Category Archive: Crisis Communications

Crisis PR: When the storm hits, how will you respond?

Late August and early September 2017 will be remembered in history because of the enormous impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

But how are you going to be remembered for how you responded to the needs of your clients during these two natural disasters?

In a crisis, you demonstrate what you really can do for your clients

Ask yourself:

Crisis CommunicationDid I contact my clients and ask what I could do for them?

Did I identify actions or situations where I could offer assistance?

Did I think about my client’s clients or customers? Specifically, did I point out actions or communications that would let my client’s clients and customers know they were thinking about them?

Did I make any recommendations that would benefit my client?

Did I identify any threats to my client’s business from the hurricanes?

The point is: those in the PR and communications field can underscore their usefulness and compassion for their clients by simply acknowledging they are thinking about them and their needs.

What can you do to help clients during a crisis?

Put yourself in your client’s shoes for a moment. They may be without power. They may have power, but no access to Internet, television, or telephones.

Can you make your communications facilities available to your client?

Can you relay messages to their clients or customers?

Can you access the Internet and post communications that will let your client’s clients know what is going on?

Take a cue from power companies and news organizations

Power companies are, by and large, doing a fabulous job of keeping people notified about when and where power will be restored. Their spokespeople and their employees have worked tirelessly to ensure that power company personnel are working around the clock to restore power in an orderly and timely manner and to communicate how the power restoration is progressing.

News organizations, particularly in radio, have tapped into spokespeople who can inform listeners, readers, and viewers (for those who have been able to keep their television running) what is happening.

And remember, companies that get the news out to the media first are those that will be remembered.

Look for follow up situations that can help your client

The impact of the two hurricanes, like many other disasters, will be long-term. Disasters and crises will always pose a threat to people and businesses.

Because of that, people will want to see and read about how you—and your clients—responded to the event. These are stories that have positive meaning and can illustrate your responsiveness and utility to those who can benefit from your services.

These stories deserve a place in your history—and on your website. Better yet, illustrate the stories with photos or graphics that help make the story come to life.

We are already communicating … and looking for opportunities to further communicate your story during challenging times

The Wellons Communication team has been hard at work for our clients throughout the duration of these two natural disasters.

We have identified stories that are newsworthy, and more importantly, useful to the well-being of our clients (and their clients and customers). We have moved with a sense of urgency that is demanded by the media and are continuing to serve as a source of accurate, reliable information.

To add Wellons Communications to your team and demonstrate how capably your organization addresses crisis management, call me at 407-339-0879 or email me at will@wellonscommunications.com and put us to work for you.

What companies can learn about crisis PR from the United Airlines leggings incident

On Sunday morning, a United Airlines gate attendant barred two teenage girls from boarding a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings. News of the leggings incident went viral, and within hours, United Airlines had a PR crisis on its hands.

The incident started when Shannon Watts, political activist and founder of Moms Demand Action, overheard the exchange and tweeted about the incident to her followers.

 

 

The airline responded to the public backlash with its own tweets to explain the incident.   

 

 

The company also issued a release explaining customers are welcome to wear leggings on its flights. The release explains that United views employee pass riders as representatives of the company and expects them to be appropriately dressed for flights.

 

 

Though United responded quickly to the crisis, customers, activists and even celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and Patricia Arquette have expressed anger about the incident.

Jonathan Guerin, a United spokesperson, said himself the airline should have done a better job of responding to the situation. According to Reuters, Guerin said, “We’ll definitely take something away from today, but we’ll continue to engage with our customers (on social media).”

So what can other companies take away from this viral situation when facing their own crisis?

First, never underestimate the power of social media. Incidents today don’t stay contained, and with Facebook and Twitter, angry customers have an easy—and potentially viral—outlet.

Second, be sincere. Many considered United’s response to the issue stilted or unsympathetic. As per the Reuters article, Guerin said the company could have been more clear in its initial response to the issue.

Finally, have a plan for your social media outlets. United did a great job of responding to a potential issue quickly and telling its side of the story, but because the initial response was bungled, it backfired. Know what kinds of feedback you need to respond to, what you’ll say, and in what format you will respond.

After all, the best way to handle a crisis is to prepare for it before you’re facing it. If you need help crafting your plan, give us a call. At Wellons Communications, we have experience in social media and in handling crisis situations, and we can help you put your best foot forward. Give us a call today at 407-339-0879.

PR Lessons: Ariana Grande says “I hate Americans”

Looks like Ariana Grande has one more problem. The singer was recently recorded as saying, “I hate Americans, I hate America.”

The security footage went viral, with Grande’s words making headlines.

In the video, you can see the former Nickelodeon star and her friends covertly licking a doughnut on a display counter. Grande was recorded licking the doughnuts not once, but twice. After inquiring about a tray of over-sized doughnuts, Grande was recorded saying “What the #^&% is that? I hate Americans, I hate America.”

Watch for yourself here:

As the video got more popular, Ariana Grande sent a statement to several outlets including BuzzFeed News, saying:

I am EXTREMELY proud to be an American and I’ve always made it clear that I love my county*. What I said in a private moment with my friend, who was buying the donuts, was taken out of context and I am sorry for not using more discretion with my choice of words. As an advocate for healthy eating, food is very important to me and I sometimes get upset by how freely we as Americans eat and consume things without giving any thought to the consequences that it has on our health and society as a whole. The fact that the United States has the highest child obesity rate in the world frustrates me. We need to do more to educate ourselves and our children about the dangers of overeating and the poison that we put into our bodies. We need to demand more from our food industry. However I should of* known better in how I expressed myself; and with my new responsibility to others as a public figure I will strive to be better. As for why I cannot be at the MLB show, I have had emergency oral surgery and due to recovery I cannot attend the show. I hope to make it up to all those fans soon. That being said let me once again apologize if I have offended anyone with my poor choice of words.

*Grande’s representative later corrected this to “country”.

*Grande’s representative later corrected this to “should have”.

What can we learn?

When fighting a public relations battle, apologizing is often a good course of action, but how you apologize will determine whether your apology falls flat. If your apology is not well-received, it can potentially do more harm than good.

Apologies should be sincere – In her statement, Grande never says that she is sorry for what she said, but only for how she said it. Whether her initial words were taken as anti-patriotic or as fat-shaming, no one got the apology they were looking for.

Quality of writing/medium is important – Grande’s statement had a few grammatical errors. This can be construed as a hurried, careless apology. Being thorough in a written, apologetic statement sets the tone for how your apology will be received.

Stay on topic – There was some speculation that Ariana Grande pulled out of performing at the MLB all-star game because of this incident. She says it is because of an oral surgery recovery. If the two are truly unrelated, there is no need to address the MLB performance in this apology.

Starbucks takes a Venti “L” For its #RaceTogether Campaign

Race TogetherSocial media has increasingly become a tool used by companies to promote their campaigns through user-generated content. For example, Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign provided a hashtag and encouraged consumers to share their Coke physically as well as virtually, generating a lot of buzz for the company and the campaign. However, not all campaigns have as much success.

Take Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign. In just one week the campaign was nixed due to a negative response from consumes and Twitter users. USA TODAY reported last Monday that, in partnership with Starbucks, they’ll be tackling the issue of race in America – one barista at a time. Yes, Starbucks and USA TODAY launched its “Race Together” campaign geared toward generating conversation about race issues in America.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, aimed to encourage Starbucks customers and its employees to discuss race, with the belief that this was the first step toward confronting and solving the nation’s race issues.

Within this campaign, Starbucks baristas were encouraged to evoke conversation with customers about their thoughts on race relations, and in addition, beginning Friday March, 20 USA TODAY’s print edition included a co-authored piece by both companies that will contain race relation “conversation starters” and questions. Customers were asked to tweet responses to these questions using their designated hashtag, #RaceTogether.

The Twitter community got a jump-start on the conversation and put its own spin on the hashtag, but not in the way Starbucks and USA TODAY intended. The campaign received a firestorm of backlash from Twitter users, so much so that Schultz deleted his Twitter account.

 

These were mild. However, amidst the firestorms were some who supported the initiative. Now the question remains, why did it fail? The high level of controversy surrounding the issue? Starbucks’ stigma? A lack of diversity in campaign ads? Or, should companies simply focus on their core values and initiatives rather than push the envelope and delve into controversial social issues such as race? PR News Online offers 3 PR lessons to learn from this campaign for companies who choose to use user-generated content through social media and fail.

In the News business, you get what you pay for

Back in the day, gossip rags and celebrity media were frowned upon as second-tier. In the new age of citizen journalists, bloggers and a shrinking traditional media – the celebrity press is acting like the leaders of the pack.

All hail TMZ – the entertainment medium is the industry standard in breaking stories that people actually talk about and share on social media.TMZ exclusively released the audio tape of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sharing his feelings about who should attend basketball games for his NBA team.  This led quickly to Sterling’s banishment by the NBA.

Then, the media company followed that up with the release of the elevator fight seen around the world between Beyonce’s sister Solange and rapper Jay Z.

These are just two examples of TMZ lapping the field in “talkable’’ stories. Of course, they do come with a price. The company pays big dollars for quality content that will raise their brand above the competition.

What can normal businesses take from the TMZ model? To start with, it shows that quality stories may very well be worth the investment; and it does not hurt if that content has star appeal, either.

Controlling the message has its limits

A good Public Relations professional knows the media inside and out. They know what stories will soar and which ones will flop. They also know the limitations of their job.

One of those limitations is the ability to control the message once it gets into the hands of the media and the public. This topic has been top of mind this week since the firing of Oakland Raiders’ Public Relations Director Zak Gilbert. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, owner Mark Davis was unhappy with a Sports Illustrated story that was critical of Davis and his late father Al Davis. Gilbert lost his job over it, and the Raiders have been taking some heat for the decision.

The biggest take away from this week’s event is that PR professionals do not have complete control over the conversation surrounding their organization. It’s nearly impossible to know which stories will soar and which will flop. On the same note, once a story gets out we can’t control it. Don’t trust a PR firm that tells you any different. We do our best to build goodwill and broadcast a positive narrative, but we can’t always predict when a journalist or angry customer will decide to voice their opinion.

The best way to avoid or weaken the blow of negative PR is to build a good defense and look at the big picture. First, remember who your fans are. Community and customer goodwill goes a long way and can overpower less-than-desirable coverage. Second, consider the true impact of the story. Bad PR often feels worse than it is, which may have been the case with the Raiders.

(Source: NFL.com)

Things that make us cringe

The power of social media paired with today’s instantaneous news cycle can really shine a spotlight on company mishaps.  Here are two of our favorites from last week and how they could have been avoided.

Camera-shy receptionist

A dangerous tree proved to be quite damaging to a St. Louis firm’s public image after a local station picked up the story.

While reporting on a story about a resident who had repeatedly tried to contact Roberts Brothers Properties about the tree, KSDK reporter Mike Rush paid their office a visit.

Rather than buzzing the reporter in and alerting a company representative, the receptionist hid under her desk for half an hour. Not only does this response imply guilt, but it also gives the reporter a much more interesting story. See the video here.

PR Lesson: There are two things business owners can take away from Roberts Brothers Properties mistake. The first is the importance of basic media training for all employees. Receptionists and lower-level employees are usually the first ones contacted by reporter because they tend to know more and say more. Employees should be briefed on media procedures for a variety of situations – good and bad.

Carnival’s PR nightmare

Carnival is no stranger to PR problems with the latest coming from last week’s Triumph fiasco.

The media handling of the nightmare vacation has been widely criticized, but thing that struck us most was the way Carnival CEO Micky Arison handled the incident. Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat, was spotted taking in a game while passengers and crew dealt with less-than-optimal conditions.

PR Lesson: Public Relations is all about perception and marketing experts know the public is more likely to judge an organization on how it handles a problem than how the problem came about.

Business owners should consider how their actions look to customers, especially disgruntled ones. Few will ever experience something as massive as the Triumph, but, in the age of social media, something as simple as blatantly ignoring a line of frustrated customers can damage a brand’s reputation.

(Source: Poynter.orgBostonglobe.com)

“There is a permanent record today and it is called the Internet”

Privacy is a commodity. In today’s world dominated by the Internet, anything and everything can be posted instantaneously and shared with millions in mere seconds. David from “David After Dentist” would agree. However, privacy concerns are no laughing matter. Vigilance should be taken to ensure that the next breaking news scandal that hits the front page of Yahoo does not revolve around you, which is why we’re shaking our heads at Mitt Romney this week.

After secretly recorded comments from a private Boca Raton fundraiser leaked of Mitt Romney saying that 47% of Americans are victims dependent on the government, we can’t help but wonder why the aspiring President would vocally disparage almost half of his country. Here’s a tip for you Mitt Romney: if you are running for President, everything you say and do WILL be held against you in the court of public opinion, thanks to the Internet. The video was leaked to the press, and now everyone from Jon Stewart to Diane Sawyer is spreading the remarks to their audiences; meanwhile the Mitt Romney campaign has spun its gears to full-on damage control.

Another unfortunate recent example of the royal lack of privacy today comes from an Italian magazine publishing topless photos of Kate Middleton. The Duchess of Cambridge was simply enjoying a sunbathing session on a secluded French chateau getaway when a paparazzi photographer captured the scene. Now, the British royal family is taking the matter to court with hopes to stop further publications from printing the photos, but you can’t take back what has already been done. Amazing what a zoom lens and internet connection can do to the public image of a Princess.

Even the common person is not immune to the repercussions of online activity. Everything that you post, from Facebook cover photos to the latest Tweet about what you had for dinner, becomes fair game when you click “publish.” Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and lawyer for high-profile defendants, says that young people nowadays don’t seem to value privacy. “They put stuff on Facebook that 15 years from now will prevent them from getting the jobs they want,” he said. “They don’t understand that they are mortgaging their future for a quick laugh from a friend.”

And that’s nothing to laugh about.

Social media a part of FCAT’s Path to Success to better communication

In light of public outrage from FCAT scores drastically plunging this year, the Florida Department of Education launched two websites Monday as part of its campaign to communicate with parents. One website, floridapathtosuccess.org, provides them with information about the department’s goal of transitioning to tougher standards, while the other, parents.fldoe.org/home, serves as an outlet for them to ask questions and express concerns on a discussion board. In less than 24 hours of its debut, three topics were posed by parents on the discussion forum, with a FLDOE representative already replying to two of them.

This response by the Florida Department of Education showcases how the organization is taking steps to communicate better with its core audience and increase transparency in the communication process. At a time when many parents are up in arms about recent headlines, creating these channels to interact directly with parents is a smart move on FLDOE’s part to take control of the situation. Instead of letting all the worry and frustration from parents fester, the department is tackling this challenge head on and trying to remedy the situation by supplying an appropriate space for them to vent and get answers to their questions from an authorized source – a commendable effort by the FLDOE and certainly a good public relations example of using online resources to foster two-way communication.

Reputation Management in a Modern World

“Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked and never well mended.”
– Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

Long gone are the days where figureheads of corporations remain in the shadows. Now, news outlets and the public are putting the spotlight on these bigwigs, often exposing their misdeeds in the process.

Best Buy is a recent example of this. Two weeks ago, the CEO of the consumer electronics giant, Brian Dunn, resigned after the company opened an investigation into his “personal conduct.” There was speculation that he misused company assets to contribute to an alleged relationship with a female subordinate.

Another high-profile case involves University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino, who was recently fired from his multi-million dollar gig for violating a morals clause. The crime? He had a secret affair with a recruiting coordinator for the Arkansas football team.

These examples highlight two important lessons related to reputation management and the media. First, political leaders are no longer the only ones to have their personal lives catapulted to the front page; no one is safe from the scrutinizing eyes of the customers or shareholders. In fact, everything from financial records to emails to cell phone text messages can sometimes be fair game to the press thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

Good reputation management involves being aware of the fact that nefarious activities in your personal life can easily cross-pollinate to news outlets and spread like a virus. It takes just one blow to your credibility to dismantle the years of hard work building that reputation.

Secondly, we learn how personal reputation is not the only concern in these scenarios. As shown from the Dunn and Petrino issues, organizations believe their image is tied to that of their employees. This is nothing new, as noted by Cees B.M. van Riel and Charles J. Fombrun in their 2007 publication, “Essentials of Corporate Communications.” They termed the phrase “media mania” to refer to this trend of how companies and their top executives now perform in the media spotlight. The book also states that chief executive officers in particular act as spiritual and emotional symbols of the organization, so it is especially important that these figures adhere to the same values and ethics of the companies they represent.

In this day and age, technology has allowed media outlets to report and deliver news instantly, which means they are quick to pounce on breaking scandals in politics, corporations and even football fields. Organizations have certainly taken notice and become more critical with media monitoring and reputation management, showcasing how they may react to threats by removing scandal-plagued employees from payroll, like what Best Buy and the University of Arkansas did to their offenders.

It also helps if the immoral acts weren’t committed in the first place, either.