Handling high visibility environments, aka a crisis

What most people call a crisis, Jim Vance refers to as a “high visibility environment.”

He should know. He was on the DC sniper task force and assisted with the Newtown tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Hurricane Katrina. He also was the media & communications specialist and spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Today he is a highly sought after media trainer.

Vance told a group of PR practitioners that he focuses on being prepared. Learning by experience, he said, is often brutal.

Some of the common management mistakes that occur during a crisis include:

Hesitation: If one hesitates when speaking to the media, others may perceive it as confusion and incompetence.

Obfuscation: When you attempt to confuse the message, you create a perception of dishonesty and insensitivity.

Revelation: One of the biggest mistakes, Vance said, is the failure to understand that revelation is inevitable. “Your actions will be revealed sooner or later,” he said.

Prevarication: “There is no substitute for the absolute truth,” Vance said.

In preparing for the worst, Vance said to take into account

–Dueling egos

–Political interference

–Media persistence

He offered tips to effectively work with the media and handle a crisis. His tips include:

–Be calm and then speak. The public is expecting leadership, Vance said, so it’s important that the spokesperson is able to speak without emotion and with clarity.

–Acknowledge what you know and don’t know. Vance noted that 90 percent of all first accounts are wrong. “It’s important to say things like, ‘Based on what we know at this time,’” which allows the speaker to update the information later.

–“You can’t have enough resources against the backdrop of bad news,” he said.

In all planning, remember that critics need a target. That leaves you with two crisis options.

  1. Clam up
  2. Mess Up, Fess Up, Clean Up

The first scenario guarantees “your side won’t be heard,” Vance said. “Critics are lashing out with unchallenged statements.”

Instead, Vance said to look at crisis situations as powerful communications opportunities – if management is prepared to engage and seize the opportunity.

Newspapers are not dead

Print papers will always exist.

Not surprisingly that statement was made by the publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Va.).

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killeen)

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killian McGiboney)

Tom Silvestri provided a compelling argument at a recent talk. He argued that newspapers understand the diehard readers and voters. Further, he said, even millennials are interested in what newspapers offer – news of the community.

The key, Silvestri said, is that newspapers have to find a way to connect with the millennials’ interest in the community.

“Boring is boring. Interesting is interesting. News is news,” Silvestri said. “I know I sound like a cranky old city editor.”

The point he was making is that while some people claim that readers are drawn to shorter pieces on the web, Silvestri said a three-inch web story won’t get read if it’s boring.

To succeed, he said, newspapers must be interesting, relevant and technology savvy. The same holds true for online content.

Silvestri also spoke about the relentless pace of news, and the push to be first, which leads some outlets to publish (including online) before facts have been verified.

“Do you want to be first or do you want to be right?” Silvestri asked. “As a publisher you want to be both.”

He added that integrity as a value is a good thing. “If you are guided by your values you are often going to make the right choice,” he said.

Today there may be newer ways of telling stories, but one thing hasn’t changed. “To be a trusted news source you have to have the facts,” Silvestri said.

He described a newsroom as the “recorder of what is actually happening.”

To remain relevant, Silvestri said, people need to find value in what newspapers do and offer. “You can’t just move from print to online,” he said. “We have to be inventive.”

He shared how the Berkshire Hathaway (the parent company of the Richmond Times-Dispatch) newspaper in Omaha, Neb., capitalizes on the region’s focus on sports by offering online radio coverage.

One way the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers unique content is through its Public Square where a topic is offered and key players are available to discuss the subject with the community. The newspaper has offered more than 50 Public Squares with large and diverse audiences.

Quality and profit are judges of innovation, Silvestri added.

Managing and motivating millennials

Hoopla Sofware recently released a report on how to manage and motivate millennials by its founder and CEO Michael Smalls.

The 5 keys –

  1. Provide strong, involved management
  2. Connect work to a higher purpose
  3. Make recognition impactful
  4. Make work challenging, engaging and fun
  5. Leverage modern technology

I’m not a millennial – far from it, and yet, these concepts resonated with me. Perhaps we should all take a look at the actions and apply them to our situations. And if you want to know more about millennials, read the report for statistics and other findings.

Provide Strong, Involved Managed

While millennials often have no qualms about challenging authority, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want feedback and check-ins. In my role as a supervisor, I provide weekly feedback to everyone on my team. It ranges from an acknowledgement of a job well done to a discussion about how to implement a campaign to brainstorming stories to pitch. This interaction also ensures that we are in agreement on how we define success.

Connect Work to a Higher Purpose

Millennials want to see how the companies they work for are making the world a better place, and how they can contribute to those efforts, says The Intelligence Group’s Jamie Gutfreund, who was quoted in the Hoopla report.

Make Recognitions Impactful

I don’t know of any employee (myself included), who doesn’t like to be told they are doing a good job. However, I once had a boss who praised me for what I considered the basics of the job. Before long, the praise meant nothing. Praising for going the extra mile is more meaningful. It’s also important to provide the recognition when the accomplishment happens. Awards banquets are all well and good, but if the employee has to wait a year until he hears he has “done good,” it’s going to have limited impact. Finally, be sure to follow a piece of advice I was given early in my career, “Praise publicly, criticize privately.”

Make Work Challenging, Engaging and Fun [Photo of Ghostbuster doughnuts]

In working with interns, one of the things I frequently hear is, “I appreciate knowing how my work fits into the bigger picture.” That means taking the time to explain the assignment and the impact of it on the business. When an intern’s media release is picked up by a news outlet, I send a link showing where his work was placed.

doughnutsTeam meetings are important and sometimes it’s important to make them about more than just the work. When Krispy Kreme came out with Ghostbusters doughnuts, I bought a box to enjoy during a meeting. On a nice day, we might hold the meeting outside.

Leverage Modern Technology

Working in communications should mean that we are communicating on relevant platforms, including social sites. Through millennials, though, I’ve learned about apps that help me be more productive. Like them, I often get my news from Twitter and Facebook (I still also read a print newspaper). And I think more about visuals; after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Are you ready to work like a millennial?

Building reputation, trust through employee engagement

How important is trust to your business?

Brian Moriarty says it’s just about everything, and that trust protects you from risk.

Moriarty, who is the director of Darden’s Institute of Business in Society, told a PRSA Richmond audience that employee engagement can help build reputation and trust.

This happens, he says, because we are social creatures. We like to share things we value. As a result, trust becomes the engine of advocacy.

Among the dimensions of trust are good will, integrity, confidentiality and transparency. Moriarty pointed out that when some element of trust exists, things run more smoothly. Trust impacts employee performance, innovation and customer acquisition, for example.

He cited USAA, an insurance agency that is consistently rated first in customer service and loyalty. USAA is known for valuing its members.

Capture_USAAAs it happens, I am a member, and right after I tweeted about it, they replied by tweet. Not only did they thank me for the tweet, they thanked me for my membership.

That level of engagement only increases my trust and makes me a stronger advocate for the company.

Accuracy in the digital age

Maybe it’s time to pause and think before you share.

The same holds true for journalists and aid responders, who need to have the skills and knowledge to rapidly and reliably verify information in the wake of a disaster.

book.cover.mediumThat’s the premise of the “Verification Handbook,” which is freely available to anyone.

Available for more than a year, it is an initiative by the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in the Netherlands, and financed by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, as well as the African Media Initiative (AMI).

The project is supported by various international partners including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

According to the website, “The handbook provides actionable advice to facilitate disaster preparedness in newsrooms, and best practices for how to verify and use information, photos and videos provided by the crowd.”

If you want to know more about verifying information in a digital age, check out the  Poynter Institute’s self-directed course, “Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age.” You will learn how to use facts to support your story and which tools to use for verification.

The advice is invaluable not only for journalists, but also for bloggers, citizen reporters, journalism students and those regularly sharing on social media.

Promoting your webinar

If you own your own business or want to talk about how to publish a book or any other topic on which you are an expert, you may want to consider a webinar. If you do, keep in mind another key to a successful webinar is getting the word out about the seminar.

Part of the content is knowing who your target audience is and why the webinar would appeal to them. This information also will help you decide what platforms to use to promote the webinar.

Here are four platforms for promoting the webinar:

Blog: If you have a blog, promote the webinar and include the details about the webinar and relevant details about the speaker’s background. Also, describe the benefits of attending and include the link to sign-up. Hubspot wrote a great blog about writing content that has impact with examples. It then included details about a webinar.

Website: Promote on your website. If you don’t have one, you may want to create one so you can share relevant content with your audience.

Email: If you own a business or have a mailing list, notify everyone by email. I also would encourage you to send a follow-up email because people need to hear the message more than once. As you do more webinars be sure to include testimonials so that people will understand the benefit.

Social networks: Promote your event on the social networking sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can post a few times but do it at different times or days to reach different audiences. And invite them to share with their networks.

What does embargoed mean?

I followed an interesting exchange on social media where an editor voiced his frustration because a news release that had been embargoed was posted online by one news outlet many hours in advance of the embargo being lifted.

The editor was frustrated – and rightly so.

As a former newspaper reporter and now PR person, I try to be cognizant of print publications — the daily paper and the weeklies because they can’t push a story out the way TV and radio can. It’s a bit easier today with the online sites, but it’s nice when a print publication can publish timely news within its news cycle.

I’ve actually distributed two news releases recently where I embargoed the story until the morning. My goal was to give print reporters time to conduct interviews and still have a story in the morning edition. TV and radio would still be able to cover it, too, and this way, everyone had it at the same time.

Turns out the PR person in the situation described above had an ongoing relationship with one reporter and had granted that reporter permission to publish early.

That changes everything. It’s no longer an embargoed release. It’s a story that is given to one reporter and then shared with other reporters after it has initially appeared.

As a PR person, I don’t have a problem with that, but you should be upfront that you are doing so, and you probably only want to do that sparingly.

What troubles me about this situation is that a frustrated editor or reporter in the future may not adhere to the terms of an embargo, hurting all reporters and PR practitioners.

Here are some lessons to glean from this situation:

  1. As a PR person if you don’t need to embargo the story, don’t.
  2. If you want a particular reporter to have the story first (in old-school journalism this was known as a scoop, and the reporter usually unearthed it on her own), give it to that reporter and no one else.
  3. Report your own news through your organization’s website. This way you don’t have to work with reporters. (If you follow this approach, though, you’ll miss out on the next tip, which could be helpful in a crises.)
  4. Develop relationships with reporters at a variety of media outlets. Know when their deadlines are, how they would best like to receive information and how you can contact them.