This article was contributed to TechCabal by Claudine Moore, Managing Director, Africa Allison + Partners (formerly CEO/Founder C.Moore Media, International PR)
To say I am excited about the launch of this Public Relations (PR) column specifically for African tech startups is an understatement. One thing 2022 has shown us all is that as the African tech sector continues to evolve and grow, so does the need for professional services to support the ecosystem, with PR being right at the top of that list.
Silence is loud, you are who google says you are, the internet never forgets, and reputation is everything, are just a few slightly trite phrases that are in fact crucial considerations when thinking about PR, communications, and the reputation of your tech startup or as a founder/entrepreneur. With African startups continuing to raise unprecedented amounts from global investors and potential partners to talented tech executives looking for their next gig, the focus on the African tech scene has never been greater. Coupled with the power and speed of social media and the virulence of pervasive cancel culture, managing your corporate and business reputation should be at the top of your agenda.
Twice a month, this column will provide readers with world-class PR expertise, insights, case studies, practical tips and advice drawn from experience working across multiple sectors, including some of Africa’s most well-known startups, founders and entrepreneurs. For our debut column, we are jumping right in to share some practical steps when planning for a crisis. Over the last few months, we have all seen in real time how damaging a crisis can be and the serious implications it can have. The key is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Crisis Communications – Always Plan Ahead
Maintaining a positive long-term reputation relies heavily on how well a startup responds to a PR crisis. If you do not plan, you essentially plan to fail. While startups are typically budget-conscious and investing in a crisis communication plan can seem like an unnecessary exercise, planning ahead will empower you with a strategy and the confidence to take control of the narrative. Ignoring a crisis will invariably make a crisis worse by creating an information void that can lead to damaging speculation.
Your crisis communication plan should include the following:
1. A crisis management team
This team should include a cross-section of the top executives, including the C-suite, in-house or consultant/agency HR, PR and legal counsel. The team should identify different spokespeople based on the type of crisis (more on this later) and the expertise of the spokespeople. The goal is to have media-trained subject matter experts on standby.
2. Vulnerability assessment
While businesses cannot predict crises, they should draft an outline of potential issues and crisis scenarios based on industry nuances, environmental conditions, leadership sensibilities and more. The associated response including statements, press releases etc. should be drafted and approved ahead of time to allow for a swift response.
Know your internal and external audience(s), ranging from investors, partners, customers, employees and media. You should prepare draft communications to address each group. Your draft should identify and define how each stakeholder could be affected, and the ramifications of the potential impact.
4. Media monitoring – staying informed in real-time
Proactively identifying a crisis is an excellent preventative step to get ahead of a story or potentially damaging news. If a system is in place to monitor online activity, unusual activity such as a negative headline or story can be immediately identified. Google alerts are a very simple (and free) way to monitor activity online.
5. An actionable social media plan
Social media is one of the most effective ways to communicate in a crisis hence the need to have a social media plan outline, at the very least. You can use the leadership’s social media handles to convey support, transparency and encouragement, while posts from corporate handles can be more informational and data-driven.
As mentioned above, a social media response should be drafted in response to each crisis scenario identified as a potential threat. Investing resources in creating a crisis communications plan can seem daunting but once created, the plan can be stored in the archives providing much-needed confidence that in the advent of a crisis you can avoid a damaging scramble.