New management software puts structure into crisis communication
Any communicator who’s ever been in a „war room“ during a major crisis knows this situation: phones ringing, emails hitting by the minute, streams of media coverage and journalist inquiries, the Facebook account flowing over with posts, politicians interfering… the comms team left to deal with this enormous amount of information, evaluate each item, decide upon specific actions and execute on those decisions. Pressure of time and resources doesn’t make the situation any easier.
Suprisingly, more often that not are those situations still handled in almost „manual mode“ – using post-it-notes, email and excel sheets to align, delegate and keep track of what is happening. The related risk of loss of information, duplication of activities and lack of overall control is huge – even more so when more than one location is involved in handling the scenario.
A new software, now, could add clarity, structure, speed and reliability to media and stakeholder relations. Crisis Control Suite is designed to help organize information, set priorities, define responsibilities and create step-by-step information flows.
The product consolidates inputs and inquiries from different sources and provides a structured process for prioritizing each item, deciding on actions to take, and following up on the implementation of those actions. This process allows for swift, structured responses, avoiding loss of information and providing the management in charge with a complete overview of activities at any given time. Crisis Control Suite provides mobile access through smart phones or tablet computers and is perfectly suited for managing teams cooperating from different locations.
The structure provided by the software leads to clear roles and assignments within the crisis communication team as well: the role of analyst, assessing and prioritizing the incoming items; the role of decision-maker, defining and assigning tasks; and the role of implementer, carrying out the assigned tasks and reporting back. Of course, each role and specifically those of analyst and implementer may be – and, in most cases, will be – covered by more than one person.
Here’s a detailed description of the functionalities.
1. Consolidation of inputs from different sources
Crisis Control Suite consolidates input from all sources defined as relevant in a consistent structure. Wherever possible, data are collected automatically via RSS feeds – for example, from professional media monitoring platforms, free monitoring tools such as Google alerts, or posts on social media platforms. Emails from defined accounts can be automatically included as well. Individual interfaces will be configured based on the client’s requirements.
Where automated sourcing is not possible, for example for phone inquiries by journalists or calls to a customer hotline, the information is typed into the system via an interface. This ensures all items are stored in a consistent format and fully searchable.
The outcome of this module is a complete, structured flow of all external information that the communications team may possibly have to respond to – from content already published to inquiries from different stakeholders. This flow builds the basis for the attached process of dealing with the content.
2. Analysis and assessment of items
In a second step, an analyst assesses the incoming items – media coverage, blog entries, inquiries etc. – alongside three criteria: “influence”, “tonality”, and “urgency” on a scale from one to five, with one being the lowest and five being the highest ranking. The combined average score reflects the overall priority for that item in any further handling.
- Criterion “influence“: The analyst assesses the importance of the source of a piece of information (e.g. a certain media outlet) or an inquiry (e.g. a certain journalist or politician) to the organization at a given point in time. Relative importance of the very same media outlet, for example, may vary for different enterprises or even for the same enterprise in different phases of a crisis.
- Criterion “tonality“: The analyst rates how negative or positive an article, a posting or the person behind an inquiry is towards the company. The more critical, the higher the ranking.
- Criterion “urgency“: This assessment is about how quickly a response needs to happen – driven, for example, by copy deadlines or a contact person’s availability.
In combination, those three criteria provide a sustainable assessment of what priority a certain piece of information must be treated with.
An example: An inquiry by an editor of Newsweek on a Monday morning will most likely get a high rating in terms of influence and, presumably, also with regards to a critical attitude. Urgency, however, might not be rated that high since the magazine will only be publishe
d the Monday after – while the local newspaper calling in might be seen as just as influential, less negative but more urgent as there’s only a few hours to go until copy deadline.
3. Decision-making and delegation of tasks
Once rated by the analyst, items move on into the decision-maker’s dashboard where they can be deliberately sorted, for instance, by priority, type of source, or date. The decision-maker now makes
the call on how to react to a specific item and, via an electronic interface, delegates that task to one of the implementers, with a brief description and a deadline.
As soon as the task has been created, the item – in the decision-maker’s dashboard – moves from the “tasks to assign“ view into the “tasks assigned“ view, with a traffic light symbol popping up to help track progress easily. Should a task still be open with the deadline approaching, an additional alert symbol will pop up allowing the decision-maker to double-check with the implementer in charge.
The decision-maker has the option to assign tasks to himself (if, for example, he’s got a close personal relationship with a person behind an inquiry).
The combination of prioritized items and the tracking of assigned tasks provides the decision-maker with a complete overview of the current situation at any time.
4. Handling of tasks and reporting
The implementer screen displays the tasks assigned by the decision-maker. Once the implementer recognizes a task by clicking the “accept“ button, the related traffic light in the decision-maker’s dashboard switches from red to yellow, indicating “task in process”. The implementer now performs the operative work needed for completing the task – making phone calls, distributing materials, writing posts, arranging interviews or whatever. Background support is given by a database that is constantly updated with the latest versions of materials like press releases, statements, Q&A, graphs and videos to avoid the release of outdated information.
The implementer confirms the completion of a task with another mouse click, triggering a mandatory short commentary on what exactly has been done. Once the commentary is locked, this task’s traffic light in the decision-maker dashboard turns from yellow to green and the item is completely dealt with.
Instead of assigning a task to an individual team member, the decision-maker can also delegate it to a group of people, for instance, a team of specialists in a specific topic. In this case, the assigned task will show up in all of those team members’ screens until one of them clicks to accept it and subsequently deals with it.
5. Documentation – for analysis and compliance requirements
Once a crisis has been closed, the system is able to generate a complete documentation of all activities for detailed analysis, or with respect to compliance issues.