Experts in Crisis Communication Agree: Home Depot Tweet Gone Wrong: 5 Things Your Public Relations Team Should Do Right Now

HD TweetBy Gerard Braud

Experts in crisis communication know social media in corporate communications is highly likely to lead to a crisis. I would say more brands are likely to be harmed than helped by a social media brand page.

Home Depot leaders acted swiftly to fire an outside agency and an employee who posted a picture on Twitter that depicted two black drummers and a third drummer with a monkey mask, with the tweet, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Good job Home Depot for acting swiftly. Good job Home Depot for terminating the agency and personnel who clearly don’t understand the need to think before Tweeting.

Immediately there were cries of racism. The drummers were beating on Home Depot plastic buckets and sitting in front of a promotional banner for Home Depot’s sponsorship of College Game Day.

To their credit, Home Depot used the same offending brand Twitter page to post an apology that said, “We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive. Deeply sorry. We terminated agency and individual who posted it.”

HD Appology tweetI love that in a world where lawyers don’t let public relations employees say “sorry,” that Home Depot uses the word “sorry.” I love that they use the word “stupid.” The tweet apology is well written and conveys the anger the company feels toward the offending agency and employee.

HD FacebookHome Depot uses a Facebook and YouTube brand page, but nothing is posted there relating to the Tweet. The Home Depot home page and Media Center also have no news releases or apologies.

From a crisis communication perspective, in this case I think I agree with the Home Depot public relations and crisis communication strategy to confine the crisis to only the offending branch of social media and not bring it over to Facebook or YouTube. However, now that the story is making headlines in newspapers and morning television, I think an apology in the corporate Media Center newsroom on their primary website would be in order. In fact, I would have put up a news release apology in the corporate site newsroom within minutes of issuing the apology tweet. By the way, in the crisis communication plan system that I suggest you have, such an apology would be pre-written and pre-approved on a clear sunny day… written months ago and waiting in the addendum of your crisis communication plan.

HD Homepage 2In a crisis, it is important to tell the story from your perspective and to own the search engine optimization (SEO) for your brand and your story. Posting in your corporate newsroom helps with this. Failure to do so sends anyone searching for information to other pontifications, reports and blogs… like this one.

What should you do in your brand?

1) Review your social media policy and make it tough. The social media policies that we write at Braud Communications on behalf of our clients are brutally tough.

 

2) Terminate those who post recklessly.

 

HD snarky tweets3) Pre-determine whether a social media crisis requires response on all social media channels or only the offending channel.

 

4) Pre-determine if your home page newsroom will be used for an apology. I think it should be used.

 

5) Consider establishing a rule that two to three internal eyes need to review every social media post before anyone hits send. Make sure those 2 to 3 people represent the cultural and age diversity of your audience. In the case of Home Depot, it was clear that the age or cultural background of the person who posted this tweet was such that it likely never crossed their mind that this tweet might be considered racist.

As crisis communication case studies go, I’ll say Home Depot is handling this one well.

 

Navigate the Waters of Reputational Repair: 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications Planning

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0076Navigating the waters of a crisis requires a good crisis communication plan before the waters ever begin to rise. Clear sunny day planning, long before your darkest day, is the secret. In today’s social media filled world, this has never been more true. Sadly, in our social media world some public relations people expect to Tweet their way out of a crisis or repair damage using Facebook. Neither is true.

While “shiny and new” social media can be part of an effective communications strategy, you must first have the foundation of tried and true media relations, crisis communications, employee communications and stakeholder communications.

(Hear from Gerard in person during this special free webinar on November 20, 2013 1:00 p.m. EST)
Want to know the secret ingredients? Read on…

Here is a sure fire 5 step approach that must be your foundation.

Step 1: Vulnerability assessment Before “it” hits the fan, you have to identify everything that could go wrong, including potential sudden crises and smoldering crises. Hire a facilitator to take your organization through the process of a deep examination of the things that could go wrong that would damage the reputation and revenues of the company.

Step 2: Write your pre-written news releases, web posts, and e-mails Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “When you are up to your ass in alligators it is hard to think about draining the swamp.” This applies to crisis communications. One of the biggest mistakes public relations people make is that as the crisis is unfolding, they open a blank document on their computer and start writing a news release, which then goes through hours of unnecessary re-writes before it is released. Consider this: on a clear sunny day you should write as many of these potential news releases as possible, leaving blanks that you’ll fill in when you know the details of the actual event. These documents can be pre-approved by leaders, speeding up your ability to release them to the public. I’ve facilitated many crisis communication writing retreats that produced more than 150 pre-written news releases in one day. That kind of productivity rocks!

Step 3: Write your crisis communications plan Very few documents that public relations people refer to as a crisis communication plan would pass my test for what a plan should be. Most are worthless 6 to 12 page documents that state standard operating procedure and serve absolutely no purpose on the day of your crisis. Yet to be fair, this is what most PR people were taught in school or at some PR seminar. Frustrated by what I kept finding, I invented something new. My approach is to write a document that is intended to be read and followed during the crisis. It dictates specific, sequential tasks in a very fast moving time frame. It captures all of the perfect behaviors of the most senior communicator, yet is so easy to follow than any one who can read can execute the plan flawlessly. I’ve invested about 2,500 hours of development in my base plan, which is about 50 pages long, which I am now able to customize for my clients during a single afternoon workshop.

Step 4: Annual media training for a crisis Despite all of the buzz about social media, holding a live news conference within both the first and second hour of a crisis is vital if the media are standing at your door. Many organizations damage their revenues and reputations when untrained spokespeople say dumb things during a crisis. It is important for every potential spokesperson to recognize that media training is not a bucket list item that you do once in life. Talking to the media is a skill that requires regular practice. I recommend media training for all spokespeople at least once a year, with an expert coach. Then, before every media interview, in-house staff should do a fast refresher course. Think of it this way – the best athletes achieve great success because they practice often and partner with a great coach. Great spokespeople practice often and partner with a great coach, protecting their reputation and revenues through what they say, and just importantly, what they don’t say.

Step 5: An annual crisis communications drill Realistic crisis communications drills are the best way to test your communications team and the decision making process of your leaders. A drill once a year allows colleagues to establish trust and good working relationships. A crisis drill allows ample time for leaders to pause and discuss decisions they must make during a real crisis. This helps them avoid decision paralysis during a crisis. Your crisis communications drill should include at least two mock news conferences during the drill. Hire mock media and never use real media. Your facilitator must write a complicated, yet realistic scenario. It must include a likely crisis, plus all of the social media, employee and media buzz that would surround a real crisis. The facilitator should also hire a team of people to flood your phone lines with constant calls, replicating the calls you would receive from media, customers, and concerned citizens in a real crisis.

Conclusion All of this takes time. None of it is easy or fast. However, it is much easier to prepare on a clear sunny day than to struggle and fail on your darkest day. Your reputation and revenues depend upon it.

 

About the author: Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) has helped leaders and organizations on 5 continents write their crisis communications plans, using his one-of-a-kind writing retreat that completes one years worth of work in 2 days. He is regarded as an expert in media training and crisis communications plans and is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. Contact him at www.braudcommunications.com or gerard@braudcommunications.com

Managing Expectations: 12 Crisis Communication Action Items for Winter Storms

By Gerard Braud

winter storm cleonCrisis Communications, a working Crisis Communication Plan as well as good media training skills will be critical in the next few days as bad weather moves across the United States.

Before the weather gets to you, now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last up to two weeks. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.

In your communications to them, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.

#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News

Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.

#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism

You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.

Click here to watch Gerard’s video on winter storms

Gerard Braud Winter Storm

Click image to watch video

#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You

Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:

  • Be ready to post updates to your primary website starting now.
  • Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube.
  • Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video.
  • Post that same video to CNN iReports.
  • Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video.

#4 Media Training for Spokespeople

Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.

Cleon#5 Be Skype Ready

In a winter storm type crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.

#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications

Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.

#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters

Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.

#8 Be a Resource

Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resource information that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.

#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark

Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.

#10 Rest When You Can

Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.

#11 Victory from Preparedness

Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.

#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan

When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.

 

 

Crisis Communications Plans Built to Fail: 3 Warning Signs and How to Avoid Them

By Gerard Braud

Would you be disappointed to learn your crisis communications plan is built to fail?

Here are three questions to ask to find out if you are destined for trouble when a crisis comes calling — or if you will manage your crisis like an expert.

Warning Sign #1

What is the system within your company by which people report a crisis? Most organizations have:

1) No requirements among employees to report a problem or potential problem.

2) No single phone number to call to report a crisis.

3) No clear definition of what a crisis is.

A reportable crisis should be defined as any event that can negatively impact the revenue and reputation of your company. This can range from a sudden crisis like a fire or explosion, to smoldering issues such as sexual harassment or executive misbehavior. It needs to also include all of the things in between that can trigger a crisis, such as dangerous working conditions or problems that are swept under the rug. Don’t fight over the semantics of whether it should be called a crisis, an event or an incident. Categorize it all as either an actual crisis in the making or a potential crisis.

As a rule, you should welcome the possibility of over-reporting rather than under-reporting. Every employee should be encouraged to speak up and bring issues to the attention of their immediate supervisor. Each supervisor should be encouraged to report up the chain of command. Even better yet, there should be a hotline number that any employee should be able to call to report an actual crisis or a potential crisis. Furthermore, regular employee meetings should be held in which supervisors ask employees questions and create opportunities for them to freely speak up about potential crises.

Often, there is a weak link in the chain of command. Employees fear reprisals for speaking up, rather than anticipating praise for being a team player. You don’t want that culture in your workplace.

Warning Sign #2

Spontaneity and winging it are of little use when a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding. You must know what to ask and with whom the information must be shared. Once you have established a reporting system, such as a hotline, you need to consider what happens when the hotline is called.

1) What questions need to be asked of the caller?

2) What information should the caller be prepared to share?

A flaw in most companies is that neither the caller nor the person receiving the call has a script to follow that outlines what information needs to be gathered and shared.

The solution to this problem is in good crisis communication planning on a clear sunny day. Either one good communication strategist, or a team of people, should discuss what they would want to know in a crisis, then write out the questions that need to be asked by the hotline operator.

The system becomes stronger when the questions are placed with strategic individuals throughout the company. They should be trained to recognize that when a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding, they should be prepared to ask these critical questions and pass that information on to the hotline operator.

In places where a 24-hour operator is not a viable option, consider making a single cell phone the hotline phone. Each week a specific manager can be designated as the crisis manager. They must carry the phone with them 24/7. Their job is to answer the hotline anytime it rings, then begin to gather information that can be shared with other managers, so the crisis can be dealt with.

Warning Sign #3

Most organizations fail to have a well thought out Crisis Management Team. Many have no established team. Hence, their response to a crisis is usually ad-hoc and prone to fail because mistakes are made in the heat of the moment.

Once you have gathered the initial information, you must clearly establish to whom does it go and what actions should they take?

All companies should have three types of plans for a crisis, which would include the plan we are talking about here, which is a Crisis Communication Plan. There must also be an Emergency Response or Incident Command Plan, as well as a Business Continuity Plan. Few companies have all three. Many companies have none.

The leader of each of these teams should be members of the Crisis Management Team, along with the CEO. You should consider limiting your core Crisis Management Team to only four to five leaders. This is your inner circle. Each of them should have other internal managers and experts who can be called upon as needed.

The Crisis Management Team is the group that should receive the information gathered when the hotline number is called. Each should then dispatch their legions of designees to respond to the events.

In our case, the leader of the Crisis Communications Team needs to start communicating facts to internal and external audiences as quickly as possible, using the most reliable tools. These tools should include:

  • Holding a fast, initial news briefing with any media who may be on site.
  • Posting the information to your secure website.
  • Simultaneously emailing information to the media and employees with text and a link to your website.
  • Using email to reach key stakeholders, such as customers.
  • Using YouTube as a location to host a short video statement for the world to see.
  • Using Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to your statements on your website and on YouTube

Your ability to use all of these communications channels or only a few of these channels depends heavily upon whether your company has one PR professional or a team of them. When you are short handed, use the channels in the order that they are outlined above.

The difference between crisis communication success and crisis communications failure lies in planning. It is called a crisis communications plan for a reason. Don’t wing it. Take time now, on a clear sunny day, to determine if you are destined for failure from the start because you are missing the most critical steps from the onset of every crisis.

Crisis Management & Crisis Communication: The Justin Bieber Case

By Gerard Braud

JustinBieberIn crisis management and crisis communication you must manage the rule of thirds, as it relates to your brand and the management of your reputation.

Define the rule of thirds this way:

One third of the audience loves you – and nothing can change that.

One third of the audience hates you – and nothing can change you.

One third of the audience swings like a pendulum and they love or hate you based on what is trending at that moment.

Please see exhibit A: Justin Bieber.

His self-made series of recent crises have eroded his credibility with the middle third.

Do you know parents who have supported their daughters, who love Bieber? Did those parents in some way also think Bieber was a nice guy?

If you had asked them a year ago, they would have said, “He’s a nice kid, he has great God given talent, and his mom seems to be trying to keep him grounded.”

Ask them today, they might say, “Justin Bieber is a spoiled little a**hole.”

Want more proof of how this works?

1) Bieber is officially the butt of an increasing number of jokes. During the Olympics, the trending joke was that the loser of the U.S. versus Canada hockey game had to keep Bieber. Hashtag – that’s funny for us. Hashtag – that’s sad for Bieber.

2) Radio station Rock 100.5 staged an impressive enough anti-Bieber hoax that CNN and other media reported it without doubting it could be true. Hashtag – lack of journalism. Hashtag – that’s funny for us. Hashtag – that’s sad for Bieber.

In a world where media quotes media rather than investigating the story themselves, it is estimated the fake story appeared 4,500 times around the world.

Define a crisis as anything that affects your reputation AND revenue. Bieber falls in both departments.

The rule of thirds always rings true.

How would the rule of thirds go down for your company in a crisis? Would you keep the middle third or lose the middle third?