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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5 Things PR Firms Need to Know About Their Legal Clients

GravelIf you are a communications professional and have decided to take on some law firms or individual attorneys as clients, you will likely face a unique set of obstacles. Attorneys are very particular about the way they market and that’s not without valid reason. On one hand, an attorney needs to promote her- or him- self in order for potential clients to find them. On the other hand, if an attorney decides to advertise in a new or innovative way, they may risk drawing the attention of their state bar ethics board. Here are some things that PR Firms and marketing professionals need to know about their legal clients and a few tips that may help you navigate the attorney-marketer relationship.

1. There is no time for marketing
In a law firm production is king and anything non-billable such as marketing is often discouraged. Therefore, lawyers often fail to see the big picture and the potential return on investment from participating in marketing efforts. For instance, many firms have very lucrative reward compensations systems, which are triggered by bringing in new business. A lawyer cannot bill for the two hours you spend a week handling their social media accounts or the five hours it took to write a bylined article for an industry magazine. However, in a few months when they get a call from So-and-So, CEO from “Big Company” because he/she read your clients intriguing article in The Legal Paper and saw their profile on LinkedIn, and he/she wants to meet to discuss representation of Big Company in a multi-million dollar deal, everything changes. Only then will a lawyer feel are those tedious-unpaid-for marketing efforts are suddenly reaping some benefits. This is not to say that having a LinkedIn profile and writing a bylined magazine will undoubtedly lead to huge client deals, however, it can multiply the opportunity for that to happen tenfold and your client needs to understand that.

Tip: Create substantive measurable goals for your clients and explain how some results may not initially reap benefits. Whenever possible, track as much of your marketing efforts and engagement as possible. Having solid numbers representing growth prior to- and post- marketing initiatives can instill trust and motivate attorneys to participate in your marketing strategies.

2. Social Media for Lawyers
The good news is that lawyers are finally beginning to understand the impact of social media and many have begun to interact on a variety of social networks. The bad news is that legal ethics committees across the country have recognized this and have issued conflicting and sometimes confusing, opinions regarding the ethical issues presented when lawyers interact online.

Tip: Make sure you know the law before you give your clients advice on what their social media efforts should entail. If you go into your meeting with your client armored with the knowledge and understanding of the ethical issues that can arise with social marketing for lawyers, they will be less resistant to participating and confident you can help them navigate what many are calling the “social media ethical minefield.”

3. Lack of understanding, focus and accountability
This one may surprise you. How could a smart lawyer lack understanding, focus and/or accountability? Lawyers are trained to learn a lot of information in a short period of time, to make sense of it, and to analyze it. However, they are not trained to promote their business. In general, attorneys are uncomfortable with marketing. Many times marketing is poorly understood and ineffectively implemented in law firms, small and large. This is not a new revelation, but the reason is often due to a lack of understanding, training, and experience with the process in addition to the ethical issues that comes along with it.

Tip: Tell your clients to treat marketing as a new specialty rather than an added job. By law, an attorney must provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation, according to the law. In other words, when a lawyer is practicing on a new case with issues the lawyer has not worked on previously they must take the time to educate themselves adequately enough to represent that client competently. Encourage your clients to treat themselves as a client and marketing a new law they need to learn. They can think of it as a contingency client. Only if they win (participating in your strategies), they make money. The more your client understands what marketing is the easier you job will be.

4. Strong “anti-marketing” culture
There is a distinct culture for lawyers and their marketing efforts and getting lawyers and law firms do anything different or new is not an easy task. Lawyers do not look at marketing in a positive light. Instilling a marketing mindset among lawyers is a major effort for most legal marketing professionals. Generally, law firm culture perpetuates the stereotypical lawyer tendencies to be highly skeptical of new ideas and concepts, needing proof that change will work; to prefer their own judgment over all; and to have a high sense of urgency, expecting immediate results on even complex efforts.

Tip: The legal market is changing and law firms must evolve in order to survive. Any firm that wants to last in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace must support a marketing and sales culture, to some extent. Market changes are forcing lawyers run their firms more like a business than ever before. As they should! Remind your client marketing is what enables a firm to attract and retain desirable clients, and it puts the firm in a position to fire the ones it no longer wants. If nothing else, the capability of releasing a difficult client without feeling it in the bank, will motivate an attorney to ramp up their marketing efforts.

5. Credibility
Some lawyers believe marketing is not a valid profession or discipline. You and I know that’s a falsity and we are responsible for invalidating that perception. Many attorneys are confused about the difference between marketing and advertising and do not realize that marketing activities can exist without any promotional components. As I mentioned earlier, attorneys do not look at marketing efforts in a positive light. When lawyers discuss some more traditional and explicit forms of advertising (i.e. billboards and commercials) it is often considered a joke. Therefore, at times, lawyers do not see the profession of marketing as a credible one. It is the job of the legal marketing professionals to dispel any misconceptions of the profession and show their clients how effective marketing can be for lawyers. In fact, most marketing initiatives recommended lawyers do not involve traditional advertising at all.

Tip: In order to build your credibility with your clients, be careful about how you look and speak. It is very important that you are professional and that you choose your words wisely. Lawyers are trained to analyze language. In addition to that, you must make an effort to understand, at the very least, the gist of the particular law your client practices. Understanding the terminology and the basic framework will take you a long way with your lawyer clients. Explain to your client that you understand the complexities of the law firm brand and that your services are tailored for the particular industry. When you can show that you perform your services at the same standard that an attorney performs theirs, credibility and trust is created.

My number one piece of advice when dealing with lawyers as clients: Do not take anything personally!
Lawyers are infamous for being explicit and frank. They are not going to delicately turn down your ideas. They will tell you they hate it, why they hate it, and how silly they think you are for thinking it was right for them. Learning to take this as constructive, albeit rude, criticism, will take you much father with your law firm clientele.

As an Account Executive at Maven Communications, Valerie Calderon specializes in professional services public relations, business development, crisis communications and content marketing. With a diverse and accomplished background, Valerie brings a deliberate and distinctive style to critical communication strategies for her clients. Valerie has more than half a decade of legal and real estate experience. Her business and legal background provides her with insight on working with C-suite executives and attorneys in creating successful communication plans that provide measurable success for their companies.  Valerie earned her Juris Doctorate from Villanova School of Law with a concentration on corporate and international law. She also earned a Master of Science degree in accounting with a concentration on marketing and her Bachelor of Science degree in marketing with a concentration in international business from the Tobin School of Business at St. John’s University.

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.

Give Your Client the Loyal Treatment

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The harsh reality all PR professionals must face is perfectly stated in this line from a recent edition of the Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat: “the majority of your pitches won’t get a response -” Then, as if offering a tiny glimmer of hope, the sentence continues: “but some will.”

It’s true. We all know media pitching is more of an art than it is science. But what happens when your pitch is a home run, the reporter wants the story…then you have to call a timeout?

It sounds like the unthinkable, but as I recently found out, unthinkable doesn’t mean impossible. Here I was, two days away from an interview I’d set up with a veteran reporter from a widely-read daily. All was well until the reporter’s interest shifted–albeit slightly–away from my original pitch. Great for the reporter, not so great for my company’s brand.

A rock and a hard place is an understatement. Yet it was a real life wake-up call that as a PR professional, I must be diligent in the loyalty I have for my company’s strategic goals; even if it means letting go of a media placement I worked so hard to get.

I like to call it the “loyal treatment.” Not unlike kings and monarchs, treat your company and client like royalty when it comes to protecting their brand and public image. Here are a few more tips to remember.

Know your client’s/company’s intended public brand
Ask your client or company’s senior leaders “What do you want the brand to be?” Also, “What don’t you want it to be?” As times change and companies evolve, answers to these questions will inevitably change, so don’t be afraid to ask more than once. The point is, know what the brand is (or isn’t) so you know not to deviate from it when pitching the media.

It’s ok to tell a reporter “no”
I know it sounds crazy given the sheer difficulty involved in getting a reporter to even acknowledge that you exist (unless you work for Apple or some other big name brand that reporters drool over). But trust me on this. If you suspect the end media placement could compromise the brand in any way, respectfully and tactfully decline. Think about it. The repercussions of making your company or client look bad are far worse than one missed opportunity. Which brings me to my next point…

Put yourself in the shoes of the spokesperson
One of the things I love about our work is that we get to make other people look good. In doing this though, we can easily lose sight of the fact that it’s their face, their words, their reputation that’s on the line; not our own. Now ask yourself, “What if it was me?” This change in perspective can make a world of difference when you consider which media placements to pursue.

Have you ever had to give up a media opportunity to protect your company or client? Share your experience and advice in the comments below.

Andrea Carter is a Public Relations Specialist at AWeber, a certified news junkie and an aspiring world traveler. Check out Andrea’s back story here then follow her on Twitter @SheLuvsPR and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carterandrea/.

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