Why PR Campaigns Should Be Run Like Political Election Campaigns

A lot of people are rejoicing that the elections have ended.  Their elation isn’t necessarily about who won, but simply that they’re thrilled that the campaign ads are finally over!  For me, campaign season never ends, because I believe that the best public relations campaigns should be run like a political campaign- and that’s how we set our strategies for our clients. Let me explain.

Some of you may know that in the late 90s I used to work in politics— hardcore Illinois “machine” politics at that– before moving to Arizona and formally starting my career in public relations.   Working on multiple campaigns across the State, I learned several lessons which I still use today.

Plan backwards. What does a politician want when they start running for office? To win!  In order to do that, the candidate needs 50 percent of the votes plus 1 on election day.  Not today, but on election day.  So if election day is 15 months from now, circle election day on the calendar and start planning backwards to reach your goal.  For example, if the vote were held today and you were only at 35% and the vote was 15 months away, if you increase your percentage 1% each month you’ll be at 50% on election day.

When we first engage with a client, we want to know their end goal, and when they want to achieve that goal. We then plan backwards to get them there on time. It won’t happen the first month, but if we do our job right, we’ll get closer to their end goal every month and ultimately achieve our client’s desired result.

Make your negative your positive. Every candidate has a flaw that will be attacked or something which might turn off some voters.  The best politicians can acknowledge the negative and the best campaign managers will prepare a response to an attack in advance and will even work to turn that perceived negative in to a positive.   We view our role as a PR pro as the company’s campaign manager- identifying flaws and dealing with them head-on before they become fatal.  Sharing with media and the public how a flaw was fixed is often a great way to build confidence, gain support and grow a company.

Know what you want people to remember before you start talking. A good politician walks in to any speech knowing what they want to tell their audience before they say a single word.  A company needs to know what take-away they want their customers, prospects and employees to remember and feel before any action they take.  The public relations strategy and wording used needs to mirror the intended take-away.

Be consistent. It’s hard to trust a flip-flopper, so repeat the same message as often as possible.  Only then will people hear it and remember it.

Own it. In the rare cases where you must do a flip-flop, own it.  Explain why the change was the right thing to do.  People are more than willing to forgive a mistake, but only if you own it and don’t hide it.

There’s a lot more I learned working in politics which I credit to how we create strong, effective PR campaigns for our clients.  But, for the rest of this month, let’s all take a deep breath and just enjoy the end of the non-stop political attack ads.  Please?!?!?

Written by Josh Weiss, President, 10 to 1 Public Relations, [email protected]

Why You Should Care That We’re Part of IPREX

I highlight IPREX on my website.  I have an IPREX icon in my email signature line.  If you weren’t sure, YES we’re proud to be the sole Arizona member of IPREX!

But I was recently asked: What is IPREX?  More to the point, he asked why he should care.

Shame on me for not better explaining why it matters not only to our team, but more importantly why it benefits our clients.  Let me try and do that now.

IPREX is a global network of 65 independent public relations firms across the world.  As a group, we have 1,600 employees and the annual billings of several hundreds of millions of dollars.  Size-wise, the agencies range from around 15 employees up to 200.  The expertise of the group spans multiple industries (like healthcare, technology, crisis communications, consumer, etc.) and various service lines (traditional PR, digital media buying, graphics, public affairs, etc.).

A little more than a year ago, 10 to 1 Public Relations was accepted in to the network.  In addition to being the exclusive agency member in the greater Phoenix area, we’re currently the only partner in Arizona and the entire Southwestern U.S.   Other agency partners are in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Hong Kong, Australia, Finland, and beyond.  (To see the entire list of IPREX members, check out the map on the IPREX website.)

While we are committed to each other’s success, we all remain independent and make our own decisions for our own companies and clients.  As an exclusive group we don’t view each other as competitors.  That’s why most partners are the only one in their primary market unless they allowed another agency to join, often because their target clients are different.  Instead we view one another as resources and allies.

When I sought to join IPREX I wasn’t 100% sure of what to expect, but I did have high expectations. Both of how it would help my agency, but more importantly how it would help our clients.  I can confidently tell you that our participation is paying off.

Our current clients are benefiting without even realizing it. If we have a client launching a product or holding event in another city or country, we may reach out to the local partner agency in that area for specific feedback and advice to ensure we achieve the maximum success for the local effort. We can even bring in other agencies for specific tasks or projects when needed, just as we’ve been introduced to some projects by our IPREX Partners that we otherwise would not have even known about.  IPREX also allows its members to team up on proposals and RFPs where they may not qualify on their own, allowing for more business opportunities. Our involvement with IPREX gives our clients endless resources and access to global and industry expertise.

The professional benefits of IPREX membership to the 10 to 1 Public Relations team are excellent as well.  All 1,600 employees of IPREX agencies have access to a private members-only website where we can ask questions of one another and review best practices.  There are also several (more than 125) case studies, samples and resources that are openly shared.  The website also holds several recorded (and live) webinars led by different partner agency staff, which provide great opportunities to learn best practices from one another.  Topics vary but an example would be tools and techniques PR and social media pros can use to improve outreach to social media influencers.  As an owner, IPREX also provides me an informal network of business advisors and mentors, giving me even greater confidence as 10 to 1 Public Relations goes through our current period of growth.

Participation in IPREX is not just about connecting remotely through online platforms.  IPREX has several face-to-face meetings each year. I recently returned from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I attended this year’s conference of agency owners from across the Americas (I also was at last year’s meeting in Dallas, Texas).

There are other meetings yearly for other global regions like Asia and Europe. IPREX also holds a global meeting for all agency owners. A couple months ago it was in Dubai—no, I didn’t go–but next year’s global meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., which I do plan to attend. There are also special leadership training meetings for different staff levels at various locations around the world. This global network allows 10 to 1 Public Relations to have a unique advantage over other Arizona-based PR firms.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know these other agency leaders from around the world.  I’m very proud that our small yet growing firm has earned our seat at the table and that we’re fully contributing to the discussions. IPREX is making our company stronger, and our clients are seeing the benefits.

by Josh Weiss

Are Reporters a Pain in the Ass?

This recent exchange between a reporter and Senator Lindsey Graham applies to business too, not just politics.

Reporter: Do you believe the news media is the enemy of the people?

Sen. Lindsey Graham: “No, I think the press in America is a check and balance on power. … Sometimes you can be a pain in the ass, but you’re not the enemy of the people.”

I often am asked by clients if they can have a reporter’s questions in advance or if they can review a story before it runs.  I do understand this from their perspective. They want their story told in a certain way and want to look as good as possible.

But reporters aren’t writing advertisements for your company.  If you want an ad, go pay for it.

Reporters are supposed to give their readers information that they believe is timely and important for them to know. It’s not their job to care if you like the final story or not.  Their job is facts and accuracy, and making sure the reader sees value in what they learned from the story.

The truth is, not every story is worth telling. I hate being a buzz kill, but pretty often I have to pop a client’s balloon and tell them their story idea won’t get the coverage they desire.  Yes, a good PR strategy can put “lipstick on the pig” to make an otherwise tired story more interesting, timely and worthy of a reporter’s consideration. We do that all the time with excellent results- but that’s a different blog for a different time.

The point is, reporters are the main gatekeeper to what’s ultimately a story and what’s not. Respect that and use it to your advantage, don’t fight it, because you’ll lose.

And yes, I can agree, sometimes reporters ARE as Lindsey Graham put it, a pain in the ass. Why?  Because it’s their job to dig in and find the real story, to share new information that hasn’t already been told that they can give to their readers.  After all, it’s called NEWS not OLDS.

  • If your business wants a story about a major purchase or contract win, the first thing the reporter is going to ask is for detailed numbers. It’s a legitimate, important detail of their story.  Don’t be surprised if they push you for an answer.
  • If you make a claim in an announcement that something is new, you better be able to easily explain how it really is new and not the same story you tried to share six months earlier.
  • If you want coverage on your company doing a food drive or participating in a 5k during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Figure out what makes your effort unique and different from all the other companies doing similar things. Why should a reporter choose you for the story over someone else, or even worse, why should they do the story at all when it’s already been told several times?

The reporter isn’t being an pain for asking hard questions or questions you don’t want to answer.  They’re doing their job. If you want good stories, give good answers. When we are pitching stories, we always look for a unique visual way to describe the story. We offer stats and details. We give them different story angles to choose from.  The easier you make it for them (and us) to tell the story you want—the full story—the more likely you’ll get the story you want.

The vast majority of reporters are good, honest reporters.  They genuinely try to tell the story minus any personal or political bias. When you read a normal news story, you don’t read it thinking about who wrote it or that their personal opinion was included in the story.

That’s not to say that a reporter’s past personal experiences or implicit bias doesn’t influence what they write, but there’s a big difference of a reporter trying to be anonymous and simply provide facts within a story and a Columnist or reviewer writing in the first person whose job it is to try and “be” the story or create conversation and disagreement.

Let me leave one last thought. Sometimes, even when you get the story, you might find it’s not as robust or glowing as we expected.  The story might leave out information we consider important, but the reporter didn’t include. Complaining doesn’t help.  At worse, it could even result in the client becoming the pain in the butt not the reporter (at least in the eyes of a PR firm!!).

The truth is, we just need to accept it and be happy we got the story at all.  I still rather get an okay story than no story for a client.  Every collected drip of coverage combines to create a pool of long-term goodwill (if you’re unfamiliar with this concept, watch the video at www.10to1pr.com).

by Josh Weiss

How our “No Jerks” Policy Has Helped Our Business

How our “No Jerks” Policy Has Helped Our Business

Did you know we have a “No Jerks” policy? It applies to both our co-workers, and our clients.  While the phrase may seem lighthearted or written to amuse, we’re serious about it.  And yes, we believe it’s helped our business.

Here’s what the “No Jerks” policy means. 

From a co-worker perspective, it means saying “Good Morning” when you walk in the door and meaning it.  A willingness to share snippets of your “real life outside of work” and taking a genuine interest in the passions and stories of those you work with.  It means showing mutual respect, knowing that all ideas are worth considering no matter who they come from.  It means having each other’s back publicly, but pointing out mistakes not to impugn, but to improve in private. It means knowing it’s okay to make a mistake, as long as you’re willing to learn from the experience.

As it relates to clients, it means it’s okay to turn down a customer, or even to fire them if necessary.  It means that we get to choose our clients similar to how they get to choose us as their PR Firm. Do we think they are ethical, and that they treat their customers fairly? Will they talk to us with respect and seriously consider our comments?  Granted, they don’t need to accept all our advice, we just want to contribute and help our clients see the potential brand benefits or risks of their decisions.  We aren’t “yes men” and we don’t want to be. Where’s the fun in that!  Our clients needs to know and accept up-front that we’re always going to share our honest opinions and suggestions in private, but they can have confidence that once the final decision is made we’ll back their call publicly 100%.

The “No Jerks” policy follows something else we started a few years ago, called (excuse the language) the “a**hole fee”.  It’s a lot like it sounds… and we only have pulled out this threat a few times.  Here’s how it works:  Let’s say a client who we normally have a great working relationship with is aggressively over-focused on a truly superficial detail or is uncharacteristically being verbally rude to a member of our team.  Jokingly, I’ve told them we understand their issue and we’ll do our best to fix it, but if they keep up being abusive to us I’m going to add on an a**hole fee. In both scenarios the individual stopped cold… and after about 5 seconds started laughing and said okay, I get it, I’m sorry.

We believe that the “No Jerks” policy has helped our company because it allows us to focus as a team and company on what’s really important. It helps us remove all the time wasting headaches and distractions quickly.  For example, it requires us identify staff and partners where their personality and how we believe they’ll interact with fellow staff and clients is considered just as important as their professional talents.  It also makes it okay to pass on potential clients where we fear they have unrealistic expectations, or where we just have a gut feeling that they aren’t a good fit or that we won’t enjoy working with them.

And yes, it is fun to say we have a No Jerks policy too.

Oh, and for the record—the “No Jerks” policy wasn’t our idea.  We adapted it from one of our IPREX partners, Dallas-based SPM Communications.  IPREX is a global network of Independent PR firms, and 10 to 1 Public Relations is the sole Arizona member of this exclusive network. We had the opportunity to meet the SPM team last year and tour their offices where we learned about “No Jerks”.  We liked it so much we “borrowed” it!  We’re pretty sure they won’t think us jerks for doing so!

Business Lessons from Watching a 10-year-old Play Basketball

A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed the cutest things and I can’t get it out of my mind. During my 10-year-old son’s basketball game, one of the smaller, less athletic kids on his team got the ball and reluctantly took the shot – making a basket.  The pride and excitement was obvious on his face.  A few minutes later during a time out, the coach sent in a new player to replace him in the game.

As he was running back to the bench, the referee was standing and waiting to let play resume and was in a stance where one arm was up in the air with the other pointed to the spot where the ball would be in-bounded.  As the boy ran out he thought the referee was offering him a high-five so he jumped to slap it to the surprise of the referee which started smiling too.

I’m not sure who else in the stands saw this, but it’s an image I can’t stop smiling about even weeks later.

It’s a great reminder that everyone judges accomplishment on their own terms.  For this kid, a routine basket in a game where his team was way ahead in the score was a big deal.  Giving him confidence, pride and a memory that he accomplished something outside his normal expectations.

What’s your business or professional “high-fiving the referee” moment?

To do something unexpected, you need to actually do something unanticipated.  I’m not talking about doing something crazy.  It can simply be bidding on a contract or applying for an award that you’re not expected to win.  If you don’t get it, no one will hold it against you, but if you do get it, it’s a big deal.

Here’s an idea. How about in addition to pitching media outlets that you expect will cover a story, that you also pitch your idea to the biggest, most important media outlet you can think of — even though you know it’s unlikely to get covered.

It’s that unexpected action that can result in your biggest point of personal pride or success.  It’s the unexpected that creates a lasting memory and thus a great story worthy of sharing and repeating.

By Josh Weiss, President of 10 to 1 Public Relations

Why Companies and PR Pros Should Think Small to Make a Big Impression

Have you ever heard of the 10 to 1 rule? It’s the idea that it takes 10 good things to be said about a company to make up for one negative story. And since it’s only a matter of time before somebody says something negative (regardless of if it’s true or false), it’s essential to build up a good will bank to protect and inoculate your reputation.

Luckily, every company has lots of good stories.  Unfortunately, few of these stories are recognized internally or shared externally.  The real error or threat is in the mindset that many of these stories are too small or unworthy of your effort. Failing to take advantage of smaller story opportunities is one of the most common, and most negatively hurtful things a company can do to their long-term success.

Think of each small news story as a drip out of a faucet. If you collect the drips, you can use the water any way you need it going forward. Compare that to doing one big story where it’s like taking a shower. It feels great when the water’s running but as soon as you turn it off the water goes down the drain.  Before long you dry off and forget the experience.

Need a more direct example?  Let’s say a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood.  If the first thing you hear is negative- like that the food was bad or the service was terrible- you’re never going to walk in the door. But instead at first you hear lots of positive comments from various friends and neighbors (that they liked the food, enjoyed the ambiance, had good service, etc.,) before hearing about a negative experience, you’re still open to try the restaurant out yourself. Granted, it may not be the first restaurant on your list anymore, but you’re still willing to walk in the door.

How about a sports metaphor?  Too many PR Pros are constantly trying to hit home runs.  I get it, I love hitting a home run too.  But the problem with home runs is that even the best players strike out far more often than they knock it out of the park.  Change the strategy.  Instead, focus on hitting lots of base hit singles.  Play “small ball” and run up the score.

Or how about a more selfish reason:  Would it be better for you professionally, as well as for your company, to have multiple stories listed on your website? Even if those stories are from smaller and mid-sized media outlets spanning six months? or would you prefer one story link from a prime media outlet during that same time period? Oh, and don’t forget the benefit to your sales team.  Multiple articles gives them more examples to add to collateral materials and sales kits providing more third-party validation of your company.

To be clear, I’m not saying to avoid big story efforts.  Big stories are great and should absolutely be part of your PR goals.  They just shouldn’t be your entire PR goal.  Stop ignoring or minimizing the importance of small stories and the power and protection they provide companies.  The added reach and frequency small stories collectively provide your company will create the desired echo chamber for your target audience.

So think small, to make a big impression.

Part 4 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating with (and through) the Media

Part 4 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating with (and through) the Media

In some ways, talking to customers and the public through the media is the easiest part of a crisis.  It’s also one of the most risky as it relates to protecting your company.  The job of media outlets is to share the information of what’s happening with the public, but not necessarily to share that information in the way you want.

Assuming you’ve already read through Part 1 of this series and already have your simplified and clarified message finalized, let’s jump right in to some best practices for talking to media during an emergency.

Six best practices for talking to media during a crisis: 

  1. Designate One Spokesperson. Answers and statements to media are best when they funnel through one person to ensure consistency.  When it comes to the media quoting the company, you’ll be much happier in the end if the same person is quoted in every interview. That said, every media outlet will contact your company separately for a comment.  If you’re planning a press conference, let other communications team members answer calls and emails, and tell reporters to attend the media briefing for more information. The more time the spokesperson can spend doing interviews instead of scheduling interviews the better.
  2. Acknowledge Questions Quickly. You don’t need to know the answers, the public just needs to know you’re working on getting the answers.  Failure to respond to media quickly and acknowledge an issue implies the company doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or doesn’t know what to do.
  3. Respect Their Timeline, Not Your Own. Reporters have deadlines and they don’t work for you. During a crisis, think of it like you work for them. You can’t make a bad story go away, but you can make it less severe. If you make the reporter’s job harder, why would they give your company any breaks?  The easiest way to stay on a reporter’s good side is to ask them what time they need an answer by, and if at all possible get them an answer before the time they request. If you know you aren’t going to have an answer in time, tell them.  They will understand it takes time to get answers and it won’t always be possible by their deadline but they still have a story to write or tell regardless. If you tell them late it makes it harder for them to write or tell the story, and you run the risk they’ll take that extra stress out on you and your company in the story they tell.
  4. Don’t Let the CEO or Other Key Leaders Speak. This recommendation will be a surprise to many, but I believe that a company leader should never be the one to explain what went wrong immediately as a crisis is occurring.  Let your hired PR firm be on camera as the bad guy explaining the problem (that’s one of the services we offer for our clients to help protect them).  Only after we have an answer and a solution should the CEO or leadership talk to reporters, so they can take credit for fixing the problem instead of being seen AS the problem.
  5. Crow Tastes Better Warm Than Cold. Mistakes happen.  If you’re going to need to accept blame eventually, apologize for the mistake quickly. Why suffer extra news cycles of damage when you can shorten the window and focus on fixing the problem.
  6. Show how you fixed the problem. In the days and weeks after the crisis, share your story of how you’re fixing the problem and how you’re making sure a similar mistake never happens again.  If you have new technology or equipment to avoid a future problem, announce it and add it to your website so people know the issue has been resolved. Post “thank you” notes and comments from once unhappy customers demonstrating your commitment to making things right.  Highlight employees that went above and beyond to fix the problem and protect customers. Create a case study showing your commitment and ability to make changes that protect and help your customers and the public.  You won’t be able to erase the initial mistake, but you can celebrate your efforts to fix it.

Finally, I would argue that during a crisis you need the media a lot more than they need you.  They’re telling the story whether you help them or not.  If you want them telling the story in the least damaging way, you need to respect them, and use them to share the message you want accepted by your employees, the public and your customers.

-written by Josh Weiss

Part 3 of What Companies Should Do During a Media Crisis: Communicating to your Impacted Customers and Supporters

Part 3 of What Companies Should Do During a Media Crisis: Communicating to your Impacted Customers and Supporters

The hardest and most important communications you have to handle during a crisis is to set the right tone and be responsive when sharing information to your supporters and any impacted customers.

Your customers are the ones who ultimately hold your company’s destiny in their hands.  If you want to weather the storm, the easiest way is to protect and save what you already have secured.

Assuming you’ve already read through Part 1 of this series and already have your simplified and clarified message finalized, let’s discuss the next section of this four-part series.  How to communicate with impacted customers and your supporters during a crisis.  

Tips for talking to impacted customers:

Be Honest and Be Direct.  People will be upset- don’t ignore or belittle that anger.  Be humble and empathetic in your wording, but also tell customers what to do or what to expect.  Provide usable information in the first few sentences, don’t bury the detail halfway through your statement.  Someone who’s stressed by your company shouldn’t have to search a long document to find updates or answers.

Provide Expectations and Instructions, Even When You Don’t Know the Answer. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, acknowledge the issue and explain that you’re working on an answer. A simple statement on your website and SM channels can help, such as:  We are aware of the issue and are working on a solution.  We will provide an update with additional information at 3pm today, or earlier if possible.

Move the Issue Off Your Main Page.  If you’ll need to communicate lots of information over time, or will be giving lots of updates over several days, create a secondary website or social media page to separate angry customers from unknowing or unimpacted customers.

Respond to Social Media Posts.  Angry customers will make lots of posts on your social media pages. Create a series of short responses that can be used. One response may simply be that you’re working on a resolution to the issue and that the company will provide an update as soon as it can.  Another might be to direct impacted customers to another page for more information, updates and how the company plans to help impacted customers. Ultimately, people want to be acknowledged, and others will see you responded.

Accept that media is a conduit to talk to upset customers.  Upset customers during a crisis will be watching media to see how you respond to the crisis.  Therefore, your response needs to have them in mind.  If customers need to do something as a result of the crisis, tell the media what customers should do and use them to help give instructions.  I’ll get more in to talking to the media in Part 4 of this series.

For the most part, people can accept that mistakes occur, and that not everything is in our control.  Customers just want to know you’re genuine in your desire to fix the problem and truly do apologize and accept responsibility when it’s expected.  If you handle the crisis well, and your customers are content with how you handled everything, they may become even more loyal to you and your brand, knowing that they can count on you to do what’s right even when it’s not easy.

-written by Josh Weiss

Part 2 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating Internally to Your Staff During a Crisis

Part 2 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating Internally to Your Staff During a Crisis

A crisis doesn’t only effect customers, it directly effects your staff. It’s your staff that has to communicate with angry, scared customers – calming their fears and resolving their problems. It’s your staff that needs to keep their cool, show empathy and have crazy amounts of patience.

Like a sports coach, leaders need to give their team the strategy and direction to implement during a crisis.

In Part 1 of this four-part series we focused on simplifying and clarifying your goals as a formal statement that all parties can focus on during a crisis.  Now let’s focus on the audience that often gets ignored and forgotten during a crisis—your own employees.

But leadership often forgets that employees themselves are often scared during a crisis. They’re scared for their jobs, they’re scared of the extra work that will be required of them, and they’re afraid of not knowing what’s really going on.

There are some important steps company leadership must take (to keep employees on their side).

Leadership needs to be seen and heard, and employees need to be told what the company is committed to doing, and how they’ll be acting in the future (see part one of this series on simplifying and clarifying your goals during a crisis).

  • Hold small group meetings with team leaders. Very quickly (within hours) have a series of small group meetings with your senior team leaders.  Hold the meeting in-person if possible, but even a video streamed meeting or conference call will work.  Tell them what you’re doing, and what they should be telling their teams.  Their staff will be looking to their supervisors for instructions, and nothing is scarier to morale that managers not knowing what to do or if they themselves look scared.  A five minute meeting can make all the difference to your teams. Make the time.
  • Walk among the workers. Have leadership walk through the cubicles and offices thanking employees and portraying confidence- even if leadership doesn’t completely feel that confidence.  If you’re in multiple locations this may not be possible, but have local leaders do the walk-around instead.  When leadership smiles and displays confidence in employees it goes a long way for morale.
  • Have your talking points and be prepared to repeat them. The key points should all revolve around the simplified, clarified statement you set (again, see Part 1 of this series).  Stay on your talking points, even when asked lots of specific questions. Stick to the main points while acknowledging that the question is valid but that you’ll make an announcement to all employees about it soon to ensure everyone has the same information at the same time to avoid more rumors or confusion.
  • Host a town hall in person or live streaming. After the initial shock, and after you have time to digest the core issues, it’s time to hold a large team meeting (or series of meetings).  Your staff may be scared, but you need to show your confidence in them.  Tell them that you know that this isn’t easy for them, but that you appreciate them. Tell them that your leadership team will support them and do all they can to help resolve the problem. Answer what questions you can, but only share information you want media or the public to hear. Even if it’s only intended for employees, all it takes is one scared or angry employee to talk to someone they shouldn’t.
  • Demonstrate your appreciation. Maybe you can buy breakfast or lunch for your teams as a simple thank you.  Maybe you can hand-write a handful of letters to key team members at all levels telling them they are appreciated.  Maybe you can send a group email to a select team saying that you appreciate their efforts.  Simple acknowledgements and thank yous go a long way in keeping staff on your side.

Your staff is already going to have their hands full dealing with customers and the public, but if you lose the support and confidence in your own employees your task becomes nearly impossible. By investing the time to communicate and solidify support of your internal teams, your likelihood of quickly winning back customers and the public support goes up significantly.

-Written by Josh Weiss

The PR crisis for your company has already begun, so what should you do? Part 1: Simplify and Clarify Your Message.

The PR crisis for your company has already begun, so what should you do? Part 1: Simplify and Clarify Your Message.

Ready Fire Aim. That’s how too many companies handle a crisis.  They respond before they know what their message is, and they end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong audience.

It’s easier if you plan for a crisis in advance so you can execute your strategy when needed, but a lot of companies find themselves unprepared during an emergency. For this four-part blog series, let’s focus on four topics of what to do after the crisis has already started.

Part 1:  Simplify and Clarify Your Message

Part 2:  Internal Communication (i.e. to staff, investors, etc.)

Part 3: Communicating with impacted customers and your supporters

Part 4: External Communications with reporters and the public

Let’s jump right in to Part 1, shall we?

When a crisis occurs, companies tend to make one of two opposite, but equally painful, mistakes.

One mistake is being too afraid to say anything at all, and by taking too long to respond the company fails to stop the bleeding before the damage is complete. A quick acknowledgment and action by the company is essential to ending a crisis.  The more news cycles the company waits to show they care and are trying to fix the problem, the worse it will be.

The other mistake is speaking too quickly without an organized strategy or a designated spokesperson from whom all statements will be controlled and consistent. A company can look pretty bad when different spokespeople contradict one another. It only leads to more confusion and issues to resolve. It also looks horrible when a statement is made, but only hours or days later the company needs to backtrack because the company’s desired message or strategy has changed.

Both of these mistakes (and the inconsistencies they create) are not due to ineptitude by any individuals. Rather, it’s simply a lack of a simple message and simple direction from the top.  In the middle of a media crisis, it’s too late to form a committee and discuss options.  Leadership needs to act quickly to calm the storm, but clarity and consistency is also needed.

Simplify and Clarify Your Message

One of the first things company leaders need to quickly decide are a few core message points from which all statements and actions will revolve around – no matter who is speaking or listening.  The key is clarity and direction.  The statement should clearly and simply state what the company is focused on during the crisis, and what the company will do after the initial crisis is over.

For example, say your healthcare organization has a major HIPPA violation.  An example of your core message points may be:

  • We will take care of our patients impacted by the violation
  • We will investigate and take action where appropriate
  • We will redouble all efforts to prevent any future similar violation

These statements may not seem very deep, but they’re very powerful.  They’re a promise allowing all parties, internal and external, to set their expectation.  They become the mile markers for which the overall response can be judged.

The statement lets those who are impacted, the public in general, and the media know the company cares and is working on proper resolutions. It’s hard to hate someone that’s trying to help. It may not stop anger or fear, but there’s comfort in knowing the issue is not being ignored and the company has a plan of what to do to fix it.

To company spokespeople, it gives clear statements to convey to anyone that will listen.  The statements are general enough that they can be given quickly to media, even before all the facts are known.  It shows that the company isn’t ignoring the crisis, or the anger or fear it might create. It shows the company cares.  It also creates a clear path to show the public in the future that the company followed through on its commitment, wherever that path might lead.

These simple but direct statements also give internal guidance to employees on how they are supposed proceed in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.  It also points in the direction where the light at the tunnel will (eventually) appear.

The first statement, to take care of the patients effected, is something employees can start doing immediately.  The second statement lets internal teams know they need to investigate what happened and the third statement instructs employees to figure out if anything needs to change internally to make sure such a violation doesn’t occur again.

Ultimately, during any crisis there’s lots of details and nuance that to insiders seem important. As company leaders, you need that info to evaluate the details and decide how to fix the problem, but these details aren’t important to the general public.  From a message and direction standpoint, the best thing a company can do to protect its brand image and minimize the damage is to simplify and clarify the goals into a statement that is easy for everyone to understand and rally around.

– – written by Josh Weiss, President, 10 to 1 Public Relations