When “It Hits the Fan: Effective Communications for Critical Times

By Gerard Braud

The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.

Williams ExplosionThe reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.

This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.

Williams FB pageWithin minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.

When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.

Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.

But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.

What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?

Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.

Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.

(Get a free sample and use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN)

Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.

Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.

The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.

Ebola Crisis Communications Plan Question: Would an Expert Approve My Plan?

Gerard Braud Crisis Communications PlanAn expert would ask you these questions:

1. Count the pages of your crisis communications plan. If it is 6-10 pages long, it is likely only a list of standard operating procedures and not a true plan. Most organizations have been lead to believe this is a plan. My description is that this is little more than an outline for writing a plan. If your document outlines what should be done, but really assigns those tasks to no one, you have a problem.

2. Could your plan be executed by anyone in your organization who can read and follow directions? This sounds like a strange question, but it is a good test. My mantra when I write crisis communications plans is that is should be so thorough that nothing is forgotten and nothing will fall through the cracks, yet simple enough that it could be read by anyone who can read, and executed by them without mistakes. If your plan reads like a technical manual that is as frustrating as assembling your child’s bicycle on Christmas Eve, you have a problem.

3) What time limits have you placed in your crisis communication plan? At a minimum, the first communication document from your plan should reach the public within one hour of the onset of any crisis. The vast number of plans I’ve reviewed over the years have no mandate for speedy communications. This causes the communicator and the executive team to spend too much time analyzing and second-guessing every decision. Speed is important. If your plan doesn’t set time limits for speed you have a problem.

4) Does your crisis communications plan contain the names and phone numbers of everyone you need to reach during your crisis or does it require you to research and find that information as you execute the plan? Valuable time is lost when you have to stop on the day of your crisis to look up information that you could have looked up and collected on a clear sunny day. If your plan says you should contact a list of people and that list contains only job titles and no names or phone numbers, you have a problem.

5) The magic of a plan is when the plan tells you precisely what information to gather, who to call to assemble a crisis management team, and directs you to a library of pre-written news releases. If you are missing these elements, you have a problem.

Think oCrisis communication workshop gerard braudf Goldie Locks – Your plan shouldn’t be too simple and your plan shouldn’t be too hard. Your plan shouldn’t be too long and your plan shouldn’t be too short.

If you need help determining if your plan is just right, phone me at 985-624-9976.

Crisis Communication Leadership: Power of a Resignation

It is always a good thing in crisis management when the person at the top says, “The buck stops here,” and they are willing to resign because a significant crisis happened under their watch.

Listen to my opinion with Radio Host Kate Delaney:

 

This does 2 things. From a public relations and crisis communications standpoint it:

1) Sends a strong signal that someone is being held responsible

2) It communicates that change is coming

Julia Pierson, a 31 year secret service veteran resigned as head of the President’s protection agency as a result of an increasing number of secret service failures.

A true leader demonstrates good character by stepping down when they are unable to manage a crisisJulia Pierson and when the crisis gets worse. Some of the scandals and shortcomings happened before Pierson took the job. But she was also appointed to clean up the agency last year after the Cartagena, Colombia prostitute scandal in 2012.

Before she could even start to clean up the previous scandal, three secret service agents responsible for protecting the President in Amsterdam were sent home for being drunk. One was reportedly passed out in the hallway of their hotel. Pierson, as leader, put the agents on administrative leave.

But when Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence and got inside the White House, it became clear that too many problems were happening too fast. At the same time a story broke about a November 11, 2011 incident in which a man parked his car on a street near the White House and reportedly fired a semiautomatic rifle multiple times, hitting the building.

Too many security lapses means somebody needs to take the heat for the ongoing crises.

I’ve written many blogs in the past few weeks about the NFL scandals and the need for Roger Goodell to demonstrate he has leadership by admitting his repeated failings and stepping aside. Julia Pierson is a leadership role model for crisis communications and crisis management. Goodell would be well served to learn from her example.

When a crisis strikes where you work, a good leader makes the crisis go away and communicates what happened and what changes are on the horizon. Often your job in public relations is to be the one to support the leader and guide them to make the right decisions.

By Gerard Braud

NFL Crisis Communication Plan: 3 Steps to Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whatever

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

By Gerard Braud

Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage both the crisis and the behavior of the decision makers. The written plan helps insure good crisis communications can take place because there will be honest and ethical leadership.

What is honest, ethical leadership in a crisis? Good, ethical behavior is doing in private what you would do if the entire world were watching and listening.

The NFL crisis is embattled by the same type of discussions that likely took place at Penn State during their child abuse scandal. Usually, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re in big trouble. If people find out about this, our reputation will be ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”

The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from the world as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is always the wrong way to manage a crisis.

The group should be saying, “If we don’t come clean and tell the world about this we will be in big trouble. If we don’t act honestly, our reputation will be damaged. If we enact real change, we can seek forgiveness and repair our reputation and revenue. If we get this wrong, our reputation and revenue will be more damaged than if we hide the truth.”

The institution must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road. The correct way for any institution or company to protect their reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time. This means:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what you have uncovered in your investigation

2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis

3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.

 

Roger Goodell and the NFL:

1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew

2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice

3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.

Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.

Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.

The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making their wrong worse.

If my suspicions are true, more truth will come out about what the NFL did and didn’t know. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.

The NFL must do what all institutions should do from the beginning:

1) Tell the truth

2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well

3) Announce steps to make sure bad decision-making doesn’t happen again

Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.

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.

Failed Crisis Management Leadership Hits Multiple NFL Players and Teams

Braudcast Sept 18 NFLBy Gerard Braud

The NFL crisis gets bigger in the absence of a quality crisis communications plan and good executive leadership.

Adrian Peterson and a string of other players and teams are being swept up in the crisis because as the appointed leader of the NFL, Roger Goodell failed to make the right decisions at the beginning of the Ray Rice crisis.

With each passing day, Goodell’s failure to communicate makes the crisis worse.

An expert crisis communication plan involves having a strategy that fully addresses the potential damage to an institution’s reputation and revenue. The slower an institution is to respond, the more the crisis spreads and the more damage to reputation and revenue.

What about where you work? Do your leaders have a crisis management and crisis communications plan? Do the people with the high titles possess true leadership qualities, especially in a crisis?

Most institutions fail to have a plan that would truly serve their needs in a crisis. Many have a few sheets of paper in a binder that states some standard operating procedures. These are comfort plans – they make people feel good because the word crisis plan is on a piece of paper. But experience shows that most institutions fail to write the type of deep crisis communications plan needed to handle every type of crisis they may face.

Most institutions fail to consider both emergency type crises as well as the smoldering ethical issues within the organization.

Many executives are in denial early in a crisis and throughout the crisis, as they hope and pray it will go away. Hope is not a crisis communications strategy. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that your actions during a crisis can be guided by a crisis communications plan so you can eliminate the need for prayer.

The reality is, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets.

Eventually reputation and revenue are damaged significantly enough that someone at the top gets fired.

Because Goodell has been weak, the crisis has spread to other teams and players, causing sponsors to pull out or threaten to pull out.

My prediction is the NFL owners will soon be calling for Goodell to resign.

In yesterday’s blog and in radio interviews with America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio, my suggestion to Goodell is that he suspend himself for one year. You can read more from my previous entry.

Adrian PetersonWill this kind of failure to lead in a crisis happen someday where you work? It doesn’t have to if you prepare for it with a crisis communications plan and conduct regular drills that role-play various types of crises, especially those that deal with hard moral and ethical decisions.

Good crisis communications and crisis management should never be based on spontaneous decisions and strategies in the midst of your crisis. Good crisis communications and crisis management is derived from writing strong plans on a clear sunny day.

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