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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Public Affairs / 244: Don’t forget the politicians: the missing chapter of the guide to crisis communications

We all know and understand how the media, in all its forms, can drive the activity of an organisation during a crisis. But the real, and longer lasting, damage can be inflicted by politicians. Too often though they are ignored and the media dominates.

I was recently lucky enough to be asked by Signal AI to deliver a webinar on this issue. You can watch the webinar for free here. For those without the time to watch then here are just a few of the points I raised.

We live in an age of high profile CEOs. That is partly because of the media interest, partly because they lead from the front, but also because of political interest as well.

Whilst many CEOs will know about the media and prepared for dealing with them, the political space is less familiar. And particularly in a crisis, the real and often longer term damage is inflicted by political audiences.

Political audiences can react differently from other audiences. Why? Because they have to be elected and this means that they have to be seen as being in control of issues and taking action, where necessary.

If they get interested in your organisation then what sort of reaction can you expect?

  • policy review – a softer touch, maybe longer term review of what is happening. This gives you more chance for constructive input over a period of time. The outcome may, or may not, lead to substantial change;
  • direct media and social media attacks – naming and shaming which can go on for some time and help to keep a story going when others could be losing interest;
  • a process approach – using the institutions of a parliament or government to maintain the pressure. So you could expect Select Committee appearances which bring with them their own media interest; and
  • the knee-jerk approach – the immediate announcement of legislation or some form of direct intervention.

You can almost see these on a type of sliding scale of intervention but they are not mutually exclusive. Often, for instance, committee appearances are accompanied with the media attacks or attention.

So what we really need to undertake is a political risk analysis. This means being a lot more aware about the points of danger or risk for your reputation from political and policy perspectives. Political risk analysis is a must for Boards and CEOs.

A key aspect of a political risk analysis is keeping on top of developments. This means monitoring what is going on, seeing the opportunities as well as the risks, as well as knowing who the key players are. It should be about having a plan in place considering how to react if action is needed. So think about:

  • media and social media – there are various tools available to help do this in a comprehensive way;
  • political monitoring – policy developments, consultations, people in charge, who is asking questions etc.;
  • reputation tracking / sentiment tracking – helps you to appreciate the basis of issues, levels of understandings, and tracking these over time to assess the effectiveness of programmes; and
  • informal as well as formal feedback – conversations can be just as helpful as more formal analysis and data.

With this type of information available to you can then consider:

  • mapping out the audiences – building and enhancing the network, filling in gaps etc; and
  • whether there are there common concerns or issues amongst the same types of audiences? Do you need to think about managing them in different ways?

But a political risk analysis also needs to consider the political and reputational aspects of the wider risks that a register may highlight as well, such as those identified internally. In other words, that reputational element should cover the whole register. Issues should not be compartmentalised, silo-ed or just thought about from an internal perspective. Ask the question whether the issue could have political ramifications. For many organisations, the idea of a political risk analysis, has come into its own with Brexit.

One of the other main aspects of managing political risk is to invest time and effort in building trust. This is a theme I will consider in a later blog.

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