Our experience shows it, our research validates it, and business executives feel it: we are in a world of crisis. Frequent and disruptive issues have become a relentless and fundamental part of today’s business landscape — one that is exacerbated by growing pressure for immediate action on societal issues and consumer demands for hyper-transparency.
No business is immune to today’s pressures
Our 2022 Edelman Connected Crisis study uncovers how businesses are feeling this growing pressure to manage core business issues, and response to wider events in society. From issues related to climate change, mental health, issues of equality and geopolitical issues, a majority of the public is telling us they think it is very important or essential that businesses respond — and executives are worried about the impact these issues can have on both operations and reputations.
What’s more, there are no clear limits around the issues that businesses are expected to respond to. Our research uncovered that there is no difference between the proportion of executives who say their company is facing growing pressure to respond to business-related issues, and those who say the same about issues that are not directly business-related. No brand or company is immune to today’s pressures — in their country, or elsewhere in the world.
As ever, how businesses respond to these pressures remains a judgement call. Businesses can’t and shouldn’t respond to all issues, but their decisions need to be informed by data, a deep understanding of their audiences and a consistent decision making framework — not just instinct.
Businesses must adapt to stakeholder expectations in times of crisis
Our longstanding studies on trust have demonstrated that trusted entities are not immune to crisis – if anything, our research shows that no business is — but trusted companies are far more resilient in the face of crisis, experiencing shorter and less damaging crisis lifecycles. Trust capital is perhaps a business’ best insurance policy against crises, risk and disruption today.
Our most recent study, however, looks closer and explores key drivers of trust in times of crisis — and what businesses can do to best maintain or rebuild their Trust capital. Importantly, it found misalignment in the behaviours businesses think they should be demonstrating in times of crisis, and what the public expect: Integrity (honesty) and dependability (keeping their promises).
While there are some fundamentals to crisis management that transcend generations or societal shifts — for example, being timely and transparent — executives need to adapt the approach they, up to now, thought was right. In times of crisis, business must act with ruthless honesty and demonstrate their willingness to act on their commitments. The only way to do this right is by developing a deep understanding of stakeholder expectations, and acting accordingly. Those who don't will lose loyalty and custom.
Crisis management: the fastest-growing area of responsibility for CMOs / CCOs
Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that one in two CMOs / CCOs say that their responsibilities across crisis management have increased in importance over the past five years. Crisis management is the fastest-growing area of responsibility for CCOs; and is one of the fastest-growing areas for CMOs, alongside investing in diversity and inclusion and labour relations — a stark finding given crisis management has, traditionally, not been a core part of the CMO role.
Concerning, however, is that 60% of this group say they don’t have the right skillset in their teams to manage the wide range of issues and crises they face today.
The whole business, in fact, needs to come together in order to build resilience in times of crisis. The wide range of issues that businesses are now expected to manage, across borders, requires subject-matter expertise and a deep understanding of local nuances. Those who do will improve their ability to manage through today's chaotic crisis landscape. Those who do not face increased risk in the coming years.
Hugh Taggart is Global Crisis Chair.