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Strengthening Employee Crisis Response With Battle-Testing

July 20, 2022

APCO Alumnus Ben Marchman co-authored this post

The rise of the continuous news cycle and always-on social media has made communications capabilities a non-negotiable asset of a competitive and successful brand. Building consumer trust increasingly lies not only in the ability of brands to effectively communicate as a general practice but also in the ability to respond effectively to crisis scenarios that can threaten brand reputation and the business itself. What many organizations don’t realize is that while having a strong communications function may help them weather the storm, it is not always enough to recover and come back stronger.

Companies are more vulnerable than you think. Overnight, a social media campaign or investigation targeting your business can attract top-tier media spotlight and mobilize more critics. A massive cybersecurity breach could jeopardize sensitive company data like in the case of Marriott’s multiple breaches this year. Whatever the issue may be, you can count on negative coverage, misinformation and critical commentators gaining traction and influencing public opinion to the detriment of your business.

So, what sets companies that can come back stronger from a crisis from the rest? It comes down to battle testing.

 Battle testing (AKA a crisis simulation) is a low-stakes exercise that can provide invaluable insights into an organization’s readiness and ability to respond to a crisis quickly and effectively. One way to ensure your organization is equipped to face stormy waters is by investing in resources and taking the time to stress test different business functions. Too often, companies realize too late how ill-equipped they are to provide an effective and rapid response. Scrambling to align internally and address questions such as who is on the crisis response team; what is the communications strategy; who are the key stakeholders; and how are we prioritizing engagement, among other critical considerations, takes time that companies don’t have in the midst of a crisis.

The time to test crisis protocols, systems and response is right now. Being forward-thinking and anticipating what’s ahead is a fundamental step to mitigating potential risk and fortifying business continuity plans. Once a negative social campaign launches or a scathing article goes public, it often becomes too late to make the all-important changes to protocol and structure that separates a successful crisis response from a failed one. Fortunately, battle-testing is becoming more advanced, cost-effective and immersive than ever before. The next generation of these exercises are utilizing digital tools and artificial intelligence to evaluate collective performance and decision-making, pinpointing areas of weakness and providing recommendations based on in-depth analytics, both qualitative and quantitative.

APCO’s own proprietary technology, emPOWER, is an interactive platform and role-playing simulation facilitated virtually or in-person. The platform will allow teams to practice crisis response and solidify their skills from any setting across the globe. The program creates evolving scenarios where new emails, prompts and information filter into replica email inboxes, while participants have to use their crisis response knowledge and protocols in real time. With more teams collaborating remotely across time zones instead of experiencing a real-time war room in-person, this virtual tool aims to replicate how a real crisis may play out. This showcases the potential value of battle-testing your team with a platform that provides global connectivity and an engaging and realistic interactive interface experience.

Battle-testing with emPOWER means the scenarios are endlessly customizable with insights specific to the needs of the organization. Brands can select from previously established scenarios or work with the crisis experts at APCO to design their own scenarios and escalations suited to their business needs. At the end of the customized scenario, emPOWER provides a readout pinpointing which participant took charge of the response, catalogued decision-making of all participants, gathered questionnaire data and identified which roles faced the greatest pressure during the simulation. Combined with analysis from APCO’s experts, these insights can enable crisis response teams to address gaps and strengthen crisis protocols with real-world data before a crisis even occurs.

Now more than ever, brands should be ready to communicate and respond to crises wherever and whenever they may occur. By battle-testing your team, they may become more familiar with the stressors of a fast-moving crisis and acquire the right tools to effectively address the situation.

To learn more about APCO’s offerings and how we can help protect your business and set up your team for success, reach out to

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