At Communicate Media, we’re providing more and more crisis management and crisis communications courses for architecture practices. This is because organisations of all kinds are increasingly at risk of hostile media coverage and negative social media sentiment.
Essentially, crisis management involves minimising the negative impact of an event that has the potential to damage the reputation of an organisation. For architecture firms, this could be a data breach. One growing risk here is a ransomware attack. This can have a detrimental impact on your customers, employees, and suppliers – or any of these groups – as well as having an even more damaging effect on your brand image.
Another might be a fire at your offices or an accusation of bullying or sexual harassment. Whether the latter has taken place or not, a simple allegation or claim can cause huge damage; therefore, you must be prepared to manage it effectively. Risks for architecture practices also relate to projects, of course. We’ve worked with a firm of architects, for instance, who wanted to ensure that if there were an accident at a site, they, along with the contractor, would be well prepared to deal with the incident, working closely with the contractor and other stakeholders to align messages and coordinate spokespeople.
We also recently provided a crisis communications course for architects around sustainability. The scenario we developed for them to use during the crisis workshop was about a claim from local people that the housing project that the firm was working on had damaged green spaces, wildlife and rivers nearby. Six months later, something very similar to this fictional situation arose in real life. The firm told us they felt much better able to manage and contain it.
With the explosion of social media, a more vocal and demanding population, as well as pressures of the 24-hour news cycle, organisations such as architecture firms are subject to more risks than ever before. Therefore, their crisis management should be comprehensive, effective and ready to roll out at a moment’s notice.
The Importance of Good Crisis Communication
A crisis can damage the reputation of an organisation – and it can do a lot worse. Following the United Airlines crisis in which the company was accused of abusing a passenger and ejecting him violently from an aircraft, the company saw its value fall by around $1 billion in one day. As an architectural practice, you know that when clients are deciding whether to retain you or use your services, the chances are that they’ll do an internet search.
If that search throws up headlines about bad treatment of staff, arguments with contractors and clients or a data breach, your chances of winning this new business will be greatly reduced. You might also find it more difficult to get additional financing and to attract the best talent. As one high-ranking architect put it to us when he asked us to provide crisis communications training for his firm: “In our business, reputation is everything.”
You can’t prevent a crisis from happening, but good crisis communication can reduce the detrimental impact. Effective crisis management can’t undo a crisis but can mitigate the potential damage. If you manage a crisis or even a difficult issue well, you can protect your brand image and the reputation of your architecture practice. Good crisis communications, put simply, is to encourage your target audiences of clients, potential clients, partners and talent to take the view that sometimes bad things happen to good people.
We work with the in-house communications teams of architecture practices and public relations companies who have architects as clients to help them prepare for managing a crisis. Because all of our media trainers are working journalists (operating under strict nondisclosure agreements), they have practical experience in reporting on crises and giving press officers and public relations consultants a hard time when something has gone wrong. We bring this practical experience to bear in our crisis communications workshops.
Assessing Potential Crises for Architecture Firms
As well as providing crisis communications for architecture practices, we also help them to identify where a crisis might erupt. We can do this because our trainers are working journalists who regularly report on crises or companies finding themselves in difficult situations. We know what kind of incidents will make a story for the media and make life difficult for an organisation.
We can work with you to explore the risks in your firm and help you ensure that you’re well-prepared should an incident arise. Although we talk about crisis communications, we also help organisations deal with difficult issues – mistakes they’ve made, controversial decisions they’ve had to take, and all issues within the sector that can be divisive.
We then help architectural practices and other organisations to develop strategies to manage these difficult situations. This means developing and testing messages for the media, clients, employees and suppliers. We can then ensure that all spokespeople are comfortable with these messages – that they can deliver them confidently and effectively, but also authentically in a way that works for them.
Developing a Crisis Communication Team
Once you’ve identified potential crises or difficult issues and then developed appropriate messages to manage them with your target audiences, you’ll also need to ensure that you have a crisis communications team in place.
This team might partly be internally focused – talking to your employees to reassure them that the situation is under control and to answer their specific questions. The crisis communications team must be ready to respond out of hours. The fact is that crises don’t always happen Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. We work with architectural practices and other professional services firms to help them implement an information cascade so that alerts of a crisis or difficult situation are picked up quickly, fed to the relevant people and then acted on.
A key part of our business is training communications teams to speak to the media and other audiences. We look at the most appropriate messages and help people express them confidently and in a way that is human and believable. We help them identify examples and proof points where necessary and advise on the right language and tone of voice. We can also provide training on vocal skills and body language – after all, it’s not just what you say in a crisis or a difficult situation; it’s how you say it.
Drafting and Distributing Crises Messages
There are so many examples of organisations that handle a crisis poorly by putting out the wrong message or simply failing to respond correctly. We work with architects and other professionals to help them to draft and distribute crisis messages. In many cases, we advise clients to have a range of templates available. These short texts can cover issues such as a data breach, an allegation of bullying or sexual intimidation, a complaint from a supplier or customer, or perhaps a problem with a building that needs to be addressed immediately.
Once these general templates have been agreed upon, should any of these incidents occur, the specific details can be filled in and the wording tweaked so that it’s relevant to a particular situation. The advantage here for architects in crisis situations is that it gives them a head start, enabling them to get ahead of events. As we know, things move very quickly during a crisis.
Monitoring and Adapting the Strategy
Once you’ve released your crisis statement or your response to criticism of a mistake you’ve made or a difficult decision you’ve had to take, you’ll monitor relevant media outlets to see what coverage you’re getting. This could be conventional news websites such as The Times, Architects Journal, Dezeen or local media. It could also be a comment on social media. Either way, you’ll want to see what kind of coverage you’re getting, and you’ll need to assess the sentiment on social media.
In a crisis, responding strategically and carefully is important rather than simply offering a knee-jerk reaction to every comment. One lesson that we teach in our crisis communications training for architects is that you cannot change your overall message. Returning to the United Airlines incident, the company came up with several different explanations, excuses and responses. This made them look chaotic and shifty. This is why you need to respond quickly and confidently and ensure that you’re saying something you’re completely comfortable with.
Crisis Management Training
Nobody likes to think about a crisis, and everyone hopes they will be spared the embarrassment of handling a difficult situation. However, crisis communications training for architects and architectural practices is essential to effective risk management and a due diligence strategy that is fit for purpose.