Category Archives: Crisis Communication

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.

5 Truths About Crisis Communications

There are few things as frightening, potentially damaging and as misunderstood as a crisis. Here are five things about crisis communications that may be counter intuitive but are absolutely true: Read more after the jump…

Takeaways from Hawaii’s False Ballistic Missile Text

Crisis Communications Takeaways from Hawaii’s False Ballistic Missile Text | GroundFloor Media PR AgencyOnly two weeks into 2018, and we have the first crisis communication case study of the year courtesy of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and its false tweet to residents across the island chain warning of a “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii.”

The January 13 early-morning false alarm had families panicked, saying their goodbyes as they sought shelter from this doomsday scenario. After the threat was discovered to be false, government agencies and the media did all they could to inform people that this was a false alarm. Unfortunately, it took an excruciating 38-minutes to inform the public via text that it was a mistake.

Apparently, since November the agency has been practicing its Cold War-era nuclear warning sirens and online alerts amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea. It was a drop-down issue on a computer program and the employee mistakenly hit the “Missile alert” button instead of “Test missile alert.”

From a crisis communication perspective, here are a couple of takeaways from the incident:
Read more after the jump…

Everything You Need to Know About Media Interviews You Can Learn on “60 Minutes”

Everything You Need to Know About Media Interviews You Can Learn on “60 Minutes” | GroundFloor Media PR AgencyI recently caught an episode of “60 Minutes”  during which they shared the tricks of the trade by some of the most revered journalists ever, most of them now passed. As you may know, “60 Minutes” has been celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which makes it the longest running broadcast program ever.

When the show first aired in 1967, the formula for a “60 Minutes” segment was simple: keep it timely, keep it relevant and never be dull. That same formula is as relevant today, and should be used by marketing communications professionals in developing stories and pitches for the media. It doesn’t matter if your story idea is for print, TV, radio or online – your media pitch needs to include all of those elements, and it needs to be visual, as even a good radio story can be shared online.

In the segment, they shared their rules for conducting a “60 Minutes” interview, and these are recommendations for how to prepare for them:

Read more after the jump…

Time to Revisit Your Crisis Communication Plan

Media Interview Tips

Crisis communication plan and risk assessment

With 2017 almost in the books, it’s a good time to review and update your crisis, reputation and issues management communication plan or to think about developing a crisis plan if you don’t already have one.

Each year, GroundFloor Media works with clients to review their plans and ensure they are still accurate in terms of team members, assessment of current risks, messaging, scenarios and responses. For those thinking about putting together a plan, here is an overview of what should be in a plan.

  • Develop a “risk assessment”

    • Identify and prioritize areas of vulnerability
    • Research public perception, emerging issues and business practices
    • Conduct social media research and monitoring
  • Develop a crisis communication and issues management plan, including policies and procedures, audiences, potential scenarios and responses

  • Develop key messages

  • Develop third-party alliances

  • Testing and refinement

  • Conduct crisis communication/messaging training

  • Provide media training for key personnel

  • Evolution, revisions and lessons learned

No company wants to deal with a crisis, but having a tested plan in place will make the experience – and your results – infinitely better. For more information on GroundFloor Media’s crisis experience, please visit our website.

The Biggest PR Disasters of 2017 – Part 2

Last week, I shared Part 1 of my Biggest PR Disasters of the Year, which included United Airlines, the American Red Cross, Pepsi, Facebook, Papa John’s and former Denver Post sports reporter Terry Frei. Here is Part 2 of the look back at 2017’s biggest PR debacles.

Oscars_Logo-1002x326THE OSCARS AND PwC … If you are like me, you went to bed on the night of Feb. 26 thinking that La La Land had won the Oscar for Best Picture. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned Moonlight had actually won. So what went wrong? In short, star-struck auditors at PwC. The duo assigned to the Oscars was more focused on celebrity selfies than their jobs, and they blew it by giving the wrong envelope to presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. In an instant, an all-time Oscars moment was created and an 80-year relationship between PwC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was frayed.

MenMEN … Between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, it has been a year when many powerful men have been outed as lecherous sleazebags. In June, The New York Times wrote a definitive piece on sexual harassment by employees at Silicon Valley venture capital firms, and it seemed like we had hit a tipping point. Women throughout the technology industry quickly shared their stories of harassment, and some of the worst offenders found themselves fired. Not to be outdone, the entertainment industry showed that when it comes to harassment, Silicon Valley is a bunch of amateurs. From Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. to Kevin Spacey, the #MeToo campaign helped Hollywood prove it really can be the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

kathy-griffin-featureKATHY GRIFFIN … Infamous for her place on Hollywood’s D List, comedian Kathy Griffin has always pushed the boundaries of good taste. But in May, she accomplished what few others have been able to do – she made Donald Trump a sympathetic figure. Her photo shoot that featured a bloody, severed Donald Trump head was evocative of ISIS beheadings and immediately made her a pariah among both the political left and right. When she sensed the magnitude of the backlash, she quickly apologized, but it was too late. She lost her annual CNN New Year’s Eve gig with Anderson Cooper, and her planned comedy tour was cancelled.

USAGymnasticsUSA GYMNASTICS … Every four years, the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team wows America with its gold-medal-winning Olympic performances. What goes on between Olympics, however, is far more sinister. Team doctor Larry Nassar was accused by 125 female athletes who said he abused them them during medical appointments. While nearly none of the original accusers was a household name, superstar Olympian Aly Raisman announced earlier this month that she was also a victim. The governing body named a new CEO this month, as it tries to reform a culture that was focused more on medals than the safety of its athletes.

NikonLogoNIKON … Nikon is known the world over for its professional camera equipment, and in 2017, the company launched its latest innovation – the $3,200 D850 DSLR. To create awareness of the launch, the company hand picked 32 photographers to get an advance look at the camera and share their experiences on the company’s website. Despite picking photographers from Asia to Africa, all the photographers had one thing in common: they were men. As The New York Times reported, “It was a baffling oversight to many female photographers, who have no shortage of challenges finding opportunities in a notoriously male-dominated industry.”

Cheerios-logoCHEERIOS … It’s no secret that there is an issue with the world’s bee population. Their numbers are declining, and scientists aren’t exactly sure why. As a breakfast cereal with a cute bee mascot, Cheerios seems like a logical product to help bring attention to this issue, and it did just that by distributing 1.5 billion wildflower seeds to help with bee habitat restoration. Unfortunately, the promotion quickly caused controversy when it was learned that “the packets Cheerios sent out included seeds for plants deemed invasive in some states and outright banned in others.” Cheerios pushed back on the accusations, but the damage was already done.

Read the entire series of 2017’s biggest PR disasters:

Part 1: Includes United Airlines, Facebook and Papa John’s Pizza
Part 2: Includes Kathy Griffin, the Oscars and Men
Part 3: Includes Uber, Equifax and Nivea

What Communicators Can Learn from the White House Press Secretary

What Communicators Can Learn from the White House Press Secretary | GroundFloor Media PR AgencyAs communicators, it’s hard not to have an admiration for one of the toughest PR jobs on earth: The White House Press Secretary. Watching the current White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, bob and weave on a daily basis, got me thinking about this challenging role and one of the most famous press secretaries, C.J. Cregg of the West Wing (I know it was a TV show, but who didn’t love watching her in action?).

It has to be one of the toughest, most stressful communications jobs as every day is a crisis of some sort. According to the International Business Times, the average White House spokesperson stays in the job for two and a half years. President Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, made infamous on Saturday Night Live, lasted just 182 days.

Read more after the jump…