Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism

By Aaron Ellis, Professional Development Committee co-chair

If you attended the National Capital Chapter’s “Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism” professional development event Nov. 7 at Hager Sharp in downtown Washington, you probably walked away feeling you invested your time wisely.

Brian Ellis - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017For most, it was their first interaction with crisis management expert 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 citizen journalists, where anybody with a smart phone 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.

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

Brian Ellis5 - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017

  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.

For his advance crisis preparation exercise, Ellis provided each table with one of three scenarios: a data breach, a criminal activity and an active shooter incident. Each table’s participants were then given a few minutes to develop a list of questions they thought they might be asked, write out three key messages and quotes to use in response, and write out four social media posts and five action steps to take from a communications perspective.

The more questions each group anticipated, the more articulate were their key messages, social posts and action steps.

“In the blame game of a crisis, the CEO will usually get fired if he or she isn’t prepared and then tries to wing it,” said Ellis. “Being unprepared is inexcusable.”

Ellis cited an example of the apology made by BP CEO Tony Hayward during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Hayward concluded his apology by saying, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

“Few will remember (Hayward’s) apology, but everyone remembers those infamous last five words,” said Ellis. “They negated everything else he said.”

In a more recent example, United Airlines made the mistake of using the term “re-accommodate” when referring to the action the airline took in dragging a recalcitrant passenger off one its planes. “United lost $1.4 billion over that incident. They transport millions of people a year. They should have foreseen the risk and been prepared to respond appropriately,” said Ellis.

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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Content Overload Dilemma – Or – Why Podcast

By Tracy Schario, APR, and Meredyth Jensen

We’ve been talking a lot about podcasts over coffee this summer. Meredyth produces The 10-Minute Mentor, an executive management conversation series for Merryck & Co. Tracy regularly consumes Dear Sugars (one of whom is Cheryl Strayed, best known for her memoir Wild), Dinner Party Download (DPD) and The Splendid Table, among others. We muse about what makes a good podcast. Finding women’s voices in the audio stream. The myriad of marketing podcasts that are somewhat lackluster, yet popular. Creating podcasts that offer distinctly different content rather than merely another distribution channel for content. The challenges of marketing and distributing a podcast. The possibility of creating our own PR/Marketing mavens series.

A few facts that inform the deliberation.

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Courtesy: Pexels/Torsten Dettlaff

With more than 42 million weekly listeners, according to The Infinite Dial 2017, an annual trends report by Edison Research and Triton Digital, podcasts have proven their staying power. In fact, it is their power of connection that makes the medium so effective. The listener chooses the topic that speaks to his or her need for information, education, entertainment or inspiration. Dear Sugars may bring one to tears but the Icebreaker on DPD most always brings a chuckle.

Podcasts also appeal to a wide range of listeners – nearly equal thirds for Ages 18-34, 35-54 and 55 and older. The Edison Triton researchers conclude, “The audience for podcasts continues to be predominately 18-54, and leans slightly male.” If you are considering launching a podcast, understanding your audience is a critical first step to developing content, length, format and frequency.

With today’s smart phone driven culture, it should be no surprise that 81% of subscribers listen on a mobile device. While many download podcasts and listen immediately, 41% download for later and 27% subscribe. Not only are podcasts convenient for on demand consumption, you can multi-task while listening, while driving or working out, for example. Stop. Start. Rewind or fast forward in 15-second increments. Pause and continue later.

One of the most essential findings from the Edison Triton research is that 48% of monthly podcast consumers follow company brands on social media. That number is sure to increase. Podcasts are an opportunity to build your multi-channel content strategy and utilize social media for promotions.

Why podcast? An ROI case study illustrates the business value.

For Merryck & Co., the catalyst for developing a podcast series was a way to build their brand position as a global leader in executive advisory and leadership development. Their unique value proposition is having a cadre of experienced C-suite executives who provide 1-on-1 mentoring services to Fortune 250 senior leaders. We started with an audio storytelling strategy on a topic Merryck knows best: leadership in the age of disruption. By featuring authentic, pragmatic, and thought-provoking conversations between Merryck’s CEO and top business executives, each episode uncovers crucible moments that defined them as leaders.

Whether the discussion dives deep into managing through crisis, leading through transformation, or dealing with activist investors in the boardroom, Merryck has put a content stake in the ground with subject matter experts that have helped countless listeners accelerate their own leadership impact. And the return on the investment speaks volumes. The series has driven a 10X year-over-year increase in web traffic, while the dedicated podcast page of Merryck’s website is consistently one of the top three most visited pages on the site since it first launched last November. Additionally, two new (six-figure) clients who listened to The 10 Minute Mentor were inspired to hire Merryck based on topics that resonated with their current leadership challenges. Another outcome is the increase in executive visibility – not only for Merryck’s CEO, who has doubled his public speaking engagements this year – but a surge in client inquiries for each Merryck mentor who has been featured on a podcast.

Conclusion?

By now, if you haven’t considered creating a podcast, it’s time to contemplate this compelling distribution channel for content, brand management and as a potential new revenue driver. It requires skill in audio recording and editing, a vision for how you can advance the conversation in an increasingly crowded space and the ability to engage an audience through dialogue. Sounds easy, right?

As you explore the pros and cons of podcasting, here a few good reads to help develop your business case for the investment.

As for our coffee chats, perhaps we’ll soon be podcasting to test out our hypothesis that there is space for more women’s perspective on the happenings in our industry. And you can bet we’ll be scouting for more great podcasts.

Seven Ways to Form Meaningful Business Relationships

By Susan Matthews Apgood, News Generation

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Susan Apgood (middle) at the 2015 Thoth Awards

No matter your industry, the benefits of knowing how to form meaningful relationships with other professionals are exponential. And while maintaining relationships may be as simple as sending an email once in a while, forming those relationships is a whole other story. All meaningful business relationships have one key factor in common: mutual benefits. Being able to give is just as important as getting, and one cannot happen without the other. Each of these seven ways to form relationships rely heavily on mutual assistance:

 

  1. Find a Mentor and/or Mentee: Early in my career, I viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness. As a young business owner, I feared that not knowing how to do something would turn away potential clients and make employees nervous. It wasn’t until I found myself in a position where people came to me for assistance that I realized the true benefits of asking for help. The mentor-mentee relationship is a great way to build a strong business relationship early in your career, and even decades in. But the most important factor of a meaningful mentor-mentee relationship is mutual benefit. The relationship must go two ways. Don’t overlook how much your mentee can teach you, and don’t ask too much of your mentor. If the relationship becomes too much of a “take” on one side, it will not last.
  2. Consider Joining a Peer Group: Peer groups are an easy way to meet other professionals in different industries, that are in the same position as you, and faced with the same challenges. As a member of Vistage for seven years, I came to realize how much others can help you, and how much you can help them in return. Not only have I gained insightful advice from my peers, I’ve also seen first-hand how giving, but not getting in return, can limit business relationships. Like all networking groups, you get back what you give out. And don’t overlook the benefits of joining industry-specific groups, like PRSA. Getting to know peers within your industry in your community is invaluable. My experience with PRSA-NCC here in the D.C. area has allowed me to build some of the best personal and professional relationships I have.
  3. Understand Who You’re Working With: Everyone differs in how they like to be communicated with, and nothing is more beneficial than understanding what type of person you’re trying to form a relationship with. A simple way to read people is by evaluating their personality based on tests. Some people like quick and to–the-point communication, while others prefer more personal sentiments like starting an email with “Hope you had a nice weekend.” Knowing how people want to be communicated with, and showing them how you want to be communicated with in return makes a balanced, meaningful business relationship. For example, if the person I am working with is a “red,” I don’t have to go through the formalities when asking a question of them, but if they are a “green,” I definitely do.
  4. Help Others Get Valuable Experiences: In the business world, few things are more meaningful than helping others get valuable experiences. Connecting one meaningful business relationship with another that will provide mutual benefits for both will not only help out a peer, it will strengthen your relationships with both parties. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask someone you know professionally to introduce you to other people. If you think a connection would be great to speak on a panel or serve on a board, speak up and ask them if they would like you to nominate them. Many people are too shy to nominate themselves, and if you do, they will not only be grateful to you, but so will the beneficiaries of their talents at the conference or on the board.
  5. Work with Clients with Similar Office Cultures and Thoughts: As a business owner for 20 years now, I’ve learned how I want to represent myself and my business, and how I don’t. Staying true to your office culture by working with clients that hold those same values is a great way to form relationships with both individuals and companies. Working with and trying to form relationships with those who have very different ways of conducting business may make it difficult to form meaningful relationships. It is important to know when a culture is not a fit, and potentially walking away from a client that is not a good match for you and your time.
  6. Be Persistent: Being persistent is important, but there is a huge caveat. Be persistent, but always have a reason. Emailing prospective clients to just ask for work can quickly read as too sales-y. But, when you have a reason such as “I was recently reading about your work” or “I loved your post on LinkedIn,” can make the difference between a read and unread email. One easy “reason” to connect clients is by sending out a newsletter, which involves minimal work on the receiver’s end, but can keep your business in the back of their mind. My goal is never to convince clients and potential clients to use broadcast services in general, because they can come to that conclusion on their own. But, if a client is in the market to buy products that we offer, we want them to choose us over a competitor. Building and maintaining a strong relationship before it comes to decision time is one way to do that.
  7. Know Your Industry: Being a master of your industry will allow you to fully understand how to give and receive in your business relationships, especially when they are with professionals outside of your industry. Even if that means working with competitors, being able to recognize a mutually beneficial opportunity comes from a deep understanding of your industry. This understanding will also help you identify ways that you can give in a professional relationship, thus making the relationship stronger. Let your hard work speak for itself.

The key to making it in the business world is to know how to interact with other professionals, and form mutually beneficial relationships with them. Having these meaningful professional relationships will allow you to advance your careers and find opportunities that may not have been presented to you otherwise. But always keep in mind, you will only get out of your relationships what you put in.

Stay tuned…

Communications Can’t Cure the Current Chaos

Reflections on a thought leadership event.

by Samantha Villegas
Samantha Villegas, APR, is President of SaVi PR, and currently serves on the PRSA National Board of Directors. She was the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

I don’t know about you but as a communicator, my optimism is at an all-time low, and my cynicism is at an all-time high. Though fake news (or lies or propaganda or whatever phrase you prefer) is nothing new, it’s now being created and disseminated at rates and volumes beyond what we’ve ever experienced before. And thanks to today’s sharing technology, it proliferates at warp speed. Couple this with the apparent loss of respect for facts and science – scientific method and critical thinking – and what is a professional communicator to do? It seems we can’t win for trying.

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Courtesy: Pexels/Stokpic

The science, data, and peer-reviewed study behind such important issues as climate change, vaccinations, and gun violence, for example, is indisputable, and yet, here we are, every day, forced to engage in insidious conversations about whether sea levels have risen or fallen (they’ve risen); whether vaccinations cause autism (they don’t) and whether having more guns and easier access to them makes us safer (they don’t). Each one of those facts, whether someone likes them or not, can be definitively defended, because there is ample data, peer-reviewed studies and science to back them. I know them like I know hot food will burn my tongue and the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Despite that, people are disputing them, with points that are irrelevant, not fact-based or just wrong. And they dig in and stay put.

The scariest part is this behavior is not confined to a small group of naysayers or even only the uneducated. This behavior can be seen in Ivy League graduates, serving in some of our country’s highest leadership positions, who are using it as a tool to push political agendas. It’s used by leaders in business and government to relax regulations that were grounded in science and put in place to protect public health, just so they can pad profit. This adherence to misinformation and disinformation, whether involuntary due to ignorance or purposeful for politics, comes with tremendous consequences. It has me feeling a bit paralyzed, frankly, as if the only firm ground I’ve ever known has suddenly crumbled away.

So I was glad to have the chance, recently, to attend a panel discussion about fake news and its impact on journalism and the public relations profession. A lot of agreement on the state of things, and very sound advice for dealing with our new normal was offered, such as:

  • Use non-confrontational language, even when challenging those who present ideas based on false premises
  • Be advocates for teaching the next generation critical thinking skills, how to interpret, analyze and evaluate information
  • Invest in market research to understand your audience’s wants
  • Speak plainly and in an authentic voice
  • Don’t jump in without first understanding context and having a strategy
  • Keep messages short
  • Build partnerships and alliances rather than challenge misinformation, disinformation, lies and false “facts” alone
  • Be vigilant in advocating for truth in communications

This is all, undeniably great advice. But here’s the thing: all those bullets apply to any communications professional at any time in history. All of this represents some of the very basics of savvy communications. Granted, not all of us can practice all of this all of the time. Budgets get in the way of conducting meaningful research. Deadlines prevent us from building the critical partnerships. And sometimes, the arrogance of a decision-maker stops us from being able to say the exact right thing in the exact right way we should. I get it, we can’t always be on our game. But, if most of us are doing most of this, most of the time, how is this chaos still happening?

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Courtesy: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Someone on the panel said truth is now a differentiator. Truth, as a differentiator. Let that sink in for a second. On the one hand, I can’t contain my sheer despondence if that’s the case. And two, at a time when facts don’t matter and he who lies best wins, how does truth set you apart, let alone set you free? Whose truth? Which truth?

Fellow communicators, we’re facing the challenge of our careers right now. I don’t have any easy answers for you. Of course we must follow the panelists’ advice, as I hope you always have been. We shall endeavor to seek first to understand before being understood. We shall strategize first and write truthful pithy copy in snack sized bites, and we shall seek common ground and partnership with different minded but similarly missioned (or is it similarly minded but different missioned?) groups. We shall continue to do as I think we have all been endeavoring to do, with added vigor and purpose.

But please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t believe these approaches will cure what ails us.  So while I am grateful for the sage reminders, I don’t think these issues – this lack of critical thinking, self-control, or basic understanding of science, can be fixed by upping our communications game. We need to stay focused and bring our best every day, but I think we just need to let this stink bomb dissipate.

As one colleague put it so well, “The flames of emotion are being fanned at such an alarming rate that I have no sense of how to encourage critical thinking in so many people who form opinions about policy and events from tweets.”

Another I spoke to about this said she “fear[s] for what happens when too many among our citizens fail to reason rationally and logically, and fail to think independently,” and I couldn’t agree more.

So, we must do all these things the panel said. Do your best work. And bide your time, because we can’t change crazy but we can outlast it. I predict that in a few years, after another election cycle or two, we will look back at this and shake our heads. We may even get a chuckle. We will have volumes of remember whens and memes and footnotes and stories. And we will snap back to reality, where facts are facts, truth is truth, lies are lies, and love is love. At least I hope that’s what will happen. See you on the other side.

Enter Your Firm’s Best Work to Win a 2017 Thoth Award from PRSA-NCC

By: Jillian Cameron, News Generation, Inc.

The 48th Annual Thoth Awards, hosted by the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter, recognizes and celebrates outstanding strategic public relations programs and components created in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

Named for the Egyptian god of communication, the Thoth Awards (pronounced “tot”), is the National Capital Chapter of PRSA’s local version of the Silver Anvils. Previous winners include the National Education Association and Ogilvy Washington’s Bring Your Brave Campaign, among many others. The awards recognize work in public relations across 34 categories, ranging from public relations campaigns to tactics.

Entry to the 2017 Thoth Awards is open to both PRSA-NCC members and non-members, and will be open until Monday, June 24, 2017. But why should you apply to the 2017 Thoth Awards? As Raymond Crosby, President & CEO of Crosby Marketing Communications, puts it:

“The Thoth Awards are really worthwhile because the entries are judged by industry peers who know how to recognize great work that gets real results.  The greater Washington, DC region has a lot of high profile agencies and organizations that participate in this competition, so winning a Thoth says you’re the best of the best.”

This year’s Thoth Awards Gala will be held at the National Press Club on Thursday, October 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. Still not convinced the Thoth Awards are for you? Here are some more testimonials from leaders in the Greater Washington, D.C. area public relations community:

“The PRSA-NCC Chapter is the largest PRSA in the country. The communications work produced in the metropolitan D.C. area is national-caliber work. Therefore, to win a Thoth Award is truly a great honor.”

– Jeff Wilson, Vice President, Padilla

“At News Generation, personal interaction with our clients is a huge priority. Being a finalist for a Thoth Award is a great opportunity to invite your clients with whom you entered to spend the evening with you at the Gala. The recognition of being a finalist or a winner positions your client as a thought-leader in the industry in front of peers. It has been a great way for us to continue to grow our relationships with clients, and shows them that the value we are providing them is strong enough to be recognized on such a large scale.”

– Kelsey Pospisil O’Planick, News Generation, Inc.

“For me, as a federal government communicator, the Thoth Award was certainly about recognition, . but so much more, too. It was exhilarating and incredibly satisfying for the entire team at the US Department of Labor to not only “go up against” work done by major corporations, international PR firms and influential trade associations, but to actually win? That was amazing! I knew that our work was as good, or even better, than work done by more experienced and bigger (including budget) Washington area PR professionals. Winning a Thoth proved it. And it was an incomparable morale booster–team members walked a little straighter and held their head up a little higher for weeks after the award ceremony.

This part isn’t as glamourous or exciting, but I think it’s still very important: The application process is a very worthwhile endeavor. It is rigorous and time-consuming, there is no doubt about that. But it makes you think (and think hard); it makes you ask yourself tough questions about your program and its results; it makes you write, and rewrite and edit; and it forces you to defend your project. You can’t just say it was great, you have to prove it. Too often, we don’t have the time to “post mortem” a project (we’re on to the next crisis). Working on the Thoth application gives you an opportunity for serious reflection and professional introspection. Everybody needs to do more of that. Especially PR people!

There was an unexpected benefit of winning several Thoth Awards, as well as winning a PRSA Silver Anvil and Bronze Anvil: our shop became known as a real talent destination—and not just in the federal space, but throughout the Washington, DC public relations community. Recruiting talent became easier (and we attracted the truly best and brightest) because we were an award-winning shop, just as cool and creative and exciting as the boutique PR agency of the moment. The team was certainly proud of that, and applicants very much wanted to be a part of it.”

– Carl Fillichio, Weedmaps, formerly of U.S. Department of Labor

The Value of APR

By Tracy Cooley

Since receiving accreditation, I have had numerous debates with co-workers about the value of APR.

The value of APR is based on the individual as there are many benefits. For me personally, the greatest benefit is reinforcing the principles of public relations that produce strong results. The APR process gave me an opportunity to commit to approaching communication using the RPIE method (Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation) and following PRSA’s code of ethics.

Accreditation can provide a strong foundation for future career growth. While not everyone recognizes the value of the APR designation, it is recognized throughout the profession. There are many professionals, including me, who gravitate to public relations pros who have their APR as it gives me confidence that they have a firm understanding of the RPIE approach.

Pursuing accreditation is a personal decision. It takes time and patience, but most importantly, it requires a commitment to increase your knowledge and broaden your perspective in order to elevate your career.

The good news is that you do not have to do it alone – there are many accredited professionals who will mentor you throughout the process. A strong mentor can make a difference and give you the guidance and tools to ease the way forward.

Personally, I found the accreditation process to be enjoyable. I met numerous people who provided inspiration and motivation. Although I have two degrees in public communication, I still gained valuable knowledge that helped to compliment my formal education. Since it had been many years since I took a test, I enjoyed the challenge of test-taking (surprisingly!).

I would encourage anyone to pursue their accreditation as I believe it expands and enhances the experience of being a public relations professional. The APR process is valuable for professional and personal growth and will provide immense long-term benefits.

Learn more about APR

Surround Yourself with a Like-Minded Team

Surround Yourself with a Like-Minded Team, Who Complement Your Weaknesses:
A Recap of News Generation’s Panel

by Kelsey O’Planick

Panelists

Panelists from Left to Right: Kate Perrin, Regina Lewis, Paul Quirk, Samantha Villegas

Putting the right team together is critical to the outcome and success of your project. Whether you’re in-house looking to bring on some additional help, you’re a PR firm who has won a new client, or a small business or independent looking to offer more value to your clients outside of your core expertise.

It can be much more cost-effective to structure your team in such a way that you’re having people do what they’re great at. Everyone has a stake in the game. Everyone brings something special and unique to the table, and it allows you to capitalize on talent and provide the greatest outcome.

But how do you choose the right people for your team? How do you decide what to outsource help for? A panel of experts recently shared their thoughts and experiences at News Generation’s panel event on Thursday, May 18 at the City Club of Washington, “Developing Your Team & Executing Together: How Organizations, Firms & Independents Can Work Together Effectively.”

The panelists included Samantha Villegas, President of SaVi PR, LLC; Paul Quirk, Director of Communications at Digital Impact Alliance at the United Nations Foundation; Kate Perrin, CEO of PRofessional Solutions, LLC; and Regina Lewis, CEO of Regina Lewis, LCC and Media Contributor & Consultant.

Some of the panelists’ key points were about building your networks, surrounding yourself with other like-minded professionals, and bringing in help when you need it to fill gaps as a cohesive team. It was suggested to find a team that complements your weaknesses for the best results. Also, attend networking events hosted by groups like PRSA and WWPR, and do pro bono work to help secure referrals for clients.

Leverage people you trust and have self-confidence so you don’t have to say ‘no’ to projects when you may have in the past. Think creatively when your team is at a point of change. And on a more pragmatic note, some panelists suggested having a contract and non-compete clause when hiring subs for a project you lead.

For more information on News Generation, a boutique media relations firm in Bethesda, please contact Susan Apgood at sapgood@newsgeneration.com.