GM Hires Crisis Communication Expert

By Gerard Braud

GM Crisis ExpertGM has hired a Crisis Communication Expert to help the company communicate their way out of a crisis surrounding their faulty ignition switches, according to headlines.

Why do companies hire crisis communications experts after a crisis?

Why don’t companies hire a crisis communications expert before they ever have a crisis?

Why don’t companies write crisis communications plans so that they can manage a crisis and the communications on their own?

The story of crisis communications is much like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, living the same story daily. That is because every day, another company announces they are hiring a crisis communications expert to magically make everything better after corporate executives allowed a crisis to happen.

Here is an open letter about crisis communication to corporate leaders:

Dear Corporate Executives,

Many of you make bad decisions every day. You put profits before people and when you do, you have the recipe for a disaster. GM executives decided not to spend 57-cents per car, in order to replace faulty ignition switches, because they thought it would cost too much. If they had spent the money, then:

  • People would not have died
  • A crisis would not have happened
  • The company’s reputation would not have been damaged
  • The company would not be paying untold millions to fight or settle cases
  • The company would not be getting grilled by congress
  • The head of GM would not be the butt of jokes for every late night talk show

Corporate executives should hire a crisis communication expert before a crisis happens.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communication expert to make sure their company has a properly written crisis communications plan.

Corporate leaders should stop relying on someone with a spreadsheet to make decisions about revenue that will later damage the company’s reputation.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communications expert to be the cynic at the table. That way, spreadsheet decisions do not lead to revenue decisions that have short-term gains and eventually cause long-term damage to both reputation and revenue.

Corporate executives should commit to protecting their reputation and revenue by having a crisis communication plan that guides their decision making before a crisis happens, during a crisis, and after a crisis

Postpone Your Crisis: Crisis Communication Wisdom with a Twist

K2 copyBy Gerard Braud

Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, consider the model used by many of your leaders who ignore my plea to plan for the worst.

Here is how it works. Many public relations people have e-mailed me to say that they cannot conduct media training or crisis communication training with their executives because the executives do not have time. Often these public relations people are asking for only a single day for media training. Sometimes they are asking for two days to write a crisis communications plan. Regardless of which communication training you ask for, there are always too many other projects more important than preparing to effectively communicate in a crisis. Hence, if an executive does not have time to schedule the training for the skills that would be mandatory in order to protect the profits and reputation of their company during a crisis, it only makes sense to declare that no crises should take place unless it is scheduled.

So next time you want to schedule media training or crisis communication training and you are told there is no time on the schedule because we have too many higher priority projects, just ask your executives when they would like to schedule their crisis?

Sure, it has been said that, “If you fail to plan, than plan to fail.” But under this new crisis communication model, we could simply say, “Plan to fail.”

If you’ve ever been told there is no time on the schedule for communication training, please share this article with the person who told you that, then send their reaction to me.

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 or

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.

Lesson 10: Mock Media in Your Face at Your Crisis Communication Drill: Six Great Tips

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159A real crisis is a pressure cooker and your crisis communications drill should replicate that. The pressure causes the media to be intense and often abrupt. The media may appear hostile. You will see similarities between media and sharks that sense blood in the water. Your crisis communications drill must duplicate that.

Here are six ways to do that.

1) Television cameras are intimidating, so make sure your mock media team has real television cameras to record each mock news conference. When your spokesperson or team of spokespeople enter the room for their mock news conference, have at least one camera person in their face with the camera as they enter. Get realistically and uncomfortably close. Make it real

2) Still photographers are also a part of real crises, so have a few of them in the room making noise with their shutters, setting off distracting flashes with each photo. Have them move about the room capturing the spokespeople from various angles.

3) During a real crisis, chances are your cell phone and desk phone would be ringing constantly as reporters try to get the inside scoop before their competition gets it. Therefore in a crisis communication drill, set up a phone bank of at least five people, with at least five fake personalities and fake names for each.

Personality #1 – A member of the local media

Personality #2 – A member of the national media

Personality #3 – A local mayor, councilperson or county official

Personality #4 – A state regulatory agency or state legislator

Personality #5 – A citizen with a host of fears and concerns

IMG_2621I give each personality a script containing likely questions they would ask and we schedule realistic calls at realistic intervals in a realistic sequence.

The challenge here is to force your communicators to stay on task to issue news releases in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, while letting most calls roll to voice mail or passing their phone off to an assistant who can log the calls without answering any questions.

4) Media are not polite to one another during a real crisis, so they should not be polite to one another in your crisis communications drill. During your mock news conferences, let your mock reporters ask realistic questions simultaneously. Let them try to out shout one another. Force your spokesperson to take control of the news conference and the reporters by calling on specific reporters and recognizing questions at their discretion. This type of practice is invaluable.

5) Do your homework before the drill to know what previous crises are like skeletons in the closet of the organization being drilled. Nothing makes a spokesperson look like a deer in the headlights like asking a question based on serious facts. Just this week in a drill I did this to a spokesperson, when I quoted the company’s past news releases and past news articles about recent layoffs, losses in stock value, and the $511 Million spent for repairs at their facility featured in the drill. The kicker is a nugget I found in a news article about the company replacing a part which actually failed during the scenario of the drill. Having Google at your finger tips on an iPad or iPhone is amazing. Real reporters would do it to you, so in your crisis communications drill, your mock reporters must duplicate this behavior.

6) Fake live shots are now faster and easier than ever, because of iPads and iPhones (or the smart phone of your choice.) In a real crisis, a serious news conference might be carried live on television, followed by a live report from the reporter covering the story. To duplicate this, after every mock news conference I use the video feature on my iPad to record me doing a fake live report. I then hand the iPad to the crisis communication media monitoring team and let them see within seconds what I would have said if I were real media and this were a real event.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Many executives admit that managing the crisis is the easy part, but managing the media is the tough part of a crisis. The truth is, most organizations spend more time, more money, and dedicate more people to emergency response then they do to crisis communications. Hence, if you dedicate more time, money and people to practicing and preparing for your crisis communications, you will have less difficulty with the media.

Each organization should conduct media training at least once a year for all spokespeople and again prior to every news conference. Spokespeople should include public relations professionals, subject mater experts, and top executives.

The great flaw is that most organizations treat media training as though it is a bucket list item that can be checked off and forgotten about. The key is maintaining and improving training based on modern communications.

Lesson 8: Which Team is in Charge During Your Crisis Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15I worked in drills in which I facilitate everything on behalf of the crisis communications team, while also developing the scenario for the drill. I’ve also worked in drills in which the emergency manager selects the drill scenario and acts as lead facilitator. Simultaneously, I facilitate only the cascading events dealing with internal and external communications, as well as managing the mock media.

The fact is, I don’t care which team is in charge, as long as every team gets to experience the realistic anxiety and decision making necessary for everyone to learn.

A crisis communications drill is an opportunity for all teams to execute their respective plans to test their readyness, while also making sure that each team can coexist with the others, both in a drill and in a real crisis.

The bottom line is just make sure someone sets the course to have at least one drill a year. Remember, a drill allows you to mess up in private so you never mess up during a real crisis.

Lesson 7: Who Should Know Details Before Your Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Plans_6113No one knows the hour or the day when a real crisis will strike, nor do they know how or when various events will cascade during the crisis. Your crisis communications drill needs to simulate as much of this as possible.

In a crisis communications drill, chances are you need to let everyone involved know at least the date of the drill. The date is the only piece of information that I ever share with people involved in the crisis drills I facilitate.

I may take the easy path and run a drill for three hours from 9 a.m. until noon, or I may let the crisis begin to unfold as people are in the middle of their commute to work. Sometimes I launch the drill as parents are juggling the morning rituals of getting their kids up and off to school.

Since real crisis events seldom happen at a convenient time, your crisis communications drill should duplicate and simulate real life challenges.

In addition to keeping the starting time a secret, I never share details about the drill scenario with anyone other than other drill facilitators.

Secrecy is important because you don’t want anyone taking extra precautions in the days or weeks before the drill. The drill is designed to measure everyone’s preparedness and response at a specific moment in time. In other words, if a crisis happened now, how prepared would everyone be?

After the drill you should be prepared to modify your crisis communications plan. 

Lesson 6: Who Should Participate in Your Crisis Communications Drill?

By Gerard Braud

Trainwreck CEOVarious teams within your organization can organize crisis drills. If no one else within your company, government agency or non-profit is organizing an annual crisis drill, then individuals within the communications department can take the lead to organize a drill.

Ideally, to get a well rounded drill you want to test your public relations team and their ability to craft and disseminate effective communications in a timely manner. Additionally, Emergency Managers and Incident Commanders may be called upon to participate in any type of drill designed to test emergency response to a rapidly evolving crisis such as a workplace shooting or fire. If the crisis drill scenario involves the disruption of production or disruption to the supply chain or any upset at a facility, the risk management team should also be part of the planning and execution of the crisis drill.

Together, these three teams must work to each perform their assigned task in a prescribed amount of time.  They must work to support one another with shared information and shared decision-making, all under the supervision of the Crisis Management Team.

A drill is designed to replicate an actual event. Held on a clear sunny day, a crisis drill prepares you and your organization for your darkest day. If you discover on a sunny day that members of the various teams are not functioning well together, you have time to correct the bad behavior or bad decision making before a real crisis happens.

9thWard-KatrinaVersary-Media_0406There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes it is possible to test just the crisis communications team and the leadership team during a drill that simulates a smoldering crisis, rather than a sudden crisis. For example, instead of simulating a workplace shooting, build a scenario centered around a smoldering issue like executive behavior or discrimination. Such a drill will test the ethical decision making of your leaders. It will test their commitment to communicate pro-actively about such an event, and it will test the communications team for their ability to word-smith a perfect communiqué for what is often the most difficult of all crises.

Keep in mind that a smoldering crisis does not trigger the incident command plan or the risk management plan. This also proves once again that a crisis communications plan is always an important tool and document to have because it must guide your communications activity with other teams and also independent of other teams and their plans.


Lesson 5: Equal Parts of Your Crisis Drill: Add Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud 

DSC_0002Too many crisis drills are lopsided. They are often organized by Emergency Managers who primarily want to measure the decision making and response time of those who must address the physical aspects of a crisis. Often missing from these drills is the realistic aspects of “pesky” reporters “getting in everybody’s way” and wanting interviews.

In a real crisis, there will be many things happening at once and therefore any drill you conduct should have equal parts of all of the real aspects.

If the drill is to simulate a fire and explosion, equal parts should be planned and executed by the Incident Command Team, the Risk Management Team, and the Crisis Communications Team.

Because the media will be involved in covering many crises that you could experience, mock media need to be a part of your crisis drill. During the drill, the facilitator should plan the scenario in such a way that there are at least two opportunities for news conferences to test the skills of spokespeople. Those mock news conferences can be done either indoors or outdoors — it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that they are realistic.

If the drill centers on a fire or explosion scenario, chances are in a real situation, media would be at your door step in 30-60 minutes.  This means your crisis drill should be organized in such a way that a spokesperson must deliver the first message within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis. My first critical statement template is a perfect format for delivering a few basic facts in the early hour of a crisis. Download a free copy here by using the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN.

During the drill, a second news conference should be held prior to the start of the second hour of the event.

Braud extraTo make the drill even more realistic, create a pool of mock reporters who sit at a phone bank and make phone calls to various individuals within your organization during the course of the drill. Don’t over do it, but make it realistic, just as real reporters would do.

When I facilitate a crisis drill, I add two additional layers of realism. The first is to use my iPad to record fake live shots at appropriate intervals during the drill. I then hand off my iPad to players in the drill so they can view what the media would actually be saying during the crisis. My second layer of realism is to inject fake social media posts to simulate what the public would be saying on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Drills should be designed to replicate realistic behaviors and responses by all of the same people who would be involved in a response to the actual event. Please don’t leave communications out of the mix. Please add an equal mix of all aspects of the crisis to make your drill more realistic with the intent of making all of your role-players well rounded and professional.