Crisis at lightning speed

What globalization and technology have changed in the past decade

In my organization we live with a healthy dose of acceptance of potential risk. A recent list of risk factors potentially impacting just one of our offices included the following: road accidents; wars; bombs; flu outbreak; malaria; severe pollution; earthquake; tsunami; power outages; fuel shortages; military coup; security evacuation; business threats; online threats.

With all these potential threats, why get out of bed? Interestingly, risk has always been there. The Asia Foundation has been around for over 60 years, and many of these same risks were on the list back then. But over the past decade reputational crises and risk have escalated dramatically, requiring organizations to react and move more quickly and broadly.

Escalating quickly

The changes have come with improved and faster communication, social media, and rising expectations from consumers and citizens. Other factors are changing risk and crisis management, including globalization, populations’ physical mobility, increased conflicts and instability, global warming, and cyberattacks.  According to a 2015 PwC global information security survey, information security incidents increased 45% in just one year, from 2014.

One impact of improved technology and faster communication is that there is no longer an option that people might not find out about something, or that you can localize an incident or contain it, so it’s more important than ever to get ahead of the story and get your own story out well and widely. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to tell your story. Develop a system of telling your own story effectively on a regular basis, such as in a blog or newsletter, so that during challenging times you already have a body of work that is in the public domain.

Edelman’s Global Chair of Crisis and Risk Practice, Harlan Loeb, shared this statistic: 28% of crises spread internationally within one hour.  As a result there is a need to be faster to respond, and respond professionally in a way that is appropriate for multiple audience. The silos have disappeared and information is shared widely, so each element of outreach will likely be consumed by multiple audiences. Make sure the information you share at the grassroots level is appropriate for corporate and government officials, too.

In addition, better, faster communication makes it easier for an organization to plan, automate, execute, communicate and certainly opens up many previously impossible options. But access to information is near-universal now, it is egalitarian, and extends to everyone, not just the business leaders, companies or governments at the top. Citizens at every level now have unprecedented access to information, and in real time. This is requiring organizations to examine their impact more broadly, good and bad, and to invest much more in the communities they are working in. More people are aware of changes taking place, and far more people are aware of their rights.

“Citizens at every level now have unprecedented access to information, and in real time.”

 If an organization is building a project, a road, or a bridge, or opening a new factory, local citizens are savvy and know what is involved regarding the impact, their rights, and have higher expectations on what is required on the part of companies. This requires managing risks of all kinds on the front end, as well as diligence and emphasis on getting citizens invested and informed in the project well in advance.

This can involve human rights issues and land rights, as well, requiring a different way of thinking by organizations who used to operate in a more siloed way with perhaps less accountability.

Global reach

Globalization has had a variety of impacts across all industries. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 shook the world,  and other side effects of globalization, including disease outbreaks and market disruptions, showed us that globalization and inter-connectedness aren’t always a slam-dunk positive.

Globalization also has social implications: over the last two decades in international aid and development, democracy promotion and governance programmes have skyrocketed. Democracy promotion activities worldwide consume approximately $10 billion annually.  

The rise of NGOS is also expanding the voice of local citizens. In this environment a local face is required. This means specialization and attention to many more details and angles. In addition, in the past HQ and field offices in global companies were more isolated and separate. Now there is total integration.

It is my sense that the majority of issues faced in risk and crisis management are similar to those in the past, but that the way they spread and the way one must react is much faster, more intense and broader, requiring a more sophisticated and strategic approach.

Amy Ovalle co-leads the Risk & Crisis Working Group of the Asia Pacific Association of Communication Directors. The APACD Working Groups aim to establish cross-institutional networks within specific fields and to develop and enhance topic-related

Image: Flickr/Iraia Martínez

Amy Ovalle

Amy Ovalle oversees global communications for The Asia Foundation, an international development non-profit working in Asia, including editorial, electronic, publications, digital, design, photography, media relations, events and advertising. She has also worked for National Public Radio and National Geographic, and helped start a non-profit broadcast production company, American Communications Foundation, producing stories with partners in newsrooms across the globe.