Online Reputation Management Blog

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Deborah Fiorito

Deborah Fiorito, President of 20K Group in Houston, Texas is the latest crisis communications expert to join us at the Online Reputation Management blog.  Debbie was executive vice president and chief communications officer of Dynegy, Inc., and before that, she was senior vice president, Public Affairs, Chase Bank of Texas (now JPMorgan Chase). In addition, she has held senior-level communications positions at Apache Corporation and Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. (now Devon Energy).

What is crisis communications?

Communicating reactively immediately after, or in the hours or days, following an incident that threatens your organization’s reputation or ability to operate. I would draw the line between when that communications is “reactive” and strategic—that is, when the outbound communications becomes part of an overall plan to influence customer or stakeholder thought and/or behavior about the organization or company.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?

Do we have 400 pages here? The list of mistakes I’ve made, my firm has made and that ALL organizational communicators make is endless, mostly because the risks associated with making choices about how, when and what to communicate are so high during the stressful, chaotic hours following an incident. [Read more…]

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Mark Lambert

I’m excited to invite Mark Lambert to join us for an exclusive interview on our Online Reputation Management blog.  Mark is president of Lambert Media, a communications consulting firm based in Louisiana. Mark has nearly three decades of communications experience, including several years as a reporter, editor and news executive in the print and broadcast fields and as the communications director of a large Louisiana state agency during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.

What is crisis communications?

Crisis communications is the process of making people aware of your point of view and persuading them to accept it in the midst of circumstances that are harmful or have the potential to be harmful to your reputation.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?

There are many mistakes people make, but most of them boil down to a lack of respect for the people with whom they should be communicating. This manifests itself in several ways, including:

  • a terse “no comment”
  • a prepared, distributed statement full of “lawyer language,” i.e., a bunch of hedging and passive-voice phrases that serve no purpose but to give the client wiggle room.
  • lying
  • half-hearted attempts or no attempt to show sympathy for victims
  • hiding from the media or not making key executives available
  • finger-pointing, blame shifting or transparent attempts to downplay present or future damage

How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?

I find that my clients are interested in social media more as an ongoing marketing tool than as a key communications strategy tool. However, more people are starting to understand the power of social media, and as it becomes more evident to key executives and administrators that social media can be a powerful and versatile tool, they become more willing to allow it to be a part of their strategy. The issue often is that top executives tend to be older and not as adept to social media as are the middle managers. I find that I have to persuasively pull some of my clients into social media.

What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?

Ha! In my media relations seminar, I tell people the first thing they should do when there’s a crisis is to lock the lawyers out of the room. Many CEOs, executives, administrators, etc., are so focused on some inevitable looming court battle years down the road that they fail to see the problem in front of them. They lawyer up and inevitably make the situation worse.

The first thing a company should do is to stop acting like a corporation and Be Human. Demonstrate sympathy and caring for any victims. Get the facts, identify who your stakeholders are and communicate to those stakeholders in an appropriate manner. It is important to have a crisis communications plan, but it’s more important to be flexible to changing events. Too many crisis communications plans are so detailed and rigid that they fail to take into consideration that a crisis is a dynamic event.

How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?

They have to have a vision of what their company is, and they have to share that vision with their employees, customers, vendors, etc. If the CEO says his company wants to be involved in the community in a positive way, how can he show it? Does he give his employees paid time to volunteer in schools, work at a food bank or at an animal shelter? Does he encourage customers to do the same through company-sponsored programs? You can fake a reputation for awhile, but if it’s just a stunt, you will be busted. Be real, and walk the talk.

What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?

This may sound harsh, but I believe the best thing employees can do is to hold their company’s leadership accountable for doing the things the leadership says it is going to do.

What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?

A crisis communications plan is a must. A good plan should:

  • detail the various stakeholders and message vehicles
  • lay out a simple org chart with duties relative to the crisis so employees know what to do and what is expected of them
  • identify spokespersons and guidelines
  • identify a specific communications vehicle (newsletter, intranet, e-mail) for employees

Many plans overlook the importance of communicating internally in a crisis. You have to let your own people know what is going on, and you should give them a channel of communications that is separate from the general communications vehicle.

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Rob Hayes

We are excited to to invite Rob Hayes, founder and President of Compass Communications LLC, to share his thoughts on our Online Reputation Management blog.  Rob managed communications for Florida’s agency that coordinated response to and recovery from the devastating 2004 hurricane season and headed external communications related to state employees for the Office of Governor Pataki during the response and recovery following the attacks of 9-11 and the anthrax attacks in New York State.

What is crisis communications?

It’s funny how we are always trying to fit everything into a definition or elevator speech.  To me crisis communications is the act of engaging your risk communications plan.  When injury or loss is imminent, occurring or recently occurred all communications are crisis communications.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?  

Not being credible in their statements whether it is in acknowledging their own role in the event, acknowledging the true impact on others or when discussing the future impact and how to deal with it.  In my time working for Governor Pataki, Governor Bush and while running my business, two of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make time and again are having the wrong person delivering the message and sharing the wrong information. [Read more…]

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Robert J. Fisher

Today’s interview on the Online Reputation Management blog, is with Robert J. Fisher, a veteran public relations executive, counselor and consultant with over four decades of experience in the fields of public relations, marketing, communications and advertising.  Robert is President of Fisher & Associates, Inc. (F&A), a Los Angeles area-based public relations and communications firm which has served a broad range of businesses and industries on local, national and international levels for more than three decades.  He has extensive experience in crisis communications having represented clients both throughout the U.S. and internationally who were in crisis situations.  He is also a recognized expert in this field by the media who he has long served as an expert media information source and analyst.

What is crisis communications?

Crisis Communications is the response that is made to a negative situation that has arisen that threatens to in some way harm an entity (e.g. business, industry, product, person, organization) either by potentially impacting on its livelihood and/or severely damaging its image, reputation, brand or the good will or trust which it has with its primary target audiences.  The response can take many forms but involves the dissemination of information and the influencing of opinion to mitigate the potential harm to the affected entity.  The response can be a short term effort or an ongoing one depending on the length of the crisis.  The type and nature of the response will depend on the strategy that has been formulated for handing the situation.  A critical element in crisis situations is timing with an emphasis on moving rapidly. [Read more…]