Coyle Communications

4 Key Elements of a Crisis Communications Team

This article is reprinted from PR News. Follow @prnews on Twitter for the latest trends in public relations.

In assembling a communications team to successfully guide your organization through a crisis, there are certain qualities that should stand out among candidates.

Here are my top four elements of a crisis communications team that will function well under pressure:

Connection. How vital are they/their division to the crisis outcome? For example, if you are facing a threat to your technical operations, your CIO or CTO would be an essential member.

Skills. What skills do you need to bring to the team for it to function well? Typically, I would choose the HR director or chief talent officer, CIO/CTO, CCO and legal counsel, keeping the team to a maximum of five or six. The skills you will need depend on the crisis you face, and the selection will have a considerable impact on the outcome. Choose wisely.

Leadership. The most effective crisis team I have worked on had a chair appointed by the CEO to represent him and to report back. Having an independent chair to help negotiate and move the discussion along while considering all options can be essential to a positive outcome.

Experience. Are there staff who have had previous crisis experience? If so, you may want to have them on the team to help guide and advise the chair. They can serve as an auxiliary member and not as part of the official crisis team.

Join us for PR News’ Crisis Communications Boot Camp in New York City on September 15th at the Yale Club. For more details, please visit:

5 Essential Skills for Global Leadership

Development Dimensions International recently published their annual Global Leadership Forecast on trends worldwide and how countries compare. With more and more companies and organizations requiring broad-based skills to work in an international environment, how can you prepare yourself with the skills needed to succeed?

Besides having a curiosity and an international outlook, a global leader needs to be very versatile in their skill base, their management style and their approach to problem solving.

Here are five skills needed to succeed as a global leader:

Critical thinking. An ability to analyze different scenarios, data and research as well as patterns in behaviors or systems is vital. You will constantly be assessing projects, goals and expectations across many countries; an ability to identify trends or outliers will enable you to be more efficient.

Global mindset. Being open to new ways of working and seeing the world is essential as well as being able to view challenges and opportunities through a global lens. It will also make your day-to-day interactions with your colleagues more pleasant; however, do not expect to be a pro at this from the outset. That comes with practice.

Communication skills. An ability to speak clearly, write clearly and to listen intently will be the key to your success. If English is the official language of your business, remember to slow down and be much more clear in your use of language than you would normally be to ensure all of your colleagues understand your message.

Cultural dexterity. This one takes practice and it is what I call “leaving your country behind on the tarmac”. You must be able to step outside of cultural constructs. A great tip for doing so is by telling yourself – constantly if needed – that you may be the only Canadian, Singaporean, South African that your colleagues and/or clients ever work with, so leave them with a positive experience.

Team leadership. Having a team mindset and experience leading teams is a must. Your management style may need to adjust depending on the business culture. Mastering an ability to be patient – observe and listen when in meetings and in your daily interactions with your team – will help you decipher expectations, cultural understandings and ways of working.

Rebranding to Rebuild Trust

Most companies undertake a rebranding when strategies change, product lines are revamped or as a natural part of a company’s evolution. Some are forced to do so when consumer trust in a brand plummets.

The most recent announcement of a rebrand in an attempt to rebuild trust is Malaysia Airlines. The airline announced in July that it was planning “a major overhaul” to include rebranding itself after two air disasters in just five months. Despite one of the best safety records in the industry, 2014 has left many consumers with more questions about the airline than answers.

Will the rebrand work? For other airlines it has, most notably for AirTran, formerly ValuJet. When ValuJet’s new brand was announced, it had the requisite new name, logo and tag line but also enhanced business services.

What will be important for Malaysia Airlines is to stress how the operation of the airline has changed and to avoid an overly stylized rebranding. Those changes must be tangible enough to be experienced by consumers for it to seem “real”. Malaysia Airlines may have been the victim of circumstance, making it challenging to identify which changes in operations they can control that will directly restore consumer confidence in the brand.

If you are considering a rebranding to rebuild trust, here are some points to consider before you start:

Be honest about what has changed and reflect that in your new brand. Surface changes alone will not erase the past and may even create a negative response among consumers.

Lower expectations. Don’t expect the public to improve their trust overnight. It will take concerted effort and messaging over several years to repair the damage. Think BP.

Timing is important. Rebranding too soon after a disaster will seem disingenuous. Too late and it will seem like a last-ditch effort. Benchmark consumer perception over time to determine when to rebrand and how successful your efforts are.

Be clear on how your brand is better than before. Whether its changing business practices, processes and ensuring safety, explain how it is better.

Remember your loyalty base and start there. The rush is usually to repair the brand damage with the public-at-large first; however, it’s often times wiser to start with your loyal base and fan out from there.

Making a Speech? 5 Tips to Take the Nerves Away

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 that nervous energy to improve your performance.”

Here are some tips on preparing for speeches and dealing with the anxiety that comes along with it:

Watch the pros. Before a speech, I often go straight to YouTube and watch several public personalities deliver speeches over the life cycle of their days in the public spotlight. You can learn a lot from their evolution – from speed, intonation patterns, emphasis points to speaking aids.

Practice to build your confidence. But not so much that you are emotionally divorced from your words while actually delivering the speech to your audience. We’ve all seen that happen. The person is there in body but their personality has left the room. Breathe, take a pause, and remember that your goal is to inspire, educate and motivate. Smile, make eye contact, release your hold on the speech and remember why you are there.

Connect with your audience. Interact with them by involving them in your speech. Mention several audience members by name, ask questions, or poll the audience through a show of hands. Constantly take the pulse of the room so you can react to the audience by changing your speech and your approach.

Know when to stop talking. Have you ever been in the audience when a presenter fell in love with the beauty of their own words right before your eyes and forgot you where there? Or perhaps it was a meeting. Painful, wasn’t it? Don’t be that person. Watch body language clues for audience reaction and respond appropriately.

Seek feedback either through videotaping your speeches or by surveying your audience afterwards. Incorporate what you learn into your next speech and remember that the more speeches you give, the better you will become.

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Team

This article first appeared in PRNews on Thursday, July 17th.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to create and re-organize communications teams for five global brands. Time and again the main issue was a lack of integration with the structure and goals of the organization and a lack of a concerted effort within the communications team to reach those goals.

Fundamentally, I believe this is the greatest challenge facing most communications directors today – to create a synchronized team with a clear division of labor that understands, and makes, a concerted effort towards helping an organization meet its goals.

Part of the reason this has become more of a challenge of late has been the tremendous economic transformation that has taken place globally over the past decade. Many CEOs are maneuvering through industry landscapes in flux and are reconsidering their market position and overall identity in these changing times. Adding to the complicity, the communications field has undergone seismic shifts during that same time period with the power over a brand’s image moving from the business to the consumer with the advent and global adoption of social media.

Here are five tips to help you create a synchronized communications team:

Assess your current team. First and foremost, take an audit of each member of your team. Meet with each one individually to learn more about their background, skill sets, and future goals. Do they have the skills fit for their current job? Is there any position that would be more suitable given their background?

Look under the strategic hood. How many of you can find your organization’s current business strategy? Is it up-to-date? Have a “legacy” look at past strategies to understand the strategic goals the organization has set for itself and is setting for itself to identify trends. Interview leadership and ask them what the business strategy is. Don’t be surprised if their answers do not match the written strategy.

Evaluate your communications strategy. If you have a communications strategy, review it and compare it to the business strategy. Does it support the organization’s strategic goals? If so, how?

Determine fit. Now it’s time to go back to the first step and analyze your team as a whole to see if the job functions, locations and reporting lines fit with the overall organization and enable it to meet its strategic goals.

Beware of ego. Both internally and externally, communications is a service for others, not a fiefdom to espouse wisdom from a tower. Your team needs to integrate well with your organization to be successful. This begins at the hiring process. Make sure you are hiring team players, not solo actors. To have a successful team, each member must be confident, secure in their skill set, willing to take risks and able to work well with others.

Top 3 Content Apps

Struggling to find content to share with your social media followers and more ways to share your own content?

One of the hardest parts of maintaining and growing your online brand can be content curation (the sharing of other’s content) and expanding your audience.

Here are several apps that can help you do just that:

Flipboard: A great place to find current news and articles related to your interest areas. The ease is in the name: flip. The visuals are easy to flip through and provide a quick way to share content. It also enables you to engage with a larger audience by sharing content that you generate and the ability to create and publish your own personal magazine.

Medium: A bit more mysterious than Flipboard, Medium can help you build a following by providing a blogging platform for your writing. The more unique your article, the more likely it will be seen and shared. It provides a reading list of most read stories along with an ability to bookmark articles that you like.

Theneeds: Similar to Flipboard, Theneeds provides greater flexibility in personalizing your content. It is also uses layout and design to increase usability. The best part, it provides a chart drop down that gives you easy access to the latest infographics and data charts that are all the rage.

The one drawback is that most of these apps are pulling from the same sources, although Theneeds seems to have more global coverage. If you are looking for unique content, you will need to use a good old-fashioned search until you find that unique story that will interest your audience. But don’t worry, a new app called Focus@Will will help you focus while searching.

2014: The Year of #Giraffegate

It’s been a rough year for giraffes (see: Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark).

By now, many of you have seen the tweet sent by the US airline Delta (if not, it’s here) meant in good sporting spirit to congratulate the US on its World Cup match win against Ghana. One photo depicts the Statue of Liberty to represent the United States and a giraffe to represent Ghana. Ghana has no wild giraffes.

Admittedly, a mistake made in the excitement of the win. The problem, the brand’s value is wrapped up in consumer trust that the airline has a fairly good understanding of geography.

Of course, Twitterverse had a field day with the tweet before and after it was quickly deleted. Here are some gems below:

@rodger_sherman You can book flights to Accra, the capital of Ghana, on ‪@delta’s website. Do not take those flights. They will end up in the Serengeti.

@rolling my last ‪@Delta flight ‪


Here are a few tips to prevent your brand (or country) from becoming a victim of a cultural gaffe and what to do if it does happen:

Have a strategy. And then have a plan. Was it part of Delta’s overall social media strategy for 2014 to cover the World Cup? If so, they also had a plan and a content schedule. The mistake above suggests otherwise. Make sure you have your strategy and quarterly goals mapped out each year and ensure your content is aligned.

Prepare your evergreen content in advance for events. Evergreen content can be a lifesaver in the rush of activity around an event, especially if tweeting live or reacting to fast-moving events. Evergreen content is prepared content that can be researched and vetted. Prior to an event, develop a list of tweets to either schedule or live tweet. This will help prevent last-minute scrabbling to write content in a real-time environment where mistakes are more likely to happen.

If you are a global brand, get to know the culture of each of your markets. This is important and often overlooked. In 2000, I worked with FIFA on the development of their country websites. We conducted focus groups with those in country on cultural symbols, colors and interpretations. We did our research to ensure that we accurately reflected national assumptions and pride and we tested the results before we launched the sites. This holds true for social as well.

Keep a close eye on your social media. Watch the tweets, posts and interactions closely on a daily and weekly basis. Assess how your staff is engaging with consumers or potential consumers and course correct as you go. Don’t wait for a major gaffe.

It’s too late to take it back so run with it. Part of me believes that if this with Richard Branson’s airline, he would have turned it into a marketing success because he could. His brand attributes reflect his innovative, revolutionary way of using marketing. Delta could have done more with it beyond the apology. Even one Twitter user suggested some travel packages to “get to know Ghana” or sponsoring giraffe habitats.

To delete or not to delete, that is the question. Immediately deleting has always struck me as a public panic attack and in some cases, a dictatorial act. If you put it out there, own up to it. Everyone saw it. Issue an apology and try to turn the episode around to improve your image among consumers of your brand and to gain new converts. But keep your brand values and attributes in mind and reflect them in your response.

And here’s hoping the next six months of 2014 are much better for giraffes.

Don’t Panic: How to Create a PR Plan

The following article appeared in PR Insider on May 19th.

You’ve been asked to create a comprehensive public relations plan. Maybe a three-year or five-year plan – you are either filled with excitement or anxiety – most likely, a mix of both.

The goal of a comprehensive public relations plan usually falls into three buckets: a) to increase awareness for a company or organization entering new markets, b) to increase awareness for a company or organization experiencing a slow-down in market segments or to increase awareness of a new product or division.

Here are six tips for creating a comprehensive public relations plan.

Understand your current scenario. What is the needle that needs to be moved and why? Design your plan to do just that. Have discussions with your senior leadership, and Board where appropriate, on their concerns and desires. Research your industry to see what competitors are doing with their public relations. Develop a strong understanding of the climate your organization is operating in, both internal and external.

Establish your goals. Determine what will be achieved after implementation of the plan. Is it a change in behavior or perception of your organization? Is it more customers? Is it greater brand recognition and higher sales? Try to keep your goals in the area of three to five and remember to ensure that they are measurable along the implementation of the plan.

Define your audiences. Who are you trying to reach and what do you need to communicate to them? Defining your key audiences, segmentation, is a critical part of ensuring your plan will be effective. It’s important to also have consensus among leadership and your Board as to who these audiences are and how they are defined.

Choose tactics and channels. Next are your tactics. How will you communicate to your audiences using what mix of channels? To get your mix of tactics and channels right do research on your individual audiences through personal development to determine a.) the most effective tactics to grab their attention, and b.) what channels they engage with most to target them where they are.

Determine measurement and reporting.
As you are developing the tactics and channels think of how you will measure and how you will report these measurements and to whom. Typically, it is a combination of campaign metrics, benchmarking and surveying/focus groups. Choose the right combination that works for your organization and measures your audience engagement as effectively as possible. Don’t forget the internal here – decide early on how you will present the results of your measurement to senior leaders and how often.

Prepare an itemized budget for each year of the plan. Your last step will be to prepare an itemized budget for each year of the plan to determine overall costs and areas for potential scale back. It may be hard to cost for every step of the implementation. If need be, provide as close to accurate range estimates as possible.

The last, and the most crucial step, is to shop your plan to your organization starting with presenting to your CEO and Board and then your senior leaders. Adjust your plan as you go to reflect the input you receive but be mindful of any input that may create obstacles within the plan and raise that issue to senior leaders.

By building consensus, you will create a clear path ahead for the implementation phase of your plan.

The Power of Storytelling

Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an ad campaign to your CEO, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.

Want to Become a PR Pro? 4 Steps to Follow

What does it take to become the best of the best?

This question came to mind as I was reading a biography on one famous woman who was continually quoted as the master of public relations in the 20th century. However, she was never formally trained, had very little formal education, but had an innate sense and timing for controlling her image to great effect. It brought to mind whether the cream of the crop in public relations has those skills innately or whether those skills can be taught.

So what did she have that others did not?

There are the essential foundational skills to work in public relations: an ability to write well, a deep understanding of social media, experience with multimedia and an ability to pitch journalists. But there is also that magic mix – which few talk about – which separates the good from the great.

Here are four steps towards developing that magic mix:

Cultivate relationships. Not only with journalists but also with their editors. Arrange deskside editorial briefings, not just once, but ongoing to update on developments with your company and/or client.

Maintain persistent awareness of your brand image. It is critical to keep a day-to-day understanding of your company’s image. Be observant of media, social and the data underlying your coverage.

Monitor the industry and your competitor’s tactics. Be cognizant of how competitors are also perceived and the changing trends within your industry. Watch how your competitors or emerging companies use pr tactics to enhance their visibility. Don’t be afraid to adopt those or modify for your own use.

Maneuver within the media landscape. This is the magic mix that takes practice and also an innate sense of timing and a deep understanding of your brand story. Use your brand awareness and industry trend information to quickly identify innovative ways to maximize your brand’s exposure. Don’t be afraid to create the story. Tap into your relationships and be proactive not reactive.

The truly great are able to maneuver well and have a passion for staying in the game. I’ve seen many a public relations professional become more comfortable and relaxed the longer they are in the field. Fight against that and always seek new ways of positioning your company, your client or your own brand within the media conversation. Not only will you become more engaged, the media will start to see you as an effective source and will seek you out.


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