When we help people prepare for crisis communications we offer them a choice: their world, or ours. Alice Bainbridge contrasts the hyper-real option of simulated broadcast reports against the Bladonmore fictional testbed of Alcovia
The environment created by a crisis is different to business as usual: it is fast-paced, complex and uncertain. Crisis simulations can be used as effective means of teaching or testing decision-making, strategic thinking and communication skills in a realistic, but de-risked environment.
Communicating in a crisis breaks the rules of everyday corporate communications. Media outlets will cover the story with or without your input. Stakeholders will add to the narrative through social media with views and opinions that don’t require evidence or verification. And the breadth of commentators will be more numerous than at any other time.
In this high-pressured, uncertain environment, executives don’t always get it right first time when they engage with the media. Crises that threaten the reputation of your business, and in some cases its license to operate, are not the right place to try out techniques. It’s far better for executives and communications teams to build up ‘muscle memory’ through realistic crisis scenarios that can help to strengthen team relationships, identify holes in your crisis response and encourage the effective use of response tools.When we coach business executives in crisis communications,
we most often strive for immersion and realism. We shoot ‘location’ films using our greenscreen studio and create realistic news reports in post-production, we write authentic newswire releases, we build Twitter walls. All of it is designed to make the crisis as real as possible and to focus participants on what they could easily see on their TV screen or iPad. These interactions show them how the media and their broader public will interpret the crisis. They can even be responsive to reflect the choices the delegates make with the information they have at hand.
Sticking closely to realistic, and real-world, scenarios is one route we take in crisis preparedness. But there is also a way to fully engage in issues or crisis management – completely make it up. Alcovia is the name of our fictitious nation, a fully-realised world with its own internal and international dynamics. It’s where our issues and crisis communications coaching takes place – a safe, simulated environment that’s insulated from the outside world, but that mirrors it in all material respects.
By using a fictional country instead of a real one, we exert greater control over characters, events and settings and can fashion a crisis with a credible, complex and motivating story. A world like Alcovia allows us to explore any scenario in any context we can imagine, giving delegates a meaningful understanding of how to manage a crisis — should they ever face one in the real world. And there are no arguments about it ‘not being like that in my market’. It makes the focus on the crisis, rather than the background, much sharper.
Within our simulated world, we test crisis communications strategies at both a tactical and strategic level – and evaluate these outcomes to give feedback on their respective success. It’s a process that helps delegates conceptualise and develop a winning strategy for effective crisis management.