Archive for the ‘adversity management’ Category

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

IMG_0205Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.

We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.

In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.

Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.

Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.

Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.

Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.

Trump’s “Truth” and Consequences

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 6.36.47 PMIn recent days I’ve been watching, listening and reading about the latest trials and travails regarding Russia and the Trump administration; simultaneously biting my tongue on commenting and chomping at the bit to weigh in. So without bringing politics into it (if that is at all possible, really), let’s take a look at what has happened from a crisis communications standpoint. I’ll refrain from calling it “adversity management” as no adversity has been at all managed to date.

For context and precedent I would highly suggest picking up a copy of American University political historian Alan Lichtman’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment.” In it, Lichtman reviews past impeachment hearings and proceedings (Andrew Johnson; Richard Nixon; Bill Clinton) while examining scenarios where Donald Trump might face impeachment during his presidency. The work is fascinating in that it shines a spotlight on how Trump has run his business endeavors over the years and why, despite thousands of lawsuits and lies, he has come off relatively unscathed. Today, not so much.

Donald Trump, Lichtman describes, is an egotistical, narcissistic bully who will go to no end to put his own interests above those of anyone else, bend if not make up the truth and throw others under the bus in his wake. And, he has had the money and power to threaten careers and, when forced, to pay off or buyout those he wants silenced. As for the truth, it is forever a moving target.

Many argue it takes a businessman to run the business of the federal government. The problem is, it is not a private business. There are rules and regulations and potential conflicts of interest – scores of which (the world over) Trump has not recused himself from. Rather, in the Oval Office today, it is all smoke and mirrors. Son-in-law Jared Kushner has now modified his security clearance forms three times for failing to disclose meetings with Russian officials. Donald, Jr., has also now been caught in a series of lies including at least one meeting with Russians to discuss possible Hillary Clinton dirt.

Where crisis communications is concerned, the only way to manage a potentially damaged reputation is credibility and transparency. Not the “transparency” (as the administration called it) of Junior’s putting out emails once uncovered and about to be printed by the New York Times. Instead, Trump continues to operate under the misguided assumption that if you say the same things over and over, they will be believed. The CIA was incorrect about Russian interference in our election process. James Comey wrongly handled the Russian investigation and needed to go. This is all ‘fake news.’ Donald Jr.’s actions were ‘transparent.’ This is a ‘witch hunt.’ And on it goes.

Lying, “forgetting” and political naiveté just don’t cut it anymore. Rather, they have destroyed any and all credibility for Donald Trump. Such an M.O. might work in business (and has for him for decades) but it will not work here. Not when you are elected to represent the people. Not when a planet and billions of people are at stake. Rather, nothing short of the truth will do – and, unfortunately, Donald Trump knows all too well that the truth would hurt. To be sure, to finally do so would surely be his undoing.

Pick Your Mantra, Then Answer Journalists

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Sometimes, journalists just can’t help themselves. Even when not in an interview, they ask questions that get you thinking.

Last week, one of our clients hosted journalist, author and educator John U. Bacon as a keynote speaker at a charity fundraising event. In conversation before his speech, Bacon asked me a terrific question. When it comes to crisis communication, what is my top piece of advice? He told me his first. After covering and writing about PR crises and speaking to companies across the country, he’s partial to the mantra of former University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham: “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.” Sound advice indeed.

I told him that in a crisis engagement, I typically start with, “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

answer-hiBoth pieces of advice were relevant in a recent week when two separate clients received inquiries from journalists and, remarkably, top executives had the same reaction, “Don’t respond.” To protect client confidentiality, I can’t write about the details of each case. But in both instances, the counsel back to them was the same. There is no upside whatsoever in not getting back to the reporters with, at least, something to say. In both cases, the client executives listened to counsel and allowed for responses that, with the benefit of hindsight, likely protected them against small crises. In one case, the journalist was able to be equipped with facts that prevented, or at least delayed, a story from being written. In the other case, the client’s message made it into the story to provide valuable context (it spoke for itself, so others wouldn’t be given the opportunity).

Was the instinct shared by two senior executives at two different organizations in two different parts of the country the reflection of any kind of trend, such as the anti-media rhetoric coming out of The White House? From the inside of both situations, it seems more coincidental than anything else. One executive was trained as a lawyer and many in that profession believe that not returning a media inquiry is a way to guarantee that you won’t say anything that will get held against you (even though it invites many other repercussions).

But as we start the second half of the year, it’s an opportunity to remember why there are multiple good reasons to make sure you don’t ignore inquiries from journalists. Take your pick – “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story” or “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you” or any other adage you think applies other than “Don’t respond.”

Guest Blog: Inside A Crisis

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

jeff picIt was a crisis that grabbed the nation’s attention. In August of 2015, a Roanoke, Virginia TV news crew was ambushed, shot and killed on live TV. As a former TV news producer, it really hit home and stayed in my head for days. Those could have been my co-workers. That could have been my newscast. That Sunday, I heard an interview with the station’s General Manager, Jeff Marks, on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He handled it, and seemingly the situation, perfectly. He sounded like the ideal leader for an organization and community enduring circumstances that were exceptionally challenging. Marks articulated everything leaders should communicate in a crisis – facts, reassurance and concern for the people affected.

Now retired from full-time work in the TV business, we asked Marks to offer Tanner Friedman’s readers insights and lessons learned from that ordeal. Here is his guest blog post:

Yes, I’m that guy.

Despite all the other mass shootings in the last two years, people still seem to remember the two journalists shot and killed during a live broadcast.

You recall: Alison Parker and Adam Ward were interviewing the woman from the chamber of commerce when they were all ambushed by a “disgruntled former employee.”

The interviewee lived. My two dear souls died. For days after, as general manager of the television station, I was inside our building consoling and outside being the face of WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia for media from Ukraine to Japan.

I hate clichés unless they are accurate and this one is: not a day goes by that I don’t think of Alison and Adam. When I am back in Roanoke, I make a point to visit the beautiful memorial to them which the people of WDBJ7 completed after I had moved on.

People have all sorts of questions and observations, prominent among them is the notion that you just can’t prepare for something like this. I tell them, gently, that they are wrong. Management is all about preparedness.
Here is what I mean.

For many years, I had had a game plan for the inevitable day one of my employees were to die on the job.
• We CPR trained many of the staff.
• We installed a defibrillator.
• I knew what clergy and counselors I would call.
• I had a plan for notifying family of the victims and communicating with our staff members.

On that terrible morning, the most important element I could bring to the business was calm. I was the first manager to reach the television station, and I immediately set out to gather as many facts as I could. At the same time, I offered consolation and hope to the most deeply affected people.

I concluded quickly, from my journalism background, that my employees were almost certainly dead but I did not let anyone know what I thought.

People stepped up:
• One middle manager took it upon himself to be the liaison with the families.
• I called a senior manager who lived near the shooting scene to ask him to go to the scene to provide a first-hard report. (I did not adequately consider the traumatic effect that identifying the bodies of our colleagues would have on him, but someone had to do it and I felt that my place was with the employees.)
• The photography team examined the view from Adam’s camera and found a single frame that caught the image of the killer, someone they knew from his employment that had ended more than two years earlier.
• Employees from other departments brought food, consoled their colleagues, answered the phones and filled many other gaps.
• Not knowing whether the shooter would be going after former colleagues who had moved to other cities, our employees reached out to several of them in nearby markets to let them know of the possible danger.
We had been stepping up security for our main studio for several years. Television stations had become targets, so we had turned our reception area into something of a friendly fortress. We had invited a police expert in to assess our vulnerabilities and we had followed his key suggestions:
• We put mirrors at hallway junctions so that police could see around corners, should someone get loose in our building.
• We put room numbers on door frames inside each office so that anyone holed up in an office could let authorities know where they were on the map of the building.
• We drilled peepholes into side and back doors.
• We started to enforce a name tag rule and to require that visitors be escorted.
• We offered to provide additional people, including security, to anyone with concern about an outside assignment.
• We ordered bullet-proof vests for anyone to use.
• We told journalists that they could call off an assignment that appeared dangerous.
• We stopped promoting online and on the air where our a reporter would be conducting a live update, and we made it policy that a reporter would move to a new location after each live report.
• We brought in our police expert to advise the team on how to stay safe in the field and at their desks.
After the shootings, and even after I left the job seven months after the event, the station took more steps:
• Fencing part of our property to discourage people cutting through our back lawn where they could not be seen.
• Ordering additional concrete planters to prevent vehicles driving up our walkway into our lobby. (It had happened at another station.)
• Tinting windows.

In more than 30 years of supervising, I had never lost an employee on or off the job. I was a few months from retiring on August 26, 2015, when the awful thing happened.

The fact is that a television station has to send people out every day, to work with advertisers, to repair towers, to cover the news. They are as vulnerable as children in school or families at the movies, and we cannot protect everyone all the time.

Nevertheless, in the United States journalism is a largely safe profession. These two were not killed because of what they reported, but because a fellow with anger issues had gone off the deep end and blamed others for what he could not control in himself.

A few weeks after the killing, a man came to our building to buy a cookbook our team had authored. He saw me and said, “You know, if those kids had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I nearly jumped through the glass as I said to him, “Those kids were ambushed, and if even if they had had an armed security guard with them, there would have been three dead, not two.”

The one thing we did not consider was arming our people.

Marks can be reached at jeffamarks@comcast.net

You’re Never Just One ____ Away From Reputation Recovery

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Road_to_RecoveryIn attempting to guide an organization out of crisis, you’re never just one interview away. You’re never just one email away. You’re never just one op-ed away. You’re never just one “positive news story” away. You’re never just one tactic away from recovering from a crisis.

I hope that’s the takeaway from the keynote presentation, “Reputation Recovery,” I was privileged to give at last week’s “Age Of Polarization” conference on the campus of Central Michigan University, an impressive event organized by student members of the CMU PRSSA, in collaboration with the professional members of the White Pine Chapter of the PRSA. The conference touched on many of the most important challenges in today’s public relations business.

Taking this opportunity to share with a wider audience what I shared in person, recovering from a crisis takes an organized campaign. It requires a different mindset. Organizations must be in a different mode, led by PR, but shared within the entire organization. Crisis recovery happens incrementally, providing proof to audiences over and over again, in multiple different ways, that trust will be re-earned, mistakes will be corrected and a new course is being charted. That simply will not happen with a “check the one box” approach.

United Airlines is a recent case in point. Two weeks after the pulled-from-the-plane incident, United remains, at best, in a fragile reputational state. Its CEO, in the wake of the crisis, did a grand total of one TV interview. It was on Good Morning America, a show that can reach between 4-5 million viewers on TV and, and probably a large fraction of that online. But United flew more than 100 million passengers last year. How many of them saw that one interview? Or have been exposed to the company’s messaging at all?

A few years ago, I was working with a membership organization in crisis, which was damaged from the inside out. It would take months, at least, of open conversation for any healing to occur. A couple of board members called me one day and said “We know what we need to do. We’re working on an email.” I explained to them that with so much damage done, they are not just one email away from solving their problem. It would take a campaign, over time, to be able to move on from the crisis, which it ultimately did.

Just like in our individual lives, when something goes wrong, we need to reallocate time and priorities in order to fix it. A company or organization is no different. It takes effort, resources and teamwork to be able to work through and past tough times.

What’s The Buzz – Tell Me What’s Happening

Friday, April 21st, 2017

whatsgoingonBill O’Reilly. The Facebook murderer. Media and society.  All were hot topics and the center of conversation last night on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Huel Perkins.  As we helped weigh in as part of a distinguished panel something apparent became even more disturbingly clear: something is wrong in Denmark, on many fronts. And, tying in to the blog’s title (which comes from the 70s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”) what is going on out there?

In the wake of Fox’s firing of Bill O’Reilly, one of the panelists, an attorney, suggested that the TV giant and his former boss may well have been targets because of their money and fame.  As I posited on-air, if I was being accused of something of this nature and I did not do it, I’d be fighting back tooth-and-nail rather than hiding behind millions of dollars in payouts and “hush money.”  I’d use that money instead to sue these women for defamation.  Instead, denials reign and questions remain as Fox tries to repair a corporate culture and image from the top down.

Of greater concern, of course, is Facebook and its “Live” video component that is growing in popularity and usage among the media giant’s 2 billion users. No other media allows anyone, at any time, to post whatever they want, whenever they want.  TV and radio employ time delays. Print media, of course, has editors.  Now, more than ever Mark Zuckerberg and his team must come up with a solution that more widely, comprehensively and effectively monitors and vets what is posted. Call it “Big Brother.” Call it censorship. I call it making sure the majority of our society is protected from those who are disturbed and looking for a forum to be heard.

And what of society in general? Have we become desensitized to brutal images of gang beat downs and bad behavior and their being posted and displayed on-air and online? Is the media to blame? Cue the sociologists but we all bear responsibility – from home and parents to churches and counselors to video game manufacturers and news outlets. Ultimately, it is about respect for humanity and human life and providing our young people with the mental and intellectual tools, support and guidance they so desperately need and is altogether lacking. Because when we fail our kids, we all suffer the consequences.

United Lawyers Are The Pilots While PR Appears Stuck In Coach

Monday, April 10th, 2017

MV5BNDU2MjE4MTcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDExOTMxMDE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_If you’ve been online before reading this, you’ve seen the video of the paying customer being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after what’s known in the airline business as “an involuntary bumping.” You’ve seen the response, attributed to the CEO, calling what happened a effort to “re-accommodate” the passenger.

As someone who cut my teeth in PR by handling media relations for a global airline client in the midst of multiple and frequent crises, I often hear from contacts when they wonder why airlines do what they do. The texts came my way often today, from professionals within communications:

“United seriously needs a PR firm.”

I’m sure they have one. At least one. I’m sure they have one of the biggest and most expensive firms on the planet on a retainer worth more money than some entire agencies bill in a year and that the account is extremely staffed. They were shrewd enough to get the company’s CEO named PRWeek Communicator of the Year just last month, for what that’s worth.

“That statement was pretty terrible.”

Yes it was. I would have hated to have been in the conference rooms or on the email chains where it was being hashed out.

“They respond by telling media to speak with law enforcement authorities?”

That’s what happens when the lawyers are in charge.

Meanwhile, to borrow a line from the movie “Airplane,” the corporate communications department “picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

This appears to be another example of the tug of war seen inside organizations in times of adversity. I tend to give PR departments the benefit out the doubt. They tend to know what to say and how to say it. But so many times, they’re not able to because the lawyers are running the show. Too often, executives not affiliated with either department side with legal counsel because it feels “safe.” Right now, for United, traditional and social media are anything but. In these cases, PR gets stuck with trying to clean up the mess from the parade rather than leading it.

We live in a culture where there seems to be an “outrage of the day.” It could be argued that, by tomorrow, there will probably be something replacing this incident in the public consciousness. But there are a few factors here that can’t be ignored. First, United is a repeat offender. There was the leggings incident just a few weeks ago. And remember the “United Breaks Guitars” phenomenon several years ago? Also, travelers are emotional consumers with long memories. We all know people who tell stories about delays and cancelled flights for years to anyone who will listen. Airline issues strike a chord. It’s an industry Americans love to hate. Take it from someone who worked with an airline that was shut down during a pilots’ strike, then months later, operational dysfunction led to planes landing in a Detroit blizzard where some sat for 8 hours waiting for gates to be cleared.

The thing about what happened to United and what has happened to other airlines is that the incidents in question are not inherently PR problems. They are internal issues that cause PR problems. And they are generally reflective of culture. If United board members and executives really care about their audiences, awards aside, they will make PR an integral part of corporate culture. As of now, “thou shalt protect thyself from litigation” appears to be the singular guiding commandment.

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.