All posts by PR Musings: Public Relations Made Simple

About PR Musings: Public Relations Made Simple

David E. Johnson is the CEO and founder of Strategic Vision PR Group. With over 20 years of experience, he is a PR industry leader who specializes in media relations, crisis, communications, branding, and reputation management. He drives client strategy and has been integral in leading the firm forward since its founding in 2001 during the aftermath of 9/11. He has been described as a PR guru extraordinaire and the go to person for crisis communications by the news media. Johnson’s public relations and communications experience developed with experience working for various trade associations and governmental agencies in Florida. In the late 1990s he was employed with one of Atlanta’s top public relations agencies where he oversaw a diverse client portfolio that included accounts in the architectural, legal hospitality, education, non-profit, lifestyle, sports, technology, real estate, and health care professions. With the founding of Strategic Vision PR Group, Johnson developed a niche practice for the firm in book publicity. He works with new and established authors from both the self-publishing and traditional publishing realm. Johnson is regularly sought out by the media for his intricate expertise and knowledge of the public relations industry. He has appeared on CNN, FOX News Channel, FOX Business Network, ESPN, CNBC, CBS This Morning, and the Today Show, as well as in publications such as People, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, PR Week, PR Daily, E-Commerce Times, Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Hollywood Life, and serves as a frequent contributor for Commpro.biz, Brilliant Results Magazine, Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog, and Alister & Paine. He was named as one of the top 500 Influencers by Campaigns & Elections Magazine for 2013.

Planning Is Indispensable In Crisis Management

Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The same could apply in planning for a crisis.  A crisis can happen at anytime.  It can affect any brand.  A crisis doesn’t care about the size of the organization.  With social media and the 24/7 news cycle, a crisis that might never have gotten any attention several years ago or only localized coverage can be splashed across the networks and make national headlines, destroying years of positive brand building.  What is worse is that much of the damage could have been avoided if the brand had done some crisis management planning.

When the first media call happens or first negative social media post goes live, most brands are still scrambling on how to respond to the crisis.  They are determining who will speak for the brand, what stakeholders need to be addressed, what the response should be, and the legal implications.  By the time they have determined all of this, the crisis is engulfing their organization, they have lost several news cycles, and social media is exploding.

That is why as Eisenhower said, planning is indispensable.  Effective planning will address the importance of moving quickly under pressure; not losing critical news cycles and allowing social media to run amok. It also allows for potential regulatory and political impact to be evaluated immediately.

Planning allows the brand to know what stakeholders need to be addressed.  Often in a crisis, the concern is with addressing the public and investors, with vendors and employees forgotten causing great damage.  It allows for a company procedure for when the media calls and for employees to know who to refer the call to without getting caught in a gotcha moment with a reporter.  Planning allows for a coherent social media strategy to coincide with the traditional media response.  Far too often, brands forget the social media component as they are scrambling to deal with the traditional media.  This mistake can be avoided with some planning.  Finally planning can help develop the empathy that will be essential in a crisis.  Just think of United CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial response to the passenger being dragged off the plane, had he shown some empathy with his response much of the ongoing damage could have been avoided.

Planning won’t make a crisis go away but it will lessen the impact of the crisis.  That is why it is critical to have a crisis management planning session and to incorporate it into your overall public relations plan.

 

What Is A Press Release

A press release is an announcement of certain news – a product launch, book release, special event, or promotion.  It is written to receive media mention.  The headline needs to be written in a way that commands attention but isn’t seen as a sales gimmick.  The first paragraph of the press release is the most critical.  That paragraph should be the guts of the press release with the who, what, when, where, and why in it.  With cutbacks in the media it is usually the first paragraph that gets picked up if any of the press release is picked up.  After that first paragraph there should be a quote and some follow-up information included, as well as a link to the website from the business, non-profit, or author the press release is coming from.  More and more press releases are being used for a viral affect with social media and free online press websites available to post a press release.

What Is A Media Pitch

A media pitch is written to get specific media coverage from a reporter.  It is written and geared in a story format.  It is often tied to a news story.  I recommend a two paragraph media pitch.  The first paragraph should list the issue or news story, as well as, critical questions that should be asked or addressed by the reporter.  The second paragraph should include your expertise in being able to address those questions, as well as, how you would answer the questions.  You want the pitch written concisely, with a good soundbite in your answer.  With media cutbacks, reporters and producers love pitches that are written as a news story that they can incorporate into their story and the interview with you.  Media pitches generate the hard media coverage and interviews that brands, authors, and celebrities crave in a public relations campaign.

Crisis Communications In Today’s Polarized Society

 

For years, businesses have known that a crisis could arise from an accident, product defect, or random statement by a company spokesperson. Now in this highly polarized political environment many businesses are finding that a crisis can arise from advertising on a polarizing show or sponsoring events that are politically charged. Social media not only goes after shows or events they consider wrong but against the advertisers and sponsors. Just see how JP Morgan Chase was forced to temporarily halt their ads on NBC News because of the Megan Kelly interview with Alex Jones or the hits that Bill O’Reilly’s advertisers took before they pulled their advertising.  As a result, businesses are being forced to rethink their approach to crisis communications.

So what should businesses be doing in this new era of political divisiveness and crisis communications?

  1. Do a risk analysis of all sponsorships and advertising that could potentially cause a public backlash among the right or left. In this analysis review all social media and traditional media mentions.
  2. Develop a prepared response in case your businesses is targeted because of its various sponsorships and advertising, and have it ready.
  3. Engage with activists on social media. Remember, that social media drives narratives not merely on social media but in traditional media as well.
  4. Remember all of your audiences – internal and external.
  5. Stay consistent on the message and response that you have decided for your business.

In today’s charged environment anything can cause a crisis for businesses.  More and more many businesses are finding themselves in a crisis due to indirect association.  That is why crisis communications is more essential than ever before in any overall public relations plan.

How Authors Can Maximize BookExpo

It’s May and that means BookExpo is weeks away.  BookExpo is the most important publishing industry show in North America. If you are an author, want to be an author, or are even thinking about being an author.  BookExpo is an incredible way to see the publishing industry and make all connections. Representatives from every area of the industry – publishers, book cover designers, editors, distributors, foreign rights agents, literary agents, store book buyers, and media– will either be attending or exhibiting.  It is a chance for many authors to finally have that breakout moment with the media.

So how can an author maximize the BookExpo experience if they are exhibiting:

  1. Don’t cheap out. You’ve already spent tens of thousands (or millions) on your exhibit. Spend a few extra bucks and bring a public relations professional. Your sales team is there to meet buyers, partners and to sell, not handle media walk-bys, demos, interviews, social media posts and press room activities.
  2. Stick to your schedule. Reporters hate it when you decide to cancel or reschedule an interview at the last minute. They’ve already booked other appointments and you’ll risk losing the story. Don’t throw a hand grenade into a schedule that your PR team has spent weeks finalizing. Having a PR pro on-site will solve the inevitable sales meeting or customer drop-by conflicts that pop up.
  3. BYO. Don’t rely on the show’s registered media list; qualify and build your own. Show media lists are notoriously out of date and often incomplete because many Tier 1 media simply don’t pre-register. They decide to attend last-minute. Advance media calls, confirmations the week of the show and reconfirmations during the show will ensure you connect with the right reporters.
  4. Help media cut through the clutter. We’ve landed major national news stories by offering producers and reporters the opportunity to walk the show floor with a client who really ‘gets’ the category and can offer sound data, insights and opinions on what’s hot – and what’s not. Most trade shows are overwhelming, and the 24/7 news cycle makes them even more unmanageable for skinned up editorial staffs.
  5. Brand the press room. If you’re spending a small fortune on an exhibit, why neglect the place where most media gather even if they skip your booth? There are 1001 smart and not always costly ideas for establishing a branded presence in a press room – from supplying a masseur to massage tired feet to sponsoring coffee breaks, note pads or back packs.
  6. Stock the press room. Don’t count on media to find you. Even if it’s just a a humble jump drive, make sure your latest product info is available in the press room. No matter how old-fashioned it sounds – media still congregate in ‘their’ area to talk, post stories and get re-caffeinated, and they will scout out available materials. Even if they missed you on the show floor, there’s a good chance you can get your message in front of them.

Steps On Rebuilding United’s Brand

The past several days have been a public relations nightmare for United Airlines and it does not appear that things will be improving for the embattled airline and its CEO, Oscar Munoz in the near future.  The United saga began when Dr. David Dao was violently dragged off a Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY flight due to the flight being overbooked and room being needed for 4 flight crew.  The entire incident was filmed by other passengers with their smartphones.  Dr. Dao was so badly injured that he will need reconstructive surgery.  Compounding the damage was the tone deaf response from the airline, particularly its CEO, Oscar Munoz, to the incident.  Munoz originally praised United’s employees and blamed Dao for the incident.  After an international furor aroused, fueled on social media and late night television, Munoz apologized to Dao finally and made an appearance on Good Morning America that made him look anything but sincere.

Added to this debacle were fresh news stories of other passengers who had been threatened when United had overbooked flights, allegations that United Airlines was behind negative stories appearing in the media about Dao’s past, and reports that United was considering suing passengers who had recorded the Dao incident.  United is of course facing lawsuits.  The company’s market share has dropped by an estimated billion dollars.  United’s public image is in ruins.

Soon things will get even worse for United.  In the next few weeks, United will announce Munoz’s annual bonus that is expected to be $10 million or more.  The cause for the bonus is raising United’s short term profits.  How did Munoz achieve this? By having the airline sell more tickets for flights than they have seats (overbooking) and refusing to pay passengers enough to voluntarily give up their seats.  The core reasons that led to the crisis United is facing.

So what should United do to begin repairing its image?

  1. Announce that it is deferring Munoz’s bonus.  Or even better, have him announce he is rejecting it or donating it to charity.
  2. Announce that it will discontinue overbooking. Yes, the practice is legal and other airlines do it but this practice is now lethal for United.
  3. Munoz needs to do more interviews apologizing not only to Dao but all customers and announce what steps the airline is taking to assure better customer service.
  4. Announce a companywide customer service training program for all employees.
  5. Take out full page advertisements in leading newspapers across the nation apologizing and announcing again the steps the company is doing to improve the customer experience on all flights.

United needs to realize that the damage its reputation has suffered has been severe.  It isn’t fatal but the longer the company takes in moving forward with its crisis recovery program, the worse its reputation will be.

Crisis Management Lessons From United’s Debacle

United Airlines continues to generate bad publicity days after a man was violently dragged off a Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY flight due to the flight being overbooked and room being needed for 4 flight crew.  The entire incident was filmed by other passengers with their smartphones.  The man was bloodied as he was dragged on the floor from his seat.  Compounding the damage was the tone deaf response from the airline, particularly its CEO, Oscar Munoz,  to the incident.  The entire story provides several lessons that business leaders can learn from and apply during a crisis.

  1. The CEO of the company is the public face of the company and his or her words reflect on the entire company. Following the incident and the ensuing media coverage, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement merely apologizing for any inconvenience passengers may have experienced but never addressing the specific incident nor apologizing to the passenger directly.  That statement alone was viewed as insensitive but then Munoz added to the media firestorm by sending a letter to United employees praising them for how they handled the situation and labeling the passenger as belligerent despite video contradicting this accusation.  Munoz’s statements became the public face of United Airlines and has drawn condemnation and ridicule from the media, the public, and Hollywood.  It has angered the Chinese market (the passenger was Chinese) which is United’s key growth market and driven down the airline’s stock by over a billion dollars.    Munoz came across as uncaring in his response and as a result all of United is now perceived that way.
  2. Apologies Matter (and how they are worded even more). What should have been a one day media story has now been spread across several days and counting, due to Munoz’s lack of apology.  If Munoz had offered a strong apology for what happened and condemned the actions, the media would be moving on by now.  Rather by failing to issue a strongly worded apology and blaming the passenger, Munoz has kept the story alive in the media causing more days of bad press for United.  His response has become a bigger story than the original incident and is overshadowing the original report.
  3. Everything can be recorded with a smartphone. Think of any television show (Chicago PD, Law & Order SVU, Chicago Justice, The Catch) where the police make an arrest or rough up a suspect and all of the bystanders are recording it with their phones. This isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood, it happens every day.  Part of the reason this story got the amount of play that it has (besides United’s poor crisis management) is that fellow passengers were able to video the entire incident with their smartphones.  The video images brought to life the episode in a powerful, emotional, and impactful way and created a readymade story for the media.  People often forget anytime an incident happens people begin recording with their smartphones.  Every occurence is now just not reported upon but has video accompanying it due to bystanders recording it.
  4. Social media drives narratives. This point cannot be stated enough.  Social media is driving this story with the hashtag being #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos (#NeedCrisisManagement should be United’s hashtag in this crisis). The result is the traditional media is reporting on the social media outrage.

United Airlines serves as a lesson on what not to do during a crisis.  Hopefully other companies will learn from United’s mistakes.