Imagine: Your company is in the early stages of a corporate crisis that is unfolding live. Your company assembles a crisis-response task force, which uses real-time information as it comes in to make quick decisions that protect business continuity. Who gets invited to the table, and why?
A recent study finds that marketing and advertising professionals appear on just 12% of crisis-response teams. Corporate communications professionals appear on just 34% of such teams. Every corporate crisis has the potential to grow into a brand-reputation crisis, and companies must bring marketing, advertising, and communications professionals into the room sooner, and more consistently. Failing to do so can result in avoidable brand errors during the earliest stages of a crisis, as companies continue to run clumsy promotional campaigns and send out upbeat messages on social media, oblivious to the crisis brewing on the other side of the building.
The study, commissioned by Dataminr and conducted in November 2020 by Forrester Consulting, asked 410 risk-and-compliance decision makers at companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue to reflect on their current risk management priorities and practices. As a marketer, I found the data around the makeup of such teams revealing. Asked to identify who participates in their organization’s crisis response teams, respondents said:
- 55% Risk and compliance
- 54% Information security
- 50% Technology
- 49% Security operations
- 48% Operations
- 43% HR/employee experience
- 40% Business continuity and disaster recovery
- 37% Finance
- 35% Legal
- 34% Corporate communications
- 23% Third-party risk/supply chain risk
- 18% Sourcing/procurement
- 15% Sales
- 12% Marketing/advertising
Communication at this stage is critical: If the crisis is happening internally, employees and partners want clear, empathetic, and authentic communication at every stage. If it’s happening externally, regulators, customers, and the general public want to understand what the company is doing to mitigate the risk. Your company’s marketing, advertising, and communications professionals need to have a seat at the crisis-response table, with access to the same information that the rest of the team is getting in real-time.
THE DANGER OF INFORMATION SILOS
During longer crises, marketing, advertising, and communications work is crucial to protecting the brand’s public image. There are numerous examples of companies that have been defined by the public’s perception of their biggest corporate crisis—with consumers still associating their brands with a costly environmental disaster, food poisoning, accounting scandal, capsized ship, or bad customer service (to name a few).
Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, information silos are generally dangerous during a crisis. It’s important to democratize access to real-time information to a wider group of internal stakeholders, especially if the crisis you’re facing has the potential to be wide-ranging and costly.
That was the case in 2017, when several Equifax executives sold more than $1 million in company stock, shortly after the company’s cybersecurity team first discovered evidence of a massive data breach. Equifax launched an internal investigation that was destined to find an unflattering conclusion—either the executives who sold stock knew about the breach and had engaged in illegal insider trading, or they had not been immediately told about one of the biggest consumer data breaches of the decade, despite their high-profile positions on the company’s C-suite.
The investigation ultimately found the latter; the executives had not been notified about the crisis and sold their stock, oblivious to the crisis brewing on the other side of the building. That information silo became a regulatory risk, and later, a brand reputation risk, as the story was widely publicized.
Do marketing, advertising and communications professionals sit on your company’s crisis response team? If not, why?
Jen Jones is the Chief Marketing Officer at Dataminr where she leads the company’s global brand, marketing, and corporate communications efforts.