Tag Archives: crisis communications

Applying the tourniquet

7 Jun

There’s a comfort in metaphors.  The gulf oil spill is or will soon be “Obama’s Katrina,” as if there was something heshould, or could, be doing.  Maureen Dowd says that the problem is that:

“Oddly, the good father who wrote so poignantly about growing up without a daddy scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency.” (via Clive Crook)

Clive Crook remarks at The Atlantic that, “Apparently it’s a great idea to elect a president who is calm in a crisis, except when there’s a crisis,” noting that we’re all acting like little Malia Obama, waiting for daddy to put a Band-Aid on the Earth…or maybe a tourniquet.

Leadership — in government and in industries — is about more than giving comfort and simply being there. It’s about mobilizing people around solving problems and achieving a vision.  Where there is a leadership crisis in the Gulf today isn’t that the government can’t convince people that it is doing everything it can to address the crisis, or that the President isn’t sufficiently comforting.  It’s that there is no vision for addressing the crisis.  Like in the wars of the past decade, we don’t know what success looks like — if it is even possible for us — that is, BP, the government and “humanity” — to cap the well, protect the coasts, and undo the damage that has been done.

But in many cases, leadership is a chicken and and egg question. Are leaders successful, or does success breed and create leaders?   Can a leader mobilize people around a vision while the crisis bleeds — and no one knows how to apply the tourniquet? Or will having a solution confer the opportunity for someone to lead — and define their own vision of success?

The Coming B2B Bad Service Social Media PR Nightmare

3 Feb

Jeremiah Owyang offers yet another case study of how a consumer brand was engulfed in — and then escaped from — a PR crisis caused by the unfortunate  (for the company) combination of poor customer service to a customer who happens to have significant influence on social media — and wielded her million-plus Twitter followers to great effect.  Add it to the growing list along with DellMotrin and Dominos.

Image copyright HowStuffWorks.com

Owyang’s point is worth heeding — that customer service departments need to gauge the relative power and influence of their customers as they serve them — and social media influence — like celebrity and loyalty and wealth — should be a factor that shunts a customer toward a different set of rules.

It got me thinking about the B2B market, and how I can find little of this online barking intended to break service log jams (beyond telecom and wireless — anyone and everyone feels free to complain about internet, mobile and phone service). We have a business culture that shuns allowing employees to call out their frustrations with their companies’ vendors online … with good reason — such behavior could damage large scale contracts and business relationships, and potentially give the complaining business itself a bad name in its industry or community.

Rest assured, there is plenty going on in the back channel. Poor media reviews and frustrated industry analysts absolutely slow sales.  Chatter at industry conferences manages to get around at the speed of gossip.  The many tech folks in IT have no problem telling the world what they think of, say, the quality of their backup system, on online forums.  And a vendor’s poor reputation is usually played out in sales and inside their own niche.

But, so as far as I can tell, B2B based complaints in social media have yet to create a big PR nightmare case study.*

So no worries?  Think again.  It’s not going out on much of a limb to predict that this will happen.  First, businesses are designed to compete — if social media will solve a problem that traditional channels won’t, it will be used.  Second, our world is getting more social, and our business is getting more personal, not less.  In other words, people will talk, even in B2B.   Let’s make sure we’re listening.**

*Am I wrong?  Let’s talk about some examples?  Telecom, cable companies and mobile devices don’t count!

**Which is a clever way to finish the post, but let’s really end with some advice:

1. If you’re delivering great service, keep doing so.

2. Listen to what business and their employees are saying about you online. Use free tools like RSS,  Google Alerts and, say, TweetDeck to start; monitor relevant Facebook and LinkedIn Groups.  Move to paid services to manage higher volumes, get better dashboards, monitor competitors.

3. Be in social media. Establish ‘outposts’ in key social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and…especially…key forums in your industry.  Participate.

4.  If you identify a problem, escalate it quickly and solve it.

5. If it becomes a broader “PR nightmare” before you knew about it, address it in social media as well as traditional media — your website and those social outposs.   go overboard to solve not just the problem, but the root causes…tell people how you’re going to do it…then do it.




Measureable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 3

5 Aug

We’re on day three of ideas for measurable social engagement strategies for corporate communications.  If you haven’t found a good reason to get your organization engaged in online social networks — even in a small way — as part of your day-to-day business, here’s a good place to start.

Idea #3 sits right in the wheelhouse of corporate communications:  Being ready for the crisis.

It’s true that if you keep your head down, you’ll probably be OK for a while. But eventually, something will happen. You’ll recall a product. Or well-connected customer decides to vent theirproduct/customer service frustrations on you.  Or some ‘enterprising’ employee decides to make a video ‘unbecoming’ of the brand. Or an energized group of consumers decides to be offended by your new ad campaign.  Should your brand’s first participation consumer and influencer communities online be an apology?

Again, it pays to be watching…and listening.  The earlier you catch wind of a brand or reputation crisis the better.  What if, like Comcast, you keep an eye on Twitter for service complaints and make sure they are handled? The better connected you are with those online communities, the easier it will be to respond.  The better you understand online communities and social networks, and how you’ll get the word out in crisis, the better for your reputation as well.

Measure in how long the sales hit lasts — if at all.

Shining Up PR’s Apple

10 Mar

Last  evening, I caught part 2 of Rachel Maddow’s rant on AIG and PR giant Burson-Marsteller.  Have a look for yourself.   The gist: AIG is using taxpayer dollars on PR firms. The news is a PR Week notice that respected investor relations firm Kekst & Company their list of PR representatives, but this is just a jumping off point for a rant on Burson–the agency that ‘evil has on speed-dial.’   (we’ll ignore for now that the otherwise intelligent Maddow expresses confusion on the meaning of the term “M&A”).  

The charge:  AIG is using taxpayer dollars to “shine up their image”…to “spin” us, the very taxpayers who own 80% of AIG.  Most people I talk to agree — this is incontrovertibly a waste of not only taxpayer money, but corporate money.  Why would any company need a PR firm to “communicate”?  My answer: why wouldn’t they?  

My argument is with the premise.  I don’t know what the good folks from Kekst or Burson or any other firm are telling the folks at AIG.  What I do know is that good PR counselors don’t shine up images, particularly in a crisis. We like to say that the best you can do with a bad story is to try and keep it from getting worse.  PR in this situation is a management function.  You hire an agency because you know they have smart people who’ve been there with other comapnies in crisis, who can give you an outside perspective on how to tell your story straight.  To avoid groupthink — the insular thinking that leads to big management mistakes.  

Think about any relationship you have.  How easy is it to tell your wife you received another speeding ticket?  Or that you’ve lost your job? How much easier is it to hide the truth; how much harder is it to own up to it?  Management struggles with the same very human emotions. If I’m management, I’m thinking I need someone with the experience to tell me to stop talking around the uncomfortable truth and say and do the right thing.  Or when I’m saying something stupid or insensitive.  They need someone to help them put what they need to say into words that will make sense to people. To tell their story.   Trust me — clear, honest, open communication is a lot harder than it looks.  

Not saying the agency folks are going to make a difference.  Or that AIG is a good company with management that wants to do right — I have no idea one way or the other.  I’m not even saying that AIG  shouldn’t be able to handle this themselves — in a perfect world, they would.  But in a perfect world, they wouldn’t be in this mess.  

But I can understand why they feel like they need help, and why PR agencies are the right call for them.  They’re not trying to shed light on some “secret awesomeness” of AIG — they’re just in a deep hole, and need someone to hand them a flashlight.

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