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Masters Students Given First-hand Experience of SME Challenges


Students studying for an MSc in Strategic and Digital Marketing at the University of South Wales (USW) have been given first-hand experience of how a small business manages when faced with a potential unexpected crisis.

The Strategic Brand Management in the Age of Uncertainty module, led by Dr Louise Westgarth, has prepared students for a crisis situation by bringing in an external case study organisation and PR experts to support their learning from a practical perspective.

Over the past four weeks the students, based at USW’s Cardiff Campus, have worked in partnership with Andrew Hall, who is Managing Director, and senior staff from Ayjay Group, an electrical and refrigeration engineering specialist business based in Bedwas, near Caerphiily, to help develop a crisis communications plan.

Ayjay Group, which is based on the banks of the river Rhymney, witnessed the effects of flooding in February 2020 when considerable damage was caused to neighbouring businesses. At the time there was minor disruption to Ayjay’s business and property, however, given the potential for further severe flooding, the need for being prepared was high on the list of management’s concerns.

Together with the Ayjay management team, the students worked through the potential flooding scenario, identifying various risks, causes for concern, and different stakeholder needs for timely information, throughout the crisis management process.

The students were also supported by Neil Gibson, a Communications and Media Partner at USW and Chartered Insititute of Public Relations (CIPR) Chartered PR Practitioner, who advised on how to manage the various reputational challenges Ayjay could potentially face, and crisis communications planning, including how to deal with the media.

Commenting on the collaborative learning experience, Andrew said:

Although we have our own internal procedures and policies in place, being a small organisation without any formal training in crisis management, it was useful to be critically challenged by the students as to how ready we really are, for not only a potential flood but for different types of crises, helping us to develop our processes further.

“Being a local organisation, it is also important for us to work with businesses in our local community, helping others where we can – this was a great opportunity for us to give something back”.

Dr Westgarth said:

“It is so important that our students have access to real life experience – you won’t learn how to handle your personal emotions in a crisis situation from a textbook.

“Learning about different business contexts prepares the students for reality.

“Organisations such as Ayjay may not have the luxury of a corporate crisis communications team, but knowing and applying the principles of best practice can make all the difference to crisis management and brand reputation in the long term.”