?

It will test the speed of the response to a fictional incident. The manager will choose a suitable day and time, which will allow the test to be undertaken, and will call the scenario and add drill so people know.

The team need to then slip into the roles and detail the actions they would take. This will all be considered against a checklist detailing the immediate actions that would be expected. The beauty is that this can be done remotely as well as with people in an office.

After around 30 minutes the test would conclude and then a short debrief undertaken to identify learning points, areas for development or additional training required.

The great thing is that for an hours time in calling the drill and doing a half hour debrief there would be a huge amount of learning and development of skills within the team. For those with a high turnover of staff, with a new or inexperienced team or in a high risk business this would be a simple way of ensuring things were kept up-to-date.

In a world of uncertainty, change and crisis this would be great way to build crisis management into your work. So say goodbye to the fire drill and hello to a crisis communication drill.

If you are interested in trialling a crisis communication drill or want to learn more about how to do it just get in touch amanda@amandacolemancomms.co.uk

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#FuturePRoof 4 – a time of change

There are few books that you read and feel both uncomfortable and positive at the same time. The latest edition of #FuturePRoof, which is actually the fourth publication, is a vital addition to reading lists for all PR and communication professionals.

I was lucky enough to receive an early version to look through and grabbed a brew expecting to just skim through the contents. But when I opened the first of the essays I was stopped in my tracks. It was an article by Julian Obubo which spoke of the lack of action taken in the area of diversity and inclusion. I was gripped.

It was followed by eye-opening and stomach-churning essays by people I am lucky enough to know including Katrina Marshall, Harriet Small Okot, and Arvind Hickman. Every word gave me a glimpse of their lives and what they have experienced. But the fact it is shocking to me just reinforces that I speak from a position of privilege.

After 20 years working in police communication I have spent many meetings talking through aspects of diversity and inclusion. I have been given diversity training and have looked at unconscious bias. I have worked with teams looking to increase the recruitment of those from underrepresented communities. Despite all this I know very little of the lived experience that exists for many within the world of PR and communication.

There is so much within the 19 chapters and 120 pages that I could write a lengthy essay trying to capture it all. But I know that I will be revisiting each of the chapters in the book to take care reading each and every word. More than that I will be taking a close look at myself, what I do, how I work and what I can do to really help those who are pushing to improve the PR industry.

#FuturePRoof 4 feels like a book that is long overdue and it is credit to Sarah Waddington and her inspiration Elizabeth Bananuka that it has been produced. I would recommend that everyone working in PR and communication, or aspiring to work in this industry, gets a copy and reads it carefully. More than that though they need to face up to the uncomfortable truths and resolve to make a change.

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Are we there yet?

Back almost six months ago there was a feeling that things would progress quickly and then be wrapped up soon. After all crises never really last that long do they? The timeline for a crisis is not something that can be easily defined.

The Covid-19 pandemic is going to be with us for some time. There is no magic injection yet, and as we are seeing with the increase in positive tests in recent weeks there is no sign it is going to disappear. This leaves communicators with some serious challenges to face, but these can also be huge opportunities.

So what does it mean? The first thing that is vital for everyone is that they look at how they are. Lockdown, furlough and the other issues have put people under huge pressure and many communicators have worked long hours over a long period of time without a break. I have spoken to many in this position. When you are in this position a weekend is not enough you need to have a week to recharge. This is time away from the news, the online world and the mobile phone. In a long running situation you need to keep fit and well and ready to face the day.

The approach to communication must also be kept fresh when the crisis runs on for some time. As things change and develop so too must the communication. People will become fatigued by the impact of what has happened, and in the worst case will switch off. Now more then ever communicators must find the creativity and engagement to connect in a meaningful way.

This long running crisis must also change the way PR and communication teams work. Risk and resilience need to become part of the language of the working day. Identifying risks, managing risks and mitigating risks are all essential to do what matters, which is to minimise the impact of the crisis on people. It is not enough to just keep responding this risk management approach should be part of planning and forward thinking.

I know people will be shouting at me that they don’t have the time but if you haven’t undertaken a debrief of your initial Covid-19 response by now then you should do it now. Debriefs are critical to learning, developing and moving forward. Ultimately, this is the start of your planning for future crises and not just future Covid-19 situations.

Planning and preparing are a key part of the managing a long term crisis. Don’t think that you don’t need to get ready for the future. Use the debrief information, the feedback and any insights to keep yourself crisis ready. Being resilient is helped when you have a clear plan that is workable and up-to-date, and when people know it and their role in delivering it.

We are part way through September and at times is feels almost as if we are back in April or May. There is no point in asking ‘are we there yet?’ like we did as children on journeys with our parents. Now is the time to dig in, prepare and grasp the opportunities as we move forward.

If you need any assistance with running a debrief there is a guide that I developed with Clare Parker for the CIPR, or get in touch with me for more information amanda@amandacolemancomms.co.uk

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Dark days

Can you remember where you were 19 years ago? For some they may have been in school or be so young they don’t remember 11 September 2001. I can run through that day in detail as if it was just earlier this week.

I had recently started a new job and was excitedly helping in the preparations for the Commonwealth Games that was being held in Manchester the following year. It was going to be a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my career and be part of something amazing.

The office I worked in had a small portable television that was constantly on. It had the news running whenever I was in although most of the time I hardly noticed it. The morning had been fairly uneventful sorting things out, planning projects and getting to grips with the new workplace. But after lunch everything changed.

I looked up to see the unfolding horror as the terrorist attack took place. It was unbelievable and I watched not really believing what I was seeing. There had been nothing like it before and no-one knew how to react. My thoughts were with the people caught up in it, the office workers, the emergency services staff, and the airline staff. Every one was a person with family, friends and their own story to tell. In the years that followed we did find out about many of them.

It was really clear this was going to change the way the world operated. There would have to be fundamental changes to air travel. There would need to be an overhaul of security at events, and at that point it wasn’t clear how much would happen. The communication being planned around the security for the 2002 Commonwealth Games was ripped up. After that day the messages changed.

On that day in September 2001 I never expected that 16 years later I would be in the position of having to respond to a terrorist attack on my home city. The start of the Manchester Arena Inquiry has been tough for so many people. The weeks and months ahead are going to be difficult. I hadn’t expected the emotions it brought up for me. What matters is that the focus continues to be on those who were affected by the attack, and ask if you are struggling and need help. My thoughts are with all who have been affected by terrorism.

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From crisis to change

If you thought that this year was suddenly going to calm down I am afraid I have to break it to you that there is more to come. I don’t just mean that there may be a second wave of Covid-19, although with the figures coming out it certainly seems likely. But the pandemic hasn’t been the only thing we have had to face.

Crises don’t happen neatly one after the other. They arrive at any time, there can be multiple events taking place and all need to be addressed. 2020 has brought Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, an economic crisis and Brexit is looming on the horizon. The first challenge is to respond to the crisis but what happens after that?

After the crisis comes the need to change. The world is going to become increasingly complicated where businesses, organisations and individuals are going to have to be ready to tackle a crisis and transform how they operate or the way they live. Change is an inevitable phase of the crisis communication journey. But as people are weary, stressed out and have been pushed to breaking point during the past six months are they going to be ready for what is ahead?

I have written many times about how communicators have demonstrated what they can do in dealing with the impact of Covid-19. They have helped save lives, protect people and keep people safe. They have kept businesses running, and have helped keep staff informed. It has meant working long days, long weeks and for many little time off. Many bosses have started to recognise the vital, frontline role that communication has at a time of crisis.

The issue now is to build on this and ensure that they continue to see how communication is vital to effective change management. It needs energy, foresight, creativity, and even more resilience to keep moving forward. This challenge will be central to the discussion at the second of the Crisis Chat webinars.

I have brought together change communication experts to talk about the future and to answer the question Is communication missing out on the action at a time of change? You can take part in the free event on 30 September 2020 at 12noon BST by registering here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/is-communication-missing-out-on-the-action-at-a-time-of-change-tickets-119074187099

If you want some hints, tips and to discuss how to face the changes that are coming join me, Trudy Lewis, Director of Lewis Communicate, Chaya Mistry, Director of Humanly, and Jo Twiselton, Director of Twist Consultants to discuss the road ahead.

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Why Telling Won’t Cut It with a Youth Audience

***Guest Blog from Rebecca Roberts, Founder of Thread and Fable***

Matt Hancock may be pleased he didn’t totally stumble through an interview this week but his narrative around young people “not giving the virus to their grandparents” felt as relatable as Gavin Williamson’s sympathy to A-level students. So, in a crisis when you need to engage a youth audience how do you do it?

One of the biggest failings of engaging youth audience is the lack of readiness to properly consult and engage young people to develop a message. A token image, quote or approval of a message simply won’t cut it. Working with young people to develop your message and inform how you’ll get it out is time well spent, particularly with messages deemed critical.

Having grown up in a time of austerity, single-issue politics in the UK (Brexit) and differences in the way they communicate with friends, family and with the news and wider society, their ecosystem is totally different to other audiences. Ignore this and you’ve failed before you’ve started.

The data surrounding physical and mental wellbeing, educational gaps, social inequalities, youth violence and life prospects as well as preferred content channels, trends and innovations can be overwhelming when wanting to ‘get it right’ with a youth audience.

So much of the narrative to youth audiences is from a ‘telling’ viewpoint. Young people are told that they are too young to vote, that they are ‘snowflakes’ for speaking out, ‘idealists not realists’ when they are passionate about a cause and have been on the frontline of the virus in terms of education, care, emotional and physical wellbeing and overall development.

I’ll be sharing some of the key themes from data leading into and during the pandemic and what crisis communications should consider when they want messages to land with young people at the Crisis Chat Webinar on 23 September 12noon BST to join me check out the link


About Rebecca

Rebecca Roberts has more than 16 years’ experience in marketing and communications spanning the sport and higher education sector. She founded her own consultancy, Thread & Fable more than three years ago, delivering award-winning campaigns, projects and content within the sport, higher education, charity and public sectors. Her passion for youth marketing has led to her own Engaging Youth report, training and workshops about the issues, challenges, trends and opportunities surrounding children and young people and how to improve marketing and communications to a youth audience. 

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It’s good to talk

What do you do when no-one seems to be having the conversation that you think is important? Simple, you work with amazing communication professionals to make it happen. This is how the two webinars I am organising began.

I am not an event organiser and never have been. This is new territory for me which is exciting and scary all at the same time. But I have been given lots of great guidance and am working with some great people. If you haven’t seen today I unveiled the first of two panel discussions on important aspects of crisis communication.

Under the Crisis Chat banner, the first discussion will take place on Wednesday 23 September at 12noon (BST) for an hour. The focus is to ask whether we are failing young people with our crisis communication. It is an important issue. Throughout this Covid-19 pandemic people have been saying young people are the key to being able to move forward, and that they need to be working with authorities. We have also see them face huge stresses from leaving university and finding their employment prospects have disappeared to the exam fiasco.

In a conversation with founder of Thread & Fable Rebecca Roberts we said the important thing was to challenge ourselves as communicators to see if we were doing enough to really connect, listen and speak to young people. The great thing is that there are people doing amazing work in this area that have a huge amount of knowledge to share. I am really pleased that Mara Silvestri, Director of Digital Communications at One Young World, and Simon Lucey, Managing Director of Hype Collective are joining the panel discussion.

It is not enough to just broadcast messages throughout a crisis, and to talk at people. This is only acceptable in the first phase when the focus is on protecting lives and property. Very quickly after that there needs to be a move to developing engagement. This conversation needs to involve everyone, particularly when it is an issue like the current pandemic. That is often where things fall down. Crisis communication plans that don’t take account of the diverse nature of communities will never achieve what need to.

In the first few hours of launching the event there are already people signed up to attend and I am really grateful for the support. It is a discussion that I and those taking part think is important to have so why not spend your lunch break taking part.

More details on the next discussion panel will be released later this week so watch for more information.

If you are interested in the discussion on connecting with young people check out the details and how to register to attend here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/are-we-failing-young-people-with-our-crisis-communication-tickets-118610799093

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What are you doing?

There is no doubting that 2020 has brought many challenging things. This is the last bank holiday of the year but it is hard to even remember the others. What are you doing to make the most of this weekend?

I have had a lovely relaxed morning giving my long time equine companion a bit of a make over and some special quality time. I followed it with a breakfast for me and my long suffering partner from Costa. This was our bank holiday treat. I had a leisurely moribund making way through all the sections of the Sunday Times.

This afternoon I will be spending some socially distanced time with my parents and then more pony time. I have managed to squeeze in some meditation, a short session learning more Norwegian and an online coaching session.

There are plenty of jobs to do, work that I could be slogging through and chores around the home but I need to reset and give myself a boost. Why am I telling you all this?

Throughout lockdown I have been increasingly concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of communicators. I have spoken to many who are giving everything and risk having nothing left for themselves. Doing that is only sustainable for a short period of time or burn out will come.

People need to value themselves. You can’t do your best if you are exhausted. Decision making will take longer, you may be easily agitated and your relationships will be put under enormous strain.

It isn’t easy to step off the treadmill even for a short period of time but it is really worthwhile to your wellbeing and ultimately will ensure you are ready for whatever the future brings.

Let me know what you are doing to unwind and whatever it is relax and recharge this bank holiday weekend.

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Do our crisis plans really help everyone?

The devastation is clear to see in Louisiana from tropical storm Laura. In the middle of a pandemic people were faced with needing to evacuate their homes which for many had been a place of safety from Covid-19. But it is clear that the social differences have been exacerbated by the crisis plans.

The challenge is how to move people to safety. Some were told to head to hotels or move out to family and friends, but for many the only option were evacuation centres. Places where they would be put with lots of other people as they are also being told to social distance and keep to family groupings.

It made me ask whether our crisis plans are creating divisions and increasing the inequalities that exist in society. This isn’t planned but is a byproduct of the planning process.

Emergency plans are built on years of experience from debriefing and learning about the most effective course of action. They are developed for the majority and have to have an eye on cost implications. What rarely comes into the planning until too late is considering the impact on all communities. It is usually when something has happened and people are already being further disadvantaged that the issue is spotted and possibly some attempts are made to address it.

Crisis communication plans are often written in the same way. There is little or no involvement of the people who will be affected by the planning. If they are involved it will be to review and rubber stamp something that is already virtually complete.

The equality duty brought in across the U.K. in 2010 is a requirement on public sector bodies to consider the impact of what they do on all individuals. It has led to policies and plans being assessed and activity being considered before it is introduced. But do our crisis communication plans pass that test? Have they been reviewed with the equality duty in mind?

What we need to do from now is to look again at our crisis plans. Start be considering information from debriefs and involve the people who have had their lives affected by those plans. Then take a critical look at whether plans and procedures are building inequality into the crisis response. We can do better in the future.

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Forever in your thoughts

Some moments in our lives last forever imprinted in detail in our mind. These are the moments that we can describe the sounds, smells and sights. We can feel as though we are there or that it was a day ago when in fact it was months or even years ago. In an instant we can be transported back there.

I had that experience this week when I read the news of the sentencing of the man in relation to the Manchester Arena terror attack. I refuse to write his name for the same reason that Jacinda Ardern refused to use the name of the New Zealand terrorist last year. But more than three years after the horrific attack happened I was stood peacefully in a field when I was back to the moment I found out about it. As I took in the details of what had happened, the lengthy sentence, I cried. The emotion of those days in May 2017 overcame me.

This is the reality for many who work in PR and communication. There are the moments in your life when what you do pushes you to the edge. But it really matters and the decisions you make can help people. This is the side of PR and communication that many ignore, downgrade or try to dismiss. This is the side of PR and communication that exists and will be happening every day somewhere.

Despite the pressure that this puts on individuals, it is still the reason why I am passionate about PR and communication. This is why I worked in the public sector for more than 20 years and is why I am now trying to use the knowledge I have to help other businesses and communicators when they face the worst moments.

In 2020 there are many communicators who have been through difficult, challenging and at times upsetting moments. They have had to do things that they would have never expected just six months ago. For some the experiences they have had will live with them for many years, or possibly forever. I can only say to anyone finding things difficult that they need to be kind to themselves. Give yourself some time to mentally process what has happened. Take any help that is offered and find someone you can talk to. Try to focus on how the work you have done has helped others and the comfort and support that you brought in the darkest moments.

PR and communication is more than the stereotype of spin or champagne drinking parties. At its best it helps people, brings communities together and even saves lives. Remember that when your work is being criticised or there is another negative headline about the cost of PR.

My thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of those that died, were injured or were affected by the Arena attack.

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