Archive for October, 2009

Issues & crisis event update: a public health case study debate

Hill & Knowlton's Public Health Crisis looked at the whole supply chain from farm gate to table

Hill & Knowlton

Last night we welcomed more than 80 guests to Hill & Knowlton’s Public Health event, hosted by our Issues & Crisis and Healthcare & Wellbeing teams. Hosted by journalist Lois Rogers, the format of the night focused on a hypothetical crisis scenario involving “killer milk”, which stimulated an insightful and often lively. 








Special thanks to our guest panellists:

  • Dr David Heymann, Head of Global Centre on Health Security at Chatham House
  • Dr Rob Drysdale, veterinarian
  • Dr Simon Wheeler, Novartis
  • Mr Bart Dalla Mura
  • Mr John Kelly, Partner, Schillings

Following is a brief overview of the scenario, which is entirely fictitious, designed for simulation purposes only, and any similarity to businesses, individuals or actual scenarios is purely coincidental.


For the purpose of the discussion we created a scenario that reached from one end of the consumer supply chain (farm) to the other (consumption), and spread across multiple industries (agriculture, dairy, pharmaceutical, retail). The focus of the scenario was a trial of a new vaccine, developed to treat a common and relatively harmless condition in cows that can cause a major drop in milk yield. As the scenario rolled on over six days, hundreds of patients presented at local hospitals and a number of fatalities were recorded.


Key points from the discussion included:

  • The importance of relationships with stakeholders in a public health crisis
  • It’s not enough to have a crisis preparedness plan (you have to train for it as well)
  • Why media training is important – for your organisation, your stakeholders and for journalists
  • How to deal with aggressive journalists
  • The role of experts
  • What you can do in the first four minutes of a crisis

We’ll take a closer look at each of these points – please drop back for updates.

More than 80 people attended Hill & Knowlton's Public Health Crisis discussion forum

More than 80 people attended Hill & Knowlton

Issues & crisis event: a public health case study debate

Our first post from Issues & Crisis MD, Tim Luckett (we’re still setting up his account):


Tonight we’re hosting an important event alongside our colleagues from our Healthcare & Wellbeing team. Our team works with a variety of companies, big and small, to develop business continuity plans and communication strategies. With a very recent event still reverberating through the press in the UK, we’ve developed a hypothetical case study to show how to best cope with ‘trial by media’. It doesn’t really matter what business you’re in, this event will provide a solid framework from which to build if you ever find yourself in a position that might harm your reputation. Moreover, tonight our guests will have the opportunity to network with experts from a variety of industries and to ask questions of people who have experienced a crisis and come through it. – Tim


Check back tomorrow for a summary of the event. – Grant

Presentation skills tip: cadence

US President Obama has given public speaking a much-needed shot of adrenaline, and one of his great technical strengths is the way he takes control of his cadence. Cadence isn’t just about how fast you speak, it’s also about where you place the emphasis on your words. Speaking with real power (the power to move hearts and change minds, not the power to be heard at the back of the room) owes a lot to cadence, so here’s a very short demonstration of how you can incorporate this into your next speech or presentation.

Here’s an example of some text from the Message Development page of our website:

Your message is no longer the media tagline your spokespeople are trained to deliver in a press interview. It is now the bedrock of your organisation’s communication and should be consistent regardless of the medium, whether that’s a daily newspaper, a TV news bulletin or a cocktail napkin at your next dinner.

Opening tip: Read it out loud, properly. Don’t just make a sound and move your lips and read it in your head. Actually read it out like you want someone else to hear it. (That’s actually a bonus tip – it’s amazing how many people never read a presentation script out loud before their first rehearsal!)

Step 1: Break it up a bit. There are only two sentences here, but by breaking it into four you introduce more natural points of emphasis.

Your message is no longer the media tagline your spokespeople are trained to deliver in a press interview.

It is now the bedrock of your organisation’s communication.

And (it) should be consistent regardless of the medium, whether that’s a daily newspaper, a TV news bulletin or a cocktail napkin at your next dinner.

Step 2: Change your words around. The start and end of sentences are natural points of emphasis. And some words have more emotional weight than others. So, if you’re going for a powerful opening statement, try opening with a powerful opening word. Let’s look at just the first sentence:

Your message is no longer the media tagline your spokespeople are trained to deliver in a press interview.

We can improve the opening simply by changing the order of our first five words, like this:

No longer is your message the media tagline your spokespeople are trained to deliver in a press interview.

It’s a simple change that on first reading makes the sentence less natural. But since you’re seeking attention, that’s kind of what you’re after!

Step 3: Give yourself some breathing space. As we noted earlier, the start and end of a sentence provide natural emphasis. So to enhance your emphasis, introduce more pauses in your speach. We did that already by breaking sentences up – now let’s look at how we can introduce better spacing within each of those. This also means that your speaker can breathe more often, so you can demand a stronger effort on some words for even more emphasis. Apologies in advance to the punctuation purists, but demonstrating this in text means we’re going to have to butcher a few things to get the point across.

NO LONGER………is your message the media TAGLINE………your spokespeople are trained to deliver in a press interview.

It is NOW………….the BEDROCK…………..of your organisation’s communication.

AND………….(it) should be CONSISTENT.

REGARDLESS of the medium………….whether that’s a daily NEWSPAPER…………..a TV NEWS bulletin……………or a cocktail napkin at your next DINNER.

Obviously doing this to your writing will make it far more difficult to read, but remember you’re doing this because it’s going to be presented. That’s why we won’t be updating this paragraph on our website. But, if you look at our Presentation Skills page, you’ll see that’s how we’ve opened.

Give this a try with the next presentation script you have to write. And let us know how you go with it – we’d love your feedback. Or if you’re struggling with a particular passage, get in touch and we’ll help you out.

And remember: read it out loud!

Online reputation management

Further to yesterday’s post about managing online rumours, here’s a great column we read recently on the Financial Times website (you may need to register to read this – it’s ok, registration is free and well worth the 3 minutes it will take). As our team of Digital specialists here at Hill & Knowlton constantly remind us, online reputation management means recognising that you’re now stuck in a conversation. You can’t dip in and out like you do with the media agenda. It’s like the difference between channel surfing and a family dinner.

Had a call from Watchdog?

The BBC’s Watchdog has welcomed back presenter Anne Robinson, prompting this story in PR Week. A question we often get at Hill & Knowlton is: “We got a call from Watchdog. What should we do?” Obviously that depends on what you did in the first place, but here’s a tip from Senior Associate Director, Peter Roberts: “However trying the situation, Watchdog offers businesses the opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity and ability to listen.”

It’s important to remember that the role of consumer advocates, and programmes like Watchdog, is to look at a story or issue from the consumer’s perspective. That’s a deliberate apostrophe because we’re talking about one consumer, up against the world. It’s no surprise then that many stories do come off with an anti-corporation slant.

However, it’s also important to remember that “the media” doesn’t exist for its own amusement. It’s a conduit of information between a subject (in this case the corporation or the consumer’s experience) and an audience (lots of other consumers).

So it makes sense that if consumers didn’t have complaints, there’d be little cause for these shows to exist. Of course we all have things we’re not happy about so following the argument to that conclusion is extreme – the point is this: if you get a call from Watchdog then dealing with the response is one thing. But spare a thought for why they’re calling you in the first place. Maybe there’s something that really does need fixing.

Ugly rumours – online reputation management

Online rumour mongering threatens brands every day. This piece in a recent issue of Communicate Magazine provides some insights into managing the threat, including a great response model used by the US Air Force, and commentary by Hill & Knowlton’s own Peter Roberts.

Crisis management and media training in London

Thanks for checking out this first post from Hill & Knowlton London’s Issues & Crisis team. Over the coming days we’ll get the content up and running, and as we familiarise ourselves with the platform we’ll provide a bit more interactivity - so please check back often for the latest updates.

In the meantime, if you’ve already found us then you’re probably looking for people to help you with media training or crisis management, so you’ve come to the right place. Tim Luckett is the Managing Director of our team, and Catherine Cross is our Head Media Trainer.