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Never assume your crisis is over … until your audience says so!

We took a brief break from our #PRSAMDWeeklyChat only to come back on June 12 with PR pro Jeffrey Davis, APR, Managing Partner, Van Eperen! Jeff talked about the realities of crisis communications and why you need a solid plan to address Covid 2.0, our national conversation about racism and whatever awaits us in the “Next Normal.”

Listen below to full conversation below or read recap for highlights.

Highlights:

What is a crisis? Internally, a crisis is an event or a series of events which threaten the organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Externally, a crisis is an event or a series of events which put your organization’s values on trial in the court of public opinion.

Realities of a crisis: Your values will be communicated and will under public scrutiny. Remember that what you say must be reinforced by your behavior. Important publics (employees, media, competitors, neighbors, family, critics) are paying attention to you. Be ready with good messaging.

Basics of a crisis: Ask “what do you want people to think about you?” That you care, are doing something, and will prevent recurrence. That you are accountable and will be part of the solution. Have a solid messaging strategy that includes a media policy, prepared messaging platform procedures, trained/tested spokespeople. Tip:  When training spokespeople, practice with a series of Q&As that will prepare the spokesperson for the hardest questions imaginable. *Don’t train in the midst of a crisis! Crisis specifics make the news.

Tip: Journalists often put out calls for more information via social media. Be a part of the story; be prepared to answer those calls.

Initial statement: Don’t ignore the “window of opportunity.” Respond quickly. Your initial statement may be broad but make sure it is timely and be sure to address the key issues during this critical period. Tip: Don’t put the news media ahead of your own employees. They are your ambassadors and can help get the messaging out. Let your employees know what is going on. Tip: Organizations can be pulled into employee issues. If this happens, respond quickly.

Create a solid crisis communications plan that includes a mobile option allowing easy access to all. The mobile plan can be setup based on crisis levels vs. specific scenarios, i.e., Level 3 – Emergency event; Level 2 – Significate/threshold event; Level 1 – Major event. The plan should identify team members and their roles, current contact information, template statements, and social media passwords.

Crisis Management Best Practices:

  • Risk assessments – identify scenarios; plans using levels
  • Scheduled sessions to review plan
  • Regular updates to plan – internal team, external stakeholders, media/influence lists, contacts, templates, mobile version
  • Media/speaker training for primary spokespersons

 

PRSA MD Weekly Chat: Crisis Communications Review with Jeffrey Davis, APR

Join us for a chat with PR pro Jeffrey Davis, APR, Managing Partner, Van Eperen on the realities of crisis communications and why you need a solid plan to address Covid 2.0, our national conversation about racism and whatever awaits us in the “Next Normal.”

With world events changing every day, an updated and actionable crisis PR plan has never been more important.

In this 30 minute presentation, followed by Q&A, Jeff will cover …

  • Tips on messaging and communicating during a crisis
  • What to look for when analyzing your existing plan
  • How to build a mobile version of your plan
  • Considerations for communications around current events

Of course, we want to hear from you so come with your questions and tips to share. It’s FREE!

About PRSA Maryland Weekly Chat: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the ways it is affecting our professional and personal lives, we are holding weekly virtual meetings to gather and address a variety of topics.

Missed the last few weekly chats? Here you go …

Recap – Virtual Idea Swap – Coping with COVID-19

 “This is a time of service, not so much a time of sales.”

Dealing with the COVID-19 global crisis is bringing new challenges to how we work as well as how we guide our staff and clients through this crisis. And yet it’s also spurred creativity and thinking outside the norm as we balance it all. On April 6, we were joined by Laura Van Eperen, CEO, Van Eperen; Chris Stevens, Director of Communications, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future/Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Dave Curley, Senior Vice President, Sandy Hillman PR for the first of a series of virtual idea swaps.

Listen in below. And check out the recap for some of the highlights of what we discussed.

RECAP

Staying in communication with your audience:

  • Listen rather than promote.
  • Offer solutions to the problems your audience is facing. Communicate ways we can help one another.
  • Pay attention to accuracy. Don’t speculate. Always stick to what you know and realize it’s ok to say, “we don’t know yet.”
  • Use your best judgement. Be sensitive to what’s happening locally, nationally and globally.
  • Be conscious of what you are promoting, when you are promoting, and how it will be perceived.
  • Find moments of positivity.

*When pitching to the press to help get the proper message out, offer new or unique insights and/or details to journalists they may not be getting, i.e., what a local company/organization is doing that is having a meaningful impact.

 

Staff communications – Be true to your culture:

  • Give as much leeway to staff as possible. Respect the challenges of juggling working at home while dealing with unique family circumstances such as parents becoming teachers to school-age children, the lack of childcare, spacing issues, etc.
  • Continue your regular routine as much as possible. Schedule regular virtual staff meetings, host virtual happy hours, share docs via digital platform, etc. But … be sure not to “over-zoom”! Don’t have a meeting to have a meeting.
  • Encourage staff to support local businesses and/or participate in charitable activities when possible.

External and internal communications: How many emails are “too many”?

  • Be relevant and meaningful. Ask yourself if this something that will help you or someone you care about in this moment?
  • Make sure you have a strong message and a strong subject line.
  • Be appropriate. Be careful how you tie your message into this public health crisis.
  • Be mindful of timing of message. What is going on at that moment?
  • Look at different channels for distribution such as direct mail vs. email.
  • Consider segmenting your message to be sure the right message is going out to the right people.
  • Use soft messaging.
  • Be part of the positive message.

The chat was only the beginning of a long conversation that we’ll be having for weeks and months to come. To do our part, we’ll be holding weekly virtual meetings to gather and address a variety of topics. Have a question or suggestion to share? Send us an email.

Articles of interest:

 

In case you missed it, here are few comments shared by our participants on what their organizations are doing …

One of my clients is a law enforcement support organization, and we have been able to get the CEO on Baltimore TV talking about how officers in the Baltimore PD being quarantined with coronavirus is impacting public safety. We also have placed Op-Ed pieces on the same topic in The Sun and Chicago Tribune.

My company is deferring premium payments for our policyholders, many of whom are the small businesses which are laying off employees as a result of COVID-19. We are also providing information on the SBA loans to small businesses. Additionally, the company is also providing grants to several non-profit organizations which align with our business and has also increased the amount of money it will match for employees’ matching grants.

 My content strategy is changing virtually day to day, sometimes by the hour. I represent a veterinary hospital, so today we’ve been talking about the tiger in the Bronx Zoo that tested positive for coronavirus, and what that means for our household pets. That “tiger” news just broke yesterday afternoon. We didn’t see that one coming!

Right now, at our organization the National Association of Bond Lawyers, we are sending out targeted emails to members who have bars in states who have temporarily changed their CLE requirements. We are focusing the emails based on deadlines for CLE and doing it about a month out, so members are aware of what’s happening and created a webpage listing each state with updates and doing it on a daily basis.

Staying Ahead of the Spread – PR and COVID-19

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

By Jeffrey Davis, APR

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) elevated to global pandemic status, the phase of precautionary wait-and-see measures has passed, including for your communications strategy.

Particularly for organizations on the front lines – from seniors housing to tourism to major conferences – how and when you connect about the outbreak is imperative to fostering reassurance and trust.

A public health crisis doesn’t have to send you into a messaging tailspin. Here are rapid response tips on how to prepare:

Employees First
Focus first on internal communications to emphasize safety and share the policies and actions your company is actively taking.

Think beyond a single all-staff email that may go unread and opt for over-communication. Coordinate with HR to use all the available avenues like signs in common areas, social media, infographics and videos.

At our Baltimore office the management team has sent a reassuring visual message with small actions like doubled soap products in the restrooms and wipes and sanitizing cleaner stations in the common areas.

Employees need to know if/how you are encouraging a change in routines such as using technology to decrease unnecessary human contact. Let people know if you endorse work-from-home to prevent contamination and if you have any updated sick leave policies.

Now is also an OK time to highlight how you are helping any coronavirus response efforts, financially or otherwise, and to encourage other companies to follow suit.

Consider the Source
Skip the politics and rhetoric by going straight to trusted institutions, staffed with expert immunologists and doctors, as sources for facts and recommendations.

At the top of the list are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the World Health Organization.

Remember to keep the tone of your communications strong but temperate, promoting awareness and not panic.

Consult Your Crisis Communications Plan
This is the moment to put your crisis PR plan into motion.

Begin with the crisis communications basics: identification of team members; assignment of tasks; updates to template statements; and verification of current contact information including access to social media/passwords.

Next, look at the possible scenarios specific to your organization and plan accordingly. These could include leadership or employees diagnosed with COVID-19; travel policies and restrictions; impact on production or delivery of products; and questions about executive level decision-making which could be called into question.

Industry organizations are helping members with communications, so take advantage of their expertise.

For example, the U.S. Travel Association posted a holding statement, a set of talking points and a social media guide with sample posts and images specific to coronavirus. One of U.S. Travel’s messages: “The challenge in moments of public health concern is to react properly to the situation, but to not overreact.”

If you delayed or canceled an event you will need to announce the decision quickly. Even more important: if you elected to proceed with an event your messaging is extremely important as the reasoning behind the decision will receive extra attention and scrutiny.

Prepare but Preserve Your Narrative
One of your employees, a family member, or neighboring company could become infected or impacted. If word gets out and connects you in any way to the outbreak you must be prepared for questions – both internal and external – about policies you have in place and the steps you took. You need to have an answer.

Weave into your messaging how you prepared for and came out strong after SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and similar outbreaks in past years. This demonstrates your preparedness and confidence in weathering another outbreak.

At the same time, don’t allow COVID-19 to take over your narrative. Be proactive and ready to answer questions but remember you have broader organizational messages to deliver. Make sure this new topic is part of your ongoing spokesperson prep and is included in your media training exercises.

If you need assistance in messaging, crisis communications planning or getting the word out we are ready to help.

Jeffrey Davis is managing partner with Van Eperen, a Board Member of PRSA Maryland, and  Baltimore editor of Capitol Communicator.

Is all trust lost? How to recover from a brand damaging crisis

Submitted by Jennifer Donahoe, PR & Social Media Account Director, Planit

On June 4, 2019, shocking and gruesome undercover video broke showing animal abuse at a dairy farm in Indiana where the popular milk brand Fairlife produces its milk.

Originally posted on social media, the video quickly went viral and national media and local media across every major market in the country covered the story. The words “horrifying,” “torture,” and “disturbing” became synonymous with the Fairlife brand.

The result? The brand’s perception was immediately damaged and public trust tanked, with customers banning the product, and chains such as Jewel-Osco, Casey’s Foods, Family Express and more pulled Fairlife milk from shelves. In response, not surprisingly, the “where to buy” section of Fairlife’s website was taken down.

As communicators, there’s a lot we can learn from this crisis. When Fairlife responded, how Fairlife responded, and most importantly, what Fairlife did in reaction to the crisis, will all be discussed on July 18 at PRSA Maryland’s conference session on How a Crisis Can Become an Opportunity.

You will learn:

  • How to prepare for a crisis
  • Rules of effective crisis response
  • What works – and what doesn’t work – in a crisis
  • Key messages to communicate, regardless of the crisis
  • The most important question to ask in a crisis
  • When to respond in a crisis

We’ll discuss all this and more, analyzing major recent crises to help you prepare for the foreseen – and unforeseen – so that your business or clients are ready no matter when or how a crisis strikes.

The reality is a crisis can happen at anytime to any company. If you’re ready to prepare and protect your client or brand, this session is for you.

Click here for more information on this session and more!

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