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.

 

Managing Media in Multiple Countries

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..

5 Tips for Getting Your Message Out in a Crisis

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.

The Secret PR Tool: Mat Releases

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.

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.