Mission Critical

Crisis response improves when PR and crisis management teams partner

Partnership in teams is important.

Communications plays a key role in crisis. However, PR professionals aren’t the only ones on the team. During large-scale disasters, we often work side-by-side with crisis management experts who handle the support call centers and on-the-ground response for those affected. The way these two roles—communications and crisis response—interact and work together is a determining factor in successfully managing a crisis. 

Preparedness

It’s essential for both communications and crisis management to have a seat at the planning table. Each brings invaluable insights in three areas:

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 institutions 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.

Evaluating Resources: Balancing Internal Expertise with Outside Perspectives

You also can help your colleagues make realistic assessments about whether to engage outside resources during a crisis. In the wake of 9/11, businesses built up their crisis management and business continuity departments. However, since then, those departments have shrunk to only one or two people—not enough to handle a potentially large-scale disaster. Ideally, companies and campuses should examine their internal support options, and then determine how to outsource appropriately for either communications, crisis management or both.

When evaluating resources, remember that internal employees will likely not be operating at 100 percent in the face of a company-wide disaster. Engaging an outside firm can help maintain calm and perspective. We saw the importance of this in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Amid Crisis

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. Understanding your audience is essential, and a strong partnership with crisis management people can give you a deeper glimpse into audience perceptions, attitudes and behaviors at that precise moment.

Through their call center or face-to-face interactions, crisis response teams can offer insights about how to match message tone with what audiences are going through emotionally. 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

So, you’ve developed fantastic messages, but how do you get them out? And how do you handle the influx of questions that’s sure to follow?

Most in-house PR or crisis departments aren’t staffed to handle large call volumes. This is where an outside crisis management firm can bring huge advantages through experience and capacity.

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.

Engaging crisis management also is a good way to ensure that the support doesn’t disappear a few days after the event. Crisis call centers often remain active for months or years following a disaster. For example, more than a decade later, our partner, FEI Behavioral Health, still manages the crisis line for families affected by 9/11. Though the crisis itself is over, it’s not over for those involved.

Together, communications experts and crisis management professionals can talk people through the worst, connect them with support resources, and help them bounce back more quickly.

FEI Behavioral Health has a 35-year history in enhancing workforce resiliency by offering a full spectrum of solutions, from workplace violence prevention and crisis management to EAP and organizational development. FEI is the nationally known crisis management organization that handles the Sept. 11 call center, as well as crisis preparation for several government agencies. FEI responds to a wide variety of crises, whether it’s a workplace death, plane crash, building damage or a large-scale natural disaster.

For more than 20 years, Bottom Line Marketing and Public Relations has partnered with its clients to provide media relations, strategic planning, government relations, branding, and social media campaigns to create awareness among their target audiences. We have effectively managed communications on behalf of clients during dozens of crises.

Raising Visibility Through Story and Strategy

Most organizations have an innate sense of how to raise their visibility in the market—Find great stories! Tell them! Showcase our differentiators! Reach our audiences! But executing on those concepts takes more than a basic understanding. Here’s how to go deeper to build lasting Story and Strategy for your brand.

Story

Prioritize expanding your toolbox as a writer for better storytelling.

  • Listen first. Engage with your frontline staff and customers. What are the moments that have stuck with them over the last month? The last year? For a story to have real power, it has to be relatable and personal. Traditional PR runs a risk of sounding a bit canned—talking with people helps you dig further.
  • Use narrative structure to your advantage. Good stories have a main character, a set up, a conflict, a climax, and a conclusion. Adding those elements to your organization’s story helps draw in audiences. I could technically tell you about a new piece of healthcare equipment in a news release, but it means more if I share the journey of a little girl whose life it helped to save.
  • Always be seeking new stories. Don’t just tie your story gathering to large initiatives or product launches. Stay in touch with people to mine stories on a regular basis. You’ll build a great internal library and organically create a culture that understands the value of telling your company’s story.

Strategy

  • Find your audience. The best stories in the world don’t mean much if you’re sharing them with an empty room. These days, it’s not enough to know who your audience is; you’ve also got to know where they get their information, which channels they use, and who their influencers are.
  • Think in layers. Crafting a great social campaign might be a good strategy, but it’s probably more honest to say it’s one branch of an even better strategy. Layer your information in a variety of channels and across a variety of times to generate the most awareness.
  • Evaluate and refine. Story-telling is a craft—that means you have to work at it. Assess what did or didn’t generate the results you wanted and be proactive in adjusting for the future.

With these tips in mind, your organization will soon become a pro at marrying Story and Strategy into lasting visibility.

 

The Walking Dead – Reviving Your Social Media Strategy with Agency Help

Recently, an article Arthur Thomas wrote for BizTimes explored how companies end up with “essentially defunct social media pages” – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn profiles that haven’t seen new content in months, maybe even years, but are still linked to the company website.ghost town

An unattended, out-of-date zombie social media account can be dead weight for a company, making it seem behind the times or unengaged with its audiences. However, it’s not always easy to keep up in a fast-paced world of social networks. As Thomas said, “Maybe an intern or someone on your staff set up accounts on every conceivable platform a few years ago,” and now, no one has taken over the task and your Facebook page is a ghost town. 

Bring Life Back Into Your Social Media Strategy

At this point, you may want to throw in the towel and delete your accounts, but there is a way to bring the zombie back to life. PR agencies like Bottom Line are pros at social media strategy and can help you turn that graveyard of a Twitter feed into an active network that will benefit your brand. Here are some of the ways a PR agency can help you maintain active social media accounts:

Picking the Right Channels

In our ever-changing digital landscape, there are social networks to fill every niche, and they won’t all be the perfect fit for your brand. PR agencies can help your company ask important questions about who your audience is and what they like, determining where they’re most likely to see and engage with you. Whether you’re a highly visual real estate development company seeking Instagram strategy or an all-business law firm looking for a rock-solid LinkedIn setup, working with a PR agency can position you where you need to be for your audience.

Setting up Accounts

Creating a social media account isn’t always as simple as typing in your company’s name and calling it a day. Consistent, professional social media management means coordinating consistency in usernames and passwords, having engaging, up-to-date information in any bios or “about” sections, and making sure that the company’s brand is emphasized in all profile and cover photos. These little details all add up to a professional social media presence that your audience can’t help but notice.

Social Media Storeroom

One of our most successful strategies when a client needs help populating their social media feeds with content is the creation of Storeroom and Shopping Cart spreadsheets. These digital tools allow anyone involved in the social media process to drop in ideas for posts or fully fleshed-out posts, respectively, getting the entire team involved in the content creation process. Train experts from all departments of your company to contribute content and your audiences benefit from the knowledge of the whole group.

Day-to-Day Content Management

While it’s great to get your experts involved in coming up with content ideas, sometimes you need a little boost. We have a history of handling clients’ day-to-day social media operations, researching to find relevant articles for them to post, highlighting engaging images to use, responding to and engaging audience members, and tracking necessary metrics to measure performance. With agency help, a zombie page turns into an active, thriving network audiences will want to return to day after day to check out your new content.

Campaigns

The gem of any social media strategy, campaigns use everything in the social media toolbox to create a highly-visible series of posts centered on a topic, product, or piece of news. With the amount of advance planning, design work, and preparation required, PR agency assistance can mean the difference between a flop and a truly successful campaign.

Help from a PR agency can make all the difference between a staggering zombie social media account and an engaging, professional page that will excite your audience into learning more. Dust off the cobwebs and start getting the results you want out of your social media strategy!

Learning by Teaching

When you’ve been in an industry for several years, you start to feel like you’ve seen most of the situations you’ll face on a daily basis—or at least variations of them. That’s when learning to teach your knowledge to others can lend a new perspective. Here’s how we’ve benefited from that principle at Bottom Line:

  • There’s value in explaining a task out loud. Think about your daily work. When was the last time you had to voice step by step instructions about it? Could you do it? Talking it through out loud can help identify gaps or areas to improve efficiency.
  • Beginners ask questions you’ve forgotten to consider. They also don’t worry about questioning the status quo or ingrained processes. It’s fun and refreshing to hear their thoughts.
  • It provides new appreciation for delegating and editing. In a teaching scenario, the teacher has a vested interest in helping the learner. That means you take care in delegating or editing, and are thoughtful in your reasoning rather than rushing through it to reach the next item on your to-do list.
  • It reminds you why you love it! Seeing your work through the eyes of a new person in the industry often shines the light on why you were drawn to this career in the first place. It’s a wonderful feeling!

How do you incorporate opportunities for teaching into your day job?

Making the most of your TV interview

The media is inundated with stories, yet reporters are always looking for good content. If you’ve got a great story to tell or an upcoming event to promote, with broad reach, chances are a TV reporter will be interested. If you’re lucky enough to be invited on a newscast to talk about your story or event, it’s important to make the most out of your 1.5 minutes of fame.

To capture the attention of the audience, a little prep work is in order before pulling into the TV station parking lot. Begin by researching the reporter and TV show or newscast. Take a look at social media and get a feel for the reporter or station’s style. Learn something new about the reporter and be ready to discuss prior to going live on air. It will help break the ice and make both of you more relaxed. Does the reporter post pictures of children or pets on his or her Twitter account? You might mention, “Hey, I saw some photos on your Twitter feed of cute kids. Are those your children?” Besides giving the reporter a chance to talk about him/herself, it lets them know you cared enough to do some research.

Often interviewees are unsure of where to look. When it’s time to go live, don’t worry about the camera. Instead, look at the person interviewing you. You’ll be more at ease if you pretend it’s just you and the reporter having a conversation as if you’re in a coffee shop. The more relaxed you look, the more the viewers will want to continue to watch. If the interview includes several people or a panel, look at the person speaking. Remember, the camera can pan out and capture the group, so always be camera ready!

What to wear is an important question whether you’re on TV or not! Have you ever watched the 10 p.m. news and the anchor’s tie or jacket catches your attention? If it seems to be moving and fuzzy, it’s not your eyes. Chances are the fabric has a small pattern. Checks, houndstooth and sometimes stripes cause the clothing item to dance or move. To get the viewer to focus on you and listen to what you’re saying, it’s best to wear solid, dark clothing. A white shirt and tie are great for a corporate meeting, but on camera it’s too stark. Consider a blue or other solid colored shirt instead. Women who wear dresses or skirts should consider the length and be mindful of how they sit in the chair. Cross your feet at the ankle and tilt your legs to one side. Remember Mia in the Princess Diaries?!

PD

If your interview is not in-studio, put some consideration into your location and backdrop. If you’re conducting an interview about highway funding, it might seem like a good idea to stand in front of a highway or stretch of road that will be impacted. Don’t do it. The noise and the traffic will be loud and distracting. When you’re ready to do an out of studio interview, it’s a good idea to turn around to see what’s behind you. The right backdrop can help tell the story. If you have a positive story to tell, try to position yourself in front of your company logo. If the news is not so great, avoid it.

Practice makes perfect, and the more you can review your talking points, the more comfortable you’ll be. Pay attention to your hand gestures, which can be a distraction. Body language is important too, so remember what your mom said about sitting up straight!

Additional advance work for the TV station:

  • A few days before the interview, provide the producer or reporter with the name, title, and company name of the person who will be interviewed so they can prepare a graphic to display on screen. Include any other important information (i.e., website, event location address, hours, phone number) to be displayed on screen.
  • Video footage or still images can be used on air during the interview if provided in advance. 
  • Ask where to park and what door to use. If you’re doing a 5:45 a.m. interview for the morning news, be sure to ask if the door will be unlocked.
  • Get the number of the producer or another staff member in case of a last-minute emergency.
  • After the interview, monitor the TV station website and social media for a link to the story, which you can reshare on your own social media.

You know your story better than anyone else, and with a little thought, planning and practice, you’ll come off as a media expert. If you’d like to learn more about prepping for an interview, give us a call. We’re experts at conducting media and spokesperson training, including a videotaped before and after mock interview and critique session, which participants find most helpful. Stay tuned for a future follow up post on how to stay on message during the interview.

PR Bracket Challenge – The Results!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our 2017 PR Bracket Challenge. We got great feedback from our clients and fellow marketing professionals.

Click on the images to watch the unveiling of the winners!

Bracket Challenge 2017 PR Focus

Bracket Challenge 2017 PR PartnerTrue to our brand—strategy seems to be king.

When asked, “What’s your biggest PR focus this year?” most responded strategic communications and digital, web & social, with strategic communications coming out on top.

As for our other “Final Four” bracket—“What’s the most important trait in a PR partner?”—the results were pretty even, but relationships with the team and strategic counsel pulled off the win and moved forward to the semi-finals. It was a close one, but like the first bracket, strategy ended up winning it all, with strategic counsel being crowned the champion.

Hope everyone enjoys cheering on the teams in that OTHER match-up today! And, if you’re looking for a partner in strategic planning or strategic communications, give us a call. 

PR Bracket Challenge—What are Your Picks?

In honor of March Madness, we decided to put together a little bracket challenge of our own. Instead of the typical office pool to see which of us has superior college basketball knowledge (aka luck), we designed a public relations bracket competition.

We’re asking our clients, fellow PR pros, friends and YOU to decide what PR services move forward in each of the two “Final Fours” below:

Bracket Challenge 2017 PR FocusBracket Challenge 2017 PR Partner

Join in on the fun and let us know your “picks” by: 

  • Emailing our Public Relations Specialist & Social Media Manager Katie Koeppel at kkoeppel@blmpr.com
  • Or, sending us a tweet @BLMPRmke
  • Or, messaging us your predictions on LinkedIn
  • Or, simply commenting below!

We’ll be sharing the results on our blog and social media pages next week—stay tuned!

Make it Easy for Customers to Choose YOU

We are in the midst of strategic planning with a couple of our healthcare clients. It’s easy at this stage to get lost in the process details. That’s especially true for us because we are all about the process and the facilitation. Our role is help craft a process and then support the client to conclusion. We tell our clients, “We don’t this to you. We come along aside on the journey,” providing guidance and tools to make it efficient, directional and productive. The visual below outlines our six-step planning process.

strategic planning visual

As I was sitting in my office the other night working on the details of the process, I thought it was a good time to step back and reflect on a big picture question or two. I recalled a discussion during a recent planning session about the differences between a patient and a customer. Patients come to us to have things done to them. Customers make choices about what, when, where and how they get stuff. As you might imagine, it was interesting dialogue between the clinicians and the marketing director.

In today’s increasingly consumer-driven healthcare space, how do you encourage the customer to choose you? What is it that makes for loyal customers?

In healthcare, there are eight steps any effective system can take to engender customer loyalty: Make it easy for me to…

  1. Find your providers with locations that are convenient and have the same look and feel
  2. Get in the door so it’s important to work on access, both physical and virtual
  3. Find what I need once I get in the door by guiding me along the way
  4. Understand the why, what, when where and how I go about getting what I need
  5. Know what it will cost me for what I’m getting, not just one or two parts
  6. Know what I need to do to ensure a good outcome because I assume you provide only high quality care
  7. Pay for what I got, not just one or two parts of it 30 to 60 days after the fact
  8. Get and provide feedback on my experience so I know what to do next and you know how I feel about the whole thing

Maybe that’s what the strategic plan should focus on: making sure we have the talent and resources to execute flawlessly on these eight steps. It’s hard to have loyal customers if you don’t make it easy for them to be your customers. Just like culture trumps strategy any day, ease trumps loyalty.

How easy do you make it for customers to choose and do business with you? 

Mission Critical – 5 Steps to Help Your Company Get Back on its Feet

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.

Readying for “Repeal & Replace” in Healthcare Communications

Recent moves from the Trump Administration underscore the importance and volatility of the ACA debate for healthcare leaders and consumers alike. What’s less clear are the potential scenarios for “repeal and replace,” and how and when they might become reality. To help your team stay prepared, we put together the below infographic that visually captures a few possible paths the president and Congress might take—and a few they likely won’t.

Whatever the outcome, good communications strategy will help ease the transition for patients, providers and insurers. At Bottom Line, healthcare’s our business. We helped systems navigate the widespread communications needs when the ACA first passed, including advice on:

  • Making information visual and easy to understand for healthcare consumers
  • Personalizing the impact by using avatar stories to share examples for various consumer ages and audiences
  • Proactively gathering common questions and resources to share with consumers

Now, we stand ready to help communicate whatever the next wave of changes brings.

ACA Repeal & Replace