It cannot be stressed enough that any good public relations strategy should include a crisis communications plan. Too often brands and companies overlook this and when a disaster strikes, they are caught unprepared. One aspect of a crisis communications plan is determining who should be called in and consulted when the crisis hits and a response is needed.
So to paraphrase the movie, Ghostbusters, ‘who are you gonna call’ when a crisis strikes?
- The CEO/President – As Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here”, and that is particularly true during a crisis. The CEO/President is the public face of the company during a crisis. They set the public tone for the organization.
- General Counsel/Organization Attorney – A crisis often involves a legal issue. Any response during the crisis could have legal implications. A lawyer is essential to review and answer these questions.
- Company Communications Officer – This is the internal communications specialist who knows the company’s brand story and values. This person will work to ensure the company response corresponds with them and includes both internal and external audiences.
- Human Resources Officer – A crisis affects an organization’s employees. This person helps make sure that proper information is relayed to employees during the crisis and helps address any misinformation and concerns among employees.
- Social Media Officer – A major mistake many companies make during a crisis is forgetting to have a response on social media and to monitor social media. This person ensures that the social media response is consistent with the traditional media response.
- Outside Public Relations – This is an outside public relations professional who brings an outside and objective perspective to the crisis.
Identifying all the key players that are needed within the organization is essential for a cohesive crisis communications response when disaster strikes. Far too often, organizations waste precious time during a crisis in identifying what personnel are needed for the crisis.
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.
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?
- 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.
- Develop a prepared response in case your businesses is targeted because of its various sponsorships and advertising, and have it ready.
- Engage with activists on social media. Remember, that social media drives narratives not merely on social media but in traditional media as well.
- Remember all of your audiences – internal and external.
- 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.
This Is Us, the drama/comedy on NBC is the breakout hit of this television season. The show centers on the fictional Pearson story and jumps back and forth from the time that Jack and Rebecca Pearson were raising three children in the late 1970s to present day following the three now grown up children. NBC has such faith in the show that it renewed the show for not one but, two more seasons. Brands when developing their brand story can learn from This Is Us on how to develop a strong and compelling brand story that resonates with consumers.
- Stand out from the competition. The whole concept of This Is Us is unlike anything else on television. The concept of jumping back and forth in time with the same family was an unique concept that viewers found compelling and original. In a television landscape that is filled with procedural dramas, sitcoms, and cop shows, This Is Us stands apart. The show is not dark and sinister nor does it tap into any of the polarization and politics that fills the news. It is a feel-good show even if it does cover some of life’s tougher moments. Brands when developing their story need to follow this concept and let their story be unique and compelling that will appeal to their target audience.
- Have compelling spokespersons. Part of the popularity of the show is the appeal of two characters who are spokespersons for the theme of the show. One is the Pearson patriarch, Jack. He is the father that everyone wishes they had and communicates in a simple, effective, yet fun manner. The other is the recurring character of Dr. Nathan Katowsky, popularly known in the show as Dr. K, the replacement doctor who delivers the Pearsons’ children. In every appearance the character gives a quote that resonates with viewers and is tweeted and retweeted over and over again. Like Jack, Dr. K is seen as original and compelling. Brands need to make sure that the person they have telling their story is compelling and one that audiences will relate to when hearing the person speak.
- Keep it simple. This Is Us tackles birth, marriage, child raising, death, illness, family conflict, and much more but it does so in a simple and easy to understand way that the message and enjoyment are not lost. Brands need to remember this when crafting their story message.
- This Is Us creates an emotional connection and reaction from its viewing audience. People report coming to tears when they learned that Jack Pearson, the father, is dead in present day. Others swoon with the romance of the Toby character courting grown up, Kate Pearson. Brands need an emotional connection with their audiences as well. Consumers are not just buying the brand but the brand story and that is why the emotional connection and shared values must be present in the story.
Brands in developing their brand story and communicating with consumers should study This Is Us as it teaches news lessons weekly in communications strategies. And if your current story or strategy isn’t working, it can offer a lesson on how to correct it, for as Dr. K says, “There’s no lemon so sour that you can’t make something resembling lemonade.”
One of the things many people ask about public relations is what is the difference between public relations and advertising. It is a common question that is asked time and time again. Yet the two should not be confused. Here are the differences between advertising and public relations:
- Advertising is paid placement. The company pays for the advertisement that is seen in the print publication, heard on the radio, or appears on television. The public knows that the advertisement is paid for by the company. Public relations on the other hand is free and is earned by being included in a story or interview. It provides an implied third party endorsement of a company’s product or service by the media.
- Message control. With advertising, the company pays for the message, controls what, where and when it will appear. In public relations, there is not the control over the message. The reporter determines what if anything they will report on. If a company knows how to make its message timely and compelling, the chances are that the reporter will cover it.
- Consumer Perception. With paid advertising, the customer knows that the provided the message with the intention of trying to sell them something—be it a service or a product. When someone reads a third-party article written about a company’s service or product (or sees/hears coverage on television or radio), the message is perceived as non-biased and an endorsement by the media.
- An advertisement lasts as long as the company pays for it to run. After that the advertisement disappears. With public relations, the story lasts forever thanks to the internet leaving a viral footprint that is discovered time and again. One client appeared in a newspaper article in 2006 discussing online shopping and that article still appears as a top search engine item for the client. A television appearance can last forever thanks to YouTube, the television outlet’s archives, and also the transcript of the show.
- Point of contact. With advertising a sales representative is the main point contact when fulfilling an advertising campaign. With public relations, the point of contact are reporters, editors, and producers.
- An advertisement will never appear on the front page of a newspaper or be the lead on the nightly news. In public relations, a news story can be on the front page and be the lead story on the nightly news giving a company extra weight in the court of public perception.
Can the difference between advertising and public relations be confusing? Yes. But the key to remember is that both are essential for a successful marketing program.