Back from the International Crisis Communications Conference 2019

Back from the International Crisis Communications Conference 2019

The International Crisis Conference 2019 - Berlin

Last week I moderated the two day International Crisis Communications Conference organised by the Quadriga University in Berlin - here are the highlights.

With an impressive list of keynote speakers and panel sessions, as well as 80 participants from different countries this was one of those conferences I was really looking forward to. And it didn't disappoint.

Believe it or not, but the work of a conference moderator is sometimes really difficult and tiring - non responsive audiences, logistical mishaps - and, let's face it sometimes non inspiring speakers... But in this case my job was a real pleasure.

We started off the first day with some very open and interesting insights presented by Oana Lungescu, Spokesperson at NATO. We learned how, in these difficult diplomatic times, an issue can become a crisis very quickly and how the NATO team needs to be prepared for many different scenarios and possible outcomes.

Oana Lungescu, Spokesperson at NATO - International Crisis Communications Conference

Oana was very transparent on how things can go wrong and described several moments in her career where the operational system simply broke down but where team efforts and dedication made the difference.

Take away: You not only need communication professionals with skills but also with dedication and motivation to handle a crisis. #crisispr

Throughout the day several speakers described how they handled different types of crises and sometimes even turned them into opportunities. I really liked the very honest and modest presentations. There was a general appreciation that no one holds the perfect formula and that we're all on an ongoing learning curve when it comes to crisis management from a communications point of view.

Our second keynote speaker covered and often forgotten part of the crisis cycle... The recovery.

With her talk entitled The forgotten step of crisis management: Crisis recovery, Nicole Pizzuti, Spokesperson at KEOLIS Deutschland gave a very honest overview of how the company managed a consumer petition.

As the Communications Manager she took the right step to open up the organisation, invite the petition organiser to sit down and talk and openly discuss the issues. Definitely a refreshing approach in stakeholder management.

We also heard about "Greenbashing" - the other side of "Greenwashing by Merlin Koene, Partner at fischerAppelt.

Merlin Koene from fischerAppelt - International Crisis Communications Conference

This was a typical approach of this conference - the audience discovered many "other sides" of a crisis - the corporate and the non corporate one. Really refreshing and in this case a look behind the scenes of stakeholder management around ecology and sustainability.

Take away: Proactive stakeholder management, transparency and a readiness to sit down and talk can often prevent an issue to become a fully fledged crisis. #crisispr

Apart from the keynotes attendees could also follow a real time crisis simulation of about one hour and a half. For those who have experience in this, you know this is a high pressure environment...

Alwin Binder form Kekst CNC introduced the concept and then ran three workshops with his "remote team" (sitting in another room) during the first day of the conference. Here's an overview of how this is set up and executed.

Crisis Simulation by Kekst CNC - International Crisis Communications Conference
Take away: A plan & team which is not trained and put under stress in the most realistic possible way is simply not going to stand and hold up during a real crisis. Invest is simulations & training! #crisispr

During the afternoon I put the conference attendees before a difficult choice... They had to pick one of the following case studies:

  • The Genoa bridge collapse: When populism adds to a crisis - presented by Luciano Luffarelli, Head of External Communications and Institutional Relations at Piaggio Aerospace
  • The darkest hours - The Manchester Terrorist Attack - presented by Amanda Coleman, Head of Corporate Communication, Greater Manchester Police
  • Getting the balance right: Brand, industry and customer - presented by James Puxty, Head of Incident Communications at Nationwide Building Society

Next came Carole Berthelot from Solvay (disclaimer - they are a client of mine).

Carole Berthelot from Solvay - International Crisis Communications Conference

I was really glad to have invited Carole to this conference; she spoke very openly and with candour about how the company she works for is on a continuous improvement journey with regards to crisis management & communications.

She engaged the public by asking her own questions out loud. For example on how to make employees part of a crisis response (or not) or how to improve pre-crisis alerts via online monitoring.

Take away: Never, ever think the work is done. Always improve, learn and adapt when it comes to crisis preparedness. #crisispr

The afternoon of the first day was filled with different workshops, here's an overview.

  • Preparing for a crisis: get ready to think human, act human and speak human. Great insights on this "softer" but very important side of crisis communications given by Rod Cartwright, Regional Director EMEA @ Text100 & Toby Conlon, Head of Corporate Communications @ Text100
  • Two workshops by Torsten Rössing, Managing Partner @ Ewald & Rössing GmbH & Co. KG who, to my greatest interest, mentioned Sun Tzu & Carl von Clausewitz in one of his sessions (I am a military history buff) - How to put together your crisis team & Crisis communication strategies.
  • Preparation is key: challenges in international crisis prevention and preparation by Volker Pulskamp, Head of Corporate Communications and Crisis Lead Germany @ FleishmanHillard who, among other topics, covered the challenges of culture and language differences.
Take away: If you decide to manage a crisis from your HQ - are you certain you understand the local culture and can you manage the different languages of your audiences in the countries affected? #crisispr
The International Crisis Communications Conference 2019 - Berlin

Then came the first panel session... To be honest, one of my favorite moments in the conference.

The two award winning journalists Sönke Iwersen, Head of Investigative Research @ Handelsblatt GmbH and Niels Sandøe, Journalist at Jyllands-Posten and I had prepared this via conference call of course and already then we really kicked it off. Sometimes you just connect with people immediately.

Niels and Sönke spoke about their experiences in crisis communications and how investigative journalism is totally different form "normal" media relations.

Sönke Iwersen and Niels Sandøe - International Crisis Communications Conference

Their work is a matter of months of research, interviews, going through legal documents etc... When they call you - you will not get away with a reactive statement.

We covered never ending crises like the Volkswagen one which, years after the scandal, is still going on by means of legal action in the US. We spoke about whistleblowers and legal implications. And of course we cracked jokes about the sometimes lame responses corporate communicators use.

Take away: Prepare for the long run... Some crises can cover years in one way or the other and if interesting enough, investigative journalists will do their work. Follow through and monitor continuously. #crisispr

Our final keynote speaker of the day was Lars Niggemann, Owner of Prevency with his talk entitled Crisis Communications 4.0.

Lars discussed the dark web and how certain organisations are implementing fake accounts, followers and click banks on an international scale.

I had a feeling that for most of the attendees this was unknown terrain. I added some insight on my case study about the ongoing consumer brand boycott in Morocco targeting several companies for still unexplained reasons.

Take away: Understand the "dark web" and the potential threats it can pose to your organisation. Know which tools (fake accounts, click banks etc...) are available to your opponents. #crisispr

We rounded up the day with discussing the workshops and receiving feedback from the audience. We were off to a good start and the second day proved to be more of the same valuable insights by professionals.

Day two fo the conference opened with a bang... At least that's how I would describe the energetic and very interesting keynote by Prof. Dr. Denis Fischbacher-Smith, Research Chair in Risk and Resilience @ the University of Glasgow.

Denis covered a less known but important topic on crisis preparedness - his keynote was entitled Human factor aspects of insider threats and cyber security.

Cyber security is the top reputation risk today as I described in my latest white paper (here's the link) and we learned about both the psychological mindset and the limits of human profiling in this area.

Prof. Dr. Denis Fischbacher-Smith - International Crisis Communications Conference

Denis kindly shared his research and hands on experiences during a vibrant an animated presentation (I mean, even the photo is blurry). Again, one of my preferred moments of the conference. You can access the background information by scanning the QR code on the picture below.

Scan the QR code for more information
Take away: About 70% of crises have an internal origin - your management and/or employees are the initiators. Invest in pro-active but transparent and legal mitigation and insider threat preparedness. #crisispr

Up next was the second panel discussion on a topic which is so much underestimated in crisis communication conferences; the importance of internal communications.

Together with Prof. Ana Adi, Head of the Department of Corporate Communications at Quadriga University of Applied Sciences, Ana Martines, Corporate Communication Director, CSR and Ethics at L'Oréal Portugal and Alessandra Mazzei, Director of the Centre for Employee Relations and Communication at the IULM University we covered Internal crisis communication and employee engagement.

This could have been the topic of a full day conference as we covered how to engage (or not) employees in crisis preparedness, how to motivate employees, how to define their actions and more.

The question that I clearly remember from the panel discussion was "what if, an employee does not want to support the organisation for reasons of his/her own?". Indeed, with all the talk (buzz to me) about companies suddenly discovering their "purpose" - what happens if your own employees do not believe their employer's so called purpose?

Take away: Your first communications activity when a crisis breaks is internal - not pushing to get the reactive statement out to the media. You own employees need to be in the know first, at all times. #crisispr

The rest of the conference was again an opportunity for the attendees to really get their hands dirty during a 3 hour long crisis table top exercise professionally managed by CS&A.

Caroline Sapriel, Founder and Managing Partner of CS&A International and her team managed to put pressure on about 80 communication managers by dividing them in groups and giving them roles as either members of the media or crisis communications teams.

Caroline Sapriel - CS&A International - International Crisis Communications Conference

It was really interesting to see the different approaches on how to handle the crisis scenario when I walked around the tables. At the end of the exercise all groups gave feedback and the CS&A International team shared their tips in the cool down round up.

As a PR Consultant specialised in crisis & risk communications myself, I am always amazed that by moderating conferences like this we all learn so much from each other.

This International Crisis Conference organised by Quadriga University certainly enabled this. Makes me look forward to the next one and thanks for the trust Quadriga team!

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Moderating The International Crisis Communications Conference in Berlin

Moderating The International Crisis Communications Conference in Berlin