Back to the Basics, storytelling, Strategy & Tactics

Every Company Needs a TRUTH Management Plan

As a PR pro, one of the most frequently asked questions you’ll get asked from a client is “What’s our crisis plan?” Every company dreads a crisis. They are bad for business. I firmly believe that most companies are absolutely concerned about the safety or well being of their employees and customers, but make no mistake; the bottom line is always top-of-mind for a client when they inquire about The Crisis Plan.

Handling a Crisis is really where the pros separate themselves from the amateurs. Everybody knows the basic steps, and it’s OK to have your own slight variation/cadence, as long as they are built around the core principles. For the sake of this post, I’ve bundled the main pillars of handling a crisis below.

  1. Plan for the worst

It’s important to prepare for any number of possible scenarios so that when the real world situation occurs, you can be as ready as possible. Nothing can truly prepare you for the real thing but as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Developing a plan upon the emergence of the crisis is almost certain death. Know the issues, the players, the communications methods and the best ways to use them.

  1. Listen and gather

The last thing you want to do is turn something into a crisis when it’s merely an issue. There is a stark difference between the two. What may seem like a big deal when you receive a salvo of customer complaints on social media may turn out to be a minor issue that can be dealt with without blowing it out of proportion unnecessarily.

Whether you’re dealing with a fleeting issue or a full blown crisis, as soon as you are alerted, you should begin gathering g all of the facts. Reach out to trust worthy people who are closest to the situation and demand the unfiltered truth. This process should continue all the way until the fecal matter has stopped falling from the fan.

  1. Isolate and form

When a crisis occurs the last thing you want is misinformation leaving the building. At the earliest possible point, alert all customer facing employees of the situation and make them aware of the situation, if they aren’t already. Tell them that you have engaged your crisis response team. Reiterate the importance of the right information getting to the public and ask that they let the experts communicate that information appropriately. Every employee is a potential PR representative in the time of a crisis, whether you like it or not. Treat them as such.

While this is happening you should be gathering your crisis communications team. You’ll be training your spokesperson, which depending on the severity of the crisis should be as close to the top of the house as possible, and doing all you can to make sure that there is one consistent voice speaking publicly about the situation.

  1. Emerge from behind the curtain

While full message development necessitates gathering ALL of the facts, which can take time, a holding statement shows stakeholders (press, employees, public, and customers) that you are aware of the situation, that you are concerned, and that you are taking action. Basically, it shows that you are human, which goes a long way during trying times. A good holding statement will buy you precious time to gather all the necessary facts and may keep the media at bay while you do so.

  1. Communicate… like, really communicate

This is where the purpose of this post emerges. As PR pros we can spin any number of explanations about what it is we do for a living: We build and manage reputations. We shape images and public opinion. We influence influencers and mold public opinion… blah, blah, blah. As PR pros are role is simple: we get information from point A to point B. We are experts, who earn our living by having the expertise to know how to get the right information to the right audience in a meaningful, impactful way. But at the end of the day that’s it. Point A to point B.

That’s the goal of your Crisis Plan. After you’ve planned, formed your teams, trained your spokespeople and gathered all the facts, you communicate the information to the stakeholders involved.

In Jason Vines book, What Did Jesus Drive: Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity, the PR guy behind some of the most volatile automotive industry crises, he sums it all up in one brilliant sentence:

“Speculating is a hand grenade and, of course, lying is suicide,” as he succinctly puts it.

What are your thoughts on a crisis plan? What are some of the most important components?

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Back to the Basics, branding, storytelling

Build a Brand – Not a Business

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The difference between a brand and a business is stark. Businesses sell products to consumers while brands interact with people and enter into relationships. In today’s heavily saturated markets, relevance and interaction are key to achieving loyalty and advocacy. People need something deeper than transactions and products to feel satisfied – that’s where a brand comes in.

Simply put, a brand is what your business represents in the collective mind of your customers. Think of the brand as the sensory system that transforms your lifeless, transactional business into a living-breathing organism, able to connect with the human psyche and elicit real, often irrational, emotions. These emotional cues become the symbolic currency that people actually trade when they transact with a business. Brands are built from common elements, including:

Purpose:

A brand has a higher purpose than the desire to sell goods or services to make a buck. A brand’s purpose is the human value of what your products and services provide. For example, if you’re a startup in the currently hot Robo-Advisor space, your purpose is not to sell clients stocks or mutual funds that outperform benchmarks, but to help your clients on the road to financial empowerment so they can lead more fulfilling lives. Purpose is often the way to achieve relevance in the mind of the customer.

Character:

A business with a brand understands who they are. A business with a great brand understands who they are not. Each of us is distinguishable from the other six billion people on earth through the individualities that make up our persona. Think of any brand (i.e. Apple) as a person – imagine what characteristics they’d have if you met them in Starbucks. Would you want to talk with them? What would you talk about? How would you represent yourself in their presence? These are the same questions prospective customers ask when choosing a company to do business with.

Consistency:

As customers and prospects develop a relationship with a brand over time, they also develop expectations. Customers’ expectations are formed through their experience with the company’s products, marketing communications, and level of customer service. The moment a company breaks consistency, people will feel abandoned and actually more disappointed than if the brand had never existed to begin with. Consistency allows a brand to develop meaning over time and gives customers familiarity in how they feel about their interactions with the brand.

These are just some of the important elements that separate a brand from a business. A lot of research, assessment, introspection, and honesty is necessary to make the transformation from a business to a brand. Many startups don’t have the resources, time or attention to dedicate to a comprehensive brand campaign. However, there is a step that any business, regardless of age or development, can take in order to begin the journey towards developing a real brand that customers will identify with: Brand Narrative.

I read an interesting story in INC. recently that talked about the importance of startups developing a company or brand story. This excerpt really struck a chord in me:

Indeed, many VCs think of themselves as investors in stories, and storytellers, every bit as much as investors in companies. “How well does the founder’s life explain what they’re doing at their company?” asks Scott Weiss, a general partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz.

So, how do you get started? Simple. Ask yourself these three questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I doing this? Think long and hard about why you’ve dedicated countless hours, and sacrificed so much to bring your ideas to fruition. Much of it will come naturally. Once you have the answers, share them with your colleagues – with everyone for that matter – and develop the story until it starts to makes its way organically into everything you do, from communications all the way to sales. Eventually, your story will start telling itself, attracting listeners and customers and transforming your business into a what you need for success – a brand.

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