At PM, we often organize trainings or Masterclasses, during which we talk about the latest developments in our field. During day 1 of our most recent Masterclass on crisis communications, Managing Partner Stijn Pieters elaborated on strategy. Challenging the participants to think further on the concept of strategy, he introduced a small yet telling exercise.
If you’re a crisis communications super hero, strategy has most likely always been your kryptonite. It’s a term that lots of professionals tend to gush with without completely understanding what it means. They’re not to blame: there are hundreds of definitions for strategy out there, each more complex and abstract than the other.
We wanted to change that during the Masterclass. Introducing the concept of strategy, Stijn talked about the challenges for consultants or communications staff tasked with strategy building in times of crisis. These were his three main conclusions:
- Executive teams are not interested in one domain. They don’t care about isolated communications strategies. Instead, they value a highly integrated approach including mobility, reputation, finances, and human resources. They see communications as a domain that is inseparable from all other ones. In other words, as a consultant or communications strategist, you should be able to add value to discussions about all topics. This will prove your expertise, making it easier for you to integrate crisis communications strategies in policy.
- What you’re planning to do is important, but it’s not always as important as what you’ve already done. Policy makers are not waiting for someone to say “yeah, we’re thinking of maybe eventually sending out a tweet about this or that at some point”. When facing pressure, they want someone who says “we did our research, we have our data and analysis, we have already put out a short message on our social channels and are now further assessing our next actions”. If you’re the kind of advisor that can talk about all domains, you have earned the credibility to initiate and execute the first phase of your communications strategy.
- Each advisor has his or her own style and values. Even at PM, all four of us crisis advisors have different styles. The way you are as a person plays a key role in how you, as an advisor, will develop crisis communications strategies. Keep in mind: no two people are the same and there is no correct set of values. However, you should be aware of who you are and who you aspire to be.
Stijn therefore asked one simple question to get participants thinking: “Looking at a map of the world, you see all countries. We all have a certain perception about their own history, values and tendencies. We perceive the US differently than Australia and Japan may be different to you than, say, Sweden. These are often caricatures we all perceive differently. If you had to choose the country that resembles your set of values the most, which country would it be?”
Would you be Canada? (e.g. a friendly advisor with a huge impact on the bigger picture but reluctant to take extreme positions and impose drastic measures?) Would you be the US? (e.g. a stout-hearted advisor that does not hesitate to do whatever it takes to address the situation at hand, mainly focussing on internal affairs?) Or perhaps you’re more like Japan? (e.g. a proud advisor that tends to focus on the good instead of the bad, afraid of losing face with his or her internal and external stakeholders?)
As your own style and values are determinative for strategies that you’re going to put out during crisis situations, I’d like to challenge you to think about this for a second. Take a closer look at a map and let us know what country you identify yourself with. We’re curious to see what you come up with!