Category Archives: Crisis Communication

Off-the-record? Anonymous Source? New York Times Explains Journalism Practices

New York TimesTo shed some light on how journalism works, The New York Times has launched a series of short posts that explains some of its practices.

This includes how the paper uses anonymous sources and what “off the record” really means.

Here are some highlights:

“Off the record,” “on background,” “not for attribution,” “embargoed,” “for planning purposes only,”: There is no universally agreed-upon meaning for many of these terms, making it difficult to sketch out even working definitions. So you have to work it out with your sources about how you want to proceed, and do so in clear language so there’s no misunderstanding.

At GroundFloor Media, we’ve explained this issue in the past, and as a rule of thumb, we recommend it is never a good idea to go “off the record” with reporters.

Anonymous sources: Under the Times’ guidelines, “anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way. When the anonymous sourcing is central to the story, it generally must be approved by an even higher-ranking editor like a deputy managing editor.”

Corrections: “The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper.”

When PR Disasters Aren’t Really Disasters

emergency-planWe live in an age of instant analysis, a world where our Attention Deficit Disorder culture means that we rarely take the time necessary to understand the long-term impacts of current events.

That certainly applies to our political landscape, but it also applies to the business world. In an environment in which investors only care about the next quarter’s earnings, it can be hard to step back and focus on the long-term implications of opportunities and challenges.

This is especially true in the world of public relations. Each December, I present a list of the year’s biggest PR disasters. Some are almost a year old, and others are only months – or even days – old. Truth be told, that is not nearly enough distance to understand what the full impact will be on a company.

Having something negative happen is just one piece of a complex public relations puzzle. How quickly and effectively a company responds to that challenge can be as or even more important than the actual issue that has arisen. Equally important is how much trust a company has earned in the past helping insulate it from long-term damage.

The Value of Responding to a Crisis Quickly and Effectively

Southwest Airlines is a great example. It recently announced that it lost about $100 million in revenue due to a decline in ticket sales because of the death of one of its passengers. That is an enormous short-term figure, but what is the long-term damage to the company? From an investor perspective, the company’s stock dropped a little more than 7 percent in the aftermath of the incident, but it has rebounded and is now up more than 12 percent compared to where it was before the incident.

Southwest suffered a “PR disaster,” but because it responded effectively and had already earned trust from the flying public, it has weathered the situation well. The management team may be on a shorter leash, but even $100 million in lost revenue is a momentary blip, at least to long-term investors.

Next time you hear that a company has suffered a PR disaster, understand the context. Usually it means that a company has experienced a terrible incident. It doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Philosophers have argued that the measure of a person is not whether they face challenges, but in how they respond. That is true with companies as well. Like Southwest, Toyota, Sony, Netflix, Apple, Volkswagen, Wells Fargo and United have all suffered “PR disasters” in the recent past, and all have managed to climb their way back. That is the power of having a strong crisis plan and responding quickly and effectively.

Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis, Reputation and Issues Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage, and recover from crisis issues.

The Value of Authenticity – Ft. Rebecca Black

Social media has given users the power to create extensions of themselves within a virtual environment, but at what cost? When the entire world is given a public platform, the lines between reality and perception become increasingly blurred. On episode 2 of Creating Conversations, we examine the darker side of Internet fame and the value of authenticity when dealing with a crisis.

Special Guest: Rebecca Black

Rebecca Black is a renowned artist and YouTuber who unwittingly became an Internet sensation when she was thirteen years old. She has since played an important role in shaping the conversation around cyberbullying and the viral nature of social media.

Read more after the jump…

Reporting Workplace Harassment During the #MeToo Movement

person-of-year-2017-time-magazine-cover1Many of us were captivated by the sudden rise in awareness around the #MeToo movement last year, with the departure of high-profile newsmen and then earlier this year, Hollywood stepped in to create another round of publicity.

While #MeToo launched more than a decade ago, it took Hollywood to bring it into focus and raise nearly $22 million for the Legal Defense Fund to help women and men with legal fees.

I’m part of a women’s discussion group – similar to a book club with lovely food and wine, but we usually bring in a speaker and have a discussion on a topic – and we recently took on the #MeToo topic. Here’s some of what we learned.

Read more after the jump…

Crisis Communication Playbook Thrown Out in Papa John’s Saga

Papa Johns Crisis CommunicationsPapa John’s founder and former Chief Executive John Schnatter has gone from being the face of the billion-dollar pizza chain to a punchline in The Onion.

Schnatter resigned last week from the company amid reports that he used a racial slur during a media training session with his PR and marketing firm. But this is more than a one-day media cycle story. The feud continues to heat up between the pizza chain’s board, the PR and marketing firm and Schnatter. And crisis communication lessons abound.

Communications and PR strategist David B. Grinberg offered his take:

Schnatter’s failure to follow the crisis communications playbook added fuel to the fire. He should have faced the media via a live press conference. Admit wrongdoing. Apologize to the public. Show heartfelt remorse. Ask for forgiveness. Explain that using the N-word is always wrong, regardless of the context. Talk about life lessons learned regarding race. Express renewed commitment to combat racism. Then pivot to positive messaging.

Papa John’s PR and marketing firm Laundry Service, which is owned by talent management company Wasserman, has kept a low profile since Schnatter’s remarks. Adweek obtained a copy of an internal memo sent to Laundry Service’s employees, which instructed them not to talk to reporters about the incident.

“As you all know, there’s been a lot of coverage about Laundry Service and Wasserman related to the Papa John’s situation in the past several days,” the note begins. “The disparaging and outrageous comments about Wasserman and Laundry Service that have been covered are completely false and we have a centralized PR strategy to go on the record and refute them. Until that time we cannot expect the media to know the truth,” Laundry Service said in its memo.

Adding more to the saga, late this week Schnatter a lawsuit filed in Delaware Chancery Court seeking to inspect company documents “because of the unexplained and heavy-handed way in which the company has treated him since the publication of a story that falsely accused him of using a racial slur.”

Papa John’s denied Schnatter’s claims in a statement. The company said it was “saddened and disappointed” by the lawsuit, which it called “needless and wasteful.”

One thing is for sure, the more the players continue to air their dirty laundry in public, the longer it will take to move on and recover their reputations.

Preparation Key During a Public Relations Crisis

Brand responds to media questions and manages reputationIn the world of crisis communications, preparation is the key to maintaining a solid reputation.

Companies and organizations must be ready with a solid strategy – developing messaging for each audience, monitoring, social media and a streamlined approval process – and make the right decisions during a crisis. Forbes recently asked some communications experts for advice on how to handle communications during a crisis.

Here are some of the highlights that should be incorporated into a crisis response strategy: Read more after the jump…

2018 Already Offers Some Blue-Chip PR Disasters

The year is barely half over, but we already have a few blue-chip contenders for 2018’s biggest PR disasters. Among them:

RoseanneROSEANNE BARRThere has always been a fine line between creative genius and mental illness, and Roseanne Barr embodied that connection when she melted down on Twitter in May. Riding high from the return of her groundbreaking television show, Roseanne, the mercurial star made outrageously racist comments about a former advisor to President Barack Obama. ABC immediately cancelled her show, then revived it as a separate show, The Conners, that does not include her.

One company did emerge from the Roseanne debacle looking good, however: Sanofi, the makers of the sleep drug Ambien. When Barr said her tweets were a byproduct of using the drug, Sanofi responded by saying: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

HM LogoH&M – The Swedish multinational clothing retailer became the latest poster child for a company that needs a more diverse group of employees making its marketing decisions. In January, the company released an ad that featured a young black boy wearing a hoodie that featured the phrase, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” As media such as The Washington Post covered the issue, they quickly found that this wasn’t H&M’s first issue. In 2015, the company defended a lack of black models in its South African ads, saying, “… it is essential for us to convey a positive image. We want our marketing to show our fashion in an inspiring way, to convey a positive feeling.”

southwest-airlines-logoSOUTHWEST AIRLINES – As a company with one of the nation’s strongest reputations, Southwest suffered a rare stumble in April when a mid-air engine explosion killed a passenger. Fallout from the incident exposed tensions between management and airline mechanics, with the latter alleging that the company had adopted a culture that put safety second to on-time performance. In the two months since the accident, Southwest reported that bookings were down as much as 3 percent, which represents tens of millions of dollars.

apple-logoAPPLE – The computer giant started 2018 with the corporate equivalent of a big New Year’s Day hangover when it was disclosed that the company was throttling iPhone performance to maximize battery life. While that trade-off is one that many would make, the fact that they didn’t let consumers make their own choice was at the heart of the problem. Apple apologized and quickly offered an inexpensive battery replacement program for older phones, but the company still got a tidal wave of “planned obsolescence” stories that questioned its integrity.

You can see a list of PR disaster “winners” from previous years:

2017http://groundfloormedia.com/blog/2017/11/biggest-pr-disasters-2017-part-3/

2016http://groundfloormedia.com/blog/2016/12/biggest-pr-disasters-2016/

Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis, Reputation and Issues Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage, and recover from crisis issues.

 

Southwest’s Strong Reputation Helping it Weather the Storm

southwest-airlines-logoFew companies in America enjoy a reputation as strong as Southwest Airlines. Its customers may not get tattoos of the company’s logo, but millions of consumers turn to the airline because of its reputation for providing reliable and fairly priced air travel.

The recent news coverage of the grisly death of a Southwest passenger has posed a challenge to that brand loyalty. After all, reputations are finicky things. Famed investor Warren Buffett once noted, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

While Buffett is right, it also represents the extreme. Southwest had a bad moment, but it is insulated from more serious consequences because of the brand loyalty it has earned over the previous decades. Customers trust it to provide quality service, and three months after the incident the company has only seen a slight decline in bookings.

The most damaging PR crises are those that happen to companies that haven’t already earned that level of trust with customers. Once the public is suspicious of you, it is much harder to get them to trust you. That work has to be done before any issues arise, or as part of a lengthy campaign following an issue.

Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis, Reputation and Issues Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage, and recover from crisis issues.

 

Starbucks Shows it Takes Discrimination Seriously

Starbucks_3By now, you have no doubt seen the news that two African-American men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks  Thursday. The men were waiting for a friend when they were asked to leave because they hadn’t yet purchased anything, a request that appears to run counter to the company’s policy. The incident sparked outrage and protest amid accusations that race was at the heart of the incident – had the two men been white, for example, it is almost certain the police would not have been called.

Give Starbucks’ senior management and crisis communications teams credit for neutralizing a delicate situation. The company recognized immediately that it had a highly charged and potentially combustible issue on its hands, and its reaction has been impressive. Among its responses:

  • Starbucks immediately acknowledged the issue on social media and promised to look into the issue.
  • Once Starbucks quickly determined it was in the wrong, CEO Kevin Johnson personally apologized to the men. Johnson also apologized publicly in written and video statements that were posted to the company’s social media platforms.
  • Johnson traveled to Philadelphia and spent several days listening face-to-face to members of the community.
  • Starbucks reassigned the store employee who called the police.
  • The company announced that it will close all 8,000 of its U.S. stores on May 29 to conduct racial-bias education training for nearly 175,000 employees. Additionally, Starbucks shared that the curriculum for that training will be created in collaboration with some of the leading experts on addressing racial bias.

Bottom Line: Starbucks followed the PR crisis playbook closely, and it has been incredibly effective at neutralizing this crisis. It didn’t just react, it leaned toward overreacting. Protesters in Philadelphia (and nationally) have been trying to leverage this situation into something bigger, but Starbucks has been a step ahead of them from the beginning. Additionally, Starbucks has signaled to its socially conscious customer base that it shares their inherent values and is more than willing to be a leader in the fight for principles such as racial equality and respect for all individuals.

Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis, Reputation and Issues Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage and recover from crisis issues.

 

Crisis Response: Plan, Monitor and Respond

Traditional Media During a Crisis | GroundFloor Media Crisis Communications ExpertsIt’s 2018. When was the last time your company or organization updated its crisis communication plan?

The GroundFloor Media crisis team has been spending time reviewing crisis communication plans for our clients, and we are finding several areas that need updating. For instance, unlike five years ago, most crisis events these days don’t manifest only in the media, so there is a large social media component. Also, response scenarios likely need to be updated as well as key audiences to take into account the likelihood of a crisis happening on social media.

In general, the key theme of a crisis-response plan must be providing clear, honest communications to various audiences that might be impacted by the bad news. The crisis response approach is simple and straightforward, and based on three points:

  1. Don’t cover up
  2. Fix the problem
  3. Apologize and make sure it does not happen again

Here’s an outline of a crisis communications response plan:

Plan

  • Identify and prepare for potential issues
  • Communicate with the customer-service and legal teams
  • Get the facts and prepare statements

Monitor

Respond

  • Get in front of the story
  • “No comment” is a last-ditch response
  • Accurately convey your side of the story to all audiences

Find out more about elements of a crisis plan in a Denver Business Journal article I wrote. Also, let us know if your business needs help revising its crisis communication plan.