Many companies have no crisis communications plan available to help them prepare for and manage their reputations during a crisis. Rather than invest in a crisis comms plan ahead of time, most companies will end up trying to improvise their way out of a crisis. Others may seek professional help, but only after a crisis strikes.

Companies taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach are invariably caught flat-footed by a crisis. They miss out on the opportunity to help frame the message communicated by the media. The narrative of the crisis can quickly become a spectacle on a public stage with the company stuck playing the role of villain. In a situation like that, no amount of PR help can keep the company from experiencing damage to their brand reputation, future revenue and capital valuation.  

But it should be noted that the creation of a crisis comms manual is not a one-off event. A crisis comms manual needs upkeep or it will gradually lose its value over time. It should be seen as a living document in need of continuous updates to ensure it reflects your most recent risk analysis, as well as internal and external organizational changes.

To keep your company as prepared as possible we recommend you follow a 2-step approach to updating your crisis comms manual. First, the ‘owner’ of the manual should make periodic updates as he or she hears any news about something that might impact the plan or staff assigned to support the crisis comms initiative. For instance, if a new CEO is hired, then that person’s name and contact information should be added to plan.

The second part of keeping your crisis comms manual up to date is to conduct an annual systematic review, which is designed to be more thorough than a periodic update. Since there is a lot more involved in this kind of update, we have spelled out four areas you should address:

Is staff information current?

You might have updated a couple of names during the past year, but did you really cover everybody mentioned in the manual? Are all the members of the crisis communications team still the same? And have there been any changes to people’s contact information (for example, an office or cell phone number)? Are the internal experts on your knowledge map still the ones you recorded a year ago? Or is Mary no longer in charge of quality control but now a line manager? As part of this exercise, send lists with people from your manual — be it an org chart or list of names with corresponding role titles and contact info —  to the respective department heads to ask for their corrections.

Are the scenarios still appropriate?

The world can change a lot in a year. If your manual mentions scenarios that are useful for training purposes, are those scenarios still as relevant today as they were a year ago? Do you need to add additional scenarios? For instance, last year you didn’t have to worry about your organization coming under fire from an inflammatory tweet by the President of the United States, but now you do. Your crisis comms plan scenarios should always reflect the newest risks to a company’s brand reputation.

Let’s make it clear, however, that using scenarios to prepare for crisis communications should never give the organization the false sense of being ‘ready’. Nevertheless, scenarios that are reflective of their times are a boon to the organization in two important ways: they continue to raise awareness among staff about the need to be vigilant and they help increase the likelihood of staff performing well during a similar crisis.

Are the processes still adequate?

New crisis scenarios could also come with new processes, timing risks and real-world impacts to your brand. For instance, how is your follow-up of damaging conversations on social media at 5:00 in the morning currently organized and staffed? Is there a social media team to capture what is being said? If so, is there an escalation process in place that can have the social media team alert the corporate communications team of a potential crisis?

Of course when it comes to crisis communications preparedness there is a trade-off between what would need to happen to fully prepare a company and the budgetary realities of the company. We are not saying that small companies need to go on a hiring spree to prepare for what probably amounts to very unlikely events. Nevertheless, some thought should at least be given to analyzing the way your processes are keeping pace with evolving internal needs and the situational threats in the world around you.

Are the external resources still up to date?

You might have checked whether your in-house staff was still in place, but are the people from the outside agency who are ready to support you still the same ones from last year’s meeting? Can the hotel you put down as a back-up offsite location still be counted on to host your emergency press conference? Your external resource list is as important as your internal one, so you should check that all the information contained in it is still up to date.

Crisis Communications Plan

The task of writing and keeping manual up to date may look daunting at first, but luckily you have our white paper on writing the crisis communications manual available to give you important pointers. If you don’t have it yet, download it now and let us know if you have any questions or need some advice on how to customize it for your organization.

 

 

 

 

 

online-consultation-5-main-news-of-the-monthFake news is here to stay.

But that should not be a surprise. Fake news is not new. It has been around since the founding of our country. The likes of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin all indulged in cooking up apocryphal content to advance the cause of the Revolution and even their respective political interests after our country’s founding.

What IS new is how fake news is now being used as a club to bludgeon brands for political positions they may or may not have actually endorsed. I say may or may not have because even if an executive at a major brand did support an idea popularized by a politician the actual facts could become so skewed by the ‘fake news engine’ that it no longer matters what the actual facts were.

In today’s wired world, a reputation that takes years and decades to build can be significantly tarnished or permanently damaged in mere hours and days.

Public relations to the rescue

Public relations professionals who are savvy in the ways of digital media and marketing have become the emergency responders for a brand’s reputation. A brand that hesitates in its response to fake news does so at its own peril. Responses have to be swift, measured and proportionate to the degree of threat involved.

PR professionals are experienced communicators who run toward the crisis. They are experienced at assessing the level of public and media awareness, setting up teams to address brand messaging and strategically sharing timely news with media outlets to curb the damaging effects of a crisis.

As we explained in an earlier post about the crises faced by Samsung and Wells Fargo last year, brands must face their crisis head on by giving PR professionals a lead role in setting up the team that responds to reputational firestorm. Indeed, fighting a brand crisis is a lot like fighting a forest fire where many conditions beyond the control of the brand can shape the crisis and leave a lasting impact that could cost executive jobs, stock valuations and future growth potential.

More fake news crises coming soon?

Brands should already be adding fake news to their crisis plans. Unlike a fire at a company facility or a case of fraud, fake news is by its nature ephemeral. It doesn’t exist in the real world where individuals can be taken into account and a clean reckoning can be made to the public. It exists in a digital world that is impossible to corral and is fed by the very engine that makes the Internet profitable: click through advertising.

That’s right! Many fake news sites are pedalling falsehoods simply to sell ads and make money. But is that really any different that the scourge of “Yellow Journalism” that cheapened the U.S. media landscape at the turn of the 20th century? Yes, if only because fake news sites are so easy to start, run and spread to poison the minds of readers against a brand. At least with Yellow Journalism the U.S. media eventually reacted to scurrilous journalism by instituting a professional code of ethics and cleaning up the profession by raising the educational requirements of future journalists at colleges and universities.

Brands must brace themselves for more cases of fake news. By building a crisis plan to combat fake news, you ensure that proper controls are in place to limit financial damage and long-lasting impact to brand reputation. Fake news, after all, doesn’t have to be based on reality or a real-world event. It can be started by a fringe political group that perceives your brand as too liberal, conservative or even non-committal. It can be started by an ethically-challenged competitor intent on stealing market share from you.

Not sure how to proceed in the face of such an unpredictable and immeasurable threat? You can always start by downloading our white paper on how to build a crisis plan for your brand. It includes practical tips on how to build out the crisis team, write the plan and run practice crisis scenarios.

Want a little coaching? Give us a shout! We have offices in Austin, Denver and Houston but our reach is global.

Until then, please keep a weather eye on the fake news horizon to keep your brand out of harm’s way!

 

Wells Fargo Scandal - Crisis Communications

We have been witness to two major corporate crises in the last weeks. The first, Samsung, became infamous when the battery of its Galaxy S7 Note mobile phone started exploding into flames– just prior to its nemesis’ launch of the iPhone 7 no less. The second, Wells Fargo, resulted from a long-running scheme by some 5,300 employees to meet aggressive sales goals by opening millions of bogus accounts in the name of existing customers. [The CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, is getting grilled on live TV news by angry members of Congress even as we publish this post.]

Despite both companies being leaders in very different markets and their respective crises differing significantly in nature, they nevertheless share an important common theme: their crisis communications teams were put under incredible pressure to adequately stem the damage caused to their reputation, revenue and market valuation. Clearly some their efforts came up short as Samsung saw over $25 billion drained from its market capitalization in just under two weeks while a 7% drop in shares toppled Wells Fargo from its position as America’s most valuable bank in only 10 days.

Below we look at the four primary demands a crisis communications plan should be able to address if designed and implemented properly, and we give a short verdict on the state of each company’s crisis comms strategy.

You need to act fast

Is the need for rapid communications in a crisis a common place if it does not involve the loss of life and/or property? It depends. Having the communication protocols ready for fast communication takes a team of well trained and equipped communication professionals who know exactly what their respective roles are when time is short and the pressure for accurate information is greatest. Gone are the days of the ‘golden hour’ that would in theory allow you to prepare for the first inbound media questions. By the time your crisis communications staff is aware of the event the first tweets are being published and the Internet is primed for a viral reaction.

You need to talk with one voice

One of the greatest challenges facing crisis communications professionals is how to explain the crisis to your stakeholders. Each company spokesperson must have answers to questions about the crisis using the same playbook. The last thing you want is for one spokesperson to say one thing only to be contradicted by another later the same day. Not speaking with one unified voice erodes the credibility your stakeholders have in how you are managing the company and could also exacerbate the damage to the company’s reputation and ability to quickly bounce back.

 

Check out our free white paper “Writing the crisis communications manual” 

 

Talking with one voice also means projecting empathy toward the stakeholders lest you give the impression your company does not value them. Consistency across communication functions is also critical as you manage stakeholder expectations. For instance, how you talk to the investor community is different than your workforce, yet they both must reflect the same core facts and message. Consistency in messaging requires razor-sharp discipline supported by cross-functional collaboration and real-time information, which are hallmarks of a well-designed and practiced crisis communications plan.

You need to listen

The act of listening during a crisis is your secret weapon. Sadly, it’s something that many companies forget to do. To be completely prepared to meet the challenges of a crisis you also need the resources in place to listen, including the staff ready to process information and adapt a communication strategy to a dynamic situation.

For instance, how are your stakeholders responding to your messages? Do you need to adjust your message or take executive action to counter a surge in negative investor or consumer sentiment? Intensive media monitoring will enable you to track responses in near-real time and give your communications team the feedback it needs to quickly react to fault-lines in the crisis communications strategy. And don’t forget that monitoring traditional media is no longer sufficient. You have to account for reactions in social media on the part of a wide range of stakeholders: tweets from activists, Facebook Live video reports from ‘accidental journalists’, Reddit posts about first-hand reports or just good-old fashioned brand bashing.

The trick is figuring how to to weave a narrative using a vast network of communication threads. This is not something you can expect to figure out on the fly without a plan and plenty of practice.

You need to communicate through all channels

The number of touchpoints for a company has ballooned in recent years. No longer can we assume that a dedicated crisis phone line and email will suffice. Layers of communications will need to be disseminated across an ever expanding list of communication platforms. Did anybody think Snapchat would be a viable communication channel three years ago?

Moreover, those who are responsible for each platform must be kept in the loop as information comes to light and needs to be shared with one consistent message across all channels. If a key piece of information comes to light or a decision is made by executives (when, for example, Wells Fargo decided to fire 5,300 employees involved in its bogus account scandal), don’t you want that information to come out not only through traditional media outlets but also through your company blog, social media accounts and customer service team as well?

The Verdict?

We’re happy to report that both Samsung and Wells Fargo rose to the occasion with their crisis communications efforts, ticking most of the boxes mentioned above. Not all has been perfect or gone “according to plan,” however. Nor is that even possible given the real world is vastly different from what can be planned in advance. Samsung, for instance, could have been clearer in how it communicated the recall of the Galaxy S7 Note in some of its markets. And then you have Wells Fargo’s bungled strategic messaging, which laid the blame squarely on the 5,300 employees it fired; a New York Times article quickly shot down that narrative with quotes from ex-employees saying the problem was systemic and a decade in the making.

Nevertheless, those lapses should not divert attention from their overall professional crisis communications performance. Both companies have (so far!) handled their respective crises in commendable fashion. Not that exploding batteries and bilking customers out of millions is commendable; clearly they are not and hence the crises. But the work they have done up to now is a result of having a comprehensive crisis communications manual. A good communications manual will address some (but not all) of the following:

  • Roles for each key player (from the CEO down to junior communications professionals);
  • Crisis resources: dedicated crisis command center, phone lines and other technology resources, food and sleeping arrangements, etc.
  • Spokesperson selection, training & briefings
  • Press conference mechanics

If this sounds like a heavy lift for any companies not in the illustrious Fortune 500 category, then you are right. But the good news is that you don’t have to have the resources of a Fortune 500 company to create a solid crisis communications manual. Nor do you need a huge team of communications, social media and customer service professionals to manage a crisis. A few well-trained professionals can do wonders for most small and mid-sized companies. Companies approaching a billion dollars in annual sales with operations either across the U.S. or the world will have to scale up their resources to meet the communication needs of multiple markets.

Crisis Communications Plan

Free Crisis Communications Manual ready to use!

Manzer Communications has made it easy for your company to begin preparing for a future unknown crisis. Our free whitepaper “Writing the crisis communications manual” is available for download and use by your communications team to customize for its own unique needs. The manual lays out step-by-step how to build out your crisis communications plan. It gives you examples of training scenarios to use in workshops, drills and simulations. It even provides you a sample table of contents to help you build out your comprehensive manual.

Crisis Communications services available!

Do you need help writing the manual or training your staff for a crisis? If so, Manzer Communications can help. Our experts provide comprehensive crisis communications services from preparation of manuals and spokesperson training to on-site crisis communication training and live crisis communication consulting.

If you are worried about what a potential crisis can do to damage your brand and the reputation you worked so hard to build, then let’s talk!

Manzer Communications is a communications agency that practices a lean service model addressing the integrated PR and digital marketing needs of its technology customers. Manzer Communications has a strong international focus given its team and Associate Agency channel representing markets across the globe. For more information about the agency, please visit: www.ManzerCommunications.com.

Writing a crisis communications manual can be a tedious endeavor. But it’s an important one to get right as a great many different challenges present themselves to a crisis communications team during a crisis.

A well-written manual helps sharpen the focus of a crisis comms team and gives them a basis upon which to prepare for virtually every crisis imaginable. For a crisis comms manual to be effective, however, it should address what I have taken to calling the 4 C’s for a good crisis communications manual:

• Clarity of purpose and information
• Consistency of processes and nomenclature
• Completeness in breadth and depth
• Current and up-to-date with latest company staff and procedures

These requirements are a kind of litmus test for crisis communications manuals. Without them, you risk having a manual that leaves you hanging at a time when your communications team can ill afford to to be arguing over who owns what roles, who reports to whom, or what to do if a key member is off on vacation.

The following is a brief synopsis of the 4 C’s of a good crisis communications manual:

Clarity

Start by asking if the manual is completely clear what the roles of each of the key participants are? Is there any ambiguity or imprecision of language that could lead somebody to make an erroneous interpretation, potentially resulting in unintended results? Are all abbreviations of key processes, teams and functions used in the crisis communications manual well known for all the users? Are the terms used understandable to all team members, even for non-native speakers? Even though a crisis communications manual is not a regular piece of prose, it will be read quite closely during a crisis and should stand up to a post-crisis review by executives. What’s more, every subject category or section needs to stand on its own; readers can ill afford to waste time scanning a dense document in search of an abbreviation definition.

Consistent

Is there consistency throughout the crisis communications manual in terms of how tools, processes and resources are referenced? For example, the name of the “crisis communication team” should not co-exist with alternate versions such as “crisis communication group,” “crisis team” or anything other than standard nomenclature. The consistency in wording might appear to be of lesser importance at first sight, but any exercise and real life execution of the manual will be fraught with misunderstandings (and thus mistakes) if terminology is not followed to the letter.

Complete

A question to ask yourself is will your crisis communications manual be self-standing or will it end up referring to content from other sources, say a website or different procedure manual? No crisis communications team will be served well by having to scramble — under intense pressure from internal and external stakeholders — in a desperate search for files, message scripts, or media contact information, especially since that information can easily be integrated in the manual. Nor does being complete does mean turning your manual into a massive document from which information is not easily retrievable. The table of contents in section 5 of our crisis communications white paper will serve as an example of how information can be organized effectively in the manual.

Current

Are the cell phone numbers for key participants in the manual the same ones they use today? Is the expert on product safety who you will need to talk to in one of your crisis scenarios still on the job or has he or she been replaced? A crisis communications manual that is not kept up to date at least quarterly is a potential liability. The staff member who receives ownership for ‘soft updates’ can also be the person who wrote the manual in the first place; but any member of the media relations team is capable of handling the task.

The 4 C’s form only one part of the Manzer Communications white paper Writing the crisis communications manual. In this paper you will discover a series of valuable tips on how to write a manual that will help prepare your crisis communications team for any and all future adverse events. The paper also includes an easy to use table of contents to make structuring your manual as painless as possible.

FreeCrisis Communications Plan Crisis Communications Manual ready to use!

Manzer Communications has made it easy for your company to begin preparing for a future unknown crisis. Our free whitepaper “Writing the crisis communications manual” is available for download and use by your communications team to customize for its own unique needs. The manual lays out step-by-step how to build out your crisis communications plan. It gives you examples of training scenarios to use in workshops, drills and simulations. It even provides you a sample table of contents to help you build out your comprehensive manual. 

Crisis Communications services available!

Do you need help writing the manual or training your staff for a crisis? If so, Manzer Communications can help. Our experts provide comprehensive crisis communications services from preparation of manuals and spokesperson training to on-site crisis communication training and live crisis communication consulting.

If you are worried about what a potential crisis can do to damage your brand and the reputation you worked so hard to build, then let’s talk!

About the author: Jo Detavernier is a VP and Partner with Manzer Communications. Jo has counseled and trained companies in the field of crisis communications in industries as diverse as chemical, aviation, public transportation, finance and telecommunications. He leads the crisis communications division of Manzer Communications and guides the agency’s international operations.

Cam Newton Super Bowl Interview

Sunday’s 50th Super Bowl game is being talked about as a historic defensive battle and possibly the last game of Peyton Manning’s illustrious, record-setting career.

The game is also being talked about for Cam Newton’s postgame interview, which saw the Panthers flamboyant QB incapable of hiding his disdain for the questions, pouting, slouching and surly. The interview went so poorly that as much one quarter of the post-game coverage centered on Cam’s meltdown.

The unfortunate thing is that Cam’s performance overshadows what was otherwise a stellar season for which he won the NFL’s coveted MVP award. Indeed, his behavior at the last interview of the season stands in such contrast to the Cam Newton brand —  endzone theatrics, contagious smiles, handing footballs to kids on the end zone — that it now calls into question the person behind the brand and whether he is mature enough to be the face of the Panthers and step into the celebrity QB vacuum soon to be created when greats like Peyton and Tom Brady retire.

What then are some of the lessons we can draw from Cam’s performance to apply to our own customers? What could we advise Cam to do differently, in our own version of the Monday morning quarterback, if he could hit the reset button?

Posture: instead of slouching at the interview table with his eyes never deigning to acknowledge the reporters in the audience, Cam should have sat straight in his chair and took the questions with some degree of respect. After all, it’s the very same reporters he shunned who heaped praise on his performance all season long and helped make a case for him being the next great QB in the NFL.

Demeanor: rather than look like a 12 year-old angry at not getting his way, Cam should have counted to ten before ascending to the interview table. He should have asked his coach, Ron Rivera, who gave perhaps one of the better post-game interviews from a losing coach I’ve ever seen, for some advice on how to channel the emotions instead of letting them control him.

Dress: Cam showed up in a Panthers’ sweatshirt with the hoodie pulled way down, almost over his eyes, which made him look unapproachable and withdrawn. If the interview timing precluded a shower and the normal straight-laced NFL attire, better that he show up with the hoodie off and meet the press head-on.

Personal accountability: Cam never once owned up to any shortcoming of his own. As shallow as it may sound coming from a losing QB, it’s expected that you at least shoulder some of the blame for the loss given the QB has the greatest impact of any player on the team. What’s more, Cam throughout the season celebrated his TDs and wins, indeed some would say over-celebrated, yet when the truest test of his character came with a tough Super Bowl loss his humility was notably absent.

Team spokesperson: whether he likes it or not, Cam is the face of the team. He is what makes the Panthers a fun, exciting team to watch. But as the spokesperson, he has to learn how to handle the wins and losses with an eye toward the team’s reputation and his. The pouting and impatient demeanor on display in the interview only served to hurt the brand of his team and himself.

Long-term reputation: Cam focused only in the moment and forgot to keep his eyes on his legacy and brand. Whether you are a popular NFL QB or a Fortune 500 CEO, the actions taken during a crisis can have a long-term impact. Cam is certainly wildly popular in the Panther Nation, and his performance may not impact those stakeholders in any lasting way. But what about his ability to appeal to and win over more fans and converts to the Panthers? His interview and the subsequent media analysis will undoubtedly deal a blow to his image that will take time and more humility to overcome.

About the author: Dave Manzer founded Manzer Communications, an Austin tech PR agency specializing in communications & strategic inbound marketing for startups and fast-growth businesses in 2009. If you have any PR or content marketing questions about your business, feel free to tweet him at @davemanzer or email him at dave(at)manzercommunications(dot)com.