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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
- Announce that it is deferring Munoz’s bonus. Or even better, have him announce he is rejecting it or donating it to charity.
- Announce that it will discontinue overbooking. Yes, the practice is legal and other airlines do it but this practice is now lethal for United.
- 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.
- Announce a companywide customer service training program for all employees.
- 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.
Social media drives narratives. That cannot be said enough. Social media can also create a crisis where none existed. Many brands are finding this out firsthand in the current politically charged and polarized environment.
Today’s consumers expect brands to tell a story and share their values including their political values. Many brands have for years avoided taking stands on political issues and politicians as they knew such a stand would antagonize some consumers and cost them sales. Yet more and more brands are finding that they can’t sidestep political issues. Consumers are taking to social media demanding to know where a brand stands on an issue or political personality. We have seen this just recently with consumers taking to social media to demand of brands where do they stand on FOX News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and stories of sexual harassment. This social media outrage has led numerous advertisers to pull their advertising from his show.
Very often brands are caught unprepared for the social media outrage that creates a crisis for them. They need to be proactive, especially in this socially media driven world where a tweet on Twitter can be more powerful than the best devised public relations campaign and lead to numerous negative media stories.
What should companies do?
- Identify potential issues that consumers care about and might demand to know where the brand stands on the issue.
- Identify potential activists, antagonists, supporters, and media that would be involved in such a media crisis.
- Practice stimulations of a potential social media crisis driven by the brand’s stand on a particular issue.
- Respond at once when the crisis erupts.
- Engage on social media. Remember brands are all about engaging consumers on social media about various positive news items. But too often, they fail to do that when a crisis hits. That is a mistake.
A crisis can happen at any time. In today’s polarized world social media often both creates and defines a crisis. To survive such a crisis, a brand must be ready.