Protect Your Reputation Today…Your Crisis Response Blueprint, Pt II.

There are 3 things every executive, business owner and employee needs to know about any crisis:

Crisis Fact # 1 – They usually don’t occur on a Tuesday afternoon in the summer when things are slow, all key personnel are available, and everyone has free time.

Crisis Fact # 2 – The crisis itself is often not what causes the most harm to an organization or an individual – the response is.

Crisis Fact # 3 – Results usually mirror preparation – a prepared organization suffers less collateral damage for a shorter period of time than an organization that is “learning as we go.”

Part I of this series addressed the first 5 steps to address when developing your organization’s Crisis Response Blueprint.

Here are 10 more things to consider… today:

1) Voice

Who is the voice of the organization? Is there more than one? How many lines of business is the company involved in?

Should it always be the CEO? (Answer – it depends) Who communicates internally? Externally? Who ensures that your business continues to operate even as the crisis develops?

2) Get your lists together

Media contacts? Adversaries? Advocates? Stakeholders? Who, outside of your organization, will speak positively about your organization in crisis? How about negatively? Who are the most crucial regulatory contacts? Trying to put these lists together in the midst of crisis never works.

3) What do you say?

Do you say anything before you know anything? Failing to respond, or saying “No Comment” says a lot more than no comment.

This is where preparedness training, drills and live simulations really help to prepare key executives and spokespersons for the real thing.

What if there are reports of injuries? How are you receiving information? There will be a lot of incoming requests for information – how will you reach out to stakeholders that are not yet beating down the doors?

4) Stop and breathe.

Practice putting yourself in a semi-stressful position through crisis response drills. Warning – this is absolutely not a substitute and not representative of what you will feel like in the middle of a crisis.

What it does do is prepare you to know how to breathe properly to control epinephrine and control your heart rate. I have a number of breathing techniques I favor

5) What does the filtration system look like?

In a crisis, there may be a number of parties who want answers and access public, victims, press, regulators, investors, elected officials – who filters each call and determines who answers; what are the answers for each?

6) Who is monitoring social and web media?

What is the process of answering questions and comments online? What does the strategy look like? Whose responsibility is this?

There are a number of excellent social media crisis communication professionals – having contact with one is never a bad idea.

7) Opposition Research

Every real political campaign not only researches the opponent, the campaign also researches its own candidate to determine what might “pop up” at the most inopportune time.

Do a comprehensive internal “opposition research” report on yourself – what else will come to light in the face of a crisis? What else should be on your radar screen? What are your answers?

The reality is that any negative information that has ever been identified, or may exist, about the organization and key executives is

8) Inside/Outside

Do not forget to communicate internally! This point is important enough to mention twice.

How you handle yourself during a crisis sends a strong message to employees, and a star employee who is a little rattled is a star employee who is looking.

9) Spokesperson

Make sure your spokesperson(s) is trained and media ready – this is one area where on the job training never works! Being a spokesperson in the midst of a crisis is a brutal job to begin with – doing so with no preparation is not only unwise, it is unfair – and will hurt your organization.

10) Pay Attention to Borders

If you are a multi-national or do business abroad, how does a crisis abroad affect your business here? What are your answers? Who is doing the answering?

Recent corruption allegations against major multinationals that occurred thousands of miles from US borders still got a lot of media attention in the US.

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Corporate Crisis Response Blueprint, Pt I

An unfortunate reality of life is that crises occur, and they often occur when we least expect it. Few organizations are hit with a crisis situation on a Tuesday afternoon at 2pm when things are a bit slow and all hands are on deck. So what are some steps your organization can take to prepare today?

1) Start planning now

Plan and prepare before you need to. What are your organizational themes when you are not in crisis mode? Identify your key messages. Who is on the messaging team? What does your organization stand for when there is no crisis? What is your organization known for? What are your organizational weaknesses?

2) Crisis Response/Crisis Communication Plan

You must have a written crisis response plan.

I often ask executives if their organization has a crisis response and communication plan. The answer is almost always – “Yes.” I ask if they know what is in it – at this point the “Yes” gets a bit more sheepish. I ask if they have reviewed it in the past 6 months – this is when nervous laughter begins.

Make sure to create your plan, review your plan regularly, amend your plan and ensure that every key member of your core team is intimately familiar with the plan.

3) Assemble your direct Crisis Response/communication Team… Today!

Determine Roles, Chain of Command, Crisis Command Posts…today, before you need to. Trying to figure this out while you are in full crisis mode can really put the organization in a precarious position.

Who is in charge of what? Who manages the existing business? Who reaches out to customers who have yet to be affected? Who reaches out to Regulators? Who contacts employees? Who reaches out to neighboring businesses? Who is in contact with the community? The media? The list goes on and on.

4) Assemble your professionals

Public relations professionals, communication specialists, industry experts, compliance professionals, public affairs professionals, outside counsel, audit teams and crisis experts should be on auto-dial. Develop relationships today. Identify and interview key consultants when things are quiet.

Identifying and retaining key professionals in crisis is much more difficult and much more expensive; it allows for limited to no time to get up to speed on your business, and your situation. It also allows for considerable time to pass and the crisis to escalate.

5) Determine Internal Communication Protocol

Who will be responsible for communicating internally to ensure that no one is “talking outside of school.” What is the process for disseminating information throughout the organization?

If you do not communicate internally, you can rest assured your employees will, and chances are you will not be happy with what they are saying and telling others.

Any person who has a touch point outside of the organization (which is everyone) has the potential to deliver a message externally that contradicts the organizational message – this usually happens because no one told that individual what was occurring.

This is the first of a 3 part series. Please stay tuned for the Pt II…

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When Communication Matters Most: 5 Crisis Communication Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

The effectiveness of any leader is not determined during a campaign appearance or positive earning announcement, but rather during a time of crisis.

Three days ago my hometown was decimated. My place of employment as a teenager now resides in the Atlantic Ocean. Much of where I spent my childhood no longer exists. Where I married the love of my life now rests in the Atlantic.

My parents are in my residence, watching the community where they raised us for 30 years from a television, as they can’t live in theirs. My heart breaks every hour for my friends, neighbors and those people who I have never met that have been so severely affected.

There is no better situation during which to judge communication acumen than during times of crisis. This is when it matters most.

We elect politicians to lead us through crisis, not just for the ability to perform during campaign appearances. Leadership often begins when politics ends.

Our Governor has been called a lot of things, but during this crisis, there is only one word to describe him – Leader. From days before the storm to every minute, literally every minute, since the storm, a true leader, and an example of how to lead in crisis. A leader – from a communication perspective and every other perspective. Thank you Governor.

Our President is at the precipice of one of the biggest events in his life. Within one week his own personal history will change dramatically, one way or another. So where was he? Not playing politics, but leading. He is a man who was initially elected largely due to his ability to communicate. Paradoxically the President has also stated that his biggest weakness during his first term has been his ability to effectively communicate his message. He’s getting it right when it matters most. Thank you Mr. President.

What lessons can we all take away about effective communication during a crisis from Hurricane Sandy?

1) Visibility – the Governor looks like heck, sounds like heck, has a horrible cold, and has been visible, quite literally 24/7. Radio, television, print – regular press conferences, updates, coordination, answers, etc. Not just platitudes and motivational speeches, but real updates and answers.

2) Leadership – often in a crisis, big or small, there is a question as to who is in charge. That does not exist here. It is clear who is in charge, it is clear there is a plan, and it is clear that there is order. What does this mean? It means some semblance of stability, in a completely unstable situation.

3) Humility – the Governor has been an incredibly harsh critic of the President, and the President and surrogates have been incredibly harsh critics of the Governor. You cannot overstate how harsh they have been. And when millions of people are hurting, the two men not only compliment each other, but also put aside differences to do what is right. There are plenty of nefarious suggestions as to why this “bromance” is occurring. “Why” doesn’t matter, “what” matters, and the “what” is cooperation, communication and stability for a ravaged region in a crisis.

4) Internal Communication – during any crisis your ability to communicate internally is crucial, as an organization’s biggest weakness is usually insiders communicating messages that run contrary to organizational messages. My friend and media expert Brad Phillips has a terrific post about the importance of this here. Federal, State and local officials throughout the Garden State are all sending similar messages, and I have to believe that is due to the level of communication that is happening between said officials.

5) Planning – We started with 2.5 million people without power. That number decreases every hour. I have driven throughout the State and see line trucks, tree-cutting trucks, contractors, etc., either deployed or waiting to be deployed. There was no way to prepare for something like this, but there is also no question this State was as prepared as could be expected. There has been effective communication throughout this disaster – that sends a message, and is one of the reasons that people have been patient so far.

Not everyone has led publicly. Thousands of heroes are getting the work done, rescuing people and saving lives. Their stories are being effectively communicated through others, and to thank them with words is insulting. You are heroes and should be recognized as such.

The men and women putting sleepless nights restoring the power to all of us, making our roadways safe and getting us back to some semblance of normalcy, you are heroes as well. Thank you.

Then there are elected officials who lead not via press conference and site tours, but through communication and getting things done. An example of that here in the Garden State is Senator Kevin O’Toole.

The Senator is known in Trenton as one of the most effective communicators in the Legislature, and has demonstrated why behind the scenes for the past 72 hours. Serving as a communication hub between residents, local officials, police, fire, educational leaders and the Front Office, he has displayed everything that is right in a leader – making sure everyone knows what is happening, what resources are available, and helping to cut through red tape to get those resources deployed. More importantly, he has led through finding what resources are not available, finding them out of state and coordinating getting them on the ground here.

I would also like to thank our local television station – NJ 12. The coverage, availability, and access to those without power made a huge difference. NJ 12 has proven itself during our most trying time, and has illustrated that the Network can compare with any of the “majors” in New York and Philadelphia. I can only speak for my own household, but you have a daily viewer for life here.

I would like to thank NJ BIZ, which continues to be the go-to source for New Jersey business news, and will be a crucial resource to all of us in the coming years. We are lucky to have you as a resource.

My heart is touched as I watch brave business leaders throughout my State who haven’t slept in the past 96 hours like Joe and Mike Jingoli, Frank DiCola, Chris Paladino and hundreds of others, do everything possible to help employees and their communities before even thinking about business.

Having spent weeks on the Mississippi Coast following Katrina, I have an idea of what is to come, and know how hard the next few years will be. Communication challenges at the outset hampered the recovery during Katrina and I am hopeful that effective communication from the outset this week will continue to speed the recovery process after Sandy.

I am heartened by the teamwork millions of people around the State that I am so proud to call home are already showing, opening homes and hearts to friends and complete strangers. We will get through this and be even stronger.

MTV owes this region a year of nonstop, daily coverage around stories of neighbors helping neighbors, to show the world the real Jersey Shore.

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University Crisis Management – Lessons from the Penn State Crisis

“Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.

“The gut-check message is do we have the right balance in our culture….or are we in a position where hero worship and winning at all costs has subordinated our core values?”

- Mark Emmert, NCAA President

NCAA President Mark Emmert has just announced penalties against Penn State University, and those penalties are significant, to say the least. These penalties send a clear message, not just to Penn State but also to the leadership of every university and college. University crisis management must begin today, whether a crisis exists in the public eye or not.

Many colleges and universities are in crisis, but just don’t realize it. It is a crisis of brand messaging, and as higher education changes, having a brand defined solely around athletics will create crises going forward. Again, university crisis management must begin today.

There is no question that college athletics play a significant role at many institutions of higher education, and that’s a good thing. College athletics build character, camaraderie among students and obviously drive real revenue into university coffers.

Many colleges and universities (Stanford, UCLA, Duke, Notre Dame, Michigan, the Ivy’s, and many others) have unrivaled academic and athletic reputations. Many more have reputations based around some recognition of an athletic program. Many of these schools have excellent academic pedigrees that go largely unnoticed outside of their particular region.

Unless a university has the fundraising prowess of Princeton, Notre Dame or a handful of others, having a reputation as a school with decent athletics, and largely unknown or unrecognized academics will be devastating. State funding continues to dry up, and most of us were not college athletes.

What colleges and universities need to think about today:

1. Take Mark Emmert’s advice – Do a true internal “opposition research” investigation into your own programs – see what would appear in the face of a crisis. It is much easier to prepare now than to respond in the maelstrom of events, as we have just witnessed;

2. Take Political Science 101 – Most colleges and universities have a political science department. What many colleges and universities are missing is campaign experience, outside of fundraising. Learn from successful political campaigns. This will help a college to…

3. Spread the word – about your successes, your top programs, what they mean to the community, what they mean to each and every one of us as individuals, and what they mean to society at large;

4. Sum up your social good – Colleges and universities do tremendous social good, but often have a hard time quantifying it en masse. This is where message development strategy is crucial;

5. Diversify – Penn State is no different from a number of great academic institutions where an athletic program doesn’t just overshadow academic reputation, it eclipses it. Athletic programs bring in lots of revenue, so this is not an issue, until it is. For Penn State, it is. An issue worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That won’t put PSU out of business….but for some others it would mean the doors are closed for good.

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Penn State Crisis Management: What to Do Now

* As seen on

The Freeh Report, released this week, was gut wrenching to read.

Penn State has a crisis management problem, caused by the actions of one man and the inaction of many men. The actions, and the report, are a crisis management issue for more than a football program and a board.

It affects hundreds of thousands of people who have been, are or will be associated with the University, and have nothing to do with the football program.

What Penn State can do today:

Clean House – Time will work in Penn State’s favor, but the clock doesn’t start until it has been reset. It is only reset when every person associated with this travesty is out of the public eye.

Re-frame – The University cannot redefine the crisis, change its (flawed) crisis management strategy of the past year or eliminate future stories.

What the University can do is begin to continue to communicate what Penn State is about, outside of athletics. Using those top professors and faculty members to serve as spokespersons for what Penn State has meant to society (in terms of (non monetary) contributions alumni and faculty have made) will be very beneficial in the long term.

Focus on the Future – In this crisis, and even with the flawed crisis management plan, Penn State University has an opportunity – an opportunity to redefine what it means to be associated with a University with countless positive attributes that has educated tens of thousands of Nittany Lions and sent them into the working world.

A targeted communication campaign spreading this message, not just within the Alumni community but also in every community, would be very effective.

Spread the Word – Did you know that Penn State University is the top producer of Fulbright Scholars in the country? How about the fact that it has a variety of science, social science, education and engineering programs that rank among the Top Ten in the Nation?

Neither did I – and that is a problem.

Diversify – Penn State is no different from a number of great academic institutions where an athletic program doesn’t just overshadow academic reputation, it eclipses it. Athletic programs bring in lots of revenue, so this is not an issue, until it is. For Penn State, it is.

PSU should spend some endowment wealth to run simultaneous campaigns around the institution’s top academic programs. This will not only increase national recognition for individual programs, over time it will re-frame how the University is recognized – the great news is that PSU already has strong academics – it is just a matter of making sure that the word is out….everywhere.

Effective crisis management is not easy. A plan with components like this takes a long time, a lot of dedication and patience, but it will pay off.

FYI…this last point can apply to a number of institutions of higher education.

You may not believe you are in crisis right now, but if your reputation is completely encapsulated in your sports program, you are.

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