Selecting the Right Spokesperson: Should it be the CEO?

crisisdrillgerardbraud2In public relations, media training and crisis communications training, there are many debates about who should be your spokesperson for media interviews.

Many companies want to use their CEO as the only spokesperson based on the belief that it allows the company to speak with one voice.

Do you agree with that or disagree? I think this has always been a flawed assumption and here is why…

It is always appropriate for the CEO to be the spokesperson for media interviews about good news. This would be true for good financial news, corporate expansions, and for charitable donations.

The other time when the CEO should be your spokesperson is when condolences and empathy need to be expressed. This would be true in certain crisis communications when there has been a loss of life, serious injuries, or flawed corporate decisions that have an adverse impact on customers or the community. In these cases, the CEO should become the face of the organization’s compassion. Even then, the CEO as a spokesperson might come several hours into the crisis. In the first hour, when a statement needs to be made, the CEO is often busy with other issues. That is just one more reason to have multiple spokespeople who have been media trained.

A CEO who wants to be the only spokesperson is destined for failure. In a crisis, the CEO should be:

1) Managing the crisis

2) Managing the business operations

This is especially true in the first hours of a crisis when information is just becoming available.

Also, if a CEO misspeaks early in a crisis, it destroys his or her credibility and undermines the reputation of the organization. Whereas, if anyone else misspeaks early in the crisis, the CEO can step in to clarify the facts and becomes the hero figure.

The worst time for the CEO to be the spokesperson is for a minor crisis. Having the CEO as your spokesperson for something small adds greater emphasis to the crisis.

In our next two blog entries, we will give you options as to who should be the spokesperson in a minor crisis.

Speaking with one voice is a noble pursuit, but through good media training numerous people can be taught to speak with the same message and in essence with “one voice.” That one voice doesn’t have to come from a single mouth or spokesperson.

Remember BP’s CEO Tony Hayward, who uttered, “I want my life back.” That line caused him to be fired as CEO.

5 Ebola Crisis Communications Considerations

By Gerard Braud

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard BraudYour personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your company (or the company for your work for.) On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you.

Here are 5 Ebola Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudThe crisis may touch your organization because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications and customer communications. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue. Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Ask for help.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Business ROI

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  • The cost of rumors
  • The cost of a single case linked back to your organization
  • The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your organization
  • The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  • The cost of worker illness and lost productivity
  • The cost of your company going out of business

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your organization and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving the company huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get executive attention in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the CEO and the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all businesses equally to sometimes get their attention. The feared Y2K crisis in 2000 caused CEOs to write checks for millions of dollars, mostly to IT experts. Other companies used it as a reason to develop a small part of their crisis communication plan. Sadly, it was usually targeted at only Y2K issues. The H1N1 threat in 2009 once again got the attention of executives to the extent they were willing to give staff time and money to do what needed to be done.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is once again upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your executives. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human Resources, operations, international travel, and risk management departments all will need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

Ebola Crisis Communication Plan, Crisis Management & Strategy: Is It Too Soon to Talk About It?

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudIs it too soon to talk about your Ebola crisis communications strategies and plan? A New York based public relations professional asked me that question today. I responded by saying, “Why wait? One week ago no one in Dallas gave Ebola crisis communications a second thought. Today, at lease 14 businesses and government entities have to send spokespeople out to talk to the media about their portion of the Ebola crisis.”

I say start getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now. Your Ebola crisis can crop up without warning. Your crisis could result not only from an actual Ebola case, but from the hysteria of false information about a case.

You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be Crisis communication workshop gerard braudthe public relations or crisis management professional for a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. NOW is the time to realize that it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your organization for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with will be treated like a 19th century leaper – no one will want to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, the patient’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means thirteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

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The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven woefully inadequate. In no way do they meet the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Could you suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations will say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? Likely financial ruin.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you own a company? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert for a company?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth our time and effort,” is what the vast majority of organizations will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud Shares NFL Crisis Communications Advice With Radio Host Kate Delaney of America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio

As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.

Did the NFL Miss a Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Opportunity on Sunday?

Roger goodell gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Sunday football arrived without a plan for NFL management to end the Ray Rice crisis. Nor did they manage the crisis surrounding what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew and didn’t know.

Fans continue to call for Goodell to be fired. Is there another option for crisis management and crisis communications shy of Goodell’s termination?

Sometimes the best plan is to look for a creative solution that hasn’t yet been considered in the crisis.

What if the crisis management solution was for Goodell to communicate to the Sunday NFL audience that he was suspending himself for one year? It would have displayed leadership in a crisis and managed the crisis to a conclusion.

Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communications counselors could make? It would be the creative crisis management solution I would suggest.

Sean PaytonConsider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players. Payton received a one-year suspension because Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell.

So, many call for Goodell to be fired and he goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.

If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet failed to serve Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.

Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens with the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executives actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.

The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.

Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications.

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.

 

 

Lesson 11: Test Your Security Team During Your Crisis Communications Drill

By Gerard Braud

CrisisDrillGerardBraudWhile working with crisis communications clients, I provide a “first critical statement” template.  This template is intended to be read to the media, emailed to employees, and posted to the web in the first hour of a crisis when little is known about the emerging crisis. Some companies that operate facilities that have no spokespeople on site, but that have a security guard at the front gate. I’ve suggested that the template is simple enough that a security guard could go through low-level media training and be taught to deliver the message if media showed up at the front gate.

Amazingly and predictably, executives, in a semi-confidential and ultra condescending way, will say, “Have you met those people? They can’t be trusted with that!”

My response is, “Well, you gave ‘em a gun.”

While some security companies employ highly trained security professionals, others employ people with skills equal to a day laborer. Some are taught to simply check badges and passes at a guard gate. Many have little education, poor verbal skills, and they come to work with a power attitude they developed when a badge was bestowed upon them.

Regardless of their skill level, three things are true:

1) If a crisis happens, chances are they will encounter the media and may be the first person the media approaches with cameras and questions.

2) If there is a chance for a real life media encounter, then they need to be an active part of your crisis communications drill.

3) They can be media trained to deliver the first critical statement. I’ve done it successfully many times.

As you plan your crisis communications drill scenario, let your mock media team know that testing the security team is an important part of the drill. Your mock media team should be reasonably assertive without being aggressive with the security personnel.

crisisdrillgerardbraud2The goal is to record on video tape what the guards do and say. Guards generally all do the same thing. Some instinctively say, “No comment.” Others verbally and forcefully tell the mock media that they cannot be on the site or that they will be arrested, even when the mock media are standing safely and legally on the public right of way. Many security guards feel a need to put their hands on the camera lens to block the view of the camera. Some try to physically push and escort mock reporters away.

It is somewhat comical from my standpoint because they do all the things they’ve ever seen other guards do in any bad television situation.

Security guards often are the proverbial worst first impression. What they say can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

Such behavior sends a message to the public that the company has done something wrong and that they have something to hide.

Remember, if a drill is your opportunity to mess up in private, so behaviors can be addressed and corrected, challenging the security team in your drill is important.

Furthermore, a low-level media training class needs to be created to teach these guards how they appear to the public when they act inappropriately with the media. They must be taught to politely instruct the media where to park. Next guards must be taught how to ask the media for credentials and a business card so the appropriate media contact in the company can be called. The guards also need to be taught a verbal script. This may be, “How can I help you?” “If you’ll provide me with your media credentials and a business card I’ll be glad to call someone who can speak with you.”

Entergy drill Gerard Braud 1When the guards are asked casual questions by either real or mock reporters, they need to respond, “My responsibilities are confined to maintaining security at this entrance, but I’m sure someone from the company will be able to answer all of your questions shortly, so if you will, please bare with me while I tend to may assigned duties, you should be hearing from someone soon.”

It wouldn’t hurt to have a printed statement at the entrance for the guard to hand out.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make sure your security guards make a good first impression and that they are included in every crisis communications drill.

 

Lesson 2: “This is a Drill”

By Gerard Braud

Media_Relations_CamerasRule number one during a crisis communications drill is to never have anyone accidentally think a real crisis is happening, when it is not. Hence, in all written communications and on every phone conversation and radio conversation, you must generously use the phrase, “This is a Drill.”

For phone calls, the first words out of your mouth when the other party says, “Hello,” should be, “This is a Drill.” When the other party hears these words from you, they should reply, “This is a Drill.”

These basic rules need to be covered by your drill facilitator before and during the drill.

Likewise, when your phone call is concluded, your last words should be, “This is a Drill.” At that time the other party should reply, “This is a Drill.”

The reason this is important is because you never want someone to overhear details that sound like a crisis and think there really is a crisis, which might trigger panic, rumors, or other unintended consequences.

If two-way radios are a part of your drill, the same protocol should also be followed.

If e-mails are used during the drill, the phrase, “This is a Drill,” should be used in the subject line. It should then open and close the message within the e-mail. If Word Documents, PDFs or printed documents are used during the drill, each one should have a bold message at the beginning and end of the text that says, “This is a Drill.” Also, create a 50% watermark on an angle within these documents that says, “This is a Drill.”

In addition to avoiding unintended consequences internally, this phrase is important so that agencies such as police, the fire department, or the media don’t somehow hear a radio transmission and respond.

As a courtesy, you may wish to call your local police and fire dispatcher to inform them that a drill is underway. Generally, I do not tell the media a drill is happening because I don’t want the media to attempt to create a news story about my drill, because I don’t want to enlighten the media about some ugly events that might actually be a possibility.

Braud Crisis Plans_6113Sometimes when a drill involves a school or airport, and it is conducted in conjunction with police and fire departments, the agencies turn it into a news event designed to be a media event that shows their preparedness. I’m not a fan of this, because when things go wrong in a drill, I don’t want the organization’s unpreparedness to become part of a news story.

Remember, the goal of a drill is to create an opportunity for organizations to practice how to do things right, with that ability to allow people to screw up in private so they don’t screw up in public during an actual event.

“This is a Drill.” This is not a publicity event.

In our next article we will discuss some of the goals and objectives of your drill, so you will have a clear idea of how to measure success.