Leaders must speak with one voice, have coordinated, unified message

Avoid confusion with a primary spokesperson

Have you ever heard that there are two sides to every story? Or multiple ways to answer a single question? No doubt you have. There are multiple perspectives for every situation. In life this can be good. When it comes to your business’s reputation, multiple perspectives and answers can be problematic if they do not mesh.

The goal when interacting with members of the media is to avoid contradictory information delivered by multiple individuals. If several sources give differing information to a media representative and these are used in a news story or online piece, how does the public know which information is correct? This inconsistency will lead to issues with credibility and can be damaging especially if sources offer contradictory thoughts or facts about a situation. The solution to minimize information confusion is to have a single person responsible for delivering information to members of the media.

Who communicates a message or speaks for your business?

When it comes to your business, it is always preferable to have a single person act as your company’s designated spokesperson and official media contact for your company. Your dedicated spokesperson must be media savvy, understanding how to interact with journalists accurately and communicate transparently.

For a small business, the designated spokesperson might be the CEO or the Director of Marketing, or may even be an external public relations firm representative.

When you have a critical situation in which you’re communicating technical information you may also want to have a subject matter expert speak in conjunction with your designated spokesperson. Subject matter experts can often convey a highly technical information in a way that bolsters the message and helps people understand complicated topics.

For larger firms there will be a communications team whose job it is to speak with members of the media. There may even be specific individuals who are aligned with the various publics or audiences of the corporation: customers, stockholders, employees. This team is coordinated, so they all deliver the cohesive information.

Unified messaging whether in a crisis situation or in regular PR and marketing communications is mandatory. When you have several people who communicate with the media without coordination, the result can be detrimental publicity which damages your reputation.

Multiple points of view help shape credible messages

When working out what to say and how to respond, every viewpoint of the potential audiences must be comprehended. These viewpoints shape the manner, tone and content of a response. Evaluate and utilize insights from all your constituencies in order that the resulting message does not open up a minefield of other issues.

You have seen this happen when leaders deliver tone-deaf messages which cause slights or insult various members of the public. As an example there is the apology type I call “sorry, not sorry”. A classic example is United Airlines’ 2017 contrasting initial public response and employee directed response to the involuntary removal of a passenger from their plane. [Read the story on PR News Online.]

Annual communications audits and training

Annually your communications team or corporate spokesperson needs to work with the company leaders to identify key messages. They also must identify potential vulnerabilities and outline for the team how those vulnerabilities — if they become occurrences — might impact your business. After having identified potential threats, whether it’s a customer complaint which goes viral via social media, violence in the workplace or a storm which disrupts business, you can outline an initial message and points of response. Keeping these points fresh and updated allows you to respond with nimbleness to an immediate situation.

The foundation of these plans will include who will speak in each given situation and who has the responsibility of communicating on behalf of the business. As noted earlier, in some situations you may be able to benefit from having subject matter experts partnered with your designated spokesperson.

How will frontline staff interact with the media?

When members of the media visit your business locations and attempt to speak with people who are not designated to speak with the voice of the company, it’s critical that frontline staff understand how to react as well the appropriate method for providing contact information for the designated spokesperson. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have the unit manager meet the media person if they are in the store or speak with them on the phone and provide the contact information or the business card for the spokesperson.

It is the staff member’s responsibility to then communicate the journalist’s name, contact information and affiliation which they got during their interaction to the communications person or team. Doing so in this manner means that both the journalist and the spokesperson know about the contact. Most PR people will go ahead and reach out to the journalist, rather than wait on the media contact to reach out.

Training for frontline staff members needs to be a part of their orientation when they join the firm. Regular review of this topic with employees to keep everyone familiar with how they direct inquiries will ensure that when a media representative contacts your business, the person who greets them will know what to do, and do it well.

If you follow this simple outline of how to get your message coordinated, you can avoid multiple messages which may lead to confusion, or damage to your business reputation.

What if you do not have someone who capable of serving as a spokesperson?

A public relations firm such as Charleston PR & Design can provide identification of vulnerabilities, message development, spokesperson training, and can act as a spokesperson in critical situations. We can also provide training to your frontline staff around interaction with the media. Don’t wait until it’s too late, plan ahead and be certain that your messages are coordinated and represent your business with clarity and unity and that your designated spokesperson is ready, able and can respond with authority.
 

Photo Copyright: microgen / 123RF Stock Photo

Crisis Prevention: Vulnerability and Risk Management

Animals comprehend their vulnerability. Vertebrates have a dorsal and ventral side. Our dorsal sides are our backs — from the Latin dorsum. Our ventral sides are our bellies. Unshielded, our bellies are one of the weakest points on a vertebrate animal.

Dogs showing submission roll onto their backs, displaying their belly to the dominant dog. Armadillos must roll into a ball to protect their vulnerable underside. Every animal species understands its vulnerable side and how to protect it.

What is your vulnerability?

Every business entity has a vulnerable side too. Learning how to protect your business by assessing risks and managing vulnerabilities is a wise investment.

If you do not assess risks and discover your vulnerabilities, you stand the potential to be ripped apart by unforeseen consequences.

How do you assess risk?

Assessing risk requires a systems approach and perhaps outside experts. There are professionals (such as our firm) who will help assess your risks. Experts from every area: financial, HR, IT, physical plant and electrical are all good to help assess your risk and propose safety measures to prevent loss. CPAs can assess your financial systems and identify weaknesses in your management of assets, both property assets and money. Human Relations consultants can help you by conducting background checks of potential employees. You can call on the fire department to assess your warehouse or office or storefront to protect you from fire threat. IT consultants can examine your ability to back up and secure vital information.

You may be a business with sales of $50 million a year or one with sales of $50,000 a year, but each is vulnerable. Physical / premises weaknesses, human / employee weaknesses, financial / information vulnerabilities, and reputation / public relations vulnerabilities are present in every business. Finding yours, making a plan and mitigating risk is crucial in order to be a mature business. Of course, there are many businesses who never undertake risk assessment. And they never have a threat or loss. And there are just as many caught unawares whose companies disappear overnight when the unthinkable happens. Do not hide from the opportunity to plan.

In the Carolinas, we live with the seasonal threat of hurricanes. Have you assessed your ability to weather a category five or lesser storm? Have you made sure you have all your IT systems backed up in the cloud? Are all your paper files stored above the one hundred year flood height? Do you have an emergency alert and notification system in place to inform your employees not to report to work in the advent of a storm? How will you notify them to return to work you are able to resume operations? Do you have business interruption insurance? We could go on and list multiple areas to examine.

Accept that every component of your business is vulnerable to loss, interruption of business, damage, or absolute breakdown. Now the question becomes, “What does it take for me to get back up and running?”

Involve every employee and manager in making an outline of what is essential and critical in order for them to work. Depending on your product or services, you may be able to all work remotely. If you are a manufacturer or hard-goods producer, you will need to outline how to get back into operation. This requires that you have agreements with vendors from outside our geographical area lined up to provide materials, support and services to help you get back up and running.

While you may object to going to these lengths now to assess risks and plan for interruption and recovery, planning now will save you money, time and ultimately your business.

 

Crisis Preparation: A checklist of advance planning steps

How can an organization prepare in advance for a crisis?

In all of life we know that advance preparation makes reality far easier. No one would ever contemplate singing the National Anthem in front of thousands without practicing it. Over and over. And getting coaching.

Crisis survival and your business or organization’s future depend upon your work in advance of a disaster.

Our steps for crisis preparation.

  1. Audit for most probable crisis situations and vulnerabilities: from accidental business interruptions to product recalls to tragedy or HR issues in the workplace.
  2. Create a crisis communications plan: Make certain that your plan takes into consideration and lays out strategies and tactics covering the following critical items.
    1. Who will manage the crisis?
    2. How will the team respond?
    3. What will they communicate?
    4. When will they communicate it?
    5. Why will they communicate?
    6. Who will be the communicator?
    7. When will subject matter experts be used?
    8. When will outside auditors be used?
  3. Draft basic responses (and keep on the ‘shelf’) for each of the crisis situations. In every business or industry there are some highly likely situations. Make sure your plan considers and contemplates responses to those most common.
    1. Daycare example: Staff member abusing a child
    2. Restaurant: Food poisoning
    3. Data breach
  4. Establish a crisis communications team. There is no time in a crisis to figure out who is part of the team. Choose your team and make sure everyone is up to date with contact information for each member. Clarify where you’ll meet: online, in-person, at an ops center.
    1. Identify members and make sure they are aware they are part of the team
    2. Compile team contact information and make certain that all team members have this on hand and readily available
      1. Keep this updated (at least every 3 months)
    3. Establish a manner of communication; in person / face to face or remote (conference call and shared online document creation)
    4. Establish a location of gathering and ensuring all communications tools are present (from wifi to laptops, tablets, or if remote team members, creating permission based network accessible documents, ensuring conference calling / networking capacities are up to date and available)
    5. Outline roles for each member
    6. Make sure crisis communications team has bios/backgrounders on all company leaders and specifics
  5. Identify Subject Matter Experts who will assist the crisis communications team
  6. Drill. Firemen, police and EMTs drill. So should your firm. If you don’t practice, how will you know if your team is ready to manage a situation? How will you know if your carefully planned procedures will work? Don’t take this part for granted. Test it with a drill.
  7. Proactively provide information via the firm’s website about issues likely to be of concern in a crisis. Evidence makes the difference in the courtroom and in the courtroom of public opinion. If you have compliance requirements, demonstrate before a crisis situation that your firm had done all in it’s power to be in compliance and remain there. Having this information publically visible on your website helps develop trust and transparency. As examples:
    1. Daycare: Publish credentials and compliance information
    2. Restaurant: Publish inspection reports and staff who have completed Servsafe courses for example.
  8. Establish social media accounts on appropriate social media channels and monitor across all social media for firm, CEOs, and brand mentions
    1. Create Twitter / media lists and follow local / beat media likely to report on your industry
  9. Get to know (in person if appropriate) media most likely to report on a crisis in your industry. The media are doing their jobs. Not trying to trap you. If they know you and your firm in advance, they will not be strangers to you. Though don’t confuse getting to know them with trying to sway them. There is a huge difference. Understand that they have readers and viewers who want facts. And if they can’t get the facts, they will publish what people are talking about. And we all know that when people don’t have information they talk trash. Don’t let the media publish rumors and trash. Get them the facts when they ask.
  10. Have Google Alerts (real time) for your brand/leaders. Don’t let a crisis sneak up on you. Believe me, the media are monitoring media for stories and grumbles. If they are listening, you better be.

Does this feel like too much to do in advance of a crisis? If it does, call us. 843.628.6434. We can guide you through every step and allow you to sleep better knowing you’ve done your due diligence to prepare for a crisis situation.