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.

Get to know Liz Rubino, Media Relations Coordinator

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

I started out my career after graduating from college as a radiologic technologist. After my first child was born, I was a stay-at-home mom to my four children for many years. Our good friends across the street had six kids and they were friends with our kids. In 2007, Gary (the founder of Kimball Hughes PR and our good friend across the street), asked me if I would like to come and work for him. So here I am, 15 years later working in public relations.

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I have always liked movies that Robin Williams has been in and the variety of characters he has played. One of my favorite movies is Mrs. Doubtfire. He is a father who loves his kids and does just about anything to make sure he is a part of their lives each day. Although everything changes within the structure of the family, they were able to come together, compromise and still be a family, just in a different way.

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

I like to read mysteries and one author I enjoy is Agatha Christie. Murder on the Orient Express is one of my favorites that takes place on a train that has had to stop due to heavy snow. One of the main characters is detective Hercule Poirot, who appeared in many of Christie’s novels. He  is precise with his methods he uses to solve crimes and not shy in letting everyone know.

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

Becoming a mom has been one of the best parts of my life and now I am a grandmother for the first time. My 2-year-old grandson always puts a smile on my face. He has a great personality and is quite the character. I look forward to spending time with him each week.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I moved to Florida after I got married and my husband signed me up for scuba diving classes without my knowledge. I was very nervous about taking the classes, but I ended up enjoying the lessons and being best in class on my test. I only got to go diving four times, but each time I enjoyed the experience and the beauty under the water.  

Thought Leadership: Why It Matters 

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

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

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

Get to know Rod Hughes, President and Principal

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

I spent just shy of a decade as a reporter and editor before switching to what my journalism colleagues and I had jokingly referred to as “the dark side,” meaning public relations. I ended up doing some initial freelance PR work and loved it. Later, I handled PR for several practice groups at a large global law firm before moving to a full-service agency. It turned out the dark side wasn’t so dark and my journalism training and experiences seemed to help a lot in what became my second act. I’ve never looked back.

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I have several favorites, but one stand-out is a Robin Williams movie called “What Dreams May Come.” The theme is a bit dark – death and the afterlife – but much of the cinematography is beautiful. Despite what appears to be a gloomy story, the movie focuses on the connections to, and importance of, relationships among family and friends, and how those relationships make all the difference when we look back on the totality of our lives. This, and the fact that Williams is reunited in heaven with his beloved dog from years ago places it among several favorites for me.

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

I love Russell Baker’s book, “Growing Up.” He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist for The New York Times, and the book details … well, growing up in Depression-era America. It’s a rich, non-fiction character drama told with humor and insight by Baker about his childhood. I loved the writing, the humor found in the absurdity and stresses of life, and the pleasure taken in small, everyday things. What spoke to me was Baker’s style of telling a great story that didn’t involve great things — no heads of state, no decisions that impact millions. Rather, the stories of aunts and uncles, childhood friends, and the adults who helped shape and mold a poor kid living in New Jersey into a successful, well-respected writer.

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

About 10 years ago I bought a home on 2.5+ acres of heavily wooded land. To my continued astonishment, what started out as necessary maintenance has turned into a hobby of novice forestry. If you told me 15 years ago I would enjoy the peace and solitude of cleaning up thousands of leaves or taking a chain saw to a dead tree I would never have believed it. However, it’s a great opportunity to clear your head while focusing on a basic task.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

As a 40th birthday gift, a few friends purchased a small souvenir plot of land in Glencoe, Scotland for me. According to the documentation, I can legally use the title Lord. My friends and I find this funny because in addition to this new title my legal name consists of a first and two middle names as well as my family name. I’m also the third, named after my father and grandfather of the same name. Going by Rod saves a lot of time.

Resolve to Rebuild in 2022

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

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

Opportunities & Challenges

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

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

The Road Ahead

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

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

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

Make a New Year’s Resolution

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

Get to know Kate Glaviano, Public Relations Associate

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

As a student at DePaul University, the communications classes I took, along with community involvement, fostered a passion within me for all kinds of media and their ever-changing landscapes. It wasn’t long before I realized how much is involved behind the scenes regarding media relations and creating truly effective communication. I think I knew pretty quickly this was something I wanted to be a part of, and a career in public relations became my path.

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I enjoy tragic films, your typical “almost was” story. One such movie I’ve watched several times is One Day with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. I enjoy movies that are realistic to the point where you could put yourself in a character’s shoes. If the story is told right, you find yourself feeling what the characters are supposed to be feeling.

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

The last, best book I read was Body Counts by Sean Strub. When I read it for the first time, I couldn’t put it down and when I finished, I immediately started over. It was just too good for one reading. Strub’s ability to authentically tell his story spoke volumes to me and gave a huge amount of perspective of the time. 

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

Music is a necessary hobby for me. I play a few instruments and like to mess around and free my brain whenever possible. I have found music is a great way to get the creative juices flowing when writers block sets in or when I need a moment to think.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I became a retired chef at 22. I worked in restaurants throughout college and became competitive, wanting to learn as much as possible about food and the restaurant industry. Before diving into my career in public relations, I was the chef de cuisine in a Chicago Michelin recognized restaurant.

Giving Thanks: Acknowledging the Small but Mighty Work of The MOG Project

By Eileen Coyne, Director of Public Relations, Kimball Hughes Public Relations

During this season of Thanksgiving, we want to take time to recognize a special organization for the tremendous good they are doing and for the hope they are inspiring in at least one small part of the rare disease community.

The MOG Project is a young nonprofit working to promote awareness of a rare neuroinflammatory autoimmune disease found in people of all ages and children in particular. Myelin Oligodendrocyte Glycoprotein Antibody Disease (MOG-AD) is a newer disease only recently identified via an antibody test in 2017. The disease causes dangerous inflammation in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. Due to its similarities with Multiple Sclerosis, it is often misdiagnosed as MS, which The MOG Project is fighting to change. Such a misdiagnosis can lead to incorrect treatments and prove harmful to the patient.

For us at Kimball Hughes Public Relations, we are passionate about donating our time to non-profit organizations, and for me, the MOG Project is personal.

In the Spring of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, my elementary school-aged son was diagnosed with MOG-AD. Unfortunately, it took weeks of frightening symptoms including tear-inducing headaches, fevers, relentless vomiting, chronic fatigue, severe leg weakness, long hospital stays and the loss of nearly 20 percent of his body weight before the doctors came to a diagnosis. Lesions on his brain and spine found in an MRI led his team of physicians to ultimately test for MOG-AD. He was positive. And, as I understand it, we were lucky. My son was a patient at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a leading pediatric institution recognized around the world for its research, treatment and care.

Again, we are fortunate to be a patient at CHOP where my son’s MOG-AD has been well managed. I am convinced that many hospitals around the country would not have known to test for this rare disease and may have even misdiagnosed him. He had two MOG-AD flares early on that manifested themselves by blurring and darkening his vision, but since receiving regular therapy, he has been healthy and well with 20/20 vision – attending school, playing sports and having fun with his friends.

A diagnosis of a rare disease, like MOG-AD, is more than just frightening. It can feel isolating at times. While I had the support of my family, friends and incredible colleagues at Kimball Hughes PR, I needed more. When I was ready to seek additional guidance and support, I came across The MOG Project. Little information was available online about MOG-AD, but The MOG Project was there to show me and my family we weren’t alone. Other patients, doctors and researchers are working diligently to encourage research, enhance treatments, and in due course, finding a cure. I immediately connected with the founder of The MOG Project Julia Lefelar and soon after Kimball Hughes PR began providing public relations services on a pro bono basis.

As public relations professionals, we inherently recognize the value in raising the public profiles of our clients. We understand the meaningful impact a smart media placement can have on an any organization – let alone an advocacy group so passionately dedicated to advancing awareness, educating the medical community, supporting patients and caregivers, and promoting research around a rare disease.

We hope to help this amazing group of remarkable individuals and industry-leading researchers bring MOG-AD to the forefront. Working with The MOG Project, the patients it supports and the influential doctors on its board, we’ve learned that in fighting for better outcomes for patients with one rare disease, we can help promote better outcomes for all. Please check out The MOG Project at https://mogproject.org/.

Get to know Eileen Coyne, Public Relations Director

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

Journalism brought me to public relations. It was back in high school that I discovered that I wanted to be a reporter, when I landed a student work week at the local NBC affiliate. I helped to man the police blotter, cover a hostage standoff, and flew over house fires in a helicopter. I was sold on a career in the news and out of college, I was fortunate to get my start as a reporter in Washington, D.C. As it does for many, journalism introduced me to public relations. Working as a reporter with a story budget to fill, I quickly learned that these PR folks working so hard to get to know me and share their clients’ stories, could be key to a good story. After several years as a reporter, I jumped the fence to PR and haven’t looked back

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I always enjoy The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, now, in a house where Marvel movies and football reign, it’s not the most popular, but I try to watch it when it’s on. I enjoy the beautiful scenery and familiar songs that take me back to grade school. 

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand stands out to me. It is the remarkable biography of World War II POW and Olympian Louis Zamperini. Recently, I enjoyed sharing the young adult version with my 12-year-old and we talked about his amazing and inspiring stories together. 

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

Outside of work, I am a mother to three school-age boys. I enjoy watching their baseball and basketball games, their many various other endeavors, and organizing functions at their school including trivia nights and the annual Santa shop.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I played piano at the White House. I won’t say who was in office back then, but let’s just say it was back in high school. It was a wonderful experience to accompany my high school choir during the holidays and something I will never forget.

Reputation is What Others Think You are

An important factor influencing an organization’s reputation is how it is represented in the media. With this in mind, Kimball Hughes PR recently ran an independent survey of business professionals to get their perspective on how media coverage of their organization reflected on their reputation and, ultimately, their brand.

What we found was broad dissatisfaction among respondents with how their brands are perceived and represented through the media.

Among two significant reputational goals — having a regular presence in news media and being clearly differentiated from their competition in those media — a clear majority of those surveyed (more than 60 percent) did not believe these goals were met.

If these findings are any indication, brands hoping to benefit from any post-COVID economic boom have significant work to do in working with the media.

Survey results:

My organization’s reputation, as it is communicated in the media, social media and other public venues, represents our stated mission, vision and values.

  • 9% Strongly agree
  • 45% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 27% Disagree
  • 0% Strongly disagree

Senior leadership is regularly quoted in news and trend stories about our industry.

  • 0% Strongly agree
  • 18% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 27% Disagree
  • 36% Strongly disagree

If I conducted a Google News search today of topics most important to my industry, I would find my organization quoted or written about in recent news from legitimate, third-party business or trade media outlets or sites.

  • 9% Strongly agree
  • 9% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 9% Disagree
  • 54% Strongly disagree

Our brand reputation, as communicated by the media, adequately differentiates our organization from competitors in the markets we serve.

  • 0% Strongly agree
  • 18% Agree
  • 9% Neutral
  • 36% Disagree
  • 36% Strongly disagree

Worried about your brand’s reputation? Contact Kimball Hughes PR for a free, no obligation SWOT Analysis of your brand’s reputation within the media that provides top line, practical and actionable advice on what you can do to make improvements.

Get to know Hari Rajagopalan, PR Associate

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

  1. What got you interested in public relations?

I got interested in public relations in college while taking a class on crises. The class talked about some famous crises from the last few decades, like the Tylenol recall in the 80s or the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and I thought it was pretty interesting to see where these companies went wrong and what they did right in managing their reputation post-crisis.

  1. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

My favorite movie is probably Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. I love comedies in general, and I really enjoyed watching the characters explore Chicago while crazy things happened around them. 

  1. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

I recently read Andre Agassi’s biography Open and really enjoyed that. Agassi’s story overcoming a number of personal and professional challenges to become one of the greatest tennis players of all time was exciting to follow.

  1. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you and why.

I play a lot of tennis and basketball outside of work. I’ve played both recreationally since I was young and sports in general have always been important to me because they’ve been a way for me to connect with friends and family.

  1. Share a fun fact about you.

I’m fluent in Spanish and can read Ancient Greek and Latin.