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Super Bowl Blackout

Written by  Iris Chung Wednesday, 06 February 2013 18:03

The highest rated Super Bowl in history may go down in the books for the 34-minute power outage that upstaged the million dollar ads. More than 110 million TV viewers were left in the dark. During that time, a whopping 231,500 tweets were posted per minute.

With all the chatter about the blackout, advertisers were concerned about the effect on television ratings, while some brands capitalized on the opportunity to own the conversation through social media. Many are claiming the real winner of Sunday’s game to be Oreo, whose clever blackout tweet got retweeted 10,000 times in less than an hour.

CBS did its best to honor its commercial commitments, though the reaction from advertisers remains to be seen. Once game play resumed, CBS reran ads from Bud Light and Subway, concerned that the outage may have disrupted viewing of the spots. Bud Light’s “LuckyChair” spot starring Stevie Wonder was played twice. Negotiated discounts on ad buys or compensations for ad inventory are difficult to accommodate for a ratings shortfall when $4 million equals 30 seconds of prime airtime.

Being prepared means anticipating the failure of your business partners. CBS doesn’t run the Superdome, but they might have foreseen various incidents causing the venue to shut down. Today, news outlets are revealing that Superdome officials sent a memo just months before the Super Bowl, warning that the electrical system could experience a power outage and showed “a chance of failure.”

When it comes to planning, the power outage also demonstrated that organizations must consider not just critical processes and recovery time objectives, but should also anticipate the impact of potential scenarios. For example, instead of developing a business continuity or crisis management plan that focuses on specific tasks (“What to do in a power outage”), organizations should focus planning around critical failure scenarios that center on their impact (“We can’t run the ad”).

Oreo was certainly ready with its real-time response to the blackout. Though the company had already aired a “Cookie or Crème” spot on TV, it poised itself to make a presence on social media. The brand’s marketing company, 360i, explains on their blog that their real-time content creation involved setting up a “central command center” at their offices, with key brand executives and team members from strategy, creative, community, tech and account. In an interview with Buzzfeed , 360i’s president, Sarah Hofstetter quoted, “…when the blackout happened,the team looked at it as an opportunity.”

Business continuity is about bouncing back, as well as taking advantage of the situations that may present themselves during incidents—particularly in this case, high profile events. Have you considered this when doing business continuity scenarios or exercises?

We’re often so focused on planning for success that we forget to plan for failure. The exercise of going through a pre-mortem, for example, opens us to consider and prepare for worst-case scenarios. In Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Gary Klein advises to imagine a crystal ball showing the outcome of your plan, which is a failure—“Not just any failure, but a complete, total, embarrassing disaster” (Gary Klein, The Power of Intuition, 2003, p. 98–101).By taking the time to think about what we want to happen, envisioning that our efforts failed, and then brainstorming with reasons for failure, we can tease out our biggest concerns and strategize how to avoid or minimize them to change the outcome.

With events of any scale, we can’t expect to control success or fix all the flaws. By expanding our imagination and anticipating some potential incidents, however, we can train our teams to make the most of a situation when it falls beyond our control.

Iris Chung is director of communications at Lootok, a New York-based business continuity and crisis management firm with an activity-based approach for driving engagement and adoption.