Why You Need a Crisis PR Agency and How to Pick a Crisis PR Agency That’s Right For You

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By Maven Communications

Part I: Why You Need A Crisis PR Agency

Let’s take a moment to delve deep into the dark crevices of “what if.” Stay with me here. Take a moment to let your mind wander to worst case scenarios that could potentially happen at your place of business. Perhaps a rainmaker embroiled in a #MeToo accusation? A high profile employee takes to Twitter to trash a client? An unhappy donor threatening to expose shady bookkeeping practices to the media? It’s uncomfortable, I know. But if you take the time to really think about all of the potential crisis lurking just below the surface I bet you can come up with quite a list.

Now, in each of these scenarios, imagine what your next steps might be. Who are you calling? What are you saying? What are you not saying? How do you respond on social media? What’s your plan of action?

If at this point you’re sweating slightly, you’re not alone. Most organization don’t have a formal crisis response plan, precisely because it’s uncomfortable to think about. It requires planning for something that will hopefully never happen. It takes time that is not billable and planning involves immersing yourself in a dark place.

But here’s another thought to consider. The moment a crisis hits is not the time to start calling around to PR firms asking about their services and pricing. It’s not the time to reach out to your sister’s best friend’s husband who you think is in PR to see if he can help. It’s too late.

The time to prepare is now.

Once you have an identified agency partner on call, you can proceed with the confidence of knowing that the crisis team is already up to speed on your company, its executives, and other relevant players and details. It’s not necessary to take time to get anyone up to speed because it’s already happened. In this scenario the agency can immediately get to work on responding to the situation at hand.

Different crisis agencies work in different ways, but it most cases, if you’ve already contracted with an agency, you will likely have a response plan developed that can immediately begin to be implemented. In addition, it’s likely that your executives have had some version of response training such as media interview training. At this point it’s just a matter of reviewing and refining messages based on the situation.

Companies who have taken the time to arrange for crisis counsel in advance of a situation tend to fair much better in a crisis situation than those who have not. If you’re ready to discuss crisis preparation services for your company, get in touch with us here.

Part II: How To Pick A Crisis PR Agency That’s Right For You

If you’re in the market for a crisis PR firm, here are a few tips to take into consideration when making your selection:

In crisis, comfort with the team is king. Your agency partner must be a group of folks that you trust and are completely comfortable with. These are the folks who you will be sharing scenarios you hope never see the light of day, so you must feel confident they can manage and contain the situation, should it ever arise.

Meet the team members. Many times senior executives or dedicated new business development team members will sell the business and then step out of the picture once the deal is closed. During the selection process, make sure you meet the actual team members who will be assigned to your account. Find out how involved senior leadership will be and who your day-to-day contact is.

Ask about their experience. Find out what clients they’ve worked with who are in similar industries or have had similar situations. Ask how the situations were resolved and what the outcomes were. Ask how long the relationship with the clients lasted, and if it ended, why.

Understand how they bill. Crisis agencies generally bill in one of three ways: by the hour, on a monthly retainer basis (whether you use their services that month or not), or with one flat fee that covers a certain amount of hours. Decide what you’re comfortable with and ensure the agency is as well.

Be clear on the terms of service up front. Be sure you fully understand what the agency’s scope of work is before signing the contract. If you sign a crisis-only contract and another PR-related item pops up, is it covered? If your crisis takes you over the allotted amount of hours, how does billing change? Make sure you understand the full scope.

Hiring the right crisis PR agency can be a challenge, but successful outcomes are based on thoughtful preparation. Being as prepared as possible in the agency identification phase will set your company up for success in the long run. If you’re ready to discuss crisis preparation services for your company, get in touch with us here.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

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Five Tips for Your Organization’s Reputation Management Strategy

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By Kate Wilhelm

“Reputation management” is a buzz phrase we use a lot in our industry. It can assume different meanings at different times, and take all forms and fashions.

But what it boils down to, simply, is, “What do people think of me? What do they think of my company?”

At its core, reputation management is about developing a brand profile that reaches your audience at the right time with the right message. It’s about getting people to notice you in a positive way.

As the landscape evolves, you need to be prepared for attacks you don’t even see coming. These days, an anonymous Twitter troll can ruin in five minutes a reputation you spent years building up. You need to be prepared for the unseen and unexpected.

This means you may have to change both where and how you show up. Here are some steps we take at Ceisler Media to help our clients build, manage and maintain their reputations:

Define Your Brand

What do you want to be when you grow up? We were all asked that question as children. It still applies to companies and causes. In this case it means, what to you want to be known for? Often, it is the story that goes beyond the product or service you offer – it is the factor that gives you the edge.

Unicorns or widgets, financial services or technology – whatever your company focuses on, others are doing it. So what distinguishes you from the field? Your goal is to promote what’s special about your business. Perhaps it’s a holistic approach to employee wellness. Maybe it is a commitment to philanthropic causes that support our civic ecosystem.

Defining your brand requires moving outside your natural boundaries so people know more about you than your logo or their one-time experience. You never know when you may need to remind them, just in case a crisis arises (more on that later).

Authenticity is Key

You have filled in the blanks and defined your story. But who’s your narrator and what’s their voice? One of my clients explained this perfectly in a planning meeting for a visibility campaign. “We gotta use our swagger,” he said, “that Philly swagger no one else has.” (h/t B.P.).

Any time you want to engage people in your story, you need to be authentic. Our team helps you curate that voice – from tweets to blogs, from media announcements to event sponsorships. We design integrated campaigns that resonate with the people you’re targeting. And we make sure they know it’s the real you – not spin or jargon.

Perhaps the best way to deliver that is an op-ed in a local business journal explaining how to help nonprofits plan during the recent government shutdown. Perhaps you’re Walmart and want connect with the community by organizing an annual electric fan giveaway for seniors every summer. We make sure your message is authentic to who you have set out to be.

Connect and Create

Communities. Constituents. Customers. Ambassadors. Influencers. Each word represents people you need to connect with – people who care about what you’re doing and have to say.

Changing times require new ways to reach those people. As newsrooms trim staff, you must be more creative to share your content and message. Our team provides clients with video services that provide more than the traditional press release or pitch to news desks.

We help you develop lists of influencers – the people best able to spread your message – and then create personalized communications and invitations for them to enjoy exclusive experiences. Those influencers then help share your positive story with their networks.

Perhaps most importantly, we work with you on internal communications – because there is no more important ambassador of your brand than your employees. It’s critically important to keep your employees informed, and we’ll help through newsletters, emails and other internal communications.

Face Lift

Remember that esoteric question – who do you want to be when you grow up? It conjured an image of a person doing something. When you develop a reputation campaign, it focuses on the people – not the places or things. Who is that man or woman behind the CEO title? Whose lives were impacted because of your volunteer days and corporate giving? Let’s hear about them first, before weaving in the stats and metrics. The most-interesting stories always center on real people.

Crisis Afoot, Don’t Panic

@&#% happens. Things don’t always go according to plan. Those unicorns don’t always have rainbows around them; sometimes the widget doesn’t fit.

Crises are best managed when there is a plan. But, let’s be honest, we often receive panicked calls when there is no time to plan. At Ceisler Media, we immerse ourselves immediately, examining the client’s issue from all sides and letting our expert judgment guide the next steps.

It always starts with two core principles: Own it, and be honest. Most clients we work in crisis situations are rightfully nervous about every syllable of every sentence. We partner with legal counsel, business partners and investors to quickly create the appropriate game plan to move forward. We make sure everyone is speaking with one voice; that employees and partners understand the details of what is happening, and who they can contact with questions. When the dust settles, we help our clients move forward – reminding everyone they deal with why they want to stay connected.

The campaigns we create are fully integrated; not just with digital media to mainstream media, but inside the organization and with outside partners. Today, a reputation can be tarnished with a tweet. Our work makes sure you have the army behind you that can share your good works to help combat any trolls who might come your way.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

Diversity and Inclusion Start with Students: A Campaign Reflection

By Christina Borst

In theory, our task was straightforward: to craft a campaign that raises awareness of the lack of diversity and inclusion in the communications field. In practice, as five students at Temple, we were entrusted with tackling a problem with systemic roots and that enforced the status quo.

With census projections showing that the United States will be considered a majority-minority country by 2045 and the failure of the communications and PR fields to reflect this trend, we knew that we were about to tackle some tough questions. On Temple University’s Bateman Case Study Competition team, we set out to move beyond the diversity conversation and toward profound, sustainable solutions for the good of the industry that we will soon inherit.

For us, the need for more diversity and inclusion in the field is not the problem for which it has been historically labeled; rather it is an opportunity for talent of all backgrounds and experiences to be celebrated and be given a voice. This holds especially true for communicators who are tasked with successfully sharing the stories of others, ensuring purposeful messaging. As the future of the public relations field, it is the responsibility of young people to understand this.

When issues do not appear to directly affect you, how much do you care? We sought to correct this line of thinking through our campaign with the basis of education, imploring all students to reflect and think about the adversity they have faced. When minority communities are excluded from the field, we are unfairly telling them how they should be advocated for rather than forging opportunities with them. Diversity and inclusion may improve innovation and business performance, but above all else, they are moral imperatives that the students of today must welcome.

Though our campaign, as mandated by the competition, is limited to one month, we have always known that its impact must span far more than this short duration. Diversity is not something that should be revered for just a day, week, or even a month; it should be a necessity everyday of every year. Over the course of the last three weeks, we have connected with local and national audiences and most importantly, our peers. The public relations faculty at the Klein College of Media and Communication have learned about the resources needed to make every classroom a safe space to embrace diversity. Diverse Voices, a book profiling 40 diverse PR practitioners, has been made accessible in our library. Students have written personal action statements, dedicating themselves to make diversity and inclusion happen. Communications specialists across Philadelphia have helped us found a book club that will allow students to forge a network with diverse professionals. Our efforts have been guided by one goal: to create change that lasts.

Our campaign may be coming to a close, but for us, it is only the beginning.

Company Diversity Needs to Be More Than Checking a Box

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By Lailumah Faisal

There are a few things that I have learned people typically don’t discuss in the workplace: personal matters, politics, and diversity.

One problem is, unlike my employers, my diversity is something I can’t leave at the door. It’s not as if I can shed my skin the minute I walk into the office, and I shouldn’t feel like I have to. I should be able to feel included without any issues, but that begs the question: What do I do when I get put in a situation that makes me feel different? When someone asks me something in a certain way that brands me as, “the other”? All of a sudden I begin to question why I am there, and how people view me. Questions flood my mind like, “Am I a color hire? Does everyone see me as a PR practitioner or woman of color first? How should I see myself first?”

I’ve been put in this situation more than once and it’s something that I’ve had to learn to deal with, along with many of my peers. However, it’s time to flip the script and start holding employers to a more accountable standard.

If you want to add more diversity to your team, that’s great. I, along with many others, encourage it. That being said, you can’t treat people like checklists. Just because you’re increasing the number of people of color in your office, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re achieving diversity. Are you actually utilizing them for their unique perspectives, or just using them for your company’s hero image? Do they have a seat at the table or are they standing outside the circle? In simpler terms, are you just inviting them to the party or are you asking them to dance?

Addressing how your company can create efforts to generate more diversity and inclusion is something to consider, especially in the future. There is a change coming in the landscape of PR, and diversity is in that change. Agencies that don’t act will fall behind. If you are unsure where to start, understanding diverse perspectives is a good place to begin. There are numerous ways to do so, like broadening the pool of candidates you consider for your next hire, or working with organizations who can help you develop a more inclusive office environment. There’s even the option of reading and discussing pieces of literature like Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership, that highlight journeys of diverse practitioners. From there, focus on making sure your agency is one that works for everyone.

TEMPLE STUDENTS USE BLACK HISTORY MONTH TO LAUNCH CAMPAIGN FOCUSING ON DIVERSITY IN PHILLY’S PR COMMUNITY

Members of the Temple University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) are launching a campaign from February 11 to March 11 to educate both students and educators in the Klein College of Media and Communication about the unfulfilled diversity and inclusion opportunity in the PR field. Beginning in Black History Month, the campaign aims to connect diverse practitioners as mentors to students of color through several events, including a Diverse Voices Book Club. The initiative is led by the only Philadelphia team to be entered into PRSSA’s national Bateman Competition. The competition attracts colleges and universities from around the country who are assigned a common client against which they develop and present their best campaign ideas. This year, the client is the PRSA Foundation which provides scholarships and resources to aspiring professionals in order to increase diversity in communication workplaces across the United States.

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The Diverse Voices Book Club is inspired by the book Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership which features the stories of 40 diverse public relations professionals who have overcome adversity throughout their careers. Diverse Voices is the handiwork of the PRSA Foundation. The program is funded by the donations of prominent Philadelphia PR professionals, offering students admission into the book club, a copy of Diverse Voices and a safe space to talk about their experiences while gaining insight from practitioners of color.

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In addition to the book club and a robust social media presence, the campaign will include:

• Placing copies of Diverse Voices in Temple’s Paley Library, allowing all students to access the collection of stories regardless of financial barriers;
• Class presentations to students about the presence and influence of African American and Latinx professionals as “hidden figures” (many from Philadelphia) who have helped shape the public relations field;
• Presentations to faculty by Temple’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) to better equip educators with the necessary tools to teach and talk about diversity
• A moderated discussion with Temple University’s Black Public Relations Society (TUBPRS) and Provost JoAnne A. Epps, the first African American woman to hold this position on Thursday, Feb. 21st;
• A tour of SEER Interactive, one of the largest agencies in the city headed by a person of color, with Temple PRSSA and TUBPRS on Tuesday, Feb. 26th.

The majority of PR practitioners have historically been white. By positioning the need for diversity and inclusion as an opportunity rather than a deficit, members of the Temple Bateman team hope to move beyond the conversation toward sustainable solutions. Though the campaign has a one month duration, its events have been designed to leave a long-lasting impact that will be felt for years, coinciding with the theme of #Not30But365. The goals of the Bateman competition align with Temple’s tradition of questioning the status quo. Though the program gives public relations students worthwhile campaign experience, the Bateman competition serves a much larger movement.

“Diversity and inclusion are not an HR initiative. It is what we have to do to keep this industry alive and thriving,” said PRSA Foundation President Judith Harrison who oversees diversity and inclusion efforts at Weber Shandwick. “We need to make sure we have the widest range of experiences and perspectives. This is everyone’s responsibility.” Through learning about the diversity and inclusion opportunity, students and educators can become advocates for a necessary and beneficial shift in the field.

Those interested can use #Not30But365 throughout the campaign on social media to engage and foster awareness about the PR diversity opportunity. Follow @TUBateman2019 on Instagram and Twitter and find other digital materials on the Temple Bateman team webpage. Copies of Diverse Voices can be purchased at the Diverse Leadership site by crediting “Temple University” under the Bateman Competition section at checkout. For more information, students and educators can contact Bateman team member Christina Borst at 484-678-3972 or TUBateman@gmail.com.