Archive for the ‘adversity management’ Category

Think Differently When Bad News Hits A Nonprofit

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

crisis-006Generally speaking, those who don’t work in PR or media aren’t particularly interested in what we do, with one notable exception. When something goes wrong, they become very curious.

It’s always interesting to take questions when speaking about crisis communications, whether it’s to a college class, an Optimist Club, a PR conference or a business group. Recently, I had the chance to present to a group of nonprofit leaders convened by the Plante Moran accounting firm on the campus of Lawrence Technological University. Several dozen attended but, reverting to the mentality of their college lecture days, all but very few sat in the back rows of the big auditorium.

When bad news strikes a nonprofit organization, the priorities are often different. Never was this more clear than a situation I helped with a few years ago when a prominent religious organization fired a longtime member of its clergy. The Board Chair’s husband, a corporate executive, had a relationship with a PR firm that worked primarily with manufacturing companies. The Chair and the firm drafted and then sent a letter to members and, despite the fact that this was a deeply emotional situation, it had the level of charm and compassion that only an employment lawyer could embrace. To say the communication fell flat would be an understatement. It helped create misunderstanding and discord that escalated to crisis.

When Board members came to see us for a “second opinion,” we offered a much different approach. Without getting into the complex details (it was a doozy, to say the least), we ended up taking a path, that was ultimately successful, including candor, listening and respect for the organization’s mission. The takeaway here is that for a nonprofit organization to survive “bad news,” the situation must be managed through a different lens than with a corporation or certainly a political scenario. There’s much more to this than can be covered in a blog post and thanks to Plante Moran and Lawrence Tech, you can watch the entire presentation (less than 30 minutes) and the one hour of live Q&A that followed (it was a really good group).

To watch the presentation in its entirety, click here. Spoiler Alert: I don’t rhetorically ask “Right?” after attempting to make a bold point, even once. Thank you for taking a look.

New Business To-Do List Item May Have To Be Taking A Stand

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Once upon a time, say, a few weeks ago, a business could take its time decidingA road sign with the word Choose and arrows pointing left and right whether or not it made sense to take a public stand, internally and/or externally, on a political or social issue. But events of recent weeks prove that you need to be ready now, in case a sensitive issue develops quickly.

In the wake of a White House Executive Order and the subsequent reaction, I had the privilege of representing my Tanner Friedman colleagues talking about these complex and emerging business communications trends with interviews in both the Associated Press and CBS News in recent days, both of which resulted in stories that appeared from coast-to-coast and across the Internet.

Your business now needs to be prepared by having a deeper understanding of your customers than ever before and how they think, feel and react when it comes to your brand and the issues that are in the news. One of our clients recently researched 1300 consumers to get to know their customer better. But even if you can’t spare that type of expense, you should still feel an imperative to know their attitudes about your company, the role it plays in their lives and why they choose your brand. If it comes time to communicate a stance on a politically-charged issue, you and they will know if you’re acting for them in mind.

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Uber, by removing its CEO from a Presidential advisory committee, took into consideration that its customer is younger and more urban than most of America. That affects how the company is viewed in light of that issue. A company targeting rural, older consumers may have made a different decision, based on what is known about public opinion on that and other issues.

The other group to consider is your workforce. Several tech companies, which operate across borders and employ immigrants on work visas, spoke out early against the Order. Other companies less affected first-hand chose the same course after making a decision based on values. Many companies, of course, have chosen to stay quiet, not wanting to get into this mix and upset anyone.

Regardless of the decision a company chooses, events of recent weeks have proven that these decisions may have to be made quickly, without the luxury of long deliberation between executives, PR counsel, government affairs and lawyers. Regardless of the size of your business, it’s something every company should be thinking about now. How do looming government decisions affect our company and our workforce?

If you’re worried about taking a risk, one way or the other, think of the companies that risked ridicule from the President of the United States. Think of your customers and employees. Do they expect you to take a side? As I told the AP in another story this week, “No company has gone out of business putting their customers and employees first.”

Mayor Jim Fouts in Crisis: If He Did It, He Should Admit It

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

img This morning I appeared on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Charlie Langton to discuss Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ supposed egregious comments about the mentally and physically disabled. Not one to beat around the bush, Langton opened the 30-minute segment by asking me point blank if Fouts should resign. “Yes.” I said – if he did in fact say those outrageous things. Yet, it will never happen and here’s why.

In the world of communications, politicians are often held to a different standard – and that’s sad. But the fact is, we have become largely immune to the “out of line” things that politicians say and do. Just look at our President Elect and his crazy campaign. Politicians attack other politicians all the time. And when they do or say something improper, it is much different than a CEO of a public or private company saying or doing those things. You can’t fire them; you can’t sue them; and you can’t boycott their product. We can handle Fouts attacking Mark Hackel, yet, this time, he may have crossed the line.

Despite a history of bizarre behavior, Mayor Fouts is a popular mayor whose constituents reelected him most recently by 85%.  That also can give someone more of a “pass” in “bad times.”   Consider L. Brooks Patterson as another example of someone who is incredibly successful at what he does on behalf of the residents of Oakland County. He also has a history of making un-PC comments. This is akin to the dynamic in sports, where athletes who excel at the game and are of value to their team are much less likely to be suspended or cut than a backup or also-ran. Again, sad – but true.

On the other hand, politicians, as with any public figure, are constantly in the spotlight and a target of scrutiny; even more so today with smart phones that record audio and video and post anything to social media in seconds. We don’t know where or when Mayor Fouts said these things (if he did) but a public figure should know better. Some would argue this was locker room talk, ala Trump talking to Billy Bush. Yet, once again, who came out seemingly unscathed and who lost their job? Lauren Podell at WDIV-TV Channel 4 reportedly made improper comments in the newsroom. No audio. No video. She resigned, reportedly under pressure. Back to that double standard.

At the very, very least, I indicated on Fox-2, Mayor Fouts should apologize if that is, in fact, him on the audio tape. Honesty, transparency and taking responsibility, even though painful and embarrassing, are truly the best policies.  Instead, Fouts, never shy about approaching the media to fit his agenda, has instead avoided traditional media; instead taking to Facebook to deny and further attack Mark Hackel with conspiracy theories. As with Bill Cosby, who has consistently and sheepishly issued denials over his past behavior, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Mayor Fouts should be concerned with his legacy. If he did it, he should admit it. He should apologize and do something exceptional to benefit the mentally and physically challenged in his jurisdiction. If he didn’t do it, an independent party should be hired to analyze the tape with voice recognition software. Bottom line: He should do the right thing and live to fight another day on behalf of those he should be most concerned with: the citizens of the City of Warren.

When News Organizations Make Cuts, Others Have To Speak For Them

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

1462736-hand-with-scissors-cutting-out-an-article-from-newspaperOne of the first things I learned in the PR business was “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

Companies that have nothing to say in times of bad news will have the comment vacuum filled quickly. It was true then and even more obvious now as social media can empower just about anyone to be a de facto company spokesperson.

We’re finding, in this time of multiple crises for media organizations, that their lack of PR acumen is biting them once again. As we have written about in recent weeks, around the country, the end of the year is meaning more cuts in newsrooms that can ill afford them. But plunging revenues, changing audience habits and other factors are leading to job eliminations across the industry. In one case, privately-owned business news outlet Crain’s Detroit Business, the outlet outlined its changes for its customers in this story placed on its website. But in most cases, especially corporate-owned entities, the news organizations are, ironically, leaving the storytelling to others.

As we have written, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are in the process of making cuts. At a client meeting the other day, I heard that situation spoken of as “what the Free Press and News announced.” Actually, they didn’t announce anything. Other outlets got their hands on internal memos. The news organizations themselves have said nothing to customers. Word about who is accepting buyouts is coming out in drips on journalists’ personal social media pages.

Contrast this with when news organizations are on the other side. When companies they cover make changes, journalists demand detailed information on behalf of the communities they cover. I remember one time when a client closed a facility, and didn’t yet know how many exactly jobs would be affected because of a combination of retirements, layoffs and open jobs not being filled, several reports accused the company of “hiding information.”

This is even happening at the national level. Word leaked Friday night via the New York Post that CBS Radio News would push several well-known anchors into retirement. The company did not comment. The next morning though, one of the company’s journalists, Steven Portnoy, did. The company lucked out that a thoughtful, respectful employee was the one to step forward and fill the void. Here is an excerpt:

“You may have read the news that we’ve been wishing some of our very best friends and colleagues at CBS well as they enter retirement with a bit of corporate encouragement. A word on that —

The people we’ve hailed are, frankly, irreplaceable. They represent a big chunk of the institutional memory of our newsroom and their departures leave us feeling quite sad.

It’s important for radio fans to understand why this is happening. It is NOT because fewer people are listening. In fact, just the opposite is true! Nielsen and Edison Research tell us that radio now reaches more people than any other medium, including the social one you’re reading right now. Many of our stations are at the very top of the ratings in their markets. Tens of millions of Americans of all ages learn about our world from network radio news — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, we’ve got the data that proves it’s just not true.

The trouble is, marketers — the companies that buy advertising, in the hopes that you’ll buy the things they sell — are always looking for the newest, most cost-efficient way to reach people in a crowded media universe. They’re spending less money on advertising generally and are trying to figure out whether that will work for them. The jury is still out, but network radio in particular has taken a pretty tough hit from the shifting dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that fewer people are listening isn’t one of them.

It’s with this backdrop that CBS has, however, been forced to make tough, careful decisions about our staffing. My understanding is that no more cuts are planned.

What’s important for you, a fan of radio news, to know is this — each hour, 24 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year, the that proudly introduces our newscast will continue to signal the very best in broadcast journalism.

The people of CBS News are as committed as ever to living up to a legacy that began with Robert Trout and Ed Murrow, evolved with Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend and Christopher Glenn, and continues today with Frank Settipani, Steve Kathan, Dave Barrett, Pam Coulter and countless others who have made it their life’s work to bring the most up-to-date news to you, a member of one of the largest audiences any media entity in America can claim…

…Thanks for keeping our colleagues and what we do in your thoughts, and thanks for listening.”

If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. Others won’t get as lucky as CBS and will continue to suffer via public opinion.

Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.

Mylan Backtracks While Kaeperick Sits

Monday, August 29th, 2016

WjI5dlphVEV0YzNSdmNtVXVkMkZzYldGeWRDNWpZUzlwYldGblpYTXZUR0Z5WjJVdk1EUTBMekpmTVM4eU5qQTBOREpmTVM1cWNHYz0yeGxjM1ZqYTNNThis past week saw not one but two high-profile crisis communications stories – one in the area of sports and the other in pharmaceuticals.  The latter is alarming while the former is thought-provoking.  Both have sparked great reaction and underscore the importance of thinking before acting and considering the potential ramifications of your actions, both for your constituents and yourself.

Fledgling San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, first of all, created a firestorm of controversy for himself over his defiant demonstration of one, choosing to sit rather than stand during a preseason game singing of the National Anthem. He was protesting, he said, this country’s oppressive behaviors and attitudes against people of color.  His actions blew up social and traditional media, with, interestingly enough, a fairly even split between those for and against his stance. Did Kaepernick consider his actions ahead of time? Probably. Did he consider the possible ramifications for himself – including his fight for the starting quarterback position and future sponsorship/endorsement deals? Or, was he instead more interested in making an important high-profile statement that he felt passionately about at any and all costs? After all, while some now view him as unpatriotic others now see a man often referred to in the past as brash, selfish and immature instead as an individual filled with conviction and conscience.

Of more importance to consider is drug giant Mylan’s announcement that they planned to raise the price of their lifesaving EpiPen by 400% as CEO and executive board compensation also rose to – by many estimates – obscene amounts.  In the wake of  the firestorm that followed, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch initially went on the defensive blaming a ‘broken healthcare system’ for the unavoidable price hikes. The next moment, however, 50% off coupons were being made available while the company also announced it would soon begin offering patients a much more affordable generic brand option.

Mylan’s actions tell me one of three things related to communications counsel. Either communications was not at the boardroom table when the price increases were being discussed; communications input against such action was discounted; or whomever is handling PR for Mylan didn’t have the balls to speak up. I’m guessing it was (1) or (2). The company’s initial actions, as such, reeked of stupidity and greed, in particular for a produce for which there is virtually no competition. Their response, in turn, to the public uproar was almost as pathetic, demonstrating they should never have gone down the path of price increases some were calling criminal in the first place.

The motto of these stories? Think before you act and don’t act before you think because there will be consequences one way or the other. The trick is careful considering ahead of time of what those consequences might be and then, if necessary, taking the path best traveled for ensure future credibility and reputation.

The Best PR Example In Rio Will Likely Be An Announcer

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

ElliotteFriedmanFor sports fans who live near the Canadian border, we knew who Elliotte Friedman was before this week. Every once in a while, I’m asked if I’m related to him (I’m not).

He’s basically the Adam Schefter of hockey on CBC. A skilled broadcaster, he’s best known for his reporting and has become a trusted source of information on the flagship “Hockey Night In Canada” show and also online.

The other game, though, he gained international infamy by messing up the call of what was actually the 22nd Gold Medal of Michael Phelps swimming career. It was such a shame because, as those of us along the northern border know, CBC’s Olympics coverage is typically excellent and not deserving of ridicule by U.S. fans.

Immediately, that Mr. Friedman’s PR response was genuine, honest and exemplary. He immediately tweeted “I’m sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses.”

Think about that for a second. What if every time someone public made a mistake, it was handled quickly like that? Think about an executive, even a celebrity or Heaven forbid a politician. That would completely change crisis PR, especially in this media environment. But it has to come from the heart and soul, two places not explored often enough in times of bad news and controversy.

When Elliotte Friedman says “no excuses,” he means it. As seen in this interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg (read it if you’re even a little interested), he doesn’t blame the fact that he was only given the assignment with weeks notice, originally scheduled for Rio in his more comfortable role as a reporter. And he doesn’t blame a producer which, as a former producer of live television, I find especially impressive because I always believed a producer’s primary job was to protect talent. Thanks to the way he has handled this, his career is poised for continued success and this situation will be put behind him more quickly than it would have otherwise.

Of course, when it comes to handling PR situations well, we want you to remember Tanner Friedman. But, also, remember Elliotte Friedman.

Carlson-Ailes Lawsuit Could Teach Litigation Communications Strategy

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

9780525427452_large_Getting_RealLitigation communications can be a challenging subset of our industry. It is often handled poorly, because lawyers can be resistant to anything that feels like giving up a fraction of control.

But, over the years, our relationships with multiple leading law firms have led Tanner Friedman to a significant track record of successful litigation communications, working with both plaintiffs and defendants on a consistent string of high-profile cases.

The recent lawsuit that seized attention within the media business should also serve as example of how a law firm and a PR firm can work together in the shared best interests of a client. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News chief Roger Ailes, one of the biggest names in the media world, for sexual harassment that she says led to her firing. Carlson’s New Jersey law firm obviously trusted her New York PR firm and the two, in concert, seized the opportunity provided by the process to plaintiffs, who typically enjoy an inherent advantage in litigation communication.

As this Politico story details it, Carlson’s teams worked together to carefully plot a strategy and timeline and then seemed to execute it all flawlessly. They selected the right day, two days after a holiday when business news can be relatively quiet yet still draw an audience, and were able to get the news out before the defendant even had a chance to see the suit. The defense could only respond to a long list of impassioned allegations with the typical litany of cliches in a statement, “The suit is baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously,” or something along those lines.

Now, Fox News is faced with a PR challenge, which is part of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ legal strategy. Sometimes a win in the court of the public can put pressure on a defense team in the court of law. The key for defense is to be prepared and it seems they could have seen something coming when the didn’t renew Carlson’s contract. But, it seems this didn’t happen here.

The lesson for anyone on either side of a potentially high-profile case can be learned here. Have a strategy, commit to executing it and make sure, above all, that your legal and PR teams can work cohesively with mutual respect.

Bringing Mental Health Out of the Dark and into the Light

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

head-brain-imageAre college students who seek mental health help looked upon as potential “bad PR” risks by their schools? That is the focus of a piece written by Sarah Beller and published this week in The Influence.  Her story examines the findings of a newly released 6-month investigation by NBC’s Today that indicates many students are being kicked out of school across the country for seeking such treatment lest something bad happen; thus, begging the question: are these kids being shunned rather than assisted?

According to data collected for Psychology Today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-third of college students report having experienced prolonged instances of depression with one-fourth indicating they have had suicidal thoughts or feelings. Moreover, half of those spoken to reported their mental health as being “below average or poor.” Alarming indicators all.

So what is a college or university to do?  In light of mental health issues often being related to instances of gun violence, it appears from the investigation’s findings that many are taking no chances. That is understandable. Yet, the investigation also seems to indicate that many schools take things to the extreme – placing students into treatment and/or quarantine when perhaps not warranted and, worse, dis-enrolling kids entirely without warning or recourse.

Thus it would appear that a case-by-case, diligent, cautious and thoughtful approach be taken by school administers and healthcare professionals in instances of student depression or distress. And, while the safety and well-being of the student population at large should always be of the highest priority, it doesn’t mean that students that make up that majority should be treated with disrespect or disregard when going through what could merely be a “bad spell”.

Rather than shuttling such individuals to an ‘out of sight’ backroom or removing them entirely from the equation, these schools should be promoting the resources available to its students and letting those they help serve as advocates and ambassadors to their peers to also enlist help if needed.  This cannot be about shaming or hiding.  This has to be about providing support, guidance and perspective to young minds still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be.  After all, isn’t that what our educational system is supposed to be about?

 

 

 

 

In Crisis, The Governor Should Lose His Crutch

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

imagesTo some, this may seem like nitpicking. But when it comes to crisis communications, every word counts, sometimes especially those that are extraneous.

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, in the midst of a firestorm, has a lingering problem that’s common and likely correctable. Like many public speakers, he uses a word as a crutch when he’s asked a tough question and his brain needs to buy him a second to come up with an answer. But unlike some speakers who use “uhm,” “uh,” “you know” and the like, Snyder uses the word “again” to answer questions, even in situations when he isn’t repeating himself.

If he’s like most, somewhere along the way, he developed this habit to the point where, now, it happens almost involuntarily. But he’s in a crisis situation where every word he says is being listened to and processed by his audiences differently. By answering questions with “Again…” he can seem irritated, dismissive or fatigued.

Take a look at this interview with WDIV-TV’s investigative reporter Kevin Dietz, which aired in Prime Time in the Detroit market as part of a special report on the Flint Water Crisis. He answers multiple questions this way, as if he’s already answered these questions.

Those advising him probably feel like they have a full plate. But maybe in the car on the way to and from Flint (where he should be spending most of his time), they could work with him on losing his crutch.