Well the start of 2023 has certainly been a blast here in New Zealand with Cyclone Hale wreaking havoc around the coast and adding to the woes of what has been billed the worst summer in nearly twenty years. As I write, people on the East Coast are still without power, the road network needs massive reinstatement and it has been - literally - a washout of a summer.
Personally, this local example of climate change has moved me off the beach - which is where I had hoped to be - and into a cosy chair for my brief holiday break, distracted with some reading (once we got power and services back on and dealt with the waterlogging).
Professionally, most conversations have been concerned with ChatGPT, its power, ability and general cleverness. The big 'miss' has been the conversation we need to have around ethical application. That's the first chat on the agenda. The second is the impact it will have on our profession. There's no doubt that it has come for the jobs but only if public relations and communications professionals fail to elevate their undertaking from the tactical to the strategic. And only if organisations realise the automation of content may look easy and save them a few bucks (for now) but without context or direction, automation will lead to their demise, huge reputational damage and a disconnection from their stakeholders and communities.
I've spent the last week or so whipping up a professional development session that I hope will help practitioners understand not just what is on the horizon but what is knocking at the door ready to eat their lunch. I'll post the links here next week when (hopefully) it will be ready to go and I'm making it free access because I believe it is essential to encourage practitioners to actively consider and understand what lies ahead for their organisations and themselves. Meanwhile, I suggest you read this year's edition of the World Economic Forum's Global Risk Report (gloomy but essential New Year reading) and determine how you'll be making a difference in the months ahead -mand what you need to learn to help you make that difference.
It is always a surprise when people forget - or don't bother - to assess risk. It is a vital part of any undertaking and a necessity when developing a public relations and communication strategy for your organisation.
This month I've been discussing risk with everyone - on courses, with clients, with new businesses during set up - and on each occasion the commonality has been a reluctance or failure to see what is possible, what's probable and why we should consider risks at all.
Assessing the four main risk categories - financial, operational, reputation and environmental - requires a strong cup of tea, an intense session of scenario building followed by a detailed audit. Consider the areas of risk in each category, assess the probability, determine how the risk will be managed and communicated. Don't confuse your risk assessment with issues management - we'll look at that in another post - and, while you are at it, add societal risk to your thinking. Earlier this year, loss of social cohesion was highlighted by the World Economic Forum as one of the major risks ahead and I don't think there is a country in the world that hasn't felt the dust of fragmentation in the last 24 months.
If a risk team exists in your organisation, work with them. They will be looking at the obvious and, in my experience, there are few risk teams that properly consider the consequences of failing to manage reputational risk.
Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk and, as humans, everything we do has an element of risk associated with it but for our organisations, we need to consider risk at scale. What risks are acceptable? What must we mitigate? What must we reduce? How can we address any potential harms? Risk management is intrinsically linked with ethical behaviour - organisations that behave well will also be the ones that mitigate risk for their stakeholders. Failure to address risk - and bad behaviour - accelerates the descent to crisis. So start early, analyse well, correct, mitigate and communicate.
Be careful out there - there's a smog of misinformation that's fuelling some ghastly symptoms. China is caught up in an outbreak of a new virus and the symptoms being displayed elsewhere in the world are abhorrent. There's a rise in racist attacks, social media is alight with spurious claim and counter claim and 'official channels' are leaving an information vacuum that shortens the incubation period for conspiracy theorists and online trolls.
The main source of information should be the World Health Organisation but their briefings fluctuate from suggesting the situation is dire to suggesting all is contained. Their video on the virus wasn't terribly helpful and, to be fair, I found it to be a poor explanation of the situation that raised more questions than answers - plus it was a very patronising use of a very un-diverse Doodly-esq type video platform. Given the resources available at WHO, I really think they could have done better and should do better.
A global pandemic has been in the top five risks on the Global Risk Index for a number of years now and we've seen SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks since 2000 - so why has the communication around this viral outbreak stalled in such an amateurish way? Leaving questions unanswered creates worry and fear - emotions that are happily pounced on by those who want to further their own xenophobic agenda. WHO states this is a 'novel coronavirus', so it is new, it is relatively early days in the cycle - although the toll for Chinese people has been both considerable and deadly - and they are still piecing together information. All understandable challenges but in communicating the situation, tone should have been addressed as well as content. Tone that demonstrates some compassion for those suffering from the virus. Tone that allays the fears of those who think they might contract the virus and tone that affords some authority to those speaking about the virus.
During our risk and reputation training sessions this month we've tracked the 'spread of information' connected to Novel Coronavirus 2019 and one thing all the workshop participants agreed on was the need to urgently look at their own crisis and risk communication plans.
The other active discussions concerned the societal responsibility of all communicators to allay fears and minimise the chance (risk) of racist attacks. Staying informed, keeping up-to-date with the changing situation so we can advise and communicate risks and issues - all absolutely part of our jobs which, if the last month is anything to go by, are going to get more challenging than ever.
And if you need some help with your risk, reputation and issues management - contact us today and be prepared.
Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash
About Think Forward
Think Forward is written by Catherine Arrow. It answers PR questions, highlights practice trends - good and bad - and suggests ways forward for professional public relations and communication practitioners.