Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

#YOUTOO_

There is no shortage of powerful men being felled by scandal lately. From Hollywood to Wall Street, from Capitol Hill to the Fourth Estate—no industry is immune. And it appears the cycle of revelations, accusations, ham-fisted apologies, pseudo-apologies and angry denials is just getting started.

Considering the scale of this wave of accusations, business leaders need to ask themselves: What do we do when it happens to us?

Most of us hope this won’t happen to our organization. However, hope is not a strategy. Most companies have anti-harassment policies and this seems like the ideal time to dust off those employee handbooks for a review. But to be effective you should be proactively communicating your policies to ensure compliance. Deploying some simple, professional and preventative internal communication can make a world of difference. It’s easier to avert a fixable problem than to ignore it and try to do damage control later. Because, frankly, there is no good way to respond to accusations of sexual misconduct.

However, there is a right way. With the hurt victims, misuse of power and highly-charged feelings, these situations first require an empathetic, human response. That’s where communications come in. I can’t comment on the legal procedures. And the human resource issues are another matter as well. However, I can provide insight into how skillful crisis communications can protect a business and the people that are part of it.

Beyond their fiduciary responsibility to the company, business leaders are responsible to the people with whom they work to be prepared for any scenario—yes, even sexual harassment—with a disaster recovery plan. And that includes a robust crisis communications strategy. A lack of clear communications can make employees feel unmoored and demoralized.

However, having a plan ensures everyone in your organization is on the same page. It lets employees know you’re dialed-in on the issue and taking positive steps to address it. In part, you will also help protect the jobs of those who have done nothing wrong but are nonetheless impacted. Having a communications strategy for this type of scenario reassures your clients and customers you are looking out for their interests as well. But most importantly, planning for the worst will help to produce the best possible result under the circumstances. It may very well save your business.

So, ask yourself: What will you do if your CEO or board member or a high-ranking manager is accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace? What will you do when the local news station calls for comment? Do you have a plan?

The answers come from conducting a realistic threat assessment. From that assessment, you must create a communications plan that ensures your company can effectively weather such a scandal, including the rebuilding of trust with your employees, customers, vendors and the public. You need buy-in from stakeholders, clearly defined roles, back-up personnel and—most importantly—a rock solid commitment to the truth and sharing the facts as you know them. Developing a plan like this takes time, so first focus on prevention. But also have a plan.

After all, the worst time to prepare for a crisis is when you are already in one. As we’ve witnessed through countless media statements from the accused, saying “sorry” isn’t easy. In fact, when done poorly—yes, I’m looking at you Kevin Spacey—these statements make matters substantially worse, adding to the number of negative news cycles, the confusion of employees and the pain of survivors.

 

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How can hotels use social media during a crisis response?


Photo credit: Mark Emery Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The majority of hotels recognize the critical need for crisis response planning. But have they factored in social media? Over at Hotel Executive, Gary explains eight ways hotels can be effectively using social media during a crisis response.

 

Trump organization gets it right on data breach communications


Gage Skidmore / Foter / CC BY-SA

Donald Trump has jumped to the top of the Republican primary polls with an acerbic style that runs contrary to established political rhetoric. But when Trump International made the announcement yesterday that it was hacked, the PR effort was by the book.

And effective.

The Donald Trump Hotel chain says its payment data system was breached, potentially exposing customers’ credit and debit card information for more than a year. The chain posted a notice on their website and media coverage like this CBS report shows how to communicate a breach:

  • The facts about the breach: malware may have given hackers access to payment information between May 19, 2014 and June 2, 2015
  • The exposure: they have “not found any conclusive evidence that the information was taken or misused.”
  • Steps taken to correct it: they notified the FBI and financial institutions and hired an outside forensic expert to investigate.
  • Recommendations for customers and what it is doing to help: offering a year of complimentary fraud resolution and identity-protection services.

The Donald is in the crosshairs of many, so the New York Daily News and others took their shots, but coverage was once and done. As of now, they appear to have avoided what the IRS, Target and others have done – underestimate the extent of the damage in their initial reports, leading to multiple news reports and keeping the story alive.

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.

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.

Ebola Strikes New York

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Photo courtesy of the CDC.

It’s official. Ebola has scared the hell out of everyone. With Friday’s news story of a doctor in New York City being diagnosed and today’s “testing” of a 5-year-old boy for Ebola as well in the Big Apple, hysteria is sure to hit new heights.

However, as public relations professionals, our job is to offer wise council in times of crisis. We must anticipate how this latest news impacts our partners and determine how best to help them inform and better educate their audiences. A myriad of businesses can find themselves in the center of a media storm as Friday’s NYC media coverage demonstrated.

So the best advice for businesses is to start with facts.

For those businesses being asked about Ebola risks and protocols – and the public’s perception of your business’ Ebola risk – there are five steps to take quickly:

  1. Share the latest information from a recognized authority source (e.g., the CDC, the World Health Organization, your local or state department of health, etc.). Unless you are a medical professional well versed in infectious diseases, regardless of your business, you have no business advising on health issues. Leave that to the professionals and simply point people in the right direction.
  2. Examine your realistic exposure. NPR recently reported most American’s have a 1 in 13.3 million shot at contracting Ebola. In fact, NPR suggests studies show you’re more likely to die from a lightning strike or a bee sting than you are of catching Ebola. While many businesses are not likely to be at risk, the Manhattan case from Friday demonstrated how Uber, a Brooklyn bowling alley and NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority needed to address Ebola concerns on a moment’s notice. Therefore it’s helpful to have thought through your messaging and delivery method in advance.
  3. Reassure your audiences you are following coverage and authoritative information of U.S. Ebola cases so as not to be surprised by developments that could impact your business operations or vendor relationships.
  4. Consult with your public relations professional to ensure any crisis communications plan your organization has in place is updated and that your team is prepared to respond quickly.
  5. Update your audiences as appropriate.

A sixth but less urgent step is to revisit your crisis communications plans at the conclusion of this latest pubic health scare to fine tune your policies and procedures so you are better prepared next time. And trust me, there will be a next time.

Socially Irresponsible

Some small business owners don’t believe in using experts for social media engagement and content development. They see the practice as novel and unproven – until it isn’t.

Such is the case of The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. This picturesque small town inn quickly discovered the demonstrative impact of social media when comments about a fines-for-reviews policy hit the inn’s Facebook page and Yelp, the popular online review site.

According to an ABC News story resulting from the social media dust-up, the inn claims its “policy” was posted to its website as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding from years ago and should have been taken down. The policy in essence stated bridal parties would be fined $500, taken from deposit monies, for each negative review the inn might receive connected to a particular wedding or event.

A Google search for the inn's name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business' bottom line.

A Google search for the inn’s name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business’ bottom line.

Unfortunately, a simple Google search of the inn’s name now produces both a link to the inn’s website, as well as countless social media and news articles referencing this not-so-amusing policy.

The result is a Search Engine Optimization nightmare for the inn coupled with a runaway train of negative comments on its Facebook page (more than 200 at this writing; although it appears the inn may now be deleting posts from its Facebook page).

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn's Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

The news coverage and social media firestorm – with only a half-hearted response from management that appears to have since been deleted  – have created a massive public relations problem to overcome. This isn’t the type of crisis you wait out. And without a strategy for responding to and recovering from this communications nightmare, The Union Street Guest House is likely to see a steep decline in business, assuming it has the wherewithal to survive at all.

Small businesses are successful because they do what they do well. Where they often fail is when they try to do something outside of their expertise.

By consulting with a social media professional or brand content specialist, small businesses can avoid errors – even tongue-in-cheek responses – that might not seem substantial at the time, but with an extra set of trained eyes, can be seen for the potential disasters they are and thus avoided. Alternatively, bringing in the professionals after a crisis has erupted is not optimal, but it can mean the difference between staying in business or going under.

Most freelancers or public relations agencies can find equitable arrangements with small businesses that won’t break the bank, and can avoid or attempt to correct business-ending mistakes.

For a free consultation on how working with a public relations agency can help protect and promote your business, please contact me at rhughes@kimballpr.com.