Online Reputation Management Blog

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 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…]

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.”

Crisis Communications and the Global War on Terrorism

Currently serving as a military advisor in Afghanistan, Col. Barry Johnson is a U.S. Army public relations practitioner and advisor with 26 years of military experience.  It is an honor and privilege to invite Col. Johnson to share his unique perspective on crisis communications with our Online Reputation Management blog.  During the last decade, he spent over 5 years deployed in support of combat operations, with direct involvement in many of the military’s most challenging stories:  Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Saddam’s first hearing, Haditha allegations, civil war in Iraq, WikiLeaks, military withdrawal from Iraq, and the host of issues faced by military spokespeople each day in combat zones. [Read more…]