Alex Steer

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Using real-time data in a crisis

673 words | ~3 min

Last week I presented to the Market Research Society on using real-time data in crisis management situations. I'm putting it up here in case it's useful to anyone who finds their brand melting down.

As with all my presentations, at least half of it is pictures. So here's a quick rundown of roughly what I said:

This is a presentation about process in a real-time environment. Nobody gives out awards for process. But everybody wishes they had one when they get to their desk and realise their brand has gone from 'fine' to 'critical' overnight.

I'm a strategy director at Fabric. We're a creative optimisation agency backed by WPP - we help brands use their data to deliver creative advantage. So we spend a lot of time helping clients bring their data together, measure what matters, and find simpler ways to consume and share it, in real time (or very close).

We work with over 150 brands in 25 markets, and with some genuinely global clients. Because we're focused on helping clients use their data better, we do a lot of work advising on capabilities as well as measurement - how clients should work with their data more effectively. And a lot of that, these days, is about using data fast, including crisis management.

A real-time media environment - one that's fast-moving and constant, with lots of participants (like social media) - has lots of interesting new ways of putting brands in crisis. And I really do mean brands. Lots of businesses have good crisis management capabilities, but they lie in corporate communications or legal, not with brand teams.

Even great brands can suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar world of pain. Sometimes it's your fault, sometimes it's not. It's easy to panic when you most need to be calm.

For the first time, data moves (almost) as fast as a crisis does. Good use of data during a crisis requires the discipline of research at the speed of social. No easy task.

Getting it right isn't just about having data, it's about being really, really diligent and organised in how you organise and use it, from the start. That kind of discipline can keep you out of crisis, and help you deal with it maturely and quickly when a crisis happens.

So, five tips for using data effectively in a crisis...

Keep perspective. Know how big a problem is, how fast it's moving, and how big your response needs to be. Know what your blind spots are when it comes to measurement or listening. Use data to stop people from panicking.

Measure from the start. Know what the problem is, how it affects you, how you measure the damage and how you measure your recovery. Do that at the start. Set some key performance indicators and keep everyone focused on today's task.

Sort out your chain of command. It's probably not the same as your normal approvals process - it may need more senior people, but may also need to be shorter to get things done quickly. Know how you're going to communicate with your crisis team, do it consistently, and keep it simple. Know when you'll escalate, and who needs to know what, and how often.

Set stages and gates. Work out which order you need to solve problems in. Set threshold measures that you'll monitor every day, so you know when you've moved from stage one to stage two of a crisis response, etc. (what Churchill called 'the end of the beginning'). Use data to let everyone know how far you've come - and what's left.

Know your exits. Seriously, a crisis can feel like it will last forever, but it does end. Don't get addicted to being in a crisis. (It's easy to do - when you're back's against the wall, every move feels important.) Know when and how you'll move on.

# Alex Steer (07/02/2014)