Crisis Management

Mary-Lynn Charlton joins Paul Martin and Colin Rooke to discuss strategy for crisis management within your business.


Listen to the full episode here, or read the full transcript below

Paul Martin: Welcome to Risky Business, Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. Paul Martin, your host here, the business commentator on CKOM. And joining us today, Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers. He is joined today by Mary-Lynn Charlton of Martin Charlton Communications.

We’re going to talk about reputation and Colin, this is a topic, I guess it’s been a while since we’ve talked about it because COVID got in the way and cyber got in the way, but reputation is a topic we’ve discussed on this program once in a while. I’m always intrigued by this one because obviously every company worries about its reputation, but it’s not something you can buy an insurance policy for. So why is Colin, the insurance guy, so interested in this topic? Why do you bring it up?

Colin Rooke: Yeah. Thanks, Paul. I’m interested in the topic because we now have a crisis management guide. It’s reputation risk with a little bit of some extra flare, a little more twist to it. We’ve certainly spent a lot of time talking about reputation risk, and it’s a really integral part of any claim, certainly a large claim, especially if it’s made public, if there’s any news coverage or something that’s all over social media. We’ve always said the renumeration, the funds to rebuild, that’s the easy part. It’s what do we do next? How do we minimize the social damage? How do we minimize maybe any negative perception around a claim? In this case, it doesn’t actually have to be an insurance claim. We’re just talking about a crisis, something that will impact the financial or a potential financial future of the company.

Now, the crisis could be a claim, it could be something that’s insurable, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe the event is something that’s not insurable but we still have something that we have to deal with nonetheless. As part of our risk reduction workshops that we do at Butler Byers, it comes up all the time. Do you have a plan in place? Are you working that plan? Are you reviewing that plan? And then have you done the steps required to implement that plan and are all your ducks in a row? So it’s one thing to talk about it internally, but making sure the slots are filled. Have you talked to an expert, someone like Mary-Lynn to say, “Okay, we know what we will do internally,” but part of that internal process is who will help us through this. Most companies, I would say, don’t have the manpower or the expertise to navigate this on their own. And that’s when it’s important to have those proactive conversations with the expert.

My job is just to identify the risk, to organize and prioritize that risk for our clients. But then we hand it off and say, “Okay, let’s fast forward a bit. Something has happened to us and we’re in the thick of it. Who’s going to help carry us through that event?” I was going to say make sure, but to minimize as much as possible the perception. Controlling that message so the messages recreated by the public.

Paul Martin: You’ve raised a lot of really solid points here. One that just comes to mind is that it’s the implications of a claim, it’s the sort of byproducts of a claim, if I could. There may be legal, so you better have lawyers on staff, and everyone does do that. That’s a pretty standard procedure. But you’re saying on reputation, maybe you should have the PR firm on staff too, or on standby just like you have lawyers on standby to deal with some of these issues, because yes, there’s the insurance components to it. Say you had a fire and your building burned down. There’s going to be implications for the community about what happens to the jobs? What happens to when you reopen? I had an order in the warehouse, all of that stuff that you need to talk to the public about. And you’re saying you’ve now got a plan that will help people actually work that plan. You’ll say these are the steps you need to go through.

Colin Rooke: Yeah, exactly. If you’ve got competitors, which we all do, and maybe there’s a major event and that event is negative, if you aren’t in control of the message, your competition’s going to be. So we developed, at a high level, the why, right? Why should you do this, and the important components of the plan. In our plan, it’s about organizing the individuals inside the organization, it’s assigning roles, but a big, in fact, I would argue probably the most important part of that plan is, great, okay, we’ve done what we can on the inside. Who’s going to help with all the rest now?

And that’s why having that conversation now, talking to an expert, knock on wood, is so important during this process to know, like you said Paul, with the lawyer, we are being sued and if so we will call this person. Well, now we’ve got a major event and who are we going to call? Have that conversation now. Know who it’s going to be.

Paul Martin: All right. Well, let’s bring that person in now. That’s a Mary-Lynn Charlton of Martin Charlton Communications, with offices in both cities in the province. Mary-Lynn, you’ve heard how Colin described all of this. How does this resonate with you who is a person who is a professional in the field of public relations?

Mary-Lynn Charlton: Yeah. Colin, you hit on all the right points. When a crisis hits or when it’s unfolding, it’s just happening at lightning speed. Especially in the digital age with social media, it just can turn into a crisis so quickly and you don’t have time to react. If you’re not prepared, then you’re on the defensive immediately and you’re defending, defending. We like to say that things just start to slide down and you have trouble climbing out.

So the biggest difference between getting into that full blown crisis and good management is being prepared. So we work with people in doing, ahead of time, doing crisis communication plans. We plan, get a plan together, a roadmap if you will, that people can follow. So they pull it off the shelf the minute things happen and they start to follow that roadmap.

We plan, get a plan together, a roadmap if you will, that people can follow. So they pull it off the shelf the minute things happen and they start to follow that roadmap.

So we’ve already identified who are the stakeholders? In a lot of cases, people think when a crisis hits, they think the media are first and foremost, but that’s not always the case. And in fact, usually isn’t the number one stakeholder. It’s your customers, it’s your staff, sometimes it’s government. You’ve got licensing authority, regulatory authorities you need to contact. Media might be fourth or fifth on the list. So we get that all mapped out in the roadmap of who needs to be contacted and who will contact them.

We get that all mapped out in the roadmap of who needs to be contacted and who will contact them.

When a crisis hits, things are happening so quickly you have to have decided ahead of time, okay, the CEO is going to deal with stakeholders. The vice-president’s going to talk to the media. The human resources person is going to talk to staff. That kind of stuff. We work all that out and we write down what you’re going to say at each juncture. So, if you’re prepared, in a weird way, a crisis can actually be an opportunity because you can show your stakeholders, you can show your regulatory folks that you are a well-managed company, you have the proper resources to be able to handle this kind of thing, and that you’re prepared. So a crisis, you can actually come out the other side and look like you are a hero, believe it or not. That’s where we always start from with people. How can we get them through this and have this crisis turned into an opportunity?

Paul Martin: Just before we dig into this a little bit further because I guess the flip side, the mirror image of that is a failure to do this causes you more problems than you probably deserve, too. We got to take a little break. So let’s take two minutes and we’ll come back and pick up this conversation. You’re listening to Risky Business, Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. Back after this.

The mirror image of that is a failure to do this causes you more problems than you probably deserve

Welcome back to Risky Business, Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers, Paul Martin, your host and joining us is Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers. And our guest today is Mary-Lynn Charlton, the CEO of Martin Charlton Communications. And we’re talking about reputation, reputation management. Colin, I’m curious, Mary-Lynn laid out what seems to be, when you’re not in the heat of a crisis, a very logical sort of set of things, make some plans, talk to people before it happens, get it all organized. If you do that, what does the insurance company think about it? I mean, we are here talking about insurance. What do insurers look at? How do they look at this thing?

Colin Rooke: That’s a really good point because you might not say to yourself right away, “Okay, what’s the impact on an insurance policy? Why would I do this? Why would this help me in the long run?” Well, you take a major fire, for example, and depending on the type of business you are in and your ability to react swiftly, it could seriously impact the business in the future. So again, enter the communications team that’s going to help with the public relations side of the plan.

But on top of that, we’ve got a significant property claim. Well, showing the insurance market that you’ve put the work in is going… Saying, “Okay, we’ve thought through this.” I mean, it could be a fire. It could be virus, we’re the time of COVID. It could be a social media incident, but it just shows that we, as a company, are thinking about risk management, that it’s important to us. It’s important enough to have those conversations. It’s important enough to prepare.

And the other thing is on some of the other related coverages. Let’s say you’ve got business interruption insurance, and there is, again, you’ve got a significant event and depending on how you handle what comes next, that could impact how long it might take for the company to be up and running. Well, that’s going to have an impact on the payout from the insurance company. So to say, “Okay, we’ve put in our work, we know what we will do in the event that something occurs, and this is our plan, and this is how quickly we could react to it.”

Even on the coverage side you might say, “You know what? We’ve been purchasing,” again, back to the business interruption, “We’ve been purchasing a lot more than we think we need. We’ve walked ourselves through the worst case scenario,” and with the right people in place you could narrow down just how soon things could be back to normal. But if you don’t know that, if your way of dealing with an event is panic, it’s going to be a lot longer. So now you’re not telling a great story to the insurance market. You are probably buying coverage or more coverage than you need. And on top of that, depending on the type of policy you have or line of business, or the potential loss, there could be coverage available to hire a public relations firm to help with the event.

So again, if you say, “Okay, well we know who we would talk to and we already have that plan,” that’s going to be less costly to the insurance market. If you have the coverage available and you think, “Geez, we have to have 15 interviews and we don’t know where to start and now it’s the 11th hour because we’re in the midst of all this,” it’s going to be costlier. So even on that perspective, you can say, “If we have a major cyber incident and on our policy there’s coverage for incident response management, it’s actually going to be less costly because we put the time in now and we know how we are going to handle it.”

Paul Martin: Mary-Lynn, I might just ask you to jump in. Is it your experience with some of the, if I could say most well-run companies, that it’s very typical for them to be approaching firms such as yours and to strike these relationships at a time when there is no crisis in order to be prepared for a crisis, should one happen?

Mary-Lynn Charlton: Oh, absolutely, Paul. We have seen such an uptick in that in the last five years, four to five years, where a lot of companies are reaching out and saying, “We need to have a crisis communication plan.” There’s crisis plan, and then there’s crisis communication plan. People are recognizing the need to have the communications part ready to go.

We sometimes find ourselves working with lawyers, for example, calling about cyber threats. We have worked hand in hand with lawyers on communication, crisis communication strategies, to help the company either avoid, or at least minimize, any litigation down the road. We’ve had great success in that because if you reach out to people and you talk to them, you communicate with them in a timely and appropriate manner, there’s less risk of someone getting mad at you. Communication comes down to some common sense at the end of the day and if you can have the time before the crisis to think this through, then it works.

Paul, getting back to your question, one reason that we’ve seen an uptick over the last few years is the digital world. Things unfold so rapidly, at lightning speed. I’ll just use an example, a real life example without using names. There was a company that had a major construction site and an accident happened and no one was injured, but someone onsite took a photo of the accident, put it online and had thousands of views before head office was informed about the accident. So rumors were going crazy and that particular company had to act really quickly to get out ahead of that and make sure that customers knew that everything was okay, make sure families knew that no one was hurt because you certainly couldn’t tell by the photo.

So they had a plan and they reacted. And I think at the end of the day, like I said earlier, your goal should be no matter how bad the crisis is, your goal at the end of the day, it should be to show that you’re a well-managed, well-run company. Colin, you use the words to show that you’ve thought this through, and that’s what a crisis communication plan does.

The other point I’d make is, I don’t care who you are, when a crisis is unfolding you can’t think clearly. You’ve got so many demands that are just happening by the second, mostly because of our digital social media world. You also need an outside perspective, someone that can say, “Here’s your five priorities. We talked about this ahead of time. We’ve got it written down. This is the roadmap and these are the first five stops to make on the roadmap, first things to do.” Because, as I said, anyone who’s had something go viral or has had a crisis knows that time just is speeding by and there’s so many demands that it’s difficult to deal with things in that moment.

Paul Martin: Excellent guidance there. Colin, we’ve got maybe just a half a minute before we run out of time today so just throw it over to you to put the final mark on this thing to just summarize it, if I can. You can put the insurance spin on this about why we’ve been doing this conversation today.

Colin Rooke: Well, again, it’s a really important part of our risk management work that we do. It’s having those conversations. I mean, we call it proactive risk management for a reason. If we’re waiting to be reactive, if we’re starting to act, once we learn that one of our clients has a COVID outbreak inside the organization, for example, it’s too late. We want to start the work now. We want to have those conversations now and say, “If you had an outbreak, what would you do? Who would you talk to? How will we handle it?” Not how are we going to handle it?

Paul Martin: Colin, is always, excellent advice. Thank you for this. You’ve been listening to Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers, and our guest today, Mary-Lynn Charlton of Martin Charlton Communications. Thank you both and thanks for joining us. Talk to you next time.