Some conferences go smoothly. Others end in the wake of an active shooter event. There is a lot of grey between those two extremes, and organizations sending personnel to conferences ought to have a communications plan in place for the unexpected.
Last month, my colleague Eileen Coyne and I were attending RISKWorld in Atlanta (April 30 to May 3). On the final day of the conference, ahead of the closing keynote, an active shooter event took place a few miles from the conference location.
Our first notification of trouble came in the form of an ABC News alert. Text alerts from our hotel and the convention followed. Digital signage at the conference turned green with white text, alerting everyone to shelter in place and that the conference center was not part of the active shooter scene.
We immediately reached out to our families as well as colleagues to advise them that we were fine, that the conference was shutting down and the event in question was not nearby. As it turned out, the shooting took place two blocks from our hotel. It would be hours before the hotel would come out of lockdown and allow guests to come and go.
In speaking with other attendees, it became clear that if their companies had formal crisis communications plans at all (and about half of most US organizations do not), they did not have protocols for staff attending off-site events during an emergency.
Given the current social climate, all organizations need to develop crisis protocols for off-site events. Contacting the staff attending the event, confirming they are safe and cascading that message across the organization – and potentially to the family of those staffers involved — should be part of any crisis communications strategy. This applies whether it’s your CEO speaking at the conference as well as employee attendees or sales team members staffing the company’s vendor booth.
Whether the crisis originates from the actions of a person or persons, Mother Nature or something else, having a plan for out-of-town staffers in case of emergency is key. And, importantly, those traveling should be trained in the details of the plan — including phone contacts and protocols if cell or other communication services are disrupted.
According to the FBI, active shooter deaths and injuries are at a 5-year high this year. Companies with traveling personnel who spend any significant time on the road should receive active shooter training. This includes the basic principles of run, hide and fight, as well as what to do when and if authorities arrive on scene if you are present during an active shooter event.
This may all appear extreme. And it may be, until your organization is receiving urgent calls from worried families, coworkers or clients in the middle of a crisis event. Being able to respond quickly, with a protocol to follow and facts in hand can help keep your team safe during a chaotic and worrying situation and allow you to communicate factually with all parties concerned.
To mark the 53rd annual Earth Day, we are looking at and sharing trends and best practices in communications related to corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives or stances. As we all know, ESG has become a buzzword with investors, customers and employees all taking a new interest in the environmental and social impacts of the brands with which they invest, shop or work.
Although leadership may recognize the environmental, social and business value of such initiatives, they might not understand the value of sharing relevant and timely messaging related to their progress. However, how a company communicates or doesn’t share its ESG initiatives or strategies plays a key role in the success of those initiatives, as well as in enhancing or diminishing the reputation of the company.
Starting with the basics, ESG initiatives are those that address corporate responsibility goals including those that impact:
The Environment: Initiatives aim to improve climate, reduce waste and carbon footprint.
Social issues: Initiatives strive to secure or improve human rights, enhance health and safety, diversity, equity and inclusion.
Governance: Initiatives aim to ensure ethical action, transparent reporting and board diversity, as well as fair compensation.
The Value in Communicating
Today, investors, customers, employees, regulators and others want to know how company leadership are managing the company’s resources, how they are working to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, how the company contributes to keeping the global supply chain intact, as well as how company initiatives support employee culture, mental health, wellness and professional growth. They want to know that leadership has examined the company’s environmental and social impacts and are moving forward with initiatives to lessen the company’s negative impact and enhance its positive impact.
Research demonstrates that if leadership can commit to ESG efforts, their teams will be happier, more productive and well-positioned to fuel innovation and the company’s future success. In fact, in a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 75% of respondents said ESG initiatives have a positive impact on employee engagement. Further, for companies with ESG strategies in place, 60% of respondents said the initiatives had a positive impact on retention and 64% saw a positive impact on recruitment. Finally, 86% of those working for companies with ESG strategies said those goals give them a sense of pride in working for their employer and translate to a more meaningful work experience.
We know ESG has value and that many in leadership view it as a business imperative. However, ensuring the success of ESG initiatives requires a communications plan to accompany any ESG endeavor. A well-considered communication plan to help raise awareness around a company’s ESG goals, initiatives and progress will help the company convey its values.
Tips for Communicating ESG Initiatives and Progress
A public relations campaign will raise awareness around actions of your company toward social responsibility. But what is the best way to communicate ESG initiatives, particularly when society is taking a critical eye to ESG messaging, looking for evidence of greenwashing or corporate claims that can’t be substantiated?
Consider these best practices:
Establish a Quantifiable ESG Strategy: Understand what your company can do to make a positive impact on society or the environment in a quantifiable way. Set quantifiable goals, track results, demonstrate commitment from the top and report progress. Provide data to verify your results and avoid the appearance of greenwashing.
Find the Human Side: Where possible, pair this information with human impact stories. Demonstrate how the actions of your company made a difference.
Include Many Voices: Management cannot dictate ESG. Incorporating the voices and perspectives of a broad cross-section of the business who are committed to and aligned with the organization’s ESG goals and progress is key. This not only maintains accountability but also provides a range of voices and platforms to tell the organization’s ESG stories.
Shout it from the Rooftops – Artfully and Strategically: Explore and use a variety of public relations tactics from press releases to thought leadership and social media to find the best way to connect what your company is doing with your audience. Connect with PR experts who know the space and can demonstrate a record of proven results.
Be Consistent: Once you commit to an ESG strategy, it must remain as sacrosanct as the organization’s mission. This includes how you communicate around ESG. That consistency reassures a sometimes-skeptical audience that your organization is serious, committed and transparent in all its ESG undertakings.
Leaders who want to get ahead are employing or exploring ESG initiatives. That’s smart, but investors, customers, employees and more will lose confidence in their abilities to hold true to their commitments absent news on their progress. A good communication plan must be part of the process to ensure momentum that will allow the company to make a real impact, inspire others and change the future for the better.
In the span of just three months – one at the end of 2022 and two at the beginning of 2023 – the insurance industry has been at the center of significant crises situations that have played out in the media. While the scenarios cover a broad spectrum of what could go wrong, from each situation emanates one key theme – the value in planning ahead for a potential crisis.
In December, State Farm was the focus of an investigative feature story detailing allegations that the insurer discriminates against black homeowners in claims scenarios. With a human, empathetic approach to its response, State Farm struck exactly the right tone in a situation where the story would have proceeded with or without the company’s input. The response, shrouded in what appears to be sincere embarrassment, may ultimately serve State Farm well if the company continues to resolve the matter while owning any mistakes made.
The Norfolk Southern train derailment on Feb. 3, 2023 and the resulting chemical spill dominated most headlines and broadcast news coverage for most of February. As investigations proceed and claims likely exceed Norfolk Southern’s liability coverage, increased scrutiny will fall on railroad insurance generally and risk management practices in the transportation industry more specifically. In time, insurers will face questions about how the U.S. transports sensitive cargo and the safety measures it mandates of its insureds.
And finally, in late February, North Carolina investment firm founder Greg E. Lindberg again generated headlines when he was charged by a federal grand jury in a $2 billion fraud scheme. According to the indictment, Lindberg and others are accused of improperly taking money for personal use from insurance companies controlled by Lindberg. This news follows a 2020 bribery conviction of Lindberg that was overturned on appeal in 2022. Lindberg has since made several combative statements, issued a press release announcing planned actions by his defense team, and otherwise taken actions to ensure his name remains in the headlines, come what may.
And these are just a few of the more recent, audacious headline makers.
As has been said many times before, the insurance industry has a communications problem. And like so many other industries, the crisis communications capabilities of the insurance industry are lacking.
Countless businesses of all sizes are ill-prepared for crisis situations where they must communicate with multiple stakeholders: investors, board members, employees, vendors, the public at large, industry leaders, etc. Most lack a Crisis Communications Plan. And for those who might have a crisis plan of a sort, those plans are often out of date by many years and/or have never been stress tested. In fact, if you quizzed most senior executives at any number of organizations, they would be hard pressed to verify a Crisis Communications Plan exists for their company, and who is assigned to what roles on the designated crisis team.
Crisis Communications Plans give companies and non-profits a road map to follow, designate team members with clearly defined roles, and provide approved language for a range of scenarios that allow for the type of rapid response required in the current media environment. These plans also empower crisis team members with both formal training that helps them to avoid missteps and with the authority to act in the best interests of the organization within certain parameters. Lacking such a plan, most companies find themselves making it up as they go, which is akin to trying to close the barn doors while the horses are mid-stampede from that same barn. The best you can hope for in that scenario is not to be crushed in the experience.
Like insurance itself, a good Crisis Communications Plan is a hedge against disaster. While it will require an initial investment, the savings such plans provide can be incalculable in a true emergency situation. Some crises result in bet-the-business risks that often can only be resolved if the actions taken are deftly communicated. One need only look at recent bank failures – driven by crises of confidence primarily – to understand how vital quick, thoughtful and fact-driven communication can be in the life of any organization.
You’re famous! Well, somewhat famous. You were included in a great article in a highly regarded, well-read industry publication, and your thought leadership or interview made the front page. The next steps usually involve raising awareness of the story and sharing it among your colleagues, clients and peers. But can you do more? What if your quote would fit perfectly in an upcoming presentation or marketing material? They’re your words, aren’t they?
The short answer is – it’s complicated.
While they may be your thoughts on the page, an article is usually owned by the publication that published the article. This applies to thought leadership as well. Even if you are the bylined author, most publications own the rights to the submitted content they publish. So, what are the dos and don’ts of sharing content?
First, most publications encourage authors and sources to share content they contribute through social media, as long as the post links back to either the original story or the publisher’s social media post about the content. Tagging the article and the publication are considered good practice and drawing attention to a story is a great way to deepen relationships with the media.
When it comes to your website, include a link to the article in your press page. This usually involves posting the title of the piece, the author, and the date it was published along with a hyperlink to the original piece. Generally, as long as you are linking to the content on the publication’s website and not copying content, you are not violating any rules related to intellectual property or copyright.
For marketing purposes, it is also acceptable to include mention of the article and is preferable to the publishers if your mention provides details on where to find the original article. For example, if a brochure discusses how a subject matter expert discussed a topic in a recent Forbes article, that is fair game and preferable to all parties if that mention includes the date that article was published.
The general rule is once content is submitted to a publication, they own it – even if they are your own words. While linking to the original article is not different than any other social media post, taking written content and posting it without a link or credit is generally a violation of the publication’s intellectual property. At the very least, it is a great way to burn a bridge with a valued media contact and their publication.
This applies to more than just website content. Marketing materials and other communications should not include unattributed quotes, segments or articles. A bylined article should also be considered the property of the publication once it has been submitted for publishing. Many publications will have language to this effect in the legal notices on their website or even request that you sign an author’s agreement before publication.
A Rule of Thumb
Many publications may be interested in giving special permission to use their content as long as they are given the proper credit. There can be a grey area here, but as a rule of thumb, when it comes to who owns the content, regardless of who wrote it, assume it belongs to the publication.
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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call (610) 559-7585 and ask for a free consultation.
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.
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
(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 email@example.com for general inquiries, or connect with the Kimball Hughes PR team on LinkedIn.