Managing crises in Central and Eastern Europe: A sit-down with Peter Fecko, CEO – Grayling CEE
As the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region faces a stiff challenge following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, crisis communications have risen in significance for brands operating in CEE countries. Peter Fecko leads Grayling in CEE and has more than 25 years’ experience in PR, Public Affairs, and crisis communications.
Peter has been at the cutting edge of communications in the region and has seen the practice mature across CEE, especially since many of its countries were absorbed into the European Union (EU) after the fall of the Iron Curtain. PA was a new field, which has required a great deal of client education and training over the years. Peter’s crisis experience covers a wide range of industries, from heavy industry to local government.
Here, Peter stresses the importance of transparency, consistency, and local knowledge when tackling comms crises in CEE.
Talk us through a typical day – what’s on the agenda?
I manage nine offices across the region, so crises usually take up 10-20% of my time, but when they hit, they take priority. I really enjoy crisis comms; I enjoy setting up the structure of the comms, developing the tactics and messaging. To manage crises effectively, you need experience in lots of fields of PA and PR.
Across CEE, despite its many different countries, languages, cultures and media, the principles of communication remain the same. For example, transparency and openness are critical.
What’s the trickiest crisis you’ve worked on and why?
The most challenging crises are the ones with fatalities. It’s happened to manufacturing clients over the years. Emotionally, it’s very difficult and there’s no nice way to manage the news.
Another challenge, which has grown in recent years, is the rise of environmental protest activity. It’s difficult because everyone wants to protect nature, but you cannot really win in that crisis if you are a polluting organisation. The public will always side with the protection of nature and it’s hard to argue against that.
What do you know now that you didn’t when you started out?
Probably the most important lesson is that you cannot avoid being transparent. There’s simply no way around it. You need to be honest and rectify mistakes and damage.
Another thing is to make sure that management is fully on board with you. It’s really difficult to do crisis comms effectively if the decision-makers are not in full agreement.
What’s ahead for CEE during the rest of 2023?
The biggest thing dominating affairs in CEE now is, of course, the ongoing war in Ukraine. Last year, we saw a lot of companies pull their operations out of Russia and moving into other parts of CEE. Now, I think it’s quite challenging as many companies want to get back into Ukraine. Six or nine months ago, we saw a lot of solidarity for Ukraine and its people, and now organisations have concluded that the war is almost a ‘new normal’ in Ukraine and that it won’t end so quickly.
What’s your one piece of advice then when handling a crisis in CEE?
Never lie. It’s that simple. Always state the facts, be transparent and consistent. You cannot go back on something you have already said. In some markets, the media can be quite cynical so it’s key to try to solve the situation and tackle it head on.
To learn more about Grayling’s crisis communications offering in Central and Eastern Europe, you can reach Peter here.
In Crisis Communications