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, Social Media

The Winner of the 2014 BuzzWell PR “Did I Do That?” Social Media Awards is…

There’s a level of irony somewhere in the fact that the winner of this year’s award – an award represented by the loveable and aloof character of a popular 80-90’s family sitcom – was himself the star of the show that paved the way for sitcoms like Family Matters.

On November 10th, Bill Cosby (his social team)  posted a photo of himself on Twitter inviting the Internet to meme him.

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Good idea, right? Memes are all the rage these days… the kids love ’em. And with such a loveable character like Cosby, this kind of stunt could only magnify his already popular persona. Unfortunately for Cosby, this coincided with the resurgence of rape allegations against the 77-year-old actor thanks in part to comedian, Hannibal Buress, who had been touring with a new standup act that dedicated a portion of the skit to the allegations. Buress actually prompted those who couldn’t fathom Cosby would commit such horrid acts to see it for themselves, saying “If you didn’t know about it, when you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny”.

Suffice to say, asking the internet, which had started to become abuzz with chatter relating to the alleged crimes, to go ahead and create their memes was a really, reallllly terrible idea. Cosby’s short-sighted PR folks probably expected the memes to be wholesome interpretations of Cosby’s goofy humor. Wrong. This is what they got instead:

resize“Fans” used the web tool to highlight past accusations against Cosby, and lots of them. Just as with #Imametsfanbecause back in September, yet another social media campaign backfired in spectacular fashion.

So what was the science used to determine the award should go to Cosby and his PR? It was a calculation of sheer stupidity X cluelessness.

In order to be an effective PR person you have to know your client. Whether they are a person or an institution, you must know their past present and the direction in which they wish to go. You are tasked to promote and protect their reputation amidst any confluence of events that might jeopardize it.

This instance, like so many others, could have been avoided entirely if just a little brain power was applied. Case in point: the allegations against Cosby are not new, they’ve been around for years, surfacing here and there, only to fade away under Cosby’s indelible role as one of America’s most loveable dads. As Cosby’s PR team, you should know this and avoid any action that may trigger the scandal to become newsworthy again. What they did was just the opposite.

So, for excising zero intelligence and ignoring all the basics of PR, congratulations to Cosby and team on taking this year’s top spot.

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2015 might be a rough one for Bill. And for his social team, this sums it up perfectly:

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Maybe you can form a group with all the other nominees and go on a redemption tour to educate budding PR pros on exactly what NOT to do.

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Back to the Basics, Social Media

“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: Runner-up, Elizabeth Lauten

As a public relations spokesperson, one must act with an abundance of caution in both their personal and professional lives. It’s simply a prerequisite for the job. In the political realm, the most scrutinized arena in our society, the age old adage think before you speak is something that the wise live by and the foolish wish they had.

Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) would fall in the latter category of those who did not heed that sage advice. She resigned last month after causing quite the stir with the following Facebook post that criticized Malia and Sasha Obama’s appearance at the annual White House turkey pardon ceremony.

td4_elizaMs. Lauten, really??? Using someone’s children to throw a political punch?

These type of incidents make me wonder how in the world these people got as far as they did. A Communications Director for a US congressman is not an easy job. It requires thick skin, light feet and the ability to artfully position the congressman and your party in a favorable light under some really tough circumstances. This kind of blunder betrays the most basic fundamentals of public relations and the understanding that as a spokesperson, everything you do and say will reflect on the people you work for.

And this wasn’t Ms. Lauten’s first social media gaffe either. In August she posted a tweet about “shagging” from Mr. Fincher’s official Twitter account.

“God I love this song. And beach music. AND shagging #pandora,” Ms. Lauten tweeted in reference to an Embers playlist on Pandora radio.

She later deleted the tweet and apologized for the accident, clarifying that “shagging” is a dance term, not a sexual reference.

“It had nothing to do with Stephen Fincher. I don’t think he knows what Pandora is; he certainly doesn’t have it,” Ms. Lauter said, according to Politico.

In response to her attack on the Obama teens, Lauten posted the following apology on Facebook:

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Too little, too late. Not only the post make you and your party look like bullies willing to stoop so low as to bash someone’s children in order to get a cheap shot in, it also cost you a job, and probably won’t make it easy for you to find a new one.

 Ms. Lauten’s resolution for 2015: Think before you post.
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“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: # 3, DiGiorno’s

Domestic violence has made its way to the forefront of the American psyche over the past few months. Incidents like NFL player, Ray Rice, knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator and the supposed coverup that ensued, have garnered an enormous amount of attention and resulted in a seemingly renewed cultural awareness of the issue. Why the public had to be galvanized by the media is another question entirely.

Anyway, domestic violence is obviously a very sensitive issue. One that affects millions of men and women worldwide in the most horrific of ways. There are hundreds of organizations and support groups to help those that face it. The support has even made its way to social media – specifically Twitter – where victims share their stories using hashtags with others who will understand plight and can hopefully find the help they need to remove themselves from their situations.

One such way victims of abuse can engage with one another is through the hashtag #WhyIStayed. This #, which was trending heavily around the time of the Ray Rice fiasco, allows victims to share their heartbreaking stories of desperation.

On September 8th, after Ray Rice had been terminated by the Baltimore Ravens for the altercation with this wife, and just days before we found out just how grizzly and callous the crime was, DiGiorno’s had a fail of Epic proportions when they decided to tie into the #WhyIStayed hastag before knowing why it was trending. The “Oh S*$T!” moment they must have had as comments like the one below started to come in was one for the ages, I’m sure.

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DiGiorno’s quickly issued the following apology:

digiorno-whyistayed-tweet-hed-2014The apology is almost as offensive as the original post. This is a blatant example of carelessness – a brand shamelessly hijacking a trending topic to get attention without an iota of strategy. Yes, social moves fast, and it’s hard to plan for sometimes, but at least take a few seconds to think it through before posting something.

Hijacking a hashtag with nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction and lust for attention never goes well – *ahem Entenmanns. It’s a bit baffling to me, all the time, detail and effort that goes into building a brand, and then someone says, “Hey. let’s just jump on this social thing. Everyone’s doing it.” If you are going to do it, do it with care.

Better luck next year.

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“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: #4, Volvo

The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was one of the worst flight disasters in recent memory. Not because of how many lives were taken, or the way in which it was lost, but because it was just that – lost. We still don’t have the answers to explained what happened to the 239 people who were on board the airplane that day.

Shortly after the flight went missing, automaker Volvo learned entered itself into the realm of the absurd when they posted the following post to micro blogging service Sina Weibo – China’s version of Twitter:

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“The rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane is in full swing. Passenger safety is also a top priority at Volvo Cars, let’s pray together for the 239 lives that were on board of the plane. Bless them, and may a miracle occur.”

Wow.. Just WOW!

Hopefully this post was made by one terribly misguided soul, because the thought that more than one person actually approved this is all the more horrifying. This is PR 101, people: never use a tragedy to promote a product! It might not even be in the textbook – it’s so obvious and commonsensical that if you thought otherwise you should never, ever, try your hand at anything resembling public relations.

Volvo quickly blamed the faux paux on an international agency before issuing the following statement:

“Volvo Car Group would like to apologies for the offense caused by a recent online statement that mentioned the tragic disappearance of flight MH370,” it said. “That statement did not properly reflect the deep concern that all our employees feel as the search for the missing plane continues. Our thoughts are with the families of those involved.”

I think it’s safe to say that the agency responsible for this no longer has Volvo on their roster. Here’s to a more prosperous 2015!

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“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: #5, American Apparel

American Apparel is no stranger to controversy. Their ads have been knocked for years for bordering on the edge of pornography, and most recently, the company voted to oust chairman and CEO Dov Charney after a long tenure of misconduct, including refusing to participate in mandatory sexual harassment training and using severance packages to quiet former employees.

You’d think that AA would have it’s antennas on full alert these days in order to avoid any additional negative press, right? Well maybe they did – everyone except for one unfortunate “international social media” employee that is – who posted the following picture to the American Apparel Tumblr account back in July:

AA Fail

AA Fail

Apparently the post, which was the tagged “#Smoke” and “#Clouds”, was supposed to represent fireworks for the 4th of July Holiday. Unfortunately, the employee passed over the millions of stock images of fireworks for a photo that shows the Jan. 28, 1986 explosion of the Challenger shuttle, which killed all seven people aboard.

One astute commenter corrected the cringe-worthy post rather bluntly:

AA comment

American Apparel was quick to respond to the onslaught that ensued, flattening their probably long gone social employee under the bus without hesitation:

“The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event,” American Apparel posted. “We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.”

The Challenger disaster was one many will never forget. Hopefully AA doesn’t forget this brain lapse either and has a better 2015. But really, how about owning up to the mistake as a brand, guys? SMH.

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Your Brand Story Starts with Your “I Story”!

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Over the years, I’ve given many talks to large audiences, explaining what my company does, or certain projects I’ve worked on – and typical butterflies aside – as long as I’m prepared, I find it relatively enjoyable. But I also recall a time when I was riding in an elevator and someone asked me what I did for a living, causing me to stumble over what seemed like such a simple question. It should be the opposite, right? Explaining what you do day-in and day-out in a low stakes environment should roll off the tongue with ease. But often times it doesn’t.

When you are a leader in a company, not being able to tell your “I Story” with conviction is bad for business. Depending on your role, your brand would not exist without you. It was birthed from your desires, passions, fortitude, and hard work. Your company is much more than an entity; it’s an extension and embodiment of an individual(s).

You may think as the owner of a Public Relations agency, that when you’re asked what you do, the correct response would be: “I own a PR agency that represents companies to the public.” Or perhaps: “I manage reputation for big brands.” Those answers would be fine if you are OK with being deposited in the collective bank of the thousands of other PR agencies that do just that.  And if you are, good luck paying the bills.

If you are not OK with mediocrity and you wish to rise above the dizzying fray of competition, then maybe your response would be similar to what I tell people I do: “I help brands and individuals tell stories that resonate and drive results.” Yes, I do PR, media relations, content marketing, social media, etc. But those are job functions and responsibilities. I’m not a robot driven to perform tasks until I shut down for the day. I am an individual with unique skills that is driven by purpose and passion, and the desire to help others.

Here are some keys to crafting a compelling “I Story”:

1. Dig Deep

Whether you are a company building widgets, or a person helping small businesses market themselves – why are you doing it? What drives you? Your skills should be secondary to why do you what you do. Show empathy, passion and emotion. What drives me is my passion for storytelling and the fulfilling feeling I get from helping people.

2. Prepare a Script

Write it down. The example I gave above is a personal statement, an abridged story of what I do. Make sure you are able to expound on your personal statement with as much conviction and meaning as the one-liner. Depending on what you do, your personal story will take a while to create.  Run it by people you trust until it’s in good shape and then practice, practice, practice!

3. Own It!

You’ll know you’ve nailed it when it doesn’t feel forced. When you say it out loud and it feels good to say it. It’s possible you’ve been toiling for years, caught in the day-to-day of your business and forgotten why you’ve invested so much time and energy into what you do. But when you deliver that meaningful “I Story” it will all come rushing back to you, reinvigorating you and making you feel proud.

People want to do business with passionate people, not emotionless entities. Do not get lost in the mix; your brand is only as strong as the individual(s) behind it!

So, what’s your “I Story” ?

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