NEW YORK—Burson-Marsteller is launching a new analytic tool designed to help organizations prepare and measure the effectiveness of their Web-based crisis communications. The new PRePARE offering joins an arsenal of resources that the firm’s SWAT (Specialty Work Action Team) group has developed to guide clients anticipating or facing crisis communications challenges ranging from corporate restructurings to product recalls to disaster recovery.

The firm’s recent audit of 26 websites of high-profile companies undergoing crises in 2002 found that most sites were underutilized. According to BM, the vast majority of companies referred to crisis events on their websites primarily through press releases. Few provided online crisis responses directed to the needs of differing stakeholder groups or communicated crucial information in straightforward and understandable language.

“Our online reputation research has shown that a wide range of business audiences—media, customers, employees, suppliers, financial analysts, NGOs and consumers—rely on the Internet for vital corporate information,” says Judi Mackey, chairperson of Burson-Marsteller’s U.S. corporate and financial practice. “Corporate websites compete with other and often hostile sources of information."

“Burson-Marsteller’s PRePARE adds a powerful quantitative measurement tool to help clients establish models for their web-based communications solutions.”

To assess the effectiveness of companies’ public online communications, the agency has created a 62-item audit tool that is the core of Burson-Marsteller’s PRePARE methodology. PRePARE focuses on six key attributes necessary for quality online crisis communications, including:

  • Corporate Homepage Functionality: Transitioning visitors to dark sites or clearly marked special sections dedicated to crisis news and information.
  • Leadership Strategy: Featuring CEO and other senior executives’ communications as events unfold.
  • Stakeholder Outreach: Addressing the information needs of various online stakeholders ranging from customers and vendors to employees.
  • Transparency: Disseminating select internal memos, legal glossaries and other relevant sources online.
  • Info-Ease: Regular updating of new developments, ease of information flow and reader-friendly explanations of financial, legal, health and safety issues.
  • E-fluentials Engagement: Identifying channels to engage and listen to online public opinion leaders and influencers.