Brands Are Promises. Don’t Break Yours.

“Brands, remember, are about meanings. Every brand means something, and nobody can ever really control all the meanings a brand acquires. Brands are ideas. They are a tangle of associations. They are dreams. In the brand-rich environment in which we live, we take their power for granted,” Richard Branson posits in his book, “Business Stripped Bare.”

Everyone, every company has a brand or a reputation. Whether you like or live your brand is one thing. Whether your customer relates and believes in your band is usually a totally different thing.  And beware – if you don’t define what your brand means, someone else will — most likely your competitors.

Whatever your brand stands for, you have to deliver on that promise. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, and deliver everything you promise.

Beyond Informed

Yikes. The new interactive whiteboards really were a good idea – and they were paid for with a special donation. The facilities staff installed them during the summer, removing the old white boards. In a few classrooms, they even took out old chalkboards. They look great, the donor is pleased and the administration is happy to offer this new instructional tool. So why are the teachers frustrated as they show up in August to set up their rooms? Seems no one remembered to tell them about the switch. The most annoyed? Those who don’t have a clue about how to use the new technology and who don’t care to!

Keeping employees informed is a critical, early step in effective public relations. The time-tested adage to start communicating internally before communicating externally is still right on. It’s about more than information sharing, though. It’s really about helping employees feel connected so they are engaged around the brand.

Want those teachers to not only use the new interactive whiteboards, but also tell parents how innovative the district is for installing them? Want the staff in your clinics to answer the phone before the third ring every time because they believe patient access is key to their work of delivering better healthcare? Want workers on the line to not only adapt to new equipment, but also support their team and supervisor during the transition so you can meet more aggressive customer deadlines?

Carrying your brand forward means intentionally engaging employees as part of your culture. Create strategic, positive communication processes. Build those processes into both daily work and initiative planning. Consider what change really means for the employees it most affects. Include not only executive leaders in your planning, but also strategically incorporate key managers and front-line staff. Share frequently and transparently through a variety of channels. Listen as much as you talk. Follow-up, and invite feedback.

By all means, keep employees informed. Then, move beyond. Engage

Mission Critical

So, your company’s experiencing a crisis. All eyes are turned to you. What are you going to do about it? Good communications and crisis management can help your company get back on its feet.

Assessment and Planning: The Value of a Matrix
One of the most helpful assessment tools is a crisis matrix, which organizes potential crises according to their 1) likelihood and 2) potential damage. No one can create a crisis plan to deal with every eventuality. The matrix helps you focus on the most-likely, most-damaging scenarios, and allocate resources accordingly.

Drills and Exercises: Don’t Get Rusty
Many companies put a plan on paper, but never actually practice it. Savvy PR practitioners develop “Crisis Toolkit” templates in advance, which might include a corporate statement or news release, internal and external talking points, Q&As and phone protocols for employees.

Crisis management experts, meanwhile, guide the company in drills and mock scenarios that help clarify roles and responsibilities. We often compare this to fire drills — you want to become familiar with what to do when there is no fire, so you can respond via muscle memory if a fire occurs.

Developing the Message
Most people want three things from communications professionals during a crisis: 1) Acknowledgement of what’s happened, 2) An explanation of what’s being done to address the situation, and 3) A means to provide feedback and ask questions.

Messaging is a great example of why PR and crisis management must work together. While PR is responsible for creating the messages, counselors and crisis responders also use that messaging on the phone or on the ground.

Getting the Message Out
Your company has developed fantastic messages, but how do you get them out? And how do you handle the influx of questions that’s sure to follow?

It’s important to ask who’s going to be the best at delivering a message. Typically, PR people are in the best position to communicate with the media, industry regulators and other internal or external stakeholders, while crisis management teams are better suited to communicate directly with the employees and families involved. Crisis response counselors are trained in how to deliver bad news to families and how to deal with the reaction. That expertise takes the burden off the company.

Dealing with the Aftermath
Sometimes PR professionals make the mistake of thinking their job is done once the crisis has been communicated, but it’s a smart idea to sit down, re-evaluate how the plan worked—or didn’t—and identify the next shoe drops or communication opportunities. It’s also a good way to ensure that support for your customers and employees doesn’t disappear now that the crisis is over.

Crowd-sourcing Your Creative

Remember how people submitted their own Doritos’ commercials for use during the Super Bowl? That same concept is being adopted by a variety of companies these days. It’s called crowd-sourcing, where instead of asking just one agency to develop creative ideas, a client asks dozens (or hundreds!) of people to chime in. Here’s a quick overview so you can see if it’s for you.

In crowd-sourcing, volume is king. If you post a request for creative ideas on social media, you’ll likely get more responses than you know what to do with. There are bound to be a couple great ideas in the mix…and an awful lot of mediocre ones.

Although, crowd-sourcing can be an affordable way to develop creative, there’s also a high cost of time to review all those submissions mentioned above! Places like are experimenting with a pricing strategy that puts a price-tag on the idea itself, separate from the execution.

Voice of the Customer
Since ideas come directly from your customers (or other target audiences), you’ll get a clear understanding of what they think about your product or service, how they’d make it better and the key messages that stand out to them. The tricky thing about crowd-sourcing, though, is that it relies heavily on having a large, already-engaged audience ready to tap into. Smaller companies are often at a disadvantage.

This is the flip side to Voice of the Customer. While it’s important to keep that customer voice visible, it’s also important that any creative ideas tie back to your company’s overall strategy. Crowd-sourced ideas typically don’t make that connection, because the folks submitting ideas don’t have your strategic information at their fingertips.

By its nature, crowd-sourcing means giving up control. There’s a chance you’ll hit on the next brilliant idea…or there’s a chance you won’t find anything at all you want to use. Plus, just because YOU decide not to use certain submissions, doesn’t prevent the people who submitted them from using them on their own anyway. With platforms like YouTube, it’s relatively easy to post messages about your company that you may not be entirely comfortable with.

Sometimes, crowd-sourcing experiments ask people to submit their own fully-developed videos, ads or posters (as opposed to just ideas). That can work well if it’s a fairly simple task. However, the attention to detail and quality of the final product is usually better from an agency or studio that has the proper equipment and budget to get it done.