Unavailable for Comment.

Those are three words I hate to see in newspapers, online or on social media.

It means an organisation has either ignored a request to provide a comment or statement to a journalist, doesn’t know what to say, or hasn’t had time to respond effectively.

Time is often a key factor, especially for in-house communications teams (or in some cases, one individual) as it can take hours from an enquiry landing to providing those few all-important lines as an official comment for publication. And what if a call comes in at 5.30pm on a Friday evening?

One thing we have always done is support our clients in times of need. Our Life.Happens company value is testament to that. So it came as a natural move for the Group to channel those expertise into a new business division.

It’s called Social Response and it provides expert management of reactive media enquiries for our clients through our Virtual Press Office, as well as responding to their customers via online engagement beyond the traditional 9-5. We’re one of the first agencies to offer this as a stand-alone service, rather than being a bolt-on to a typical PR retainer.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the ‘I’m not happy’ ‘sort it out’ type of complaints or comments on social media channels, and the subsequent (or not) replies from the organisation in question.

Many organisations we work with, across the housing, property, education and infrastructure sectors aren’t able to have this kind of engagement and relationship with their customers – and certainly not out of hours. But now they can – thanks to Social Response.

We believe in-house communications teams should spend their time managing internal messaging and positive proactive news, rather than researching and responding to media enquiries. We are already trusted to provide this service for a number of large organisations – including housing providers with thousands of customers – who quite rightly complain (either via social media or to the press) when things go wrong. Their reputation is in our hands, but they know we have their back.

And that support comes at times of crisis too. We’re on hand to help should any issue or crisis arise, and can also deliver communications scenario testing, workshops, statement planning – or a refresher of them all.

Personally, as someone who has worked in communications in the housing and property sector, and as a lead council press officer for the last 15 years, I’m hugely excited about building Social Response. Our brilliant team members also have huge experience as former journalists, press officers and social media experts themselves.

Seeing how companies such as Virgin Trains have built their customer response and engagement, I believe we can also build ours from a small team to a large dedicated department over the next few years – delivering valuable support to businesses of all shapes and sizes

That way, we can ensure organisations are never unavailable for comment