New Year, New Crisis Plan

When was the last time you reviewed your crisis response plan?

Whether they would admit or not, many organizations either do not have a crisis response plan or have one that is barely, if ever, reviewed. In the changing political and global context of today, having a dynamic crisis response plan that aligns with your business and is integrated across channels is critical to your operations.

In my experience, crises have a higher tendency to occur as a result of actions taken by an organization or in response to their mission or philosophy. You may, without realizing it, trigger a crisis by your actions – the releasing of a statement, a comment, a change in direction, an exit from a country, an issue with a program, funding, etc.

Rule number one with a crisis is that it will be incredibly fast-moving and will involve both digital and traditional media. Rule number two is that the issue that becomes a crisis will shock you – it will not be what you expect. Rule number three is that the press will seek comment from anyone with a relationship with the organization, past and present.

Some important tips:

  • Ensure senior leadership is committed and involved in the development of your plan (or updating your existing plan) and is actively engaged in live drills across the organization at least twice a year.
  • Be ready to respond and take control of the message with prepared spokespeople – not associated with the organization – who can speak on your behalf and to have supporters counter accusations on digital or start counter campaigns if needed.
  • Respond quickly – do not sit on the issue or bury your head in the sand – the longer you wait to respond, the more intense the crisis will become. Publicly provide action steps that you plan to take, the timeline in which you will take them and keep apologies short, and only apologize once.
  • Avoid becoming social shy – several recent crises showed that organizations and individuals tend to avoid digital when the heat is turned up, locking comments or maintaining scheduled posts throughout. You cannot – no matter how negative the comments or the campaigns or the memes – avoid your digital platforms.
  • Monitor digital, emails and calls so that any press that contact you are directed to the media team taking charge of vetting incoming calls and one spokesperson who had previously been trained and selected as the crisis spokesperson.
  • Stick with your talking points each time your spokesperson is interviewed to ensure that they are consistent with the facts. If an error has been made, admit it and state the necessary steps to ensure it will not happen again in the future – and make those steps publicly known.

The more visible you are, the more others may try to use your visibility for their own objectives and to advance their own agendas – for both positive and negative reasons. Recognizing the power of the collective and engaging with it will enable your brand to stay flexible and aware of changing trends and sentiments. But being prepared, and ensuring your leadership is prepared, is your ultimate strategy.

 

A Reality Check for Your Global Communications Strategy

When was the last time you took a hard look at your communication channels and compared the message and experience with your communications strategy? Are they aligned?

Most of us use analytics as the litmus test for communications campaigns to prove return on investment. The downside of which can make us quite micro-focused, losing sight of the overall messaging and experience. And in a global context, with different staff managing different channels, this is where drift can come in over time – undermining your efforts to support your company’s goals long-term.

Here is a checklist to help your realign your day-to-day efforts with your strategy:

Revisit your strategy, as a team: Review your current strategy with your team and compare it to your company’s strategy. Are they still aligned? Have there been changes in your market due to competition or a disruptor? Is there a need to make adjustments? Then review your communications strategy and goals against the reality of what has actually been happening to ensure you are on track.

Create a strategy culture: Hold regular meetings around the strategy with your staff. Create buy-in by assigning ownership of quarterly goals, either through KPIs and/or by team agreement. Encourage staff to be more cognizant of the long-term and reward them for it.

Implement supportive technology. Do you have a dashboard that reflects your overall strategic goals or are they campaign based? Are you using annual editorial calendars matched to your strategic goals? Audit what you and your team are using on a day-to-day basis and ensure they are aligned to your strategic goals.

Engage your customers. Have you been engaging directly or indirectly with your customers (or stakeholders) lately on your channels? Conduct some Google Hangout focus groups with a cross-section of your customers as a message and experience check-in. Make this a regular habit.

Creating Your Brand Story

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.

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.

Global Perspectives: Communicating Donor-Funded Projects

Welcome to the second edition of Global Perspectives featuring Samar Roy, CEO of Media Professionals Group in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Samar Roy, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Samar Roy is the CEO of Media Professionals Group, a media research, management and marketing company based in Bangladesh. With over two-decades of experience in journalism, media advocacy, and social communication, he maintains day-to-day relationship with media outlets and media practitioners both nationally in Bangladesh and regionally in Southeast Asia. He has worked on media-related projects funded by a variety of donors, including USAID, UNDP, World Bank, DANIDA, SIDA. Samar started his career in financial and economic news reporting, and has gradually shifted to media sector capacity building, media research, communication activities, and market research. Samar can be reached at: mediaprofessionals@gmail.com

In Bangladesh, my media and communications firm works with international agencies including donor-funded projects in the country along with corporate. Donor-funded projects are usually those supported by international agencies such as USAID, DANIDA, SIDA, CIDA, The World Bank, ADB, EU, and UN organizations. In this edition of Global Perspectives, I would like to share some communications lessons we have learned.

Communications is an important aspect of any donor-funded project. It is critical for keeping target audiences informed of progress, particularly during the duration of the project. However, making communications impactful and effective is necessary. Every initiative should be approached from a long-term perspective and should be results-oriented.

However, communications is now usually limited to getting media coverage of project activities and progress updates, rather than issue-based communication. Issue-based communication involves informing audiences of the actual issue the donor is attempting to impact. For example, eradicating disease and why the disease is harmful to people and communities as a whole.

This short-term public relations push and singular focus has directly impacted the ability of donors to make progress on the ground. Let me explain.

In Bangladesh, most of the communications initiatives are implemented through donor funding. Donor-funded programs are usually short-term in nature. Such projects are designed for a specific period and for a very specific purpose. And funding agencies do not always concern themselves with the impact of the program beyond the project period. Implementing agencies, usually local agencies hired to implement the project, also limit their activities around these short-term goals.

We all know that the donor is committed to making a positive difference in people’s lives through its funding activity. And to ensure not only effective use of funds and resources, but to ensure effective communications, there needs to be a commitment to communicating effectively by all parties.

How can they achieve that?

  1. Changing the focus from project communications to issue communications. There are many different implementing agencies in Bangladesh that work towards solving the same problems, targeting the same audience – be it poverty, nutrition, living standards, workers’ rights, education, technical skills, improving agricultural productivity, and various other social and economic issues. Collaborating together, they can target their communications towards increasing awareness of the issue/s they are trying to solve/eradicate.
  2. Unifying communications strategies through building relationships with like-minded agencies. Each agency working in the same field has identified the same problems, but each has its own strategy. This creates confusion among target audiences and creates duplicity in work. Funds can be better utilized if the implementing agencies find a common platform to work from, and unite their communications efforts around that platform.
  3. Changing from a short-term to long-term focus. There is a critical need to change the current approach to donor-funded projects. The donor must focus on suitable solutions, rather than spending money within a stipulated period of time. It would be more effective to redesign the project approach taking into consideration sustainability issues and long-term perspectives along with an increased focus on the ultimate benefits to the target audience.