What to do when crisis strikes

By its very nature, when a crisis hits you will be on the back-foot.  But this is when the preparation you have done in advance, often many years ahead, will kick-in and the plan that was developed especially for this purpose will save your bacon.  If you don’t have a plan, then our advice is to develop one now.

When a crisis strikes, it is important not to respond in a knee-jerk fashion and your plan will allow you to respond efficiently.  It will take you through the steps you need to take to ensure that your response is appropriate and proportionate.

Spokespeople

One of the most important things is to make sure you have a spokesperson who is well trained. Media training is essential for everyone and the skills needs to be practised to keep them fresh and ensure that when they’re needed the spokesperson is able to deliver clear, unflustered messages that are factual and reassuring. In most cases, journalists will want to conduct their own interviews with company spokespeople who will, ideally be someone from within the company rather than an external consultant. There are some simple and very effective techniques that all trained spokespeople should be able to employ in live interview situations.  If you’re the designated spokesperson, preparation is always the best ammunition; anticipate the questions that will be asked, even the ones you hope won’t be, and prepare your answers, sticking to the facts and remembering that you represent the company, brand and reputation.  In all but a very few circumstances, interviews will be edited down to less than a couple of minutes, in most cases just 30 seconds or so.  So, be mindful of this when you’re talking and find ways to repeat your core message so that however the interview is edited, this message will be delivered loud and clear.

In times of crisis it is always important that your spokesperson expresses concern for the potential impact of the situation, whether it will have a direct or indirect effect on individual people, communities, the environment or wildlife. Never underestimate the power of empathy for taking the heat out of a situation.

If your company doesn’t have a spokesperson confident and able to deliver interviews, then the best advice is always to put your comment in writing – a written statement is far better than no statement at all and, if it’s in writing, you have complete control of your messaging.

Don’t try to hide

Bad news will not go away and should not be buried.  Think back to some of the massive media issues we have witnessed in our time and in many cases there was an initial attempt to bury or disguise the bad news – Edwina Curry and the salmonella in eggs crisis is a great example; the egg industry learned, at its great cost, that burying their heads was not the solution and it took them many years and the invention of a new quality lion mark to bring their industry back from the brink.  Those were the days before the Internet even existed and you can just imagine the magnified impact of a crisis like that now with the speed of social media. One ill-advised word from a spokesperson these days can spread across the globe in minutes.

Back-up team

As well as a reliable front-person, you also need a team in the background, who are responsible for the various different aspects of investigating the causes and managing the effects of the crisis, to bring the situation under control.  A simple, fast channel of communication involving these key people is essential and can be written into the crisis plan well before problems arise.

Media front-line

There should always be just one point of contact for the media – if journalists obtain their information from several sources the messages will undoubtedly become confused and it will be more difficult to contain stakeholders’ interest and concern. There will ideally be a team of people behind this first point of contact to handle the volume of enquiries that may arise.

Inform all other staff that they are not to engage with the media and make sure you give them adequate information and/or training in how not to engage – journalists can be extremely persistent and will use many ‘tricks’ to get the inside track if they feel the resulting story may be worth it.

Never, ever say ‘no comment’.  This simply implies guilt.  Much better to give a comment that provides very little information if that information isn’t yet available and will satisfy the media that action is being taken, for example ‘we are aware that xyz and an internal investigation is being conducted’.

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘off the record’.  It is a journalist’s job to find news and they will invest time in building relationships to get their story – remember that no matter how friendly they may seem, they can and will use your words to get their scoop.

Make friends on social

Social media can be your friend and your enemy in times of crisis.  One of the important elements of your crisis plan will be the monitoring of and response to on-line conversations.  Great crisis communicators will use the relationships they’ve built up with customers and suppliers on social media to their advantage when a crisis strikes.  These people, loyal to your business, can provide an independent and objective endorsement of the company, its practices and ethos and, as long as they are treated with respect and honesty, will support the company’s position.  Remember that the vast majority of journalists are active on Twitter and use it as a source for stories, so take advantage of this to spread your reassuring messages in times of crisis.

Video

Video forms an integral part of many communications strategies these days and can be used effectively in a crisis too to deliver a clear, personal message to stakeholders which can be posted easily across many owned platforms, as well as being offered to the media.  A crisis will never happen at a convenient time, so ensure that you have a process in place for fast and efficient filming of statements at all times of day and night.

Internal ambassadors

Finally, don’t forget that your employees can and should be your most valuable ambassadors. While they may have been instructed not to speak to the media, they will be talking with clients, suppliers, colleagues, family and friends, so make sure they are well informed as soon as a crisis happens so that they’re able to clearly communicate the ‘party line’.

Top tips for graduates trying to get into PR

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Leaving university can be frightening; the world you have
grown accustomed to for the last few years no longer exists and you are faced
with the very real task of finding a job in a market where candidates typically
outnumber open positions. If you are a graduate on the search for your first
job and are interested in getting into the world of public relations, here are
our five top tips to help you get your foot in the door:

1. Know what is going on – it is essential in PR to be up to date with trade,
regional and national news particularly in the sector you are hoping to work in.
Demonstrating up to date knowledge on digital and social media trends that are affecting
a client’s industry sector will set you apart from other candidates.

 2. Network
communicating is the pillar of PR so it is essential that you are comfortable
talking to people. Networking at events and online is a key skill that you need
to learn and hone in order to show yourself and the company you are working for
in the best light. Digital networking will enhance your presence in the
industry; joining relevant groups on LinkedIn and getting involved in
discussions will help you make connections with appropriate people.

3. Research
before showing up for an interview make sure you have done your research. Often
you will be asked to discuss a favourite PR campaign or stunt and it is
important you have one picked out so you can explain why you feel it was
successful.

4. Work experience
– getting as much industry experience as possible will work in your favour when
looking for a full time position. During your placements you will have been
given the opportunity to draft press releases, gain an understanding of the
day-to-day running of a  press office and
the organisational skills necessary to be successful in this industry. Any work
experience will be a great learning curve and a fantastic opportunity for you
to polish your skills in researching and writing.

5. Build a portfolio
– having a portfolio is a great way of showcasing what you can do, whether it’s
working on your own or as part of a team. Employers are looking for individuals
who are going to deliver results for their clients. Choose case studies that
are relevant to the sector you want to get into, and successful campaigns you
have been involved in that have achieved a spread of coverage in broadcast,
print and online media, and be prepared to talk about how their success was
measured.  

This month at Conscious Communications…

Here’s a taste of what our team has been up to …

 

Marshal Papworth Fund – Farming Today

 

Conscious Communications invited BBC Radio 4 presenter Anna Hill to Shuttleworth College to meet the new Marshal Papworth Fund 10-week Short Course students. The Fund provides agricultural and horticultural scholarships to students from developing countries. The newest students were keen to speak to Anna about how the knowledge and skills learnt in their studies will transfer to their work in eradicating food insecurity in their home countries. The interview aired on 13th May.

‘Skills for Life’ ad campaign

The Conscious Communications team has been getting creative in developing the new ‘Skills for Life’ ad campaign for St Mary’s School, Cambridge. The ads demonstrate how the school provides students with not just the knowledge needed to achieve their dreams but also life skills that enable them to reach their full potential.

AlphaBio Control

AlphaBio Control, a leader in the development of sustainable crop protection products, has obtained funding from the Government’s Innovate UK Agritech Catalyst initiative to advance the development of a unique plant-based crop protection technology. Conscious Communications organised an interview between Iain Fleming, company Founder and Managing Director and Cambridge News’ business correspondent Matthew Gooding, who wanted to find out more about the initiative.  http://goo.gl/QpsU0u

Election debate

Our Managing Director, Alison Taylor, took part in the lively BBC Radio Cambridgeshire election debate, where local MPs discussed their plans for the city. Topics included housing, transport, the economy and education. Listen again here: http://t.co/xbARTyfMUv

Battle of the Marketing mix hierarchy

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public relations noun

1.   the practice of creating, promoting, or
maintaining goodwill and a favourable image among the public towards an
institution, public body, etc.

marketing noun

1.   the provision of goods or services to meet
customer or consumer needs

Someone
recently said to us “Justin Bieber has a great PR strategy”.  As communications professionals this really jarred us and not just because we’re not Beliebers: a) based on this we have to question
people’s understanding of what PR is and b) we question how any of the situations
that the pop artist (loosely speaking) has been in are based on a public
relations strategy as we know it. Crisis management is key for celebrities
prone to saying the wrong thing but advising Justin Bieber to apologise for
breaking the law isn’t “PR strategy”; it’s common sense and damage limitation.

It isn’t
just PR which has varying forms of definition; the terms PR, marketing and
social media are all bandied around, with one being mistaken to mean the other,
and more frequently being used in the same sentence to mean the same thing – a
total blurring of lines. This was bound to be the case with the rise of digital
PR (combining traditional online PR with content marketing, social media and
search) and new marketing platforms and social media apps popping up every day.

Of course when
analysing this evolution of the PR and marketing disciplines we must take into
account that it is largely driven by the general public’s changing behaviours.
There is an increasing trend for consumers to use social media to find
information (trusting reviews from friends more than an article in a newspaper)
and, thanks to social media, it is increasingly difficult to control a brand’s
message. But where does social media fit into the marketing mix, is it via paid
channels or earned media?

Prudential Financial CCO Bob DeFillippo, now
retired, once said:
“Reputations
are not built through advertising campaigns”. We need to ensure that
opportunities aren’t missed that can only be obtained through earned media – in
explicit terms we can’t solely rely on paid for platforms to disseminate our
messages.  To reach our target audience
we must use our earned media in combination with our paid for platforms and
owned channels; it is still a fact that customers will believe and trust
something they perceive to be editorial far more than an advertisement.  

At
Conscious Communications we take an holistic approach to the marketing mix
formula; we use market knowledge and audience insight to define the most
effective mix of digital and traditional public relations, social media,
digital and traditional marketing and advertising within each client programme,
for influencing perceptions, behaviour, purchasing and consumption patterns.  As strong communicators we are committed to questioning
and challenging what is happening in our industry and how it affects our
clients in order to deliver the most effective balance of PR and marketing.

Clifford’s downfall signals bright future for PR

Max Clifford may be an expert at ‘spin’ but he has never been a ‘king of PR’.  In fact, he knows nothing of PR and has never practised anything that Conscious Communications would even loosely term public relations. 

Max Clifford is a publicist who has made fortunes from other people’s misfortunes and we couldn’t be happier that his conviction will remove him from the fringes of our industry and mean that he can no longer taint our profession with his tatty, manipulative money-making practices.

All major industries have their high profile ‘personalities’ and ‘egos’ but few have suffered and survived the degradation of anyone like Clifford.  A thorn in our side for decades, we have soldiered on, building the strength and reputation of strategic public relations practices that have delivered real and lasting impact for organisations of all shapes and sizes across the world.

The research, insight, understanding, knowledge, skill and creativity that we employ to develop and implement PR strategies, to deliver genuine and honest objectives, are qualities that Clifford knows nothing of. 

Now that Clifford’s downfall is complete, neither the public relations profession, the popular media, or the unfortunate people who sold their stories through Clifford, need a replacement, and we look forward to a future for our industry where communication experts can feel proud to call themselves PR professionals again.

The value of media relations

Great media relations skills are honed through years of hands-on experience.  They cannot be learned from a text book.  Top media relations practitioners have a raw talent, an instinct for a ‘story’ and eye for an ‘angle’.  Importantly, they know their audience and understand the media which, in the digital age, is no mean feat.

So what makes a good story?  There is no doubt that bad news shouts louder than good news and that bad news spreads faster and stays longer than ever.  But how do we make a compelling story out of good news? There are six main components that make up news:

  • Immediacy – it is about something that’s happening now
  • Impact – it has the ability to affect lives
  • Change – it is about imminent or actual change
  • Interest – it excites; worries; intrigues; motivates
  • Importance – it is of consequence to individuals and/or communities
  • Relevance – it is topical and of significance

The media landscape has changed dramatically in just the past few years and now employs over ½ million people in the UK.  It is now vastly more complex and dynamic than it was with every member of the public now a potential reporter and self-appointed journalist.  With more channels for news than ever before, competition for editorial space is fierce, so why communicate through the media at all?  Why not choose another way to communicate with target audiences and raise the profile of your company, products or services? 

The one overriding compelling reason is that the media offers the potential for mass dissemination of your messages.  With the right angle, making your story newsworthy, you have the potential to reach many millions of people across the world.  Even more appealing is that, with careful planning and media knowledge, you have the ability to engage with niche markets of interested customers and potential customers.  And, now that the media is so joined-up, you have the ability to push audiences to your own media outlets – your website; blog; pages on social platforms.

Of course one of the reasons why great media relations still carries such value is because a story reported by an independent media channel carries the implied endorsement of that channel, the journalist/editor.  Even better, if the story is delivered in the form of a third party review or endorsement, giving personal endorsement of the products/services, it has yet more value.

And while, prior to the new media age, stories in traditional media became chip paper and were lost overnight, with today’s digital channels, your story has an infinite life, potentially resurfacing time and again dished up by search engines, for many years to come.  So, a little media relations expertise can go a long, long way.

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