Tell us about your company.
Perpetual Motion is a PR and publishing company, which is based in Ebene, and we specialise in providing communications services to leading market and institutional players in Mauritius, Africa and internationally.
As the founder and head of the company, I have a background in crisis communications and reputation management, having worked for the world’s largest independent PR firm in Europe and the United States at an earlier stage in my career, and I have advised clients across corporates, governments and institutions. I believe that there is much that companies in Mauritius can do to build and protect their reputations as a tool for growth. At the same time, we are pleased to note that the industry appears to be increasingly cognisant of this previously neglected area of communications in Mauritius that has now recently, and suddenly, come to the fore, with our existing clients already leveraging our expertise in crisis communications.
We also have a particular focus on supporting clients in finance, technology and FinTech, as we consider that positioning Mauritius as a hub for innovation and investment will pave the way for significant economic development in the country over the long term, and we wish to play our part in this exciting journey.
We also strive to promote excellence and training in the public relations industry. We sponsor the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) network in Mauritius, which I set up last year, and also support events targeting Mauritian and pan-African PR professionals.
How do you see the business environment in Mauritius currently?
I believe that many business people in Mauritius are nervous in view of the lack of visibility concerning the year to come. There is no doubt that we will continue to face a challenging environment globally, which will have a sustained impact upon Mauritius as a nation that has always been outward looking. While some of our clients in the technology space have identified new opportunities in the light of the pandemic, businesses operating in hospitality and tourism, for example, have been relying on government support to make it through the year. While I am optimistic that a vaccine will soon be a reality in Mauritius, the outlook for the year ahead remains highly unpredictable.
How do you perceive the role of communications in times of crisis?
As a communications practitioner, I believe that 2020 is the year that has clearly shown the value of communications in business and society.
Defining and promoting the right messages during the pandemic, whether through government or other channels, has played a critical role in saving lives and protecting the public, be it from the spread of misinformation, experiencing panic, or even falling prey to depression, in the face of an unprecedented crisis.
Are businesses sufficiently aware of crisis communications and how it can help them?
I believe that businesses need crisis communications plans which can help them to prepare for any eventuality. At this point in time, in the light of the pandemic, any business could find itself suddenly facing a myriad of reputational issues without any warning. These issues could be broadly categorised as health, economic or social in nature.
To give some concrete examples, firstly on the health front, someone who is COVID-positive may visit your business premises (which is what happened very recently in relation to a large company in Mauritius) and this could trigger a situation where some or all of your staff may be immediately quarantined. Similarly, for quarantine hotels, there is a constant risk of breach of protocol on your premises. Given that bad news tends to travel at the speed of light in Mauritius, be it over WhatsApp or by word of mouth, how could you protect your reputation if senior management and communications people were in isolation or quarantine? This is the type of situation where an already signed-off crisis communications plan would need to be activated without delay.
If we turn to the economic front, there have unfortunately been many people subjected to layoffs in Mauritius, and there is a keen interest in the local media in following the stories of companies who have submitted files to the Redundancy Board.
It is ironic that a number of companies have had to lay off some of their senior communications staff, who would normally have been on hand to steer the management in the light of negative headlines, but will no longer be in a position to do so. If we look on the social side, there is a continuing challenge in keeping employees engaged and maintaining the company culture at a time when people are often working remotely or on a rotation basis. As some businesses are forced to reduce their workforce, this can give rise to rumours which can have a deleterious impact on the morale of those who remain, which the management may need to address through timely and well considered communications that demonstrate real empathy and boost employee morale at such a crucial time.
All in all, times of crisis put businesses and their leaders to the test. Effective crisis communications can help business leaders to rise to the occasion and foster trust, which should lead to positive perceptions of the business over the long run.
What should a crisis communications plan contain?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ crisis communications plan as every business is different, but there are common elements which should always be included. Some of the key elements are: holding statements to cover a wide range of eventualities which have already been signed off by management; keeping at hand updated media lists and updated lists of company spokespeople in case the usual spokespeople cannot be reached; as well as defining and finetuning protocols for social media usage and responses.
The overarching aim is to have an up-to-date toolkit which can be activated at any time as and when needed. If the business does not have the in-house capability to handle this, then they can turn to external advisers such as ourselves or other agencies.
Besides preparing a plan, what more can businesses do to equip themselves to respond to a communications crisis?
I am a great advocate of training in the PR and communications industry, which is why I decided to set up the Mauritius network of the CIPR last year. The CIPR has become a fully virtual organisation, which means that PR professionals in Mauritius have an equal opportunity to undertake training as their peers across the world. It is the only professional body able to award Chartered Status, which is the hallmark of professional excellence in the profession. I am convinced that skills development and training of PR professionals in Mauritius is key to ensuring effective reputation management of businesses on the island over the long term.