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, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

PR Must Evolve or Die… Start with the Obvious

I recently retweeted a story from Deborah L. Jacobs (@djworking) of Forbes and thought I’d take some time to highlight why it caught my attention. One of my last posts was about the lessons they don’t teach in PR 101 – Deborah’s piece highlights more valuable lessons that at least weren’t taught in the classes I took in college. Mind you, that was all the way back in the early 2000’s, before Twitter existed! There should be, and hopefully are classes today exclusively geared toward Twitter and PR. Hmm… more blog post fodder?

Deborah’s piece raises what hopefully is old news to most of us: the days of Edward Bernays and the press officer/manipulator extraordinaire, kicked the bucket long ago. If we want to survive and thrive as PR pros we have to get with the times. Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow PR pro and told him, rather frankly, that he had to stop treating social media like it was this new ‘thing’ he was trying to harness to keep up with a trend. Instead, he should treat it the same as email or the press release: another tool to get our jobs done. It is something that should fold into our daily activities, not something we force in clumsily to look like we are keeping up with the cool kids.

No too long ago, I covered the importance of building relationships with reporters. In her piece, Deborah points out that there are approximately six press agents for every journalist; imagine how many emails reporters are getting on a daily basis from folks just like you vying for a spot in their publications. In order to break through the clutter and build relationships you need to present yourself as a valuable source, not just an opportunist. Grant your journalist contacts unfettered access to the folks who would be most helpful to them – executives, clients, customers, etc. Let them speak to these people on their terms and decide for themselves if they have something to contribute that would make their  jobs easier, their stories better and their audience more engaged. You can’t just go spamming willy-nilly and hope to get coverage! I’m not saying that I don’t send the occasional one-off pitch to reporters that I don’t know, but even those are sent with as much intelligence and research behind them as possible. And when you do send those types of pitches, heed Deborah’s sage advice: “understand that no reply to a pitch means “No,” that follow-up by phone or email is ineffective…”

When I first started in PR, I would be disheartened by the terse, unfriendly and often times, rude responses I’d get from journalists when I‘d call them with a pitch. Years later, I realize where those responses came from. I’d be pretty annoyed myself if I got 20 misdirected phone calls throughout the day when I’m trying to do my job. I’d look at those people as pests, not sources.

Ms. Jacobs also makes the point that “a blizzard of press releases about studies that are statistically flawed or restate the obvious…” and forced, biased angles aren’t what journalists are looking for. They want news. This is something that is surprisingly overlooked these days. Think of the journalist as providing a service for their readers. In Deborah’s case, she provides her readers with information on the personal finance issues that are “keeping them up at night.” Before you reach out to a reporter, put yourself in their reader’s shoes. Is there value in this for them, or just for your client?  If it’s just for your client then it probably isn’t news and not something you should bother the reporter with.

Deborah suggests that it is time for PR to change its “long-entrenched industry practices.” I agree, with some qualification: the traditional tools of the PR professional will never go out of style as long as they are used correctly and not abused. News releases, pitches, media tours and even cold calls have their place in this field. But a shift does need to take place for those who haven’t already adapted. The first step is to stop spending so much time and energy on ourselves and focus on our audience. Only then can we take the necessary strides to ensure our services will not be rendered obsolete.

What else can we do to be more effective PR pros as the landscape continues to evolve? How can we become more valuable to journalists and influencers?

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