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Crisis Communications

A Reporter’s Advice on Media Relations

By | Communications, Crisis Communications, Media | No Comments

A reporter friend texted me about his frustration with communications professionals who are either hamstrung by their bosses and unable to do their jobs, or who otherwise fail to conduct media relations in a timely manner. The situation doesn’t help anyone, as no one can do their job, and the public doesn’t get the correct, or sometimes, any information. “How do we get you to teach the communications professionals in this town how to communicate?” he said.

I have taught many people how to work with the media, and especially how to communicate in a crisis. I think it’s good to hear directly from the media how they want to receive information from their sources, as a refresher for all of us. Here’s the gist of what my reporter friend wants all people working in communications to know.

  1. It’s important to say something. Saying nothing means information comes from other sources, and the rumor mill is very active.
  2. It is critical to understand how quickly rumors spread and whip people into a frenzy. Social media can make any communicator’s job even harder, as the battle to correct misinformation mounts depending on how long the true story is delayed.
  3. You really can ask for something to be off the record. We understand that there are times you can’t tell us at the time, but you CAN say, “Hey, I can’t tell you much yet, but off-the-record, don’t send everyone home for dinner just yet.”
  4. Stop trying so hard to protect your people or control the narrative. In most cases, your subject matter expert is smart, capable, and willing to answer questions. Let them. You will get grilled less often if there is regular, proactive communication. If you never say anything, it looks like you’re trying to hide something.

I’ll add to this that it is OK, in the case of a crisis to say that you don’t have all the information, while sharing what you do have (stating the facts), and that you will get back to the reporter as soon as you have more to say. If you’re waiting for your client or boss’s approval before sharing information, you can at least let reporter’s know that you’re working on it, rather than leaving them hanging.

Doug Muir, the Bella’s Boycott, and Black Lives Matter

By | Crisis Communications, Social Media | 3 Comments

A week ago, we attended Rooting Out Injustice, the signature fall event put on by Legal Aid Justice Center and Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Full disclosure, I’ve been involved with Legal Aid for more than seven years and am on their advisory council. The event featured co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, who was a fantastic, inspirational speaker. The speaker panel, emceed by local attorney and author John Grisham (you may have heard of him) explored the intersection of race, injustice, disparities within the system, and ways the nonprofit organizations are tackling civil injustice.

In the midst of the event, a local business owner, Douglas Muir, saw fit to post a comment on Facebook stating, “Black lives matter is the biggest rasist (sic) organization since the clan. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!”

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Mr. Muir is the owner of Bella’s, an Italian restaurant in Charlottesville. He’s also listed as a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia.

What Mr. Muir obviously didn’t know is that the wrath of the offended via social media is swift and ruthless. There’s a hashtag #boycottbellas and there has been a peaceful demonstration. But that’s not the end of this. Doug Muir deleted his comment and is, no doubt, keeping a low profile while his employees suffer a lack of income (restaurant workers make their money mostly in tips. No customers = no income.)

I think this is an opportunity for all people — not just the people who attended the event, or who have heard and seen Mr. Muir’s comment and are aware of the boycott of Bella’s to go look at the http://blacklivesmatter.com/ page. Think about civil rights and a movement that didn’t just start last year, but has been going on since before Abraham Lincoln was president. This isn’t new. Racism isn’t new. Social media is, though, and how we use it can change minds and change our society.

UPDATE 10/12/2016:

The Cavalier Daily ran an apology from Douglas Muir about the comment. It’s a good apology.

What to do When Your Campaign Accidentally Goes Viral

By | Communications, Crisis Communications, Social Media | No Comments

There’s really nothing that can prepare you for that moment when you pick up your phone and/or  log in to Facebook and see 8,000 new messages. Just yesterday, you think, we were trying desperately to get 300 likes on our page!

It’s the stuff some companies dream of. It’s a nightmare for most.

The thing is, you’re not going to know when your campaign is going to take off like wildfire. You may be pretty sure you’re going to get some attention, but you don’t really think it’s going to be Snuggling Baby Goats attention.

It doesn’t matter — it’s still worth the time to do a little preparation — a bit like the conversations people are having about the nearly $2 billion Powerball jackpot and how they would spend the money if/when the win. (Buying baby goats!)

Know these four things:

  1. To whom you will turn to help manage the overwhelming number of messages across all channels. This must be a trusted, experienced individual. Do not throw your intern under this bus.
  2. To whom you will turn to increase production/meet demand, etc. How big could you scale, if necessary?
  3. If things go viral in a bad way (you mess up, a terrible review gets major attention, etc.) what will your apology say, and how will you make it right? Write that message now, leaving blanks to fill in later, of course,  long before you need it.
  4. What will be your strategy when people are mean, overenthusiastic, threatening, troll-like, etc? If it’s to turn the monitoring of comments over to the person identified here under number one, that’s OK. Shutting down and disappearing might feel like the right action in the short term, but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. The flames will die down, a new viral story will emerge, and you don’t want to be in a position to build your audience from scratch. Hang in there.

And if it happens to you suddenly, and you have no idea what to do, and you don’t know any of the four things, just give me a call.

The Three Dead Friends You’ll Have on Facebook

By | Communications, Crisis Communications | No Comments

I have three dead friends on Facebook. It’s hard; especially when their birthdays show up, or when well-meaning mutual friends post a message to their wall because they’re thinking of our deceased friend.  If you don’t already, you’ll have friends on Facebook who die, either expectedly or unexpectedly.

Dying in the digital era has new challenges. For the user, managing privacy and security is important while alive — having your information totally inaccessible can be a real pain for the friends and family you leave behind.

Enter the age of Credential Management: a new field that touches the legal issues, health care, banking, social media and more. If you have a will, it’s important to leave instructions for your family on how to access your bank accounts. Passwords for all manner of online-managed personal details should never be written down, but instructions for how to get them are going to be critical in the event that you become ill, hurt, incapacitated in some way, or even die.

I recently started using Dashlane for password management. I like it for a number of reasons but one big one is the Emergency Feature, which allows me to name a contact or contacts who will be allowed access in the event of an emergency. You can read how it works on the site, but it makes sense (waiting period that you set from two days to three months, and never a release of your master password) and gives me the peace of mind I need to conduct my life.

What are you doing to manage your credentials?