Hiding behind transparency

Being open and transparent is at the centre of ethical PR and communication work. It is talked about a lot and particularly at the moment as we have all been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Effective crisis communication has to be transparent and honest to build confidence in what is being said and done. But how do we create this transparency? And are there ways that we can build barriers with transparency?

It may sound a bit odd to say that transparency can create a barrier but it depends on how we are using it. If we are reducing communication in other ways at a time when we are creating something we believe is transparent the end result is more closed communication. I have been thinking about this in relation to the Government’s plan for a daily Presidential style press conference and what it may mean to communication.

The move could be really positive if it is really part of ways to improve and develop open Government. It is a chance to share information and to answer questions about the issues of the day. Alongside existing communication this could be part of a way to increase accessibility. Perhaps it could even increase the interest and focus on decision making and politics.

But, and this is a really big but, if it is introduced in place of other communication, and becomes the sole and main focal point for the activity it can very quickly become a barrier to transparency. It reduces access to decision makers and can limit the amount of information that is released. This means less transparency and more artificial soundbites.

In my book Crisis Communication Strategies I talk about how vital honest and open communication is in building confidence. Confidence that will be essential during the crisis but also will build a strong recovery. This openness comes from real engagement, listening and responding. It cannot come from carefully scripted and worded briefings.

It will be interesting to see how this develops in the coming weeks. Will we be in a world of America-style press conferences and Twitter statements? Or could there be increased access to Government and decision-making in a post-Covid world?

What do you think of the move to Presidential-style daily briefings? Will they increase transparent communication?

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Tough at the top

One thing has become a clear factor of how effective tackling Covid-19 has been around the world – leadership. It is clear that where there is strong, considered, decisive and empathetic leadershipd the outcome has been better. For many years we have talked about leadership, what it is and how to develop it, but has it all been just talk.

Clearly, this is one of the most challenging and complex situations that any business or organisation has ever faced. There is no manual of how to lead through a pandemic like Covid-19. People do have some sympathy for those who are now expected to find a way through crisis, into recovery and rebuilding businesses. But this is not guaranteed and support can be lost within moments if the business is out of step.

If anyone saw the HM Treasury tweet last night, you can see how easy it is to misread the mood and tone. During a crisis organisations can become caught up in how they are responding, operating and developing at the expense of connections to those around them. Quickly it means operating in a bubble losing touch with the prevailing mood and tone. It is why listening and engagement are critical to crisis communication and response. I call it looking from the outside in.

 

 

This is just one of the problems that leaders face when they are dealing with a crisis. With Covid-19 leaders need to be able to reimagine, reinvent and redesign the business as well as have an eye on the public mood, managing the finances and supporting employees. If that wasn’t enough then they also have their own personal battles to deal with in understanding and dealing with the virus. At the moment of crisis is when the best leaders survive and if there are flaws it is more likely to lead to failure. Leaders that are not resilient, prepared and connected to the people will be found wanting.

This is why I have devoted a whole chapter of my book Crisis Communication Strategies to the subject of leadership. They have a key role in the communication not just the operational response. There are 10 crisis leadership qualities that I have outlined within the book:

  1. Motivating
  2. Consistent
  3. Decisive
  4. Compassionate
  5. Visible
  6. Ethical
  7. Resilient
  8. Responsible
  9. Effective communicator
  10. Skilled at managing expectations

This is a huge challenge and where there is weakness there will be failure. There is still time to learn and develop for those dealing with this crisis. But time is running out if they are not able to listen and find the strength to lead the business through to a successful recovery.

Have we trained our leaders to be effective in a crisis? What more can be done to help them at this challenging time? Let me know your views. 

Crisis comms book

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100 days of learning (part 2)

It is now 100 days since lockdown happened in the UK and like many people this time has challenged my thinking, made me questioned my approach to things, and encouraged me to look differently at what I do. It is also 100 days since I established my crisis communication consultancy and left more than two decades of regular employment to go self-employed.

As you can imagine just one of those monumentous events would have transformed my life. What it brought about was the most intense learning experience of my life. Instead of the routine of going to work, working and coming home, I was now working flexible hours from home. And for the first time in a while I really had to use my brain as I was well and truly out of my comfort zone.

I suddenly started to realise how much I was on auto-pilot doing a job I had done for many years. There are benefits to having such a detailed knowledge and extensive experience but it can mean you are using less brainpower and effort than you should. I have more ideas now than for many years, and beyond that I actually have the time to make many of them a reality.

Again, I am not saying that everything is wine and roses or strawberries and cream. Being self-employed is tough. Never think that people who choose to work from themselves have an easy ride. It is all consuming. You are constantly thinking about what you need to do, what you can do, and where you can ensure you are making ends meet. But what I have gained is 100 days of learning about the communication profession. So here are my top five things I have learnt.

  1. The communication profession is supportive. Despite what people think of it as a dog-eat-dog industry there are more people wanting to help and support than to undermine their colleagues. There is a long list of the people that I would like to name who have helped and supported me in the past weeks. If you are reading this you will know who you are.
  2. There is no such thing as work-life balance. This was the case before most people were working from home. Communication is a 24 hour a day seven day a week thing and this makes it almost impossible for people to switch off, rest and recover. If we don’t get this balance back there are going to be many people reaching exhaustion.
  3. I have fallen in love with podcasts. There are many out there and some are simply amazing. They have a personal, human and direct quality that I have valued during this time of social distancing.
  4. Communicators have the chance to make a positive difference to the world. That may sound grand and overblown, but I don’t think it is. We have seen some amazing work being done since the pandemic emerged. Communication has been frontline in the fight against Covid-19 and now can help with the changes ahead. Communicators can , and should, be helping organisations navigate through the tough times ahead.
  5. Risk and crisis communication has not been a priority. Many may have put the tick in the box. They had a crisis communication plan, they had a business continuity plan and they had considered risks. But when it came to it, they had paid lip service to the importance of these things but not fully grasped what they meant. It is vital that we build risk identification into communication along with an understanding of managing crises on a daily basis.

There is still so much that we have yet to understand from this pandemic that the world is facing. What we do know is that there is lots that we can learn and hopefully we will and will then take those things forward. Communication, crisis readiness, resilience and risk management have never been more important to people, businesses, countries and the world.

Let me know what your professional learning points have been from the past 100 days of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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100 days of learning (part 1)

Next week we will reach 100 days since the start of lockdown in March. It has been an unusual and at times surreal experience to have first been forced to stay home and then later to have restrictions on life. But what have we learnt from the time we have had?

This is not going to be a blog about how wonderful lockdown is and how I have been baking, redecorating, gardening and running a business. Dealing with a pandemic is a horrific experience and for many they are have lost loved ones and family members and are still grieving. Whenever I hear the details of the daily deaths and the total I think about every family and person who has been affected.

The time has given people the space to reflect and for me there has been a lot of learning both personally and professionally. This is the first of two blogs that will consider both aspects of my life.

First here are the top five things that I have learnt about myself over the past 100 days.

  1. I don’t need things to survive and be happy. In fact, I really dislike shopping and can think of lots of things that I would rather be doing. I can enjoy my days without needing additional things in my life. Consuming stuff is overrated.
  2. Family and friends are important. I think we all know this, we just forget it and let things get in the way of spending time with those who matter the most.
  3. Enjoy what you have when you have it. Never take things for granted because you never know when they will be gone. We all know this but we forget when we are rushing around.
  4. Connecting with nature is relaxing. Going into the garden, to the park or for a walk has become more significant than ever before. It was an escape from the four walls of our homes.
  5. Technology brings both good and bad. It is up to us to work out which we want to be part of. It is brought me closer to friends and family at a time when I was forced to be apart. But it also can be incredibly divisive if we let it.

This has been a tough 100 days where sometimes I have forgotten what day of the week it actually is. I have been fearful of what may be around the corner. I have longed for what was familiar and comfortable.

I don’t know what the next 100 days will bring but I do know that I will continue to learn and will keep my five lockdown lessons close to me.

 

Share any of your lockdown lessons, things you have learnt and how they may change your life. 

On Tuesday I will blog my professional learning from 100 days of lockdown.

 

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A risky business

Anyone out there like to go sky diving or bungee jumping? Neither are for me but I will try my hand at horseriding. Why do we like to do some things and not others? It has a lot to do with our appetite for risk. Sky diving is just too risky for me and after the last three months being in a crowd of people feels the same. As communicators are we risk takers or risk averse?

Being an effective communicator means you are a problem solver and alongside that you have to be prepared to take a few risks. This should not be as worrying as it may seem because there are many ways you can manage those risks. I have spent a lot of time this week talking about risk management, the processes needed and how they relate to communicators.

The starting point always has to be the risk register that every organisation should have. Often communicators are not connected to the risk management processes that exist across the business. It means that they are not aware of the concerns and therefore can’t do the required planning, and they are not able to include reputational risks that they may be aware of or managing.

Communicators have a unique position in the business where they can see how it operates and what it does, as well as understanding the external environment and importantly people’s views. Understanding risk and risk management should be part of the work of every communicator and every communication team.

It is going to become even more important as businesses start to reopen and move forward in the next couple of weeks. Covid-19 is still here and can still become a problem. There is talk of local lockdowns, employees may be asked to self-isolate, and there is a duty of care to ensure workplaces are as safe as possible. There are suddenly a lot more risks we face on a daily basis.

Now is the time for communicators to review the risks that they are managing or are aware of. Look at what are a priority. Identify what the issue is, what the possible impact could be, and what mitigation or action is needed to manage it. Then keep them under review on a regular basis. All this needs to be done from the communication perspective.

It is simple but vital to the communication effort. The world feels a bit more risky now, and businesses are facing increased risks so communicators need to step in now.

If you need any help or advice on how to approach risk management for your business get in touch amanda@amandacolemancomms.co.uk 

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Unacceptable

I saw Reading trending on Twitter last night and like a lot of other people wanted to check out what was going on. I had switched the TV over to Sky News but nothing was being said. Then the basic statement that emergency services were dealing with a ‘serious incident’. I went back to Twitter to see if there was more detail.

What I still cannot come to accept is that when there is a serious incident, a terrorist attack or a moment when people’s lives are at risk, someone is videoing the events. They don’t go to help. They don’t run away. They just standby, take out the phone and start to record. For me, it is just not acceptable.

My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by the incident last night. The families and friends of those who were killed and injured, those who will be traumatised by what they saw, and the emergency services who raced to help. It is horrific and we all need to support and help those affected.

When I was going through Twitter there was shocking video online and being shared. I moved away from it as quickly as I could. This should not have been circulated and all I could think about were people who might see their loved one in that footage. We have all experienced being given terrible news and know how it affected us, so we can surely all understand how this would be made worse by finding out your loved one was hurt by seeing footage on social media.

There has to be more that social media providers can do to take such video down and do it quickly. What justification can there be for allowing it to remain and continue to be shared?

If social media platforms are not going to take action then it is important that we all do something. We need to make sure we don’t share such videos, and more than that we need to call on others not to share it. We need to call on people’s humanity, and ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the family and loved ones. It has to become unacceptable to both post and share such horrific images.

My thoughts are also with all those who have been affected by terrorism over the years as this will be a difficult day for them as well.

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The future is bright

It is Friday. The end of another week and a time when some things started to appear a bit more familiar. Shops are starting to open and businesses are planning for the future. Yet you may feel frustrated, overwhelmed and struggling to deal with the uncertainty that we all face.

Being a communicator through a crisis is a tough place. You can expect to feel exhausted. The pandemic has pushed people to the limit and tested their resilience. It may feel like a difficult place but there is so much that is positive and should be celebrated. Communicators have shown what they can deliver, how they are frontline and where they can take the business.

This is a moment when you need to gather your thoughts and find some time and space to start to plan for the future. Organisations have realised how they can benefit from the leadership shown by communication teams. This can reset your position, forge new relationships, and put you in a strategic position. I truly believe that communicators can step up and help to drive the business change that is needed in these uncertain times.

In my book Crisis Communication Strategies I identify five roles the communicator has in developing the crisis communication approach. They are relevant now to how to support the move to recovery. They are:

  1. Communicators can support the development of organisational strategy.
  2. Communicators can be a critical friend to the CEO faced with leading the crisis response.
  3. Communicators can provide an early warning system to potential crises.
  4. Communicators can guide the business in establishing processes.
  5. Communicators can be the glue that holds together the crisis response.

Apart from the top team, the communication team are likely to be the only part of the business that has seen all aspects of the crisis and response. It means you have a valuable position in seeing the landscape and future that is on the horizon. But unlike the CEO the communicators should have hands on experience of the sentiments towards the business. Put those two together and communicators can be a catalyst to the developments for the future.

This new position and relationship is within grasp. It just needs communicators to have recharged and recovered enough to have the reserves of energy to claim this place. This can be a bright future for PR anc communication.

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Back to the store

Yesterday was a major step forward for many people. The opening of many stores and shopping centres signalled the arrival of familiar sights. Shopping is now a very different experience that some will grow to accept and others will try to avoid. Many people may feel this is the recovery phase kicking in but I would disagree.

This is definitely a move forward. For many companies and businesses they are now able to look at what to do now and what may happen in the future. That is a sign that recovery is on the way. But we are still dealing with the impact of Covid-19 and most importantly there are still people who are dying or being severely affected by the pandemic.

We are in what I am terming the mid-crisis or pre-recovery phase. It may be frustrating for some who want to move quickly towards some kind of return to normality. However, this is a very valuable moment in time. It is time when we can reflect, review and recharge before heading to rebuilding the business. This can be a moment to take a breath and step up to help those leading the business find a way forward.

Reopening stores was just a step on the road to recovery. It is worth remembering that as we were all affected by the crisis in different ways we are all going to have a different recovery experience. For business the same will be true. Hospitality and travel is yet to be able to make significant steps forward and they are still fully in the crisis. Communicators need to recognise that they must forge their own path. They can look at what others are doing but no comparison should be made.

The speed of recovery is not going to be what secures the future of the business. It will be the effective management of all the outstanding issues related to the crisis and the vision to see how to rebuild and re-establish that matters. Business are travelling through this crisis at different speeds and while they need to begin trading it has to be in the right way at the right time.

We need to avoid making judgements on the crisis and recovery based on the first day of many shops reopening. In all this uncertainty one thing we do know is that there is a long road ahead to learn to live with, and deal with, Covid-19.

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Take Back Control

**Guest Blog by Sandra Edwards of Sandra Edwards Consulting**

Over the last three months it’s felt like we have lost control of life. Things that we took for granted were suddenly out of reach and dictates from the government were telling us what we can and can’t do. Now we are expected to start emerging into a new kind of normal. It’s a little daunting to say the least and we need to ease ourselves into it at a pace that suits our individual circumstances and personalities.

The elephant in the room that is uncertainty. How do you eat your elephant?

One bite at a time.

Now is the time to dust off your goals and aspirations and check if they are still relevant. Break the bigger goals down into smaller wins and take back control over little tasks which will lead to bigger gains in the long term.

When I want to feel more in control my default activity is cleaning and decluttering, even sorting out a drawer, clearing my inbox, tidying my desk. All little mundane things that help me regain some focus on life. When I have focus and a sense of purpose it enables me to move forward, a sense of purpose is the biggest resilience boost there is.

sandra circle

  • The circle of concern contains matters which you can do nothing about and is an area where we generally waste a lot of time and effort worrying over things, we can do nothing about. (Those world events that we see on the news)
  • The circle of influence contains matters over which you have some influence – it can be equally important but may not be the best return on investment of your efforts. (People who you are communicating to)
  • The circle of control contains matters over which you have full control and is where you should focus the majority of your effort. (Your own actions and reactions)

It’s so important to focus on controlling the controllables which at the end of the day is all about ourselves. The more you can control and be responsible for your own actions and reactions the less impact those things you can’t control will have.

As communicators, it’s important to be in control of self and be able to remove our own beliefs and values from the communication.

Very often we will have little or no influence over events, so operating in the circle of concern will use a lot of energy with little effect. If we choose to step outside the event (yes, we all have the power to choose our responses) and communicate from our circle of control, we will increase the power of the communication tenfold.

If we chose to dwell on what we are communicating and start to put our own beliefs and values onto the meaning or causality of an event it will reduce the impact of the communication. Changing it to an opinion rather than a communication. As everyone’s beliefs and values are different, once a communication has an opinion attached it will be perceived differently and given different meanings depending on the beliefs and values of the recipient. This will dilute the original communication as people make their own ‘sense’ of the facts.

By concentrating on your circle of control (your own actions and reactions) you will expand it which will in turn grow your circle of influence and shrink your area of concern enabling you to communicate with authority and clarity.

If you feel you’ve lost control or are feeling a sense of overwhelm and anxiety, contact me for a coaching conversation, completely free of charge, and find out how I can get you back on track.

*Between 3pm and 4pm on Friday 19 June you can join my Back on Track webinar. More details and registration visit my webpage   https://www.sandraedwardsconsulting.co.uk/events/

Sandra 1

Sandra runs Sandra Edwards Consulting and is an experienced professional and personal development coach, qualified Master Practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming, Time Line Therapy and Advanced Hypnosis Techniques.

 

 

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This is no recovery

We have reached week 12 after lockdown at the end of March and some aspects of the new way of life are becoming more acceptable. I still miss being able to just get up and go wherever I want to without having to phone ahead or plan in advance. I still miss meeting and chatting to people. Most importantly, I still miss being able to give my Mum and Dad a big hug.

There is a lot of discussion about recovery, what it will look like, when it will come and how much of our old way of life can be return to? It is difficult to answer many of those questions at the moment because we are in what I am calling a mid-crisis phase.

We have become used to a crisis that runs for a finite period of time. They start, run for possibly a week or two and then we are heading towards recovery. It has all felt very neat and tidy. Once we get towards recovery we are starting to pick up life as it was. But Covid-19 is not like anything we have experienced in our lifetime. This is a crisis that we are all going to have to learn to live with.

It makes the move to recovery even more problematic so perhaps we should stop trying to rush forward towards it. If we spent more time dealing with the next, or mid-crisis, phase then we will be more ready and able to move forward when we can. This is a time when we need to take stock, reflect on what has happened over the past 12 weeks and then look at the steps in the coming weeks.

Monday will see more businesses and shops able to reopen in some form. It is a significant step but should not be confused with recovery. They will be opening, trying to carve a new way forward and find how to take the next steps. We can expect more challenges, more turbulance and more uncertainty. So how do we deal with where we are now?

Use the time now to start to develop a roadmap for the future. Communicators have a critical role in helping businesses to find a way forward, develop a new narrative for the company and reshape the brand. They can outline the next steps and use information and insight as a catalyst to drive the change. To do all this though they need to have recharged and bounced back from the 12 weeks of crisis management.

The future may be uncertain but now is the time that we can start to shape and develop what it could look like, if we just have the time.

*This week I launched my Think Through Brew offer (see the previous blog) a no cost 20 minute chat to take stock and prepare for the next phase of the crisis. Message me if you want to know more or get involved.

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