Why Lack of a Crisis Communications Plan Should Terrify You

Crises come in many forms.

They could present as one (or more) negative online reviews of your business. Others manifest through the court system in the guise of lawsuits or other law enforcement actions involving executives, employees or clients/customers. Customer complaints, employee disputes or soured relations with the local community or other stakeholders can constitute critical crises situations. Still others might involve negative press coverage or complaints on social media. The worst crises involve issues of life and death.

In Crisis, You’re Surrounded. Sometimes Literally.

Try to imagine having your workplace or for senior leadership, your home, surrounded by numerous news vans for hours or even days; harassing your workers, customers, and neighbors relentlessly to secure comments about whatever negative issue has befallen your organization. Now try to imagine keeping to a business-as-usual schedule as the world puts you under an intense microscope.

You don’t have to be a crisis expert to recognize when your organization is mired in one. In 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described how he determined if something was obscene by famously saying, “I know it when I see it.” The same standard applies for leaders in determining if a crisis exists and how seriously it threatens the organization.

In more than 15 years of crisis communications management, I’ve seen all the above scenarios and quite a few more. Most of the organizations involved were wholly unprepared and found themselves, at best, struggling to manage.

Yes, they had lawyers. In nearly every case, the lawyers were excellent. But lawyers concern themselves with minimizing liability; their concern is rarely public opinion. And public opinion, frankly, will make or break a business’s bottom line or crush a non-profit’s fundraising capabilities, not to mention create reputational damage that can linger for years.

The Scariest Role Playing Ever

I like to pose the following to senior leaders, and while some may find these scenarios alarmist or extreme, they happened. My colleagues and I have managed them. Nearly every case was a bet-the-business situation and in each, the client lacked a crisis plan. This meant the best that could be done was to try to get their version of events out in front.

Imagine getting a text message or email that briefly outlines one of the following scenarios:

  • Your CFO has been arrested, is in custody and there will be a mug shot and perp walk in front of waiting press outside the police or district attorney’s office within the hour.
  • One of your workers has been killed on the job, either in a work-related accident or active shooter incident, and numerous local and national media are asking for a statement immediately.
  • Your CEO has been unexpectedly terminated or has died. The press are seeking an interview with whomever will take over, and the board of directors has called an emergency meeting expecting you to lay out how you will manage this situation.
  • Protesters have surrounded your business with signs and megaphones that are paralyzing your operations and drawing the attention of media regarding alleged poor worker conditions, or health code violations or claims that non-union labor was employed in a recent or ongoing renovation.
  • One of your leading donors has been arrested on charges of financial fraud and the media are reaching out asking if you will return the substantial funds provided to help compensate the donor’s alleged victims.
  • You have been accused of sexual harassment, law enforcement are at your door or on their way to interview you and the press have learned of this and are surrounding your workplace or home right now.

If you were involved in any of the above scenarios and you looked out your window, you would likely see a parade of news vans pulling up while your cell phone and email exploded with all manner of stakeholders asking questions. What would you do in the first 5 minutes? The first 10 minutes? The first hour? Most importantly, what would your plan be to manage the situation?

Calling the lawyers is a given, but they won’t manage the press.

Dozens of Questions at Once

What’s the process one follows to draft a statement the lawyers can live with that will also help the organization to try to stop the bleeding? Who will write that statement? How will they vet it? Does someone from the organization read the statement to the press? Is it emailed? What if the press keep asking questions? Do you do an interview, and if so, with which outlet? What are the pros and cons of doing an interview? Is the person to be interviewed media trained? Who is in charge of ongoing messaging? Who has to sign off on the messaging?

So many questions will emerge. Unfortunately, answers will be needed for most of those questions within the first hour or two. Otherwise, the situation can easily devolve to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to manage all the moving pieces.

Now, is every situation so extreme? No. A few bad reviews of your restaurant won’t prompt a media blitz. But, you’d better have a timely plan to message to your existing and prospective customers before reservations start canceling. However, every crisis scenario — from minor to major — requires timely communications, and that’s a challenge at best when there’s no plan and each passing hour might be damaging the organization.

If what I’ve shared raised an eyebrow or you actually tried to answer some of the above and struggled to clearly answer my questions even a little, then you are not prepared for a crisis. And you absolutely need to be.

Start By Asking for Help

Crisis communications planning, like life insurance, is something no one really wants to use. But to protect the people and things you care about you need both.

If you’re curious about what you might need in a crisis communications plan or what the process might look like for your organization to create one, get in touch with me.

Our agency offers free crisis communications planning consultation — which, of course, is different from crisis communications management. We do that too.  But if you’re planning for 2023 and beyond for your organization, consider putting the development of a crisis communications plan at the top of your priority list. Because when a crisis comes, and one will, not only will you know it when you see it, you’ll wish you had a robust and tested plan to address it.

Thought Leadership: Why It Matters 

Thought leadership is vital to amplifying a business leader’s voice and staking their claim as an expert in their field. And if you think it can’t be a priority, consider: 

  • SEO benefits:  What drives the internet – and search engine algorithms – is new, original content. The SEO impact thought leadership offers professionals and their organizations is huge. Thought leaders should link relevant, high traffic articles within their pieces to support their research and help drive viewership. Additionally, thought leaders can link their pieces via social media to drive traffic from their network.
  • Position yourself as a leader: Many executives and organization leaders underestimate the value their experience and thinking can be to others. By sharing insights, opinions and advice, you can position yourself as someone customers, clients and other industry insiders turn to for guidance, all while enhancing your brand or market presence. 
  • Promote events: Thought leadership offers a unique tactic to promote your event, showcase the expertise of leaders at your event and position yourself in front of people who are or should be attending. For example, some of the following thought leadership pieces from the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) ahead of their Inclusion in Insurance Regional Forums this month in Insurance Journal and Risk & Insurance helped support those events while also advancing the reputations and insights of the authors, their companies and IICF while contributing to the furthering of key issues within the insurance industry. 

Our clients often benefit from thought leadership because furthering their reputation and recognition in their industries or marketplaces is mission critical. Also, when done well, thought leadership really works. Leaders across all industries have extensive experiences and insights to offer. Packaging that expertise into well-thought out, easy to absorb content, allows business leaders to maximize their exposure and drive organizational goals.  

Resolve to Rebuild in 2022

If 2020 was the year of the pivot, 2022 will be the year we rebuild. One of the primary ways businesses and nonprofits will do so is, in part, through raising the profiles and awareness of their brands, services and products.

Kimball Hughes Public Relations reached out to hundreds of for- and non-profit entities across the U.S. to get their take on 2022. We asked about opportunities and obstacles as well as about some of the fundamental tools and resources these entities use to connect with their audiences.

Opportunities & Challenges

One third of respondents reported that being seen as experts would be their top priority to achieving business or organizational goals in 2022. Maintaining or expanding awareness of their reputation among their key audiences came in second at 28.6 percent. Sales, product or service awareness and adding new products or services as tactics to improve performance in 2022 as paled in comparison.

The biggest challenge to growth in 2022 was seen as lack of brand or organizational awareness (72.7 percent). Limited marketing budgets ranked second as a challenge at 54.5 percent, while economic uncertainty and competition tied for third as other major obstacles in the new year.

The Road Ahead

To maximize the potential for raising brand awareness in the new year, securing media recognition and generating content will be essential.

Only 20 percent of the organizations we surveyed reported that being quoted or included in the media as a high priority. Fifty percent said it was one among many priorities, and 15 percent reported they were indifferent to seeing their brand represented in a reputable or industry-specific third-party content provider.

For those creating and publishing their own, non-social media content, nearly 23 percent say they do so daily.  Forty one percent produce their own website, blog or video content weekly, while another 23 percent do so monthly. Just over 13 percent report leaving content development, as a strategy to expand their reach and reputations, to “when time permits.”

Make a New Year’s Resolution

If you’re resolved to grow or expand your reputation or reach in 2022 — or you know of someone thinking about doing so — Kimball Hughes PR can help. Reach out to us today at info@kimballpr.com or call (610) 559-7585 and ask for a free consultation.

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selective focus close up photo of smiling woman in white shirt using a phone

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

During the COVID-19 pandemic, your employees, clients, partners and other stakeholders are getting their messages from sources ranging from the CDC to Instagram. Writing in PropertyCasualty360, KHPR President Gary Kimball asks: shouldn’t some of that messaging come from you? He provides guidance on how business leaders can communicate with their audiences — read it here.

Download our Communications Checklist

KHPR Download

For businesses, there is a right and wrong way to communicate during a crisis as tragic and widespread as the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know the wrong approach when we see it — but how do we do the right thing? We hope our Communications Checklist points you in the right direction

Click here to download the KHPR Communications Checklist.

(It’s free to download and we’re won’t make you sign up for anything — that link takes you directly to a PDF download.)

If you need further guidance during this trying time, please rest assured that our team is fully operational and ready to support you. Reach out at info@kimballpr.com for general inquiries, or connect with the Kimball Hughes PR team on LinkedIn.

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Reputation management through crises

For businesses, a compassionate and savvy response to the COVID-19 pandemic involves transparent, accurate and realistic communications. This serves to protect not only employees’ and customers’ health, but also a business’s reputations. In PropertyCasualty360, our VP Rod Hughes offers guidance on reputation and crisis communications for insurance professionals and all B2B professionals.

Insurance, insights, and acrobats: RIMS 2017

The annual RIMS conference is always a worthwhile annual reunion for the insurance industry. It’s an enormous event that gathers carriers, brokers, and tech companies to network and (dare I say) have a good bit of fun! For those who’ve been, they know: the RIMS parties are something else. This year’s event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center here in Philadelphia treated attendees to acrobats in the main atrium, a champagne fairy, a Billy Idol concert and remarks from Michael J. Fox.

But the conference isn’t short on substance, either. There were valuable educational sessions, tasty meals and inspiring speakers. It also gathers the insurance and business media to meet in one place. From a public relations perspective, that is an incredible opportunity. It is the time to connect key reporters and industry thought leaders to engage in constructive conversations about risk and insurance.

We used the opportunity to say “hi” to old friends on the media side and introduce them to clients as future resources. We also facilitated some on-site interviews to make sure our clients got in front of the RIMS audience – a key group for anyone looking to get their message across to broker, carriers, and more.

In the case of one of our attending clients Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance, we also got the opportunity to see things from the exhibitor perspective as we captured social media content for them. Check out this video of a critical loss control tool they are using with their customers demonstrated at their exhibit booth.

Social media was a key component of the conference, down to the #RIMS2017 hashtag displayed boldly in giant letters in the entrance to the convention center. Screens throughout the convention center compiled tweets with the hashtag, and people were quick to pose for photos as the “I” in RIMS (like we did).

Sam_Eileen at RIMS2017_2

The RIMS conference may be primarily an education and networking opportunity for the insurance pros involved, but for us insurance PR pros, these opportunities to connect with reporters and create social media content were just as important. Thanks to the RIMS organization for a valuable conference. See you in San Antonio!

Sometimes Bigger PR Agencies Are Just Bigger

At big agencies, you're paying for the overhead ... and all those chairs.  Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At big agencies, you’re paying for the overhead … and all those chairs.
Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Sadly, this lesson is sometimes lost in the process of evaluating public relations agencies. Often the bigger agency is selected because they are seen as “the safe bet.”

However sometimes the safe bet with PR agencies isn’t always the best bet and the little guy is overlooked to the detriment of the company conducting the search. To those companies, I offer six reasons they would do well to consider small agencies like mine.

  1. It’s Personal, Not Just Business. Working with a smaller agency, clients typically have direct access to the agency president and senior staff. So do the agency’s employees. This means ideas aren’t just top-down, and everyone has a stake in the success of the account.
  2. What You See Is What You Get. The better-run small agencies have less staff turnover, especially at the senior level. So the folks you meet at the new business pitch meeting are the folks actually doing the work for your company. That almost never happens at big agencies.
  3. Small Agencies Are Built By Big People. Small PR agencies are populated with PR pros who left big agencies to focus on good work instead of billable hours, or by established journalists who bring a well-honed reporter’s eye to the story-craft of public relations. Big agencies are not the only bastions of talent.
  4. Budgets Don’t Drive Success. Small agencies have less overhead then larger competitors. This means smaller agencies work toward success, not billable hours. At larger agencies, clients with small budgets are often relegated to a few hours of work per month, led by the most junior, least experienced staff members.
  5. Flexibility and Responsiveness Are Watchwords. Small agencies usually don’t have “big” accounts to fall back on, so ensuring every client feels like the only client is the hallmark of a well-run small agency. This means responding promptly to clients, and being able to adapt well to changing priorities.
  6. It’s a Business of Personality and Ideas. Success – with big or small agencies – is predicated on the people on the account and the ideas they generate. In this area, size is not a factor. One smart, industrious solo PR pro with good ideas and a little elbow grease can be as valuable to a client as an army of well-polished and mildly talented PR practitioners. As Twain said, it’s about the fight in the dog.

This isn’t to say all big agencies are bad and all small agencies are good. It’s simply why smaller agencies should not be disregarded as a “best bet.”

I’ve heard too many stories from clients and co-workers alike about companies that chose big PR agencies based purely on the idea they were a perceived safe bet. (As the saying goes, “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”) These same folks, after prolonged discovery periods and big “start up” fees, came to find bigger isn’t always better.

Sometimes bigger is just bigger.

When to Hop Off the Facebook Bandwagon

Jump Off

via Flickr user psmithy

In my internal life as a secret pundit, I hold strong, unpopular opinions on a wide range of topics. I’ll spare you my monologue on the proper storage of tomatoes, but let’s discuss my wildly unfashionable opinions on Facebook, which are probably more relevant to your interests.

Here’s a radical thought: Facebook doesn’t work that well for some brands, particularly small B2B service providers. Yes, that Facebook—the stuff of marketing mavens’ dreams. For many, it turns into a marketing nightmare; after devoting time and energy to creating and curating a brand page, a chorus of crickets greets you instead of legions of grateful fans.

Many self-proclaimed social media experts will suggest that you are doing it wrong. That is true in some cases, but not all. If Facebook isn’t working for you, I think there are a few reasons it is more than okay to stop using your brand page.

It’s cost prohibitive

Contrary to popular belief, using Facebook as a PR and marketing tool is far from free. It is time-intensive, no matter what strategies and tools you use. It’s cliche but true: at work, time is money.

To get the most out of a Facebook brand page, you should spend time and money not only perusing and posting, but also creating videos and custom visual content like infographics, memes and quality photos. Last time I checked, graphic designers don’t work for free. Plus, paid ads, contests and promoted posts are often the only way to get any semblance of a noticeable boost in fans and engagement. This could be time and money well-spent, but not if you don’t see results.

Your content never meets its mark    

When I say engagement, I’m not speaking in abstract jargon. What I mean is people seeing, liking, commenting beneath and clicking thru to your content. On Twitter, engagement defined this way is possible any time someone logs on and scrolls through their feed. On Facebook, what someone sees on their News Feed depends on a number of factors analyzed by the company’s EdgeRank algorithm, which you can read more about here.

From a personal user’s perspective, there are advantages to EdgeRank and otherwise being in control of your News Feed. For example, with a few clicks, you can hide future posts from your Facebook-addicted auntie and never again be subjected to her semi-literate rants on the tyranny of everyday objects.

However, the same tool may prevent a user from being exposed to your brand’s content, even if s/he would like to see it—which s/he presumably does, since s/he “likes” you. Users rarely return to a brand’s Facebook page after they have liked it, so they won’t see your pithy posts there. And if you don’t share a photo, it is unlikely that they will see a post in their News Feed. As many have lamented, EdgeRank prefers gimics over content that is relevant to your audience. If you provide B2B services, or something that is equally ill-matched to meme-ing or Harlem Shaking, you just may never stand out.

There are other options    

Should you want to stand out on Facebook? This question nags me. For companies that provide consumer products or entertainment, the Facebook News Feed is a natural fit. You want to be (and often are) an integral part of your customers’ personal lives, so you fit in snugly between a cousin’s baby pictures and political rants from college friends.

For most other kind of brand, the Facebook News Feed is an awkward fit, like trying to wear the clothes you thought were cool at age 15. No one thinks you look cool in those JNCOs, and no one wants to hear about some esoteric corporate service while they are perusing their iPad on the couch.

In the wide world of digital marketing and PR, there exist many more agreeable options. If you are struggling with Facebook and don’t even enjoy the medium, maybe it’s time to redirect your efforts elsewhere. Perhaps your time and energy could be better spent on Twitter, LinkedIn or a blog. Read case studies, ask around and give a new network a try.

I’m far from the first person to suggest Facebook isn’t the social media marketing magic bullet, but I don’t think many take action in response. Has anyone out there abandoned their Facebook strategy? Tell us about it in the comments.

Think Digital First: Podcast

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Gary follows up his recent column in Best’s Review with a Best’s Day podcast. Listen below.