Keeping control of your message in a crisis situation can be challenging. Facts and misinformation fly fast and furious. Externally and internally the feeling is that control is being lost and you are running to even catch up let alone getting ahead of a fast-moving crisis. Getting the media to share your message will go a long way in damping down the chaos and will be the first step in getting control back of the situation. Here are several tips for getting the media to carry your message in a fast-moving crisis:

Identify your strongest relationships, across several channels. Cementing several strong relationships with the media is vital at times like this but the work needs to be done prior to a fast-moving crisis.

Keep the media informed by developing your narrative. Communicate as often as possible through updated statements to keep the media abreast of what is being done to fix the issue. Being seen as a reliable source of news in a fast-moving crisis will influence coverage.

Make your narrative simple and straightforward. Keep your eye on the coverage and the reaction to that coverage. This will help you to course correct as you go to ensure you are addressing the most important elements of the crisis with your audience.

Don’t forget social media. Make sure all of your owned channels are communicating the narrative step-by-step as well with links to the updated statements. Do not let your team get bogged down in responses on social. Pick 1 or 2 comments/replies and respond to those.

Be as transparent as possible. State the truth and always focus on the steps you are taking to address the issue. Keep your messages forward focused.

Never heard of a mat release? You are not alone. It’s one of the lesser-known tools of the public relations trade.

Once referred to as matte, they have been in existence pre-internet and were once used to provide content filler to local newspaper across the country. They are still in use today, and more so now that news bureaus have downsized and the need for new and relevant content – referred to as evergreen content – increases with the 24/7 demand for news.

A mat release is a consumer-focused feature article, fully formatted with camera-ready artwork that can be lifted straight by reporters and editors as fillers for daily news editions, digital and print. For public relations professionals, mat releases provide a great opportunity to increase publicity for a brand and to carry messages to the consumer public.

Mat releases can be distributed through wire services, including PR Newswire and Business Wire, which acquired the old distribution service, North American Precis Syndicate or NAPS database.

Quick tips:

Keep the release to no more than 700 words with high-quality content. Remember that even though you seek to gain exposure, it is not a commercial for your brand or product.

Ensure the copy will be of interest to the consumer public – provide tips, advice, and guidance. Inform as much as possible.

Follow a feature format and ensure the article will fit in any of the feature sections of daily, local newspapers, from living to health and food sections. Do your research.

Mat releases can be an effective way to gain national exposure for your brand or client without paying for a costly advertising campaign.

In 2010, Philip Morris International sued the country of Uruguay for USD $25 million over the branding of cigarettes stating that Uruguay’s attempt to curb smoking by requiring standardized packaging is in treaty violation. The Swiss-based company claims the new packaging does not allow for trademark and is in violation of intellectual property rights.

There’s been very little international coverage of the battle in branding publications worldwide. Why should consumers and brands pay attention?

Branding is often held, hand-in-hand, with trademark for international brands. Sometimes, a re-brand is required to secure trademarks in a myriad of countries. The repercussions for brands that are required to remove their trademarks and/or their brand identity from their products could be significant.

The larger question remains, by changing and/or limiting branding, will that solve the issue at hand or is it curbing the ability of brands to market? What does that do to market competition and consumer choice?

Recently, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg joined the battle by launching a USD $4 million fund through their respective foundations to support countries like Uruguay. Australia passed legislation requiring standardized packaging in 2012 followed most recently by Ireland and the UK.

Ultimately, the question remains: who controls branding? Is it the brand itself, the consumer or the courts? Where the outcome of the case will be decided with worldwide implications.

Read more on the case.

Source: BBC Worldwide, Forbes.

Originally posted on Navigating the world through communications:

Employees can be your strongest brand ambassadors. In essence, you have a captured audience that lives your brand and is often just waiting for a chance to effectively communicate their work to their family and friends. But how do you effectively engage that audience to expand your brand awareness?

Here are five steps for engaging employees as brand ambassadors:

Message training. As you develop your key messages for your brand, remember to provide training to all staff so they become comfortable with using them. Ask them to practice using the messages with their families and when out with friends.

Culture matters. Set the tone in internal communications on the importance of brand ambassadors. Encourage employees to become involved in external events to help expand brand awareness and to actively engage as ambassadors.

Provide tools. One way to start to engage employees as ambassadors is to create an intranet that is…

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Originally posted on Navigating the world through communications:

Do you have a speech on the horizon? Do you feel prepared? Are you anxious?

It’s normal to be slightly anxious and nervous prior to a speech. It happens to everyone although it comes out in different ways. Some boast of how terrific they are, others ask other presenters if they are nervous, some go buzzing about, others sit quietly and everyone has their heart racing and rate of breathing increase. Anxiety around speaking is a normal human reaction and everyone – I mean everyone – experiences it, some have just mastered how not to show it.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was by a director when I was a stage actress in my early days of college. He said to me “everyone gets nervous and anxious before a public performance, your job is to accept that as a normal human reaction and use…

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Are you challenged with extending your company’s brand awareness through global media with a small staff and budget?

Last year, I spoke with the head of media relations for one of the largest tech firms in Silicon Valley. To my surprise, they faced the same challenges as smaller firms and non-profits – how to effectively manage media relations in multiple countries.

Outreach to journalists in multiple countries needs to be handled differently in order to develop effective relationships around the globe. A brush stroke approach will never work and may even set you back. Do not assume what works in one country or region will work in others.

Here are five tips for working with journalists globally:

Know the media culture. Your in-country staff and/or consultants are the experts. Have conversations with them to understand how press operate, how they view the work of the organization, who the most prominent journalists are in your subject area and what interactions they have had in the past.

Approach journalists as is expected in their country. Find out from your own research, in-country staff, partner organizations and other experts on how journalists prefer to be approached. Your professional network can be extremely valuable here – mine it for those who have worked in-country.

Hire a local consultant to initiate relationships. A local consultant will often be a former journalist with existing relationships with the press. They can help with introductions and with briefing you and your team on how to best approach the media to ensure a successful foundation.

Have a member of staff present for informal and formal briefings. If you have a country director/manager, they will have the history and the context of the organization’s work and how it has been covered by the journalist and perceived in-country. They can serve as the content expert and prevent you from falling into any traps.

Always follow-up. Distance should never be used as an excuse not to continue a connection. Use Skype and email. Send thank you notes at all times. Keep the conversation going and keep them up-to-date on your company’s work globally so they feel included and valuable.

Remove geographic borders from your planning. Include these journalists in your overall media outreach strategy. Do not think in terms of geographic borders, planning just within the boundaries of where you are headquartered or located.  Think globally every time you plan media outreach and develop a strategy for each country. It’s time-consuming, but it is an investment that will pay off in the long-run..

Many of us think we have a good brand story. We have the websites, the videos, and the social media channels all working for us. But do we really? Can your audience find the stories and are they simple and straightforward enough to be easily understood?

I just got off the phone with an organization that is about to pitch large donors in Asia, the Middle East and the States as part of a funding drive. However, their brand story has yet to be articulated. The vision statement is there but there are no compelling stories of what they do, why they do it and what the impact of their work is (which is tremendous). Trying to piece together that information is even harder, their “About Us” section leads to their mission statement which is overloaded with technical terms, too complicated for a quick, easy grasp of what they are all about.

Often times this happens when an organization is too inward-focused. And many technicians, academics and experts in different fields are dead-set against simplifying language for the general public, fearing it will distill the purpose and importance of the work that is being done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your organization’s work will increase in purpose and importance as more people understand and can speak about your work to others.

The general public can be your unofficial ambassadors in good times and bad. Embrace them; do not push them away. And if more of your staff has a straightforward, simple story to tell, it will empower them as ambassadors as well.

How to create your brand story:

Start with your impact. Who is your work reaching? How has it transformed their lives? Look at all aspects of your work – not just the “showcase” projects or stakeholders. Some of the smaller aspects might have the most compelling and heart moving stories.

Identify your history. How was your organization founded? Was there some idea or challenge that resulted in the formation of your organization? How about the founders themselves? What were their personalities and their life stories? What gave them the passion to create the organization?

Look for the evolution. How has the organization changed over time? Why has it changed? What external or internal cause spurred that change? What has resulted from that evolution?

Identify your future. Where is your organization going? What stake in the ground can you claim over the next five years that no one else will? Put real terms and numbers around this.

Make it simple. Your family and friends are the ultimate litmus test. If you tell your organization’s story to your grandmother/father, niece, nephew or child, they should be able to understand it, clearly. Lose the jargon, the technical terms, and tell them what your organization does. If they smile, you have a winner; if they frown, go back to the drawing board.

Make it compelling. It’s crucial in the verbal story telling and especially in your videos. Lose the slow building format, create excitement, use human faces (real ones), and tell that story. Test your story products – if your audience is not moved, you have not created a compelling brand story. You want to MOVE your audience – they will remember you and your brand. For me, if I am speechless or do not move after watching a short film, video or commercial, then it is has passed the litmus test.

When was the last time you picked up your phone to speak with a colleague? Or used video chat to connect with a colleague in another country? Or walked over to your colleague in the cube or office nearby for a face-to-face conversation?

I have spoken to several organizations on technology and interpersonal communication in the workplace. Nine times out of ten, an over reliance on email and texting to communicate is leading to tense interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.

In many ways, it’s an endemic that has been building since the 90s – when email began to take hold within corporations as a channel for communication – and started to replace interpersonal communication as the primary source of communication.

What impact does that have on employees, teams and work culture when we are hard-wired as a species for face-to-face communication? For us, 50% of communication is verbal and 50% non-verbal. We’ve been operating at 50% capacity for a long time.

Here are a few tips to help you work the other 50% back into your work life:

Log-off email for at least one-hour per day. Email takes you away from your actual work. It’s meant to be one channel of communication, not the primary channel occupying 100% of your focus throughout your day. Try logging off for one hour per day and turning your mobile off to focus on your projects.

Switch from an email exchange to an in-person communication at least once a day. Do you find yourself emailing a colleague you sit next to or texting someone nearby? Start making in-person communication a priority. Try it at least once a day to begin with and build up from there. The bonus – it will increase trust and respect among your colleagues.

Pick up the phone. If you receive an email or text that is ambiguous or requires clarification, pick up the phone and call the sender. The same holds true if a string of emails is growing exponentially on one topic.

Use short, clear messages. If you cannot extricate yourself from email, make your messages short and to the point without being abrupt. Bullet points are your friend. Use the subject line to alert the recipient as to the type of email they are receiving. Next to the subject line add: “requires action/response”, “FYI only”, or “requesting input” to help the recipient manage the communication their end.

Have you thought of building your own personal brand?

In many ways, you already have one. You’ve established a presence online and have been posting and sharing content. Whether you realize it or not, your followers have formed an opinion about you, your viewpoints, your interests and your talents.

Taking control of that brand is not exactly easy but is an essential part of managing your career. Your brand should represent the value that you consistently deliver, both online and offline.

As a result, you will have:

  • More freedom to be yourself
  • Channels for establishing your unique point-of-view
  • More credibility (and by extension, confidence)

Here are a few tips to get you started on building (or rebuilding) the brand of you:

Establish your career attributes. Determine what is that you do well. Make a list.
Determine who your target audience is. It may not be who you think it is. Share these ideas with a trusted confidante for their perspective and insight.

Build your platform. Decide what channels will work best for you given your attributes and audiences. Establish a presence on those channels or rebuild your presence within existing channels you are currently using.

Join the discussion. Jump right in to the discussion in your area of expertise. Share content. Post your opinion on content. Start establishing yourself as a go-to source.

Create content. Once you are comfortable with the above, start creating content and sharing with your network, outside your network using tools like Outbrain and seeking opportunities offline through public speaking and delivering workshops.

Have writer’s block? Watch what is currently trending in your field and offer your opinion.

Remember to always be yourself. Use your own perspective and your own style and to live your brand offline as well.

Happy branding!

Over the past year, I’ve been hard at work developing a 3-year public awareness campaign. Next week, the first ad spots for this campaign will air on national broadcast and cable channels here in the US as a second phase of the campaign. The first phase was a soft launch on social media in December.

Many lessons were learned from creating the campaign plan to selling the idea to leadership and to members of the Board of Directors across the country. Many modifications were made along the way, but the vision remained the same.

Here are my five lessons learned:

Stick with your vision. Establish the desired end scenario from the beginning. You can adjust how you get there, what tools you use and what audiences you reach but stay true to that initial vision.

Adjust smartly. With anything related to the field of communications, most people believe they are experts as they engage with the medium in their daily lives – from social media to advertising. However, exposure does not necessarily translate to expertise. Many will freely offer their advice – and it will differ widely – listen intently but be decisive and smart in choosing what advice to take onboard.

Never fear visibility. Creating any type of public facing campaign for an organization will raise the stakes for them both internally and externally. Such increased visibility will result in a lot of interest and a lot of conversation. What naturally follows on from that is criticism. The more public you are, the more critics you will face. Don’t fear the conversation and encourage direct engagement with those critics.

Even airtight launches falter. No matter how well you plan a launch, something will ultimately go wrong; in our case, an erroneous tweet. How did we recover? We jumped into the conversation created by the tweet and continued to reach out to those offended online and offline. And we kept the launch going. End result – we had new champions emerge and new potential partnerships (as well as more engagement with the campaign than planned – see number three above).

Stand strong. It’s your campaign. If you do not believe in it through thick and thin, no one else will. That goes for the communications and marketing team, leadership and the organization as a whole. Believe in the product and communicate about it with one unified voice.