Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media

By Aaron Ellis, Professional Development Committee member

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If you attended the National Capital Chapter’s “Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media” professional development event Dec. 6 at Hager Sharp in downtown Washington, you probably walked away feeling you invested your time wisely.

For most, it was their first interaction with crisis management expert and instructor Brian Ellis. A former broadcast journalist who is now executive vice president for Minneapolis-headquartered Padilla public relations and who also teaches crisis management at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellis’ riveting, rapid-fire lessons about responding to various crises reminded participants that advance preparation is the key to success.  

In today’s age of 24/7 news cycles, where media must constantly produce content and anybody with a smart phone (“citizen journalists”) can record an event and post it online within minutes, the timeline as to who controls the narrative of a story has collapsed to mere minutes. That means professional communicators and the organizations they represent must anticipate questions in advance to tell their side any story, or risk losing the advantage.

With the steep decline in professional journalists over the past two decades, public relations practitioners now outnumber reporters five-to-one. That leaves citizen journalists to fill in the gap.  Ellis said a typical citizen journalist’s response to getting a news event onto social media is two to three minutes after it begins. He said the first hour of a news event is the only window available for public relations professionals to shape the story. After that, it’s mostly damage control and trying to correct errors and misperceptions.

According to Ellis, there are three steps for effectively communicating during a crisis:

  1. Identify what audiences want and need to know by writing out in advance the questions they are most likely to ask.
  2. Based on the anticipated questions, develop three key messages and short, memorable quotes to go with them.
  3. Practice your messages and quote(s) out loud, honing your transitions until they’re seamless.

Ellis said the key messages should focus on: a) showing compassion for those impacted; b) providing information about your organization’s crisis response plan, and c) explaining your organization’s crisis investigation and how to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

In Padilla’s online Crisis IQ test, a recent sampling showed that only 21 percent of participants felt “well prepared” to communicate effectively in a crisis, while 63 percent said they didn’t have a solid plan. Seventy-one percent felt they didn’t practice their crisis plan often enough and 86 percent said they weren’t prepared to manage the social media onslaught of a crisis that affected their organization and its brand.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Ellis noted that the “media beast” must constantly be fed. To that end, he highly recommends creating a dark website that can be quickly engaged in a crisis, then reviewing and updating its content regularly. He also reminded workshop participants that an organization’s internal audiences can be either their greatest allies or worst enemies in a crisis, depending on how they are treated and kept informed.

“In a crisis, the best strategy is to always play offense and be out there telling a positive story,” he said. “By pointing your audience to what they perceive to be inside information, they’ll pay more attention to your side of the story.”

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Walking the Tightrope-Advice for DMV Advocacy and PR pros after the 2018 Midterms

By Lawrence J. Parnell, Associate Professor, George Washington University

Walkin’ the tightrope between wrong and right
Walkin’ the tightrope both day and night

Lyrics: Stevie Ray Vaughn – Tightrope

Now that we are past the 2018 Mid Terms it’s time to consider the way forward for area communications professionals.

First, where are we? In Congress, the results were mixed – the House went one way, the Senate the other. Women and veterans won elections, and some are ascending to important positions in the political and government arenas. Several key states have changed Governors. State and local governments are in flux as well.

Let’s begin with the realization that this is how it will be for up to two years. Two entrenched camps in Congress seeking an advantage over the other, while the White House bobs and weaves like a fighter trying to avoid the knockout punch. “Crazy Town”, indeed.

So, how do we defend/enhance corporate reputations; advance causes or represent clients?

The short answer is we must be constantly alert and aware of public opinion about our issue, cause or client – not to mention the latest Tweet from you know who. We need to be responsive and effective without losing our balance or our voice. And, we must be ethical throughout – even if others are not – or we risk damaging our own reputations.

How do we do all that?

In a recent outlook piece in Holmes Report, Bill Dalbec of APCO’s DC office suggests:

“The idea that you can do your stakeholder mapping, and know where everyone is going to be, is out the window. (The current climate) is really forcing companies and trade associations and others to be more agile and adapt on the fly, try new things and constantly be reinventing themselves.”

SKDKnickerbocker managing partner Hilary Rosen, quoted here as well agrees: “Since the issues have become more divisive, (organizations) need to work harder to get their point across,” she said. “The stakes have gotten higher from both sides.”

Truly, companies and organizations are being challenged like never before. Our students tell us they came to GWU to learn how to leverage social media, understand global trends and interpret public policy to be more effective.

We think they are on the right track. We add a basic understanding of finance and business – which is required if you are trying to navigate the intersection of Main Street, Wall Street, Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Ave.

Clearly, the next few years won’t be boring. If we are successful, and avoid falling, we can bring value to our clients, companies, candidates or causes. Good luck – and be careful!

Issue, Impact, Importance, and Results: What We Learned at “A Modern Approach to Grow Clients and Accounts”

By: Kathleen Boyles, News Generation

What’s the biggest issue you face in growing clients and accounts? On November 28, PRSA-NCC hosted an event with keynote speaker Ian Altman to help us get to the bottom of this question, and how we can overcome it. Altman, a former technology and service business executive, works to inspire and educate audiences with a unique approach to sales and marketing. His approach focuses on growing clients and accounts through integrity and teaching professionals how customers make their decisions.

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Thoughts from the National Board

By Sam Villegas, APR, Mid Atlantic District Director, PRSA National Board

As my first two-year term on the National Board of PRSA comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the experience, in search of the lessons I can impart and take with me into my next term. It’s been a challenging couple of years, but strangely, I don’t feel drained or defeated by the challenges. In fact, sitting here thinking back on the year and looking forward to next, I feel hopeful, empowered and wiser for the wear. And I think that’s because of three things: gratitude, patience and perspective.

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September is Ethics Month: A PRofessional’s Guide to Being an Ethics Expert

By Kathleen Boyles, Intern at News Generation, Inc. and Student at American University

September is Ethics Month for public relations professionals. Ethics are important for PR students, young PR professionals and veterans of the PR field alike. According to PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) its mission “is to inspire, educate and advocate for the best practices in the PR profession, as well as to develop and provide resources to guide ethical decision making.” When approaching ethical dilemmas, BEPS has six categories to think about:

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Five Reasons Why You Should Join a PRSA Committee

By Patty Nicastri, Co-chair of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee

I joined PRSA-NCC around five years ago. For my first two years, I was a very passive member. I would occasionally attend events and keep “PRSA member” as a phrase on my resume, but I found myself wanting more—to be more involved, to get more out of my membership, to learn more about the ever-changing field of PR. I decided the best way to do this was to join the professional development committee. It has significantly helped me with my professional development journey. As a committee co-chair, I want to share with you five reasons why you should join a committee and take your career to the next level.

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