TUESDAY TIP – “Empty corporate banality is not the way to manage a very public crisis.”

“Re-accommodate?” Really???

When exactly will United Airlines stop digging this hole for itself? Who knows. But the company seems determined to keep going until they hit the Earth’s core.

As millions around the world have now seen, United began its descent into this social and legacy media nightmare when it was announced earlier this week to a full flight from Chicago to Louisville that four people would have to go to make room for four United employees who had to get to Chicago instead.

The seemingly cold, anti-customer essence of that request aside, what happened next was disgraceful—a 69-year old man was dragged, bloodied and beaten, off of the plane after he refused to relinquish the seat he had paid for. Most who have seen the video have likely recoiled at the sheer brutality of it all.

But then United’s CEO, given the opportunity to make things at least a little better in the public eye, went the other way.

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” That’s how United’s CEO Oscar Munoz chose to communicate in his public statement.

Webster’s Dictionary has several different definitions for the word “accommodate,” all of which center around providing something desired, something for which agreeable consideration is made. The final entry is the most succinct: “To make fit, suitable or congruous.”

And while we’re at it, the Webster’s definition of “re-accommodate” is simple: “To accommodate again.”

It’s fair to say that no one who has ever been treated the way this gentleman was—roughed up, battered, possibly knocked unconscious—has ever felt “accommodated.” And surely they would not want to be “accommodated” like this all over again.

Munoz’s tone deaf response was the height of empty corporate speak, as well as remarkably disingenuous and bafflingly unapologetic. The result has been international mockery and condemnation; pretty much universal outrage blew up on social media all day yesterday and it continues today, and published reports have indicated that in just one day United has lost roughly $800 million in value. So far.

No one should have needed hindsight to know that a real apology, followed by a decisive plan to correct the action, was the only option to protect United’s brand and move forward.

Instead the CEO opted to go in the exact opposite direction, doubling down and refusing to do the right thing for this injured senior citizen or for the company. This crisis is not likely to go away anytime soon, not as long as United thinks it can simply pass it off with thoughtless, empty banality.

10 Signs You Should Invest In Public Relations

 

  1. Your Brand is constantly being misrepresented in the media.
  2. No one recognizes your company name when you go to networking events.
  3. You’re having difficulty recruiting talent or good business leads in comparison to your competitors.
  4. You don’t have cohesive communication between your marketing materials, business plan and management team.
  5. Your organization either does not have or has an outdated crisis management plan.
  6. You have made a change to your brand or you are about to make a change to your brand.
  7. You aren’t sure what the “brand” of a company even is.
  8. You need help communicating internally to your employees.
  9. Your company hasn’t identified a key spokesperson, or your key spokesperson feels uncomfortable talking to the media.
  10. You are about to make an important announcement (whether positive or negative)

In these situations as well as many others, having strong, consistent key messages and media coaching from the experts can make the difference between building public support or fading into history.

Interested in how PR can help your organization? Contact Us today!

 

What to look for when hiring a PR Agency

By Emily L. Rodrigues

When trying to pick the right PR agency for your organization, there’s a lot to take into consideration. While we’d love to work with you, we want to make sure the partnership is a good one. Here is a guide to help you figure out what to look for in a PR agency.

Ask Yourself:

What are your PR Goals?

In order to have mutual satisfaction with the process, it’s good to know what you want so you can communicate well with the firms in order to determine who is most well-equipped to help your brand and achieve your goals. It’s important to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish before you meet with PR firms, but know that the right PR firm can help you fine-tune and refine your goals during the process.

Who will you be working with?

On a day-to-day basis will you be working with the people who come to the pitch meeting? Or will they be passing work along to less experienced employees & interns?  Especially when it comes to your brand reputation make sure you know exactly who you’ll be working with and who will be responsible for which projects.

What is their experience in Media Coaching?

Simply writing press releases and creating media opportunities may not be enough to ensure you are best-representing your organization. Ask if they do media coaching for spokespersons and other staff members who may come in contact with the press.

What is their Media Market?

Who are they connected to? If they are a hyper-localized business without any media contacts in your area, they may not be a great fit. Media contacts can always be made, but you can get started faster if they are already connected to outlets in your area.

What is their Client Load?

Are they overwhelmed? Do they depend almost entirely on one client who will get most of their attention? Give a lot of thought to the type of clients they manage, how long they retain their clients and ask for references. Despite the fact you wouldn’t be the agency’s only client, you need to ensure that if you need them, they’ll be there.

How do they Measure Success?

Do they give tangible goals and objectives laid out? Would you be satisfied with their service if those are the things they achieved? How you measure success for your organization’s PR strategy should align with how your PR agency understands success. Ask questions, make suggestions, and be open about what goals you hope to achieve.

Do they understand or have the ability to learn about your industry?

Some agencies specialize in particular industries, and others have a wide range of clients and enjoy working with a combination of industries. They may have more contacts in a specialized agency, but you’d also be competing for space against the rest of their clients. Whether or not you want an agency that specializes in one area is up to you, but be careful if you notice that the rest of their clients are in an industry different entirely from yours. If it’s not a good fit, don’t be afraid to move on.

Do you like the people you’d be working with?

People working at PR firms are human, so it’s important to make sure the personalities of your team & the PR team you will be working with are cohesive. A good PR team will simply be an extension of your organization.

 

References:

https://www.meltwater.com/blog/hire-pr-firm/
http://www.inc.com/rebekah-iliff/10-things-you-should-know-before-hiring-a-pr-agency.html
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225393

 

 

Lessons of the Infamous “Bedbug Letter”

Written correspondence is essential in our business as well as most others. But one thing on which we always advise clients in the public relations realm is this: if you write it down, assume it will make its way into the public eye.

It may seem overly cautious, but it’s grounded in very sensible and strategic thinking. If all written materials were written with the thought process of, “If the public see this, that would be just fine,” a lot of people would be spared heartache.

One of the more infamous instances of what can happen when the non-public unexpectedly becomes public is the famous “Bedbug Letter” story, supposedly attributed to George Pullman, the famed industrialist who created the Pullman Sleeper Car for rail travel. The story has changed a bit over the years and may even be apocryphal, but its lesson remains.

The story goes that a traveling salesman spent one night in a Pullman sleeper in the late 19th century and encountered a bedbug. Unhappy, he wrote a letter of complaint to Mr. Pullman himself, and was surprised and pleased to receive a letter back from Mr. Pullman sincerely apologizing and explaining how this would never happen again. Which is great.

 

The problem?

Also included in Pullman’s return correspondence was the salesman’s initial letter of complaint.

Which across the bottom, in Pullman’s handwriting, contained this note to his secretary:

 

“Send this SOB our standard bedbug letter.”

Don’t let this happen to you, not with letters or emails or texts or, yes, even handwritten notes. If you’re writing it down, ask yourself this question first: “Will I be OK if this somehow gets out to the public?”

The Speech That Saved the Space Program, 50 Years Later

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the night astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee died on the launch pad while going through what they thought was a routine pre-flight test procedure for Apollo I. They were scheduled to launch three weeks later as the first three-manned space flight, and the Apollo program was the one which would ultimately land us on the moon.

But today is another key anniversary. It was 50 years ago today – January 30, 1967 – that the Apollo program began its comeback, thanks to the straight and stirring words of one of the true giants the American space program.

Up until that point the space program, as administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), had operated with an almost clinical level of precision in the “Space Race” against the Soviet Union. Beginning with the epochal single-manned Mercury flights from 1961-63 and continuing on with the two-manned Gemini operation through 1966, the progress we had made from Alan Shephard’s initial 15-minute ride in May 1961 to January 1967, where a lunar orbital mission and eventual lunar landing were now within grasp, was astounding. We weren’t just making good on President Kennedy’s 1961 pledge of “landing a man safely on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” but we appeared to be doing it in record time.

That all changed on the evening on January 27, 1967 when fire quickly consumed the Apollo 1 capsule as it sat on the launch pad during that run-through, tragically taking the lives of those three American heroes. And it could have signaled the death knell for the space program.

Congressional hearings were held. Fingers were pointed everywhere – at NASA, at the builders of the rocket and spacecraft, at government officials who many thought rushed the Space Race along at too hasty a pace. Manned spaceflight was suspended for 20 months. Some wondered if it could be abandoned all together, being not worth the human sacrifice.

Fortunately for America and the world, the decision was made to move on with the quest for the moon. Only to do it better. And safer. And to learn from our mistakes, however tragic they were.

The process began 50 years ago today with a speech delivered by a man named Gene Kranz, Director of Flight Operations for the Apollo program and ultimately Director of Flight Operations at NASA. Just three days after the fire, Kranz spoke words at Mission Control in Houston which many say came to define the very core principles of the American space program. And in doing so, he showed us exactly how to respond to the absolute worst of crises.

Kranz said:

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.

“Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

“When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

It’s impossible to imagine a more appropriate speech, a more critical time to give it, or the even more crucial decision to not only set forth a new standard of excellence, but to acknowledge past errors in blunt and plain language. Kranz’s speech became as critical to restarting and eventually winning the Space Race as the engineers, scientists and pilots who got us there.

Gene Kranz is still with us today, and hopefully in at least some small way he will celebrate his role in getting the Apollo program back on track. And we should all honor him, in the face of a nearly immeasurable crisis, for standing up as few in history ever have. And showing us all in five immovable words – “Mission Control will be perfect” –  how it’s done.

Listen for yourself: 

 

 

When to Engage—and not Engage—in Negative Comments About Your Brand

By Emily L. Rodrigues

For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, we posted a quote of his that is not only applicable for human beings, but also corporations:

 

While no company should encourage crises or hope for negative comments, how an organization chooses to respond in times of challenge and controversy is a huge opportunity to prove the values of your brand. How you respond to these comments can either make your brand look transparent and caring, or sneaky and self-serving. In today’s market more than ever, how the public perceives your brand’s personality will likely affect whether or not they choose to do business with you in the future.

There are people who post negative things on the internet with the direct intention of starting drama. Those people are colloquially known as “Trolls” and no matter how you choose to interact with them, they will do everything in their power to start trouble. However, among the trolls are true concerns and complaints in need of being addressed. Here are some key ways to determine whether a negative comment should be addressed at all, how it should be addressed, and how to make a negative comment into a gold star for your brand personality.

First, ask yourself these questions about the comment:

  • Is it True?
  • Is it written by a stakeholder?
  • Is it in need of clarification?
  • Is there a real problem being discussed that needs to be addressed?

If none of these things are true, or it is an individual that posts about you all the time, then ignore the comment and likely others will too. If you answered “Yes” to any of the above statements, it probably needs to be addressed. If it is true, written by a stakeholder, needs clarification, or identifies a real problem with your business, the chances are likely that there are more people who feel the same way. For this reason it is important that you respond publicly to the comment in a timely and respectful manor.

For example: If angry poster Suzie comments, “I have been hung up on by your customer service team 4 times trying to fix my problem. I hate your brand and I’m going to tell everyone I know never to sign up for your services”

A good public reply would be, “Hi Suzy, I’m so sorry you’re having issues with our service team. We’d love to learn more about your issue and try to streamline the process for you. Please private message us with your email and phone number so we can assist you further.”

Why it works:

  • It is compassionate. It validates how they are feeling without validating their comments and makes them feel like they have a champion on their side.
  • It shows you have an actionable plan to fix their problem.
  • It puts the next steps in their hands and takes the conversation offline.
  • It shows other people who maybe were coming to your page to post about the same thing that there is someone working on this similar issue, and encourages them to follow the same steps (private messaging the social platform for assistance with their similar problem)

Similar actions should be taken with other types of complaints as well.

For example, perhaps you have a staff of 40 in your finance department and Johnny posts:

“I heard from my friend that you only have 2 people working in your finance department. Maybe that’s why I never get my bills on time.”

A good public reply would be, “Hi Johnny, we’re concerned about your recurring billing issue and would love to hear more. Please send us a private message with your phone number or email address. As to the number of individuals on our finance staff, fortunately for us that number is extremely inaccurate. We have a large team of people working to get you what you need, which is why we look forward to hearing from you and helping you solve your problem.”

Why it works:

  • It corrects an inaccuracy about your company without getting hostile or escalating the issue.
  • It shows that if they are actually having a problem you would like to help them resolve it.
  • It puts the next steps in their hands and takes the conversation offline.
  • It shows other people who have heard the same rumor that the number is false, so they won’t continue spreading it.

There are an endless amount of scenarios that can prompt negative comments on traditional and social media, that’s why it’s so important to have a plan in place to respond to this feedback that will encourage people to see your brand in a positive light. For more information on creating a media plan of your own, contact us today.

Why is Community Outreach & Corporate Responsibility so important for Corporate Brands?

By Emily L. Rodrigues

When people choose to engage with an organization, whether it’s buying a soda or hiring a company to do work, they are also choosing the personality of your company as well as its merits. People like working with people. As mentioned by FrontStream.com, by creating goals and programs for your company that “go beyond products and profits” you can create a personality people will want to embrace.

If customers feel like your organization cares about the local community, they are more likely to see the organization as trustworthy, accessible, and more human. In contrast, according to KissMetrics.com, “people are less likely to do business with companies that are perceived as irresponsible,” so by demonstrating responsible efforts, you are acting to blunt those concerns. When a business feels like a “friend,” people are more likely to continue doing business with them and recommend them to their families and colleagues.

So what are some ways you can set goals to help shape your brand’s personality? It changes depending on industry and location, but here are some good places to start:

  • What human problem does your organization solve and how could your skills be used to help those in most need around you?
  • How much time, energy and money can your organization afford to donate to this cause without disrupting the normal course of business?
  • What can you do that will make a positive and visible impact on the local community?
  • How can you engage your current & future employees in these efforts in order to truly embody the spirit of community outreach from top to bottom?
  • How will you measure the success of your results?
  • What community partners will you need to engage in order to meet your goals?
  • What potential challenges could you face in meeting your goals and what can you do to prevent them?

By answering these questions you will be on the right track for building a great community outreach program. As always, if you have questions contact us for more information.

Should Your Company Be on Social Media?

By Emily L. Rodrigues

A question we get frequently is whether or not a company has a place on social media, and whether or not it has measurable benefits.

Here is an answer that should put that question in perspective:

Imagine that being engaged on social media is like attending a high-profile networking event where all your clients and competitors are going to be. The value is difficult to measure, but it has the wonderful potential for opportunity and if you don’t make an impression on someone there, your competitors might. So the answer is, yes, you should be. There is no industry with too much sensitive information for social media, and as evidence, even the NSA has a Twitter account.

Some Measurable Benefits of Social Media:

  • Increase traffic to your website- By using appropriate keywords and building an interactive follower base it can refer people back to the calls to action on your website & help with SEO
  • Communicate the personality of your brand– People like doing business with people, it gives them an idea of what kind of company you are and lets you share stories of which you’re proud
  • Find more prospects and leads – Use search tools to find decision makers & interested parties
  • It’s free marketing to supplement traditional efforts
  • It’s virtually free market research data right at your fingertips! – For just the cost of employee time it gives you the unique opportunity to communicate directly with your target audience and see what they want, what they need and how you can make the services you offer them more enticing and effective


The Time it Takes Each Week:

Usually, with about an hour of research at the start of the week and then about 5-10 minutes a day, you can build a thriving social media presence. It is easier when you plan out posts in advance and schedule and monitor their success through a posting & monitoring platform. The frequency at which you post and the platforms on which you post are dependent on your industry, location & resources. For best results, contact us so we can put together a strategy that makes sense for you and your business.

Recommended monitoring & scheduling programs:

  • Hootsuite
  • Bufferapp
  • Sprout
  • Power Post

What to monitor when listening to responses:

  • Who is talking to you and what questions can you help them answer
  • Who is talking about you and how can you continue the conversation on your terms
  • What is being said about your industry and how you can correct false information in real time before it gains momentum
  • What your current (and potential) clients are concerned about as it pertains to your industry and how you can assuage those concerns

This process can be done through daily searches on the platform or by monitoring keywords, hashtags and other accounts via a monitoring site.

Above all, when it comes to a successful social media strategy the most important component is consistency. Create a schedule, set reminders for yourself and stick to it. Best of luck, and if you have any questions, we’re here to help.

Two Important PR Crises in 2016 and 10 important lessons We Can Learn From Them

By Emily L. Rodrigues

Whether you’ve been naughty or nice this year, as we head into the holiday season it’s important to reflect on what we’ve done that’s good and what we’ve done that’s bad. As an industry, that means examining the crises in 2016 and preparing ourselves to handle what may happen in 2017.

The Problem: Crises Left Unattended Can Explode
Naughty Example: The Samsung Galaxy Note 7

After a few people claimed their phones overheated and caught fire, Samsung re-issued new batteries for those who had the Galaxy Note 7. After a few of those caught fire as well, a formal recall was issued, stocks fell by 30%, the phones are now banned on most airlines and the organization has had to sacrifice the technology all together. The brand is still in recuperation.

What they did Wrong:

  • Denied it was a widespread issue, originally calling it an “exchange program”
  • Its communication to the public was slow & guarded, allowing the conversation to evolve without being a part of it
  • Didn’t fix the problem the first time
  • Tried to misplace blame to faulty batteries & false accusations
  • Issued a full page apology in WSJ (About 3 months too late)
  • Cancelled the product without a clear statement about what was wrong with it

The Problem: Crises Can Come Out of Nowhere
Example:
Disney World Gator Attack

Walt Disney World handled this tragic event with as much grace as they could. A professor I had in college once said, “The question is not ‘What will you do if an unimaginable crisis occurs?’ The question is ‘What is your plan when an unimaginable crisis occurs?”  On June 15, 2016 Walt Disney World lived that truth.  While Florida is certainly known for its alligators, no one—especially the family sneaking past the “no swimming” signs—expected that a dip in the water would have led to such devastating repercussions. A two year old boy lost his life when an alligator mistook the toddler for food.

What they did correctly:

  • Acted quickly to ensure the safety of other guests and apprehend the alligator
  • Were as transparent and helpful as possible to the family, authorities and media
  • The CEO offered sincere and personal condolences to the affected family
  • They quickly put a plan in place to prevent the problem from ever happening again by putting more precise warnings up for guests and coordinating with local wildlife groups to more closely monitor the waters surrounding the park and resorts.

 

 

  1. Identify the nature and scope of the problem
  2. Be the first to break the story
  3. Anticipate questions you know people will have and answer them
  4. Get a plan to resolve the issue public as soon as possible
  5. Be decisive and act quickly to solve the problem
  6. Be sincere
  7. Admit fault where there is fault
  8. Be transparent and honest
  9. Take action to ensure the problem will absolutely not happen again
  10. Routinely reflect on what could have been avoided and make necessary changes so nothing similar will occur in the future

 

Innovation vs. Creativity: What’s the Difference & How Can They Make an Impact on Your Industry

By Emily L. Rodrigues

In order to make a real impact in your industry, you have to drive positive change, make tough decisions and occasionally change procedures and company behaviors to fit the times. This takes a lot of creativity and sometimes a little bit of innovation. But what is the difference?

 

While often the two terms are used interchangeably, there are some key differences between the two. Understanding the difference could help your business make powerful, productive decisions that will keep you competitive & thriving.

While generally both creativity & innovation can result in positive outcomes, the reason is usually different.

 

On one hand:

  • Creativity alters or improves existing products or services to make them more appealing to customers.
  • Creativity can be tested and measured more simply through A/B testing and analyzing past successes
  • Creativity finds a new way to carry out existing policy.

 

On the other hand:

  • Innovation yields positive results because it finds untapped customer needs
  • Innovation often requires risk taking as it relies more heavily on instincts
  • Innovation usually requires an adaptation of policy and procedures

 

Sometimes what a brand needs is creativity, other times they need to re-invent the wheel and evolve in order to survive.

 

So how can you spark innovation for your brand? Listen to complaints. A great way to listen is through social media channels which is the least expensive market research tool for your brand.  Whatever issue pushes people to complain may be a fantastic opportunity to change the dynamic of your industry.

 

If you’re still stuck on deciding how to make a creative or innovative change, it may be time to call a PR firm. As industry professionals, they can help you mitigate risks associated with implementing an innovative idea, develop creative messaging that will ease the transition and help your organization fulfill its potential as an industry leader.