According to our sources, Ketchum has become the latest international public relations firm to try to capitalize on the fear surrounding the potential Bird Flu disaster. The firm recently created a "task force" focusing on the business opportunities arising from the potential spread of avian flu. Hill and Knowlton and Edelman both launched "avian flu" practices in December '05. Ketchum reports to have brought together a team of crisis and issues management and healthcare specialists with expertise in risk communication, preparedness planning, food safety, and public health policy.
What's behind the timing of the announcement?
The Ketchum announcement comes on the heals of a Watson Wyatt survey that showed that there is considerable corporate interest in preparing for the epidemic. The survey of 90 multinational companies conducted recently found that 48 percent of companies operating in the United States said they're considering crisis response plans, although only 15 percent said they have plans in place. The numbers were slightly lower in Europe and higher in Asia where most of the human fatalities have occurred.
This just in: According to Tom Barritt, global director of Ketchum's issues and crisis network, the type of miscommunication often encountered in day-to-day business operations would intensify in a pandemic. (Note: This sentence may need to be reread for the full dramatic effect.)
Barritt said, "Avian influenza differs dramatically from past health threats in the potential for a pandemic outbreak to affect vast portions of the global population and dramatically harm worldwide business and economy. The impact of a pandemic on the corporate world could be massive. In extreme situations, factories, shops and service centers could be closed while entire countries are placed under quarantine allowing for no imports or exports and closing stock exchanges."
TRANSLATION: "If this happens and it could potentially, it could spread a whole lot and if it got really really bad enough, that could seriously shut down a lot of stuff. You gotta know that ain't good. I am serious. I swear to God."
QUESTIONS FOR BARRITT
What team of crisis and issues management and healthcare specialists?
As far as your everyday business miscommunication intensifying in a pandemic, does Ketchum have "pandemic" experience?
More practically speaking, what happens when the PR firm contracts it? Does Ketchum have a plan in place?
Lastly, if it truly is a pandemic, just how much of the audience will be left to communicate to?
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EDITOR'S NOTE: FUD is the acronym for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
David from Ketchum here. We actually started our Pandemic Practice back in the 1250s. Of course it was called the Black Death Practice then, we were Ye Olde Ketchumme Publick Relations and our first client was the Shipborne Rodent Society, but we've learned a lot since then. In regard to our own plans, we like to keep things simple: we'll burn the building, head to an undisclosed secure location and tuck into a stockpile of margaritas and sake we've been laying back ever since that whole unfortunate experiment with a Vietnamese parrot back in `97 (long incubation period for avian influenza). Strumpette readers: knock twice and scream like a seagull. Password: "salted on the rocks."