Cold Facts About High Bills: Crisis Communications Tips for Angry Customers

electric cooperative high bills gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Today’s crisis communications tip looks at what happens when angry customers take to Facebook to complain about your company. Complaints on your Facebook page or complaints on a Facebook group page built for and by the complainers is creating public relations problems for companies.

All of us can learn from this perfect crisis communication lesson — It can be found at every utility company, where customers who are angry about their high winter bills and are venting their frustration and anger on Facebook.

Many utility companies do exactly what they should not do: They do nothing.

The men and women in leadership positions at both investor owned electric companies and rural electric cooperative companies have spent decades practicing the art of hope, as in, “I hope this just goes away.”

Hope is not a crisis communications strategy, especially in the age of social media.

However, engaging with these angry customers on Facebook can be problematic because social media is filled with traps.

Trap 1: If you comment on a post that is either positive or negative, it can lead to an exponentially high number of negative responses.

Trap 2: If you comment on any Facebook posts, it sends it to the top on everyone’s news feed.

What do you do?

Solution One: Fix the problem and/or make the anger and hostility go away. The reality is there will never be a refund for electricity used. And chances are, the customer has forgotten that their bill was likely this high during the coldest month of the year 12 months ago and just as high during the hottest month of the year six months ago. But they would rather blame their electric winter storm cleoncompany than to take personal responsibility.

The solution is to manage the expectations of the customer by eliminating the peaks and valleys in their bill by offering an option to have what many companies call bill averaging or bill levelization. It means the customer will see nearly the same amount on their bill every month. Often, it will reduce this month’s $400 bill to an easier to pay $250 bill, which makes the customer happier.

Solution Two: Take the discussion offline. In many cases, the best way to handle an angry customer is to have customer service pick up the phone and call them directly. Customer service is able to demonstrate the type of soothing, personal concern that would be lost on a Facebook post.

Make the Crisis Go Away

The problem with the, “I hope it goes away” philosophy is that the problem will go away within the next two months as spring arrives and many customers use little, if any heating or air conditioning. But the problem will return during the hottest month of the year, then go away, then return next winter.

If you have a solution that can make the crisis go away once an for all, then by all means do it.

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.

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.

Media Interview Training Tips from Jimmy Kimmel and the Oscars

By Gerard Braud

Media interviews are jimmykimmeloften composed of opinion questions. Jimmy Kimmel Live provides us with today’s timely media interview perspectives, with interviews about the Oscars. As you watch and laugh at this, read on to the crisis communications tip at the end of this article.

Reports are infamous for asking leading questions. In media training classes, each potential spokesperson should be cautioned about not taking the bait when a reporter asks a leading question. In other words, when a premise is injected by the reporter, expert media training should teach the spokesperson to have the freedom to reject the premise.

Jimmy Kimmel live does a great gag called Lie Witness News, in which a fake reporter conducts what are known as “man on the street interviews.”

The Academy Awards is one of the most hyped events of the year. There’s a lot of pressure to have an informed opinion about the movies that are nominated. So, Kimmel sent a camera onto Hollywood Boulevard to ask people what they thought about some nominated movies and moments he made up.

What these people do is something you don’t want to do. They take the bait.

Be aware of another lesson that falls under the crisis communications category.

When your organization experiences a crisis, reporters will go looking for quotes and sound bites. If your company and your spokesperson fail to provide a fast sound bite or quote, the media will conduct man on the street interviews. These man on the street interviews are with uninformed individuals who have not had media training and are willing to take the bait to enjoy 15 seconds of fame.

Jimmy Kimmel creates some great laughs with his gag. If this happens to you in real life it is no laughing matter.

Crisis Communication & Media Hide and Seek: The ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery Explosion

By Gerard Braud

Where is the ExxonMobil news release for the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery explosion? An explosion is a crisis, which requires expert crisis communications. The media would expect information on the corporate news release page. Media want it fast and easy to find.

But look what you find on the ExxonMobil news release page – A fluff release about a summer jobs program.

ExxonMobile-#1-No ReleaseReally ExxonMobil?

Oil may have come from the age of the dinosaurs, but public relations in 2015 shouldn’t be prehistoric in nature.

Is ExxonMobil playing hide and seek with their news release?

At the bottom of the ExxonMobil page I found three social media links. I clicked on Twitter and found a statement that I’ve written about before – the dreaded and preposterous, “Our top priority statement.” The Tweet says, “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in Torrance.” Obviously it isn’t your top priority, otherwise you would not have had an explosion with four people sent to the hospital, right?

ExxonMobil-Twitter-TopPriority

Come on PR people: Enough with the bad clichés that you can’t defend. My top priority is to get public relations people to stop saying, “Our top priority.”

The link on Twitter sends me to this news release page, which did not appear in my initial search. Note the time stamp on the hidden news release – 10 a.m. ET on February 19, 2015. Now note the first sentence of the news release – it indicates the explosion happened at 8:50 a.m. PST on February 18, 2015. If there is an earlier release, it is hidden from me.ExxonMobil-2-release

I have to question, why does it take nearly a day for a news release to be posted? This is absurd. This is 2015 and we live in the age of Twitter. No corporation should go more than one hour before a news release is posted. And don’t blame it on your lawyers or your executives. An expert public relations leader must learn to deal with lawyers and executives before a crisis so that your crisis communications can move with haste and professionalism. Your crisis communication plan should be filled with pre-written and pre-approved news releases. Geez!

Even on Twitter on the day of the explosion there is no ExxonMobil Twitter post related to the explosion, yet citizens are posting images and details about the crisis trending on #torranceexplosion.
ExxonMobil-Twitter-Feb18

Now let us examine the news release as ExxonMobil plays hide the facts and details. Compare the ExxonMobil release that mentions an “incident,” to the headlines on Google, which uses words such as “explosion” and a host of descriptors such as “rips though refinery,” “rocked by large explosion,” etc.

 

ExxonMobil-Google

 

While ExxonMobil uses clichés such as “top priority” and “incident,” the NBC Los Angeles website describes, “Crushed cars, mangled metal, flames and a health warning.” Their lead says, “Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality…”

Something tells me this was more than an “incident.”

 

ExxonMobil-NBC

In a crisis, it is important for official sources to provide official information. It is also important to control SEO. From a control perspective, the corporation should be controlling the flow of accurate information, rather than surrendering to the rumors and opinions for the public.

In the 2014 Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil is listed as second. Some might wonder if their PR is second rate.

So what do you think about how ExxonMobil manages its crisis communications?

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.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Confusion in Crisis Communication

By, Gerard Braud

USF Web Crisis All ClearIt is difficult to control what gets said on social media during a crisis. Often, the
misinformation that is spread rapidly on social media causes panic and potential harm.

Let’s look at a case study of Twitter gone bad when it hits the fan. When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, Twitter was just at its launching point and was therefore not a factor. But in 2009 there was a gunman reported on the campus of the University of South Florida. Thank God the situation did not escalate into an actual shooting, because as you will see, Twitter has the potential to create chaos, fear and confusion.1_USF - gunman tweets-1

When the gunman was first reported, the school used their text message system to notifyUSF - gunman on campus students of the potential danger. Those text messages became tweets, which were re-tweeted in an endless cascade. The cascade of tweets reminded me very much of people who want their 15 minutes of fame when they are interviewed by traditional media. People long to be important and a re-tweet makes them feel good, feel smart and feel like they are making a difference. But with each passing minute they were doing potentially more harm than good.

When the all clear was given, it was sent to Twitter. But for the next few hours, tweets and re-tweets kept telling students to take cover because there was a gunman on campus. The university had lost control of the message and the rumor mill was hard at work.

To the university’s credit, they were using one of the platforms that I always suggest using, which was their official website. To their credit, they were using Twitter to both tweet the all clear and to include a link to the official website.USF cynic on false alarm

Since every company is vulnerable to mass shootings, part of every organizations crisis communications strategy should be to have software that can be automated to constantly re-tweet your all clear message. Applications such as Tweet Adder allow you to type in a message and schedule it to be re-tweeted as many times as you like and as frequently as you like. This means you can type in an all clear message, complete with hashtags for the event and a link to your official website. If you program it to tweet every five minutes, you will essentially be outshouting those well meaning people who think they are helping when they erroneously tweet a shooting is still under way.

Tweet-Adder-ReviewAdd to your to-do list to set time aside to discuss the damage that cascading re-tweets might have during your crisis. You also need to discuss how you will cope with this problem. Also, take time to download Tweet Adder or similar software, then learn to use it.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: The Social Media Force Fit Versus the Right Fit for Crisis Communications

By Gerard Braud

Twitter over capacityYour parents probably taught you there is a right place and a wrong place for everything. That is true for crisis communication and for social media.

Many Gen X & Gen Y communicators think the bulk of their crisis communications can be done exclusively through social media. I disagree for many reasons. In a previous article, we identified the generation gap that indicates many people in your audience, and even your own company, don’t use social media.

In order for you to understand my prejudice and point of view, you need to know that I’m a control freak. When “it” hits the fan, I want you to control as many variables as you can. That means you need to know your audience and know where to find my audience.

I read a blog post recently about a small coffee shop that was being challenged by their local health department because they allow dogs into their store. The coffee shop successfully used Twitter to reach their customers for support. This is a very low level crisis and the fit is right. Most crises I deal with are far greater.

Even in the case of the coffee house, I would be using other communications tools first. I would be using my website, my e-mail list, a video on my website… all things I have direct control over. I would conduct an Ambassador Training class for my staff. Ambassador Training is a system I pioneered many years ago that is similar to Media Training. It teaches employees how to properly talk about a negative issue with customers. In a crisis, word of mouth is important.

Social media channels can be good tools for ambassadors and employees who support you, provided the audience is of the right age group. In the end, social media is one of many tools to consider and it is not, be default, the highest priority tool.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media as the Cause of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

YouTube Flicker Dominos VideoAs we examine the leadership gap, the generation gap, and shiny new object syndrome, let’s note that in many cases, in the world of crisis communications, social media can be a greater source of bad than good.

The fact that a citizen can post a picture of a plane crash before the airline knows about it is not good. The fact that a student is broadcasting a shooting to CNN before you even know about it is not good. The fact that your employees are part of a social media gossip loop before you send official communications to them is not good. Now, let us add to the discussion the fact that sometimes, social media is your crisis.

Case in point, Easter Day, April 16, 2009. Two employees at a Domino’s Pizza outlet were bored and started to shoot a video of themselves. One captured the other putting cheese inYouTube Flicker Dominos Video1 his nose, before placing the cheese on a pizza he was making. They then uploaded the video to YouTube.

It was an astute blogger who had a Google Alert for the word Domino’s that first saw the video. The blogger called Domino’s headquarters. The folks at Domino’s were not amused and not pleased, and they took steps internally to identify the employees and the store. But Domino’s did not anticipate that this video would become a viral wonder. They underestimated the YouTube audience. So here, we see multiple failings. There is the classic leadership gap, there is decision paralysis, and there is the generation gap.

Earlier in this collection of articles I told you that a cardinal rule of every crisis communications plan that I write is a mandate to communicate within one hour or less of the crisis going public. Obviously Domino’s did not have such a plan, because the one hour mark would have been reached one hour after they heard from the blogger. In many crises, at that one hour mark, depending upon the severity of the crisis, you would speak to any media who have arrived at your site; you would publish something to the web; and you would communicate with employees, via the web, via e-mail, and in severe situations, with an in person meeting.

What do you do in the new world of social media when “it” hits the fan?

In the world of decision paralysis, one of the problems is the fear that if the company says something, they may turn a nothing story into a bigger story than it should be. Hence, many companies, often on the advice of both attorneys and the communications department, say nothing. I have never subscribed to that rule and never will. I have successfully defused events that could have become major stories and lead to major lawsuits by bringing the story directly to traditional media. I believe that being pro-active and communicating bad news on your own is your best defense.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your leadership and your legal department. In that discussion, you need to ask them under which circumstances they would suggest saying nothing. It needs to ultimately conclude with a decision to speak and disclose your potential crisis in almost every situation.

The system that I have created, using pre-written communications templates, has resolved that situation for all of my clients. This is due to the fact that lawyers get to see exactly what we plan to say, giving them time to approve all of the statements – sometimes months or years in advance.

The Domino’s case presents a to unique opportunity to respond in-kind, meaning respond to a YouTube video with a YouTube video and do it within one hour. Let me explain the magic of this approach. Domino’s eventually responded with a YouTube video, which we will discuss further in a moment. However, inside sources tell me that the general discussion within the organization was that for a company as big as Domino’s, if the story wasn’t on the front page of U.S.A. Today, then there was nothing to worry about.

Wrong! The offending video was posted late Sunday and by Tuesday evening, more than 250,000 people… more than a quarter of a million people had watched the video. By noon Wednesday, just 18 hours later, the video had more than 1 Million views on YouTube. The company learned the word Domino’s was being typed into more search engines than the word Paris Hilton. Domino’s was still thinking that out of 307 million people in the United States, only 1 million had seen the video, which was minimal in the big picture. I At 1 million hits the video got the attention of mainstream media and became a story among all major media outlets across the U.S.

So, what would you do? My answer is I would have had a YouTube video on YouTube within one hour of learning of the event, even if I didn’t know all of the facts. Why? Let me explain.

Rule 1. Respond within one hour or less, but in the case of social media we add a new rule.

Rule 2. Respond in-kind, meaning answer a YouTube video with a YouTube video. If, when you post your video, you use the same key words as the offending video, you can achieve nearly equal search engine optimization. That means that every time someone types the word Domino’s in a search engine, the corporate response would show up nearly as often as the offending video.

Domino’s eventually posted a message from the CEO to the web and they claim it was posted 48 hours after the offending video was posted. Furthermore, they claim this was ground breaking. For the record, I’ve been a corporate Vice President and I council executives on a regular basis as a crisis communications expert. I can imagine what was going on inside the company. Many executives were on Easter vacation and they were attempting to tackle the problem by long distance. People were busy trying to prosecute the employees. People were busy wordsmithing messages; people were massaging words. That’s always such bull.

CNN Ireport gerard braud snowJust as I shot a 15 second video in my snowy front yard and posted it as an i-Report for CNN with less than an hour’s work, I could shoot a very brief on camera message that says,

“Hi, I’m Gerard Braud with Domino’s Pizza. There is a YouTube video circulating around with two people who identify themselves as Domino’s employees. In the video, they’re doing some pretty nasty stuff in the store. Chances are if you’re watching this, you’re looking for the other video. Let me just say that we’re in the process of identifying the people in the video so we can get to the bottom of this. Our focus now is to find out exactly what’s going on and how we can keep it from happening again. Stay tuned for an update.”

That’s it. That’s all that was needed. I don’t need to see a CEO. Some crisis communications trainers believe you should always send out “the top dog first.” I say bull. Usually the first person I push out the door as a spokesperson is a public relations spokesperson. I’ll send the CEO out later if the situation is severe enough, but in many cases a high level manager makes a good spokesperson, if he or she as been through proper media training.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your team and your leadership to establish an understanding of who should be your first spokesperson in a crisis, and how many people you feel should undergo media training so they can serve as subject matter experts in the subsequent hour of your crisis.

I am a big believer that the CEO needs to be busy managing the crisis, especially in the early hours of the crisis, while others serve as the spokesperson. Only in the most extreme cases do I make the CEO the spokesperson, and even then, I generally roll out lower level experts first.

President Domino's Prank responseNow, back to the video from the Domino’s CEO. Yes, eventually it was posted. The CEO did a poor job of reading from cue cards off camera. No teleprompter, he made no eye contact with the camera and no, he isn’t someone who can ad lib well. Add to that, the statement was worded as an angry rant and by the time it was recorded, the CEO was an angry person. It was bad, it was too little and it was too late.

The Domino’s head of PR claims in an article published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), that what Domino’s did was unprecedented and ground breaking. I disagree on several points. I’ve used YouTube videos many times before his crisis, and I’ll share some of those examples for you a bit later. I also live by the rule to communicate in one hour or less… not the Domino’s rule of one week or less. This isn’t rocket science, but it is about writing a crisis communications plan that works, using that plan, communicating in one hour or less, and involving leaders in crisis communications drills annually. Annual drills condition them to the idea that you must communicate quickly and that the CEO doesn’t have to be the primary spokesperson.

One final note on this topic – Every crisis communications plan that I write contains dozens of pre-written templates and your plan should too. Every item the leaders identify in the vulnerability assessment should have a companion, pre-written communications template. On a clear sunny day, when there is no anxiety and you have clarity of thought, you can write 75%-95% of what you would say on the day of the crisis. In the case of a restaurant chain, you would have a document that describes food tampering. When the crisis hits, you’re not looking at a blank piece of paper. Rather, you are looking at a well-worded document that has already been vetted by the leaders and the legal department. You are looking at the same type of template that your leaders would have seen and used when you conducted your crisis communications drill. Spokespeople would be looking at and reading from the very same document they used during their media training class. This system gives everyone the confidence needed to communicate quickly in a crisis.

With that, get your to-do list out. If your crisis communications plan does not contain dozens of pre-written statements for all of the possible crises you could face, then you need to create such templates. If your plan does have templates, you need to schedule a quarterly review to determine if new templates need to be written.

If you don’t know how to write such templates, contact me and we can schedule a writing retreat for your team so that you can quickly fill your plan with the templates you will need.

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media, Crisis Communications and the Severity Level of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Plans_6113In every crisis communications plan that I write for a client, I have a page that establishes a severity level for the crisis. Traditionally the severity level is determined by injuries and/or fatalities, as well as the speed at which media cover the event, as well as how long the event remains in the news.

I believe all crisis communications plans must be living documents that are updated as communications styles and standards evolve. Several years ago I had to modify the severity levels of my plans to include the impact of social media and how quickly people would begin making postings about a company’s crisis and how long they would remain in the cycle of communications.

Add to your to-do list the need to modify how you categorize the severity of your crisis in your crisis communications plan.

In keeping with our last discussion about the generation gap and leadership gap as it relates to social media, this change to your crisis communications plan must be accompanied by training for all involved in the crisis process, including leaders, emergency responders and risk managers.

As we explore the generation gap, we must also look at a problem 180 degrees away on the opposite side of the spectrum. One of my great fears about social media is that many Gen X & Gen Y people involved in communications suffer from what I will describe as shiny new object syndrome. In other words, they are enamored with the tools and technology. They treat social media as though it is the greatest communications tool ever invented. They also think social media should supersede other forms of communications. I think that is a mistake.

Add to your to-do list an evaluation of yourself and those around you. Identify whether you or others suffer from shiny new object syndrome. Recognize the symptoms and use the rest of this document as therapy.

I’m especially harsh on Twitter because I think a big part of Twitter’s popularity comes from the fact that people who were not part of the original launch of MySpace and Facebook were afraid they would be left out or left behind. But according to PEW Research,

As of December 2012, only 16% of online adults say they use Twitter.

Once again, I’ll say that all social media tools are part of a mix. In certain crises, there are high value listeners on Twitter, including a lot of people in the media. A direct tweet to a reporter at just the right time can significantly impact the coverage a story gets.

Another fear I have is that the shiny new object syndrome affects younger communicators the most. Because they and all of their friends tend to use these tools 24/7, they perceive that the entire world is likewise using them. We might also note at this point that the mainstream media are trying very hard to use social media and that they too may be suffering from shiny new object syndrome.

If you pull back the curtain, the media are using these tools as a way to reach the younger audience that they have not been able to reach through conventional publications or TV news broadcast. For the mainstream media, Facebook and Twitter are marketing tools to capture a new, younger audience. The media are fully aware that their older, traditional audience, is not a full participant in social media.

One final Instagramthought about shiny new objects – remember MySpace? It was replaced by the shiny new Facebook. These days, as parents and grandparents use Facebook to keep tabs on their grandkids, young people are abandoning Facebook for Instagram. This means that social media continues to be a moving target creating challenges for communicators.

In our next article, we’ll look at crises caused by social media.