Archive for the ‘Hints & Tips’ Category

Twelve tips of Christmas: #5 Use the slow period to your advantage (part 1)

So far we’ve looked at a number of suggestions to help make your yuletide crisis management as simple and pain-free as possible. However when it comes to best practice crisis management, the smart money is always on prevention being far preferable to the cure – so that’s what we’re looking at here.

For the moment, let’s assume that anything that’s going to go wrong between December 20 and January 10 is probably still going to. It’s no good having a coronary over it, so let’s look at a happier, healthier future. One with lower blood pressure.

Preparation, for crisis managers, takes into account both procedures and people. We’ll look at the latter in this post, as the people you rely on are, ironically, more fallible than your procedures (a procedure’s a procedure – so long as someone follows it, there’s not much more you can ask of it – a bit like blaming a calculator if your numbers don’t add up).

However, January (winter generally) is a brilliant time to nab people for their regular training updates. The weather’s rubbish so it’s no fun to travel, everyone’s a little sluggish after the holidays, and it’s usually easier to get into diaries – both at your end and also with your training providers.

Our head trainer, Catherine Cross, says we’re already seeing several clients planning their winter to include things like media training, refresher courses for spokespeople who may have gone a little rusty after a period of inactivity, and even a number of crisis simulations. Now’s the perfect time to schedule in your team’s training requirements for the start of 2010. If you’d like to talk to one of our team, you can contact Catherine directly here, or call us on 020 7413 3000.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #4 Enhance your monitoring to avoid unpleasant Christmas surprises

We’ve touched on this briefly in earlier posts, but a reminder from our friends at Dow Jones Factiva suggested this was worth revisiting in its own right.

With staff away and out of contact, it’s easy to lose one of your best sources of informal business intelligence – the office grapevine. Because the day-to-day interactions between staff are so significantly curtailed over the holiday season, the rumour mill tends to grind if not to a halt, then into a very lazy holding pattern.

Unfortunately this also means that those little, niggling issues that are only ever picked up through such informal channels will tend to slip through the cracks.

Without this channel in place, some of those issues are more likely to escalate, and particularly in the case of customer service issues we usually see that “escalation” means they find their way into local (and occasionally national) media – and once a small issue breaks as “news” it’s no longer a small issue.

That being the case, now is the ideal time to get in touch with your media monitoring account manager (or PR team if they handle your monitoring), and run through your current keywords to see if there are any others you should be adding.

Additionally, take a minute to consider whether you need to increase the frequency of your monitoring – do you need alerts a couple of times a day, or is once a day enough? Is your regular clipping service suitable for your needs, or should you supplement it with online tools such as Google Alerts? Or do you need something more sophisticated again, in which case, it’s worth having a chat to either your existing agency or Hill & Knowlton’s digital specialists about what kind of real-time monitoring tools they can provide you with.

Remember – at this time of year, your speed of response is already hampered (no pun intended!) by holiday diaries; re-claim some of your time margin by getting ahead of the issues as early as possible.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #3 A crisis shared is a crisis made a lot more manageable over the holidays

One of the biggest problems crisis managers face is that by definition you’re on call 24/7. Of course, thankfully, that’s not to say most of us actually get the dreaded 2am phone call on a regular basis.

Being on call is a cost of doing business, and if you weren’t prepared to do it you wouldn’t work in crisis management. But, being permanently available is untenable. We talk about the “holiday season” because it’s just that – a time of year where people take scheduled holidays.

So, there are two implications for crisis managers. The first is obvious – make sure you have the people available to manage a crisis if and when one arises, because your usual team will probably be affected by holidays. If you’ve read either of the last two posts on this topic you’ve probably seen quite a lot of reinforcement of that particular message!

But the second implication is easily over-looked by busy crisis managers, and it’s this: take time out for yourself as well. You need to recharge your batteries as much as the next person – probably more, in fact, if you’ve spent most of the last 50 weeks with your phone perpetually on.

You have a crisis management team in place (or should do) specifically designed to take account of scenarios where particular individuals aren’t available. Surely you’ve got a designated alternate for your own position – take advantage of having them there.

Likewise, tap into your agency’s resources. For example, at Hill & Knowlton we have a sufficiently large enough Issues & Crisis team that we rotate availability over the holiday period – specifically so that there’s always someone immediately available in case of a client call.

None of this is to say you should take your hands off the wheel completely and let fate do its worst. Rather, spend an hour mapping out your alternative contact strategy for the next few weeks and ensure that responsibility for managing any crises is suitably delegated. This shouldn’t be an issue – if your crisis management plans are already solid then you’ll have taken into account the possibility that your unavailability is a legitimate issue in its own right.

Likewise, ensure you and your team are clear on how your agency support will be staffed over the period.

(If you’re reading this because you’re looking for immediate crisis support during the holidays, click here to contact us directly or call our switchboard on 020 7413 3000)

Twelve tips of Christmas: #2 Be prepared

It sounds like a no-brainer, but a trip to Swindon this morning reinforced the importance of being prepared to work around your technological limitations. For example, making the very wrong assumption that one can get a decent wi-fi signal on a train network.

This becomes even more critical during the holiday season because in addition to having to contend with the vagaries of technology, we face numerous compounding problems.

Inconveniences such as support personnel being away on holidays en masse, suppliers not necessarily being available, and the occassional snowfall can all conspire against crisis managers at the most inopportune time.

For this reason, it’s essential that crisis managers, your organisations, and your support network (yes, including your PR account team) are all prepared well in advance for the possibility of a Christmas crisis.

Here are five things you can do this week to improve your organisation’s ability to handle a crisis that springs up over the holiday break:

  1. Ensure your escalation procedure stacks up for the holiday period. Your day-today crisis management is (usually) predicated on a best-case scenario, i.e. you have access to the people and resources you need, or their alternatives. However, it’s not practical to work under that assumption at this time of year – check with whoever manages holidays for your crisis team and see if you’re actually going to be covered for “business as usual”.
  2. Provide every member of your crisis management team/network with the must-have materials they’ll need if a crisis happens over the holidays. In most cases this will simply be a copy of your escalation or call-out process and relevant contact details. While it’s really simple, it’s also important because most of us rely on having these things available electronically, and that’s not such a good thing if the crisis is a technical one that means you can’t access this kind of information. Print off a few hard copies and run them through the laminator just to be on the safe side.
  3. Consider whether you need a Virtual Control Room. Most on-the-day crisis management takes place in a central meeting facility, but if your team’s spread across the country then that’s no good to you. Streaming video is great technology, but an old fashioned conference call facility is better – more accessible and more reliable. Include the dial-in details in your printed information pack.
  4. Get your crisis management team to identify their own back-up facilities (and test them on it if you need to). For example, if I’m at home and lose my internet connection, I can connect to a local unsecured network, I can walk 10 minutes to an internet cafe, or at a stretch I can hole up in the hotel that’s two miles up the road and use the hotel business centre (or check into a room if I need to – whatever it takes to get plugged in).
  5. Check whether your team is actually equipped to manage a crisis remotely. The recession has seen many companies cut back on what look like perks, but in actual fact are business-critical insurances. Things like corporate credit cards, travel restrictions, or providing new employees with wi-fi enabled laptops, for example (connection issues notwithstanding). It only takes an event like last winter’s infamous “snow day” to let you know your technical capabilities aren’t what they should be – save yourself the headache and fill the gaps before it becomes a problem.

There’s a bonus tip for this last point – make sure your team is competent in the use of anything remotely technical. Wireless internet is brilliant, but if your team don’t know how to connect to a wi-fi network then it’s going to make life increasingly difficult.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #1 Protect your customers

In the lead up to the holiday season we’re rolling out the tried-and-tested “12 days of…” formula for our Hints & Tips posts. As today’s the first of December, it seems like a good time to start, and this story from Australia has provided the inspiration for this morning’s post.

JB Hi-Fi, one of the country’s most popular music and entertainment retailers, was the victim of a server hack. The result: users were reportedly re-directed from the company’s website to Chinese websites loaded with malware (for those non-techies who’ve never been infected, malware is malicious software – it does pretty much what it says on the tin). For this reason we’ve broken with convention and not linked to the site, as we’d hate to be responsible for exacerbating the problem.

In fact, most of the websites mentioned in the article on The Sydney Morning Herald website have experienced malware problems recently, including Whirlpool (a broadband discussion forum), Overclockers Australia (an online community for computer enthusiasts), and OzBargain.com.au (a discount online retailer). Each of these sites is frequented by tech-savvy visitors and in that respect the users are probably lucky in that they’re inherently better prepared for the trauma of a malware attack.

However here in the UK, online shopping is far more prevalent, and far less the domain of technophiles. Online commerce is easier and more pragmatic – products shipping from Birmingham to London arrive more quickly than they do in Sydney, for example, so the lesson for local retailers is clear. Protect your customers.

The holiday season increases the risk of infection many times over for three key reasons. Firstly, more trades will be conducted, so the law of averages says sooner or later someone’s going to get infected. Secondly, occasional users trade more during holidays, so you have a larger population of inexperienced users throwing themselves into the mix. Thirdly, with more trades, and easier victims, it’s a great time for hackers test their skills – it’s an opportunity for big, quick gains.

We’re not technical advisors, so in the first instance, check/flag any issues with your server manager. Send them this link (http://www.smh.com.au/technology/security/jb-hifi-website-served-malware-20091201-k2p3.html) if you need to.

From a crisis management perspective, here are five things you can do this week to help improve your chances of successfully managing a malware attack beyond the technical fix (should you be so unlucky):

Familiarise yourself with the Information Commissioner’s Office. As a regulatory authority it’s there to protect consumers, which means it’s in their best interest to help you do exactly the same. It also means that if you don’t manage a crisis well then you should expect a call, and it’s always better to know who you’ll be dealing with. In the first instance a visit to the Data Protection Act guidelines is a good idea as well. Dry reading, but important.

Increase your online monitoring. The great thing about malware attacks is they spike discussion forum traffic, and this can help you spot a potential issue well before it ever hits your system. So get your digital monitoring team or web agency to work enhancing your monitoring for the next few weeks. Suggested search terms to add (there’ll be plenty of others you can look for, including specific program names): retail, hacking, malware, data theft, data loss, server hack. Please post suggested additions in our Comments section.

Understand what your continuity plan is. In the event that you do experience a malware attack (or any other kind of online crisis really), it’s essential to know if and how this part of your business can continue to function. It’s time to buy your server manager that beer you’ve been meaning to.

Plan your communications in advance. Regardless of the nature of the problem, there aren’t really that many ways it can turn out. Among the most common are likely to be: infecting customers with malware, sharing of customer information, loss of customer information, loss of e-commerce functionality, loss of website. While it’s true that the details may be important on the day, you can save yourself a lot of time by planning in advance how your business is going to respond to each of these scenarios.

Put your crisis team on notice. This includes your agency support if you have it (and if not, now’s a really, really good time to get some). It’s holiday season – chances are half your team will be away. Know in advance who their deputies or alternates are, and make sure everyone’s briefed on management and contingency plans before you break up for the holidays. If you’re in a business that closes down between Christmas and the New Year, or runs a skeleton staff, know who’s going to be available to help fix any problems that arise.

As always, if you have any questions about the tips outlined above, or if you need a hand with preparing your organisation to handle a crisis over the holiday season, please get in touch. And happy holidays!

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!