Failing to plan is simply planning to fail


26 April 2017 | 2:10 min read

The title is a modern restating of one of Benjamin Franklin’s quotes: “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail”. It is also similar to what Winston Churchill said: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”. Two great world leaders who knew a lot about success against adversity.

Their words once again reminded me of two of the most important elements of successful crisis management – planning and rehearsing. I was also reminded of the response we often get when we take clients through crisis scenario training exercises: “This would never happen here”. And yet, experience shows what often can appear to be an unlikely situation often actually does happen in real life.

Reading the InterContinental Hotels Group PLC (IHG) announcement about a customer credit card data breach seemed like déjà vu. Why? Because it was only a few weeks ago that I was part of a crisis scenario using almost the exact same situation. At this point I should be clear that I (or, rather, my company, SenateSHJ) don’t work for IHG. I was part of a crisis training workshop at the PROI Worldwide International Partner Conference in Sydney, Australia. The fictional scenario – played out at GroundFloor Media/CenterTable’s Online War Room® – was designed to allow PROI Partners from 92 countries to test their skills in an international social media crisis scenario.

Some participants created the content being communicated on digital channels (and national media organisations around the world, as the scenario played out over different time zones), some provided advice on how to respond to an international incident in three, and some role-played the client – an international hotel group, with similar international locations and sub-brands similar to IHG.[1]

IHG’s media press release last week alerted guests to a credit card data breach from credit card readers at the front desks of ‘certain IHG-branded franchise locations’ from 29 September 2016 through 29 December 2016. It noted a cybersecurity firm’s investigation had uncovered a pattern of unauthorized charges on certain credit cards after they’d been used at various properties. Malware had been installed to harvest information like names, card numbers, expiration dates and security codes when a card was swiped at an affected property.

Our crisis scenario was an internal exercise aimed at achieving three goals:

  • ensuring we connected and managed a range of international and regional messaging
  • testing how our country-specific advice and insights fed into an international response
  • assessing how language and images had different cultural impacts in different international markets.

However, we were planning to succeed, not fail. We learnt a lot in the workshop and we (the international PROI team) are better prepared to advise and respond to a client international crisis situation when one occurs. I can’t speculate on whether IHG had trained for this scenario as part of its ongoing investment in reputation management, but I can guarantee that if it had, it would have furnished it with the crucial time and space to react to this situation well. Just as Franklin and Churchill stated many years ago, no one willingly prepares to fail. Why would you?

If you would like to talk to PROI about planning and running a crisis scenario, contact one of the regional crisis group chairs below:

EMEA – Marcel Trachsel – / Tobias Müller –

Americas – Caroline Duffy – / Andy Likes –

APAC – Neil Green – / Lena Soh-Ng –

[1] InterContinental Hotels (or IHG) is a British multinational hotel company with 5,028 hotels across nearly 100 countries.

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