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

Practicing What We Preach in a Crisis

Last month, we experienced something we often help our clients navigate – a crisis. A water heater pipe burst in the office above us and water poured into the Bottom Line space, soaking our carpets and damaging our ceilings, walls and equipment.

office after flood

office cieling after flood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily, our expertise in communications and crisis management helped Bottom Line get back on its feet in no time. In just two days after discovering our flooded office, we’d successfully moved into a temporary office, showing no change in our client interactions and project execution.

temporary office

Here are the five key rules we followed to make it happen—the same five rules we use when helping clients deal with a crisis situation:

  1. Acknowledge what has happened. After our President and CEO Jeffrey Remsik discovered the flood, he avoided the freeze, flight or fight reaction that often occurs in times of crisis, and instead took immediate, well-planned next step. He contacted the building owners, got the facts of the situation and outlined an action plan.
  2. Communicate immediate next steps. Actions speak louder than words—that is why we made sure we had potential temporary office locations when we told employees and clients about the problem.
  3. Communicate consistently and demonstrate action. All along the way, we kept employees informed of next steps and the timeline for returning back to our office. It was clear our top priority was to protect the health, safety and welfare of our employees.
  4. Provide multiple opportunities and channels to capture feedback. For two weeks after the flood, we facilitated daily check-ins with employees for them to ask questions, and to ensure the temporary office was working well and that they had everything they needed to meet client expectations. 
  5. Ask for help. The key to survival in a crisis is knowing where to go for the right kind of help – the earlier, the better. We were sure to reach out to our attorney, the building’s maintenance staff and the building owners to ensure a smoother, faster return to normalcy.

Click here to learn about another crisis we’ve managed. 

Use Media Training to “Build Bench Strength”

We are finalizing a media training session for senior executives at one of our clients. It reminded me that training is one aspect, albeit very important. Equally important is picking the right trained spokesperson and that really depends upon the situation.

Many companies tend to have two extremes in selecting spokespeople. Some always send out the public relations person, while others insist that only the CEO speak. Neither of these rules works well all the time. Sometimes the top PR person is great. Sometimes the CEO is best. In many cases, neither is the best choice.

When I worked as a reporter, I generally wanted to talk to the person closest to the story I was covering. If a hospital announced a new procedure, I wanted to speak to a front-line doctor or a patient, much more so than the PR person or the CEO. If the news report is about a non-profit agency doing good work, I wanted to talk with a volunteer, not the executive director. If there is an explosion or fire, I wanted to talk to an eye witness or front-line supervisor. The closer I got as a reporter to the person closest to the story, the happier I was and the better story I could write.

This means that when it comes to media training, you need to use the same principle that a great sports team uses. You must train and build bench strength. This gives your organization a larger number of spokespersons to send forth. The key is identifying them and providing training that allows them to be confident and ready when the need arises.

Once you’ve got the bench trained and ready, ask these questions when choosing a spokesperson.

1. Is this person technically qualified? A lot of qualifications are tied to job titles, but titles are not always key. Don’t automatically assume your CEO or top executive should be your spokesperson, especially in times of crisis. Instead, you want someone who can step in as the face of your organization if necessary. Who the spokesperson is at any given time depends on that person, the message that needs to be communicated and the audience who needs to receive it.

2. Can this person provide factual information accurately and quickly? The person you choose needs to have knowledge of the information needed and access to that information.

3. Does this person have the communication ability/authority to speak without rehearsing? You want your spokesperson to be able to rehearse, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. There are times (during a crisis, for example) when your spokesperson will have to speak at press conferences or in media interviews with little time for preparation. Be sure your spokesperson can speak intelligently and directly on the fly, if necessary.

4. Will this person present information in a clear, concise and competent manner? You want a spokesperson who is articulate, who can communicate key points without adding a lot of extra information and jargon.

5. Will the public understand the situation by listening to this person? Your spokesperson should be able to communicate what happened that led to this point, what’s happening now and what’s next in a way that your key audiences can understand.

6. Does this person communicate concern for people in a clear, compassionate manner? Some people are more compassionate than others. Some people just have a difficult time communicating concern and compassion without coming across flat. If this is the type of information you need communicated, you want to make sure your spokesperson can handle it without sounding like a jerk.

7. Do people trust this person? Whether your target audiences will trust your spokesperson is directly related to vocal quality, confidence and appearance. Like it or not, people will decide immediately whether they think your spokesperson knows what he/she is talking about. Think about whether you would trust your spokesperson if he/she were a stranger delivering this news to you.

8. Does this person want to be a spokesperson? You really shouldn’t force someone into the spokesperson role. If an individual isn’t comfortable representing your organization, then they are not the right person for the job. Choose someone else.

9. Is this person good with the medium required? Your spokesperson represents your organization in a lot of different scenarios. It may be in front of a large crowd, a small group or in a face-to-face interview with a reporter. Understand which medium is required and which spokesperson is best at that medium.

Speaking with the news media represents an excellent opportunity to tell your company’s story, if you get it right. If you get it wrong, your company’s reputation and brand can be damaged permanently. With a strong bench of trained spokespeople, you’ll be prepared for most situations with the best spokesperson to tell your best stories. Call us if you want to learn more about building some spokesperson bench strength at your organization.

Crisis Communications 101

No matter the size of your business, it’s smart to have a communications plan for when a crisis occurs. Thanks to the news, it seems there is a crisis occurring every day, everywhere and it’s in your best interest to be prepared if it does.

The first thing to remember when dealing with any type of crisis is to get the facts straight. Be thoughtful and accurate and follow-up with new information as it becomes available. Once you have that down, you can start to look into how you are actually going to communicate this information.

There are several ways to communicate about what is happening at your business. Social media, TV and radio, and text messaging help spread information as quickly as possible, or are good channels for clarifying a message in the event of confusion.

Depending on the severity of the crisis, someone from your organization may be asked to speak to the media to give updates. Choose a predesignated “face” of the company, and train him or her on how to respond to media questions and how to control their emotions, especially when on camera.

Even with previous training, it is important to do a quick refresher session with your PR specialist before going on camera during any crisis. Training is one thing; doing it live in front of multiple reporters is a whole new level.

Depending on the circumstances of your crisis, using social media and text messaging is effective in spreading news to a high volume of the public at frenzied pace. If your crisis is something you can handle without involving the media or does not affect the general public, social media is not a resource to use. But if your crisis can affect the health and well-being of the general public it is a great way to disperse information.

Social media can be used to your advantage because during a crisis you want your information in the hands of as many people as quickly as possible. The key element is your information. The more time you take in relaying information, the far greater the chance is of false information making its way out to the public.

The best option is to draft a few messages pre-scripted for each crisis scenario ready to be released. This makes it easier to use small tweaks in the midst of a crisis while keeping your focus on the bigger picture. The last thing you want to do is to confuse people further by sending out inconsistent messaging or saturating social media with message after message.

You probably already have a social media presence, but using a hashtag to go along with your social media posts will make it easier for people to gather information specifically about the crisis.  Use social media to let people know there is a situation, what you’re doing to resolve it, and where people should go for safety. This will not only help during the crisis, but also will build trust with your organization.

No matter the resources you use to communicate during a crisis the most important aspect is to get the information out to the community. Creating a solid crisis communications plan prior to an event will only make things easier for your business. 

Easy Recipe for Making Decisions

I’ve told my kids that the way to manage a household is to address needs in the priority order of the Three Ps: People first, pets second, plants last.

It’s seemed to work for our family (of course it helped that we never had a pet!)

Making marketing communications decisions is often a more complex business. In crisis situations, for example, you need to account for many moving parts. In messaging decisions, personalities, politics and positioning come into play. In planning decisions, time and budget constraints often require a delicate balance. How can you make an efficient decision, so you can move forward effectively? There’s no one recipe that works every time, but a few key ingredients usually produce a good result.  

1. Mission comes first. When weighing options, put them up against the organization’s mission or the project’s goal. If they don’t align, you’ve got more work to do.

2. Know your audience or customers and be true to his/her/their needs. The art of decision-making in communications requires the marriage of the message you want to share with the needs of your audience.

3. Say out loud what you’re thinking, to someone else. Do the gut check. Be open to honest feedback. It helps every time.

4. Follow the logical progression. Think beyond the moment. “If I do this, what might result next, and next?” Taking the long view might give you a different immediate perspective.

5. Be true to yourself, and let go if you have to. There are times when there’s no one, right decision. Accept it and move on. There are other times when you’ll be over-ruled, or even when you’re unhappy about a decision someone else makes. That’s when you really need to exercise good judgment and decide to release the outcome. You’ll be calmer, and the work will advance regardless.

It’s not as easy as deciding to make dinner now and water the plants tomorrow, I know. But by keeping in mind this mix of decision-making ingredients, you’re more likely to avoid a half-baked result in favor of an informed, defensible decision.  

Social Media Crisis

Most of the time, social media consists of lively, fast-paced conversation with your audiences. Fun and pithy, sprinkled with photos and quotes that capture the spirit of your business. When a crisis strikes, however, social media can become at once a scary mess and a vital tool in your company’s disaster management plan.

But don’t just take our word for it!

Our client, FEI Behavioral Health, is a leader in crisis management, including how to monitor and leverage social media. Together, we’ve placed several articles on the topic over the years. Here’s the one that kicked it off:

How Social Media Can Help and Not Hinder During a Crisis

Five Rules for Any Crisis Situation

Crisis situations have many faces.  They present themselves at different times and in varying ways.  They can come in as a small problem and, if mismanaged, escalate into a mission critical disaster. Some begin as explosive disasters that immediately cripple an organization, while others hang around like a bad virus and kill after a lengthy and unpleasant illness.

While the specific nature of the crisis dictates your response, we follow five key rules when helping clients deal with any crisis situation:

First, acknowledge what has happened. Most people are willing to accept the fact that mistakes happen. What they won’t tolerate is you failing to recognize it. You may not know why 150,000 gallons of #2 crude is now in the backyards of 35 homes, but it is there for all to see.

Second, quickly, clearly and accurately communicate the immediate steps you have taken to deal with the situation. People want to know what you are doing now to fix the problem you created. Actions speak louder than words.

Third, communicate consistently and demonstrate that you will take additional steps to deal with situation as it unfolds. People want to know that you’re going to be around to help them deal with the fallout of your mistake. Again, actions speak louder than words.

Fourth, and perhaps most mission critical, provide multiple opportunities and channels to capture the feedback from those affected by the situation. People really want to let you know how your mistake has changed their lives as much as they want to know what you’re doing about it. Regular feedback also is essential to assessing and understanding how your messages and actions are being received by those affected. The quantity, tone and intensity of feedback helps guide your on-going communications and actions going forward.

Fifth, the key to survival in a crisis is knowing where to go for the right kind of help – the earlier, the better.  Get the extra help you need from your attorneys, public relations firm or other consultants to ensure a positive outcome.

Utilizing a Threat Matrix to Plan for a Crisis

We recently presented at a meeting of the Association of Fundraising Professionals about crisis management and communications. It was the third session of a four-part series on “Essential Strategies for Effective Non-profit Communications.” The group really engaged with the topic, and we had good discussion.

 Many expressed concern about the time and costs involved in developing a crisis communications plan. We’ve certainly learned a number of lessons in our crisis work, most notably:

  • You can’t plan for every possible crisis situation
  • It is unlikely that every possible crisis will occur

The question then becomes: how do we know what to plan for? Using the Bottom Line Threat Matrix Process, we showed how each organization can identify its own “Most-likely and Most-damaging” crisis scenarios. With this information in hand, it’s possible to focus your time and resources more effectively in the planning process.

Warning Signs Missed or Ignored

As our group discussed, sometimes warning signs are noticed, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes, they are ignored altogether.

Warning signs occur all the time in business. Manageable problems that exist today are tomorrow’s crisis if ignored or worked around.  The successful leader has a mindset to recognize the organization’s vulnerabilities as warning signs that have the potential to grow into costly crisis situations.  The key to a winning organization is identifying vulnerabilities and assessing whether they are small problems easily managed or potential combustibles ready to ignite at the smallest provocation. 

Crisis situations usually result from the simple day-to-day work performed in an organization.  They can occur through management mistakes that build up over a long period of time, or by only one slip-up that causes extreme damage to the organization.

Some crises are difficult to predict and foresee.  However, most crisis situations are preceded by an incident, a mistake, or a telltale sign that can tip you off to disaster before it occurs. The problem is we get too busy and preoccupied with the day-to-day tasks to take the time to put out the brush fire before it erupts into an inferno.  The warning signs either goes unheeded or are ignored in favor of something more pressing or easier with which to deal.

Essence of Crisis Management

Warning signs are recognized through discipline and perspective. This is the essence of crisis management. It includes being aware of potential problems and vulnerabilities that creep into organizations and can erupt into crisis situations.

This is not to suggest that all organizations adopt a more conservative, risk-averse management style. That could cripple innovation. Leaders and managers can be wonderfully innovative and creative when they know that warning signs will be noticed and handled effectively. Risks can be taken successfully in an organization only if the culture includes the discipline and ability to recognize unusual events and address them immediately and competently.

Threat Matrix Process 

One of the best and most thorough ways to prepare is to conduct a comprehensive vulnerabilities analysis. Using the Bottom Line Threat Matrix Process, you can identify the vulnerable areas and the threats that are most likely to occur and would cause the most damage. Management can then develop specific plans to eliminate them, reduce the potential damage and manage the situation effectively by planning in advance.

The Threat Matrix Process includes six strategic steps. We shared our matrix process with attendees. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about how the Bottom Line Threat Matrix Process can help you identify potential risks and develop plans to manage or eliminate those risks. 

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.