#smwTO: Weber Shandwick Rings the #Firebell

Weber Shandwick is a leading voice in the public relations space talked about the new world order that companies need to consider to protect their brand and reputation. Tania Ensor the SVP, Canadian Corporate Lead teamed up with David Krejci, her compatriot and the SVP of Weber Shandwick Minneapolis to preview Firebell at The BizMedia Rooftop Loft just South of Dundas Square.

PR is traditionally all about the reaction to a crisis and having the framework to respond but it continues to go through tremendous change in the web 2.0 era. Instead of having a to respond sometimes you have only minutes and that moment will not be confined to office hours but every moment of every day. In the new world order it is all about protecting your company’s reputation.

Reputation is vital because it represents 63% of a company’s value but is a fragile thing that takes a long time to build but only a moment to destroy and that is why it is important to be prepared when the sky starts to fall. Today that reputation is under siege for many firms via brand assassins and ninjas (they are damn tricky) and during a crisis the first 120 minutes can determine the perception the public will have of your firm.

In the days of old the amount of damage any one person could do was usually nonexistent but today the Internet has shifted that to the power of one. It only takes one person to create a site that says your company sucks, to tell their customer service horror stories for the world to hear.

Firebell is basically a simulator that Weber Shandwick has built that takes a crisis and helps to prepare firms for what would happen online. It is meant to test processes and identify gaps in a company’s response to a crisis.

The way it differs is that it focuses on the new social media space, taking into account twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other social media channels to help train your team in a secure off-the-Internet environment.

Here are the steps in short-form that underpin what FireBell a.k.a. their social crisis simulator is all about:

1. Consultation with the firm to create a devious (but plausible) crisis on your business that comes from the social space.
2. They create working replicas of the social media platforms you use that you would think were the real deal.
3. They not only create working off-line platforms but also the personalities and assassins that will inhabit them during the drill.
4. They build out a timeline for the crisis, planning twists and turns not unlike your favourite movie or TV show till they reach their crescendo.
5. Then they breath life into what was once a plan to become a living breathing panic attack to put you through your paces but with some really good training wheels on the side.

Firebell is a fascinating step in helping companies prepare for the multitude of dangers that come from online. They tested the models with some of their long standing clients and it shows promise in helping a firm prepare for the unexpected.

For a company to make use of a simulation like Firebell, one must understand the limitations inherent in any drill like the fact that you know it is a drill keeps the sense of urgency at bay. While it is designed to take place offline and they use online as a basis I wonder if they should include elements of the actual channels they are emulating in as close to real-time as possible.

Combine the offline with a one way online feed provides a more realistic environment for the scenario and while there are limitations it could just make the entire endeavor feel more real If it were done on a relatively real-time basis and modified to sync with the drill I think it could offer even more value than a version that is strictly offline. But that is probably something they are working and they would consider for version 2.

Several questions were asked when the night was nearing an end and one person asked if they had used Firebell for Weber Shandwick itself. While they have trained with it, trying to execute their own version would probably be more complex because of bias.

Even if they had one office do it for another those relationships and their intimate knowledge of how Weber Shandwick works would make such a task very challenging but also the scenario much more challenging. They responded by saying that they would now consider doing it if only to understand the other side of the coin for their clients.

All and all PR like advertising is going a fundamental chance and it is a great time to enter the space to help be apart of the change as it happens.