Communication is the Pulse of Life!

Crisis Management

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Managing Your Reputation

In an increasingly digital age, online conversation plays a huge role in shaping brand opinion and anybody with an Internet connection can be a potential contributor. Your online reputation is accessible with a click and you can be sure that at any time, someone, somewhere, is going to turn on a device and check into a search engine to find out all they can about you.

When prospects encounter negative content related to a brand, they are likely to switch to a competitor, resulting in lost leads and sales for your company. The correlation between a brand’s reputation and its sales is different for each industry and unique to each field, but the link is painfully obvious to those brands that have fallen into disrepute or those personal brands that have fallen out of favour with the mainstream media often caused by negative reviews.

It’s not just your customers who will search online for information about you but the media, business partners, prospective employees, and even personal contacts. If you don’t protect yourself and your business, someone can easily post a comment, create a blog post, promote your competition or worse. The results of a negative online reputation can be as subtle as a potential customer clicking on a competitor’s search result instead of yours or it can be as damaging as an industry-wide boycott of your products or services. Case in point – the recent #GrabYourWallet boycott that saw US retailers like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Sears, among others, drop the Ivanka Trump clothing line.

With increasing numbers of people turning to online resources for information, how does a business take ownership of their online reputation? Taking a proactive approach is the way to go. Managing your online reputation is not only a means of defence but it is also best practice.

Here, we share key initiatives that are integral to an effective brand reputation management strategy:

Public Relations: A strong PR program positions you as a thought leader and expert resource in your field in major newspapers, business and trade publications, and social media platforms. As a critical component to successful brand reputation management, PR can improve brand perception, manage negative sentiments, share positive customer opinion, and increase your web presence. A professional PR team can also secure high profile speaking engagements and opportunities (online or onsite) to promote your brand and gain top mind share.

Social Media: Social media is an integral part of brand reputation management. It’s a great way to make your business accessible, personable and focused on the customer. Being active on social media gives companies the opportunity to monitor their social reputation, as well as to act and react accordingly. Social media listening tools, like Hootsuite, SocialMention and Radian6 can research and collect user generated content such as blogs, comments, reviews, and alert a business of any negative conversation going on.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO strategies put you at the top of search engine results, where customers are searching for resources and solutions to real-time problems. If you are not present where consumers are searching, you will be left behind to competitors who are there. Leveraging strategic keywords and useful content can help to drive more web traffic and increase sales that are essential for your company’s strong brand reputation.

Content Marketing: Raising awareness about the brand through content marketing tools like white papers, blogs, targeted article contributions, and industry research reports can help in a company’s brand reputation management. Producing lead-generating content across an array of channels raises awareness about your brand and your products. By positioning your company as an informative industry source on topics your audience is interested in, you will gain more website visitors and potential customers.

Website Development: Designing a website that’s easy to navigate, with interesting and user-friendly features will definitely help a business in its reputation management. It’s important to make sure that the website works in tandem to the needs of customers – this helps them find relevant information easily and quickly. A strong website not only enhances a company’s online image but also helps to grow brand loyalty.

In the hustle and bustle of normal business operations, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of brand reputation management and its impact on corporate growth. But lack of brand reputation management can significantly and negatively impact an organisation’s overall success.

It takes time to tackle these crises and turn the ship around, but such issues can be fixed with an appropriate online reputation management strategy. Clear, achievable goals will help restore your company’s good name and keep your business reputation clean.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia


Keeping Cool in Hot Weather

 

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“You can’t have a business without having clients and unfortunately, where there are clients, there are also ‘difficult’ clients.”

You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. Every business that provides a service, will no doubt, encounter a few disgruntled personalities along the way. As public relations professionals, we’ve all had that experience. Some clients are a breeze to work with. Others can be extremely difficult – the kind that makes you cringe every time their number lights up on your mobile. You know, the ones who drain your energy, criticize and complain incessantly about something you’ve worked on diligently (and see real value in), or an overly needy client who calls at least twice a day to find out why they aren’t in that society magazine yet!

PR is difficult at times. You’re in the middle of everyone, the diplomat between the client and the marketing spiel and between the journalist and the story. So suddenly having to deal with someone being nasty or unreasonable is just one thing that you don’t need. But how do you handle it, when the client is paying the bill?

Dealing with difficult people is essential to our success. When dealing with difficult people, specifically a client, it might seem that keeping peace and our sanity is a tough, if not impossible, task. So how do you find the right balance?

Bottom Line: You bend over backwards when appropriate but you also learn to put your foot down when needed. Even though you may be holding the phone on one end, biting your tongue and stabbing that notepad with your pen, you can turn this around! Here are some helpful tips on how to deal with difficult clients.

Be Open, Be Clear

When dealing with a client, it is better to be clear about expectations at the start of the new business relationship. This is your opportunity to share what type of reporting, results and communication your new client can expect from you. Have an honest conversation about the amount of communication that is most comfortable to your clients and what your agency can provide. However, even clients who appear pleasant, understanding and accepting in the beginning, can become challenging once the contract is signed. It is important to know that while you should aim to be a valued partner, not all requests are feasible. Don’t be afraid to tell your client no – but with good reason. Explain why their request is not realistic or possible. You cannot please everyone all of the time and that’s a fact.

Worth the Trouble

Some clients will send a rude email – out of the blue! Or you may get a harsh tone on your voice mail on a weekend. Then it’s time to ask yourself this question, “Is it me?” If not, it’s worth your while to check in on your client. Ask probing questions to find out what is really bothering him. It could be that he’s going through something that is affecting his personal life, or it could be a trickle down “telling off” from his boss that has nothing to do with you or your work. Be kind, lend your ears and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Sometimes it does have everything to do with you. If this is the case, have an honest conversation with your client, and with yourself. Perhaps, you need to assess and amplify your own efforts.

You are the Expert

For clients that call for constant updates or to give you their own PR ideas (ridiculous as they may seem), remember you are the expert, hired to do the job. Don’t be arrogant – you can either take the ideas into consideration (if worth exploring), or politely give your views as to why they cannot be executed, for e.g. it would end up in the editors’ trash. Explain why you were hired in the first place – because of your specific expertise. Perhaps, this is also a good time to share more information and updates on what you’ve been doing to assure your clients that you’re on top of things and have their best interests at heart. More importantly, assure them that you know what you’re doing.

Be Proactive and Supportive

It’s quite common for some of my clients to reach out to me for advice on matters not related to the work we’re doing. Don’t turn away. If you can help with some input to a web design or business question, become an ally and take the time to problem-solve with them. Or refer them to someone who’s in a better position to help. By offering a solution and assisting with other tasks, you show that you care about their business. This not only builds rapport but also trust and this goes a long way in building a good, long-lasting relationship with your client.

Time to Let Go!

Unfortunately, the client is not always right. If your client is consistently being difficult and your personalities just don’t mesh, then it may be time to take the “D” out and let difficult clients go. While it’s important to do whatever it takes to keep a client within reason, you, as the expert in your field, get to define what is or isn’t working.  If your client is making your team miserable, taking up a lot of time better spent working on clients who do respect your work, it might be time to set you both free.

Whatever you decide, always be professional and polite. Be as honest as you can without getting too personal.

For the most part, PR pros love their clients and probably spend more time with them than they do their family. A PR agency should act as an extension of the client’s team. Your interactions with your client should build on one another – after all, you’re ultimately interested in a long-term relationship with your clients, and that is what you should strive for.

Posted by Irene Gomez, Corporate Media


The Crisis Communications Playbook: What GM’s Mary Barra (and Every Leader) Needs to Know

Crisis Management

Imagine that you were just named to a CEO position at a top corporation. This has to be one of the most thrilling adventures of your life.  But after only a few weeks on the job, you learn that the company has been hiding information for over a decade about a product defect that cost the lives of 13 people, and you will need to recall millions of units from consumers.  Mary Barra, CEO of GM, doesn’t have to imagine the situation; she is living it.  Most of the people who end up in top jobs have never had any training for or experience in dealing with communicating in a crisis on the big stage. I thought it might be useful to put together a playbook that every leader should have ready for when it hits the fan.

First, you need to realize that defining and solving the problem is critical, but equally important is how you handle the situation.  John F. Kennedy famously stated in a 1959 speech that the word crisis in Chinese is comprised of two brush strokes.  One represents the word “danger” the other “opportunity.” While experts have since noted that the linguistic point isn’t quite right, the bigger idea is still valid.

Ms. Barra seems to understand this because in her letter to employees on March 4th, she stated: “Our company’s reputation won’t be determined by the recall itself, but how we address the problem going forward.”

So far, however, she doesn’t seem to be heeding her own advice.  While news reports say she ordered an apology, it’s not clear whom she was ordering to apologize.  The first rule of crisis communication is to admit your mistakes publicly While this may drive your lawyers crazy, it will build tremendous goodwill in the court of public opinion.

In addition, she has remained silent and refused to do any interviews. My second rule is to communicate early and often: tell it all and tell it fast. At the very least, in the weeks ahead, she will have to answer questions from government officials.  The day after her letter to employees, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered the company to answer over a 100 questions about events leading up to the recall. In my own research on crisis communication I have found that the leader’s voice is one of the most critical components in developing a strategy for communicating during a crisis.

Besides hearing from the leader, however, the media wants to tell a good story with victims, villains, and visuals. Despite Ms. Barra’s wishes to keep information private, the New York Times was able to write a front page business section article using its inside sources. I like to tell my students and clients that communication is like a communicable disease.  As a result, my third rule is that you need to be able to tell your side of the story most efficiently and most eloquently through the media or someone else will do it for you.

Communicating early and often, however, is easier said than done.  Usually you have to communicate before all of the facts are in.  As a result, companies need to communicate values, such as concern for their customers’ safety, and to show a commitment to coming to the aid of people affected by the crisis, even if you do not have all of the details yet. Barra did address this in her letter to employees when she said: “First and foremost, everything we are doing is guided by one unwavering principle: do what is best for our customer. Customer safety and satisfaction are at the heart of every decision we make.”

The problem companies face in a crisis, however, is that often the evidence doesn’t seem to back up the rhetoric.  Why didn’t senior executives like Ms. Barra know about the problem given that it had surfaced over a decade ago if the customer comes first at GM? And is the bureaucracy so debilitating that no senior executive in the company heard anything about the defect in question for over a decade?  This leads to my fourth rule, which is that you need to explain why things will be different in the future What everyone will want to know is how she is going to help GM fix the actual defect on the 1.6 million cars, but more importantly, how she is going to change a bureaucracy that can hide that problem for over a decade.

Finally, while I admire Ms. Barra’s commitment to handling the problem herself, this may prevent her from following my fifth and final rule for executives who find themselves in this predicament, which is that you need to keep the business running.  We can expect weeks of challenges from lawyers representing those who died as a result of GM’s negligence, from congressmen hoping to score points in an election year by beating up on the company the US government once owned, from the media which will lose patience with her silence, and from employees, who must be wondering if the company can weather yet another storm. What we have heard from sources the media has spoken with is that Barra named several key executives to oversee the recall.  Who is going to make sure that the company remains vibrant and doesn’t get sucked into the crisis full time? At one company I worked with a few years ago, the CEO focused on managing the crisis while the COO and president focused how to make the business more successful after the storm had passed.

Assuming Ms. Barra and GM do weather the storm, they would do well to remember the words of President Kennedy’s rival in the 1960 election, President Nixon.  In his famous Checkers speech of 1952, Nixon said, “The easiest period in a crisis situation is actually the battle itself. The most difficult is the period of indecision—whether to fight or run away. And the most dangerous period is the aftermath.  It is then, with all his resources spent and his guard down, that an individual must watch out.”

This article by Paul A. Argenti first appeared in Harvard Business Review (March, 2014).


Social Media: Lethal Venom or Sweet Drug?

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Social media is at the tip of every one’s tongue. As PR professionals, we don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media; the question is HOW WELL WE DO IT. Social media is engaging, timely and immediate and is dominated by the voice of the consumer. It is because of this very reason that in times of brewing crisis, brands need to cut through the fog and reach out to their stakeholders: responding to the crisis by taking responsibility and issuing a clear action plan. Handling a crisis should be ingrained in the very DNA of PR Professionals and communication is indispensable to surviving a crisis. So what better way to reach your consumers than by using social media?

However, as easy as this may seem, McDonalds Corporation failed to grasp the very essence of social media crisis communication.  Following the firm’s latest expired meat scandal, the Americana symbol gained widespread negative publicity.

Not only did McDonalds deny association with Shanghai Husi Food, most comments made by the Food Giant revolved around sales and profits. The latest update is an 18-month rebranding to reshape the household brand’s basic offerings, including business value, service, marketing and menu. Ironically, other than severing ties with the Shanghainese firm, McDonalds failed to communicate on the issue, leaving many angered. The firm ignored the issue on social media platforms with posts focusing on their current menu and offerings. Their approach met with massive backlash, slaughtering the firm’s attempt at “addressing” the issue.

Whether McDonalds was in a flustered state of mind is debatable but nonetheless, in this unprecedented global era of social media, utilising the medium correctly, efficiently and effectively is THE way to handle any crisis faced by companies globally or locally.

Consumers control the medium

Social media has dramatically changed the balance of power that exists between the firm and the consumers. Anyone can post comments and articles at anywhere, anytime and consumers are no longer confined to receiving information but now have the power to produce and disseminate it. The advent of social media now spreads information further and to a wider audience than any other media in world history. Social media is thus the new medium of governance for consumers.

An effective crisis communication tool

The most common social media tools used in crises are micro-blogging, social networking, blogs, photo and video sharing. It is the most utilised medium to facilitate information exchange, online conversation and mass coverage of news which moves at the speed of light. Social media is thus the virtual convenience store of the world and when used properly, it can effectively help to deal with and end a crisis.

Making PEACE with Social Media

Social media has evolved over the years; it is no longer just for individuals to share about their personal lives. With millions of users utilising social media across multiple platforms, it is a powerful communications tool especially during crises, when leveraged correctly. The online chatter may become overwhelming and may take on a life of its own due to oversight. That’s why companies should control the chatter to prevent or minimise any irrevocable damage in the wake.

That being said, every company needs social media experts. Rather than providing an A-Z guide on developing a social media crisis plan, here’s how to make PEACE with social media:

Planning for social media: Social media connects everyone but that doesn’t mean all social media platforms should be used when handling a crisis. Companies should recognise the most communicative tools to utilise and how consumers react and respond to real-life crisis on the medium.

Empowering through communication: Identify accurate information that is to be released in a timely manner via social media. These platforms serve as an official information source and enable the company to take control of potential damaging chatter. Make consumers trust you by being open and honest.

Addressing public opinions: Consumers speak openly on social media; listen to what they have to say and leave no comment answered. Negative comments are sure to arise but companies have to acknowledge the emotional dimension of the crisis. Be sensitive and let them know you care.

Congruency of information and updates:  Social media is a touch point where stakeholders engage with the organisation and which may influence their perception. Marketing and advertising should be reviewed to ensure they don’t contain inappropriate messages or images that may encourage backlash from consumers. Timing and content are essential.

Evaluating the situation: Monitoring comments gives insights on consumers’ opinions on the situation and the company: what should thus be done next and how to revitalise the company’s reputation?

Consumers are invaluable to overcoming a crisis. Social media isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about learning to dance in the rain. Here’s the heart of the matter: The essence of social media is knowing your audiences and engaging with timely and appropriate content. So, how will you use social media? Will it be your firm’s lethal venom or sweet drug during crises?

Posted by Stephanie Robert, PR Executive, CorpMedia

Breaking Bad – Turning Negative Publicity Around

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A well thought out and executed PR campaign is critical to successfully launching a product or business. Do it well and a PR program can help create awareness, drive initial sales and create lasting excitement.  Do it wrong and you waste a whole lot of money, and risk damaging a product’s reputation for success.

Case in Point: Abercrombie & Fitch made the mistake of insulting their market when they attacked Jersey Shore’s “The Situation.”  What’s even worse – they wanted the star of the hit reality series to stop wearing their clothes!  Really!  If you’ve ever walked past an A&F store, then there is no mistaking as to who shops there – cool cats and party girls, aka the MTV generation.  While A&F thought they were being clever by insulting the beloved TV star, it turned out to be a huge PR disaster.  A&F’s stock fell 15% as a result of the PR stunt, proving that biting off the hands that feed you is not very smart.

We all know that publicity is what a company receives when something notable happens.  When the event is good, the publicity usually attracts new clients and gives the company something to brag about. On the other hand, there’s also the dreaded negative publicity. Unlike the positive feeling brought about by good publicity, negative publicity can leave the company and the public feeling badly.

Most of the time, bad publicity is unintentional. A company does something they think is positive and end up getting a bad reaction. Other times, the negative publicity comes from a competitor who makes an effort to create bad news about you or your business.  When that happens, don’t fret.  Take a deep breath.  Know that like everything else in our lives, there are ways to turn the negativity around.

Create a response strategy

Turn a bad customer review into something positive by creating a response strategy. Whenever possible, reach out to the customer first, address the issue, and work towards an amicable solution. A bad review is a great opportunity to internalize important customer feedback and develop your business.

Tackle negative press head-on

Stay on top!  Look out for trends in the bad press, so that you’re always prepared should (touch wood!), something bad happen to you or your business.  Where possible, address the bad press and share your sincere attempts to remedy the issue. We all make mistakes – so own up and take responsibility. It’s what you do after the mistake that matters. Businesses that project an image of integrity and honesty are usually businesses consumers want to support.

Respond quickly but thoughtfully

When things go wrong, a day is too long. Be aware of the phenomenal speed at which information spreads, especially via social networking sites, and take quick action to counter bad publicity. For example, if there’s a glitch in the software you’re launching, don’t wait for user complaints to spread virally.  Instead use online forums to alert them and explain what you are doing to address the problem. It shows customers, suppliers and other stakeholders that you are taking your responsibilities seriously and it also helps to defuse a situation before it gets too out of hand.

Stand up

Don’t be afraid to counteract inaccuracies. For example, if you are aware of a Twitter campaign against you, tweet your version of the story. Contact editors if incorrect information has been published, and use your own website and social media presence to dispel misconceptions.

Keep calm

Easier said than done, you might say.  But as PR practitioners, we know that it is essential to keep a level head in the face of a firestorm.  In case of a bad online review, sometimes we need to take a step back and remind ourselves that we can’t please everyone all of the time. Take the opportunity instead to fix something that may be wrong with the business.

Launch a positive campaign

Bad PR doesn’t have to stick in everyone’s minds; it can be replaced by positive thoughts of an organization.  Take action and go on a positive press campaign. Issue a press release about the good things your company is doing, for example, supporting a charitable cause. Go a step further – get your happy customers to go online and write reviews and before you know it, people will start thinking positively about your company again.

While it may seem impossible to get over negative publicity, there are ways to turn things around and manage the situation. The first step is not to panic. Figure out the source of the negativity and see if you can diffuse the situation. If it’s serious enough, you may need to consult with your legal team. Once you’ve started to quell the flames, it’s time to rebuild your image and get the public to forget. Eventually, a new scandal or interesting story will emerge that makes your bad publicity old news. Once that happens, focus on moving forward and preventing negative publicity in the future.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media


DON’T JUMP (THE GUN) INTO THE LINE OF FIRE

Just like a marriage proposal, sometimes, we get overexcited about the news and just want to shout it out to the world – well, to anyone within earshot anyway. We just can’t contain ourselves. This also holds true for news connected to our business. Some of us start to envision dollar signs and products flying off the shelves almost immediately!

However, there is something to be said about restraint when it comes to sharing news with your public. Sometimes, clients wait too long to respond to crisis situations or take advantage of stories in the news they could use to help tell their own story. Waiting too long can mean a missed opportunity or, in some cases, a damaged reputation. Then, there’s the flip side: speaking before you’re ready.  This can be dangerous.

Think-before-you-speak

Case in point: remember the headlines that appeared immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on President Barack Obama’s health care law? The Associated Press, in a hurry to be the first to carry the news, citing several media organizations, reported incorrectly that the law’s central provision had been struck down. As a result, President Obama initially thought that the mandate had been struck down. According to MSNBC, “For about 40 seconds, the President believed that his landmark, legacy defining legislative accomplishment had been gutted.”

In the end, the Associated Press reported that one outlet did issue an apology, admitting that it had not waited to report on the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. As PR professionals, we are the first responders that journalists often turn to for sources and sound bytes and it is our job to assist in a timely manner. More importantly, in today’s fast-paced media landscape, we must always be sure to present factual and accurate information to best serve our clients and the public.

Your news item could be something as amazing as getting an endorsement from the Queen, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to know when the best time is to share something such breaking news.

Right Time, Right Place

There are many obvious reasons as to when the right time is to break your news, one being that you are contractually bound to stay zipped until you get the green light to move. Or you find yourself at the risk of a lawsuit.  Think, for example, about a merger between two companies – talking about it before the plans are officially finalized may just impact the deal in a negative way and add to uncertainty in the market. Any media plans, including campaigns to be rolled out will also suffer.

But that’s not the only reason to keep quiet about big news. Everything has a right time and place, and it takes careful planning and consideration to announce it. If done poorly, your big news could fall on deaf ears, and you’ll have to work twice as hard to spread the news or worse still, undo the damage.

Do your research and figure out the best time to use social media and when to send emails out. People read emails or browse through Facebook at specific peak times, and if you don’t catch your target audience at the right time, they are likely to miss your news entirely.

Be Sensitive

Be aware of what’s going on around you and in the news before you release that all important news.  If you wake up to a huge earthquake that’s just struck the region, for sure, all the media channels would devote their time and space to report on the catastrophe for days to come. So be sensitive.  Perhaps this is not the best time to issue that press release or make an announcement. The last thing anyone wants to think about in such circumstance is some company telling them to get excited about their latest acquisition.

How much research do you do before sending out a message?

The game of PR and social media isn’t one for slow minded or slow acting individuals.  A 24-7 news cycle and the pace of the digital marketplace make it essential to perform quickly. It is important to stop, take a breath and survey the landscape before you send out that hastily written press release or tweet.

And, before you respond to viral situations or crisis circumstances, always allow yourself and your team a window of time to plan before launching your response. Make sure you know all the facts before you issue a public comment. Comments made on Facebook, Twitter and other social media make it very easy to say things that shouldn’t be said in public. So, beware.


DON’T MAKE A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS

Sooner or later, every company will be faced with a crisis that has the potential to damage its reputation. Sometimes this crisis can be contained in-house; more often than not, and especially in today’s 24/7 media world, news of the problem leaks rapidly to the media, which has the power to destroy the most carefully nurtured company image almost overnight.

For the many businesses that work with hazardous materials or processes that can be dangerous to the environment and people, the risks of an accident that leads to a crisis can be proportionately greater than, for example, service businesses. Yet even here there is potential for risk, as companies may need to deal with redundancies, malicious employees with a grudge to bear or the acquisitive attentions of predatory competitors.

Don’t panic

Despite the plethora of books on the subject, the crisis management process is simple and can be encapsulated by two simple sentences: be prepared and don’t panic.

Although both these pieces of advice sound like basic common sense, it is often the lack of an objective perception of the situation that can turn a manageable crisis into a full-blown drama.

A badly handled communication crisis can have such severe effects that in extreme circumstances corporations have had to re-invent themselves and re-brand to avert a reputation freefall. In an odd way behemoths like car and oil companies (think of the adverse publicity given to BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spills, for example) are the least adept at dealing with crisis effectively.

Be prepared

Crisis management strategy relies on a two-pronged approach embracing internal as well as external communications. You cannot have a well thought out plan without giving proper attention to both of these aspects.

It is easy to understand why internal communication is as important as external in ensuring that consistent messages are communicated. Most of your workforce will have access to social media channels. Even if your company blocks these channels internally, people have smartphones that are totally independent of your internal filters. Without a proper communication plan, information will be transferred externally before you can reach for the forgotten ‘Crisis Communications Plan’ that you may have produced a few years before and squirreled away in one of your company’s computer drives.

Don’t allow your crisis plan to lay forgotten – review it frequently and be ready to implement it in an instant.

Crisis situations often have the habit of occurring outside normal hours. It is therefore essential that you have a procedure in place for dealing with such situations, either by allocating senior staff to an on-call press rota, or by ensuring that there is someone to take calls and route enquiries to the appropriate spokespersons. Poor access to information outside normal working hours can scupper even the best laid plans.

The cardinal sin of crisis management

Your internal crisis communication plan must rely on well-informed individuals whose duty is to ensure that absolutely everyone in your company is kept up to speed on the crisis and given key facts about the situation. If facts are not provided, it is human nature to speculate and there is nothing more damaging to a crisis situation than having to deal with speculation – the cardinal sin of all mismanaged communication campaigns.

Your ability to prevent speculation is based on the speed with which you can respond to the crisis. If you have rehearsed (be prepared!) and cleared your decks, you can engage with both your internal and external audiences quickly and efficiently, aiming always to be one step ahead.

Train and rehearse

External communications are somewhat easier to handle, particularly if you have a plan or rely on a specialist service. Despite this, the world of PR crisis management is littered with examples of bad practice. It is a fact that often fundamental errors in crisis communications can be caused by Senior Managers not having had experience of dealing with the media. It is therefore vital that you either train your Senior Executive in this area of communications, or (particularly if don’t have resources) rely on appointed experts and spokespeople.

Whether you have an internal or external spokesperson it is absolutely vital to be totally honest and transparent with them, providing as much accurate data as possible. Never forget that speculation can often destroy a well thought out plan.

Be in control

Dealing with the press can be a daunting experience even for the most street-wise operators. During a crisis you will not have the luxury to rely on the well thought out press release. When the media knocks at your doors they expect answers. Anodyne statements like ‘no comment’ are of no use. Indeed, by using such tactics you are implicitly telling the press to go elsewhere to find information about you.

So, the key point is to be in control. There may be stages during a crisis when the press becomes hostile, particularly when conducting interviews. Your spokesperson’s aim should be to think about the audience at all times. After all, a journalist is only there to convey a message to an audience. You need to consider each audience and tailor your message accordingly. Never forget that behind the term ‘audience’ there are individuals like you, so your message needs to be humane and approachable, not distant and mechanical.

Journalists have an array of subtle tricks to encourage a naive spokesperson to speculate. Use of the conditional (“Would you say…”) is a favourite tactic, followed by silence. Yes, silence. In such a situation it would be easy to try and elaborate on the message, to fill the gap; almost certainly this will lead to the unplanned release of information that is counter-productive.

When faced by silence, focus on reinstating the points you have just made.

Some journalists are adept at making a spokesperson feel comfortable and relaxed. The inexperienced speaker may be lulled into a highly dangerous trap from where there is no return. In extreme cases you will be faced by other tactics such as the ‘Yes and No’ game (that is, you are asked to reply with either an affirmative or a negative). In these instances your duty is to politely bounce this back. You may have to repeat yourself, but this is fine, provided you do so calmly and engagingly. Interruptions are another favourite. In this instance, just keep calm and in control (but avoid looking smug).

The arsenal of journalistic tactics is almost endless, which is why without preparation or the support of a specialist you will easily fall foul of these basic tenets, creating a worse situation than the one you wanted to avert.

So, don’t underestimate a crisis, don’t be complacent, but be prepared and you will be fine. Omit these basic rules at your peril.

Posted by guest, Maurizio Fantato, member of EVOKE PR Network.

 


Handling the Hate

We’ve heard it countless times and as professional communicators, we probably have this engrained in our minds – communication is a multi-directional flow of information and feedback.

conversations

Needless to say, it could leave us upset, disgruntled, glum and in a state of unhappiness. Feelings and emotions aside, more serious implications could arise as well like having negative light shed on your company, bad press and possibly the subsequent loss of clients in the future. More often than not, we would want to retaliate – and who can blame you?

But hold your tongue/fingers! Given the fact that we are in the business of communication, it is mandatory for us to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism and decorum while still standing our ground. Here are some tips to that will come in handy as you prepare to tackle the difficult task of resolving sticky situations.

Do not react out of anger

We understand completely. A negative review or statement may be frustrating, especially if it contains elements that are untrue. But remember, the worst thing that you can do is to reply in a defensive manner. Take some time out; soothe yourself and when Zen has been re-attained, decide the best course of action from there on.

Take responsibility

The negative review may be the result of various reasons, so it is important to carefully assess the accusation, by getting down to the root of the matter. If there is even the slightest hint of truth, own up to it. By doing so, it shows that you are taking responsibility for your actions which in turn proves reliability and the ability to handle issues in a mature and professional manner.

Try talking offline

Some websites have the option of maintaining anonymity while some do not. If you encounter bad reviews on the latter platforms, chances are you would have a better idea of who the person posting the review is and how to deal accordingly. You could consider contacting them offline to settle the matter. By offering to listen to them vent and addressing their concerns (remember to be understanding and calm!), there is a chance that the individual would revise the negative review.

Be cautious

If it is not possible to contact the person who posted the review offline, you could simply reply to the negative post directly. You could urge the reviewer to contact you so that the matter could be worked on and hopefully, towards a resolution.  By taking this approach, you get to show that you care about the issues raised, and are genuinely interested in improving your services.

Think before you leap

Of course conflicts don’t always end up being resolved peacefully. What can be done then? You may be tempted to file a lawsuit against the person who posted the bad review. However, there is a high likelihood that this would backfire as it could even bring unwanted attention to the situation. So stay strong, grit your teeth, stand your ground. If need be, and this would be the last option, just drop the matter and move on.

As far as possible, try to channel the negative feedback in a way that would result in a better outcome for your company – yes, it is very possible! A great way to encourage positive client or audience interaction is to periodically conduct surveys to gauge their feelings and seek out their opinions from the get go.  This will help to avoid or limit negative feedback in the future.

By Yasmin Md Basir, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services


Don’t Spin That Tale (avoiding that interview disaster)!

Some interviews are just disasters waiting to happen.  There were times when I channel-surfed to a news program only to catch a CEO interview and cringe.  Really I have to wonder, “what was he thinking?’ or should I say out loud, “what was he thinking!!!!!”  Pardon the punctuation, but you get my point…

Brand specialists and public relations experts are always creating list after list of things that could go wrong.  And this is all well and good except for the fact that the focus is usually on the mistakes their clients make. Bad cover-ups, poorly handled crises and failed publicity stunts all have their place on the lists.

There’s no worse feeling than watching your client freeze in response to a question on live TV or say something he really shouldn’t. Some mistakes your clients make in media interviews have the potential to damage, rather than enhance, their profile in the media. It’s the role of PR professionals to fully train their clients to reduce the chance of insulting journalists or getting negative coverage in the media.

When you really think about it, the person in most control in an interview setting is the interviewee and not the interviewer. That’s because the person being interviewed holds the information that the interviewer needs. Many organizations find that media interview skills training can ensure their spokespersons can fully capitalize on interview opportunities and avoid missteps.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing your clients for interviews:

Do your research

Make sure the media outlet is one that is in line with your client’s goals – one that will offer the best possible coverage. Provide the interviewer with relevant background material – information about the company, biographies, facts and figures, success stories, etc. In some instances, you can also suggest questions to ask your client, if appropriate, or if it comes up during your discussion with the journalist.

 Aim to fit (the angle)

Nothing good will come, if you’ve prepped your client on a specific set of questions, and all the interviewer wants to cover is another angle. It’s always best to get a list of interview questions ahead of time so that you can determine where the story is heading and prepare accordingly.

Rehearse the talk

 Preparing talking points for your client is the best course of action.   This is critical, especially if there is something your client needs to answer in a specific way and avoid leaving out any details.  Rehearsing these talking points with your client will help you and the client to anticipate questions and respond with confidence.

Keep it short

There is always a tendency for the client to go on and on and most times, this is not a good thing.  For one, it may come across as rambling or even worse you risk taking the interviewer to places you don’t want him to go!  This is an important thing to remember especially when dealing with a crisis.  Best for your client to stick to the talking points agenda.

Visual impact matters

For on-air interviews, visual impact matters!   Do make sure your client is dressed in his “interview best.”   Avoid clothing that is white, black or any extremely busy patterns that tend to distort and create fuzzy patterns on the camera. For women, keep your accessories simple and men should wear solid plain ties as these capture better on film and in photos.

Media follow-up

A little courtesy goes a long way.  Always be polite and thank the interviewer/media for the opportunity and get a clip for your client.

Review and learn

Whether it’s a TV or print interview, do make it a point review the feature.  If it turns out well, strive to do better, if it doesn’t, then there is always time to learn and re-adjust for the next one.

Do you have any tips for media interviews, or any success or disaster stories to share? We would love to hear from you!

Irene Gomez….


NO to “No Comment”!

You know the immense disappointment and annoyance you are liable to feel after sending your friend a long text message only to receive a one word reply? An amplified version of that is probably what a journalist feels whenever somebody responds with a “no comment” to a question! Of course, in this case, a lot more is at stake not only for the journalist tasked with a story to cover, but also for the person responsible for making the remark!

Perhaps there is information that cannot be disclosed, perhaps the question posed is something beyond the interviewee’s scope of knowledge, or the topic of discussion is irrelevant to the matter at hand.  Or perhaps it’s just a case of clamming up at the last minute under pressure.  There are many reasons that may or may not explain why a person would utter those dreaded words.

The most dangerous thing that could happen when responding with “no comment” is that the situation may be taken out of context. Nobody would want the journalist to think that there is something to hide nor would the air of dishonesty do anyone any favours – make a journalist unhappy and be prepared to face the consequences. So how can we avoid such unnecessary suspicion?

Quite simple – Turn up prepared!

If the interview questions were not already furnished before hand, try to anticipate potential or likely questions, and spend some time thinking about delivering the best answer in the best possible way. By planning ahead, responses can be worked on. Besides preparing content, the interviewee would also be able to gauge the amount of time to spend on each answer and establish an appropriate pace to ensure that they are articulate and audible. Areas with insufficient information or inadequate explanations could be worked upon further.

And when you think that you are prepared, prepare some more.

Have reports, statistics, data or visuals that is worth sharing on hand – It is beneficial to have background information on current events relevant to the topic. Chances are, the journalist will be pressed for time and questions would be fired at the interviewee rapidly to ensure that as much information can be extracted within the stipulated (or less!) time frame. Fumbling around and grasping at things to substantiate the answer would not only make the interviewee look unprepared and flustered but it can also be a trigger to making the dreaded comment.

With all these in place, just remember to ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. Like comprehension exercises everyone had back in school, it only counts if the questions are answered. Otherwise, wouldn’t the whole exercise of having the interview be pointless? If the answers provided are satisfactory, there would probably be less unplanned questions asked. Even when armed with well-oiled weapons, curveballs could still be thrown at the poor, unsuspecting interviewee – but at least what has been prepared for can be executed seamlessly. So it is always good to plan things to say, even if nothing can be said. Here’s how:

Always be honest!

If there is only the truth and no lies, there would be fewer things to keep track of.  Should the interviewee be unable to provide sufficient information or address a question, be forthright about it. Do not try to dodge questions – it is the journalist’s job to press the question and it is the interviewee’s job to provide answers and insights. The very least thing to do when faced with an unanswerable question is to explain why it cannot be answered.

Replace the negative with the positive.

If faced with a less than pleasant situation or question, offer a substitute. If the interviewee is not able to address the question at hand, offer another nugget of information that may be worthy of attention or veer the conversation in a direction that is more comfortable. Use phrases like “I cannot provide you with such information but what I can tell you is …”

Make alternative arrangements.

Perhaps an opportunity for a follow-up could be arranged; this could be via a phone call or an email or perhaps another interview. It is also advisable to provide contacts or sources where further information pertaining to the interview can be obtained.

These may all seem pretty obvious and simple but sometimes under pressure, things just slip our minds and that is completely alright. Like with most things, interviews get better with experience. Here’s to charming your way through an interview. March forward with confidence and may you never have to utter those terrible twos ever again!