Red Teaming: A forward-looking approach to Crisis Communication Preparedness

Explore the power of Red Teaming in crisis preparedness for PR and corporate communications. Learn to test plans, uncover vulnerabilities, and build resilience.

Dear reader,

In this edition of Wag The Dog, we're diving into the concept of 'Red Teaming' - an interesting simulation technique often overlooked in crisis communication.

While many organisations focus on crafting crisis plans, few actually stress-test them, leaving vulnerabilities exposed.

The latest edition of Capterra’s Crisis Communications Survey (1) has revealed that companies in the US are not well-prepared.

The survey, conducted in January 2023 and involving 243 executives at the director level and above, found that less than half — 49% to be exact — have a formal crisis communications plan. In addition, 28% operate with an informal, undocumented plan and nearly a quarter (23%) do not have a plan or do not know if one exists.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for companies to prioritise crisis communications planning and testing, especially given the unpredictability of crises.

So, let’s go and explore how Red Teaming can be the missing link in your crisis preparedness strategy, ensuring you're not just ready but bulletproof. 🛡

A bit of history of Red Teaming

Red teaming is a useful approach that has a history dating back thousands of years. The concept of using "red teams" in war games to mimic enemy forces dates back to ancient Chinese military tactics.

The term was coined by the United States Department of Defence in the 1960s. During the Cold War, they used structured simulations with a "red team" representing the Soviet enemy to evaluate strategic plans.

Red Teaming in the Communication Context

Today, red teaming involves a group of people rigorously challenging an organisation's plans, rules, and assumptions. The goal is to uncover weaknesses, eliminate blind spots, and identify vulnerabilities that could hinder crisis response.

Red Teaming in a crisis communication context often involves the following:

  • Testing response strategies by simulating realistic crisis scenarios, such as a social media backlash or a supply chain breakdown.

  • Conducting vulnerability scans to identify technical and non-technical vulnerabilities.

  • Using alternative analysis to challenge assumptions and conventional wisdom.

  • Using social engineering and misinformation analysis to uncover reputational vulnerabilities.

Red Teams are used to assess crisis communication preparedness in a variety of situations. The New York Police Department uses Red Teams in the form of simulations before important events.

For example, prior to Pope Francis' visit to New York City in 2015, the NYPD simulated a hurricane that would have hit the city and prevented the use of sea and air vehicles. This simulation was intended to test the agency's crisis preparedness and response strategies (2).

Benefits of Red Teaming Exercises

The benefits of red teaming for disaster preparedness are numerous. It provides various feedback, promotes open communication, uncovers previously unknown risks, and fosters cohesion.

Most importantly, it allows organisations to refine and strengthen their crisis response plans. Below you will find some best practises for using Red Teaming:

  • Create a red team of internal workers with diverse talents and opinions. External support can also provide an objective perspective.

  • Conduct regular exercises to keep up with evolving threats.

  • Focus on realistic but unlikely opportunities that could fall through the cracks.

  • Ensure organisational transparency and openness to criticism.

Potential Results

To effectively handle any crisis, communicators need to be proactive in planning, have clear protocols, and be open to uncomfortable facts.

The result is that organisations are more resilient, leadership is better prepared, and response strategies are more effective. With Red Teaming, crisis preparedness goes from being a ticking-off activity to a continuous learning and development process.

And let’s face it, those exercises are just incredibly fun too! 😅 

So, let me know, have you used the Red Teaming approach in your preparedness planning? Just hit reply.

(1) The findings were published by Forbes on February 25, 2023.

(2) Red Teaming for Disaster Preparedness. Campbell & Kole (KC) Campbell 

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