Crisis communications and crisis management should be the crowning achievement of the PR world – it shows the ability of the PR professional to take charge of a potentially explosive situation and effectively defuse it. And, indeed, there are many sterling examples of crisis communications efforts (the most notably being the 1982 Tylenol tampering crisis).
But at the same time, too much crisis communications is reactive and not proactive. The PR person is often the last to know something has gone very wrong – and the reason for that is because of what was stated earlier about the lack of access to the C-Suite. In this case, it is a double-edged problem.
For the PR professional, who is not considered an equal to the others at the C-Suite table, it means having to work overtime (literally and figuratively) to put out the fires created by a crisis. And for the executives in the C-Suite, who are unaware of what the PR professional can provide to their mission (see last week’s Gospel), it exposes them a multitude of problems (ranging from tarnished images to criminal investigation and all points in between).
"PR professionals need to convince the C-Suite, especially the General Counsel, that they must understand that news is controversy and controversy is news,” says Steve Ellis, senior vice president with Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. “Crisis management to a large extent is news management. If you do not understand news, you cannot manage a crisis. To extrapolate: if a company, organization or country does not understand news, the people running these entities will fail. It’s that simple.”
Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates in New York, believes that most corporations only consider reputation management as a reaction to a crisis, rather than as a proactive process to stave off potential problems. “Indeed, crisis preparedness is not usually at the forefront of corporate communications planning,” he says. “Ironically, it should be because more and more corporations are facing reputations in crisis because of unethical, immoral and legal behavior of executives within the corporate world. Just open your daily newspaper and count the dozens of stories highlighting corporate misdeeds.”
Paul continues: “Truth, transparency, accountability, humility and consistency are the building blocks or reputation bricks for a corporation. A corporation is made up of many individuals. These rules are for executives, employees and support staff. They are easy to talk about, but difficult to consistently put into practice because of deceitful human behavior.”
At the New York agency Peppercom, an in-house crisis communications program called CARES is used for crisis in need of such assistance. The CARES acronym stands for Composure and collection of information, Assessment, Reaction, Evaluation and Success (okay, we’ll forgive them for stretching that “C” a bit).
“CARES has been effectively implemented for Peppercom clients of all sizes to create realistic and logical processes to follow during and after the onset of a crisis,” explains Ted Birkhahn, managing director at Peppercom. “CARES also provides a true measuring stick by which these crisis management processes and actions can be continually improved after a crisis takes place, allowing for quick modification, if necessary.”
Birkhahn points out that his agency delivers a three-part crisis training-drill-assessment program to prepare senior executives and crisis teams for any crisis situation. This includes a mock-crisis situation (which creates a two-to-three-hour imaginary crisis scenario that is captured on videotape), which is then followed by a diagnostic review of that mock-crisis that results in a professional assessment and recommendation of where improvement may be needed.
“We carefully review the video, process, notes taken by the team, their assessment of how well they did and our own ongoing assessment,” explains Birkahn. “This would showcase a gap that might exist on how well they think they are prepared but really aren’t. Through our assessment, our deliverable is to present ‘the good, bad and ugly’ of how well the team did and to provide detailed recommendations (being consistent with client procedures) to the team the next day. These recommendations would actually be presented in a three-ring binder. Based upon the crisis team’s actual handling of the simulated crisis, we will also present them with a fictitious end-result that occurred (i.e. an article, directive from within the company, etc.), so they can truly understand how their actions led to something good, bad or nothing at all.”
The day after that mock-crisis, Birkhahn and his team holds a strategic training session to review specific findings, offer recommendations and then offer training tips on how the crisis should be handled the next time around. That can last from three to four hours.
As you may gather, that level of in-depth crisis training requires time, energy and the full cooperation of senior management. For the PR professionals who can obtain all of that, the end result could be invaluable. For those who cannot, however…well, let’s just say it might be helpful to have a clean rag ready in the event the fan gets hit with you-know-what.
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
By way of introduction, the "Top Web Marketer" in our headline is Joe Jaffe. Joe happens to be the real deal. He's Founder and President of the new media mashup consultancy, Crayon. He’s a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School. He’s a renowned consultant and sought-after speaker with this whole “conversational marketing” thing. Bottom line: he’s the genuine article, a passionate and true voice in New Media. Let’s put it this way, he's a diamond in the rough of all the knuckleheads that compose the bloggererati.
That said ironically, in this case, it also happens that he's does a fine job of articulating why they're all wrong. In defending the MWW-Nikon D80 Blogger Campaign yesterday, he inadvertently made a rather strong case against blogola. Yikes! Exactly the opposite of what he had hoped to accomplish, I'm afraid.
Bottom line: For marketers to influence the blogosphere, they absolutely need to “incentify” and bond with this amorphous metaverse. Blogola is an important strategy. Actually, Web Marketers are not going to give this one up without a fight. If they lose this... so also likely goes the business case for Web Marketing, period.
Below are excerpts of a podcast done by Joe for "Across the Sound." We tried to boil it down to key quotes. Unfortunately, "it’s a loaner but I’ll be damned if I give it back” and “not many strings attached,” etc., ended up on our cutting room floor.
Now, one more moment before we get to Joe's comments. Here are a few quick definitions for reference:
Whore: A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.
Bribe: Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct.
Blogola: The bribing of Web bloggers, to promote product coverage and various other related social-media "conversations".
Campaign: An operation or series of operations energetically pursued to accomplish a purpose: an advertising campaign for a new product.
KEY QUOTES: Jeff Jaffe on the Nikon Blogger Campaign
Audio Clip #1
“I took a position to maybe go a little bit over the top to talk it up a little more."
"I chose to talk it up... I want others to be aware of these campaigns and marketers to be encouraged to invest in these campaigns.”
“No matter what this cost to Nikon, it is money well spent in terms of the opportunity costs... the relative comparison of being able to buy just one print ad that murders an innocent tree.”
“Now they’re putting their product where our mouths are so to speak and tapping into influencers.”
Audio Clip #2
“I think it’s a really successful campaign! I love how they’ve tapped into the blogosphere and the influencers.”
"I do not believe that this is manipulation"
“If there is a reciprocity or a quid pro quo or tacit understanding of wanting to pay them back for their kindness, that’s a different conversation and I don’t know if it’s manipulation.”
Audio Clip #3
“I think I’ve done more than enough to justify their investment based on the fact that I’m talking about it.”
Audio Clip #4
“The only reason why I am talking it up a little bit more is because if I didn’t, many of you wouldn’t even know about this program.”
“The idea is not to create a big splash but to plant a bunch of seeds and nurture that and see what comes up.”
“I am overdoing it a little bit just so I can create that conversation.”
“There are many bloggers especially the A-Lister bloggers that would actually do the opposite of what I am saying; they would actually keep quiet, they will deliberately keep quiet based on the fact that they don’t want to be seen as selling out.”
Audio Clip #5
“Yes there is a degree of reciprocity, why the hell wouldn’t we want to pay for it, why wouldn't we want to give something back if someone does something nice for us?”
Excuse me... as you are someone who accepted the MWW-Nikon “bribe;” one who fully and enthusiastically participates in their program; and one who advocates similar programs as a part of his own business and livelihood... I totally understand.
Fact is most reporters, e.g. NYT, WSJ, BusinessWeek, Forbes, etc. , can't even accept a free lunch anymore because of new ethics guidelines. The era of wining, dining and bribing reporters is long over. So the PR industry has now leveled its sites on the horde of unprofessional bloggers; And you are their enthusiastic champion.
Anyway, selling out is nothing new. What ever the medium, this stuff is always in the end ferreted out. Sorry but, no matter how you try to spin it Joe, this kind of shit will NEVER escape the taint of the perception of impropriety. It just won’t. It's dirty.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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