What are the hottest issues and crisis management topics?

Probably everyone in PR has celebrated an anniversary of some sort or other. The blog’s old firm even successfully celebrated a 57th – for Vegemite – some years ago. After all it’s often a quick way to generate some coverage.

This year – not so much in PR but rather the world – there have been lots of significant 200th anniversaries including those for Karl Marx and Emily Bronte’s birth as well as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But in PR there has been an anniversary – not quite so significant as these perhaps – but definitely instructive and of interest to practitioners.

The Managing Outcomes newsletter, written by Tony Jaques, put out its 200th issue last month. But what makes the anniversary instructive is that Tony listed the issues and crisis newsletters which generated the most interest from readers thereby giving an insight into what’s bothering practitioners most. The list of the most popular newsletters covered the following topics:

An Australian CEO study highlights crisis vulnerability by suggesting that CEOs are not providing the leadership or priority needed to prepare for, and prevent, crises.

A plea for abandoning an ‘abundance of caution’ when in trouble by avoiding silly phrases which try to redefine the issue and instead using clear and open communication.

A challenge to the conventional crisis wisdom and questioning whether the CEO is really the best crisis spokesperson and instead reminding of us of the fundamental crisis questions: what to say in a crisis or who should say it?

Discussion of the big differences between the right legal advice; the right organisational response; and, the need to avoid feeling handcuffed by legal advice.

The relative significance of a CEO’s reputation and how it can be either a great asset or a great liability. How many people can you think of as an example of either? Hopefully not starting with your boss.

A challenge to another bit of conventional wisdom in terms of whether or not reputation is like a bank account. “While positive actions help build reputational credit, withdrawals for bad behaviour are not dollar for dollar. Bad reputation accumulates penalty interest,” Tony says.

A guide to new approaches to crisis proofing companies by taking steps to help prevent a crisis from happening in the first place.

Challenging the common view that crises are not a question of IF but only a question of WHEN. Is it necessarily true and is it helpful, Tony asks and discusses.

The key strategy of naming and framing the issue by using the right language (not spin) is a proven effective strategy for managing controversial issues.

The priorities in crisis preparation are the industry-specific or company specific crisis risks which are most likely and reasonably predictable.

Tony summarises it all with the comment: “The sad part of this 200th edition review is that the same issue and crisis mistakes keep happening, and so do the terrible apologies.”

Of course, given the frequency with which such issues and crises arise, there is a small silver-lining. It gives us the basis for making some robust predictions about the sort of problems which will arise in the future if not, unfortunately, to whom and when.

Nevertheless, thinking about likely and reasonably predictable risks, suggests some obvious places to look for emerging crises. Obviously oil spills anywhere in the world fit this category although there are a few more risks which seem to be more likely sources of crises almost in any month of the next year. The first is outsourcing by governments particularly when studying the UK’s experience with nuclear power, railways, water authorities, Defence recruitment, probation, translation and health services as well as just about everything else UK governments have outsourced. The recent collapse of Carillion where the Government kept shovelling money to the company as it fell into bankruptcy is an instructive UK example of what can, and has, gone wrong. The Ken Loach film, I Am Daniel Blake, is a classic (if emotionally shocking) depiction of the disasters which arise from welfare outsourcing.

In Australia the list of similar risks is mounting too with the NDIS likely to be the next outsourcing example to join TAFE, welfare services and many others.

But the next global crisis, the blog suspects, will be the track record of auditing firms. In the UK case of Carillion, auditor KPMG, signed off on the accounts just before the company collapsed; paid directors and senior executives significant bonuses; and, dudded the company pension fund leaving a multi-million pound hole which will be filled by UK taxpayers.

The UK Financial Reporting Council’s latest audit quality review gave KPMG (who some will remember was also embroiled in the Gupta scandals in South Africa) the lowest score with half its audits needing “more than limited improvements”. According to the Weekend Financial Times (22/23 June) other auditors didn’t do very well either. PwC had 16% of its audits fail that test; EY had 18% and Deloitte’s 21%.

Meanwhile in Australia we don’t have such data although we do know that the question: where were the auditors (and the Boards for that matter) in a series of bank, wealth management, insurance and other company scandals? is being asked every week.

The problem is that modern accounting firms are intrinsically conflicted. They make most of their money out of consulting services in a wide range of areas – even, PR people should note, including communication strategy development albeit not very well from some examples the blog has seen. At the same time they are auditing companies although margins and turnover are much lower on this than on consulting services.

Private Eye’s accounting correspondent, Richard Brooks, has analysed all of this in a new book (just out last month) Bean Counters: The Triumph of the Accountants and How They Broke Capitalism. It’s a good guide to what might be the next major crisis to be handled by some PR person somewhere. For their employer’s sake one hopes they follow Tony Jaques guides to good issue and crisis management. BTW all his newsletters can be found here .