Being inquisitive and questioning comes naturally to David Krejci, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Strategy, Digital Communications. This is the approach he takes over the course of six weeks as he prepares a crisis simulation session for a company. Once in the firebell ‘war room’, the objective for both him and co-trainer Lauren Melcher is to unleash the client’s worst nightmare on them: a data breach, a wrongdoing by an employee, a product safety scandal.
The chaos typically happens over four hours in the mock crisis world of firebell, Weber Shandwicks’ proprietary, award-winning crisis simulation software and training session. As the press and an invisible army on Facebook and Twitter completely hammer the company, creating a social media crisis of the most epic proportions, David and Lauren repeatedly ask the client: “now, what do you do?”
In this intense pressure-cooker situation a company’s preparedness for disaster is truly tested. Every loophole is exposed. Emotions can run high.
“The world had changed, and I just wanted to make clients feel scared because you think differently when you are scared,” said David as he recalled the incident that spawned the first firebell prototype in 2010. “To me it’s the difference between the playbook and a scrimmage. This is a scrimmage – you’re actually running, sweating, doing the work.”
David and Lauren are currently on a tour across Asia Pacific, expanding the firebell expertise with training sessions for Weber Shandwick teams in each office. The version they are presenting has undergone several facelifts since its birth six years ago. For example, it now has the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Weibo, to cater for clients in Mainland China. Weibo reported 261 million monthly active users in its 2016 Q1 earnings report.
firebell’s realism has attracted governments and multinationals across industries to experience the offering. That’s because it integrates today’s fast moving digital environment with the very plausible scenario of turmoil. Not bad for something that was originally designed for just one client, without any long term business plan or permission from the bosses to develop it.
“I would say we have learnt to never say never,” said Lauren who admits it’s eerie when the ‘what if’ scenarios come true – and that happens very often. “Three months later you listen on the radio and they are talking about a story that is exactly what you wrote. It’s crazy.”