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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 Plan Question: Would an Expert Approve My Plan?

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanAn expert would ask you these questions:

1. Count the pages of your crisis communications plan. If it is 6-10 pages long, it is likely only a list of standard operating procedures and not a true plan. Most organizations have been lead to believe this is a plan. My description is that this is little more than an outline for writing a plan. If your document outlines what should be done, but really assigns those tasks to no one, you have a problem.

2. Could your plan be executed by anyone in your organization who can read and follow directions? This sounds like a strange question, but it is a good test. My mantra when I write crisis communications plans is that is should be so thorough that nothing is forgotten and nothing will fall through the cracks, yet simple enough that it could be read by anyone who can read, and executed by them without mistakes. If your plan reads like a technical manual that is as frustrating as assembling your child’s bicycle on Christmas Eve, you have a problem.

3) What time limits have you placed in your crisis communication plan? At a minimum, the first communication document from your plan should reach the public within one hour of the onset of any crisis. The vast number of plans I’ve reviewed over the years have no mandate for speedy communications. This causes the communicator and the executive team to spend too much time analyzing and second-guessing every decision. Speed is important. If your plan doesn’t set time limits for speed you have a problem.

4) Does your crisis communications plan contain the names and phone numbers of everyone you need to reach during your crisis or does it require you to research and find that information as you execute the plan? Valuable time is lost when you have to stop on the day of your crisis to look up information that you could have looked up and collected on a clear sunny day. If your plan says you should contact a list of people and that list contains only job titles and no names or phone numbers, you have a problem.

5) The magic of a plan is when the plan tells you precisely what information to gather, who to call to assemble a crisis management team, and directs you to a library of pre-written news releases. If you are missing these elements, you have a problem.

Think oCrisis communication workshop gerard braudf Goldie Locks – Your plan shouldn’t be too simple and your plan shouldn’t be too hard. Your plan shouldn’t be too long and your plan shouldn’t be too short.

If you need help determining if your plan is just right, phone me at 985-624-9976.

5 Ebola Crisis Communications Considerations

By Gerard Braud

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard Braud

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Your personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your company (or the company for your work for.) On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you.

Here are 5 Ebola Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudThe crisis may touch your organization because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications and customer communications. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask 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.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Business ROI

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  •  The cost of rumors
  •  The cost of a single case linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your organization
  •  The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  •  The cost of worker illness and lost productivity
  •  The cost of your company going out of business

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your organization and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving the company huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get executive attention in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the CEO and the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all businesses equally to sometimes get their attention. The feared Y2K crisis in 2000 caused CEOs to write checks for millions of dollars, mostly to IT experts. Other companies used it as a reason to develop a small part of their crisis communication plan. Sadly, it was usually targeted at only Y2K issues. The H1N1 threat in 2009 once again got the attention of executives to the extent they were willing to give staff time and money to do what needed to be done.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is once again upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your executives. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human Resources, operations, international travel, and risk management departments all will need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

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.

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning

EBOLA webinar Gerard Braud

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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

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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

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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

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

The NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

Goodellcrisisgerardbraud GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.

1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.

2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.

3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.

4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.

5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.

6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.

7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.

But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.

Gerard Braud Shares NFL Crisis Communications Advice With Radio Host Kate Delaney of America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio

As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.

NFL Failed Crisis Management Amid Sponsor Pressure

Braudcast Sept 18 NFLBy Gerard Braud

The NFL’s failed crisis management is hitting them in the wallet. It is hitting teams hard, as players under suspicion of wrong-doing are singled out.

It shows weakness of leadership to not manage a crisis properly from the beginning.

It shows failure of leadership not to communicate a response properly from the onset of the crisis.

It is pitiful that sponsors have to force the NFL to make decisions about this crisis based on hard cash.

A good leader and a strong company would evaluate the potential damage to revenue and reputation at the onset of the crisis, leading them to make the right executive decisions. Then they should implement crisis communication techniques to let the world know that the crisis is being managed.

If you are in public relations, employee communications, or corporate communications, this is a case study you should observe so that these same poor crisis decisions never happen where you work.

The Financial Impact of Failed Crisis Management and Failed Crisis Communications

Radisson logoBy Gerard Braud

What is your plan when the crisis of another entity becomes your crisis, forcing upon you a crisis communications challenge? Observe the NFL crisis as it spreads, causing damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.

You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.

The NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.

Adrian PetersonRadisson’s online statement says they are evaluating the facts while suspending their sponsorship.

Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.

Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.

Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.

Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.

Crisis Communications: When Social Media is Mandatory, When it is Optional, and When it is Useless in a Crisis

One-Size-TagBy Gerard Braud

Many thanks to Shel Holtz for his crisis communications podcast that explores whether there is ever a right time to take your social media sites dark during a crisis. You can listen to the entire podcast here.

Some folks are appalled at the suggestion of taking a social media site dark and they tweet back to me the names of brands that they think could never go dark in a crisis. But that isn’t the question nor is it why I sparked the debate. The question is, what is right for YOUR brand or corporate social media page?

One size doesn’t fit all in either bathrobes or social media policy.

Here are some important highlights:

1) The world at-large on social media is not your primary audience in a crisis. If the crisis garners coverage by the mainstream media, rapid communications to your employees with simultaneous rapid communications to the media should be done first.

In this excerpt I discuss why tried and true beats shiny and new, as well as understanding the rule of thirds in employee communications.

2) Just because you, as a public relations professional, use social media all day and all night, doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. Know the demographics and digital habits of your employees and customers. There are many companies for which the executive staff and many of the employees still don’t use social media. E-mail is often more effective than a post on Facebook or a Tweet.

In this excerpt I discuss it further.

3) Be brave enough to consider whether your social media site should go dark because your crisis is being complicated by foul comments by certified crazies. Many of you who follow this blog are a communications and PR team of one. You have no one else on the PR staff. You should focus on the audiences that are most important and the communications channels that are most reliable. All companies should place high value on their secure website and direct e-mails to their employees and customers. Those loyal employees and customers will become your advocates and supporters on social media.

I discuss which types of brands could go dark without anyone noticing and which types of high profile brands would likely have to stay up and endure an assault of negative comments.

4) In a crisis, monitoring social media is important. But don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to be a therapist who “listens” to everyone who has a comment. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of trying to respond to everyone, positive or negative. If possible, identify the high value negative stakeholders and call them on the phone to have a human-to-human conversation. If you see that your social media platform is being overrun by the anonymous crazies, be aware of what they say, but know when to “ignore the mean kids on the playground” and focus on your core audience.

In this excerpt I discuss when you need to let the naysayers have their own discussion on their own social media site, rather than polluting your site.

In conclusion, remember that no two crises are the same and when it comes to social media, one size does not fit all.

This final excerpt looks at what you should do long before your crisis hits.