SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CRISIS AND RISK
EDELMAN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
The maxim among communicators has long been that when it comesto crisis, it’s not a matter of if but when. Successive societal shocks – the global COVID-19 pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, our national reckoning on racial justice, and Southern California’s regional challenges around homelessness and housing– have fundamentally shifted that paradigm. Crises no longer represent an occasional challenge in the lives of corporations, brands, and their leaders– today, those leaders must navigate a world in continuous crisis. That’s driven profound changes in how the c-suite, particularly CEOs, understand crisis events and manage an evolving communications landscape with digital trends radically altering every stage of the crisis and recovery cycle.
To understand these trends more deeply, Edelman commissioned the first-ever Connected Crisis Study to learn how leaders and companies are adapting to these shifts. And while business leaders have become much more conversant in the fundamentals of crisis response, there is much more to do to prepare for, address, and mitigate the reputation risk posed by the new crisis cadence.
What we learned:
Crisis is the new normal. 88% of executives surveyed have handled at least one significant crisis with business impact in the last three years. These crises are increasingly multifaceted and diverse, with executives recognizing they’ve faced an average of four crises over the past three years, ranging from digital challenges to supply chain disruption, environmental issues, and beyond.
The nature of crisis has changed. The range of issues business leaders and communicators face goes far beyond product. New challenges driven by technology, activism, and social movements are emerging. Reputational crises are increasingly related to major cultural moments and triggered by increased societal expectations of brands. Most executives say their company is likely to encounter activism from consumers, employees, and shareholders.
Crisis has gone digital. Reputational and operational challenges are generated and driven by the digital-first landscape, where algorithms designed to foster community push emotional and increasingly polarized narratives. That means there are new dynamics for traditional crisis events and new categories of digital-first crises, which have created unique imperatives for response that are straining systems and stressing teams. Three in four executives say this landscape is making crises more challenging for teams as they respond to the need to integrate digital channels into crisis response.
Corporations must adjust to these new challenges and implement innovative practices, team structures, and ways of working to address the new realities of connected crisis:
First, corporations must double down on traditional preparatory exercises – playbook and protocol development, training, and simulations will help ensure teams are prepared to address inevitable threats and mitigate reputational impact. Companies must also incorporate new rigor into planning and preparedness for product launches, brand campaigns, and strategic announcements.
Second, corporations must test and build new capabilities to better understand new stakeholder expectations for response to societal issues. Edelman’s ongoing research into what builds trust revealed new expectations from consumers, employees, and shareholders to speak out on social issues. A majority of respondents in the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reported making purchasing, employment, and investment decisions based on their values and beliefs. Corporate responses to issues ranging from racial justice and ESG to the war in Ukraine have highlighted this expectation.
Third, corporations must go deeper to better understand the landscape of reputational threats posted by dis- and misinformation online. From “fake news” to online conspiracy theories driven by bad actors, we live in a global “infodemic” that exposes corporations and markets to new risks. New tools allow us to uncover threats and address disinformation before it spreads, but it’s up to every organization to ensure their own channels – internal and external – share reliable, trustworthy information.
We cannot change the fundamental operating realities of the new crisis normal. But we can, and must, be clear-eyed about these changes, take advantage of new tools, and dedicate increased resources to enhance readiness and resiliency.
Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations.
Learn more at Edelman.com.