Not so lazy days of summer

For most people summer is all about the proverbial long hot lazy days. Yet for some consultants, and many others in the PR industry, January is a time for planning and undertaking projects which need space and thinking time to do properly.

For PR consultancies one of the many rules of thumbs they operate under is that a very busy December is important to carry you through a slack January when holiday pay and lack of activity can throw you into a monthly loss. That’s why smart consultancies work really hard at getting summer promotions and projects to offset the usual downturn or use it for long range planning for themselves and clients. Other rules of thumbs: when you are busiest and consultant chargeable ratios are at their highest a fall off in revenue in a couple of months becomes inevitable because too little new business development has been done; consultants should bill three times their salary to be profitable; and, retainers have moved from being a way to maximise profitability (that’s a euphemism) to becoming a way clients can screw consultancies.

One of the favourite longer term projects for consultancies and companies is to use January to review issues management and communication plans and undertake crisis simulations. Issues and crisis expert, Tony Jaques, has an interesting take on the simulation exercises in his latest Managing Outcomes newsletter.

Tony provides five suggestions as to how to make crisis simulations more effective. First, he warns about “repetitious scenarios about predictable operational crises such as accidents, infrastructure breakdown and disasters” and suggests that the focus could be on crises which research shows are most probable such as a “cybersecurity breach or real or perceived executive wrongdoing.” Second, round up a different team than the normal core one because thereis always a high chance that key players are absent when a real crisis strikes.” Third, “spring a surprise exercise rather than scheduling weeks in advance. Real crisis don’t fit neatly into any executive timetable.” Fourth, “Try different types of simulation. Rather than just the traditional tabletop exercise, go for a full scale production with external resources such as people playing the role of emergency responders, angry residents or nosey reporters. Or a ‘war room’ exercise primarily to test the operability of the designated crisis command location and/or the backup location.” Fifth, “Instead of a hypothetical scenario, get the team to workshop a real-life crisis or near miss which has happened to another organisation, perhaps in the same area or same industry.”

The Managing Outcomes newsletter has another invaluable feature, as well as sound issues and crisis advice. It always features apposite quotes on issues – which are worth storing away because they will make you sound exceptionally wise when talking to clients – and the odd pointer to bizarre or interesting stories elsewhere.

The latest bizarre story is about a town in North Carolina, Woodland, which has expressed their opposition to solar panels because they would “suck up energy from the sun.” As far as can be seen the residents didn’t have a sneak preview (attention plot spoiler follows) of the latest Star Wars film script but rather were influenced by their local retired science teacher, Jane Mann, who told the local council the panels were effectively stealing sun from plants and, as evidence, she cited her observations that plants near solar panels were brown suggesting that another danger was that photosynthesis wouldn’t happen near the solar panels. Worse the panels were probably the cause of cancer deaths in the town. The fact that Ms Mann was a science teacher perhaps says much about American education, society, beliefs and politics.

Australia, thanks to Tony Abbott, now has a Wind Commissioner which Malcolm Turnbull failed to kill off. It’s costing several million dollars to monitor the ‘health’ and other aspects of windfarms and windmills. What next, will some Turnbull Government Minister mount their Rocinante and attack even more solar panels than they have already in between the battles with the windmills? And has anyone told Maurice Newman yet and it is likely to be a topic in his next News Corp column?