The Crisis Trifecta – Responding to Challenges on Campus

Safety is a priority for administrators on college campuses around the country, but it’s impossible to predict when crises will arise with 100 percent certainty. Outbreaks of disease, cybersecurity issues, potentially violent protests, and other campus security concerns may arise with little-to-no warning whatsoever. Even if you have several days or weeks to prepare for the reaction to a controversial speaker or similar challenging event, how do you know that you’ll be prepared to handle it in the moment? How do you successfully address a crisis on campus?

Crisis Trifecta2

The solution may lie in utilizing the “Crisis Trifecta” – internal crisis response teams, an external public relations firm, and crisis management services. The situation on the ground during a crisis can be tense, and it’s easy for vital communication to fall through while administrators are still responding to the task at hand. Pairing external public relations with crisis response and management can help handle public response and, even more importantly, support crisis responders to communicate in clear, concise, and timely ways.

Each of the three parts of the “Crisis Trifecta” plays a major role in helping your campus deal with and recover from a potentially harmful event. When they work together, their strengths create a rock-solid foundation for effective crisis management.

To learn more, see our whitepaper or contact us at jremsik@blmpr.com

Five PR Lessons from Our Halloween Alter-Egos

This Halloween, we wanted to share a few of our favorite costumes and the PR lessons we learned from them. Some of us loved the characters we dressed up as when we were just kids trick-or-treating, while others treasured the costumes from their college days or more recent years. Each of us took a trip down memory lane and realized our Halloween alter-egos taught us some key public relations philosophies.

Family Halloween 1996 001

Cowgirl (Annette): One of my most iconic Halloween looks was my cowgirl costume from 1996 accompanied by my trusted sidekicks, bat boy and Wisconsin Badger football star. Growing up in Wisconsin, it is essential to have a Halloween costume that is versatile and easy to accessorize with warm clothes so you can stay out trick-or-treating for as long as possible. As you can see, I made do by accessorizing my cowgirl look with a stylish winter jacket with mittens tied to the sleeve, just like the cowgirls in the Wild West. The PR lesson I learned is that as a cowgirl, it is important to create strategies to avoid the bull! A great PR campaign will create seamless strategies to prevent disasters before they happen and avoid the horns of the bull. It also helps to have a strong team, like bat boy and football star, to back you up along the way!

Hercules

Hercules (A.J.): When I was pretty young, I went as Hercules for Halloween. The real centerpiece of the whole costume was an oversized tan shirt stuffed with more shirts and cotton to make me look super muscular. I’d pose, show off, and flex at every house to get candy! Public relations without strategy is a lot like a stuffed-shirt Hercules – sure, it looks good on the surface, but down below it’s just fluff and filler. Strategy is the key component to building real PR muscle that both looks great and gives you an actual foundation to build and grow on!

Katie Dalmatian Costume

One of the 101 Dalmatians (Katie): I thought my 101 Dalmatians costume was the coolest thing when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I wore it three years in a row. At the time, I didn’t think about how I was just one Dalmatian puppy out of 101! In PR, we often are one of 101+ pitches reporters receive. At Bottom Line, we go above and beyond to make sure our “spots” are just unique enough to catch the eyes of media. We tailor our pitches to each specific publication and reporter so our client’s story is THE ONE reporters choose to tell, instead of one that is overlooked among the hundreds. 

Robot (Jeffrey): Think of the robot in the Lost in Space TV series… “Danger, Will Robinson!” I took two different sizes of card board boxes, painted grey: one for the body and a smaller one for the head. I wrapped my arms and legs in aluminum foil and painted a pair of my mom’s dress gloves grey as well. I thought the coolest part of my costume was the slot and chute I had cut into the body of the costume, which was connected to a paper bag I had taped to the inside. You pulled on the slot, and it opened to drop the Halloween treats into. The candy then slid easily down into the paper bag. This reminded me of how we always have an interesting package for the pitches we send reporters on behalf of our clients, and how we make it easy for the reporter to do his or her job.

Madge the Palmolive LadyMargaret Madge Costume“Madge” the Palmolive Lady (Margaret): My favorite Halloween costume came to me in college, after I acquired the nickname “Madge.” At the time, there was a commercial for Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid, and Madge the manicurist had her customers soak their hands in a bowl filled with it and told them, “You’re soaking in it.” One trip to the local Goodwill and I had my costume—a blue polyester dress (with “Madge” written on in Sharpie), white shoes, a brown short wig and a bottle of Palmolive. Some 30 years later, Palmolive is still a successful brand. At Bottom Line, we don’t leave you soaking. We use tried and true strategy, and if needed, we’ll hold your hand throughout the process, to get great results.

What was your favorite Halloween costume? What PR lesson did it teach you? Don’t be scared to let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @BLMPRmke.

How to Win Friends and Make Placements: Best Practices in Talking to Media

Media connections

In an ever-evolving world of social media, influencers, and content marketing, it can sometimes feel like traditional media is going the way of the dinosaurs. No one really reads the newspaper, do they? Don’t they just use Facebook or Twitter for news? PR professionals shouldn’t discount the impact that traditional media outlets continue to have, though, or the ways they’ve adapted. Your local cable news channel, paper, or radio station likely has an entire online section and a strong social media presence. And that’s not even mentioning the way that national outlets like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times are keeping themselves relevant through Twitter, Medium, and other platforms like Snapchat.

Traditional media is still a vital tool in any public relations strategy, and therefore media gatekeepers can often be overwhelmed or put off by contact from PR practitioners. Reporters and editors can receive hundreds of simple, impersonal pitches every day. When it comes to getting a pitch read and picked up, indiscriminately sending it out to random reporters you barely know is not the best approach. This kind of “spray and pray” method of PR will return a few hits, but nothing worth turning anyone’s head.

In modern PR, it’s important to establish a working relationship with the media contacts you want to run your stories. Getting to know reporters, editors, and publishers increases your chances of getting a pitch picked up, and contacts who like you are more likely to help you craft a compelling, impactful story. Establishing a rapport with your media contacts can lead to more placements, better exposure, and an easier pitching process. Never discount the power of making friends.

Here are a few of our best practices to turn media contacts into friends and earn better placements.

Do Your Research

Media personalities are easy to research, there should be no excuse for not looking into a reporter or editor’s background before reaching out to them. In the world of social media and connectivity, almost all media contacts will have social media profiles. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles are great places to understand what your contact is passionate about. What about their work gets them excited? What outside of their work? Doing research can help you make connections with your contacts that will make interactions more natural and less forced for both of you.

In addition, research the media outlet where your contact works. Look at the things they’ve written and their beat. What other topics have they covered? What about the other writers on that beat? Get a handle on how they write and what they prefer to write about to help you better tailor your pitch to their style and preferences.

Make First Contact

Reach out to your target contact via email or phone, but don’t let your communication become just another in a crowd of overwhelming noise. Respect your contact by keeping your pitch brief, friendly, and tailored to his or her interests and focus. If you leave a voicemail, make sure it’s short and to the point – avoid rambling!

What’s the Story?

After making contact, be careful not to pester your contact too much. With a strategic approach, your personalized pitch will break through the noise and catch their attention right away. However, reporters still deal with numerous pitches every day, and sometimes your message may get lost in the crush. As a rule of thumb, wait roughly a week before sending a follow-up email or phone call.

Through your research and follow-up, you’ll be able to get in contact with the reporter or editor you’re interested in speaking to. If and when this happens, it’s important to make the conversation about them. Sell the story in the context of their interests. Why will it matter to their audience? You can have the most exciting angle in the world, but if it only matters to you, it will never run.

Keep in Touch

You did it! A reporter or editor, impressed by your relevant pitch and friendly demeanor, picked up your story! It’s time to celebrate!

Don’t move on too quickly, however. The best way to maintain a good working relationship with media contacts is to send them a quick thank you after the story runs. Make sure the reporter knows this story wasn’t a one-and-done deal, and promise to come back to them with story ideas in the future. Even a small “thank you and keep in touch” message will help you stand out from the crowd and give you a better chance at getting regular placements in your outlets of choice.

Interested in learning more about our media relations best practices and results? With years of experience backing up our strategies, we’ll work with you to develop a personalized media relations plan that will help get your pitches noticed and your articles placed. Give us a call, and start making friends!

Top 3 Reasons to Use Focus Groups

What are you doing and why are you doing it? These are the two questions that must be answered before you start any project, and all the answers can be found by looking at your target audiences. If you don’t know what they want, you’re not going to make it very far.

Luckily, you don’t have to be telepathic to find out what your audience is thinking!

Third-party facilitated focus groups allow companies to have open eyes, ears and mind when it comes to gauging external and internal opinions about their brand, products and/or services.

We’ve had clients pursue focus groups before launching a variety of marketing projects—product launch, employee engagement campaign, brand assessment, direct mail push and more. We’d love to go into the details of each of these projects, but to keep it brief, we’ve narrowed it to down to our three biggest reasons for using focus groups:

1. Your Customers

When customers look at your brand, what do they see? What words do they associate with the products or services you offer? To answer questions like these, a focus group can be vital. Key takeaways from customer focus groups, such as the words and concepts they most associate with your brand, show how customers perceive your brand’s identity. If your messaging is off, a customer focus group is sure to reveal that blind spot.

Focus groups also can be a great tool in gauging customer satisfaction. The discussions that arise from such groups allow for plenty of nuance – what are customers satisfied with? What aren’t they satisfied with? Do you only have little fixes to make, or is it time for a larger strategic change?

Ultimately, all of these questions force you to think about the main issue that customer focus groups can help you tackle: gaps between your internal and external perspectives. Too often, we can get immersed in a workplace bubble, always focused on our opinions and how we perceive our messaging. It doesn’t matter what we like, however, if our customers don’t respond to it. Focus groups can help find places where brand strategy and messaging isn’t resounding with your audience and help to bring the internal and external together, creating noticeably stronger messaging.

2. Your Employees

Remember the need to keep messaging consistent and understandable internally and externally? Your customers are a great indicator of what’s working in the public eye, but you can’t neglect how your messages play to an internal audience as well.

Employees are ambassadors for your brand at all times. And, satisfied employees create a great reputation for your company both on and off the clock.

Focus groups, led by a member of your HR or marketing team, or better yet by an impartial third-party representative like someone from Bottom Line, can draw out opinions from employees they’d be reticent to share in one-on-one sessions or regular business meetings. Discussions from these groups can give you an honest assessment of job satisfaction across your workplace and help identify trouble spots.

Just like customer focus groups can identify gaps between internal and external communications, employee focus groups can help employers find gaps between leadership and frontline perspectives. Without feedback from employees, leadership can get isolated in a feedback loop, only listening to the perspectives of other members of the leadership team. Don’t leave frontline employees out of the process—use a focus group to gain valuable insight, keeping them happy and making your brand stronger.

3. Your Public Perception

Internal and external communications are vital to monitor to know how customers and employees see your brand, but equally important is understanding how the public eye sees—or doesn’t see—your brand. When it comes to growth and awareness, public perception of your brand identity is vital.

Focus groups can help you manage your reputation in the market and better understand what attracts people to your brand or what’s pushing them away. Only focusing on the customers you already have can lead to stagnation and even loss of sales—focus groups can keep you up-to-date on what others see in your brand.

 

Want to stop guessing at what your target audiences are thinking? Contact the Bottom Line team to set up the focus group(s) your company needs.  

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.