From Crisis to Opportunity: Q&A with Adrian Elliot, Grayling Spain
Adrian Elliot heads up Grayling’s client crisis consultancy in Spain. Grayling and its predecessor agency pioneered the development of communications and public affairs in Spain, and Adrian has played a vital role during this time.
With two decades of experience in PR and PA in Spain, Adrian is perfectly placed to explain the nuances of the Spanish market and media when a crisis hits.
Adrian, talk us through a typical day – what’s on the agenda?
We provide an integrated communications service at Grayling Spain, from PR to PA to digital and counsel clients from a wide range of industries. This ability is critical when a reputational challenge emerges. On crisis comms, we work in two fields; one is reactive – supporting clients when they experience specific crises, while the other is proactively helping clients to prepare for a reputational challenge that we know is coming.
Much of our work falls under the second category – anticipating what could happen. If we know a client is making layoffs or factory closures, for example, we can create a plan for them to cover off potential lines of attack. This work includes creating crisis manuals and messaging, running crisis simulations, and providing in-person media training to ‘stress-test’ spokespeople in real-life conditions.
In a recent simulation, we got a company’s entire board to sit around a table while staff were in other parts of the office calling in and pretending to be journalists, politicians, clients, employees, and other stakeholders. This practice helped the company’s spokespeople and comms team understand what a real-life crisis could look like and how well they could stick to the script under testing conditions.
Even when there isn’t a specific reputation threat, it’s good to practice some hypothetical situations every so often to stay prepared. For example, we ran a scenario for a transport client where we anticipated a specific type of accident, how the company should respond, and what challenges and questions it would face. We hope that situation will never arise, but we need to be ready in case it does.
There’s no typical day in crisis comms, as every situation is unique. If a crisis hits, we’re available 24/7 until we’ve dealt with it. When we’re not working on a specific situation, we’re preparing for them, making sure our clients are primed to deal with any scenario.
What’s the trickiest crisis you’ve worked on and why?
The most challenging crisis I’ve consulted on lasted a very long time. Our client was an airline subjected to an ongoing – often politically-motivated – campaign from opponents during the pandemic. Typically, a crisis emerges and is over within a month or two, but this continued for months because there were several legal cases. When some elements of the media support a particular line, it’s particularly hard to get your positive message across, and we spent a lot of time fact-checking articles and responding.
What do you know now that you didn’t when you started out?
I’ve seen crisis communications evolve over the twenty or so years I’ve been in PR, particularly since the advent of social media. A key learning for me is anticipation. If you are prepared for potential crises, then you are ready and confident to tackle those scenarios as and when they arise.
Also, you need to be quick to respond. Once something is published, it’s going to be repeated in lots of different ways in different places, so it’s key to be diligent with your fact-checking. This is where personal journalist relations are incredibly important, so you can strike a balance between being able to influence accurate reporting and – in the worst case – turn to litigation.
What’s in store for the rest of 2023?
Local and regional elections took place on 28th May and were a major setback for the parties in the governing coalition. Following heavy defeats in key regions and councils, the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, quickly announced he would call elections immediately and set the date for 23rd July.
A tack to the right on the national level will have major domestic and international implications, especially given that the elections will take place 23 days after Spain commences its six-month EU presidency. Sánchez has been keen to show off his pro-European credentials and has been one of the main advocates of some of the most popular EU policies at present, in particular Agenda 2030, the EU recovery funds and the so-called “Iberian exception”, capping wholesale electricity prices in Spain and Portugal in compensation for the region’s status as an energy island in which renewables are a major source of energy.
A future government involving Vox is likely to renege on the country’s environmental commitments and will create an environment which companies will need to shrewdly navigate to adapt to the changing political circumstances.
What’s your one piece of advice when handling a crisis?
Dealing with crises requires stamina. Never show your exhaustion. This is especially important when you are fronting an organisation that is battling a business or reputational challenge. However, even when as a consultant you are not in front of the camera, there are specific actions you can take that can be key to ensuring a crisis is resolved satisfactorily.
One of these is showing empathy with the client and demonstrating that you’re a valuable part of the business. Another is offering them a different perspective on their challenges. Since you are not so personally at the centre of what is going on, you have a unique opportunity to present matters in a different light that might lead the way to a solution.
To learn more about Grayling’s crisis communications offering in Spain, you can reach Adrian here.
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