Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MWWPR, one of the largest independent public relations firms in the nation.
Since 2017, my firm has advocated for a change in how we view and manage communications. Yesterday’s silos no longer exist. Today, the lines between consumer, business marketing communications, issues management and brand purpose are gone. All consumers are now “CorpSumersTM,” who base decisions on purpose and relevance, advocating with passion or criticizing with equal fervor.
Up until now, impacting the CorpSumer has been all about the “3 Cs”: consumer, corporate and creative. But if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that it’s time to add a fourth “C” – crisis management. Crisis communications used to be its own entity, because companies used to experience crises as infrequent and isolated events. Even just a few years ago, you would likely hire a crisis management firm as needed to help you plan, but primarily to help you fix the mess as quickly as possible and move on with daily operations.
Today, however, issues such as Covid-19, social justice reform, elections and cancel culture have created an “always-on” cultural tension, wherein any misstep could put your company in the crosshairs. We no longer live in seperate states of crisis versus no crisis. In fact, we’re in a constant state of crisis.
In the new era of stakeholder capitalism, corporate success requires a new balance and convergence of marketing communications. To quote Colin Mayer from his book Prosperity, “Forty years ago, 80% of the market value of U.S. corporations was attributable to tangible assets – plant, machinery, and buildings – as against intangibles – licenses, patents, and research and development. Today, intangibles account for 85% of the market value of U.S. corporations.”
It is no coincidence that these intangibles are the same factors that matter most in attracting and retaining employees, creating lasting and deep customer relationships and generating trust from your shareholders. In order to survive and prosper when one tweet, one employee, one mobile phone video or one poorly communicated policy can make or break your business, we need to embrace the concept of the “rolling crisis.”
Leaders cannot avoid this spotlight either when stakeholders are increasingly demanding CEO engagement. Everything you say as a leader and a company – internally or externally – to your employees, stakeholders, shareholders and customers is a crisis waiting to happen. We’ve reached a point where walking this delicate line means that crisis communications must be a service integrated within all of your marketing and communications.
The CorpSumer is the consumer of the future.
We live in a polarized society where there is little common ground. And this isn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, one could argue that it’s only going to intensify. Today’s consumers are so passionate about their values and beliefs that they’re increasingly loyal to and publicly supportive of brands that align with their values – and increasingly likely to advocate against and abandon brands that don’t.
Today’s stakeholders no longer live in either the consumer, corporate or business-to-business world; they live in all of them. CorpSumers are activists and loyalists who demand that brands take a stand on social issues and drive social progress where consumers feel their government has failed or where business can and arguably should drive social agendas. Because most people are now CorpSumers, ready to support or attack businesses with equal passion, companies need to view everything they do through the lens of the crisis communicator, and this approach must be integrated into all planning and execution.
One tweet can change everything.
Crisis communications used to be about how you respond to a crisis in your first 24 hours. Then it became about how you respond in your first few hours. Now, crisis management needs to happen at the speed of social media. And that means an experienced mitigator should have a permanent seat at your company’s table so that crises are anticipated in advance. Because, by the time you hire someone to handle a crisis that’s already underway, you may have already lost the conversation.
Prevention is the best medicine.
In the age of the rolling crisis, many brands experience manageable periods between heightened spikes. But those manageable periods are getting shorter. Like heartbeats on an EKG graph, the inevitable ebb and flow from one spike to another is your company’s lifeline. With integrated crisis communications, brands are not only perpetually prepared to handle crises when they happen; they can better prevent them from happening in the first place.
The number one function of integrated crisis expertise is to make sure you don’t have a crisis, and that, if you do, you’re prepared for it. Integrated crisis experts can immediately step in to mitigate by making sure the appropriate facts are communicated in the appropriate fashion through the appropriate channel distribution.
Risk mitigation shouldn’t mean the death of creativity. In fact, if you have it integrated into all of your marketing – and if your communications and public relations experts truly incorporate crisis expertise – great ideas can happen and risk might even be encouraged. Whether you are hiring a public relations firm or expanding your in-house team, make sure you have experts in the “4 Cs”: corporate, consumer, creative and crisis. If you handle crises well, with agile, purpose-based, integrated communications, then crises can reinforce your company’s positive values and management team.