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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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?

SONY DSC

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.

Back to Basics: Sticking to Change Management Fundamentals in Navigating Trump Administration

By Robert Krueger

Political polls and pundits led the public to believe that President Donald Trump had an unlikely chance of winning the General Election.  Not only were American citizens surprised by the news on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, but so were many leaders in the association, corporate, and nonprofit sectors. After spending months preparing and building relationships with potential appointees in a Hillary Clinton cabinet, these leaders were caught off guard and without plans for how to navigate an unpredicted set of policy and budget priorities in the Trump Administration.

170323-bIn a recent event hosted by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) entitled The Trump Era: How DC Communicators are Capitalizing on Change, panelists addressed how their communications teams are responding to unforeseen changes and how the current Administration’s new focus impacts their organization’s reputation, advocacy efforts, and communication goal strategies.

Greg Staley, senior vice president of communications for the U.S. Travel Association, noted that despite the quick shift in planned messaging, his organization approaches the Trump Administration the same as they would approach any change in Administration. His association is focusing on educating the new Adminstration on the importance of travel industry to the overall U.S. economy.

This same point was echoed by panelist Jamie Hennigan. As Vice President of Strategic Communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, Hennigan said that a big focus of their messaging strategy is to educate Trump officials about the makeup of today’s manufacturing workforce. Contrary to the type of manufacturing job that the Administration has been speaking about in the first 100 days, the traditional manual factory floor laborer, characteristic of Rust Belt cities in the mid-1900s, has not been growing over the past three decades. Instead, the manufacturing sector is now extremely diverse and its workforce skews young.

“It is also important to remember that we also elected new members of Congress, so it involves educating them as well and getting them up to speed. As with every new President, we look to build new bridges and we expect everything to be just fine,” Staley added.

When asked about what have been the biggest changes to their communications role since Trump’s inauguration, panelists reported expanded roles and involvement with overall strategy.  According to Hennigan, his communications team is focused more on recruiting digital-first talent due to their increased importance within the organization.  Members of his team are now regularly at the table for any policy decision since any external communication, including a simple email to members, can potentially turn into a bad situation if not careful with messaging.

“I am now part of meetings that I have never been part of before,” said Michael McManus, vice president of corporate communications and government affairs for Asia Pulp and Paper. “I am now part of expansion and investment meetings, among others. If you are in the market, organizations are looking for people with expertise in government relations and communications to provide them with information and sound advice.”

 

How You Can Achieve With Your Communications Campaign by Adopting the PESO Model

By Ailis Wolf

peso

From left to right: Tyler Suiters, Tara Dunion, Robert Krueger, Dan Higgins, and Sultana Ali.

PR professionals have long seen the need to develop skills traditionally part of the marketing and advertising space. And all communications professionals have been aware of the power of integrating social media as part of a good communications plan.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee hosted, “The PESO Model: Success Requires Communicators Now Adopt a Paid, Earned, Shared & Owned Strategy.” Moderated by the Urban Land Institute’s Robert Krueger, panelists Dan Higgins, director of social and content marketing for the PlowShare Group, Tara Dunion, director of media relations for AARP and the AARP Foundation, and Tyler Suiters, vice president of communications for the Consumer Technology Association discussed how using the PESO model has allowed them to achieve high-impact results for their organizations and clients.

Dunion started by sharing a recent challenge the AARP Foundation faced – recruiting enough volunteers to pack 1.5 million meals for needy seniors across the Washington, D.C. region in one day and obtaining media and social media coverage of the event. They focused paid efforts on volunteer recruitment and included a bus wrap, ads on Pandora and some other social media, and a paid media partnership with NBC4. The media partnership with NBC4 included a social media takeover and, although paid partnerships don’t promise media coverage, this one generated earned coverage on NBC4. A story also ran on the front page of the Metro section of The Washington Post and Lindsey Mastis from ABC7 also did a Facebook Live at the event. The social media promotion ended up helping them reach 3.17 million people and meet their goal of 1.5 million meals for needy seniors.

Higgins presented next and first introduced the five principles everyone needs to keep in mind when employing a PESO strategy –

  • Attention economy – Audience attention is scarce, since people have so many choices about what and how they consume information. Individuals determine what they want to see based on ease of use and we need to keep that in mind.
  • Data – PR professionals may not need to do a deep dive but do need to know the basics about how to attribute campaign success with data.
  • Audience at scale – Know how to reach your audience with paid media – targeting is key.
  • Fragmentation versus convergence – Although there is a fragmentation of media sources, there has also been a convergence. You can put information out on various social media platforms and pitch to traditional media and it can be complementary.
  • Evolved content system – Keep in mind you want your content to last longer to be seen by more people. Users come to content from various sources so look at how to optimize everything, from content on your own website to ads you place elsewhere to social media, to keep users in contact with your content longer.

Suiters said there are three questions you should always ask before engagement to guide your strategy:

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What’s your narrative?
  • Which is your platform?

At CTA, Suiters said they start by doing a deep dive into the data to understand their audience. They look at demographic data to determine what platform is best to reach the audience they are targeting and consider who is most likely to take action, if that is part of their campaign. For a ports campaign encouraging supporters to write their elected officials, CTA pulled news stories about a slowdown at West Coast ports and assembled them into a video, which they pushed out on social media. They ended up with 3,000 messages being sent to 100 senators, 424 representatives and 900+ emails going to the White House.

A key takeaway from the Q&A that followed backed up what Suiters said about understanding your audience being the first thing to do when planning a communications strategy. Higgins stated it’s about getting to the right people at the right time but it’s also about considering all of the platforms and whether your audience uses them and how they interact with each. Suiters told the audience to make it as easy as possible for the audience to get to your content, stay with it, and share it.

Krueger asked the panelists how to convince nonprofits to put money towards campaigns when there are limited resources, even if you are operating within one. Dunion responded by suggesting minimum funding towards the right paid tactics with proper targeting can go a long way, particularly in the crowded marketplace of social media. Suiters suggested using data to show how a particular strategy or tactic can deliver results for the audience you want to reach.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit www.prsa-ncc.org/events.

Know Your Audience, Understand Your Brand’s Voice, and When to Report ROI

By Simran Kumar, News Generation, Inc.

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From L–R: Emily Zeigenfuse, Josh Habursky and Mike Fulton

On Thursday, September 15, PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development committee hosted “Social Media: Staying on Message and on Brand.” Moderated by the Asher Agency’s Mike Fulton, with panelists Josh Habursky, Director of Advocacy, Independent Community Bankers of America, and Emily Zeigenfuse, Senior Digital Strategist, Hager Sharp, the discussion focused around the changing social media landscape. Habursky and Zeigenfuse offered tips on how to stay on brand and maximize budgets while researching audiences on the appropriate social media platform.

Habursky started the discussion by emphasizing the importance of understanding the brand’s voice and message. Zeigenfuse continued by encouraging PR pros to be sure to craft messaging that resonates with the desired target audience. She also talked about creating content that is unique to each channel and understanding who is using which channel.

brand2When it comes to staying “on brand,” Habursky said it’s necessary to know what a brand’s “untouchables” are. For example, the McDonald’s arches are signature to the McDonald’s brand. As communications professionals, it would be unreasonable to try to change something so iconic. According to Zeigenfuse, it’s important to go back to basics, and understand what a brand or client’s end goals are in terms of social media campaigns and then work backward to meet them.

For all social media campaigns, the ability to show ROI to management is key. Habursky talked about being sure to show tangible results. Zeigenfuse echoed Habursky, and said the ideal measure of success depends on a client and their end goals. As for how often to report results, both Habursky and Zeigenfuse said it depends on whether a campaign is paid or unpaid, and that when it’s a paid campaign, it’s often necessary to report more often to determine if messaging should be changed.

brand3If you’re struggling to convince senior management to pursue a social media strategy, Habursky stressed the importance of having an advocate within your organization that’s going to be first follower. Zeigenfuse also talked about being able to show senior leadership why it’s important to have a presence on social media. When collaborating with digital influencers, Zeigenfuse talked about the importance of trying to work with someone who is passionate about the specific organization’s cause. Haburksy stressed the importance of building a relationship and showing an influencer the value of getting involved with the organization.

As for future social media changes, Haburksy said he’s recently looked at what presidential candidates are doing as they usually use innovative techniques. For Zeigenfuse, one of the next big changes will be related to content publishing.

The lively discussion with Habursky and Zeingenfuse offered the audience takeaways for staying on message and on brand on social media and tips for keeping up with changing trends in the industry.

For details on upcoming PRSA-NCC events, visit www.prsa-ncc.org/events.

The Meaning Behind Words: Bates Delivers an Acclaimed Workshop for More Powerful Writing

by Alex Hopkins, Communications Associate, Union Plus

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

Don Bates at Writing Workshop; Photo credit Danielle Heiny/@DanielleHeiny

As communicators, we may take for granted that digital communications has quickly become an integral part of the global infrastructure. When our blogs, press releases, and other writing materials appear on the internet, our words contribute to a make-or-break digital paper trail that not only raises awareness of our employer’s image, but also of our own personal brand. Words thus have more power than ever to become motivators for a vast audience to think and act according to our employer’s communications agenda. For many years, this is what veteran public relations expert Don Bates has taught to communicators both in D.C. and New York City.

On August 18, Bates delivered his popular workshop “Write More Powerfully & Strategically for Public Relations & Public Affairs Purposes in Social and Traditional Media” at Hager Sharp. With over 30 participants, the all-day event gave practitioners the opportunity to form meaningful relationships and work together to turn average written pieces into perfectly-polished prose. Throughout the workshop, participants learned that their teamwork reflected Bates’ observation that communicators should be marshaling their audience to work together to discern and accomplish common goals.

Bates was also joined by Anthony Shop, the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Social Driver, a digital marketing agency based in D.C. In a departure from the traditional top-down marketing approach of the past, Shop observed in his well-regarded presentation that “social media democratizes information — even if there is a lot of ‘noise.’” Using the analogy of a lightning strike, Shop said that, although marketers may only see lightning coming top-down, the energy sparks actually come from the ground — much like how audiences are increasingly calling the shots in a bottom-up marketing approach. With the ability of just about anyone to become a digital communicator, Shop taught participants that, because there is more feedback than ever from targeted audiences, communicators must use increasingly-original techniques to raise brand awareness amidst the marketing storm of “noise” around them.

By the end of the day, participants received a treasure-trove of Bates’ knowledge in the form of 100+ page binder that they could took back to work with them. What the participants learned from the event reflected the universal acclaim of the exercises and presentations. Remarking on Bates’ insistence on concise writing, one participant said, “I’m going to challenge myself to write tweets that are less than 140 characters.” Another participant agreed, adding, “I’m going to think more of how I can work together with my audience before I write.”

Interested in the workshop? Bates and the PRSA-NCC will again host the workshop in December. To register, visit: https://www.prsa-ncc.org/write-more-powerfully-strategically-public-relations-public-affairs-purposes-traditional-and-social.

Michael Smart delivered a solid repeat performance on June 29 of his two half-day workshops: Pitching Bootcamp and Building Media Relationships

Session One – Pitching Bootcamp: by Ana Pinilla, BusinessWire

Michael SmartThe Morning Session “Pitching Bootcamp” started with Michael talking about the problems PR practitioners can encounter when pitching journalists and went on to offer his “pitching playbook” where he discussed several examples of how to do it right – starting off with turning a press release from boring to glowing – making it into something newsworthy that journalists will want to use as part of their reporting.  It’s also about finding the angle for the story – one that could be holiday or seasonally related, a story with human impact, or even proximity to where we live and work, as well as other ideas. Michael went on to discuss the anatomy of a perfect pitch that included appropriate phone and/or email introductions and how to deliver the story with speed and interest. But with all this being said, success also depends on knowing the journalists – what they write about and knowing their style. What was particularly helpful was that Michael provided audio and video examples of pitches – with lots of do’s and don’ts – that made it all so much easier and real to attendees.

 

Session Two – Going Beyond the Pitch: Why Relationship Building Matters: by , News Generation

Michael SmartAs PR pros, we know the importance of building and strengthening our relationships with reporters. This was the focus of PRSA-NCC’s recent series of workshops with media relations expert Michael Smart. During the workshops, Smart offered participants hands-on, practical tips and social media suggestions on how to engage and build relationships with members of the media.

The most important theme he stressed is that you must invest in your relationships with the media. Invest the time and brain space. It is a critical component of your job and helps us be more effective at what we do.

Also, pay attention to what journalists are covering. Engage with their material. Show them that you are following them, that you genuinely care about what they’re reporting. Doing so will help separate you from other PR pros. Learn their style and pitch them in a personal, customized way, and become a credible resource to journalists. When pitching, it’s equally important to show that that we’re respectful of a journalist’s time and deadlines.

(*re-published from News Generation: http://www.newsgeneration.com/2016/07/01/relationship-building-matters-michael-smart-prsa/)