Crisis communications planning: Best practices for dealing with external agencies

Sep 22, 2017
Get the outside resources you need upfront rather than waiting to see whether you can handle things without them, says DuPont IRO

This article was produced by ELITE Connect and originally published on the ELITE Connect platform

Duncan Browne, head of IR at Saga, and Jennifer Driscoll, director of IR at DuPont, give us an insight into their views on dealing with external agencies for crisis communications planning. 

What types of agencies do you mainly deal with for your crisis communications planning?

Jennifer Driscoll: Our company works with Kekst, and I admire its work. We also have relied a fair amount on our investment banks in the past. As for me personally, I’ve worked with IR agencies, too, but I believe there are significant advantages to having a strong IR department in-house that really knows the company and external advisers that really understand whatever issue you have.

How does your external planning complement your internal crisis communications planning?

Duncan Browne: An annual assessment of crisis communications always features in our yearly plan and it’s crucial that both external and internal aspects are aligned. Often a single plan that incorporates both elements works best to ensure internal and external communication work in harmony. External agencies bring a different perspective – sometimes internally it is hard to see the wood for the trees!

Is there any one overriding issue you focus on with external agencies? 

JD: Based on my IR experience over the years, I recommend treating them like partners and investing in their education on the company. I also recommend really relying on their expertise: this is what they do all day, every day – though I recognize that managing an outside agency is a skill-set not everyone finds easy. 

DB: Clearly it depends what kind of business it is and the nature of the crisis. But working out in advance what the initial steps should be, and implementing them as soon as possible, is always key. A company will get the best results by tapping into the various areas of expertise on offer from the full suite of brokers, financial advisers and financial PRs. 

How often do you carry out crisis planning exercises with external agencies? 

JD: We have annual reviews of the crisis plan and do periodic mock crisis sessions. We also regularly call everyone on the crisis team to see how fast they respond and to reinforce the process.

In your experience, what are the main benefits of crisis planning with external agencies? 

JD: The advantage is being prepared when a crisis hits so that you can start the work and not first have to think about how to proceed. Also, sometimes new issues come up that we need to manage, relationships get stronger and people offer feedback that helps us improve the processes we have.

Do you have any top tips to share?

DB: Always make sure everyone in the company is aware that public statements to media, customers, and so on should always go through authorized spokespeople. A preapproved holding statement for other areas of the business is vital.

JD: Get the outside resources you need upfront, rather than waiting to see whether you can handle things without them; you’ll be glad you did. Also, if you can’t get the company to agree to invest in developing a crisis plan, start by having a cross-functional group meet to develop a contact plan, including names, details and types of issues, and decide in advance what sort of things get escalated to the CFO, the CEO or even the board. 



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