Sorry

sorryBy Karen Naumann, APR, Vice President at Susan Davis International

Apologies abound. From political figures, religious institutions, entertainers, corporations, there seems to be an apology issued in the public domain every week.

Crisis Response

For professional communicators, the apology is an attempt to restore the image of the entity or person, preserve the business/organization, and minimize damage after a crisis. However, simply saying “sorry” is not the proper response for every crisis as academia’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory would inform.

Before taking a message position, culpability should first be carefully considered. Ask, “Was the person or organization actual the victim? Did the situation arise through unavoidable circumstances or unknown factors?” If the answer is “yes,” then “sorry” is not the response.

  • If there is clearly another blame-worthy party, then the message positioning could shift blame to the culprit and attack the accuser of the false accusation.
  • If there is some negligible responsibility to be taken, then minimizing role and justifying choices may be the best message positioning.
  • If, however, responsibility for a tragic and avoidable situation falls with your client or organization, then “sorry” is only the beginning. Compensation to those affected and demonstrating authentic change is immediately required.

This is a simplistic framework of crisis message positioning. The content of the crisis response will likely be multi-layered.

Sometimes the foundational messaging framework is followed by necessary instructional information for those affected by the crisis. Instructional information can be actions taken to correct or mitigate the threat of the crisis for stakeholders. Also, expressions of compassion and sympathy may need to be part of the messaging, especially if there was a loss of human life.

Regardless of response message positioning selected, always be transparent, accurate and swift.

Once the Smoke Clears

The above addresses crisis response messaging. Issuing the messaging and fielding media inquiries is not the end of the crisis.

Post crisis is comprised of follow up actions and changes to avoid similar crises in the future. The benefit of time to make sense of a crisis may be an opportunity to issue a report stemming from investigations into the crisis and the actions taken to prevent another going forward.

A thorough report can set the record straight and restore faith in an organization.

The Best Offense Is a Good Defense

In the end, the best crisis is the one that never happens. Preventing crisis should be job #1 for the professional communicator.

Pre-crisis scenario building is pivotal to that risk management role. Scenario building is a strategic-planning technique that projects multiple future situations for an organization.

While there is no rigid scenario building process, the most respected models are rooted in James E. Grunig’s work. Steps to consider include:

  1. Conduct environmental scanning of stakeholders, influences, trends
  2. Identify issues emerging from environmental scan
  3. Zero in on areas of potential crisis, such as legal/regulatory, physical locations, internal employees and clientele
  4. Examine the intersection of issues, stakeholders, influences, trends, and areas of potential crisis
  5. Create response frameworks for the potential crises identified.

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Additionally, actively preparing the crisis response team for the most likely scenarios for an organization is a common initiative led by communicators. These efforts should go beyond the crisis response team to prepare the entire organization from the top down and to open dialogue that promotes deep understanding of what stakeholders think of the most probable crises.

Additionally, communicators, along with internal leadership, should proactively work toward mitigating the circumstances that may lead to the crisis in the first place.

About the Author

Karen Naumann, APR is a Vice President at Susan Davis International, a Washington D.C.-based public relations and public affairs firm. She is a member of the PRSA-NCC Board of Directors.

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25 Criteria to Review Before Writing for PR Purposes

By Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA-NCC Writing Workshop Instructor

(Next Washington, D.C., workshop, April 30, 8:30-4:30, at The George Washington University. )

Before you write anything for professional public relations purposes, you need to review these 25 accepted criteria to ensure that your assignment is well-written, its structure is correct and its content is sensitive to the needs and interests of the target audience.

These criteria apply to all PR writing. They are based on what PR managers, writers, researchers, journalists, editors, teachers and consultants consider as essential based on their professional knowledge, experience and expertise.

Print the list, which is alphabetical, on a large note card or half sheet of paper you can attach to your computer, printer, bookcase or somewhere else close at hand where you can easily read it.

  1. Accurate
  2. Actionable
  3. AP styled
  4. Attributed
  5. Audience-centric
  6. Benefits focused
  7. Clear
  8. Concise
  9. Credible
  10. Direct
  11. Engaging
  12. Evaluated
  13. Factual
  14. Incisive
  15. Informative
  16. Insightful
  17. Logical
  18. Measured in tone
  19. Persuasive
  20. Positive
  21. Readable
  22. Researched
  23. Simply stated
  24. Strategic
  25. Substantiated

Please share the list with colleagues, students, clients and employers. You have my permission.

About the Author

Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a well-known PR/PA executive, writer, teacher and consultant. He has worked for national and international corporations, nonprofit causes, professional associations and agencies. He conducts writing workshops worldwide. He has taught in China, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Switzerland, Peru, Spain and other countries. Don also teaches graduate public relations courses at New York University and is a senior advisor on PR agency M&A with Gould Partners. He owned and operated The Bates Company, NY/DC-based PR and marketing firm, which he sold after 12 years in business. He is a member of the PRSA-NCC and PRSA-NY chapters, and an honorary trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, which he helped to establish.

Hobby Your Way to CEO

By Helen Sullivan, APR, Fellow PRSA

Sullivan021419

Are you working too hard to have time for a hobby? Rethink that. If you want to move up the corporate ladder, get a hobby. That’s the takeaway from a fascinating article in the October 2018 Harvard Business Review (HBR).

According to HBR, many CEOs of top companies in the United States have one thing in common: they make time for hobbies they are passionate about, and those hobbies enhance, rather than detract from, their ability to succeed.

According to the article, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, moonlights as a DJ. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, plays squash. Whether they’re cycling, studying Taekwondo, being a drummer in a band, playing basketball, building a collection, flying airplanes or fishing, these CEOs don’t just play, they excel. Many attribute their hobbies to their success—teaching them lessons in humility and authentic leadership, providing a true escape, helping them learn never to quit and finding ways to be their best.

My favorite quote was from Andy Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, who said, “I train a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and you know, when someone’s trying to take your head off, you pretty much can only think about that.”

Down time is much needed time to refresh your body and soul. Don’t feel guilty on that golf course, race course or online art course–you need that, and maybe your career needs it, too.

Originally posted on the IPMI Blog of the International Parking & Mobility Institute

Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 2

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

In last week’s blog post, I shared with you two key parts of building your company’s message document, and this week, I’ll highlight the remaining two—must-say messages and “factsheets.”

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 1

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

Remember the “telephone” game we used to play as kids? You’d whisper into the ear of your friend something like: “Alf doesn’t know where Kate went” and, after making its way from person to person, the phrase would come out of the last kid’s mouth as “Kate would make a great president.”

The same thing happens in business. That’s because many companies—even large, well-established ones—often don’t make time to define their company and its benefits in writing so they can be understood, and then create a good, solid set of messages. Instead, information gets passed around, email by email, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services. The sales people are telling potential customers one thing, the marketers are saying another and the CEO, something else entirely.

The Power of a Unified Message

Customers won’t buy if they don’t understand exactly what it is they are being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can’t figure you out, they’re not going to pay attention. Both the definition and the messages can be used by every member of your staff – and others outside of your company who champion your cause, service or product – as a roadmap for effective communication. A group of people, all using the same key talking points consistently is a very powerful communication and public relations tool!

My company, RDC Public Relations, LLC, has worked with dozens of organizations to create effective key messages.

A good message document has four parts:

  1. The company ID
  2. The elevator speech
  3. 4-5 key must-say messages that need to get into all your communications, from press interviews to presentations.
  4. Overall messages: the “factsheet” stuff that everyone on the team needs to know.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the first two parts of a good message document, and next week, we’ll take a look at the last two pieces.

1) The Company ID

With a bit more detail, the elevator speech (#2) can be expanded into the company ID (No. 1).  The company ID is most often called the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases. It need not be difficult to create a good, solid definition. Start by looking at what your competitors say about themselves. Yours needs to be more compelling than theirs, of course. So, look at all your communication—marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, the web site and the slogans on those little frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can’t find at least three markedly different ways in which your company has been defined, you’re not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they are engraved on the building.

2) The Elevator Speech

Creating a killer elevator speech is critical. It’s the 15-second answer to the question, “So what does your company do?” What they are really asking is “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to interest a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee.

Look at it from your customers’ perspective. If you are a gadget maker, it’s not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it makes life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you “make software” — thousands of companies do. But if you make software that “helps law enforcement officers around the world share evidence and close otherwise unsolvable cases,” that’s compelling. Compare that to “we’re a software company that makes products for law enforcement.” Once you draft your elevator speech, try it out on everyone, particularly employees and customers. They’ll tell you quickly if you’re off base. Then, when you have the right one, go back and incorporate it into all your communication.

That’s a quick look at your company ID and elevator speech and how they’re critical to your messaging. Next week, we’ll explore the must-say messages and “factsheet” for your company.

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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Storytelling: Five PR Programs that Succeeded Based on a Big Idea

By Helen Sullivan, APR, Fellow PRSA

I’m into the transformative power of a big idea. You can think, think, think and work so hard to get to a big idea that will be the engine behind a successful public relations campaign. Once all your efforts come together—and research certainly helps that process—big ideas always end up sounding so simple. That’s one of the hallmarks of a big idea that will work.

#1 Turning a Big Idea into a Bigger Budget

Even when clients say they have no money or a too-small budget, I have found that somehow there is often money available for a big idea.

An association client of mine years ago had an annual public relations budget of $300,000. Although this was a national campaign that clearly needed more money for expansion, we couldn’t get the client to increase the budget. Then I decided to stop thinking about it as an “annual” budget.

Instead, I pitched the client on a big idea—one they could leverage to their membership. We were going to launch a million-dollar public relations effort. That had a nice ring to it, and it would be a big splash to share at their board meeting, in their trade publication and at their annual conference. While $300,000 a year had been too much, all of a sudden a two-year, million-dollar PR program became a huge hit.

#2 Sleeping on Big Ideas

Two big ideas have been responsible for the sustained success of the mattress industry under its Better Sleep Council PR arm.

The first early on was that the industry doesn’t sell mattresses—it sells a good night’s sleep. That notion now seems commonplace, but when this program launched in 1983 it was a game-changer.

The second idea more than paid for the campaign: If you could reduce the time that consumers keep a mattress by even one or two years, the revenue increase would be a windfall for the industry. A key program message was that mattresses should last eight to 10 years (which now has dropped to about seven years). The program’s measurable outcomes not only increased revenue and unit sales, but the industry also created a category for ultra-premium bedding that had not previously existed.

These big ideas contributed to the program earning both a PRSA Silver Anvil and PRSA-NCC Best of Show Thoth awards.

#3 Noodling a Big Idea

For a national association of pasta manufacturers, sales had been flat for years. The association’s public relations program was centered around the message that noodles aren’t fattening, and outreach was relegated to recipe drops in food magazines and publications with food sections. Focus-group and man-on-the-street research found that message to be unmotivating and not credible.

What we did notice in talking to consumers was that people smile when you engage them about pasta. We mounted a national campaign to make pasta trendy, focusing on pasta as a lifestyle product. It featured tiered messages to different groups (gourmet, budget, easy-to-portion for singles, etc.).

The pay-off was a complete industry transformation. Within two years of the campaign launch, per capita pasta consumption had increased by one pound. That’s a lotta pasta!

This program won a PRSA Silver Anvil and an American Society of Association Executives Gold Circle award.

#4 A Big Idea that Proved Fruitful

What won over an association of apple growers? A big idea that was so simple, yet irresistible.

For decades, their letterhead had featured an illustration of red apples. Why were they all red? Our new design had seven apples—one for each day of the week—mixing red, green and yellow. The apple farmer board members from Washington state (home of the Granny Smith) were all in.

On a very modest budget, we maximized our campaign by riding the coattails of something familiar (another good idea for shoestring budgets)—an apple a day—and created a program that focused on the health benefits of fresh fruit, which is the industry’s most profitable product.

#5 Driving a Big Idea Home

For the International Parking Institute, the largest association of parking professionals, the goal was to raise the visibility of the often-misunderstood, unappreciated profession as a true profession. We also wanted to earn their members a seat at the planning table with architects, developers, building owners and urban planners.

In laying the groundwork for the PR effort, it became clear that members of the profession didn’t truly understand their worth. An industry-wide public relations and marketing initiative called Parking Matters® turned that around.

A recent survey of parking professionals showed that more than half believe that perceptions of parking have improved in the past five years.

 Building Big Idea Skills

These are just a few examples of big ideas that helped achieve big goals. Beyond the big idea, they were all supported by a comprehensive plan following PR’s four-step process: research, planning, implementation and evaluation.

I love reading about successful campaigns and analyzing messages that really resonate—even corporate taglines—to discern the big idea behind them. Coming up with big ideas is a muscle that needs to be exercised to be ready for the next challenge.

Sometimes the big idea involves narrowing an effort to a single, most-influential target audience or condensing the timeframe to a particular month. Sometimes, the big idea is rethinking how it’s always been done and framing a whole new view of the situation. Once you feel confident you have that big idea, your next challenge is to sell it. We’ll tackle that in a future blog post!