Spend more than two decades in crisis communications, and it’s easy to understand why friends ask what a public figure should do about the dumpster fire of the moment. Welcome to a world where logic and good choices battle emotion and absurdity with increasing frequency.
Every crisis has its peculiarities, and it can be tough to discern what’s happening behind the scenes. But for the curious, there are a few ways you can gain a better sense of the machinations at work, and what may be around the corner:
1. Be cautious of anyone misrepresenting conjecture as fact...and even fact as fact. There are typically many unknowns when a crisis breaks. Trying to analyze why a certain decision was made, words were spoken, or actions taken in the absence of direct discussion with the involved people typically leads to error.
2. Look beyond the noise for the truth. Too many self-proclaimed pundits and community representatives want to be part of the discussion more than they want to be part of the solution — it’s FOMO to the extreme, and they have no shame in trying to hijack a crisis for their own exposure. Tune them out (and keep them tuned out in the future).
3. Watch for key players who suddenly go silent. That can signal that they’ve made a misstep and hope to disappear, or that legal or crisis counsel have been retained and have clamped down.
4. In the same vein, be on the lookout for those who double-down on a position without introducing any additional facts or insights to back their statement. In some cases, this is a sign of bluster, with the hopes of sending the inquisitive hoards scurrying away.
5. When listening to those directly involved, note their voice pitch and rate of speech. Are those higher and faster than normal, and does that happen when confronted with a more challenging question or position? It’s not a foolproof sign of deceit, but indicates an elevation of stress and the fight-or-flight response.
Employ these tips with caution – you’ll find yourself reading, listening and watching news and commentary with a different perspective, much like a coach watches a sporting event. Yet what you’re seeing isn’t a game nor entertainment – it’s real people with real consequences.
By Mike McDougall
Year after year, I find myself trapped in the same argument. It always unfolds the same way, too: I present my case, the opposition presents theirs, we spar and dance in our annual routine, but regular as clockwork, the fighting peters out—and no clear victor emerges.
But now, after 30 years of arguing and debating all around the world, mankind can sleep easy knowing that Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie.
Ever since its release in 1988, the Bruce Willis action classic has been the center of a contentious cinematic debate over its credentials as a Christmas film. To mark the film’s 30th anniversary, 20th Century Fox released a recut trailer, labeling it as “the greatest Christmas story ever told.” And putting the matter to rest for good.
There’s a lot that marketers can learn from this (aside from how to climb on top of an elevator car). For starters, knowing your brand identity is essential. It’s a representation of everything it embodies, including your teammates. By embracing that culture and morphing it in with what your brand delivers, you’re well on your way to having a solid brand identity in place.
Another important lesson: Brand identity shouldn’t be dictated for you. Consumers may form opinions about your brand that don’t align with your message, and if that’s the case, it’s time to rethink your strategy and make it abundantly clear what your identity entails. 20th Century Fox made it clear and so should you with your brand.
I’m sure there are some people in this world that, with this new information, are experiencing a form of cognitive dissonance. So be it. Thanks to the definitive stance taken by the studio, there can never be anymore doubt as to Die Hard’s Christmas credentials. Can you say the same for your brand?
By Nick Guadagnino
Reflecting on the life and legacy of the late President George HW Bush, there are valuable lessons to be learned from his understated communication style. A man of high integrity and quiet resolve, Bush famously advocated during his presidency for a “kinder, gentler nation.” While some perceived his kindness as weakness, his actions revealed a daring, courageous person who led by example. Here are five PR lessons from President George HW Bush.
Service over self. After the bombing at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bush tried to enlist in the Navy but had to wait until his 18th birthday. He postponed college to serve as likely the Navy’s youngest fighter pilot, nearly losing his life after being shot down while on a bombing run off the island of Chi Chi Jima. A distinguished World War II veteran earning the highest honors, he devoted his entire life to service. During his presidency, he encouraged each and every American to be “Points of Light” by volunteering to help others.
It’s not about you! “Don’t use the word ‘I’ in my speeches,” President Bush told his then speechwriter Curt Smith. True to his upbringing and his mother’s admonition not to brag, Bush favored speaking plainly using simple words that everyone could understand. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bush famously declined to visit Germany to celebrate. Though he helped end the Cold War and achieve German reunification, he refused to take a victory lap.
The art of the handwritten letter. President Bush knew the power of the pen, sending hundreds of handwritten letters to people over the years. Now treasured keepsakes, he would often send a note of gratitude or congratulations, even a note of encouragement to his successor, Bill Clinton. In the letter, Bush said, “…. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck, George.”
Make friends with your adversaries. Speaking of Clinton, Bush didn’t stop with that letter. The pair developed a close friendship, with Bush often referring to Clinton as his “brother from another mother.” Together, they traveled the world to raise funds to aid victims of natural disasters. “In George Bush’s America, there are no political enemies, merely adversaries who may disagree with you on one day and yet be with you on the next roll call,” the late President Gerald Ford once said.
Keep your sense of humor. President Bush appreciated, and often told, a good joke, though his son, George W. Bush said during his father’s eulogy that he could never remember the punchline. Bush appeared on Saturday Night Live with his impersonator Dana Carvey and Bush invited Carvey to the White House to perform for the staff. The two developed an unlikely friendship. “What I remember about those years is how hard we laughed,” Carvey said. Bush also had a penchant for wearing bold, colorful socks, his way of making the best of his limited mobility after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Bush gave one of his most emotional speeches on December 7, 1991, the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Curt Smith, who wrote the speech, said Bush kept his composure until the last line: “God bless America,” he said, to which he added in tears “…the most wondrous land on earth.”
By Charla Kucko
With the new year looming around the corner, tis the season to start setting goals and resolutions—and that goes for your organization, too!
What once was as simple as getting your name in print has substantially evolved over the years. As with any field in this day and age, the expanding world of digital has made a strong impact on public relations.
With the ever-changing landscape of communication channels, there are new ways to reach your audience every day. So this year, you should add "improve PR strategy" to your wish list and consider all of the benefits that these fresh, new methods can bring when it comes to your PR efforts.
The Beauty of Real-Time
Before the convenience of instantaneously sharing content via social media, drafting and distributing news releases could take as long as a few weeks before the news got out. Today, as long as your release is ready to go, it can be live within minutes.
This real-time communication has also helped to streamline crisis management. Now, issues can be addressed quickly, directly and efficiently.
Reaching Far and Wide
With more and more people taking to social media to sound off on brands and research information, getting the attention of your target audience has never been easier—not to mention, the attention of others, as well.
Today, videos, photos, infographics and even the new fad that is "stories," are all new methods of raising brand awareness and conveying a company's message. Also, in this world of digital, there are now bloggers to contend with, which has created a whole new opportunity to get messages out there to a broader audience.
With these new digital tools at our disposal, we can now find out the exact number of people who have clicked on certain links, what they did with it, and even information about their demographics, age, location and more.
Now when you distribute press releases and share content, you can see results and get a much better idea of what's working, what isn't working, and how you can address it.
Although trying to stay on top of all of the change that comes with an evolving PR environment is a challenge, the amount of opportunity that has opened up for brands is tremendous. Today, businesses are in a better position than they've ever been when it comes to sharing messages and connecting with the public all because of this constantly changing PR world.
By Maggie Munley
This past September, I began a new chapter in my career with McDougall Communications. One week earlier, my youngest daughter began her freshman year of high school, now mixed in with more than 1,900 other teenagers. We just held elections across the United States and with them came new legislators, new governors, new majorities and new (well, maybe not “new”) promises. Next year, my oldest daughter will join countless other high school graduates as she heads off to college to experience new and interesting things as she leaves the confines of home.
It’s no surprise that I’m often reminded of what the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said: “Change is the only constant in life.”
In a dynamic profession like public relations, we expect and embrace change—and so should your company, not-for-profit, school, association, or whatever your organization is. With change comes opportunity and with opportunity comes the ability to showcase what sets your organization apart and differentiates it from the masses in a cluttered environment.
Not all that long ago, it was common practice that the only way to get your word out was through earned media channels with a press release. However—you guessed it—things changed! Today, the public consumes their information in different ways as more and more entities maximize their exposure through owned media (websites and blogs), shared media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest) and paid media (branded content and paid integrations).
USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations' 2018 Global Communications report shows organizations will continue to shift their spending from earned media into owned, shared and paid over the next five years. This doesn’t mean that earned media isn’t valued but suggests the recognition for balance across each channel.
This shift in spending across media channels comes with it a change in content. While developments occurring within your organization are still newsworthy, audiences are demanding more. In addition to what’s happening, they want to know what you know and, yes, they want to know what you think. It’s that mix of information, opinion and news that keep brands relevant in an ever-changing life.
Organizations that prepare for change are better positioned to succeed in the tong-term. And if you aren’t prepared it’s not too late to start, because as that other great philosopher Bob Dylan once wrote: “the times they are a changin’.”
By Christopher Knospe
A large meeting room at the recent Public Relations Society of America International Conference in Austin, Texas was recently filled to near capacity, as communications professionals were drawn to an unusual topic.
In a time when crisis seems to be the order of the day in many organizations, with time and energy being placed against containing and controlling any number of wayward issues, I was standing before them to offer a counterpoint: crisis can be good.
Let me frame this, however. Unlike the plot of the not-so-classic Our Brand is Crisis dramedy staring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, I wasn’t advocating initiating a crisis for gain. Yet when problems are at the doorstep, we’re often too eager to chase them away without looking to how we can benefit in parallel. How? First, you need to understand what to look for. Second, you need the infrastructure and mindset in place to turn the concept into reality.
In advance of the discussion, PRSA Strategies & Tactics asked Aimee Lewis and me to author a piece on this way of thinking for its all-crisis issue. While it’s no substitute for having been in the room in Texas, the feature should prompt you to question if your latest challenge – or next one (because there will be a next one) – could create deeper employee belonging, correct process deficiencies or set up your company for a comeback.
Take a read, and let me know what you think.
By Mike McDougall
When taking the right approach, Facebook Live has the potential to go viral, extending reach and engagement around the globe. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” to using Facebook Live.
In the end, persistence is paramount for Facebook Live. Don’t be deterred if you have low viewership on your first few efforts. While many broadcasts may not go viral, there’s always one that will soar That one may reach viewers around the world, and when it does, you’ve mastered Facebook Live.
By Charla Kucko
If you’re sitting there asking yourself, “how?”, allow us to explain.
It all comes down sharing a common goal: reputation management. Both public relations and social media are all about sharing a message, increasing brand awareness, building relationships and enhancing brand image.
Once upon a time, PR had a stronger, more reliant focus on finding, targeting and reaching large groups of niche influencers. While this is still a critical ingredient in the recipe for PR success, with a continuously growing emphasis on social media, these influencers are now also present on these social platforms, making it a win-win for both PR and social strategies.
An active presence on social media also gives businesses a platform to resonate with their target audience in a way that feels authentic, meaningful and real to consumers. This increased consumer focus builds positive relationships and gives businesses a chance to resolve issues quickly and avoid a possible PR crisis. That being said, social media creates an effective outlet to give your brand a unique voice – your voice. And because of this direct line of communication, social media can be used in a more proactive way to promote your business on-going in a way that you have complete control over.
Social media has breathed new life into PR in more ways than one. When shared through social media, content has the potential to reach an infinitely broader audience. According to Marketing Week, reach doesn’t just stop at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Studies show that while networking giants are favored by PR professionals to promote and publish content, they also rely on other social tools like YouTube, Instagram and even lesser-known platforms like Tango.
It’s important to note, however, that social media is not replacing traditional media. Public relations is just as important, but when it is paired with social media marketing, it’s even more powerful. PR generates social coverage, while social media amplifies these PR efforts. So, leveraging the benefits of both social media and PR bridges the disconnect between the two, making them an unstoppable force when in sync.
By Maggie Munley
Upping a price. Changing your privacy settings. A new design.
Any time you or your organization is making a change, breaking the news to those who will be affected can be challenging.
This is especially true when that change occurs to a consumer-facing service. In that scenario, you run the risk of potential backlash from the announcement. But don’t take it from me--just ask Snapchat. At the core of any reaction is this: how does this affect me, the audience? While there may be no ‘right’ way to make this kind of announcement (layoffs, for example, are rarely met with a pleasant response), there are steps one can take to minimizes the negativity.
Enter Digit, a financial app that automatically siphons off small amounts of money from your bank account to build up your savings. The algorithm takes amounts based on recent spending (think anywhere from $0.15 to $10), so you usually don’t even notice. Genius, right?
The app currently costs $2.99 a month—but as a long-time digit user, I remember a time when it was free. When that changed, a question was posed to me: did I want to remain a user? While the fee itself wasn’t a huge amount, the way Digit handled the announcement is what made me stick around. So I took a look at why that was, and how other organizations could learn from it:
Get to the point
Announce the topic at hand in a quick and concise manner. You’re presenting new information to those who will be affected by it. Don’t make them have to think (or search) too long or too hard to figure out how it’s going to affect them.
One of the most crucial ways to announce change is with complete and total clarity. What change are you making? What prompted it? And—most important—how will it affect me, the consumer?
Digit did all of these things right: They were upfront about the change being implemented; they were quick to point out why they needed to do so (to make money); and they were quick to point out why they were opting for a paid route instead.
Provide a forum for response
Give people an outlet to voice their concerns, questions or frustrations. It will enable you to control the message, and open up a forum where anyone with a strong reaction will feel heard. It will also give people a clear sense of where to get answers, should they be looking for them.
Bonus points: A Piece of Good News
Of course, dependent on the news, you won’t always have a piece of good news to offer. But if you can end the message on a high note, you should. People will always appreciate knowing something positive will come out of this.
And, at the very least, people always appreciate honesty. Giving a clear, concise explanation of why change is being implemented is always better than the cardinal sin of PR—not saying anything at all.
By Vanessa Pearce
When I first added “write a blog post” to my to-do list this week, I didn’t imagine I would write about Build-A-Bear.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m no stranger to its stores. With three young children, I’ve been a customer a time or two. Early this week, I saw news of the company’s “Pay Your Age Day” shared by other parents on social media, and I immediately thought, “That sounds like a horrible idea.” For me. (For the record, I’m not a Black Friday shopper, either. Because “time is money” and all that.)
It was obvious there would be crowds. There would certainly be more demand than supply. How would Build-A-Bear handle it? Naturally, I was curious to see how it would all play out.
Across the country, families lined up before stores even opened. Just after 7:30 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear posted its first update to social media, warning customers of the overwhelming response and long waits, and mentioned the possibility that lines might be limited due to safety concerns. Note that most stores didn’t even open until 10:00 a.m.!
Still, lines snaked through shopping malls and stretched outside. Just a few hours later, at 11:00 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear published an urgent update to its social media pages and blasted it out to its email lists. Lines were officially closed. People were turned away, and some of those who were already in line had waited ALL DAY. Cue pandemonium.
“How could they not have anticipated this?” people asked. A firestorm of media coverage ensued, with headlines calling it a “botched promotion,” “hellish chaos,” and of course, “a PR nightmare.”
But was it really, though? In this case, I’d argue that this just might fall under the “There’s no such thing as bad PR” cliché. While it’s true that the situation is a crisis for Build-A-Bear, it’s one that could actually benefit them in the long run, depending on the response.
Sure, there are angry and disappointed customers, but Build-A-Bear was quick to come up with a solution. As people were being turned away from the lines, they were handed $15 off coupons—an amount roughly equivalent to the discount offered by “Pay Your Age”—to come back any time (and NOT have to wait in line for hours!). The coupons were offered to those standing in the lines, too, in case they would rather bail and come back. Then, Build-A-Bear went so far as to offer the coupon to all of its Bonus Club members, even if they had never ventured out for “Pay Your Age Day.” And to ensure this madness never happens again, the company brought an existing promotion—“Count Your Candles”—to the forefront, that offers the same discount (pay your age) during a child’s birthday month.
At the time of this draft, Build-A-Bear’s “failed” promotion is still all over the media. But you know what? So are its make-good solutions. I’m positive yesterday resulted in a harried public relations team and some serious regrets, but Build-A-Bear’s CEO was on The Today Show this morning delivering key messages that reinforce Build-A-Bear’s value proposition. How else would that have happened?
Only time will tell the true impact on Build-A-Bear’s business. While there may be customers so upset that they have sworn off the company forever, the coupons are likely to bring even more new and repeat customers back to the stores over the next few months. Plus, all of the traditional and social media hoopla has undoubtedly raised awareness of Build-A-Bear’s “Count Your Candles” birthday promotion, which could drive additional sales as well.
At the end of all of this, Build-A-Bear stands to gain more than it has lost. Some may argue that the sheer number of coupons out there could cut deeply into Build-A-Bear’s profits, but to that I say: You must not be familiar with the price of the accessories!
By Heather Kowalczyk
Insights, from us to you.