“Ok, let me explain how things work. There’s no such thing as the ‘lunchtime news’ any more…what it is now, ok, is basically one long avalanche of s#@! happening in real time…with 24-hour live shovelling.”

A comedic but recognisable assessment on the nature of 24-hour news from Neil Reid (David Westhead), the best character in the BBC’s BBC satire W1A.

Given the character is Controller of News and Current Affairs (and he’s the only one whose every utterance doesn’t sound like it was first spawned at a corporate away day) we can take that as a fair assessment.

The scene that gave rise to his outburst of sanity concerned the hapless (fictional!) BBC management team trying to head off yet another crisis. It’s a crisis sparked by misunderstanding and some dubious technology. But hey, crises in comedy and real life can strike from any angle.

Communications in a crisis

Once again the team were thrust into a frustrating round of the blame game. They were faced with a seemingly endless meeting stretched out to try to find a way to mitigate the problem. With the clock ticking and the avalanche picking up downhill speed they were lost in a fog, directionless and with no rescue kit to hand.

This satire may yet have rung true in more than a few boardrooms throughout the country.

The fact is many companies and organisations are woefully under-prepared when it comes to handling crisis communications, even when the risk can be identified.

Be prepared: Don’t get caught on the slopes by a crisis communications avalanche

It will be time well spent to thoroughly plan how your organisation will react in the face of an incident that threatens severe reputational damage.

Many companies will annually update their continuous operation plans or disaster recovery options. Does the same apply to communicating with employees, customers, stakeholders and the public when something goes wrong? It’s an area that can have just as far-reaching consequences as the physical impact of a major fire or industrial dispute.

Social media and crisis communications

If a customer has a bad experience with you, it may be no worse than you’ve lost their business. But they might tell their family, friends and colleagues. Who might tell theirs. Who then post about it on social media. It might be worthy of investigation by the local media. Which alerts the national media. Which brings interest from a regulator or associated body. Now do you want to handle crisis communications head on and stop it avalanching?

You may be prepared to roll with the bouquets and barbs of online reviews. But what if some damaging misinformation ends up gaining online traction. You ignored it at first. But when the message gets picked up by trolls and is in danger of taking on a life of its own, do you take action then and, if so, what should that action be?

Without understanding your risks and thoroughly planning how you would handle, you may end up like poor Neil, punch drunk and lurching from one near disaster to the next.

Helliwell Media are always available to offer advice on crisis communications…if you want to talk, just fill in the contact form or email david@helliwellmedia.com.