Two-thirds (65 percent) of business decision makers believe that new media actually make crises more difficult to manage and only 54 percent have crisis management plans, according to a new crisis preparedness study released from Burson-Marsteller and sister firm Penn Schoen Berland, presented at the EMEA Crisis Club for Crisis communications professionals in Barcelona.

A similar number (66 percent) believe new media have also significantly increased the potential cost of a crisis.

“Having a comprehensive plan in place will make a difference on the resulting impact to a company’s reputation and the ability of a firm to recover from a crisis,” says Jeremy Galbraith, CEO Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East & Africa. “Even though many companies see new media as a threat when it comes to crisis communications, the digital space actually offers corporations vast opportunities to respond to crises and to engage immediately with stakeholders.”

The study also found that only 54 percent of respondents’ companies have a crisis communications plan. Even among those with crisis management plans in place, 47 percent say that their current plans will cover their companies to some extent but that there are gaps.

Of the 59 percent of respondents whose companies experienced a crisis in the past, those whose companies had no crisis plan were more likely to experience a drop in revenue (41 percent) than those with a crisis plan in place (30 percent).

Out of the four regions surveyed, Asia Pacific respondents led the way in crisis preparedness with 64 percent having a crisis plan in place. Slightly more than half of European (51 percent) and US (55 percent) respondents had crisis plans. Latin American respondents were least likely to be prepared with a crisis management plan (29 percent).

“Only 20 percent of companies have plans strong enough to withstand a crisis,” says EMEA corporate and crisis communications practice chairman Eric Gerritsen. “While the new media landscape is complex to manage we now have tools to monitor issues and crises in real-time, plan accordingly and use the best social and multimedia channels to directly communicate our messages. It is more critical than ever to have a plan in place for how to activate these new channels in a crisis.”

Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) think the rise in digital communications has increased companies’ vulnerability to crisis, yet only 38 percent of global respondents report their companies have a digital crisis communications plan to effectively respond to new media crises. Other key findings include:
• Of the 79 percent of respondents who expect to experience a crisis within the next year, 47 percent think a crisis due to an online or digital security failure is likely and 43 percent think a crisis caused by critical or negative new media campaigns is likely.
• Fifty-five percent believe new media make it ultimately easier for companies to recover from crises.
• Thirty-five percent of respondents think an online or digital security failure would have the largest impact of all possible crises on corporate reputation, while 30 percent think critical or negative new media campaigns would have the largest impact.
• Of the 59 percent of respondents who experienced a crisis in their current or previous company, 37 percent had experienced a crisis within the past year.
• Of those who experienced a crisis, 16 percent classified the crisis as an online or digital security failure, and another 16 percent attributed the crisis to critical or negative new media campaigns.
• Eighty-one percent of respondents believe that new media’s role in driving reputation during a crisis is on the rise.
• Forty-three percent of respondents say that an inability to respond effectively to new media was one of the biggest issues for companies in recent crises like BP and those attacked by Wikileaks.
• Sixty-five percent of respondents believe it is hard to know who influences opinion online.
• Fifty-two percent of Asia Pacific respondents’ companies have digital crisis communications plan. Respondents in Europe (33 percent) and the US (37 percent) follow, while only 19 percent of Latin America respondents’ companies have digital crisis communications plans.