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Crisis Preparedness in an Always-On Digital World


Pharmaceutical Executive

The first 120 minutes of a crisis can determine the public’s perception of an organization. And in today’s digital world, companies are more at risk than ever to viral attacks from unexpected sources.

The first 120 minutes of a crisis can determine the public’s perception of an organization. And in today’s digital world, companies are more at risk than ever to viral attacks from unexpected sources.

For the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, where adverse events, pricing issues, supply disruptions or quality concerns can lead quickly to an online attack, being prepared to respond and shape the conversation around your brand and company is critical. Research indicates that 63% of an organization’s market value is attributed to reputation, and protecting that reputation is no longer limited to shaping the traditional media environment.

Thanks to social media, bad news travels fast – a crisis can manifest itself and go viral in a matter of minutes. The days of crises being driven by one or two traditional news cycles are gone – social channels can perpetuate crises, come in multiple waves, and last online for significant periods of time. More important, online crisis preparedness is now paramount to protecting a company’s reputation and its ability to compete in the marketplace.

Being prepared enables identification of internal and external challenges before any of these issues actually becomes a crisis and if one does break through, to move forward at a pace which mirrors that of the crisis itself.   This means creating a social media issues management structure that is supported by your unique brand style and leadership priorities, as well as a credible message perspective that allows a company or organization to speak with one voice.

Recently interviewed, chief executives of major international companies agreed that:  “Leaders will be judged not on the nature of the crisis but their response to it.”  The formula for effective crisis communications, they found, should include: “Rapid response, concern for those impacted, accepting responsibility and taking action.”

Even more significant, in a recent industry-wide study, two Oxford University researchers demonstrated the extent to which effective and ineffective response affects a company’s enterprise value:  Companies that mishandled a crisis saw their stock price go down an average of 10 percent in the first weeks and continue to slide for a year.  On the other hand, companies with effective crisis response saw their stock fall about half that, recover quickly and remain above their pre-price thereafter.

Which leads us to the question-how do you effectively prepare for social crises? As pharmaceutical companies continue to experiment in the social sphere, teams of digital communicators have taken control of the channels and strategy. But as the reach of social media continues to blur the lines between traditional and digital communications, companies must unite the two disciplines to develop crisis preparedness plans that stretch across the entire organization, with a clear understanding of the social landscape.

Traditional communications practitioners, legal and regulatory teams and even senior level executives with limited insights into the inner workings of the digital world must learn to be comfortable in the space. The onus is on the communications teams to help the entire organization understand a new landscape, the unique intricacies of communications in the social sphere, and the different approaches required to manage a social crisis, rather than wait for an attack to happen.

When managing a social crisis, the old saying “experience is the best teacher” applies. Here at Weber Shandwick, we have developed “FireBell,” an innovative Social Crisis Simulator (SCS) which mimics the experience of being under attack on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels in real time.  Looking beyond the traditional methods of crisis preparation and response, a FireBell simulation provides a unique social media crisis training experience for real-life teams in a secure off-the-Internet environment, enabling them to forge a process, team and behavior for any crisis in a real-crisis situation.

A simulation experience, such as FireBell, provides executives the adrenaline-pumping experience of a somersault with all safety nets.  It is the perception of indifference that often becomes the single largest contributor to any negative impact in the aftermath of a crisis.

Experts agree that whether a company survives a crisis with its reputation, operations and financial condition intact is determined less by the severity of the crisis itself than by the timeliness and quality of its response.

Laura Schoen is President Global Healthcare, Weber Shandwick and Stacey Bernstein is SVP, Director of US Digital Health, Weber Shandwick


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