Think Energy

Protect, preserve and promote your brand by Being Crisis Ready

Sep 25, 2023

Extreme weather, cyber attacks, and disruptive technology pose growing threats worldwide. And energy companies are at higher risk. In Episode 121 of thinkenergy, we discuss the urgent need for crisis readiness in Canada’s energy sector. Guest Melissa Agnes, CEO of the Crisis Ready Institute, is an authority in crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. With experience spanning NATO to global non-profits, tune in for her insight on how to fortify your brand for turbulent times.

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Dan Seguin 00:06

This is Think Energy. The podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back to the think energy podcast. Within the energy sector, we've seen numerous companies rise and fall in the eyes of the public when confronted by crises for which they were unprepared. As climate change, cyber attacks and other threats wreak havoc, energy companies from around the world are finding themselves more susceptible to dealing with crises on a regular basis. Here in Ottawa, we've seen our city hit with major weather events, including tornadoes, floods, freezing rain, major thunderstorms, and durational. windstorm in the last few years alone. So, take it from a company that knows - a crisis communication plan cannot be drafted and filed away on a shelf to collect dust. It's a living document that has to be integrated across the entire organization. However, emergencies and crises are unpredictable and rarely unfold as rehearsed. So our crisis program has to be flexible and practical. In a fast moving event, it is important to make sure processes are as smooth as butter. How a company communicates during a crisis has changed dramatically during my career. From the rise of the Internet, social media, smartphones and voice technology to name just a few. These new channels present opportunities to connect with your audiences, we are now able to communicate instantly directly to the public in the event of a crisis. In our space, Hydro Ottawa is seen as an authority which enables us to frame the conversation appropriately. At the same time, during a crises, all eyes are on us. And we better shine. As Warren Buffett said, it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. The Internet, and the communication channels that come with it also present challenges, namely, information overload. Everyone is now vying for your attention. Given all the information out there, you don't want to just be more noise, you need to stand out. So here is today's big question. If


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your phone rings tomorrow, and you're suddenly confronted with a major crises, are you and your business prepared to handle it? Do you know what steps to take to mitigate that damage? So joining me today, I have a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management and brand protection. She is the founder and CEO of the Crisis Ready Institute and the author of Crisis Ready Building an Invincible Brand in an uncertain world. My very special guest today has worked with NATO Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense financial firms, technology companies, health care organizations, cities and municipalities, law enforcement agencies, the global nonprofit, and many others. She is a guest lecturer at universities around the world and also sits on the Global Advisory Council for the Institute for strategic risk management. Dear listeners, please welcome Melissa, Agnes. Melissa, maybe you could start by sharing with our listeners your journey into crisis management, what's a crisis management strategist? And how did you get where you are today? Lastly, what does it mean to be crisis ready?

Melissa Agnes 04:34

Okay, the three part question and I'm going to do my best to be as succinct as possible. So crisis management strategist- I view it that way. Crisis communication strategist, crisis leadership. Like I view the strategy part of it to say that it's not just reactive, right? You're not being simply reactive where you're being hit with something and you're reacting to something. You are- you need to be strategic in the way that you respond to crisis, as well as in the way that you prepare to respond to crisis. So that's the whole premise of being crisis ready, which was the third part of your question. So that's what a strategist comes in. And I'll add that it's not about, you know, PR people might look at or if people might associate it with PR and spin. It's not that at all. It's not about manipulation. It's about looking at the long term of what's happening, and essentially the relationships that matter to the organization, and looking at a crisis through a lens that says, 'What's the best way for us to respond now and over the long term", which I'm sure we'll dive more into intense conversation in a way that keeps us building strengthening trust. With your question in regards to what is does it mean to be crisis ready? The answer is right there. So crisis ready is a term that I coined well over a decade ago, because I was dissatisfied with the status quo of crisis preparedness, which is pretty much a through line throughout my entire career, as my career is based off of frustration and I don't like to complain, so I don't like complain about something and not provide a solution. So my career is always around, like what's happening in the world, what really, really doesn't just doesn't sit right with me. And then what can I do in my way to contribute right to make things better? So the crisis ready came from the frustration that crisis preparedness, quote, unquote, crisis preparedness, which the was the more common kind of terminology for it within our profession, or within the industry was about having a plan, checking that box off, that leadership could say, like, Okay, we've got a crisis management plan, or we've got a crisis communication plan, we're set. And I knew 15 years ago, 14 years ago, when I started this, that made no sense to me. So I turned the coin crisis ready to give it a specific definition, which is it's a cultural approach. It's not just about having a plan. It's about building out programs and ingraining them into the culture of the organization. So that every single member of every single team in every single department and every single division and every single region, has the skill set has the mindset and has the capabilities to identify risk and its onset, to then figure out what to do with it, like categorize it, know what to do with it. So is it an issue? Is it a crisis? What do I do? And then effectively responding to the


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incident or the situation in a way that, yes, it de escalates it quickly, yes you mitigate long term material impact, but more over that piece with crisis ready, that's very unique and very important, is you respond in a way that strengthens trust.

Dan Seguin 07:45

Okay. Sorry. Now, this is another two part question.

Melissa Agnes 07:50

Let's do it.

Dan Seguin 07:51

When a crisis hits, the last thing we want is for a company to bury their heads in the sand. Having said that, is there such a thing as a manageable framework for effective crisis communications? Next, here's my other question. When might that framework help an organization deal with an actual event? communicate in real time and deal with stakeholders like elected officials, the media, employees and constituents?

Melissa Agnes 08:25

Okay, so the first part of that question is, is there such thing as a manageable framework for effective crisis communication? Absolutely yes, because I teach it. That's what we do we help. So essentially, are Crisis Ready Institute exists, because there is a lack or there's a void of actually teaching the essentials for crisis communication and crisis leadership, in any aspect of our academic lives. We're not taught these things no matter what, you know, it's very, very, very rare. And if you have been taught, it was likely very recently, and probably not even to the level that I would really give it that stamp of approval, unfortunately. So yes, all of that to say that that is what Crisis Ready Institute does, that is a big part of what I do is I see complex subject matter and skills, and I'm able to kind of put them into formulas and frameworks and different things that make it make them just more comprehensible. Is that a word? That's a word, right? That's an English word. Easier to understand, easier to truly conceptualize and giving a formula for okay, it's like until that skill level is at the point that we want it to be, where its intrinsic, and it's reflexive and it's just like, something happens and you know how to respond. That you want to have those 1-2-3 steps that are actually applicable. So yes, and then this second part of your question was, I mean, the crisis ready framework is designed to be scalable from issue straight through to crisis. So obviously, we teach for the worst case scenarios. But if you can respond to the worst case scenarios in a way that, again, de escalates the situation quickly, mitigates long term material impact, and strengthens trust within the organization, both internally and externally. So essentially, strengthening brand equity, building brand equity as a result of the crisis management. Then if you can do that, in the worst times, you can do that - you can apply all of the same tactics, all of the same techniques, all of the same strategies, in issue management. And in doing that, so like the lesser degree type of situation, materially impactful type of situation. So taking that, and when you are able to do that, first of all, obviously, you nip issues in the bud, like really quickly. And secondly, the organizations that are really truly crisis ready they are less vulnerable, to crises and to risks and to, you know, the things happening because they know they have, again, it's the mindset, the skills and the


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capability to respond. And the frameworks that we have at Crisis Ready Institute are designed to be one scalable, but also building blocks. So you learn the fundamentals. And you learn how to apply them in different types of situations and scenarios with different types of mindsets and emotions and all of these different facets that play into crisis management.

Dan Seguin 11:32

Okay. How vital is it for an organization to maintain their social licence to operate? How does one safeguard its reputation?

Melissa Agnes 11:43

Okay, well, I think that you are the perfect person to answer that question. I mean, how vital is your social licence to operate, right? Like, that's reputation. That's trust. That social licence to operate, it's in the name, you can't really have a successful business in certain industries without it. And it's all about trust. It's all about - you and I were just talking about this right before we hit record, right? It's all about how much trust do you build prior to a crisis? And how well do you know how to respond to that trust remains and hopefully even strengthens as a result of effective crisis management? When it comes down to, for me, with the way that I see it to, like, simplify it as much as possible, is that strong business, solid business, successful business is built and developed on like, strong relationships. Right. So that's the social licence to operate, if you want to look at it that way. Crisis Management is about doing right by those very relationships. When it matters most when you're put to the test. It's all about trust.

Dan Seguin 12:53

If the communications plan is a living organism that helps you navigate through any disruption. Is it safe to say that it's not about dusting off that plan that just sits on that bookshelf?

Melissa Agnes 13:11

Absolutely. Things happen too fast. Things happen too fast things happen outside of the realm of what we planned for, or what we may have imagined it to be, or unfold as anybody who had a crisis management plan. And I'm saying plan, like, I'll use the words program and culture and skill set and mindset capabilities to talk about crisis ready, right. But if we're looking at it through the crisis, preparedness, going back to the start of our conversation, lens of like, let's check off that box. And let's just have that plan. Plans are linear, they're siloed. They're theoretical, more than they are practical, they become obsolete pretty much the second you put them on the shelf. And they're not ingrained. Things happen so quickly, they escalate so quickly, that to be looking around going like, oh, where's where's the plan that I think that one day, once upon a time we created, like, let's look at that and try to see. Already you're suffering Crisis Response penalty as a result of that, because you're not being effective with your time in terms of response. So anybody who had that type of plan prior to COVID, as an example, quickly, unfortunately realized and learned the hard way. How ineffective that mindset that approach is, so we really, really want to look at crisis ready as a program as a skill set as the mindset is capability that's ingrained into the culture of the organization.


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Dan Seguin 14:34

Okay, Melissa, now, let me ask you this. How can an organization transform crisis readiness into a competitive advantage?

Melissa Agnes 14:46

That's a really great question. This is one of those things that like it's really hard to sell what I do - Crisis Ready - because effectively what you're doing is you're trying to sell insurance to people who, who aren't obliged to pay purchase insurance right and human nature states that we don't want to look we want to avoid, we don't want to look at what's challenging or what's scary, or what makes us really uncomfortable, especially if we're not thrown into it and like being faced with it in the moment. So like, life is good, business is good, why would you want to look for it? Or look at what makes you uncomfortable? And the what if the downsides of the what ifs? That's really hard. And one of the ways that I've learned to do that to to sell it essentially, isn't answering that question is looking at what is the value of being crisis ready? What does it do to the team, to the culture to the morale internally, what does it do with regards to trust. And just having that culture that you know, something minor goes wrong, but you have this culture that sees that as an opportunity to strengthen relationships and to evolve as an organization as a service provider, or, you know, a product creator. So all of these different facets of like, what it means to be crisis ready with the core values assigned with crisis ready are and how they lay out day to day, not just to effectively manage crisis when it happens, or even mitigate crisis from happening. But what's the value that it brings internally and externally to increase? We'll go back to the word brand equity of your organization, there's a massive competitive advantage in those answers.

Dan Seguin 16:35

Okay, now, a little while back, I attended your amazing, it is truly amazing, a 10 week course on honing your crisis communication and leadership skills, where you stated, if I recall, that you cannot put emotion over logic. What is the role and power of emotion within issue and crisis management.

Melissa Agnes 17:00

So you can't let's let's let's flip it, you can't put logic over emotion. So the crisis ready rule is, you cannot beat emotion with logic. So just to make that clear. Emotion plays a major role in any type of crisis for every person involved, whether you're the leadership team, whether you're, you know, the members of the team who are doing different roles within managing the crisis, whether you're an outside impacted party by the crisis, you don't have a motion, you don't have crisis for that emotion. Meanwhile, you cannot beat emotion with logic. So you're speaking to as a leader, as a communicator, in times of crisis, you stand up, you rise up, and you communicate with your stakeholders who are being affected by the crisis in one way or another. Those people who are affected by the crisis in one way or another, are highly emotional, right? They have emotion and probably very deep, very real, very deep seated emotion running through them. What happens to us as human beings is emotion then comes to the forefront we're emotional beings, as human beings, no matter how logical or cerebral or rational we believe ourselves to be, we're still emotional beings, because we're human beings is the nature of how and who we are at what happens is when those high intensity, quote unquote, negative emotions kick


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into gear they come forefront, and they kind of they cloud judgment. I see it as the heart kind of coming up harping emotion coming up, and like putting this cloud around the brain, where you can't just speak or spew out logic, because the emotions are blocking it. It's clouding judgment, it's doing all kinds of things that a lot of leaders stand up and in those times, they just, they think that they just have to keep hammering out the truth and hammering out the facts that keep repeating the same things over in a very logical way. But they're missing the emotion, the emotional relatability, or the emotional, intelligent effect of it. And so in order to be able to communicate and lead effectively through crisis, you have to understand, know how to, first of all, understand emotion, the different types of emotions that that we have as an experience of being human. Understand how those like most emotions reside in our bodies, how they work, understand how to anticipate the emotions of your stakeholders, to the most extent possible. And then you have to be skilled in the ability to communicate in a way that puts the emotion first so that you can dissipate that cloud that is clouded like that's in front of the brain. I'm like doing this you can't see me when I'm like doing this visual in front of my face. But you want to dissipate that cloud that's blocking that's clouding judgment so that then you can speak to the rational, then you can speak to the logical. But trying to stand upon times of crisis when everybody is hyper emotional, and just spew out facts, you are going to miss the mark, you're not going to succeed the way that you can and should succeed.

Dan Seguin 20:11

Now Melissa, to ensure crisis readiness, how critical is it for companies to identify high risk scenarios? And pushing this further? Should we be looking at defining the different triggers and thresholds of impact?

Melissa Agnes 20:30

I would say so, first of all, identifying high risk scenarios is a part of the framework for crisis ready. So yes, so for anybody who may not understand that terminology, it's really what we're looking at is your most likely high impact types of events, situations that can put your organization into a crisis. We all have them as human beings, we all have them as organizations, as companies, as brands, whatever, however you want to word that. So yes, very, very, very important part of being crisis ready as you go through the motions. So let's say you identify just, you know, five high risk scenarios, the most likely high impact types of events to that you are susceptible or vulnerable to as an organization. Let's say you identify five. Go through the motions and part of being crisis ready is to go through the motions and becoming crisis ready for each of those five. Now, yes, absolutely. A sixth event can come out of nowhere and blindside you. But the whole going back to mindset skill set capability and culture is because you've gone through or asked. Once you've gone through the motions of truly becoming crisis ready for all of those five high risk scenarios. When the sixth one comes in, you know, turns around and hits you, or blindsides you and hitting you, you are so ready, your team is so skilled, you have everything that you need, and that it takes to be able to effectively respond to that sixth scenario, in the best timeframe as possible. So yes, identifying them doing the work to better understand them. And then in that answer the second part of that question, in that you will be looking at what would be indicators? So, so yes, triggers and indicators? And what are the thresholds of impact? So you're looking at a situation, say such a situation A, and you're saying 'At what point would situation crisis


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Scenario A be an issue for our organization? And at what point would it be a crisis?' You're really defining painting a picture of what those differences are? And then you're doing a deeper dive with the with the team and saying, Okay, what's the difference there? What are the criteria? What is the criteria that really made that customer past the threshold of issue to crisis? So you're trying to understand to the most extent possible, what are you know, what are the different aspects that make something a crisis for your organization, remembering that a crisis for one does not necessarily translate into a crisis for all.

Dan Seguin 23:07

Now, in times of major disruptions, like a power outage, or maybe even a cyber event, scanning your landscape is critical. Any recommendations on how companies should look at monitoring the social landscape and mainstream media?

Melissa Agnes 23:28

I think it should really go back to you, Dan. I think you guys do a phenomenal job at this. I mean, there's a lot to look at, and making sure that you have your baselines set up so that you know what a peak or valley looks like. You can detect it. I'd also say it's not just, you know, people go like, should we monitor every platform? Should we monitor, there's so many platforms, there's so many this, there's so many that, there's so many hashtags, so many, etc. It's really understanding your stakeholders and where you're where you have presence, right, and where that presence has impact because just because something - so one, just because something goes viral does not make it a crisis. That's not the criteria that makes it a crisis. That can be a viral issue, and not a viral crisis, right? Or a viral issue and not a crisis. And then too, just because something gets negative attention in one platform, if you don't have your course for stakeholder like the people who really mattered to the success and vitality of your business, on those platforms, and those people never hear about it, you might just have a whole bunch of haters that just aren't getting any traction. This is also about understanding what you're monitoring where, you're monitoring and why you're monitoring those, what in those squares. And then I think a third piece, I think that was two things. A third piece that I would add that is really understanding and I think this is a lot of where companies are getting it wrong right now - is understanding what is happening in the world that you transformations, the evolutions that are happening in the world and how they may or may not impact your relationship with your stakeholders, your relationship with your brand, the reputation of your organization, and to look at and be like, Oh, that's, you know, this conversation, this societal conversation or this Hot Topic doesn't apply to us to just look at something and be like, No, it doesn't apply to us without doing a deeper dive into how it might actually apply to you and how it might actually be important to the people who are important to your business is something that a lot of leaders, a lot of companies are missing the mark on right now.

Dan Seguin 25:39

Cool. Melissa, can you share with us some simple takeaways, for example, what are some of the biggest and most common mistakes an organization should avoid?

Melissa Agnes 25:52


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One of them is what we just said. Some other ones, I'll go to what we call at Crisis Ready Institute with call the CRP- the Crisis Response Penalty. So that term came out of my book, as I was writing my book, and what we're looking at there is, the longer you take to effectively respond, and I'll define what effective response is in a second. So the longer you take to effectively respond to a crisis, the more pressing credibility, you destroy the more ownership of the narrative you lose, and the more material impact you suffer. So that is the crisis response penalty, it is the penalties or the consequences of not responding properly. And effective response requires the right actions to be taken to actually fix remedy sold for you know, stop the bleeding, right the wrongs, etc, while you simultaneously communicate the way that you need to communicate and with whomever you need to be communicating with. And all of that has to happen. So actions and communications have to happen in the right timeline, and simultaneously. So if you falter on any one of those, then you're going to fail in your crisis management. And one of the biggest, most common mistakes to avoid so specifically to answer that it happened specifically to answer your question is the communication piece, because for the reasons that we've kind of already just highlighted, which are the vulnerability, the the fact that it's so uncomfortable, the fact that it's so vulnerable, the fact that people haven't been taught how to communicate with high EQ so that you can communicate through the emotions and actually resonate with the people you need to resonate with, so that they trust you and they follow your leadership? So yeah, I mean, we could go on and on and on, and on and on talking about the pitfalls to avoid. But even just looking at it as a framework of that crisis response penalty, what that means, what is involved in making sure you don't suffer a crisis response penalty, and making sure that your team has, again, the mindset, the skill set and the capability to not make those mistakes.

Dan Seguin 28:06

Cool. That's a great segue, Melissa. Before signing off here, I'm hoping you can maybe share what are some of the requirements for a strong and effective narrative during a crises, but also ways to ensure we maintain that consistent tone, and stay on message.

Melissa Agnes 28:29

I mean, we there's a formula that we use at Crisis Ready Institute, which is an it would take about, yeah, we could go into detail in it if we wanted to, but we teach it, it takes a while. But we really want to look at validate understanding emotions, validating those motions, relating to those emotions, and then coming in with your logic. And when you come in with your logic or your rationale, and you know, the directives and all the things that are very cerebral versus emotional, you want to make sure that you're having this balance of providing reassurance, providing hope, and having the courage to hold that space, that uncomfortable space, where the emotion sets. So as a framework, super high level, that's what you want to be making sure you're hitting, and I want to make sure that I answer your question properly. So strong narrative. So having that, having that framework will help to keep you addressing the things that are important to address that a lot of times leaders and communicators don't feel comfortable doing so they avoid them, which creates CRP Crisis Response penalty. And when you're doing that, you're doing that balance of risk providing reassurance, and hope and courage you're looking at. So just say, where you said I had to help maintain a consistent tone and stay on message. That's where you make sure that you're always checking in you're doing that you also want to make


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sure, so part of that is understanding what actually want what actually matters to people and making sure you're hitting those points, but also anticipating, anticipating the questions, anticipating the concerns, anticipating the fears and all of these, you know, things that we can anticipate if we take the time and put the attention to doing that, and making sure that you're getting ahead of the things that you can get ahead of, so that you're not always playing catch up.

Dan Seguin 30:27

Okay, very cool. Melissa, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions. Are you ready?

Melissa Agnes 30:35

I'm ready. Let's do it.

Dan Seguin 30:37

Now, maybe you could start us off by sharing with our listeners. What are you reading right now?

Melissa Agnes 30:44

I actually just finished reading it. It's called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks and I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

Dan Seguin 30:50

Okay, next one, Melissa. Who is someone that you admire?

Melissa Agnes 30:55

I admire a lot of people. My significant other I admire him greatly. People on my team I admire greatly. There's a lot of people that I admire.

Dan Seguin 31:05

Okay. What is your favorite movie or show?

Melissa Agnes 31:09

On right now? Oh, man. I mean, I would say like Friends to me is like my all time favorite. What have we watched recently? We watched - I'm so bad with names and remembering this stuff. Silo was good. Shrinking was good. There was one recently there's one with Amanda Seyfried that I really enjoyed. I was sick last week and I like binged it over the weekend because I just got better. That one was called the Crowded Room. Yeah, I think there's a bunch of good things out right now. Oh, we just watched over the weekend we watched it's a movie about dogs, what's it called - Strays! With their like the voices of ...I don't know but strays, however, I will say that it looks like it's it's family friendly. But it is not. Don't let your kids watch it. It's very adult friendly. But it's hilarious.

Dan Seguin 32:03

Okay, next one, aside from necessities. What one thing could you not go without in a day?


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Melissa Agnes 32:12

Okay this sounds so corny but emotional connection with my significant other. We travel a lot so I think checking in with each other, like just tapping in and making sure that - he's different from me in that I kind of get my good mornings and my good nights and things like that. I don't think I could go without those.

Dan Seguin 32:30

Lastly, what is exciting you about your industry right now.

Melissa Agnes 32:35

Oh, exciting, and that frustrated me. Um, the thing that I'm working on right now I'm working on, you know, I'm calling it my quote unquote, next big thing. That's really exciting to me. So new content, new things that are coming, that I think will, again, stemmed from a frustration in the world. And we touched a little bit on some of it during this conversation, but the, um, it'll be my next book. It'll be my next TEDx Talk. It'll be a whole bunch of things. And that's, that's kind of keeping me fired up. I'm very excited about that.

Dan Seguin 33:06

Well, Melissa, this is it. We've reached the end of another episode of the Think Energy podcast. Now if our listeners want to learn more about you, your organization, how can they connect?

Melissa Agnes 33:19

Melissa Agnes, I'm on social. I'm primarily on LinkedIn, definitely. IG definitely. That's pretty much it. Where I'm like, actually active and then Or just You can find all kinds of stuff there as well as to connect with me.

Dan Seguin 33:36

Again, Melissa, thank you very much for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.

Melissa Agnes 33:41

I did. Thanks, Dan. Thanks for having me.

Dan Seguin 33:44

Cheers. Thanks for tuning in for another episode of The Think Energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review where ever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.