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Q&A With Melissa Agnes, Crisis Management Strategist

Q&A With Melissa Agnes, Crisis Management Strategist

If crisis were to strike your company tomorrow, is your organization crisis ready? Melissa Agnes is a sought-after, international crisis management expert. She delivers powerful talks that help today’s organizations understand the realities that loom when crisis strikes. Her customized presentations provide tools and strategies that create a proactive, crisis-ready corporate culture. Melissa has helped dozens of global brands and government agencies prevent and manage a wide range of issues before they become catastrophic. Here’s a short Q&A with Melissa about the ins and outs of her career:

What sparked your passion for crisis management? 

MELISSA: The thing that most sparked my passion in this profession was – and continues to be – the unique advantages and opportunities that today’s technology presents to an organization’s crisis management and preparedness.

For example, when the world was dealing with the growing epidemic of Ebola in 2014, it was the BBC’s strategic leveraging of the mobile app, Whatsapp, that began to successfully manage the crisis, once and for all. By thinking strategically, and by leveraging technology that was freely available to them – and that made sense to their target audience – a news media organization managed to do what government agencies, NGO’s and humanitarian organizations were trying desperately to accomplish.

This to me, is completely inspiring. Helping organizations find strategic ways to leverage the technology, tools and resources available to them, in order to successfully manage the many obstacles that today’s crisis management presents, is what continues to thrill and inspire me, every day.

What types of audiences do you speak to?

MELISSA: The main audiences I speak to include:

  • The C-Suite – Implementing a crisis-ready culture needs to begin at the top. Being the ones responsible and accountable for their organization’s crisis management, the leadership team has the most at stake when times get tough.
  • The Crisis Management Team – I often conduct private seminars for an organization’s regional and global crisis management team, providing them with new tools and strategies to continue to strengthen their crisis preparedness program.
  • HR Executives – Ask any HR executive and they’ll most likely tell you that employees are often an afterthought in times of crisis. And yet, effective internal communication is one of the secrets to successful crisis management. I help HR executives ensure they have a seat at the crisis management table, as well as strategize the most efficient ways to ensure prompt internal communication when it matters most.
  • Communications Professionals (PR, marketing, sales, and social media teams) – Effective and prompt external communications is one of the most important aspects of successful crisis management, and these teams are the ones responsible for execution. They also play an important role in issue management and crisis prevention.

Are there specific companies or industries that need to be crisis-ready or is it something every business needs? Explain.

MELISSA: It’s definitely something that every business today needs, as crises don’t discriminate. A crisis can strike and present major consequences to any company, no matter its size, type or industry. What does change, depending on the type and size of the organization, is the risk and the required response to that risk.

The best way for organizations to begin to implement a crisis-ready culture, is to set out to identify the high-risk scenarios that are most likely to impact their business. This exercise applies to every single business, and will help the organization then determine its required next steps to becoming crisis-ready.

What would you say companies’ biggest challenges are when it comes to dealing with a crisis once it happens, if they don’t have a crisis-ready culture?

MELISSA:  Crisis management is something that needs to be thought through and prepared for prior to experiencing a crisis. If crisis strikes when a company is not crisis-ready, the challenges, obstacles, pressures and consequences risk being far greater than they would otherwise need to be. For example:

  • With the media being the 24-7-real-time engine that it is, the longer an organization takes to respond to a crisis, the more they lose any semblance of control over the narrative of the crisis and its story. Without having thought through the pertinent risks and their appropriate responses, how can an organization aim to meet the real-time communication requirements that will help it position itself as the voice of trust, credibility and leadership required to help it successfully manage the crisis?
  • When a high-profile crisis strikes, the chatter and noise on social media and beyond, can be overwhelming and overpowering, and can consist of questions, speculation, rumors, links, opinions, concerns, and more. In this event, your team would need to be able to a) effectively monitor and filter through the noise, to identify the important information that pertains to the crisis, your organization and its stakeholders; and b) rise above this noise in order to ensure prompt and effective communication with those who matter most to your business. Without the implementation of a crisis-ready culture, would your team be equipped to efficiently do this, right from the onset of the crisis?
  • Early detection, proper internal escalation and successful issue management are important aspects of crisis prevention and management. However, in order to detect a looming threat, your team needs to know what to look for; proper internal escalation requires pre-developed protocols and training that will most likely be different depending on the high-risk scenario; and successful issue management requires an understanding and the honing of skills and instincts prior to the issue taking place. Each of these things are important aspects of a crisis-ready corporate culture, without which, you may be left in the dark.

What are the benefits / advantages of having a crisis-ready culture?

MELISSA: The whole point of implementing a crisis-ready corporate culture is to enable and empower your entire team to instinctively know the right course of action to take in a negative situation, be it an issue or a potential or breaking crisis. Crises unravel far too quickly these days, and stakeholder expectations continue to heighten, which means that we can no longer solely rely on a document (plan) that was written months – or worse, years – ago. The goal needs to be to empower your entire team to be able to detect potential issues in real-time and to intrinsically know what is expected of them, by both internal and external stakeholders, in order to make the right decisions when time is of the essence.

February, 2017