Category Archives: Communications

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.


Five Communications Lessons From Trump’s Win

Americans elected Donald Trump as President on Tuesday.  It was the political upset heard around the world as every poll and pundit had predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.  Without a doubt it was our version of the famous Harry Truman upset over Thomas Dewey in 1948.  Even more so for business communicators Trump’s strategy provides some lessons on how to effectively communicate.

So what were the lessons?

  1. Have a message.  Whether you liked Donald Trump’s message regarding immigration, the Affordable Care Act, or banning Muslims, he had a message and stayed on those major points throughout the campaign.  People knew where he stood on issues and by his consistency of message appeared to be a strong leader at a time when America was looking for a strong leader.  Clinton on the other hand seemed bland with her statements which seemed as if they had all been focused group tested before she made them.  A clear message will win every time.
  2. How you say it matters. Trump had an almost uncanny sense of what voters wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it.  He realized more than what he said, how he said it to voters mattered.
  3. Social media is effective. Trump was mocked for his late night tweets on Twitter.  Yet he understood the power of social media far better than anyone else.  It wasn’t by accident that he has more followers on Twitter than President Obama has.  He understood that social media provided a cost-efficient way to reach voters and engage them.
  4. Be true to your brand. Trump was attacked time and again for his over the top statements and being politically incorrect.  Yet that was his brand that he had developed over the years through Celebrity Apprentice, media interviews, and business deals.  He was being consistent with that brand identity and that is why he was not hurt with his statements.  Clinton on the other hand seemed to be rebranding herself throughout the campaign, leaving voters to wonder who was the real Hillary.
  5. Know your audience. Trump knew throughout the campaign who he was trying to reach – the Silent Majority as Richard Nixon called them or the Reagan Democrats as they were rebranded – and tailored his statements and appeal to that audience.  Clinton on the other hand never seemed to know who she was trying to reach.  Was it the Obama coalition?  Disgruntled Republicans?  Undecided independents?  And at the end that was fatal as her vote totals among core Democratic constituencies was far lower than that of previous Democratic candidates.

The 2016 election will be studied for years.  Donald Trump will become the modern day version of Harry Truman with Hillary Clinton as the Thomas Dewey foil.  Yet for communicators, the key is learning and incorporating the successful communications strategies from the election.

What Businesses Can Learn From This Year’s Political Conventions – Social Media Is King

The 2016 political conventions are upon us. Unlike political conventions of the past, the suspense is gone on who will be the nominee and no intense battles over party platforms are fought out at the conventions. The political convention in this day and age is in many ways an infomercial for the presidential nominee and their political party. Yet millions of Americans still tune into the convention. Yet the way they tune in to obtain coverage is one studied intensely by businesses so that they can copy the methods to reach the consumer.

Political communications leads businesses in new ways to reach consumers and position their brands. In 1920 and 1924, radio came of age covering the Republican and Democratic conventions. Businesses paid note of that and the increasing number of Americans who owned a radio. The result was that businesses began reaching out to Americans via radio – sponsored shows like Little Orphan Annie(the forerunner of product placements) and direct advertisements. In 1952, as Dwight Eisenhower and Robert A. Taft battled it out for control of the Republican Party, millions were glued to the convention proceedings on television that was just reaching its potential. Again businesses took note that a new way to reach consumers had emerged.

So what can businesses learn from this year’s political conventions?

Social media is king. The television networks have all cut back on their coverage of the conventions (a trend that has been going on for a while now with all of the suspense gone). Americans are paying attention to the conventions not with traditional sources of media (radio, television, or print) but via social media – Twitter and Facebook. This confirms something we have seen over the past several years – social media sets narratives. In fact a tweet or Facebook post often reaches more people than a television broadcast of the proceedings. Beyond that, people react to what they are seeing on social media. The takeaway from this convention season for businesses – social media is only growing stronger as are the ways to use it. A shrewd business leaders will copy what they are seeing at the conventions and use the methods.

Business always follows politics in terms of how to reach consumers. It has been this way since politics became the competitive and partisan profession it is today. Each election cycle offers business leaders lessons on new ways to reach the consumer and make their brand standout. The next two weeks will provide many examples of this – just stay tuned.

CEOs – Pay Attention To These Lessons From Donald Trump

Businessman and reality television star, Donald Trump appears to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. This became all but official with the exit of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican presidential race following a devastating defeat in Indiana. Love Trump or hate him, he has shown on the stump some valuable public relations lessons that CEOs would be wise to copy. Trump demonstrated:

  1. Consumers will buy a brand that is consistent with its brand story.
  2. The power of social media.
  3. Stay on message no matter what.

When Trump entered the Republican race for president few took him seriously. There was much speculation that he was running as a publicity ploy and would not actually qualify. If he did run, experts stated he would need to refashion himself from the politically incorrect, Donald Trump that everyone knew from the tabloids and Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he did the complete opposite. He doubled down on his politically incorrect brand with his feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. Corporate sponsors of Trump’s bailed in the wake of the controversy. Yet Republican voters loved it and catapulted him into the lead and eventually crowned him as the nominee. Contrast this with Hillary Clinton who has reinvented herself several times this campaign cycle and has yet to secure the Democratic nomination against Bernie Sanders and has created greater doubts among voters about what she believes. Being consistent to one’s brand is essential for success. Consumers buy into a brand’s story and Trump understood that. Business leaders need to remember that.

Everyone knows that social media has changed our world. Large numbers of consumers report getting their news from what they read on social media compared to traditional news. Trump understood that. He understood the power of utilizing Twitter to reach voters over the heads of traditional media. One tweet from Trump received more media coverage than television commercials combined of his top rivals. Beyond that, Trump utilized a way to connect with voters over the heads of the media and not through traditional advertising but rather via social media. This created a greater sense of loyalty and feeling of ownership with Trump by voters. Business leaders need to understand the power of social media that Trump demonstrated and harness it to reach their consumers and rely on it more than just traditional advertising.

Finally, Trump understood an age old communication lesson, keep your message to just several points and keep referring to it over and over again no matter what happens or what you are asked. Throughout the campaign, Trump has been consistent with his message to the exasperation of his rivals and the news media. In debates and interviews regardless of what was asked he referred to his main message points while his rivals were thrown off message consistently. Business leaders should remember stay on message regardless of what is asked and always make any question fall back to your main message points.

Donald Trump has reshaped politics in 2016 without a doubt. But he has also taught some valuable communication strategies that CEOs and business owners should study and utilize.

Planned Parenthood in Crisis Mode

Planned Parenthood is in a crisis mode and attempting to launch a public relations counterattack after an undercover video surfaced that seems to indicate that the organization sells fetal tissue from abortions to researchers for a profit. Such action if true would be illegal.

The video was released by the Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday. It shows two undercover CMP activists posing as employees from a biotech company having lunch with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, and discussing about which body parts are in demand. In the video, Nucatola is seen and heard discussing Planned Parenthood’s policy of donating fetal tissue to researchers. The activists ask Nucatola whether clinics charge for the organs, which she skirts around.

The language is graphic. “Yesterday was the first time she said people wanted lungs,” Nucatola says. “Some people want lower extremities, too, which, that’s simple. That’s easy. I don’t know what they’re doing with it, I guess if they want muscle.”

Nucatola discusses how they are able to get other organs without “crushing” them. “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”

Conservative politicians rushed to condemn Planned Parenthood and demand a cutoff of federal funding and investigations into the organization. But even some in the medical and research community expressed deep reservations about Planned Parenthood and Nucatola. Planned Parenthood is denying it sells organs for profits and is attacking the Center for Medical Progress.

This whole lessons for those in public relations.

  1. In this day and age of smartphones nothing is ever off the record. Someone may be recording a client without the client knowing it and it that tape may appear on social media or in the media. In addition to Planned Parenthood, think Mitt Romney and Donald Sterling.
  2. Various issue advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle are sending undercover members to businesses and associations hoping to catch executives saying something embarrassing or awkward. This trend will continue.
  3. Social media and non-traditional news sites are becoming dumping grounds for stories that once they go viral, the traditional media picks up and reports with a vengeance since they felt they have been scooped and must make up for that lapse.
  4. A good defense is not always a good offense. Planned Parenthood’s response to this video has been more to attack the Center for Medical Progress and conservatives who are criticizing the group rather then to provide a detailed rebuttal and provide Nucatola to the media for questioning. The organization seems to be sidestepping the major issue raised in the video that is leading even supporters of abortion to question it.
  5. Emotional issues such as abortion need to be dealt with sensitivity. Planned Parenthood in its response has come across angry which doesn’t sit well with many people even some of its supporters. A more nuanced response addressing concerns people might have would have served the organization much better.

Social media, bloggers, and citizen activists drive the news in this 24/7 news cycle. Brands and organizations need to realize that and that they may be a target of this and the old rules of journalism don’t apply with these people. Failing to realize that may put you in the same boat Planned Parenthood is in currently.

Midterm Communications Strategies

The midterm elections are history. Republicans retook the United States Senate for the first time since 2006. In the United States House of Representatives they increased their majority to the largest since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The Republican campaign theme was one of opposition to President Obama and his policies and voters responded with one of the greatest repudiations of a sitting President’s party since Harry Truman in 1946.

A negative communications strategy of opposition to President Obama gave the Republicans their victory. But now that they have won, how must their communication strategy change if they hope to maintain and even expand their majorities?

  1. Republicans must change their communication strategy from one of simply being opposed to Barack Obama to one that offers positive conservative alternatives. The Republicans need to show voters what they are for and what they believe in. To be successful, Republicans need to communicate their ideas that they believe will solve the nation’s problems in a way different then politics as usual. They need to show a vision. In short, they need to take a leaf out of their icon, Ronald Reagan’s playbook.
  2. The Republicans need to communicate that they are willing to work with President Obama as a partner if he is willing to reach across the aisle to them. Many voters have complained about the lack of willingness of each side to try to come together to offer concrete solutions. By making that statement, Republicans would seize the high ground in terms of a communication strategy.
  3. Use effective spokespersons. Republicans have suffered lately because many of their spokespersons have come across as grumpy old white men. With a large number of female legislators such as Mia Love and Joni Ernst, and an African-American Senator in South Carolina’s Tim Scott, Republican leaders should put these leaders at the forefront in communicating the Republican message and showing minorities that their party is an inclusive party.
  4. Communicate their opposition to President Obama in positive terms. Many voters agree with the Republican message of opposition to President Obama. The voters don’t like it conveyed in harsh and biting rhetoric. Republicans need to frame their opposition in positive ways, keep it from being personal, and let voters know how their opposition to President Obama will benefit voters.
  5. Keep the message on results. One of the great failings Republicans in the House of Representatives have had is in communicating what they have accomplished. This failure has led many to dub the outgoing Congress, a do-nothing Congress and register some of the lowest approval numbers ever. The challenge for Republicans is to communicate to voters what they are achieving.

Republicans won a historic landslide with a communication strategy of negative attacks. As they now seek to maintain and increase their majority, they must change communication strategies or their majority will be short lived.

Communication Lessons Business Leaders can Learn From History


Business leaders need to be strong communicators.  Today’s consumer and media expect the CEO, President, or Chairman of the Board of a company to be the company’s spokesperson.  Businesses have several audiences – the public, employees, the media, and often investors.  Being able to communicate to these audiences can be a challenge.  Yet there are some lessons from key leaders that today’s business leaders can draw upon.

  1. Be yourself. Often business leaders seem tense or rehearsed when speaking to the media or attempting to reassure investors and consumers.  Employees often say CEOs appear stiff and not natural when speaking to them.  That is because they often feel that they have to act a certain role and not just be themselves.  They should copy Margaret Thatcher who believed that being yourself was essential to good communications.  In the 1970s and 1980s, British politicians spent more time in thinking about how to speak to their political base rather than the nation as a whole.  Thatcher was the exception.  She said she knew who she was and would not change who she was or what she was saying, what was good to say in London was the same to say in Birmingham, she claimed. We all know the how well that worked for the Iron Lady.
  2. Use anecdotes. One of the largest complaints that many have about business leaders as communicators is that they speak in a language that many can’t relate too.  Consumers complain that it’s all about stock prices and bottom lines.  Those are important but so is talking in terms that people can relate to – be it a consumer or employee.  The mastery of Abraham Lincoln was in the use of anecdotes that his audiences could relate to and that reinforced his central points.
  3. Brevity can command more attention. A major mistake with many corporate leaders is they often go on with their presentations and interviews when less would be better.  Calvin Coolidge isn’t noted for being a great communicator.  His claim to fame is for being ‘Silent Cal’, the president who barely spoke and when he did was brief in his remarks.  Yet Coolidge commanded widespread attention when he did speak and got a greater response than Presidents who in the past had spoken for hours on end often losing their audiences.  Likewise, Lincoln, one of the greatest communicators realized brevity often conveyed meaning far greater than a 2 hour speech.  His masterful Gettysburg Address was less than 3 minutes but still echoes.
  4. Have no more than 3 major points that you are trying to communicate. Very often business leaders are attempting to get numerous points across in a speech or interview and the result is the audience can’t remember what the key points of the message were.  Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan are all considered some of the greatest communicators to serve as President in the twentieth century and believed you should never have more than three major points to convey in a speech or interview.  All three practiced that on the campaign trail and then in the Oval Office.  Business leaders should focus on no more than three major points in presentations.
  5. Be able to poke fun at yourself. Business leaders often find themselves criticized to their face during media interviews or have an embarrassing prediction brought up.  Too often the business leader becomes defensive or angry.  That is the wrong impression to give.  Be able to laugh at yourself and poke fun at yourself.  People respond to that human quality.  It was part of the success for such diverse personalities as Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Lincoln.  The absence of it was why a Carter and Nixon failed in communications.

Successful communications is essential in business.  Taking a page out of successful communications strategies of leaders should be a no-brainer for corporate communications.

CEOs Under Attack? A Lesson in Corporate Communications from GM & Apple

First it was Matt Lauer on The Today Show asking General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra if she could handle being a mother and CEO and was she selected as the CEO of General Motors because the company wanted a “maternal presence”. Next it was Apple’s Tim Cook on CNBC, being publicly outed as a gay man. The social media response towards the media was that of outrage and disgust with these incidents. Yet in both incidents the media stood by the interviews.

Why is this? What should corporate communicators learn by this and put into practice in response?

The first question is easy to answer. Despite strides made by women and minorities, the corporate boardroom is still largely dominated by white men whose ages range from the 50s to the 60s. The corporate mindset is to not shake things up and interviews are about the company not about the CEO’s personal life. Likewise despite the transformation in America regarding the LGBT community, the corporate boardroom remains largely untouched in this category. Yet this is changing, as is the concept that a CEO’s personal life is largely not part of a company’s story.

This is no longer true. Consumers are buying the story of a brand and also that of the storyteller – the CEO. Consumers expect not only to know the brand message but also the story of the CEO, President, or Chairman of the Board who communicates the brand message. This means all aspects of a CEO’s life is subject to media scrutiny. Additionally, as this happens those who do not fit the corporate stereotype of old will find they are under greater media interrogation.

Is this fair? No. But it is the nature of our society, with a far more intrusive media operating, 24/7, social media, and citizen journalists with blogs.

Corporate communicators need to understand this changing dynamic and help affect a change in the corporate culture of companies. Corporations need to recognize that society has changed. The fact that a woman can be both a CEO and mother is no different than a male being both a CEO and father. Indeed, in this post recession society, many mothers are now the primary wage winner and the father is the stay at home parent. Corporations need to reflect and understand this dynamic. As they do, the media questions will begin to change. But for this to happen, the companies must reflect in their leadership and their culture the changes that are occurring in society.

Executives need to know that their lives will be examined under a microscope. The best thing to do is address personal issues proactively. Cook’s sexual preference should never have been outed on a national interview but the better course would have been for Cook to address this long before this, very much as football player, Michael Sam addressed his sexuality. Sexuality will continue to attract curiosity until corporate cultures reflect the changes we see in society. For this to happen, corporate communications must work in tandem with the executive leadership in conveying the message and new culture.

Yes, Mary Barra and Tim Cook seemed under attack this past week. Not because of anything they had done as CEOs but rather because they don’t resemble the CEOs of old, just as America doesn’t reflect the nation it was in the 1990s. For others who will resemble Cook and Barra, following in their footsteps, the challenge must be to communicate to the media and consumers that it’s a new culture in the boardroom.