A discussion with Esme Arendse, CEO of Aprio Credence, the group’s issues management and crisis communications division
1. How have companies been dealing with crisis management and crisis preparation during COVID-19?
Many companies were left reeling when Lockdown Level 5 was announced. On the other hand, we would argue that some handled and responded to the pandemic very well. It is clear to us at Aprio Credence that the difference lies in a company’s preparation– having the training, tools, policies and people in place to manage and lead through a crisis.
These are the companies that have invested time and resources in understanding the nature of crisis leadership, have trained people and have policies and infrastructure in place to be able to deal with a crisis .
2. Could companies have been better prepared?
Very few companies actually have a pandemic listed on their risk registers, even though some have business continuity plans in place for a natural disaster like an earthquake or flood or sustained electricity outages. However, very few were prepared for a complete shutdown and loss of revenue over an extended period and had to re-invent their logistics infrastructure – from servicing clients to basic communications with staff.
There are companies that can handle crisis communications intuitively, using their in-house teams and generalist PR agencies and we saw this happening in the initial phases. But it takes a crisis of this magnitude for some companies to acknowledge that certain situations require specialist attention – in the same way that you can’t expect a general practitioner to cure a problem that requires brain surgery.
Importantly, other crises did not disappear when the pandemic came, which left some companies having to deal with those issues as well as the reality of staff and client infections and fatalities and a loss of revenue due to the shutdown.
Companies need specialist skills and support when it comes to crisis communications. Our approach at Aprio Credence is called ARMOUR and consists of six pillars of crisis preparation and reputation resilience:
- Vulnerability and reputation threat assessment
- Preparedness audit: policies and protocols
- Master class training and skills development
- Battle ground stress-testing and crisis simulation
- Close the gap: collateral, systems and early warning capabilities. For example, the development of a series of communication playbooks to deal with all top tier risks.
- Crisis support and counsel – to complement existing resources
- Tell us about the crisis simulations that Aprio Credence conducts?
In a crisis simulation we work with client teams to stress-test their reputation risk management decision-making and capabilities using various scenarios. These could include anything from a cyber-attack, executive/employee misconduct, COVID-19 related staff and customer issues, governance irregularities, a racism or sexual harassment issue right through to dealing with fatalities and suicide in the workplace.
We make the simulation as realistic as possible and the process often leads to refinements and ‘tweaks’ to policies, protocols and processes, as these are stress-tested for their practicality and effectiveness in the ‘real world’ operating environment.
We precede this with an empowering and thought-provoking learning session where among other topics we explore the global reputation risk landscape and conduct a reputation risk diagnostic for the company. The session, which can now also be conducted virtually, equips the client with practical tools and insights that will enhance their ability to lead the organisation through the different types of reputation risk they could encounter in their respective industries.