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.
Throughout the year, Kimball Hughes Public Relations participates in a number of philanthropic endeavors alongside our partners and clients in an effort to give back to local communities and those in need. We enjoy supporting all the good our clients do in whatever ways we can, but when we can also get them comprehensive, quality news coverage on their charitable endeavors – that is a sincere thrill.
We did just that earlier this month when Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company (PLM)held a head-shaving event fundraiser during their National Meeting benefiting the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting childhood cancer research. We secured the attendance of three Philadelphia network-affiliate television news crews to show their audience 17 members of PLM’s team, including CEO John Smith and Assistant Vice President of Marketing Lindsey DiGangi, shaving their heads after raising more than $150,000 for the important cause. Agency Vice President Eileen Coyne and PR Manager Hari Rajagopalan were in attendance at the event, enjoying live string band music from the famous Philadelphia Mummers. Kimball Hughes PR was honored to make a monetary contribution to PLM’s fundraiser as well. Well done, PLM. We’re proud to work with you. To learn more about the St Baldrick’s Foundation and their mission, please visit https://www.stbaldricks.org/.
Our team at Kimball Hughes PR is also getting our collective steps in for charity by participating in the fourth annual Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) Step Up Challenge. From April 24 to May 21, 2023, the team at Kimball Hughes PR, alongside thousands of insurance professionals, their friends and families will participate in a four-week exercise competition to raise funds for children and communities in need across the US and UK. This will be our team’s third year participating and we’re looking forward to some friendly competition benefiting local nonprofits. Last year, agency President Rod Hughes took home the gold among our team with a whopping 331,329 steps. This year, it’s anyone’s game.
Both teams and individuals are welcome to participate in the challenge. A total of four IICF winners, the top two from the team and individual categories, will be able to allocate a grant to a nonprofit of their choice. To learn more about and sign up for the fourth annual IICF International Step Up Challenge, visit their website, https://stepup.iicf.org/.
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.
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).
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!
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.
Association introduces its inaugural specialty programs track
Current estimates are that more than $5 billionin 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.
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.