I heard an interesting story on NPR during my commute the other day about Alex Harris, a Miami Herald reporter who was covering the Florida school shootings. She was using Twitter to find witnesses who were willing to talk to her about the shooting. And she started getting some really heated feedback from people about her tweets. It turns out, however, that the tweets people were upset about were screenshots of doctored versions of what she had sent out, not her original tweets. In a somewhat ironic twist, this reporter had become a victim of fake news…
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.
This company featured a series of television commercials that profiled different types of hair types, but unfortunately they showed a limited number of minorities in their ads. They issued an apology: “We really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate.”
In a tone-deaf blunder, Adidas sent an email out Boston Marathon participants with the subject line: “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” It didn’t take long for them to apologize, and the crisis dissipated.
Bloomberg news showed how a $400 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer was basically just a ruse, in a video showing a person producing the same amount of juice as the specialty juicer. Reporters were able to wring 7.5 ounces of juice from the specialty packs in a minute and a half. The machine yielded 8 ounces in about two minutes. The startup this week cut its staff by 25 percent, and it offered customers refunds.
Billy McFarland and Ja Rule launched a luxury music festival at a private island in the Bahamas, and tickets ran from $2,500 to $250,000 for “deluxe” packages. Instead of the promised extravagant catering, beach yoga sessions, bikini-clad models and yachts to lounge on, attendees found a “disaster tent city” with scant rations. Instagram photos documented sorrowful bread-and-cheese sandwiches and dreadful accommodations. Social media users had a field day mocking the woes of the well-to-do audience and the downfall of the much-hyped event. A criminal investigation is under way and lawsuits abound. Ja Rule’s response: The whole world knows Fyre’s name now,” he said. “This will pass, guys.”
With any crisis situation, including the ones above, having a response plan beforehand can help, and listening and responding to social media in real-time can help turn the tide. Keep these points in mind:
- When you mess up, genuinely apologize and share what you’ll do to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
- When in doubt, talk to your community; they’re the people who already support you.
- Treat your community with respect and listen to what it has to say. If you’re only interested in the bottom line, it will show.
A couple weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors finally found out they would be playing the Utah Jazz in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. To many Warriors players, the news came as a disappointment, but not because they were concerned about facing the Jazz in a seven-game series. The confident Warriors were simply hoping they’d be spending their off nights in a more exciting city than Salt Lake.
HBO’s John Oliver takes on the media’s attempts to sell his show’s content through sensational headlines and clickbait.
As media outlets look to grow their shrinking audiences and advertising budgets, they are turning to popular online platforms to share stories and drive engagement.
The New York Times for instance, is setting the bar for how it presents its stories online, by including video, graphics, podcasts and photos. It’s refreshing compared to the tired ink and paper version that fewer and fewer people find on their door steps each morning. But, as some media outlets are looking to truly engage and embrace online platforms, there are others that are simply driving their audiences to digital properties to drive clicks, which they will somehow count as audience growth and sell to advertisers.
This trend is called clickbait, content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page or to comment, with the goal of growing audiences and digital revenue. It has nothing to do with journalism, although it can be cloaked as such.
This year, Patagonia announced that it would donate all Black Friday proceeds to grassroots environmental groups fighting to protect natural resources like water, oil and soil. The company expected to rake in about $2 million across its 80 global stores and Patagonia.com. In reality, Patagonia recorded $10 million in revenue – five times what the company expected – and is still promising to donate 100 percent of that revenue to the environmental groups.
The chief executive of Grubhub, an online and mobile food ordering company, learned a lesson last week after he sent out a companywide email that implied that employees should resign if they supported President-elect Donald Trump.
The backlash was immediate and sustained. CEO Matt Maloney quickly moved to clarify his comments, but he damage was done. There were calls for a boycott and media pounced on the executive.
Responding to questions from a Ragan’s PR Daily reporter about the issue, GroundFloor Media’s Vice President Gil Rudawsky said that he began advising clients to update their policies concerning making public political statements earlier this year, and re-emphasized this in the weeks leading up to the election.
“Public comments, even from personal accounts, can be—and often are—misconstrued as being representative of their company’s views,” Rudawsky told Ragan’s. “As a best practice, it is not appropriate for executives to make decidedly one-sided political comments or to push their views on employees.”
And regarding Maloney’s missive to his staff, Rudawsky offered this lesson:
“We remind our clients that while free speech is right, just because you can make political mandates doesn’t mean you should.”
And with social media, you can lose it in even less time. Think about how long it takes to write a tweet. The good news is that for whatever reason a reputation is trashed, steps can be taken to repair it.
As part of GroundFloor Media’s service line offerings, we help businesses, organizations and individuals with reputation management issues. Tools we use include earned and paid media campaigns, enhancing social media and online presence and community outreach.
Many crises start out as legal issues or will lead to legal issues, and it is important to protect your strategy and communications from the other side. Here are a couple of quick tips to help, but remember that everything you say in an email or write down is likely discoverable.
Quick Legal Checklist
- Include legal counsel in strategy calls
- Include legal counsel in all correspondence, particularly when developing strategy and content documents
- Get sign-off on strategy and communications from legal counsel
- Get regular updates from the legal team on case developments, particularly on upcoming legal events that may garner media coverage
To help this relationship work, here is a list of qualities that each side need from the other.
Qualities An In-House Lawyer Values In An External PR Firm:
- Experience: Having a member of the PR team whose worked as a reporter was invaluable in translating the process. What was the reporter looking for? What would he accept from us?
- Resilient: Working with a reporter on background takes persistence and the willingness to go back repeatedly if necessary on issues. They can’t give up and provide the reporter with an excuse to report an inaccurate or unbalanced fact.
- Responsive: A media crisis is a 24/7 grind. Media appreciate getting immediate responses to questions and issues. (It is also a two-way street.)
- Tough: Someone you would want with you in a bar fight.
- Teachable: Work with someone who will get beyond sound bites and wants to understand the details and background. This will involve a desire to dig in and learn about the company and how it does business.
Qualities a PR firm values in Corporate Legal Counsel
- No schadenfreude: leave the legal language for pleadings, not the media or communications to non-lawyers. In a crisis, a good lawyer will know less is more for messaging.
- Value PR: Understanding the proactive and reactive role of public relations, particularly during a crisis, is valuable, and counsel knows it can preserve or help rebuild a company’s reputation. The court of public opinion is just as valuable as the actual courtroom.
- Cool-headed: A crisis can have many different lifecycles, and keeping calm with a focus on the end goal is appreciated.
- Open-minded: A PR response can be much different than a legal response in a crisis, while both have similar goals.
- Backbone: During a crisis, an executive may want to either go out swinging or say absolutely nothing. A good legal counsel will offer a better perspective, and a more moderate and effective approach. Remember: you want to win the war, not the battle.
PR qualities courtesy of Bill Ojile, Partner, Armstrong Teasdale, Denver office; former Chief Legal Officer Alta Colleges