Crises Don’t Stop at 5pm
Article by Jacqueline Arnold @ TwentyTwo13 (6 February 2023)
It’s really good to see that the new government is taking communication and key messaging seriously.
In fact, over the past few weeks, they’ve been saying all the right things; from an urbane, multi-racial, and international point of view, that is.
For example, the Dewan Rakyat Speaker declaring that “…sexist remarks, bad behaviour in Parliament will not be tolerated…”, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim assuring Malaysians that “…Malaysia will not tolerate the burning of any holy book of any religion…”, and reiterating that “…policies that marginalise minority communities will not be allowed to be implemented under the current administration…”.
Well done! Key messaging is spot on.
Clearly, the unity government takes crises very seriously.
So, it came as no surprise when a government-linked organisation recently issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for crisis communications.
It was obviously issued to many public relations (PR) consultancies; there was no customisation of the email, whatsoever.
This led me to believe that before they issued the RFP, there was no fact-finding and shortlisting. Which was their first mistake.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for open bids.
However, in order to get the best out of it, first and foremost, the specifications need to be correct. By right, the team preparing the RFP should have done their homework.
A simple Google search with the keywords “public relations Malaysia” would have led them to the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia’s website, which lists 15 accredited PR consultancies.
They should then have researched these consultancies, and others too, to learn about their relevant experience and expertise.
The RFP Committee should then have made a list of firms that met their criteria and proceeded to have preliminary fact-finding discussions with them. This would certainly have helped them understand the nature of crises and the requirements to include in the RFP.
However, since they got off on the wrong foot, it stands to follow that the rest was also not well thought through.
As a result, the RFP contained several stipulations which were unrealistic. For example, contractors were to comply with certain conditions of employment, such as that employees shall not be required to work more than eight hours per day, in excess of a spread over a period of 10 hours per day, and not more than 48 hours per week.
In addition, contractors are required to pay overtime, i.e., work carried out in excess of the normal hours of work per day, and that overtime is on a voluntary basis.
These conditions led me to conclude that the organisation had absolutely no experience or knowledge of crises and how consultancies operated.
From my 20-odd years’ of experience in the PR industry, I can tell you that crises don’t observe the 9 to 5 rule, that they typically occur after regular working hours, and usually on the weekends, particularly long weekends.
Even if a crisis is declared sometime between 9am and 5pm, the crisis communication and crisis management teams would work long into the night, and sometimes even round the clock, until it’s under control.
In my humble opinion, the most important criteria when selecting a crisis communication specialist are relevant breadth and depth of experience (the ‘grey hair’), a team leader who is level-headed, organised, and brave enough to ask the hard and sensitive questions, and consultants who are articulate, possess high emotional intelligence, and display finesse.
And finally, perhaps above all else, when you’re handling a crisis, you’d want a team that’s at your beck and call 24/7.