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When “It Hits the Fan: Effective Communications for Critical Times

By Gerard Braud

The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.

Williams ExplosionThe reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.

This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.

Williams FB pageWithin minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.

When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.

Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.

But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.

What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?

Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.

Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.

(Get a free sample and use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN)

Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.

Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.

The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.

Media Training 16: Practice, even if you only have 5 minutes

By, Gerard Braud

www.braudcommunications.com

In our last lesson we talked about how to structure a media training class and how I always tell the executives I train that they must practice before every interview, even if they only have 5 minutes.  I’d like to expand on that and explain why this is so important.

I was training an executive who is the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. As I often do, I asked to see some video tape of his previous interviews so I could know more about the person I was training and his natural strengths and weaknesses.

A video tape arrived at my office, featuring the CEO conducting a news conference at a major trade show for his industry.  It was downright painful to watch. This executive was rambling extensively. There was little or no emotion in his voice. He seemed to be reading a long laundry list of accomplishments and corporate goals. For all practical purpose, the news conference had no focus.

At the start of our training session I pulled out the video tape and suggested we watch it.

“Oh you don’t want to watch that,” he said. “I was terrible in that. Trust me… I did that presentation 3 times that day. The third time I was great.”

So I asked him to break down who was in the audience for each of the 3 presentations. As it turns out the first time he did it, the audience was composed of stock analysts. The second news conference was held for mainstream media. The third news conference was held for trade publications.

As he explained who his audiences were, he quickly realized that his worst performance was for his most critical audience. He failed to perform at his best for stock analysts who can potentially have the greatest positive or negative impact on his company. If you think back to lesson 2 you’ll remember my admonition – If you could attach a dollar to every word that you say, would you make money or lose money.

I asked if he practiced the news conference at all on the day before. He told me no, because he didn’t have time. I then pointed out to him that if he had practiced 3 times the day before, his would have done a great job in front of his most financially critical audience.

Practice makes perfect and even if you have only a few minutes before heading out to talk to the media, you need to practice and role play with a colleague or coach.

What we want to say, what we think we’re going to say and what actually comes out of our mouths when we start talking are all very different.

A “back stage” practice changes all of that. It only requires someone to ask you a few questions, starting with the very basics. You really want to make sure you can nail your opening lines and command the audience’s attention. You want to make sure you can eliminate any of the stutters, stumbles and misspeaks that often happen in the first sentence.

I find that if a spokesperson can have 2 good practice sessions, their third time – which is the real event – will go smoothly.

Obviously, in an ideal world I would like to see the spokesperson practice for more than just 5 minutes, but 5 minutes is better than nothing.

So often, spokespeople fail to spend any time in preparation, especially if it is a good news story. As often happens, they attempt to “wing it.” As a result, their good news story may get little or no coverage because they failed to deliver a great opening statement and then failed to really clearly state their key messages in great quotes. Generally, the spokesperson who does not practice in advance will have a monotone delivery and like my CEO friend, will stand at the podium and offer a long laundry list will very little focus

The bottom line is, you need to always carve out time to practice, because what you say will affect your organization’s bottom line.

In our next lesson, we’ll take a closer look at good news stories and how you can get the media to say Wow!

Ebola Crisis Communications, Finding God, and Your Leadership Team

findinggodExecutives and crisis communications enthusiasts remind me of criminals who find God 15 minutes after then enter prison, then forget God 15 minutes after they are back on the street. Here’s why…

True story from this week: The president of an institution wants crisis communications help now! Why? Because a crisis is at their door, related to an Ebola rumor. At this point, it doesn’t matter what it costs, because their reputation and revenue are on the line. Their dark day has arrived.

A public relations person invited her leadership and executive team to join her for one of my recent Ebola crisis communications webinars. She sent an e-mail to me after the webinar to say her management team is on board and ready to implement all of the crisis communication strategies I suggested. They have seen the light. Amen.

Then 24 hours past and their budding crisis disappeared. All bets are off. The leaders are not ready to spend a dime. They are not ready to do any preparation to ward off the next crisis.

This disturbs me less than it used to because I see it every day in my line of work. But it still disturbs me. I always try to have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Most people have no plan and pray for miracles when the crisis hits. Most executives expect their PR team to rise to the occasion on a moments notice. Most executives are in denial about the need to have a plan and practice that plan on a clear sunny day, so they are prepared on their darkest day.

Like a criminal who finds God in their crisis, then forgets God when the crisis is over, many executives are ready to do what it takes when the crisis is at their door. However, they have short memories about the reputation and revenue damage that awaits them any minute when the next crisis arises and they are unprepared.

Have you seen this where you work?

I’d love to hear how you deal with it.

By Gerard Braud

Ebola Crisis Communications Lesson: Ask for Help

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudOf all the Power Point presentations by his leadership team members, the CEO only stood and applauded the vice president who showed he was having difficulties in his division, when the other vice presidents showed rainbows and green lights. The company was millions in debt with falling sales and the CEO knew that everyone who painted a rosy picture was either a liar or delusional. The one who asked for help was the star.

A colleague shared this story supporting my premise in yesterday’s Ebola communication considerations blog. In the blog I suggested that public relations, marketing, media relations and crisis communication professionals will not be fired if they ask for help. Instead, your CEO and leadership team will respect you for telling the truth and knowing that your truth may save the reputation and revenue of your organization.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braudThe field of communications is misunderstood, even by the C-Suite. Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. They expect publicity. Often the CEO will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Sadly, many with MBAs don’t really understand the differences either.

Even in public relations, many do not realize how difficult it is to be a crisis communication expert. The expert is the one who prepares on a clear sunny day for what might happen on your darkest day. At the university level, most public relations classes touch on crisis communication as an evaluation of how well you manage the media after a crisis erupts. That is outdated and flawed. Preparation = professionalism.

Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge and expertise rather than asking for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue.

Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue.

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Ask for help.

If you’d like some FREE help, join me on Friday, October 17, 2014 for a free webinar that explores what you need to do today to prepare for your possible Ebola communications tomorrow. Register here.

 

— By Gerard Braud

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning

EBOLA webinar Gerard Braud

Register Here

Is it too soon to talk about your Ebola crisis communications strategies and plan? A New York based public relations professional asked me that question today. I responded by saying, “Why wait? One week ago no one in Dallas gave Ebola crisis communications a second thought. Today, at lease 14 businesses and government entities have to send spokespeople out to talk to the media about their portion of the Ebola crisis.”

I say start getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now. Your Ebola crisis can crop up without warning. Your crisis could result not only from an actual Ebola case, but from the hysteria of false information about a case.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud

Register Here

You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be the public relations or crisis management professional for a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. NOW is the time to realize that it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your organization for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with will be treated like a 19th century leaper – no one will want to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, the patient’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means thirteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven woefully inadequate. In no way do they meet the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

Click image to watch video

Could you suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations will say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? Likely financial ruin.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you own a company? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert for a company?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth our time and effort,” is what the vast majority of organizations will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

Gerard Braud

Crisis Communication Leadership: Power of a Resignation

It is always a good thing in crisis management when the person at the top says, “The buck stops here,” and they are willing to resign because a significant crisis happened under their watch.

Listen to my opinion with Radio Host Kate Delaney:

 

This does 2 things. From a public relations and crisis communications standpoint it:

1) Sends a strong signal that someone is being held responsible

2) It communicates that change is coming

Julia Pierson, a 31 year secret service veteran resigned as head of the President’s protection agency as a result of an increasing number of secret service failures.

A true leader demonstrates good character by stepping down when they are unable to manage a crisisJulia Pierson and when the crisis gets worse. Some of the scandals and shortcomings happened before Pierson took the job. But she was also appointed to clean up the agency last year after the Cartagena, Colombia prostitute scandal in 2012.

Before she could even start to clean up the previous scandal, three secret service agents responsible for protecting the President in Amsterdam were sent home for being drunk. One was reportedly passed out in the hallway of their hotel. Pierson, as leader, put the agents on administrative leave.

But when Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence and got inside the White House, it became clear that too many problems were happening too fast. At the same time a story broke about a November 11, 2011 incident in which a man parked his car on a street near the White House and reportedly fired a semiautomatic rifle multiple times, hitting the building.

Too many security lapses means somebody needs to take the heat for the ongoing crises.

I’ve written many blogs in the past few weeks about the NFL scandals and the need for Roger Goodell to demonstrate he has leadership by admitting his repeated failings and stepping aside. Julia Pierson is a leadership role model for crisis communications and crisis management. Goodell would be well served to learn from her example.

When a crisis strikes where you work, a good leader makes the crisis go away and communicates what happened and what changes are on the horizon. Often your job in public relations is to be the one to support the leader and guide them to make the right decisions.

By Gerard Braud

Ethics and Honesty in a Crisis

Ethics gerard braudConspiracy to hide the truth is not an effective form of crisis management. Telling a lie is not an effective form of crisis communications.

When those who should be leaders all decide that telling the truth could be harmful to an institution, and hide it, you can bet their bad ethics will catch up with them eventually.

Those with good ethics in the room will often argue their point, yet eventually be dismissed by those in favor of a colorful cover up of the facts.

The men and women who have a strong conscience and need to tell the truth, will disclose to others their dissatisfaction with the final decision. In time, their conscience weighs on them and they leak the truth. Often, in a high profile crisis like the NFL is facing, someone will leak the truth to a reporter. Sometimes it happens in an official media interview. Sometimes it happens in a tip.

It appeared ESPN was on the path to learning the truth about what Roger Goodell and the Ravens knew about the Ray Rice video. Don Van Natta, Jr. of Outside the Lines and ESPN spent 11 days interviewing 20 sources of team officials, current and former league officials, players and friends of Ray Rice. ESPN reported a pattern of misinformation and misdirection by the Ravens and the NFL.

The Ravens issued a rebuttal statement.

I’m waiting to see who is telling the truth.

When you get called in to offer expert advice in a crisis to those in leadership positions, please stand by your ethics. Stand up… and be willing to walk out and walk away from your job when you see a failure of ethics.

By Gerard Braud

Corporate Whitewashing

NFLbreastcancerawarenessBy Gerard Braud

The NFL now has two strikes against it for throwing money at advocacy groups and causes as a way to make it appear they care about an issue. Is this corporate whitewashing?

It wasn’t until concussion issues became part of a high-profile lawsuit that the NFL began donating money to groups who could research concussions. They knew about concussions for a long time, but really did nothing about eliminating the risk.

It wasn’t until Ray Rice’s video of him punching his fiancé became public that the NFL began donating money to groups who advocate against domestic violence. They didn’t do it when other players were accused of domestic violence and they didn’t do it six months ago when the Rice case first emerged.

The only thing the NFL has freely donated to without it tied to a scandal is their October breast cancer awareness campaign. Although my cynical mind says this was done primarily as a way to embrace the highly lucrative female audience around the same time the NFL launched its apparel lines for females.

When I was a journalist covering GreenPeace campaigns, they used the term Greenwashing. Greenwashing was characterized as a company with a history of pollution contributing to an environmental cause, even though the pollution continued unabated. The cynical mind of GreenPeace didn’t hesitate to call out the diversion.

Is the NFL, in an attempt to divert attention from their crisis, guilty of whitewashing?

The rules of crisis management and crisis communications are the same as the rules of trust: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

It appears the NFL has two strikes clearly against them.

Smoke, Mirrors and Diversion Do Not Work as a Crisis Communications or Crisis Management Strategy

Braudcast Sept 18 NFL

Click image to watch

By Gerard Braud

The NFL has appointed a panel of women to advise them on domestic abuse. Is this a viable crisis management strategy? Is it a viable crisis communication or crisis management strategy?

Actually, it has made the crisis worse because it kicks the decision can down the road. It has also drawn criticism because three of the four panelists are white and one is black, while in the NFL, the majority of players are black.

My observation is that this is a weak attempt by Roger Goodell to appear he has taken action, when in fact, his inaction from the onset of the Ray Rice crisis has cost a bevy of other aspects of the crisis.  He has caused more players being placed under scrutiny, more teams being forced to make very public decisions, and sponsors pulling out of the NFL.

The fans are smart enough to know this is not a solution to the ongoing crisis. If only the NFL leadership were as smart as their fans.

Failed Crisis Management Leadership Hits Multiple NFL Players and Teams

Braudcast Sept 18 NFLBy Gerard Braud

The NFL crisis gets bigger in the absence of crisis management, crisis communications and good executive leadership.

Adrian Peterson and a string of other players and teams are being swept up in the crisis because as the appointed leader of the NFL, Roger Goodell failed to make the right decisions at the beginning of the Ray Rice crisis.

With each passing day, Goodell’s failure to communicate makes the crisis worse.

Expert crisis management and crisis communications involves having a plan of action that fully addresses the potential damage to an institution’s reputation and revenue. The slower an institution is to respond, the more the crisis spreads and the more damage to reputation and revenue.

What about where you work? Do your leaders have a crisis management and crisis communications plan? Do the people with the high titles possess true leadership qualities, especially in a crisis?

Most institutions fail to have a plan that would truly serve their needs in a crisis. Many have a few sheets of paper in a binder that states some standard operating procedures. These are comfort plans – they make people feel good because the word crisis plan is on a piece of paper. But experience shows that most institutions fail to write the type of deep crisis communications plan needed to handle every type of crisis they may face.

Most institutions fail to consider both emergency type crises as well as the smoldering ethical issues within the organization.

Many executives are in denial early in a crisis and throughout the crisis, as they hope and pray it will go away. Hope is not a crisis communications strategy. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that your actions during a crisis can be guided by a crisis communications plan so you can eliminate the need for prayer.

The reality is, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets.

Eventually reputation and revenue are damaged significantly enough that someone at the top gets fired.

Because Goodell has been weak, the crisis has spread to other teams and players, causing sponsors to pull out or threaten to pull out.

My prediction is the NFL owners will soon be calling for Goodell to resign.

In yesterday’s blog and in radio interviews with America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio, my suggestion to Goodell is that he suspend himself for one year. You can read more from my previous entry.

Adrian PetersonWill this kind of failure to lead in a crisis happen someday where you work? It doesn’t have to if you prepare for it with a crisis communications plan and conduct regular drills that role-play various types of crises, especially those that deal with hard moral and ethical decisions.

Good crisis communications and crisis management should never be based on spontaneous decisions and strategies in the midst of your crisis. Good crisis communications and crisis management is derived from writing strong plans on a clear sunny day.