About kimballpr

Gary is president of Kimball Hughes PR and a recognized expert in crisis communications and insurance public relations.

Will it all come out in the wash?

I’m on my way back from The Clean Show, where there was tremendous interest in my TRSA-sponsored educational session, “Crisis Communications: A Practical Guide to Protecting Your Reputation.” Whether they were commercial laundry operators or others in the textile industry, attendees recognized the importance of communicating effectively in a crisis.

A massive, cylindrical washing machine

Space ship or tunnel washer? You decide.

Among the highlights of my presentation were:

  • Having a crisis response plan that includes communications protocols for media, customers and other key audiences.
  • Identifying a spokesperson who can represent the company well.
  • Dos and don’ts of media interviews, focusing on honest, open communications.
  • Preparing talking points that drive all answers in media interviews.
  • Incorporating social media in a crisis communications plan
  • The role of leadership in navigating a crisis effectively.

Following the presentation, TRSA hosted a press conference to unveil results of a new survey that reported business and consumer perspectives on service professionals wearing uniforms. The conference also unveiled the new TRSA animated video we developed with videographer Tom Donnelly.

Opening day on the trade show floor was eye opening with the size of the equipment and advanced technology used by the commercial laundry industry TRSA represents. For me, it was a valuable window into an important, far-reaching industry.

A large green banner depicting a women clutching plastic saying "sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in plastic."

The laundry industry has a bright green streak.

Addison Wolfe celebrates milestone, lands recognition in Courier-Times

The Bucks County Courier-Times highlights a milestone for Addison Wolfe. The boutique real estate agency surpassed their $200 million sales mark last year, after only eight years of business. Headed by Art Mazzei, a retired schoolteacher, the agency specializes in high-end homes in Bucks County and the surrounding areas.

Mazzei dedicates Addison Wolfe’s success to their personal touch on each listing and quality service they give to each client.

Addison Wolfe, a client of Kimball Communications, is located in New Hope, Penn. Learn further about Addison Wolfe’s milestone in the Courier-Times article and short video interviewing Mazzei.

How to integrate social media in crisis communications


ePublicist / Foter / CC BY-ND

A crisis is a time of uncertainty that requires the careful management of information. If you don’t move quickly to present the facts and explain your position, then others will do it for you – and that puts the accuracy of the words and images they use beyond your control.

The words and images you use can either spell success and strengthen your future or damage your company’s reputation for years to come. The impact of social media on the crisis communications process has been significant.

Today information flows faster is more complex and independent. It is spread through multiple channels, and as a result, is often less reliable and more difficult to control. You often have just a few hours or minutes to communicate.

Social media must be fully integrated in your crisis communications plan. That means, your social networks are of equal import as other audiences and your community manager should be an effective communicator, as well as a media-savvy professional with appropriate technical skills.

Messaging must be also consistent with other channels, but appropriate for social networks. Candor is expected and an authentic voice is critical.  And, as crisis communications is a two-way process, listening through your social networks can inform your communications with many different audiences.

Above all, you need to consider and plan for all contingencies. Each type of crisis should be considered. Social media will play a critical role in communicating during and after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, cyber breaches and, of course, crises created by social media. But also consider its role in financial crises, human resources issues and (in the insurance world) claims and service issues.

Join me on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 at 11 a.m. EST for the IMCA webcast, “Integrating Social Media in Crisis Communications,” where I’ll explore these issues in more detail.

Filling in the Blanks

If you learn anything in public relations, it’s that when you leave a communication vacuum, people fill it with their own information. And the information they are left to fill in is not often flattering. So, you would think the big airlines could apply that lesson to their customer service. Apparently not.

Edgar Barany / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I had settled in on my Delta flight back from New Orleans, connecting in Atlanta en route to Newark. Just before take off, the pilot tells us that because there was significant turbulence when the plan arrived at Louis Armstrong Airport, they needed to do a physical inspection. In just a few minutes we’d be on our way.

A few minutes later, he breaks the bad news. A mechanic has to perform the inspection and they do not have anyone in the Big Easy to do the job. They are flying in someone from Atlanta or Minneapolis to do the job, and it will be “a few hours.”

Once we begin to consider the implication of an airline not having a mechanic at an airport to do an inspection, we deplane en masse and head to the Sky Club, bar, ticket counter or wait at the gate to rebook our connections.

Fast forward to “a few hours” later and they announce we will be boarding at 1:55 p.m. At 1:55, a flight attendant strolls out of the gate, so I inquire. He sheepishly tells me they have been told nothing by Delta but their schedule says 4 p.m. I share my new information with my new airport friends and lead a line at the counter to rebook my rebooked connection.

My airport friends and I tried to laugh, but for those sitting and waiting with no information, it was anger, disgust and murmurs of “Delta sucks.” All the $25 food vouchers and apologies by the faultless flight crew could not help.

Delta left their worried, anxious customers in the dark for over an hour. Their crew and airport staff lacked both the information and authority to advise and mitigate the fallout among angry passengers. A few communications basics could have helped:

  • Know your audience is tired, worried and anxious, so communicate frequently.
  • Be forthright (we wouldn’t board at 1:55) and honest as circumstances developed (we might be leaving as late as 4 p.m., but hopefully sooner)
  • Acknowledge what we experienced (inconvenience, frustration) so we knew they cared.

People understand mistakes, but when left in the dark they fill in the blanks – and it’s not an image an airline or anyone else wants.

C’mon Delta, you have the resources to do better.

Photo credit: Edgar Barany / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

10 Steps to Being Presentable: Giving Great Presentations

I’m getting ready to train a client group on delivering effective presentations and thought I’d revisit this sometimes scary topic.

Gary and his trusty cheat sheet. Notice how big the font is? That makes it easier to read at a glance.

Gary and his trusty cheat sheet. Notice how big the font is? That makes it easier to read at a glance.

We’ve all been on the other end, in a room with someone standing rigidly at a podium next to a screen where a PowerPoint is about to bore us to tears. Slide after slide filled with data we can’t read and a monotone speaker who looks at the screen more than the audience. We gain nothing more than we could have gleaned from a report and just can’t wait for it to be over.

So when it’s your turn to give a presentation, how do you make it a good one? Here are a few tips based on more extensive advice (and video training) I’ll be sharing with my client:

  1. Know your audience. This helps in so many ways. Make sure your material is geared toward their needs, not yours. If necessary, find out what they want to know in advance.
  2. Get over your nerves. How? Practice so you know your material. The more you know your stuff, the more at ease you will be. But don’t practice in front of a mirror. That just makes you feel weird.  Videotaping yourself, on the other hand, works. Also, don’t worry about perfection. That’s putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Just try to be engaging and interesting. If so, you’ll be better than most.
  3. Nail the open. But how? Unless you are absolutely certain your joke will work, don’t do it. Instead, ask your audience a question. That engages them and is an easy way to get moving in the right direction. And please, don’t try to memorize your opening. Again, that’s too much pressure to be perfect.
  4. Make sure your technology is fool proof. If not, don’t use it. A funny video from a popular movie or television show can be a great icebreaker. But show it to others first to make sure it works. And if the video, PowerPoint or audio is not tested in the facility where you are speaking, just skip it.
  5. Speaking of PowerPoint, it’s not necessary, too often boring and takes away from what the focus should be – your words. If you have important data to share, send it in advance or use it as a hand out. Just hit the high points in your speech.
  6. Make it interesting. That means you don’t read from a script or use big words or jargon. Instead, use stories, case studies, examples your audience can connect with. And tell your audience why they should care about what you’re saying. That is why they’re there.
  7. Don’t get hung up on verbal tics, like uh and um. Many people do it and you should learn to avoid them. But that’s a daily self-training (I heard one trainer recommend putting “uh” in a circle with a line through it and leave it on your desk. That way, as you are talking all day, you are conscious of it). But when you’re presenting, just let it go and keep talking.
  8. Create a presence. We’re not all gifted speakers who can walk the crowd and feel comfortable. But you should use your hands, use your voice so it’s not monotone and at least move a few steps and shake that icy grip you have on the lectern. Try it, it feels good.
  9. Prepare for problems. You go blank? Keep a one-page cheat sheet in front of you so you can quickly glance and find out where you are. You have technical difficulties? Go in with a back up and just move on. If you don’t dwell on the technical problem, neither will your audience. You’re audience does not seem interested? Then ask them questions.
  10. Speaking of questions. Many people ask the audience to hold questions until the end. Why? Because they don’t want to get sidetracked and lose their place. But if you have a cheat sheet, you have no worries.

The Picture – or Rich Media – Is Worth 1,000 Words

For the public relations practitioners out there, let’s take a poll: How important do you think visual elements are to journalists?

A) Very important.

B) Not important at all.

If you answered A) Very important, then your views align with 80 percent of the journalists polled in a recent PRESSfeed survey who said it is important or very important to “have access to photographs and visual images.”

While your answer might have matched up to journalists, nearly half of the PR practitioners polled said visuals in news stories are not important at all to journalists.

Of the surveyed PR professionals, 45 percent said visuals were unnecessary in news stories. Another 39 percent said the same for press releases. Even considering the wording of the survey and how answers might have been perceived, these results demonstrate a stark divide between journalists and PR practitioners regarding the value and need for visual content.

As social media trends continue to embrace highly visual platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, I ask: how could the polled PR practitioners not answer in favor of visuals paired with news content?

Although journalists have controlled the media straps for decades with article placements, PR professionals have their hands firmly on the reigns regarding social media content and engagement. The polled PR practitioners should have considered the volume of pictures and video populating all social media pages as they were clicking in answers to the PRESSfeed survey.

PR Newswire also conducted a study demonstrating the increasing number of press release views where visual content is added. In that study, press releases with photos, video and other media receive 77 percent more views than text-only releases – a lesson PR practitioners know – or should know – instinctively, and need to consider when filling out future surveys on the subject. Get the picture?

Ten Years Later – Are You Ready for a Crisis?

*Originally published in IMCA’s membership newsletter

In March 2002 I walked into conference workshop on behalf of an insurer to do a presentation on crisis response. It was the same conference and topic that I had presented the year before to about 40 people. This year there was 250 people. They moved me into a ballroom.

Once I got my nerves under control I asked myself what had changed? September 11, 2001, of course. The World Trade Center attacks had put crisis preparedness on everyone’s agenda.  There was a mass wake-up call that we had to be prepared for the unexpected.

Ten years later, I’m not sure we are. In talking to friends in the industry, it is surprising how many companies still define a crisis too narrowly, forget to make communications a cornerstone of the plan, or don’t update their plans to account for new developments like social media.

Even in insurance, an industry that is all about evaluating risk, it is too easy to get complacent. That’s big mistake.

Here is a quick checklist to see if you are really prepared:

Your crisis response plans take into account all types of crises.

The point of a crisis is that it often comes on quickly and unexpectedly. Two things we do know is that you can’t fully predict how a crisis will unfold and you can’t start planning once it happens. So a crisis response plan should cover any eventuality – even if you don’t think it will happen. That means terrorist attacks, natural disasters, medical emergencies (think H1N1), internal corruption, financial issues, employment issues and more.

Your plans include input from everyone who should be involved.

A planning team should include not just public relations and operations, but your lawyers, customer service, human resources, outside emergency management officials and more. You want everyone from every department involved in planning – and engaged in the response.

Communications is a cornerstone of the plan.

Too often a crisis plan hinges more on logistical, financial and legal issues and not on communicating with all your stakeholders – customers, community, shareholders, employees, partners, vendors, etc. In today’s world you are judged by how well you communicate. Be ready, do it well, and you can improve your image during the crisis.

Your media response and social media plans are solid.

You must have designated spokespeople and clear protocol to ensure your company is speaking with one voice, and one consistent and effective message. Get media training for all key players, taking into account all media. And make sure social media is integrated in your plan – how will you monitor and respond using social media?

You have a strong leader who can be your spokesperson and communicate effectively.

You need strong leadership in a crisis. Rudy Guiliani made his mark after September 11. Is your CEO the right one to communicate in a crisis? While he or she is the first and obvious choice, it may not be the best. Remember BP’s CEO Tony Hayward?

Your plan is updated annually and takes into account new developments.

There is nothing worse than creating a good plan and sticking it on the shelf to collect dust. Plans only work if there are frequent updates and practice. We used to estimate that you had to be able to communicate effectively within 24 hours of a crisis. Now, with social media, you must be able to act in an hour. That’s not a lot of time.

If you can’t check off everything in this list, then it’s probably a good idea to take a fresh look at your crisis response planning.  Remember, those first hours after a crisis are crucial to how your stakeholders will perceive your company’s image. Don’t skimp on the time and money in good planning – or you’ll be paying a lot more later to clean up the damage.