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Effective Crisis Management – Catastrophe or Opportunity?

Written by PRSA Maryland Communications Committee member Caitlin Wolf.

If I told you that a crisis is an opportunity for businesses to increase shareholder value, would you believe me?

Walking into PRSA’s “Introduction to Effective Crisis Response” seminar in Chicago on May 22, I viewed crisis management as an overwhelming, fast-paced communications task that meant hours of anxiety. Far from an opportunity. The workshop, led by Helio Fred Garcia and Adam Tiouririne of the Logos Institute, was an eye-opening experience that left my colleague and me confident that we could use crisis management to create a powerful competitive advantage for our clients.

Advantage? Yes. At a moment when all eyes are on your company, you have more control than you think. When done right, your ability to manage crises can have a positive impact on your brand’s bottom line. In fact, based on research by Knight and Pretty with the University of Oxford, companies that respond to crises well not only protect their stock price, but increase it, by an average of five percent. On top of its stock, a company’s reputation, operations, employee morale, demand for products and services, and strategic focus are protected when crises are handled well.

So, how can you go about managing crises the right way? Here are four key steps PR practitioners at any business should follow:

Know the patterns.
Bad things happen, even to good people and organizations. It’s what you do next that counts. Historically, there are approaches that always work and those that never work. Understand the patterns by studying crises and harvest the learnings—especially those occurring in your industry. How did the company respond? When did they respond? How was it received? Once you know this, understand you must intervene early enough to change the pattern.

Know what to ask.
When your CEO runs to you and asks, “What should we say?” you must begin by knowing which questions to ask. To regain the trust of your stakeholders, the most important question to ask is “What would reasonable people appropriately expect a reasonable organization to do in this situation?” Don’t be burdened by the thought that a common-sense solution won’t work.

Know what to say, and when.
Once you have the answer to your question, keep in mind that the single biggest predictor of reputational harm in a crisis is the perception that you don’t care. Craft responses to the “what reasonable people expect” question at the granular level for each stakeholder group. Communicate these responses in a timely way that shows you care.

Gain first mover advantage.
Whoever is first to define the crisis, the company’s motives, and their actions wins. Don’t let the media be the first to define these. Be prepared by establishing a crisis response plan. Craft well-structured standby statements ahead of time that address acknowledgement of potential crisis events, frame your organization’s values, your approach for addressing the event, the actions you plan to take, and next steps for your company and stakeholders.

Having a structured crisis management plan makes courage (and anxiety) less necessary. When done right, you will remain calm, regain the trust of your stakeholders; and, your stakeholders will likely reward you for demonstrating skill during a time of catastrophe.

Caitlin is PR Account Director for Planit.

Matthew Hones My Crisis Comm Skills

Submitted by Daniel Dunne, APR, Director of Communications, Erickson Living Corporate Affairs

On October 4, I started paying closer attention to the tracking of Hurricane Matthew as it worked its way closer to Florida. Why? Because West Palm Beach was projected to get hit with the storm’s full force (110 – 165 mile per hour winds). This meant that Devonshire, an Erickson Living retirement community, would be significantly impacted. The seriousness of the situation for those living in South Florida was highlighted during a Florida Governor press conference when he declared to Florida residents, “This storm is a monster and will kill you.” In addition, the destruction caused by Matthew in the Caribbean further proved to me and other company leadership that being fully prepared for the enormity of the storm’s impact was essential.

Fortunately, in the end, Hurricane Matthew’s path only brushed the South Florida shores, veering farther north up the coast. In addition to being grateful for this reprieve, it was rewarding to work with such a dedicated and talented team of community-based and corporate professionals who fully supported every aspect of the company’s execution of its critical incident communication plan. As a result, swift actions could be taken to establish increased communication capability. Some of the many factors helping to bring about this level of communication preparedness included:

Enterprise Emergency and Business Continuity Team Integration
Erickson Living’s Enterprise Emergency and Business Continuity (EEBC) plan outlines how strategic partnering and support will be provided to affected retirement community(ies) during a major event or emergency. As a member of the company’s EEBC Team, I was able to directly network with the internal stakeholders most involved in providing incident operational support. This level of staff engagement helped me target the use of specific communication platforms (e.g., social media, company website, etc.).

Command Center Integration
The opportunity to participate in the company’s command center operations and be at the nexus for all communications among operations and support team members was invaluable. In addition to gaining a firsthand knowledge of the company’s evolving response strategies, I was able to share details regarding all aspects of the company’s communication preparedness.

Sales and Marketing Team Integration
The company’s media emergency plan guidelines include provisions for the launch of a critical incident pre-built website (often called “Dark Website”) – which occurred just prior to the storm impacting South Florida. Shortly after activating this website, company updates were posted and comments received via Devonshire’s Facebook (which included the incident website link). This tool proved especially helpful for the family members of residents seeking updates regarding the storm’s impact on Devonshire.

Social Media in a Crisis: Q&A with Sherry Llewellyn

Q&A with Chesapeake Conference Keynote Speaker Sherry Llewellyn …

submitted by Mark Hoeflich

Sherry Llewellyn

Sherry Llewellyn

When Sherry Llewellyn, director of public affairs for the Howard County Police Department, received the dispatch call about an active shooter at the Columbia Mall, it was almost surreal. “Is this actually happening, are we sure it is not a training exercise,” said Llewellyn. But it quickly became evident that police were dealing with a real and dangerous situation on the fateful Saturday morning in January 2014.

Llewellyn directed the Howard County Police Department’s crisis response and will share her perspectives on the crisis and lessons learned as a keynote speaker at the 2015 Chesapeake Conference hosted by the Maryland Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Here’s a preview of what you can expect during her session:

Q. What was one of the most important lessons learned from this experience?

A. This experience made it clear that we can become our own new sources, providing information to the public at the same time as the media, while in the midst of a crisis situation. People could go to an array of places to get information, but if they stayed with us, we would be the confirmed source at a time when it was critically important. And the media was getting it at the same time.

Q. How did you use social media to help with the flow of information and be as transparent as possible?

A. First and foremost, we wanted to be the single place to come for accurate and confirmed information. During news conferences, we encouraged people to follow us on Twitter and it was interesting to see how quickly our followers increased within the first few moments. As a government agency, social media gives us a strong, additional tool for sharing verified information, and people seem to want that source in digital media.

Q. What do you think is a basic, fundamental skill necessary in today’s digital environment, particularly during a crisis situation?

A. As communicators, we have to share information in ways that are best for our audience. It may not always be the most comfortable, but you have to cover all the bases to cover all the people trying to reach you.  For many, it’s following along on social media. But some want to be at the scene with cameras and notebooks asking questions. So you have to provide information in that arena as well.

Learn more from Llewellyn at the 2015 Chesapeake Conference June 4 at the John Erickson Conference Center at Charlestown. The full-day event features keynote presentations, breakout sessions and networking, all designed to share best practices for helping you be successful in today’s digital environment.

Register today.

State of PR – 3/25/14 Recap

Despite the threat of snow looming in the skies over Baltimore, the State of PR panel went off without a hitch. The panel consisted of veteran PR pros Jeffrey Davis, APR of Sawmill Marketing and Judith Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA of PhairAdvantage, and was moderated by another veteran Harry Bosk, APR of The Write Image. It was a great discussion with plenty of participation from the audience. Two of the biggest takeaways are

PR is not dead! Although the tools of PR have changed, the fundamentals – the core – of PR is the same (e.g., relationship building, strategic planning, crisis communications, media relations).
Ethics is an area where PR pros and PRSA can and should take the lead. This is especially true in this digital age where control and accuracy of information is a challenge.

Other tips included:

State of PR PanelOn client relations…
• Be upfront with clients to manage their expectations on media placement. It’s unethical to make unrealistic commitments.
• Conduct media relations training with clients.
• Develop a crisis communications plan including generic tweets that communicate but don’t give out specific information. Always be sure to only give out what you have, not what you believe, i.e., don’t give out information that you can’t confirm.

On technology…
• Technology is opening new opportunities. You can now be exactly where your audience is.
• It’s not enough to know how to do social media; you need to know what to do to make it most effective.
• Listen before engaging. Find the needs. Also know – and understand – your audience
• Personal contact is still number one.

On media relations…
• Contact media via Twitter – use the DM option. More effective than emails.
• When working with media, PR professionals must be accessible and prepared to respond immediately.

The Panel also talked about the importance of following thought leaders and relevant media as well as reading and consuming news every day. They each shared their go-to reading lists…

Jeff Davis

I mentioned the For Immediate Release network of podcasts as my go-to “secret” source for keeping up with social media. Also, Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford, is a great source. And Christopher Penn has an excellent newsletter to keep you on top of what’s happening in PR and social media (and more):  

Judy Phair

In addition to several daily newspapers, including the Financial Times for a more global news perspective, I get daily feeds from the Public Relations and Communications Professionals group on LinkedIn and subscribe to a variety of specialized daily news and news trends lists from various sources;

Since many of my clients are in the education arena, I find Inside Higher Ed, an online newsletter published daily, a great source. You can subscribe here for the daily feed.

I also subscribe to the daily InVocus Media Articles Blog.  Contact InVocus Media Blog Articles sbenson@vocus.com to get information on subscribing. I should also add that InVocus Media Articles blog is filled with news of media staff changes, new assignments, etc. – critical stuff!

And daily postings from Poynter Institute – great stuff on what’s going on in the media business. You can contact Poynter Institute at newsletters@newsletters.poynter.org.

Harry Bosk

“Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image” by Charles J. Fombrun, Harvard University Press. It’s an old book but the principles still apply.

Four Tips on Social Media Crisis Communications

This post was written by Laura Crovo, SVP, Public Relations Director of MGH

 Earlier this year, a survey from German consultancy Gartner Communications found that while nearly 85% of companies worldwide have general crisis plans in place, only 20.7% have social media crisis plans set. Moreover, a staggering 78.6% of in-house communicators said they were pretty unprepared or so-so when it comes to social media crises.

What this shows is that more and more brands are embracing the importance of social media marketing, without adequately preparing for the risks. This isn’t to say that brands shouldn’t be jumping headfirst into Facebook, Twitter and the like – they just need to treat them as they would any other communications avenue by making sure they are ready to tackle any challenges.

Several major brands have been dinged via social media recently – whether it was due to a product deficiency, customer service problem or employee transgression. But, what’s added insult to injury in many of these crisis situations are slow, inadequate and insincere responses to the calamities at hand – probably due in large part to a lack of social media crisis preparedness.

So, what should brands do?

  • Stop looking at “general crisis communications” and “social media crisis communications” as two different things. When planning for catastrophes, you need to think about all possible implications – including media coverage, internal dissent, social media furor and upset stakeholders. Whether it’s sending an email to your staff, responding to a reporter’s questions or posting to your Facebook page, all of these tactics need to be treated as equally vital in the communications process. 
  • Be prepared before hitting the launch button for the Facebook page. This is a critical part of the social media process. Brainstorm all of the possible critiques or problems, and develop potential responses or messaging so you don’t waste precious time that could escalate a social media snafu. For instance, if your business is a restaurant, be prepared to deal with claims that your food stinks, your servers are rude, your prices are outrageous, and your daily special gave someone food poisoning.
  • Pay attention – all of the time – to what people are saying about your company and where they are saying it. Even if you don’t have a Facebook page, brands need to understand that there’s always a chance that people will talk about you online. Each comment needs to be evaluated individually to determine whether, how and when you should respond. There are no hard and fast rules, but generally speaking, you should be transparent, gracious and accountable (as appropriate).
  • Respond in a prompt manner. The world of social media moves much faster than traditional communications, and any lag can just serve to fuel the fire. Similar to how you would respond to a media query in traditional PR, it’s important to quickly address issues on the web, even if only to let you your consumers know that you are taking the issue seriously and looking into resolving it.

PR and social media are not mutually exclusive – and this could not be more evident than when it comes to crisis communications. Companies must take the time now to develop plans to handle situations whether in traditional or social media platforms, or else they could be found on the wrong side of a really angry and vocal Facebook contingent.

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