Tag Archives: crisis response

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.


Air Force General Anti-Racism Response Video Goes Viral

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria’s address last week to Air Force Academy students and staff in response racial attacks that appeared on message boards at the school set the bar for effective crisis response. It’s no surprise that the video has gone viral.

His five-minute speech, during which he encouraged those in attendance to film and share on social media, is worth watching in full.

PR Daily broke down his address, highlighting several key points that made it so effective:

  • Message was unambiguous
  • Strong closing
  • Built on the group’s collective power
  • Demand for action
  • Avoided politics
  • Strong delivery emphasized audience connection

Adding to these, and having worked with clients on crisis responses, one aspect that gave the address such impact was its authenticity. Surely everyone who heard it live, watched it on YouTube or on one of the many media sites that picked it up, walked away with no doubts that Silveria set the right tone for condemning the actions, and for moving forward as the preeminent educational institution that represents the Air Force and the country.

When A Private Crisis Strategy Session Becomes Front Page News

Crisis Communications Lessons: When A Private Crisis Strategy Session Becomes Front Page News | GroundFloor Media PR Agency | Denver, COAs part of crisis communications training with our clients, we emphasize that unless you are in a closed-door office or in a private location, anything you say in public can be used against you. This lesson, once again, resonated loud and clear in a Sunday New York Times scoop.

Last week, Denver attorney Ty Cobb who now works for the White House to coordinate its response into investigations into Russia’s connection with President Trump, was having a strategy lunch with the president’s lead outside attorney on the Russia investigations, John Dowd.

Little did they know, a Times reporter was also having lunch, at the next table.

Read more after the jump…

Nationwide Turns to Social Media to Mitigate its Super Bowl Disaster

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.59.10 AMI’m pretty sure everyone agrees that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is the biggest loser of Super Bowl XLIX. With just one shockingly bad play call, Carroll went from G.O.A.T. to goat.

But many people are pointing to insurance provider Nationwide as the second-biggest loser of Sunday’s Super Bowl. Its depressing Super Bowl ad aired in the first quarter of the game, and it was widely – and immediately – ripped to shreds. A decade ago, you had to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to see how people responded. But Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms give advertisers real-time feedback – and allow viewer opinions to quickly go viral.

Fortunately for Nationwide, its social media and public relations team quickly came to the rescue of its focus group-challenged advertising team. Within an hour of the ad airing, Nationwide released a statement online explaining the ad and took to social media to join the conversation. The company noted in part:

Read more after the jump…

Is Your Crisis Plan Ready for Prime Time?

Anyone who has ever developed a crisis plan knows what a monumental, albeit critical, task it is. At the same time, once it has been drafted and shared with the crisis response team, you never know how effective it is until it has been battle tested with a real crisis. Fortunately many companies and organizations will never endure a full-blown crisis, but for those who do, it’s not something that will soon be forgotten.

In the summer issue of The Public Relations Strategist, an article titled Crisis Communications Plans Built to Fail: 3 Warning Signs and How to Avoid Them is a great reminder of the ongoing scrutiny required to successfully overcome a crisis. The author suggests three warning signs that your crisis plan could fail.

Warning Sign No. 1:  You do not have a clear system for reporting a crisis.

The communications team is usually not the first group within a company to identify a crisis. How do you make sure that all of the employees within your organization know when to sound the crisis bell, who to notify, and how to effectively notify them?

Read more after the jump…

General Motors: Why Euphemisms Don’t Work

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 11.53.32 AMGeneral Motors (GM) continues to take its lumps in the media, social media and in popular culture (a recent spoof on Saturday Night Live) related to the recall of more than 2 million cars, the Chevy Cobalt, for faulty ignition switches. The issues were first uncovered in 2001, but recalls didn’t begin until earlier this year. One of the key factors that prompted congressional hearings is misleading language that didn’t elevate the faulty ignition switches to a “critical fix.”

In particular, an article in Forbes points to a culture where confusing or vague language (hint, euphemisms) may be responsible for the inaction of leadership within the company.

Read more after the jump…

How to Make a Great Customer Apology

Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 9.54.44 AMGroundFloor Media’s Gil Rudawsky wrote his quarterly article for the Denver Business Journal on how to best apologize to customers when things go awry.

He says apologizing is tough, particularly for a corporate entity. It means admitting something went wrong. From a crisis communication perspective, corporate mea culpas must be direct, honest and apologetic, and must outline steps to fix the issue. Rudawsky offers two examples, one from Microsoft and another from Booz Allen Hamilton.

Apologizing is tough, particularly for a corporate entity. It means admitting something went wrong. From a crisis communication perspective, corporate mea culpas must be direct, honest and apologetic, and must outline steps to fix the issue.

Read the entire piece here.

The Year in Social Media Crises – What We’ve Learned

As social media continued to weave its way into the day-to-day life of more and more of the population, there were no shortages of social media issues or crises in 2012. But rather than share a “Don’t Do This” advice column, we’ve compiled this brief list of things we’ve learned, or been regularly reminded of, in 2012.

1) Social media posts are (still) not made in a vacuum.

In what is probably the five-billionth time this has been said – everything you post on social networks is discoverable. That includes opinions, cheap shots, drive-by comments and even the tongue-in-cheek responses that will most likely be taken the wrong way by someone. Just as you try not to say the first thing that pops into your mind in front of your boss, your mother, or your children…pause before you post. Do you really want everyone in the world to read that post? And if they do, how will they react?

Related 2012 learning: We saw this dozens of times in 2012 – when you manage a social media profile for a business, check, double-check, and triple-check that your personal posts aren’t going up on the business profile (see “Montana Tourism” below).

2012 Examples:Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 1.04.32 PM

2) There’s a fine, yet distinct line between “outreach” and “spam”

Some people get it, most don’t. Reach out to people or other organizations. Talk to them, not at them. If you’re planning to automate your social media posts or responses in 2013, you should probably reconsider.

2012 Examples:

3) Don’t ignore the “human” factor – in fact, obey the “human” factor

Even if your auto-posts or your SEO-charged blog comments aren’t timed as poorly as the posts listed above, if you’re not genuine, it’s still apparent. Do your homework before interacting with people on social networks for marketing purposes, and by all means, show compassion if you are facing a crisis situation.

2012 Examples:

4) In a crisis, social media can give businesses a voice of their own

We talk a lot about crises playing out on social networks, but don’t forget that when used correctly, social media platforms can help businesses tell the other side of the story.

2012 Example:

  • Hurricane Sandy provided multiple examples of the good, and bad, social media can create in a crisis

5) Timing is everything

This is somewhat of a recap of all the reminders above, but when you post, what you say, how you say it, and how quick you are to respond all have a distinct impact on the fallout from any number of social media situations. A response, sooner rather than later, can mean the difference between a customer who feels cared for, and a social media debacle.

2012 Examples:

~ Jim Licko


Is the media phone interview dead?

It used to be that editors would do everything in their power to coax reporters out of their chairs and into the world where they could talk to their sources and cover stories in person.

Nowadays, that has evolved to the state where reporters hardly pick up the phone to talk to sources, let alone cover stories by face-to-face meetings. Interviews are now done via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

During a recent talk on social media and crisis communication, Dallas Lawrence, chief of global digital strategies for Burson-Marsteller, mentioned a survey indicating that 49 percent of reporters find story sources on Twitter.

For reporters, it takes the hard work out of searching for sources, because they can simply perform a hashtag search on a topic and find numerous sources, then contact one or more of them with a targeted tweet or direct message.

This phenomenon is particularly true with the new generation of reporters who have grown up with social media and texting, said Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter.org, a site covering journalism issues, news, and trends.

“Maybe some of it is a natural evolution of our industry,” said Myers. “There still feels like there’s something transactional about it: Send questions on email, get answers on email, and put the story together without actually physically talking to someone.”

The email interview lacks the color a phone call can have, and it loses the natural back and forth that comes from a conversation. Plus, there’s no personal relationship building, however slight, when everything is done in written form.

Though Myers conceded it is probably not the best work practice, he adds that some reporters have better results contacting people through email. Sources can take time to craft responses to questions provided beforehand instead of being surprised by them on a phone call.

I work on many statements to provide reporters, but I will always make a point of calling the reporter back, or having them call me before I forward a statement. This way I can talk to them about their story angle and provide additional background that is simply too obtuse to be included in a statement.

I’ll admit that sometimes it feels futile. One reporter recently emailed me seeking a statement. I asked the reporter to call me before I provided one.

The reporter did not call and ran the story ran without the statement. I guess it was too much effort for that reporter to pick up the phone.

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily)

4 tips to help PR clients navigate the political season

Don’t mess with people’s politics. If you do, you’d better have a good reason for it and a strong response plan.

The drama surrounding the Susan G. Komen fiasco is yet another example of how seriously the public takes its politics. The organization that gave special meaning to the color pink, came crashing down when it became known that it had pulled its $700,000 contribution to Planned Parenthood.

Without taking sides on the political issue, one is safe in saying the loss in future contributions and damage to Komen’s reputation will total much more than $700,000.

It’s a good lesson, particularly now that the political season is in full throttle, to review our clients’ political stances and contributions. Clearly, having a heads-up that the CEO is making a contribution to a particular candidate can help in issues-management planning. Here are some tips to help clients get through the season without becoming too much of a target.

Research: Find out whom and which issues your clients support. Even if those stances are not popular, knowing about them before they blow up on a client’s Facebook page can help.

Bigger Picture: Using Komen as an example, there should be a discussion with clients about whether supporting or discontinuing support for a hot-button cause or candidate might do more harm than good. Even if the clients disagree, as PR pros we’ve done our job offering them the likeliest fallout scenarios.

Strategy: Have in place a plan for responding to the media and on social media before a political firestorm hits. Part of the reason Komen had a hard time was the silence on its Facebook page as the deluge of negative comments was posted. A quick, thoughtful response can help.

Grow a thick skin: Politics is nasty business, and facts often get lost in emotions and longstanding beliefs. Even the most robust response plan can get sabotaged. Clients who are aware of the risks of playing politics can better weather the storm, stick to their convictions, and offer measured responses.

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily.com)