Crisis Communications for Rural Electric Cooperative Boards and Directors

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

Click image to watch video

Click image to watch video

Rural electric cooperatives are facing a crisis. Distrust of co-op boards and directors is increasing. Negative news stories and protests across the country are on the rise.

Will this affect you? Should you be concerned?

You may be doing everything perfectly, legally, and ethically – but you could still face a crisis caused by distrust and guilt by association. Your members may question board members at public events or at the co-op’s annual meeting. Angry members may launch a negative Facebook campaign and they may sow the seeds of doubt with your local media, who will then launch an investigation.

What should you do?

Watch this video to learn more about the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications.

You can also learn more about best practices in public relations and crisis communications by using this link to get access to a special 5-part video series on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications.

To see what other cooperatives are experiencing, use the links below. Accusations involve allegations of excessive per diem and compensation as outlined on your co-op’s Form 990 that you submit to the IRS. Regulators and protesters are asserting that directors are “spending too much money attending conferences in fancy hotels while eating steak dinners.” This may not actually be true for you and your board of directors, but that will not stop inquiries and protests. CEOs & general managers are losing their jobs. Board members and directors are being voted out.

I spent 15 years as a television reporter and reported on electric cooperatives. For the past 20 years I’ve worked with electric cooperatives across America helping them communicate more effectively and navigate difficult situations. I’d be honored to help you as well.

For immediate help, phone me at 985-624-9976 or send an email to Gerard@BraudCommunications.com

Problems at a Cooperative in Georgia

https://www.wctv.tv/content/news/Members-protest-Grady-EMC-489803831.html

https://www.wctv.tv/content/news/Grady-EMC-president-and-CEO-resigns-490804991.html

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2064746816871622&id=1080800375266276&__tn__=K-R

Accusations by the Louisiana Public Service Commission

https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_8cb89832-bc26-11e8-94f5-bb915b06722b.html

Bold steps taken by one Louisiana Cooperative

https://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2018/09/21/claiborne-electric-makes-changes-after-campbell-questions-costs/1381988002/

Problems in Oklahoma

Video being shown to various community groups at community meetings:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q6FTR1fYXQ

Article from Oklahoma where wrongdoing was involved

https://newsok.com/article/5557107/former-regent-sentenced-in-corporate-fraud-

Problems in South Carolina

https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article216222990.html

Potential problems in Alabama

http://www.alcse.org/

This group has made posts on Twitter and Facebook about Joe Wheeler’s board pay and the replacement of a deceased board member with his wife.

An example of an opposition group called “We Own It.”

https://weown.it/content/founder-message

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

3 Lessons the Melania Trump Coat Can Teach All Public Relations People

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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In Defense of Social Media

InstagramBy Greg Davis –

[Editors Note from Gerard Braud – Today we have a guest blog from Greg Davis of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative. Greg wrote this as a follow up to my March 5, 2015 blog about utility companies avoiding a crisis by communicating with customers who take their complaints about high electric bills to Facebook. Thank you Greg.]

For electric cooperatives, consumer engagement remains critical to continued success. Social media allows you to be involved with members on a personal level. Many people view smartphones and other mobile devices as an extension of themselves. They’re connected—and they expect you to be connected, too.

To toss up a social media presence without proper management or trained communications people to guide content is a recipe for disaster; however choosing to avoid social media can prove to be as catastrophic.

The need for electric utility social media presence is best demonstrated during Crisis communication. Social media allows for fast, fact driven, controlled communication. During a major outage the worst thing a utility company can do is not provide regular up to date information with customers. Getting information from traditional media outlets alone is no longer acceptable.

facebook-like-buttonWhen customers see that they are one of thousands currently without power or can see pictures of miles of downed poles and lines that information can greatly influence their expectations for restoration. It can also greatly influence traditional media expectations.  Social media communication during prolonged outages has also been proven successful in deflecting inquiries to the call center and helping improve call center response time. Social media outage information gets shared by other organizations, the media and individuals, all helping your information reach a greater number of people in a timely fashion.

Not to be forgotten are the marketing opportunities, corporate branding and general community outreach.

The social media conversation will take place with or without you. “Doing nothing” has never been the answer to managing your brand. Being actively involved puts you in the conversation. It lets you tell your story with facts and better control of the message.

No matter what you do you will never create 100% customer satisfaction. Someone will make a negative comment on one of your channels. Some negative comments turn out to be a positive, offering the chance to transform an angry customer into a brand ambassador. More often than not your engaged fans will defend you if someone is bashing without a reason. If you opt not to establish a social media presence, your members can still post unflattering things about you online. What’s the advantage of providing a place for your members to talk about you online? It puts you in the conversation. They will establish a reputation for you even if you aren’t out there to share the facts. Your story will be told even if you “do nothing.”

Cold Facts About High Bills: Crisis Communications Tips for Angry Customers

electric cooperative high bills gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Today’s crisis communications tip looks at what happens when angry customers take to Facebook to complain about your company. Complaints on your Facebook page or complaints on a Facebook group page built for and by the complainers is creating public relations problems for companies.

All of us can learn from this perfect crisis communication lesson — It can be found at every utility company, where customers who are angry about their high winter bills and are venting their frustration and anger on Facebook.

Many utility companies do exactly what they should not do: They do nothing.

The men and women in leadership positions at both investor owned electric companies and rural electric cooperative companies have spent decades practicing the art of hope, as in, “I hope this just goes away.”

Hope is not a crisis communications strategy, especially in the age of social media.

However, engaging with these angry customers on Facebook can be problematic because social media is filled with traps.

Trap 1: If you comment on a post that is either positive or negative, it can lead to an exponentially high number of negative responses.

Trap 2: If you comment on any Facebook posts, it sends it to the top on everyone’s news feed.

What do you do?

Solution One: Fix the problem and/or make the anger and hostility go away. The reality is there will never be a refund for electricity used. And chances are, the customer has forgotten that their bill was likely this high during the coldest month of the year 12 months ago and just as high during the hottest month of the year six months ago. But they would rather blame their electric winter storm cleoncompany than to take personal responsibility.

The solution is to manage the expectations of the customer by eliminating the peaks and valleys in their bill by offering an option to have what many companies call bill averaging or bill levelization. It means the customer will see nearly the same amount on their bill every month. Often, it will reduce this month’s $400 bill to an easier to pay $250 bill, which makes the customer happier.

Solution Two: Take the discussion offline. In many cases, the best way to handle an angry customer is to have customer service pick up the phone and call them directly. Customer service is able to demonstrate the type of soothing, personal concern that would be lost on a Facebook post.

Make the Crisis Go Away

The problem with the, “I hope it goes away” philosophy is that the problem will go away within the next two months as spring arrives and many customers use little, if any heating or air conditioning. But the problem will return during the hottest month of the year, then go away, then return next winter.

If you have a solution that can make the crisis go away once an for all, then by all means do it.

Crisis Communications & Media Relations Strategies for Winter Storm Juno

By Gerard Braud

Good media interview skills, a properly written crisis communications plan, and command of technology will be critical in the next few days as winter weather moves across the United States, especially into the Northeastern states.

Gerard Braud Winter Storm

Click image to watch this video on 12 Crisis Communication steps you should take today

Good crisis communications means now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers, citizens and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last for days. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.

Transportation delays – from streets to airports and airlines – will be challenging. Let the community know this now. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio began issuing warnings early.  Well done mayor.

Meanwhile in Boston, (and I don’t want to deflate anyone’s fun here, but…) I question the sanity of a rally for the New England Patriots . People need to be getting home before heavy snow and the team should be moving up their departure time to beat the weather.

In your communications to your audiences, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.

#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News

Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.

#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism

You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.

Click here to watch Gerard’s video on winter storms

 

#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You

Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:

  • Be ready to post updates to your primary website
  • Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube
  • Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video
  • Post that same video to CNN iReports
  • Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video

#4 Media Training for Spokespeople

Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.

#5 Be Skype Ready

In a winter storm crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.

#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications

Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.

#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters

Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.

#8 Be a Resource

Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resources that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.

#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark

Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.

#10 Rest When You Can

Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.

#11 Victory from Preparedness

Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.

#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan

When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.

 

 

 

Social Media When It Hits the Fan: NRECA Connect ’14 Conference Teach Back

By Gerard BraudCONNECT14 TWIT5

Last week at the NRECA Connect 14 Conference in San Antonio, Texas, you participated in the  “Social Media When It Hits the Fan” presentation.

Now I want to help you encourage your co-op managers to be better prepared for crisis communications, as well as to better understand social media and where social media fits into your crisis communications plan. My goal is for you to conduct a teach-back, at your electric cooperative, that mimics my presentation with the fan, the jump suits and the silly string. Remember to have a gallery of employees ready to capture the stunt and post it to social media, just as we did. Additionally, challenge your leaders to write a news release on a blank piece of paper, just as we did in the presentation.

If you’d like me to do the same presentation live for your statewide meeting of communicators, managers, and or CONNECT14 TWIT PIC2board members, please call me at 985-624-9976. I’d be honored to serve you.

So you can show your executives how fast social media spreads news about an event, I’ve included a few samples of the Twitter feed about the event, along with photos and videos posted by your fellow communicators. You can search for more online.

Finally, some of you asked about my program that allows your cooperative to write and complete a crisis communications plan in just two days. Details are on my website, but special pricing is available for co-ops. http://braudcommunications.com/crisis-communications/

CONNECT 14 TWIT PIC

Social Media When It Hits the Fan: Follow-up for NRECA Connect 14 Conference

By Gerard Braud

Here are your Free Crisis Communications Plan resources we discussed during my NRECA conference presentation in San Antonio last week.

Gerard Braud NRECA 14

Free Resource #1

To download a Free copy of the First Critical Statement used in my Crisis Communications Plan, use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

Free Resource #2

To see what a bad Crisis Communications Plan looks like, visit the resource page at CrisisCommunicationsPlans.com to download a copy of the Virginia Tech Crisis Communications Plan.

If your plan looks anything like this document, you need a new plan.

Free Resource #3

Because I had to head to the airport right after the presentation, I wanted you to be able to schedule a private phone call with me this week to ask any additional follow up questions or to discuss issues too sensitive to discuss during the presentation. My phone number is 985-624-9976 and my e-mail is gerard@braudcommunications.com Please e-mail me to schedule a call time during the week.

Free Resource #4

I’ve published numerous blog entries about Social Media and Crisis Communications. Here are a few links that you will find beneficial. More will follow in the next 2 weeks. You may wish to use the sign up box in the upper right corner to make sure you receive the next few articles.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Effective Communications for Critical Times (Like When “It” Hits the Fan)

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Are You a Social Media Hypocrite?

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Relationships Before Your Crisis 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: The Social Media Listening Post in Crisis Communication 

Rural Electric Cooperative Communications: The Times Are Changing

electric co-op movie gerard braud

Click video to watch

Consider this: Just a few years ago rural electric cooperatives were not under pressure to communicate rapidly with the media, members or employees. Today, you have less than one hour to control the flow of accurate information.

There are three major reasons why this is changing and four things you can do to adjust to these changes. If you are not adjusting to these changes, you will be in big trouble.

To learn about the three major changes and four ways to adjust, read on…

To communicate effectively at a 2014 level, you need these four things:

1) Your co-op must have the most extensive crisis communications plan ever written.

2) Your crisis communications plan must have a library of at least 100 pre-written news releases.

3) Your CEO/manager, operations director, customer service director, and public relations director must agree to all train at least once a year for media interviews.

4) Your co-op must conduct a crisis communications drill at least once a year to test your crisis communications plan, your pre-written news releases, and the media interview skills of your spokespeople.

Why is this suddenly so critical in 2014? Here are the three reasons:

#1 Urban Sprawl

Time was, when city media seldom reported on rural electric co-op issues. Today, as cities like Houston, Atlanta, and others have turned pastures and forests into neighborhoods, the media aggressively covers stories in these areas. New residents in new houses represent a young, emerging audience with disposable income that appeals to advertisers, especially for television news. Those same new residents are likely to be the quickest to call a television news investigative reporter and they will be the first to comment online about a negative news report.

#2 The Rural Weekly Paper is Online

Time was, when rural news was only reported by the local weekly newspaper. Today, the internet has allowed the weekly paper to publish online 24/7. No longer can you take days to respond to a co-op controversy. The weekly paper may still print just one day a week, but they need an interview, facts and quotes from you just as fast as the big city media.

#3 Social Media

An angry member can quickly escalate any issue to the crisis level. They can escalate an issue into an online controversy and a mainstream media controversy. While many co-op managers and board members continue to wrangle with, question, and oppose a social media presence, members are creating their own anti-cooperative Facebook pages. Your extensive crisis communications plan must have a social media strategy.

Conclusion

Co-op communications is changing rapidly. If you, like so many cooperative communicators, find yourself with too many other tasks and too few people or hours in the day, please call me. I have fast, easy and affordable solutions to your communication challenges, including a world class crisis communications plan that can be customized in just two days.

Click here to LISTEN to what other cooperative communicators have to say about this fast, cost effective way to implement a crisis communications plan customized for your cooperative. You can also call me at 985-624-9976 to learn more.