Can You Handle A Crisis?

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A crisis can happen to any business, of any size, at any time. Do you have procedures in place to avoid a crisis before it happens, and a plan for responding to it when it strikes? And if you do have a plan, is it effective?

This year, the world will celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 97th birthday. Whether he knew it or not, he had a lot to say about crisis communications. In honor of his life and achievements, we’ll use some of his wise quotes to highlight key elements of a solid and successful crisis management plan:

“The first thing is to be honest with yourself.”

You may not be able to account for every possibility, but you can identify the most likely problem areas and prepare for the moment when they cause a major issue for your company. Be aware of your liabilities, the things that could come back to haunt you, personally and professionally. Some of these might be uncomfortable truths, but think how much worse it would be if someone else found them first.

“One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”

Part of being honest with yourself is acknowledging that you and your business are vulnerable. If you accept that you are not immune to damage, you can create a plan that will protect your brand from the worst repercussions.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

A strong response to a crisis can shine a positive light on you and your company even in dark times. Your handling of negative situations says a lot about your business. You can respond to a crisis in a way that makes the public question your integrity, or you can respond in a way that gives them reasons to respect you more.

“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

Whatever you do, do not ignore the problem. The crisis will affect you whether you react to it or not. You will have more control over the outcome if you are proactive. Ask for support from a trusted advisor, someone not affected by the situation and who has had a positive experience handling crisis.

If you or your business is facing a crisis, don’t lose hope! You may feel discouraged, as though there is no way you and your business can ever bounce back. But a solid plan and a right execution will carry you all the way through from prevention, to response, to reclaiming your good reputation when the smoke clears.

As Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

GillespieHall is an integrated digital marketing and digital PR  firm. Our award-winning team is comprised of astute PR  communicators, sociologists, digital strategists, and  creative content designers. We are leaders in exceptional  results-based marketing, social media,  brand development and crisis  management.

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Stay Ethical, Don’t Exploit

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When we see an opportunity for a client, it’s in our nature to seize it. It’s our job, after all. It’s also the job of public relations professionals to advocate for clients and we should have the sense to judge what opportunities are appropriate and when they might be crossing a line. Too often companies and organizations are chastised for taking advantage of a current event, pop culture happening or even a tragedy to get their brand attention.

There are plenty of examples where companies took their publicity a step too far after a tragedy or negative occurrence, both accidentally and intentionally.

  • Malaysia Airlines promoted a Bucket List contest, asking consumers what places they’d like to see before they die. This came after the tragic disappearance of Flight 370 and after Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine.
  • DiGiorno hopped on the hashtag bandwagon a little too quickly after the NFL suspended Ray Rice for abusing his wife. Thousands of Twitter users took to using #WhyIStayed to share their abuse stories and DiGiorno didn’t check the context of the tag before shooting out a response of ‘you had pizza’.
  • MSN’s Biggest PR Blunders of 2014 list rounds up more specifics pretty well.

These companies promptly issued apologies and/or made corrections to their public relations and social media efforts. However, it’s always better not to have to ask for forgiveness because you didn’t stray off the path of ethics in the first place.

The lesson your parents always tried to burn into your brain of “think before you speak” couldn’t be more applicable in our world. In this case it’s more so “think before you act and set your client up for some serious negative backlash”. Trust me, even though you might be receiving dozens of emails asking why they aren’t in the news, asking to get them some press, they would much rather sit back and wait for the right story than jump on board with the wrong one.

How can you be sure to stay ethical and not make the mistakes of these well-known, previously well-respected brands?

  • Trust your instincts
    You know right from wrong. If you are feeling a little wary about pitching a story because you feel it might be exploitive, you’re probably right. It’s not worth potentially ruining your reputation with a journalist and painting your client in a bad light.
  • Ask a mentor
    That’s what they’re there for. If you’ve hit a point where you’re just not sure whether you should go with a story or not, just ask. Chances are you’ll be respected for checking in and you’ll get a good conversation out of it where you might learn a few things.
  • Explain
    So you decided to do the ethical thing and your client isn’t pleased. Instead of getting defensive, walk them through your thought process. Create a case study to show them the negative ramifications of pouncing on a story in an exploitive way. This is what they’re paying you for, after all.

This isn’t to say there won’t be instances where your client’s services, expert advice or products shouldn’t be talked about following a sad event or a bad situation. If the organization offers counseling, for example, they should surely be getting the word out after a tragedy; because what they are doing will help others. There are absolutely ways for brands, organizations and companies to respond to situations appropriately and in a non-exploitive manner. The important thing for public relations professionals to do is make the judgment call.

There are some things you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to put a spin on. Exploiting a sad or bad situation purely for client gain is wrong. Knowing and acknowledging that is what separates the experts from those just trying to climb the ladder.

London Faust is an Account Representative at Bellevue Communications Group, a public relations firm specializing in media relations, crisis communications and issue management. She is forever #TempleMade, class of 2014. Follow her personal ramblings on Twitter at @londonfaust or her professional doings at @BellevuePRPhl.

Public Relations + Public Speaking = Perfect Together!

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When you hear the word “speech” or “presentation”, do you cringe with anxiety or get a major rush of adrenaline? Well, if you thought the later, you’re in the right business. Public speaking might be America’s number one fear, but it doesn’t have to be yours, and that’s where I come in (but I’ll get to that in a bit). Most young people think that PR is a cool field to be in, and that they’ll make a lot of great connections. Yes, this is true. But what many people often forget is that public relations is much more than just e-mailing out a press release. It is being the public face of an organization, too. That means you’ll be the person who may get called upon to do crisis management, press conferences, and other types of presentations that will require you to look and sound your best. Today I’ll give you my three best tips that will help any young PR professional to do just that.

Before I tell you the good stuff, I’ll briefly mention why I’m telling you this in the first place. For the past six years, I’ve taught hundreds of college students how to be confident in front of an audience of any size. Although they would prefer to be behind the scenes sending out press releases, tweets, and texts, I’ve helped them to realize the value of being a strong, confident speaker. My years as a professor made me see that public speaking needs to go well beyond the classroom, and that those skills are vital in the real world. Today, I coach many different clients on public speaking so that they’re prepared to answer impromptu questions at the office, a job interview, or put together a last minute speech for any occasion. Now let me tell you three tips for how to stay up on those public speaking skills you too may have forgotten from years ago in a college classroom.

1. JOIN TOASTMASTERS. Every communications professional should not only know what Toastmasters is, but they should most definitely be a member as well. This invaluable public speaking organization not only looks great on your resume, but will also help you to stay fresh on your public speaking skills by continually practicing the art of giving speeches and short, impromptu talks on a variety of subjects. You can find a local chapter near you (they’re everywhere!), and enjoy attending meetings where you’ll be greeted by smiling faces who are all seeking to improve their communication and leadership skills just like you. And unlike a college classroom, there are no grades so you can feel at ease knowing you’re in a positive environment, free from ridicule or judgment. Trust me, you’ll love being a member just like I do.

2. PRACTICE. If joining Toastmasters isn’t something you have the time or money for, that’s ok, but you still need to devote time towards practicing public speaking. This can be done by making a keyword outline for a speech and recording yourself delivering it extemporaneously (that means not reading a word-for-word manuscript—anyone can do that). Watch your eye contact, gestures, and of course listen for those annoying vocal fillers like “Umm”, “Uhh”, “Like” and “Ya Know”. Chances are you’ll quickly see and hear your own mistakes and want to keep practicing until you look and sound more professional. You won’t be taken seriously if every other word out of your mouth is “umm” or “like”. It’s time to sharpen up your speaking skills and talk your way to the top.

3. EMBRACE SPEAKING. When you join a networking group, take on a leadership role that will allow you to stand up and speak, even if you’re just giving a short officer’s report. Change your mindset from cowardly to confident, and you’ll gain the respect of everyone around you. In public relations, you can’t be afraid to use your voice, so embracing every possible opportunity to speak is really important for your career. Answering a question, even over the phone, with, “Well umm, yeah, this event is like going to be great and umm, everyone is like, really going to have a good time… ya know what I mean?”, will kill your credibility in an instant. So focus on your words and always be ready to speak up with clarity and intelligence. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, I promise.

My bonus piece of advice is to ask for help whenever you’re unsure. Seeking out assistance from an outside source like a communications consultant *cough cough* is only going to benefit you in the long run. A professional speaking coach will help you avoid doing a 20-minute long, embarrassing Maid of Honor speech at your best friend’s wedding, or responding to job interview questions with a terrible response such as, “Well yeah, my old boss like totally loved me ‘cause like, I always worked really hard and stuff”. You may be giggling, but it’s the truth. That’s what an alarming number of people actually sound like, and that is the kind of response that won’t get you very far at all, especially in a cut-throat field like public relations.

As you can see, the two really do go hand in hand, and staying fresh on your public speaking skills is vital to your success. Impeccable communication skills are important in every field, but as a public relations pro, you can’t afford to sound sloppy or unsure of yourself… ever! Now you’re equipped with a few tips to help you get back on your feet and an even stronger rush of adrenaline the next time you’re up at the podium. Good luck!

Nicole Pace, M.A. is a Professional Public Speaking Coach and Independent Communications Consultant with more than a decade of industry experience. A former Professor of Communication studies at three major colleges in New Jersey, Nicole now enjoys working one on one with a variety of clients on their individual communications needs. Nicole has worked in the advertising, marketing, education, nightlife, and financial industries. To contact Nicole visit her website at www.changeofpace.biz, follow her on Twitter @CommCoachPace, or like her on Facebook

(Image via gettyimages.com)

Who Should Be Your Spokesperson In A Crisis?

A recent PR Daily post on choosing the correct person to serve as a spokesperson during a crisis compared the topic to developing a successful sports team. The author of the article argued that when your organization is faced with a crisis, your best bet is to have both star players and strong people on the bench.

As stated in the PR Daily post, an organization usually has three options when they choose a spokesperson to represent them during a crisis.

  1. The CEO – CEOs often want to be the only voice when trouble strikes, but this is usually not the best option. In these situations, CEOs should be managing the crisis and business operations. If a CEO misspeaks early in the crisis, he or she loses credibility and undermines the reputation of the organization. For these and other reasons, it may be a better idea to bring your CEO in as a spokesperson several hours into the crisis.
  2. The PR Person – A public relations representative can serve as a great spokesperson, particularly during the early hours of a crisis when the media and the public are looking for information. The PR person should be a member of the crisis management team and should lead the crisis communications team. He or she should be prepared to make an initial statement where the crisis is acknowledged, basic facts are provided, and a promise to deliver more information is made.
  3. A Variety of People – Though PR representatives are a solid choice when it comes to picking a spokesperson, they don’t have to be the only voice during a crisis. The PR person can speak during the first hour of the crisis, followed by a subject matter expert, and finally the CEO. Media training can help you determine who your key representatives should be.

No matter who your organization chooses as a spokesperson, you should always make sure that he or she has taken part in intense media training. Sending an untrained person out to represent your organization in a crisis is only asking for more trouble.

Who do you think would make the best spokesperson for your company during a crisis?