Hope For the Best, Plan for the Worst: A TCV Roundtable on Crisis Communications 

Crisis always seems to strike at the most inopportune moments. And for tech companies operating on a multimarket or global scale, there often isn’t time to effectively create bespoke messaging after a crisis has struck. But responding with speed and scale is just one piece of effective crisis communications. What should savvy companies be doing to strategically plan ahead for effective crisis communications? What are the best tactics to align internal and external stakeholders, and formulate responses that can satisfy clients, partners, and the press across multiple time zones? And what steps can be taken when a crisis strikes before a strategic plan has been put into place?

TCV principals Katja Gagen and Kunal Mehta recently brought together a team of PR and crisis experts from the TCV portfolio and beyond to discuss the best practices they use when managing a crisis. Whether the incident is a cybersecurity breach or an internal messaging catastrophe, the roundtable of comms pros from Payoneer, Spotify, TCV, and Trulioo shared their specific strategies for navigating crises before, during, and after catastrophe strikes. 

Managing a Cybersecurity Incident Before Crisis Hits 

As one of the leading providers of instant digital identity verification across the globe, the PR team at Trulioo has found it best to have a plan in place before a cyber crisis strikes. As the company’s PR specialist Alison Gallagher explains, “When it comes to a cybersecurity incident, it’s not really a matter of if, but when.” 

To ready itself for an information security crisis that might come down the pike, the Trulioo communications team works in lockstep with other departments to create a robust incident response team that regularly assesses and reassess its plans of action before they’re needed. Below are some of the key takeaways that Lucy Screnci, a senior PR and communications manager at Trulioo, and Alison have put together for managing cybersecurity incidents. 

  • Create an incident response team that’s larger than just your PR team. By including experts from divisions such as information security (to assess threats and regulations on a market by market basis), IT (to advise on implementing solutions), and legal (to advise on the legal and compliance implications of potential solutions), your organization won’t lose precious time in a crisis scrambling to assemble the right stakeholders. 
  • Reassess and update your plans regularly. The strategic plan that your incident response team creates shouldn’t be static. Because regulations and compliance directives can change, and may vary market by market, having annual check-ins with stakeholders from the incident response team is crucial to make sure your plan is capable of meeting the moment rather than needing revamping while under attack.
  • The key components of a strategic cybersecurity response plan are notification, information gathering, triage, assembly, and post-incident debriefs. When a crisis first strikes, the lead incident response team member should immediately alert the rest of the team. That allows the full team to go into information gathering mode, in order to assess the scope of the crisis and gain a full understanding into what steps need to be solved for. Once that process is complete, the response team can jointly triage the severity of the crisis – Trulioo uses a level one through three model – to determine the appropriate intervention necessary. Once a crisis has been triaged, the incident response team can go back to the strategic plan that was already in place to align around and assemble the key messages that need to be sent to external stakeholders, such as customers, partners, and the press. Once the bulk of the crisis has passed, a post-incident debrief allows the full team to ensure that all loose ends have been tied up, and to reassess what areas of improvement can be updated for future plans. 
  • Be direct and honest, whether speaking to customers, partners, or the press. “It’s really necessary to be direct and don’t try to avoid speaking on an incident,” says Lucy. “Getting caught not disclosing an incident can come with some grave repercussions in the form of lawsuits or fines, so it’s always best to be open and honest.” 
  • Navigating a Crisis When You’re in the Eye of the Storm. Payoneer is a leading global fintech company that provides cross-border payments and working capital to businesses of all sizes in nearly every country in the world. When the news came to light of a major financial fraud committed by one of Payoneer’s providers in 2020, which in turn caused major disruption to its customers, the Payoneer team began communicating frequently and through multiple channels to explain the situation and the steps being taken to remedy it. After three days during which Payoneer sent out several communications directly to customers as well as through social media, full service was resumed and shortly afterwards, Payoneer replaced this provider and upgraded this aspect of the service. Irina Marciano, director of corporate communications at Payoneer, says the team learned first-hand that it pays off to have crisis communications plans in place before crisis strikes.
  • Multiple points of contact in a crisis are critical for global organizations. At Payoneer, the executive team is distributed across Asia, EMEA, and America. Between time zones and varied work weeks, it is important to ensure that there is always a specific subject matter expert available in the time frame needed to craft and approve a response. By having multiple points of expertise and contact, incident response teams can ensure that there’s always someone able to weigh in on a time sensitive statement, and a team ready to deliver the message immediately.
  • Communicate effectively, and quickly. Because Payoneer is both a regulated and publicly traded company, the company always acts with care in how it communicates. The incident in 2020 drew attention to the importance of timely communication for global companies with users who are online in multiple time zones. According to Irina, “You need to say something. Make sure it’s thought out and reviewed by legal, but say something so that your customers know that you are taking this seriously and you’re doing whatever you can to resolve it. If you don’t say anything, you can be sure that rumors will fill the vacuum.”
  • Create your crisis comms playbook before crisis strikes. Payoneer built out a crisis comms playbook, especially as the company more than quadrupled in size in just a few years. While many of the processes for a crisis were inherently known, by building out a formal protocol and sample messaging, the company was able to ensure that a response was ready to roll out far quicker for future crises.

Working with Global PR Teams and Global Press to Align on Messaging 

When Spotify expanded its podcasting operations beyond the U.S. into more than 17 additional markets across the globe, it found it had to quickly bring both its global comms team and each of their PR agencies up to speed on the company’s corporate messaging. Because many of those teams had previously focused on music streaming, there was an influx of information to impart while also adapting it to the nuances of each market. Beejoli Shah, a former manager of global podcast communications at Spotify, walks us through ways the Spotify PR team aligned its large and disparate group of PR pros around company messaging. We also learn from Sarum PR on working with journalists in markets around the globe, to stay focused on the message while also adapting to the cultural norms and nuances of regional press corps. 

  • Create a master messaging library with approved external statements. Because crises can strike in any time zone, Spotify assembled a master messaging library of statements that it had previously used when speaking with the press. The document was updated regularly by PR leads across various business units, so that PR leads in the markets and their respective agency partners always had a set of topline messaging at hand, as well as an accurate register of statements that had been provided to press in the past. Even though PR teams were dealing with reporters in their own markets, having a global library ensured that no matter who was responding to a journalist, the company’s message was uniform across markets and across incidents. Beejoli says that the benefits of the master messaging document were two-fold. Not only did it allow for global teams to make sure they had topline messaging at hand, but it also helped PR team members across time zones and agencies know what had been said previously. “There’s always going to be one reporter who says, ‘Well, you said this last time,’ and having a library helps protect you for those moments.”
  • Update global teams and agency partners regularly on company goals and topline messaging. Once a year, Spotify would host a summit for its agency partners across the globe. Because podcasting was a newer initiative, the podcast PR team held a separate summit annually where the different business units involved in podcasting were able to elucidate key priorities, topline messaging, and share proactive and reactive comms plans that had worked in the past. Doing so helped create a shared language across markets for Spotify’s podcasting efforts, and established a knowledge base of PR strategies on a global scale. By including links to relevant documents, including previous comms plans, and the master messaging library, Spotify’s agencies across the globe were able to stay aligned on messaging no matter the topic. 
  • Use your local agencies to respond to crises. While having a unified messaging strategy is critical, journalists will often reach out to anyone they can get a hold of, especially across markets. As Carina Birt from Sarum PR explains, in certain markets reporters can even be particular about wanting to speak to a representative in-market. “We’ve seen that European reporters tend to be more particular about speaking from a European context, and it’s not very effective to have them speak to someone from the US.” To plan for these nuances, having regional spokespeople ready to be deployed in a crisis can be key to maintaining unified messaging across markets. 

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


“Being User-Centric Rather Than You-Centric” — How Strava Works With Global Media to Tell Stories That Help Athletes and Drive Growth

Scaling globally is a goal for any growing company, which means that working with press across various markets is an inevitability. But it’s become more challenging than ever to gain the attention of the press, and it often comes with a hefty dose of added scrutiny. How then, can companies begin to tell their brand narrative, much less work with the press in a way that can help foster growth? That’s something that Strava has had to think about on a daily basis, as the world’s top platform for athletes has grown to over 90 countries and more than 76 million users. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja are joined by Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. As a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, Andrew brings his unique insider perspective on what companies can do to tell a story that journalists today would respond to, and how those stories can be used strategically in order to drive brand perception and fuel growth. Andrew also walks us through his blueprints for educating stakeholders on what to expect from press coverage, and the checklist method he uses when it comes to preparing for potential crises before they occur. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists. While it can be tempting to use press attention as a way to tout your company’s successes, that may not be enough to get your story told. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a journalist’s readers, says Andrew. “You really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things you would ideally like to get out of press coverage, but you also need to think about, ‘What does that journalist need? What does their readership need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed?’ You really have to begin with the end in mind.”
  • Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates. We’ve all experienced it: internal stakeholders with the best of intentions expecting journalists to always see things the way we would like them to be seen with nary a criticism. That’s why it’s imperative to set realistic expectations with teammates about how a specific story may roll out. It’s also a good opportunity to educate teammates about how press coverage operates in general. “All good stories are really high contrast. They’re high tension. They’re definitely going to contain opposing points of view, and you just need to prepare people for that, educate them, and bring them along so that they know what’s going to show up in a story, why it’s going to show up, and how it may show up,” says Andrew. 
  • Using earned media to drive growth. Given that Strava is the de facto record of the world’s athletic activities, the company produces an annual Year in Sport press report built around the intersection of sport, culture, societal trends and unique data insights about the ways athletes find joy through the activities they love. For Strava, Year in Sport  helps them in “finding ways to align stories that only we can tell with moments in time when there’s a high degree of cultural curiosity around specific topics that can enable really large scale brand awareness.” 

    An additional benefit of Year in Sports is that data is very compelling with readers. Says Andrew, “[It’s] providing reporters with ingredients and stories that enable reporters and editors to be of service to their consumers and provide high utility content that’s motivating and inspirational.” 
  • Preparing for a crisis before it happens. When Strava faced its own PR crisis in 2018, Andrew’s team saw an inbound of thousands of media inquiries in 48 hours. The tendency to want to react immediately is natural, but you must slow down and operate with a high degree of discernment to be most effective. “It’s important that you move at your own pace and that you work with stakeholders across the organization to understand what’s going on before you do anything,” says Andrew. Doing so allowed Strava to turn the opportunity into one where they were able to educate journalists around the world about their privacy controls, resulting in 90% neutral to positive coverage. 

    To prepare in advance, Andrew recommends bringing on outside experts or advisors in advance of a crisis, to start preparing before a situation occurs. “Try to think through anything that might potentially pop up and then try to spell out exactly how you’re going to meet that moment.” 
  • Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization. While thought leadership is easy to engage in, at Strava it’s more than showing up to the right panels and conferences. “It starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something,” says Andrew. 

    Because Strava’s mission is to serve athletes, they’ve focused on ways to do that, whether that’s partnerships that make Strava better for its users, or the Strava Metro data they provide to cities to power safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. “What we aspire to is to be a positive force to help create change in the space, so that everyone has equal access to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure — and more broadly, to create greater equity in sport. And that’s an area where we want to be an even bigger thought leader and a bigger force over time.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Lessons from Strava — Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.