Crisis management: measuring the attributes of success… and failure

How can success be measured after a reputational crisis? Is there any valid metric to measure organisational change? I asked those questions to one of the panelists during a presentation about crisis response at Cision’s CommsCon last month. The answer I got to those questions? “It is little bit tricky”.

Coming from the research and measurement industry, I was very curious about the answer. So I turned to Chris Tucker, the tutor of my Crisis Communication Specialist Diploma. She shared some interesting elements of answer. Measuring the effectiveness of a crisis response is not as “tricky” as it might sound if you are already familiarised with PR evaluation. Her advice was simple: a crisis communication campaign is akin to a “normal” PR campaign, and therefore can be measured using similar metrics such sentiment, reach, share of voice and key message penetration.

Crisis responsibility

What makes a crisis communication campaign different then? Mainly the perception of an organisation’s responsibility in a crisis situation. The reputational and financial well-being very much depends on the degree of responsibility the victims, the stakeholders and more broadly the general public place on an organisation. After all, it is true that a crisis is by definition “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organisation’s performance and generate negative outcomes.”

Academics such as Coombs and Holladay worked on a post-crisis communication model, the Situational Communication Crisis Theory (SCCT), to help us look at how blame was attributed, providing us with a scale to measure crisis responsibility. They led us to the following four key dimensions:

  • Intentionality—the degree to which the crisis was created purposefully by a member or members of the organisation.
  • Preventability—the degree to which the crisis could have been avoided by the organisation.
  • Fault—the degree to which the organisation can be held accountable for the crisis.
  • Locality—the degree to which the crisis is an internal matter.

What bad crisis management teaches us

Another important indicator is the financial impact. Can we really measure the cost of a crisis? During AMEC’s last measurement month, Hot Paper Lantern shared some insights on how to define the real, measurable impact of such an event on a business and its bottom line, based on how fast and effective companies responded.

HPL measured 4 stock markets, reviewed 400,000 articles, 80,000 social mentions, the fluctuations in stock price and market capitalisation of more than 50 crises impacting 45 major brands for 30 years. The results are striking: overall, the average stock price value of a company plummets by 7% within the first 3 months following a crisis.

Using those results, HPL was also able to determine of attributes of success of a crisis communication plan, with “effectiveness” based on the 5Cs communication model: Concern Control Compassion Confidence and Competence.

Organisations that accepted responsibility, put the victims at the heart of their response and were very visible and transparent did well. On the contrary, those that took longer to respond suffered the bigger impact.   

The new normal

Also, it has to be stressed that the measurement of a crisis shouldn’t stop at its resolution. In fact, there are two keys aspects professionals need to learn from in the aftermath of a crisis:

  • Organisational resilience and procedures. You’ll need to ask yourself how, overall, the organisation responded during the crisis: was the crisis escalated quickly enough?  Did the organisation cope well with the stress it was put under? Was the management team able to get hold of the information when it needed it? Were the stakeholders informed and updated in a timely manner?
  • Crisis Management team performance. The success or failure of a crisis response very much depends on the people’s ability to cope with time pressure, coordination and stress management: were we able to get the right people in the room at the right time? How did they work together? How did they perform under pressure?

The assessment of these two business areas lays the foundations for post-crisis recovery. But let us be clear: recovery does not necessarily mean a return to previous normality. Rather, a successful post-crisis evaluation should help define a “new normality” to prevent the issues or crisis from happening again.

The real cost of something that went wrong can be huge: legal turmoil, political backlash, customer anger, staff distraction, labour concern, with the greatest cost of all being a lowered market confidence and a diminished reputation. Rebuilding reputation can take years, but if handled effectively through solid evaluation and research, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity for potential positive outcomes for an organisation and its stakeholders.

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