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.

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!

On A.M. BestTV, AAMGA’s Bernie Heinze discusses recent visit to Lloyd’s

BernieandJohnWeber

Earlier this month, Bernie Heinze, executive director of AAMGA, briefed A.M. BestTV’s John Weber about his recent visit to Lloyd’s to discuss the role of MGAs in transfers, audits and more. Watch the interview here.

AAMGA calls for action on NARAB in interview with A.M. BestTV

On the left, John Weber of A.M. BestTV. On the right, Bernie Heinze of AAMGA.

Bernie Heinze of AAMGA speaks with John Weber of A.M. BestTV.

Eight months after the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Act (NARAB II) was signed into law, the federal government still has not appointed board to oversee its provisions.

In a conversation with A.M. BestTV’s John Weber, AAMGA president Bernie Heinze discusses this issue and the steps the AAMGA is taking to address this problem. Watch the interview here.

More than $5 billion in business written at 89th annual AAMGA meeting

Association introduces its inaugural specialty programs track

Current estimates are that more than $5 billion in insurance premium was written during the course of the American Association of Managing General Agents’ (AAMGA) 89th Annual Meeting in Maryland between May 17 to May 20. In addition to welcoming 1,120 attendees, the meeting also introduced AAMGA’s inaugural specialty programs track. AAMGA leadership also welcomed a number of newly installed members and prospective members from across the U.S. and Canada, including many of the premier Canadian managing general agents (MGAs) from the provinces of Manitoba, the Maritimes, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

“This was an incredibly successful and productive annual meeting,” explained AAMGA’s new president, Roger Ware of Genesee General in Alpharetta, Ga. “Our members were fortunate to gain a first-hand, global insurance market perspective from our Annual Business Meeting speaker, Chairman John Nelson of Lloyd’s. In addition to Chairman Nelson, we discussed a number of the emerging issues in the industry that our Emerging Issues & Trends Committee continues to monitor as well as welcoming our specialty program members to a number of dedicated break-out sessions focused on their needs. The debate on current political issues between Karl Rove and David Axelrod also gave our members an insight behind the scenes of how our current and prospective leaders are looking at the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

According to AAMGA Executive Director Bernd G. Heinze, attendance surpassed expectations with additional walk-ins showing up to take part in the meeting.

“I could point to our packed Agents & Brokers Lounge or our need to bring in additional seating and tables to demonstrate the sheer volume of interest in this year’s Annual Meeting,” noted Heinze. “However, I think the ability of all our members to have access to the entire wholesale and program insurance market, and to network and conduct business with global leaders in our industry, resulting in more than $5 billion in business being written in just four days speaks for itself.”

Brian Molusis, president of Vital Insurance Partners in Glastonbury, CT, who attended the Annual Meeting last week for the first time in nearly 8 years said he was impressed.

“Eight years ago, AAMGA wasn’t catering to the specialty program marketplace. But there has been a sea-change in the association in the last two years to better adapt to the insurance market as a whole,” explained Molusis. “And because there isn’t another not-for-profit out there focusing on the needs of the specialty program market, this is a very welcome change.”

In particular, Molusis pointed to commitments from insurance carriers and other program professionals who attended the 89th Annual Meeting as a sign of good things to come.

“By next year’s [Annual Meeting], this will be one of the biggest specialty program conferences in the program space,” said Molusis.

The AAMGA’s Under Forty Organization comprised of young emerging professionals also welcomed a record number of its members to the Annual Meeting and raised more than $12,000 at the meeting to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic.

AAMGA will host its 90th Annual Meeting on May 22, 2016 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Insurance Society of Philadelphia announces new leadership

Dianne Salter, Beth Graber Selected to Lead 114-Year-Old Non-Profit

The Insurance Society of Philadelphia (ISOP) today welcomes two new leaders: Dianne Salter who will assume the role of chair of ISOP’s Board of Directors on July 1, and Beth Graber who assumes the role of ISOP executive director effective immediately.

Salter takes the helm of ISOP as chair with more than 25 years of insurance industry experience, including her current role as executive vice president of Corporate Insurance Services for Thomas Jefferson University, Main Line Health and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.  She also serves as President of Mountain Laurel Risk Retention Group and Five Pointe Professional Liability Insurance Company. Previously she was executive vice president, Insurance Operations for Jefferson Health System from 2002 through 2014 and also spent 17 years providing brokerage, risk management consulting and account management services to large healthcare clients in her role as managing director of Marsh USA Inc. She is a former board chair for the Vermont Captive Insurance Association and a current board member of both the St. Joseph University Academy of Risk and Insurance and ISOP.  Salter earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and an MBA in finance from La Salle University.

Graber joins ISOP after three years of progressively senior-level risk management roles at Keystone Foods, most recently as the $2.5 billion global food supplier’s director of Corporate Insurance and Risk Management. Previously, Graber spent 20 years in claim management for a handful of organizations, most notably Chubb. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and her MBA in business and marketing from Villanova University.

The outgoing ISOP board chair and current managing partner of Willis North America in Philadelphia, John Sherlock, said the new ISOP leadership duo will bring fresh energy and new opportunities to the 114-year-old association.

“I’ve had the great pleasure of serving on the ISOP board with Dianne [Salter] and I have the utmost confidence in her leadership and vision,” said Sherlock.  He added that ISOP’s executive committee engaged in an extensive examination of ISOP’s strategic objectives to ensure the continuity and relevancy of the organization before tasking Salter and Graber with leadership roles.

“We’ve had extensive meetings, productive discussions and selected Beth [Graber] who brings both the organizational aptitude and appropriate industry insight needed to take ISOP into the future” said Sherlock. “Putting two well-qualified, energetic and ambitious leaders like Dianne and Beth at the helm of ISOP is good for our members and bodes well for the continued leadership, strength and growth of our organization.”

Both Salter and Graber have already begun developing a number of programs and initiatives they will introduce to the ISOP board immediately following Salter’s official installation as board chair. Meanwhile, the new executive director is organizing her staff at ISOP’s new headquarters in King of Prussia and preparing new series of highly focused workshops and forums on a range of topical issues such as climate change, emerging risks and workers’ compensation.

Salter, Graber and their team will also focus on prioritizing expansion of membership and programs for the NextGen group within ISOP for young professionals. And while the leadership team is new, ISOP’s continuing commitment to professional development and education of all insurance professionals within southeastern Pa., southern N.J. and DE remains central to its mission.   

AAMGA Under Forty leaders and distinguished members featured on A.M. Best TV

At the AAMGA Annual Meeting May 17 to 20, John Weber of A.M. Best discussed the U.S. wholesale insurance market with an expert panels of AAMGA members, including Hank Watkins, president of Lloyd’s America, Rodger Ware, incoming president of AAMGA, Nona McCreedy, COO of Aurora Underwriting, Matt Letson, president of AAMGA. View the discussion here.

John also spoke with leaders from the AAMGA’s Under Forty Organization (UFO) about how their membership helps them build alliances and advance the careers of young professionals. Check out the video at A.M. Best.

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.

Lloyd’s announces new multi-year binding authority agreements

AAMGA noted as being integral to this new, streamlined process

Lloyd’s, the world’s specialist insurance market, today issued a market bulletin announcing it is changing its requirements to allow multi-year binding authority agreements of up to 36 months. The bulleting lays out the new process and requirements, while also recognizing the American Association of Managing General Agents (AAMGA) for its years of advocacy on this important issue for Lloyd’s coverholders. The new agreements will take effect in 2016.

“We’ve been advocating for this change for several years to provide peace of mind and security – and frankly good business practices – for all Lloyd’s coverholders,” noted Roger Ware, president of AAMGA. “We met with Lloyd’s Chairman John Nelson as recently as May of this year at our Annual Meeting in Maryland to again press the issue, and we’re pleased to learn of Lloyd’s actions today.”

Currently, Lloyd’s coverholders can only enter into binding authority agreements of up to 18 months, while in most cases these agreements are renewed annually. Under the new multi-year binding authority agreements, Lloyd’s coverholders will be able to establish these agreements for up to 36 months. A streamlined annual confirmation component is included, in which Lloyd’s will send a simple form to its coverholders each November or December requesting appropriate confirmation of binding authority.

Grant Kimball, president of Canadian-based Angus-Miller, an associate member of AAMGA, applauded the change to Lloyd’s binding authority agreements.

“Lloyd’s listened to our industry representatives, reviewed the market landscape and made an appropriate and practical decision,” noted Kimball. “These multi-year agreements will take some of the guess work out of renewing business as well as make it easier to work effectively and efficiently with Lloyd’s.”

AAMGA Proposes Expansion of Membership Ranks: Association Seeks to Lead Broader Wholesale Insurance Market

The board of directors of the American Association of Managing General Agents (AAMGA) today announced it has voted to expand membership to bring all wholesale insurance practitioners who meet membership requirements under a single umbrella. The board made the announcement to members on May 10. Members will vote on bylaw changes that allow for the proposed membership expansion, and include the Association’s new name: the American Association of Wholesale Insurance Professionals.

In addition to managing general agents, national and international insurance companies, business services and state stamping offices, the proposal would add qualifying brokers, managing general underwriters, program administrators, program managers, aggregators and other insurance entities operating on a wholesale basis to the Association.

“We will become a stronger Association that serves as the single, reliable source for the entire wholesale distribution market and, in the process, yield ongoing and long-term benefits and value to existing and future members,” said R.C. Chaffin, AAMGA board president. “The board encourages members to vote in favor of these new opportunities once the bylaw amendments are sent out in June.”

The proposed change follows a two-year strategic review instituted by the board that highlighted opportunities for the Association, and its members, to better adapt to a changing insurance market.

“The wholesale insurance market has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade,” said Bernd G. Heinze, Esq., AAMGA executive director. “We’ve seen an expansion of the wholesale distribution system with new market participants and an increase by those professionals into more specialty lines of business. We want our Association to be ahead of the changes. The Board believes it is better for us to lead rather than follow, a fact that has always been core to our identity.”

Noting three other membership expansions in the Association’s 87-year history, Heinze said the proposed changes will add value to the Association’s membership by better representing the realities of the wholesale insurance market, strengthening the Association with increased membership and expanding business and educational opportunities.

Under the proposed changes, membership standards will include board approval, required minimums for written annual premium, time spent transacting and writing business on a wholesale basis, three recommendations from existing members and compliance with the Code of Ethics. The board proposal will be discussed at the AAMGA annual meeting, May 19-22, 2013 in New Orleans. Balloting on bylaw amendments by the members will follow.

About AAMGA

The AAMGA is the international, professional trade Association representing the wholesale insurance marketplace. Currently, members in 50 states write a combined $20.6 billion in admitted and excess and surplus lines annual premium domestically and internationally. Other members include U.S. and international risk bearing and non-risk bearing members (insurance, reinsurance, retrocessional, captive, Lloyd’s and London market brokers), business services members and each of the state surplus and stamping line offices.