Since the 80's at least, "Crisis" has become one the words most widely used by the medias. Everything seems to undergo major crises : finances, economy, political systems, ecological systems... Why should the companies be spared by this general trend ? On the contrary, they become more and more eager to protect themselves not only from risk, but also from this strange combination of unpredictable events, surprise or reluctance to admit the unexpected, spreading panic, organizational disorder, and potential damage to their image (not to mention economical and juridical consequences) that we call a "crisis".
Every organization is likely to undergo a major crisis caused either by
- natural or industrial disaster,
- internal or external events, such as political problems in a foreign country
- changes in the business or political environment
- or by an attempt upon its image.
Instead of making everything more manageable, technology often appears as a worsening factor for at least two reasons. Long term consequences of technological innovation often creates "black swans" - i.e. events previously considered as impossible or very unlikely and which have a very high impact. Besides, communication technologies make it easier for bad news to be magnified by the medias, and for negative opinions (like consumer generated contents on social networks) to turn into serious reputation crises.
On the other hand, insufficient knowledge management, poor internal communication, group-thinking, inadequate advocacy, weak relationship with the media, bad practice of influence or ineffective articulation (which can easily be compounded by bad decision-making) can transform any minor problem into a major issue.
Various disciplines known as "Public Relations Crisis Management" "Reputation Risk Management" or even "Issues Management" spread during the last decades. Some experts even consider that we are evolving from a crisis management (which implies crises and so called normal or routine periods) to a management of unpredictability.
The information processes has everything to do with anticipating, planning, responding to the crisis, preventing panic and disinformation; resolving the crises, and learning from them.
Every crisis is an information and communication process : it concerns
- what you should have known and said
- the way you make decisions and negotiate
- how you express yourself
-your relationship with the stakeholder and how the media (including numerical ones) will reflect it.
We will concentrate on general principles, mental preparedness and learning par practice, including trial and error.
The purpose is not only to enable the students to become eloquent and smiling spokespersons: it is to train the studnts
- To assess the factors which might lead to a crisis, imagining ‘worst case scenarios’, and to detect preventive signals
-To plan the company’s response taking into account the time, human and knowledge factors, (crises always spread when one cannot anticipate what will happen and where to go)To avoid spreading negative information and keeping the pertinent data circulating inside the company To deal with the media and public opinion, knowing what to say or to write and when, and incidentally by which channel and to whom. To manage the reaction of their organization to facilitate a return to normal-
And above all to simulate different scenarios in IACGWIWGW situations (If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will Go Wrong) where the right answer might be the KISS principle (Keep It Simple and Stupid) : no theoretical knowledge can replace the actual experience of having to express oneself on a controversial issue in a stressful situation with reduced information. With a ferocious teacher...
METHODOLOGY AND SESSIONS SUMMARY
After devoting a part of the course to theoretical notions (information, communication, crisis, risk, corporate reputation, influence, and typology of crises...), we shall analyze a certain number of historical crises, placing the emphasis on communication, and assessing the factors which contributed to the spreading, worsening or resolution of the crisis.
A large part will be devoted to crisis anticipation, and to the methodology of monitoring on the Internet.
Students will be trained to detect ‘weak signals’ (including signals of opinion changes) in a deliberate information overload situation and to analyze and imagine scenarios.
Assessing organizational and human factors and the management of information (crisis cell, crisis management plan...) will also be underlined (taking into account uncertainty due to ignorance and indecision generated by the reaction of media and public opinion).
Students will be acquainted with the mechanisms of media dissemination of news and opinion and with the role of organizations specializing in influence (like NGO’s).
The ‘Web 2.0’ factor (as part of the crisis itself) will be emphasized, i.e. the changes brought about by new Internet technologies which allow almost any social group to ‘become the media’, and which undermines the power of the mainstream media, and multiplies perspectives on the crisis.
Participants will take part in realistic media training exercises and learn how to express themselves, in speech and in writing, using the four main TV channels and also on the Internet.
Discovering the ‘Do, Don’t Do lists’, that is: major mistakes to avoid, such as group-thinking and reality denial, are also part of the process.
Most important: several crisis simulation exercises (who said psychodrama)? Including evolving role-playing situations. As there is no substitute for experience, no-one can profess to have mastered crisis communication without knowing how he might react individually and as a group member in an actual, realistic and sometimes stressful situation.
Role-playing and realistic scenarios will therefore be important tool (it might even be fun).
During the second week, students will have to deal with a different kind of role-playing. Working on the Internet with the teacher/animator on-line, they will have to react to an evolving crisis situation: every day, sometimes every hour, they will have to cope with new events or new requests, determined by the Web. Like for previous seminar, we will create a web site devoted to your class on word press.com, zoho.com or some similar system.
In a way similar to some on-line games, every participant will be challenged by unexpected situations. Every reaction will produce consequences, new events and new requests, and therefore every student’s virtual universe will differ according to his chosen policy.
During the first period, the students will be evaluated by groups and notes will be collective, a marginal bonus being granted to those who have revealed themselves to be particularly participative, creative and adaptive. As for the second week, every student will work individually and therefore will be assessed on the basis of the daily output of messages, reports, articles, speeches, blogs, on line videos, wikis, web site content or whatever they judge to be the satisfactory answer to the crisis’ latest developments.
Taking into account that some students might be returning to their companies a sufficient delay will be granted to allow them to answer after working hours.
François-Bernard Huyghe is a "Docteur d’État" in Political Sciences, (PhD) and holds a French "Habilitation à diriger des recherches" (which entitles to direct PHD research) in Information and Communication Sciences. He is a consultant and fellow senior researcher at IRIS (Institut de Recherches Internationales et Stratégiques, a major French think tank). He teaches in several Universities (including on the virtual campus of Limoges devoted to e-learning and Celsa Paris IV- Sorbonne). He wrote books dealing with information technologies and their cultural impact (including terrorism, which is also an "influence strategy") and is a scientific member of the Conseil Supérieur de la Formation et de la Recherche Stratégique, which covers the field of strategic research in France.
His web site (http ://huyghe.fr) reflects his research in the field of communication and conflict, influence and corporate intelligence. And those of you who are french-speaking will find here abundant resources on theme of crisis.