Producing a risk assessment report and PR

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“A God-almighty gasp followed by a reverberation of unbelieveableness swept through the thousands…….


……gathered to witness the execution in 1649, and reverberated throughout the land.”

Have you got over the Brexit vote yet?

It seems a frightening analogy but I think John Bird, writing in The Big Issue was right when he said:

“Other than the above, I cannot think of a moment in history that equalled the feeling of Friday, June 24th when the UK woke up being out of Europe.”

He explains that going to war is a different set of circumstances;  the Brexit vote and executing the king, James 1st, are both acts that stunned the nation.

John also observes that the monarchy was restored not that long afterwards and Cromwell dug up from his grave for his body to be hung, drawn and quartered…

So, I know this will seem like dreadful bathos, but I’d like to pose two questions:

  • Who has emerged well from the whole Brexit debacle?
  • What lessons can other organisations learn from it?

Clear and calm response

In my opinion, the person whose calm delivery and clear presentation meant he emerged extremely well in the immediate turmoil of the Brexit vote was Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England.

Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of EnglandHe seemed calm and in control, working from a plan which had obviously been laid out in advance.

Of course he has a pretty important job, so he ought to have been prepared…

But you could say the same of the leaders of our government, of all sides, they all have (or had) very important jobs and I got the impression that none of them, apart from Mark Carney and the Bank of England, had made any long term preparations for both potential outcomes of the vote.

So what are the lessons to be learnt?

  • Being prepared is vital
  • Have a risk register in place

Every organisation should have a risk register in place.  It can be divided into any number of headings, to reflect the individual nature of your business, but a few common categories might be:

Risk analysis headings

  • A description of the risk
  • The impact of the risk
  • The likelihood of that risk happening
  • Mitigating it from happening (who + how)
  • Dealing with it if it does happen (who + how)

Identifying risks

Identifying the risk (“description of the risk”) is very individual to your organisation.  A manufacturing plant and a university, both types of organisations Twelve works for, have very different risks but some common ground too – every organisation has staff for example….Risks should be grouped by type or source, and be clearly, succinctly defined.

In every case, the process of completing a risk analysis must include considering the worst that can happen from an accident, to a product recall, even those “black swan” events that come from nowhere. A look at the news just this week provides a few awful examples –  part of a building collapses causing fatalities at a place of work; a shooting takes place; a train crashes…

Horizon scanning for external events should be part of this. For many organisations the EU Referendum should have been listed as a risk, with the specific potential impact that it might have on the organisation identified, along with a course of action to begin dealing with it.

The role of PR

This is where PR should be involved.  Much of managing a crisis and how well you or your organisation will come out of it depends on how you communicate immediately during and after any crisis.

Recent events give us many examples of this, from the extreme such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which created headlines such as “Chief executive Tony Hayward’s comments have done little to aid attempts at damage limitation” to the more domestic Talk Talk database hacking scandal  discussed in an earlier blog post.

The most important moment is the ‘golden hour’ immediately after an incident has happened, or immediately after the media have got wind of the incident, which is exactly when, without a plan, you could be caught on the hop.

The “golden hour”

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do you have an agreed “triage” process for deciding who should be involved and notified internally?
  • Do you know who would be your spokesperson immediately following an incident?
  • Have you prepared your spokesperson to deal with the media, and is there a team who will cover all the different aspects of it, such as someone to tackle a potential “digital wildfire?”

This sort of information should be included on your risk analysis under the heading “dealing with it if it does happen.”

Creating an opportunity

In the best case scenario, you can turn a ‘crisis’ into an opportunity.  Here is a very recent example.  Foreign workers form a vital part of your workforce.  They are worried about Brexit and think their jobs are at risk.  You communicate to them all, explaining the position of the business and your plans for the future in light of the vote, and reassure foreign staff that their jobs are secure.

With some slight re-engineering this same communication becomes a press statement to distribute to your trade titles. Because it is timely and interesting, the statement secures a feature in your key trade publication.

The article demonstrates how you have planned for any change and taken steps to ensure a confident future for your business and its staff and customers; its adds to your businesses reputation and ultimately helps to secure some new business…


Don’t wait until an incident happens to discover how your organisation will react.  With experience and imagination, you can envisage most potential risk scenarios. Be prepared and complete a risk analysis.

And if you feel your neck could be on the line when it comes to handling a crisis, and you would like some professional help in populating a risk analysis or preparing your PR plans, please get in touch.  01608 495012


What can PR do for my business?

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or… the Independent to cease publication in print. 

The last print edition of the Independent newspaper will probably be published on March 26th.  What has this got to do with PR and what it can do for your business?

I was working at the Guardian when the Independent was launched.  How we worried about this newcomer and the threat it would pose to our sales. None of us knew there was an iceberg forming in the water ahead of us which would hit the bottom line of every single newspaper, the internet.

Explosion of media channels

While the print edition of the Independent has been sunk, the number of media channels has exploded, and the need to employ a PR agency to manage reputations or meet targets has increased.

News comes from hundreds of different places now, with competition just as intense online as it was in print, as this quote about the Independent’s situation shows:

“The online version faces almost as tough a task in competing with the excellent online offerings of other established news organisations,” said Charlie Beckett, director of the London School of Economics’s Polis journalism think-tank.

“As well as the new digital kids on the block such as BuzzFeed and Politico, the international news brands such as the New York Times are edging into the UK market.”

More skills required

With this proliferation of media channels, it is becoming much harder for any one person to have the skills required to manage communication effectively.

Businesses need to monitor and manage their profile across a much wider range of channels, or work much harder to identify the ones which really make a difference, if they are to change behaviour in their favour.

It requires a team, focused on different tasks, across different channels, repeating activities and learning from them day after day to keep ahead of change and help products or brands be heard through the noise.

One good piece of coverage in a national newspaper can still transform a business – for good or bad – but what is also different now from a communications point of view, is the long tail of the internet and the volatility of opinion.

Good management and preparedness

The volatility of opinion is a particularly new phenomenon which needs careful management and preparedness. A corporate error or mistake can be magnified a thousand times over if it takes off on social media, and a ‘mistake’ can take so many forms now.

At the extreme end it can be a true disaster such as an industrial accident, but it could also be ‘doing nothing’ when challenged with a question on twitter from a member of the public, which is picked up as a sign of indifference or arrogance, which then gains momentum online…

It might be a well-intentioned response to an email which is then publicised on a blog post which is shared a thousand times online until the mainstream media picks up on it and it becomes a crisis you have to deal with.

Proactive communication and marketing

This is just the reactive side of the communications business.  What about proactive marketing and campaigning? Last year, ad blocking grew by 82% in the UK, and by June 2015, 12 million internet users were actively blocking ads.  This makes the need for editorial profile more important than ever, and is where a PR agency can really help, both to create the content and also ensure it can be seen in the right places.

A good PR agency will be able to integrate your communications and help you manage it effectively across the many different channels now available.  Here are some questions you can ask to find out what a PR agency can do for you:

  • Will I have a team working on my account which includes a variety of ages, to give me experience across many channels rather than just one? A very young team for example may cover social media channels brilliantly, but can they also handle broadcast or board level communication?
  • Do they have all the skills I need in-house, for example SEO, video production, content writing, Google goal-setting and analysis, and well as brochure writing? If many or all of these are outsourced, you could be paying twice for a service. Don’t be afraid to ask who is doing what and ask for examples.
  • Can they integrate different marketing channels? For example, can your PR agency deliver and measure the results of an email campaign, which will dovetail with your new product launch and exhibition activity? Can they help you survey customers and harness their opinions?

Integration and relationship building

The one thing that doesn’t seem to change in the communication world is the importance of a good relationship.

A PR agency should help you achieve your business objectives, and should give you the tools to measure how well they are doing this.  Because they work as a team across all media channels they should be a well-spring of ideas for you, able to anticipate your needs and offer creative solutions and ideas.

The better they know you and your business the more they should be able to help, and the more you know about how they work, the greater return on investment you should see from them.



Talking about Talk Talk – reputation management

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It’s every CEO’s nightmare, the data hacking scandal which has hit Talk Talk. The company has lost around £360m in value since it revealed details of the attack last Thursday.

How would you cope if a crisis suddenly hit your business?  Problems can explode out of nowhere; Talk Talk and VW are just two very high profile recent examples. We’re talking about reputation and crisis management.

The key question to ask yourself

So this is the question – when did you last scan the horizon and prepare a crisis strategy for your organisation?   What could come out and hit your business?  A fire; a freak accident; staff misconduct; fraud; data breaches etc.

It seems awful to imagine a catalogue of horrors but sadly this is what you must do to make sure you can protect the reputation and future of your organisation.

Because it is how you are seen to behave and what you say immediately following a crisis which affects your reputation, just as much as the efficiency of your actual operational procedures and approaches.

Insurers refer to “the golden hour” immediately following a crisis.  You need to be able shine during the golden hour, and in the following days or weeks which you spend in the spot light, not emerge with your reputation utterly tarnished.  Enough of the puns, this is not a laughing matter.

How can you prepare?

What steps can you take?  The three key words to bear in mind for reputation management are preparation, preparation, preparation.

Last week I reviewed a book for B2B Magazine called “The Reputation Playbook” written by Jennifer Janson.  It’s an excellent book, highly readable, very practical.  Reading this book will definitely help you be better prepared.

Talk Talk has proved the accuracy not least of Janson’s definition “reputational risk is a measure of how a company’s reputation can be irreparably damaged by a single action or decision by almost anyone in the business, or anyone outside the business.”

Digital wildfire

The book spends quite some time highlighting the role of social media, because as she so succinctly puts it, you could face a “digital wildfire” thanks to Twitter etc. literally within moments of bad news breaking.

Forming a committee to plan and prepare is the essential first step.  What does the committee do in its first meeting?  Janson provides a robust plan for a reputation management steering committee in its first meeting :

Agenda or six steps to follow  

1. Process and behaviour

Examples from attendees of process and behaviour within the business already supporting (or detracting from) reputation.

2. Reputational risk

Each attendee to highlight the single biggest issue within their own area that, if spread publically, could damage the company’s reputation.

3. Social media

Ask if all (or any) are using social media, or even monitoring social media as far as is relevant for their role.

4. Insight

Share a breakdown of what is being said and the perception that exists online

5. Brainstorm

What are the behaviours and processes that best support our values and how do we use social media to amplify these.?

6. Actions and accountability

What actions will result and who is accountable for them?

You can see how this first meeting will begin a process you can follow.  If you would like help to guide you through this process or to tackle more immediate reputation management challenges, please get in touch:

We provide support and advice for a wide range of organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sector.  You will be assured of our confidential, impartial communications advice, directed by Graham Smith.