OK, so let’s face it – there’s been a few disasters I’ve experienced in my life to-date to give me a very sound base for starting my business.  

But somehow until today, I forgot I’ve previously worked at the forefront for a major national brand during a past (near) pandemic.

Swine flu.

In 2009 I headed the national PR account for McDonald’s in Australia when I was GM of a PR agency in Melbourne.  

I remember the early conversations with my client about what impact the swine flu might have if it came to Australia, and how important it was for the existing crisis communications plan to be reflective of this potential disruption.

I call tell you, it was more than important. 

Unexpectedly, on 27 May 2009 I received an early morning call from the producer of a Melbourne talkback radio station.  Yes, I’m talking about the program that’s often breaking all the news.

Bleary eyed I found myself at 5am talking about what impacts food served at the Epping Plaza McDonald’s in Melbourne’s north would there be in terms of contamination if a recently diagnosed swine flu victim was last night flipping burgers.

You see a parent of the teenager had called into the radio show informing of the diagnosis – which turned out to be one of the early cases in Australia, so the interest in our response was of course rather high.

I found myself at 5.35am sitting in the Epping Plaza food court with four TV journalists and their camera crews waiting for information.  And before you ask, no I hadn’t had time to wash my hair.

It was fascinating.

Because as we were waiting for a formal response from the World Health Organisation and Department of Human Services, I witnessed plumbers and other tradespersons being asked to go and get a mask and come back to be interviewed about their fear of ordering a hash brown.

It was startling to see the sensationalism of the news being generated before my eyes.

I knew what I had to do.

Given we were literally all sitting in a food court, so there was nowhere to wait and hide I did what a great crisis management expert would do – subtly positioned myself to block out the background so my client’s brand was not in the camera’s view.

And, although we didn’t have a formal declaration that we needed to urgently act, we did decide as a precautionary measure to close the store in the best interest of the public which also reflected the values of the brand.

Upon reflection, I remember that night watching the news secretly smiling to myself at the extensive airtime my client’s competitors had during a relatively non-story on the swine flu.  

And since that day, subconsciously, pandemic has always been one of the first few disruptions I put into any strategic crisis or disaster resilience plan.

I guess now many others will be also doing too.

Renae Hanvin is a proactive driver of private sector contribution towards a disaster resilient future – by doing disasters differently.
Founding corporate2community in 2018, Renae leads forward-thinking approaches, processes and partnerships that activate ‘shared responsibility’ through building resilient businesses, helping communities thrive and leading collaborations between public and private sectors for future-ready outcomes.

Renae works with corporates, SMEs, government and communities.


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