Chances are incredibly high that your company is going to experience a crisis of some kind in the next year. It’s how you handle that crisis which will likely determine whether that crisis builds or seriously damages your company.
As 90 percent of a crisis response is communication, I would suggest that you think about the need to respond in real-time, as Robert Scoble suggested when he was quoted in Fast Company when he said “Reputations are created and destroyed online in the speed of 140 characters.” He obviously referred to Twitter and the common phrase today that reputation can be created (Susan Boyle) and destroyed overnight (Bernie Madoff). (Remember the plane landing in the Hudson river. Ordinary people were tweeting pictures and video footage to the networks before the Media actually got there).
A crisis can strike a Business at any time; and during this crisis a Company’s image and reputation can be damaged significantly. Often, this can be a result of not responding adequately to media and other stakeholder enquiries. Understanding what Communication challenges may arise during a crisis or before one occurs is therefore critical.
In the book Real-Time Marketing & PR, David Meerman Scott teaches how to use how to use time and urgency to gain huge competitive advantage, and I quote:
‘In a world where speed and agility are now essential to success, most organizations still operate slowly and deliberately, cementing each step months in advance, responding to new developments with careful but time-consuming processes.The Internet has fundamentally changed the pace of business, compressing time and rewarding speed.Your accustomed methods and processes may be already fatally out of sync with the world around you. The narrative of your business now unfolds, minute-by-minute, in real time. And it’s no longer guided by the mass media your ad budget can buy.’
Speed is thus of the essence. That’s why it is vital that you develop a crisis communications and management plan or kit that prepares you in advance for this eventuality. This communication kit should assist your organisation to respond timeously and promptly to crisis situations.
Here’s a starter list of eight items that should be included in any crisis communications kit:
1. A list of the members of the crisis management team, which should include, at minimum, the CEO, a trusted assistant/top manager from the CEO’s office, heads of each department, Investor Relations Officer details, public relations and marketing team members, legal and security. In case of actual crisis, this team will be focused down to the group applicable to that specific crisis.
2. Contact information for key officers, spokespeople, and crisis management team members including company and personal phone numbers, email addresses, cell numbers, pagers, faxes, instant message handles, Twitter addresses, even spouse’s cell numbers, should the person be inaccessible by other means.
With the astute use of technology today, the above contact details could be kept in online contact databases like GIST, in Google Contacts or even in Dropbox. I keep this information in all 3 formats and have access to it via my smartphone.
3. Fact sheets on the company, each division, each physical location, and each product offered.
These should be in camera-ready condition, plus available on a disk in a generally-accepted word processor format (Microsoft Word) so they can be revised and printed out if necessary on a computer external to your facilities. Photos should also be included.
4. Profiles and biographies for each key manager in your company, again in camera-ready condition and on disk.
5. Copies of your company, division and product logos, your press release format and the scanned in signature of your CEO on disk in a format that works on your internal word processing program (plus one in Microsoft Word in case you have to work on a computer that isn’t tied to your network.)
6. Pre-written scripts answering key questions that you have generated through your crisis scenario analysis. Included in these scripts should be the words you use to say “we don’t have that information yet, but will let you know as soon as it becomes available.”
7. Contact information for each of your key media contacts both locally, nationally, and if appropriate, key financial press and analysts. Contact information for your appropriate stakeholders like suppliers, political, regulatory, and union leaders should also be included. Don’t be afraid to go overboard here – if you have an oil spill, your CEO will probably want to call not only the Media, but also selected Government representatives.
8. Flowcharts of the Protocols & Procedures to be followed. These will differ depending on the type of crisis. For instance, in the event of death, it is vital that the Department of Labour be informed, forthwith according to the Occupational Heath & Safety Act. Obviously you first want to inform management. Then, the authorities. In the case of a fire, there may be other communication protocols to be followed. Flowcharts can help to speed up decision making.
Where & Who should keep the Toolkit
It’s important for your crisis communications kit to not only be duplicated in some offsite location, but to also include information, disks, graphics, computer files, photos, etc. that are normally readily at your fingertips in your office. These days you can also keep it in the cloud. Alternatively this information, should be in a password controlled format on your website/intranet.
I once knew the Crisis Manager of a Rail organisation. She kept the copy of her plan at home, at the office and in her car. Just in case.
I strongly recommend that you assemble this kit shortly. It will be one of the best insurance policies that you can have on hand once a crisis begins. Remember time is of the essence.
For more information on crisis management and communications, I recommend that you check out my various blog posts.
These days Reputation Managers no longer have to only contend with traditional media, they also have to deal with citizen journalists and bloggers and the public alike.
Now there is an addition to this mix. Enter Current TV as part of the Top TV offering.
South African bloggers and citizen journalists now have a new outlet for their creative efforts as Al Gore’s Current TV launched this weekend as part of Top TV’s entry-level bouquet offering.
Current TV chairman and co-founder Al Gore explains that the TV channel encourages submissions of content of all kinds from young videographers and citizen journalists.
With a particular passion for investigative journalism – he was a journalist himself for many years before entering politics – Gore says CTV is actively looking for news and investigative pieces.
"The accent of Current TV is on citizen and investigative journalism," he says. "I need not say how important it is to civilisation and democracy to have vigorous investigative journalism.
IT-Online – http://www.it-online.co.za/content/view/2076841/142/ reported that Gore told them that Current TV hopes to avoid some of the legal and regulatory problems that have plagued some other blogger or citizen journalism platforms by following a particular submission process that will help raise professional standards and ensure legal compliance.
The key thing is that "Current TV is open in that the viewers themselves decide what content will go on the channel." Before content is aired on Current TV, it is first loaded on to the company’s web site, http://www.current.com, where users critique offerings and select those they wish to see broadcast.
Anyone can submit content to Current TV, and full directions for doing so are on the site.
Reputation Managers should develop strategies to deal with all types of journalists and watch & monitor the impact of this outlet.
However there is more to a media policy than just an instruction that tells staff who will speak or is allowed to speak to the media. A Media Policy can be a document that sets the tone for communication with the Media and other stakeholders.
The advent of the Internet and Social Media have changed the traditional rules and landscape of media relations. Today an employee or a stakeholder can have their own presence on Facebook, have their own blog, send pictures from their phones directly to websites on the Internet, making it more difficult to control messages.
Some companies profess to believe in engagement with stakeholders, yet do not allow their staff to access social networking sites, whilst others embrace the new technologies. Some cite bandwidth issues as their biggest constraint, yet time and time again it has been shown that unless transparency is understood, a company will not easily open up to these new tools.
This makes the writing of a media policy a vital exercise to steer clear of potential reputation risk. This makes the writing of this policy no longer the responsibility of the PR department, but that of the Risk Committee.
Writing a best practice media policy will therefore need discussions with subject matter and 3rd party experts, dialogue with stakeholders, an understanding of the issues in a company as well as knowledge of the latest laws, rules, regulations, needs and expectations of stakeholders.
Only when these issues have been discussed and researched, can a policy be written. I also believe that it is vital for any business not just to design and write a best practice media policy, but that this policy should be accompanied by a guideline that contains hints to deal with not only the media but also communication with other stakeholders.
To write a media policy you will need specialised help. You can either work with your PR Company or enlist the services of an external services provider such as a specialised writer and/or a Social Media company to assist you in this regard.
Here is a part example of a policy and a short checklist to guide you in this process (Please note that this is not a complete list).
Example of a Media Policy
The objective of the XYZ Company’s Corporate Communications policy and procedure is to ensure that the information contained in all communication with stakeholders is consistent, accurate, fair and timely.
(This statement is not as simple as it looks. Issues of transparency needs to be carefully researched, especially legal issues, issues of voluntary, mandatory and involuntary disclosure and whether the organisation wants to be transparent, i.e intent)
To ensure this, it is the policy of the XYZ Company that:
The Company will comply with all laws and regulations regarding public disclosure of material events, financial results and operations;
- The Company is committed to non-selective, fair disclosure of information about The Company without advantage or disadvantage to any participant in the financial market place;
- The Company will voluntarily disclose any non-material information, which is not the subject of a confidentiality agreement and determined by senior management to be in the interest of stakeholders, shareholders, the investment community and the public;
- All disclosures to the media will be communicated by an authorised Media Relations Officer or designate;
- All disclosures to the financial community, including investment analysts, brokers and current or potential investors will be communicated by the CEO, CFO, and Investor Relations or their designate(s);
- All the Company media releases, information prepared for the financial community, and all other Company related information for public disclosure must follow the procedures for review and approval outlined herein;
- The External Communications Policy applies to all the Company employees and, with respect to their reference to the Company, all subsidiaries and associates;
- Management will be responsible for ensuring that this policy and related procedures are communicated and followed consistently in their operations;
- Non-compliance with this policy may damage the Company’s reputation and/or cause the Company and/or its shareholders to be prejudiced and to suffer damages and/or losses;
- As with all of The Company’s policies any non-compliance will be treated as serious and will result in disciplinary action and could give rise to civil and/or criminal liability on the part of the employee. It is the responsibility of all employees to familiarise themselves with this policy.
The Public Relations Manager can be contacted should an employee wish to seek clarity or assistance with respect to any aspect of this policy.
Example of a Checklist: Due thought needs to be given to the clarification of procedures for preparation, review and approval of external communication materials:
- Media Relations
- Industry Analyst Relations
- Financial Analyst Relations
- Stakeholder Relations
- Conference/Seminar/Roundtable/Speaking Opportunities/White Papers/Opinion Pieces
- Corporate Identity
- Email Signatures
- Crisis Communications
- Acquisitions, Partnerships, Subsidiaries and associates
- Naming conventions
- Customer/External Newsletters
- Internal Newsletter
- Website and Intranet issues
- Blogging, Facebook usage, Wikis and other Social Media
- IT related issues.
As you can see, due thought has to go into the writing of this policy. Who needs to be consulted and vet certain information? Example – Internal newsletter may have content and remuneration information that has to be cleared by the Human Resources Director.
From a reputation risk perspective, you want clear policies, implementation guidelines & tips for all of these areas.
Writing the policy is one thing. Once you have written it, it needs to be authorised by the Board, and other parties such as the Company’s Legal and PR representatives. Getting the policy scrutinised by external 3rd party experts is advisable.
Once the policy is approved, it is useless to just distribute it and get it to be filed in the company’s policy manual. It is also not sufficient to just communicate the contents via a memorandum or e-mail to managers and staff.
I believe that it is vital that specific training is conducted throughout the organisation, so that staff can understand the dangers and peril of irresponsible communication and the impact it can have on the reputation of the institution. Training managers in Media Relations awareness is not the same as Media Spokesperson training and the two should not be confused.
Media awareness training differs from practical spokesperson coaching. Let me explain. Companies traditionally appoint two to three spokespersons. The spokespeople (who are carefully chosen), need to receive hands on practical training in front of cameras, microphones and live audiences. This type of training is expensive and time intensive and is normally conducted in a studio. Some trainers put spokespersons on the spot and then proceed to show them their weaknesses. This often breaks down people self-confidence levels and should be avoided (You cannot build on sand). Spokesperson training should be positive and uplifting and conducted in simulated environments.
However I believe that general management also need “contextual” training – training that will add to their understanding but that can be added on in a studio later. It is this training that is needed to ensure adherence and compliance with the Media policy.
Managers need to understand the media stakeholder, how they operate and how to conduct themselves in a media interview situation. This is typically the type of training I conduct in my Media Survival Skills workshop.
Often senior management are the people who have to formulate the messages that spokespersons need to convey or decide on an approach in dealing with the media. They therefore need to understand the media stakeholder, so that these messages and chance interactions with the media will be positive and uplifting.
My favourite saying is that media relations need to be approached with strategic intent and if you do not know the rules of the game, how can you play it.
I believe that my recommended two-tier approach to writing a Media policy and implementation is the best for building sound media relations and minimise that type of reputation risk in the organisation.