Online Reputation Management Blog

What Can Employees Do to Help Their Company During a PR Crisis?

The Latin maxim primum non nocere (translated as “first, do no harm”), a central tenet of medical ethics since antiquity, is equally applicable to employee communications during a public relations crisis.  I asked Deborah Fiorito, President of 20K group and a communications professional with 30 years of corporate and agency public relations experience, to talk about what employees can do to help their company during a PR crisis and this is what she had to say:

The recent Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., is a great example of how employees can help. I can’t speak for whether Chevron empowers its employees to use or stay away from Twitter and Facebook, but CVX employees did go online and defend their company against people calling for a plant shutdown and an elimination of the Richmond site forever. It was effective and seemed sincere, even to a jaded old communicator like me. I say it, and I teach it: Employees at virtually all companies are stakeholders, either directly (through some kind of stock investment program) or indirectly (you’re employed, so you should theoretically be loyal, right [we won’t argue that point here for sure, because I’m not sure what THAT answer is], so it seems obvious that great management teams would spend time ensuring that employees are their best, most outspoken advocates and ambassadors. And they will do that if they know how to do their jobs well, are told they’re doing jobs well or understand what’s expected of them to improve. And finally, if employees know how their jobs fit into the company’s overall success, they will feel part of a crisis—equally threatened, equally concerned, and just as willing to spread the word that their company intends to find out what happened and fix it so it doesn’t happen again.

I realize that the standard mandate from corporate communications during and immediately after a crisis is: stay offline, read the company’s statements and heed the party line. It’s important for supervisors (who are employees, too) to ask and answer questions, maintain a pulse on the staff, respect their concerns and resist the urge to patronize them during stressful times.

Debbie’s unique perspective empowers companies to think of their employees as potential agents of positive communications, rather than a traditional view of employees as a potential communications risk that needs to be mitigated. I’d be interested in hearing what other PR and crisis communications experts think of this approach…

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Mark Grimm

Lights!  Camera!  Action!  The Online Reputation Management blog is interviewing former TV anchor Mark Grimm is a speaking coach and media/message strategist. He has conducted one-on-one interviews with Presidents Bush and Clinton. Mark was named ASTD Trainer of the Year in a 20-county region and hosts the Siena Alumni Connection radio show.      

What is crisis communications?

Effectively managing a bad public relations event by using a clearly defined process. 

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

The biggest mistakes I see are a lack of understanding of what the media’s needs are and not being clear and compelling enough with your message.

The post-game press conference by two Xavier hoop players back in December 2011 gave two black eyes to the university after a terrible on-court brawl ended their game with bitter crosstown rival Cincinnati.  Xavier senior Tu Holloway defended their actions by saying, “We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room… We went out there and zipped them up.”  Xavier Coach Chris Mack said of the pair, “At times, they probably don’t represent themselves with their use of words real well.”  Understatement of the year, Coach. [Read more…]

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Jane Jordan-Meier

I’m excited to have Jane Jordan-Meier share her thoughts on crisis communications and public relations with our online reputation management blog. Jane Jordan-Meier is a high-stakes specialist, author and crisis media trainer and coach. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Four Highly Effective Stages of Crisis Management.” She is the CEO and owner of Jane Jordan & Associates, a global crisis communication training and advisory firm.

1.  What is crisis communications? 

Ultimately, the overall goal of crisis communication is to protect “assets,” those assets may be people, but equally property, products, and the brand. 

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

Two BIG things:

  1. Being media-centric and thinking that social media can be ignored or not treated as seriously as the mainstream traditional media. Ignore the social media and its huge inferential constituency at your peril.
  2. Most companies not taking crisis communication and crisis management seriously. A recent global survey of Investor Relations specialists showed that only 66% of companies have a crisis plan and less than half exercised their plans. As they say, fail to plan and plan to fail. 

3.  How important is social media to your reputation management strategy? 

VERY! Ask Chick-fil-A or any other major organization (or person) that has been in trouble recently. A crisis jumps the fire line very quickly today.

Twitter is the breaking news service – the new police scanner. It is the go to place in a crisis – journalists can get stories first hand, real-time from “citizen journalists.”

Monitoring and listening is critical – social media can serve as an early warning system. It is a MUST to have very reliable, efficient monitoring and reporting systems. 

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

Get ahead of the story. The age-old principles apply – if it’s your disaster, then own it and take control or at least manage the message. Act fast and take responsibility applies today as much as it ever did – in fact more. Monitor, monitor, monitor – it is essential to ick the panic – know what people are saying, where and what information needs do they have. Today it is as much about managing expectations as it is anything. A recent Red Cross study showed that people, who post a plea for help on-line, say on Twitter or Facebook expect to hear back from emergency services within one hour of that post!

SPEED is everything in the first two hours. 

5.  How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation? 

Yes and no! Think of Tony Hayward ( the former chief executive of oil and energy company BP) – the poster child for what not to do and say. Then there is Rudy Giuliani the former mayor of New York who was a triumph for that devastated city in the aftermath of 9/11. It is the role of the CEO to lead, but they may not make the best spokesperson. Sometimes the front-line who have more credibility and likeability need to appear first. They are closer to the action and have more knowledge and technical expertise than their CEO ever will. The US Coast Guard understand this and train all heir front-line in how to manage the media, and what to say and do in a crisis. Having said that it would be unthinkable for the CEO not to be highly visible if there are deaths, and/or an apology is required.

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

A LOT! They are after all the brand ambassadors and need guidance, training and support in a crisis. They are the ones who will be questioned and challenged in the supermarket, at the sports games, the water coolers, the barbecues and schools, not the CEO. One of worst things a company can do, today, is to gag their employees. 

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

Be a good boy scout! Plan, exercise and exercise again. The art of listening and engagement has never been more important. Set-up an inter-disciplinary team (legal, marketing, PR, HR, IT) and brainstorm all the worst case scenarios that you can think of and then write a plan to cover the top 3 or 5. As crisis management guru and academic, Ian Mitroff, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, says to plan well today “one must think like a sociopath and act like a saint.”

Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Allison Dean Love

We kick off the New Year in high gear on our online reputation management blog with an exclusive interview with Allison Dean Love, President of Allison Dean Love Consulting, LLC.  Allison has more than 20 years experience in public relations, marketing, media relations and communications, including crisis communications. With more than 8,000 interviews and media relationships worldwide, she conducts media relations and crisis communications training for a variety of clients in insurance, engineering, construction, government and nonprofit organizations. [Read more…]