Posts Tagged ‘Hints & Tips’

Five lessons for crisis managers – as taught by faux pas on the Election trail

In case anyone has been hiding behind the sofa in recent days, or indeed is currently residing outside the UK, then you may not be aware that it’s General Election season here. This means the next four weeks will see wall-to-wall media coverage of a small group (mostly men) talking to several other groups (mostly disillusioned voters) about the economy, healthcare, education and the ever unpopular expenses scandal.

This level of media exposure is something that most companies can only dream of. However, this exposure also presents a constant challenge for the political parties and their staff to maintain the 3 As for their key spokespeople: Appearance, Appeal and Ability to communicate.

The 3 As are particularly difficult for politicians on the campaign trail because, unlike the comfort of a broadcast studio, they’re at the mercy of the general public with whom they are interacting. Already in the past week we’ve seen two incidents which highlight the reputational problems this can present.

Firstly, on the day after the Election was announced, Gordon Brown encountered his first ‘heckler’ on the campaign trail. Brown chose to ignore his repeated questioning, instead heading for the sanctity of his ministerial car. Unfortunately the cameras caught the whole episode, and within hours the video was on the net and in the evening news bulletins. Cue the notion that the Prime Minister only listens when he wants to.

Then, it was the turn of the Conservatives to encounter public anger. When their home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, made some unfortunate comments about homosexual rights, the party was bound to encounter the wrath of gay and lesbian rights campaigners. What they perhaps didn’t foresee though was a demonstration outside party headquarters, swiftly organised via Facebook. Again, cue the cameras and subsequent reports on the evening news bulletins and next day’s papers.

In this second case though, the Conservatives at least made several of the right moves before and during the protest – they engaged with the protestors during the demonstration and also held meetings away from it with the protest leaders to discuss the issue.

Companies are often left with having to face and contain similar kinds of protests following job losses, poorly received pay negotiations or other unpopular decisions. There are no hard rules on controlling these situations to ensure a successful outcome. Nor are there any quick fixes or guarantees to avoid less than favourable media coverage of the event for your organisation.

What there are though are some good basics that can be done:

1. Dialogue – have meetings been arranged to try to prevent the demonstration or at least resolve the issues behind it? Will any senior company figures be available to listen to the concerns of the protestors on the day?

2. Briefing the staff - does everyone know about the demonstration? Do they know how to respond if/when they’re quizzed by media or protestors? Have you prepared Q&A documents, media statements etc for quick deployment?

3. Security – what measures and procedures do you have in place if things turn ugly?

4. Preparation – above all, have you anticipated and planned for this kind of event happening? If you have, great, but then ask yourself if you’ve tested or simulated such an event to see if you can really pull it off under pressure? If not, it might be time to think about doing this.

5. Future proofing – and finally, what have you done and what still needs doing to prevent the issues that lead to these kind of demonstrations in the first place?

Media training tips for radio interviews

In her first post for Media Insights and Crisis Expertise, Hill & Knowlton UK Media Training Lead Counsel, Catherine Cross, provides her top 10 tips for participating in radio interviews – Grant.

There is a sense of immediacy to radio news that often makes an interviewer press for an instant response.  But it may be in your best interest to delay the interview a short time, if necessary, to prepare your key points.  If so, offer to call back in a few minutes to be interviewed, and then do so.

In addition, you should ask whether the interview is to be aired live, recorded for use in its entirety or edited to a shorter version, or a news clip.  If it is edited for a news clip, your answers should be kept to less than 15 – 20 seconds.  Get right to the point.  A longer interview to be run in its entirety permits more detailed responses.

Prior to agreeing to the interview, you should establish ground rules with the interviewer.  These include checking whether it is OK to stop and completely re-take an answer if you fumble a word or lose your train of thought, agreement to stop the tape if need be for more time to develop a more concise answer; and agreement to call back with updated information if something changes in your facts before the scheduled air time.

If doing a radio interview over the telephone, ensure a quiet environment by turning off noisy equipment and air conditioners, diverting other phone calls, turning off your mobile phone and closing your office door.

Get your energy level up.  Sit up in the chair or stand for more alertness and vocal animation.  Use gestures to increase vocal emphasis.

Avoid shouting or whispering.  Talk in normal tones across the telephone mouthpiece, not directly into it to eliminate the “popping” or “hissing” sounds on the tape.

Avoid the use of numbers unless they’re absolutely essential to make your point.  If you must use them, round them off and use sparingly.

So remember:

1. Give yourself time to prepare.
2. Find out if the interview is to be used live or pre-recorded.
3. Find out if the interview is for a clip (soundbite) or will be used in its entirety.
4. Get pre-interview agreement on ground rules.
5. Maintain a noise-free environment during the interview if on the telephone.
6. Get your energy level up for the interview.
7. Speak at your normal pace, clearly and with good vocal animation.
8. Make sure you have plenty of “colour”: proof points, word pictures and memorable facts and figures which are visual.
9. Make numbers memorable: round them up or down if essential to your point.
10. Warm up your voice, mouth and throat before an early morning interview.

- Catherine

How to avoid a Dappy moment for your organisation

The use of prominent, well-known celebrity figures as spokespeople to front a campaign is a standard tactic amongst comms teams looking to create impact for their campaigns. Not only is it standard, but it’s also usually highly successful in enabling organisations to connect with their target audience and deliver the right message.

However, as last Friday’s incident involving the musician Dappy (from N-Dubz) demonstrates, if a negative issue arises involving your chosen spokesperson, then there’s a fair chance your organisation will be referenced, thus creating a negative impression.

The choice of Dappy by the Deparment for Children, Schools and Families to front their anti-cyber bullying campaign last autumn was certainly bold, but also not without logic or merit given the audience the Deparment was trying to reach. Unfortunately, as this incident demonstrates, with the best will in the world you can’t legislate for what happens once their work with your organisation is complete.

There are however, some good basic tips that you can adhere to when deciding on a potential spokesperson for your campaign:

1. Does your campaign really need a spokesperson? Assess the likely impact that your efforts would have with, and without, a well-known figurehead before you commit to one. Also, seek a third-party opinion on this given that you’ll likely be very close to the project.

2. Assess what you want them to do for you. Will it be a simple photoshoot, a series of interviews, or something more ambitious? This will help determine the type of person that you’ll likely want to employ.

3. Who is your target audience? It can sometimes be easy to get wrapped up in who you think you’d like as your spokesperson, rather than properly considering who your audience will respond to.

4. What have they done over the past couple of years that’s relevant? It goes without saying, but a proper check of any previous activity, soundbites, quotes or anything else that relates (positively or negatively) to your organisation, industry or your customers is essential.

5. Take the time to properly prepare them. Invest the time to meet with your chosen spokesperson and brief them well in advance of the event/activity. Consider media training them as well, especially if they haven’t worked in your product/brand area previously.

Twelve tips of Christmas: #7 Make it easy for those left behind

Our seventh tip for the holidays is provided by Senior Associate Director, Peter Roberts…

The Christmas period will, as expected, see many businesses manned by a fewer number of people. Invariably, departmental heads will be away and so it falls to designated alternates to keep the ‘ship on course’.

Subsequently, it will be a time when individuals are anticipated to cover projects, or accounts (in the agency world) that they may not be overly familiar with. Therefore, it will be a tremendous help both to those who are charged with the covering and those who are out of the office (as they won’t take too kindly to being disturbed) if documents particular to a project are easily retrievable.

A crisis situation, no matter the time of year, demands a quick response, and it will save your organisation, precious minutes or possibly hours if the paperwork is identifiable and accessible to your holiday cover staff members.

Fundamentally, this about instilling best practice throughout the year. For an effective response without bothering the boss during their vacation, make sure:

  • Documents are shared in the right place
  • Any updated documents are dated and finalised work, such as statements, or press releases are marked as such
  • Client, and/or internal contact details are stored
  • Any legal sensitivities particular to a project are clearly marked
  • Passwords are shared with appropriate individuals for protected documents (it really, really happens)

Forgive the cliché, but it’s not rocket science, but increasingly, it would appear that fewer businesses are putting an emphasis on effectively organising its collective know-how. The Issues & Crisis team at Hill & Knowlton is particularly well versed in assessing an organisation’s ability to continue functioning during crisis situations. Time spent on your filing may be the difference between handling the scenario successfully, or not. – Peter

Twelve tips of Christmas: #6 Use the slow period to your advantage (part 2)

In the last post we looked at using the winter slow-down as an opportunity to get your team back on track with their regular crisis management training. However, it’s important that your procedures and processes are also kept current, which is the topic for this post.

Every crisis management plan or manual that we write at Hill & Knowlton has an update register inside the front cover. This is to remind users that a plan is only as good as the information it’s based on. If you let it lapse, or the content is obsolete, then you’re not much better off than if you’d never had it to begin with.

If you already have a crisis management manual for your organisation, now’s an ideal time to get up to date with your housekeeping and give it one of your twice-yearly reviews. Here are a few pointers for things to pay extra attention to:

  • Confirm that the right people are still on your crisis management team. People move on and change roles, so it’s important to make sure you have the right people in your team for the next six months. The new year is a natural time of change, so now’s as good a time as any to review this critical detail. (Year-end is also a common time for appraisals, which means the job description of many deputy/alternate crisis team members may have changed and they may also need replacing)
  • Ensure contact details are accurate. It’s been a tough year and many organisations have seen staff numbers decline. Often, this results in some kind of physical re-shuffling of staff. Make sure that in any relocation your crisis team’s contact details either a) haven’t changed, or b) have been appropriately updated.
  • Call your alternative control centres. Usually these are local hotels with good AV and IT facilities. But while we’re looking at the general corporate slow-down, for industries such as leisure and hospitality this is a peak period. Make sure that those facilities you’re relying on to be there if your business is shut down, will in fact be available to you if you need them. It’s not uncommon for hotels to be fully booked at this time of year.
  • Check your hardware. We say it a lot on this blog, because it is the single most common issue we come across in any crisis simulation – the technology that the team needs to operate effectively just isn’t where it’s supposed to be (or worse, hasn’t been identified). Seriously, it’s a boring exercise, but it needs to be done.
  • Get a fresh pair of eyes on your manual. Our Issues & Crisis team frequently reviews clients’ existing plans just to see if there are any new ideas we can contribute, or glaring omissions we can help correct. It doesn’t take long if your manual is regularly updated, and frequently we find that having someone else look over a document provides the opportunity to improve something, even if it’s only incrementally. A suggestion that will save you half an hour in the midst of a crisis is worth the effort now.

The above tips are a useful starting point for reviewing an existing crisis management plan or communication manual. If you don’t already have one of these in place for your organisation, now’s as good a time as any to start.

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: #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!

Climate change: highlighting the importance of behaviour as communication

Last night I attended the launch of the Advance Green Network at Australia House in London. This network seeks to bring together ex-pat Australians, and their colleagues, to help get people involved in the quest for a more sustainable future.

Keynote speaker, Howard Bamsey, Australia’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, made the point that in the lead-up to the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP15, what governments around the world are looking for are commitments. And this is the basis for this post – on an issue such as climate change, the public requires not a communication solution (ugh), but a behavioural one. What is it that I/you/we/they can do that actually makes a difference? And…will you do it?

This differentiation can be a difficult one for issues and crisis management. If your crisis is an oil spill, a plant explosion, a tsunami or any one of a hundred other things that visibly change the world, then your response involves actually fixing something – either patching it up, or eliminating the source of the problem. Clearly that’s behavioural.

The challenge comes with reputation-based issues where there’s a desire to deal with the symptom rather than the cause. Anything that falls under the general heading of “complaints” is usually a good example, i.e. product faults, customer service incidents, automated “help” lines and the like.

In these instances our first reaction is usually to deal with the complaint, and if that’s successful then that’s usually the end of the issue (in our eyes). The problem with this approach though is that it never deals with the cause of the complaint – we just slot into a pattern of complaint, fix, complaint, fix, wash, rinse repeat. Until one day we realise we’ve accrued dozens of complaints, made hundreds of refunds or lost thousands of pounds worth of sales.

For crisis managers then, it’s important when these niggling issues arise to take five minutes out from the problem, and really consider if fixing it requires us to say something, or do something. Think about the message you send by acting, rather than placating. Actions speak louder than words, and for good reason.

When crisis plans aren’t worth the paper they’re written on

Our recent Public Health Crisis event drew out a number of observations from our guest panellists, one of which was the importance of training for crisis teams and spokespeople.

While crisis management plans are important, they should always be regarded as a tool to help your crisis management team do what you need them to. Fundamentally though, your crisis will be managed by real people, who make real decisions, which have real consequences.

For this reason it’s essential that your crisis management team is well trained. Governments and emergency services run highly sophisticated training drills to keep skills up to date – and so should your organisation. Crisis management teams tend to involve people from quite disparate roles within the business. A crisis should be an unusual event, which means in an ideal world there won’t be many reasons for the crisis management team to work together in their crisis management capacity. Unless you’re regularly experiencing business-wide crises, your teams’ skills will deteriorate over time. You literally must “use it or lose it”.

Here are five things you can do today to immediately make a difference to your crisis management team’s preparation to handle a real crisis:

  • Establish a regular training calendar for the crisis management team. This needs to take into account your organisational culture, team members’ day-to-day responsibilities, and the physical location of team members, but ideally we’d recommend having some kind of formal crisis management training scheduled every six months as a minimum. Include the induction of new team members into this calendar in addition to your scheduled training
  • Conduct a technology audit for your crisis management team. Your plan should include a designated meeting room or control point, equipped with the technology the team will need in order to do its job. However, it’s not uncommon to find that “spare” equipment (i.e. that is usually set aside specifically to be available in the event of a crisis) disappears when you need it most. Pull out your list of required equipment and go see if it’s all where it should be. This can also include checking that all of your team’s phone numbers are still current (it happens…)
  • Develop a scenario library. When we run crisis training and simulations for clients, we tap into a global knowledge bank of scenarios that we can tailor to be fit for purpose. Some of these are developed in creative brainstorms, but almost always the most left-field crisis scenarios are things that actually happened in the real world.
  • Get your crisis agency in for a familiarisation day. When you’re in the middle of a crisis you need to know everyone on your support team is a trusted, capable member of the team. Make sure that you know who your agency will have on hand for you if you need support. A great way of building that sense of teamwork is to have the agency team come into your organisation for a few hours, meet the crisis management team and then take a tour of your operations. This gives them a first-hand experience of the scope of your business, and it also gives your agency team the chance to identify potential fail points (very helpful for developing future training scenarios)
  • Organise a team outing. Crisis management is a serious business, which means you need your team to be comfortable working with each other under intense pressure. During a crisis there’s little time to nurture those relationships, so getting together in a more social sense can help here. There’s something disconcerting about watching a crisis team meeting each other for the first time five minutes before running a crisis simulation

Bonus tip: If your organisation has identified a back-up control room that’s situated in a nearby hotel, then getting the team together at the actual venue means you can also work on your relationship with the hotel’s management, including the all-important AV team and catering staff. 

Note that for the purpose of this post, we’re assuming your organisation has a formal crisis management team, and a crisis management plan – if you’re missing either of these things then get in touch with us so we can help get your organisation’s crisis management function up and running quickly.

The importance of stakeholder relationships in a crisis

One of the key points to come out of last week’s Public Health Crisis event was the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with your stakeholders – before you need to call on them.

This is often a challenge for organisations because relationship management takes work. You have to commit time and resources to something that usually doesn’t deliver an immediate benefit. But as we saw in our case study, successfully managing a crisis can often depend on those relationships.

For an organisation that feeds into the consumer supply chain, many of these relationships will be self-evident. For example, our hypothetical farm consortium can easily trace its relationships to its veterinarians, its customers, its shareholders, and consumers of its products. Specifically in the case of our exercise, it should also draw a straight line to the pharmaceutical company trialling its vaccine in the farm’s cows.

However, where things often fall down is in managing those relationships. Public relations is about doing just that, through ongoing communication (ideally that would be two-way, which is PR jargon for listening as well as talking). In our case study, this absence of coherent communication between stakeholders set the company up for failure. It’s a scenario that repeats itself all too often.

Here are five things you can do today to start improving your relationships immediately (or if you have a PR agency already then get them to help you do this):

  • Identify the stakeholders your organisation deals with most frequently, and which ones you’d likely need to call on in a crisis
  • Map them out so you can see the connections your stakeholders have between each other, as well as with your organisation. Any line that you’re not connected to has the potential to be part of the rumour mill, so it’s helpful to know just how big a network you’re potentially dealing with
  • Find out (if you don’t already know), who the spokespeople are for each of your stakeholders, as well as who your organisation already has existing relationships with in your stakeholder organisation
  • Get in touch. Every solid relationship has to start somewhere, so make a call or send an email today, and arrange some getting-to-know-you time. The occasional coffee is always a good idea
  • Reciprocate. You’re trying to build a network of people who you can call on in times of crisis – so make sure that you can also fulfil that role for someone else

A crisis might not start with you, but that doesn’t mean it won’t affect your organisation down the line. Make stakeholder engagement a habbit, and not a campaign activity, and you’ll build one of your greatest defences against a future crisis.