Dos & Don’ts of Crisis Communication

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We have said it before, and we will say it again, no matter what industry you are in or the size of your business, you will likely find yourself in need of crisis communication at one time or another. During our time as journalists and in the public relations industry, we have seen these situations handled well and poorly. They can forever impact your business’ reputation, so make sure you know the dos and don’ts of crisis communication.

DON’T:

  • Rush a Response – When it comes to crisis communication, you have one chance to get it right. Your first response might as well be your only response, so it is important that the messaging is appropriate. A crisis communication situation is a lot of pressure and stress, and when it comes to the media, it is important to respond promptly. But hear us when we say it is more important to get that response right.   
  • Wait Too Long – On the other hand, don’t think you have all the time in the world in a crisis situation. As we tell all our clients, no response is a response, and it doesn’t look good. Many times in these situations we see businesses opting to wait, hoping it blows over. In our experience, that business usually ends up trying to respond 24 – 48 hours later, when the story has already spread. By that point, the damage is often already done, and you certainly don’t look like you are on top of things.  
  • Respond on Social Media – A crisis communication inquiry may come in on social media. That doesn’t mean that is how you should reply. You can always ask for an email address to send a formal response. A response on social media, especially on a public account, will be there forever. Another media outlet can easily screengrab that response and use it, and you never want a character limit to dictate your response.

DO:

  • Have a Plan – Like it or not, every business should be prepared for a crisis situation. That means knowing who to notify, how to get in touch with them after hours and who will make the final decisions on how to respond. Having a PR partner with experience handling crisis communication to help guide you through these situations is a good idea.
  • Ensure Messaging is Consistent – This is something we cannot say enough. Internal and external messaging needs to be consistent. We can’t tell you how many times an internal memo regarding a crisis incident ends up in the hands of the media. It can and will become your messaging, especially if it is the only messaging out there. Make sure your messaging starts and stays consistent and that it is in line with your business’ core values.
  • Take Crisis Communication Seriously – A crisis communication situation is serious, and it should be treated that way. It deserves a formal statement, and it does matter who is issuing that statement. If you want the media and the public to believe you understand the severity of the situation, the response should come from the CEO (or equivalent) of your company. A statement should always have attribution.

As P. T. Barnum said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Remember that even a crisis situation can be an opportunity for you to message who you are and what is important to you. When handled well, it will be nothing more than yesterday’s news.

The Face Of Your Brand

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Here at Media Minefield, it seems we are always talking about brand. Our brand, our clients’ brands, the brand that guy on TV is reinforcing right now. Then, we stopped to think; does everyone know what we mean by brand? And who should really be paying attention to their own brand?

The answer, simply, is everyone. We all have a brand. The dictionary defines it as, “a particular identity or image.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos refers to brand as, “what people say about you when you are not in the room.” You may not be thinking about cultivating your own brand, but you should be, no matter what your age or stage in the business world, whether you are at the office or on social media.

Fresh-faced

Your personal brand starts to form on day one of your first job. Your actions and reactions determine how you are viewed as an employee and coworker. Young business professionals these days are saddled with the “millennial” title, which often comes with negative connotations. By focusing on building a reliable, accountable, professional brand, you are building your future.

The line between our work and personal life is fading thanks to social media. That’s why we encourage you to keep your overall brand in mind, even when posting outside of work. If your bosses were following you on Twitter, would you be embarrassed by what they read? Worse, could it put your job in jeopardy?      

The Face of the Company

Like it or not, the CEO and high-level executives often become the face of a company and that means your personal brand is always on display. In many cases, the company’s brand and the CEO’s brand become interchangeable. For this reason, we tell our executive clients they need to always be brand-aware, making decisions based on who they are and how they want to be seen. They need to realize their brand can directly impact their company’s bottom line.  

For executives, one wrong move can be career ending. Take the CBS executive who was quickly fired for disparaging comments she made about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting rampage on her personal Facebook page. Her page was personal, but her comment is a reflection of her brand and her company’s brand. We advise our clients to check their privacy settings and to keep business and personal posts separate. We also warn them when it comes to the internet, nothing is really private. Before you post anything, think about your business and your audience. One post can, and has, destroyed a business or career.  

A Famous Face

Perhaps no one should think of themselves as a brand more than a celebrity or professional athlete. Their brand is often directly linked to their livelihood. Actors get parts based on their brand – are they difficult to work with or unreliable? Athletes get deals based on their brand. This isn’t to say your brand has to be “soft.” Take Josh Norman and Dez Bryant. The controversial NFL stars had a war of words off the field. Their competitiveness and trash talking is part of their brands – and it actually landed them both commercials with Samsung where they poke fun at their rivalry. As a famous face, a consistent and authentic brand leads to fans and deals.

Just like a CEO, the social media accounts of a celebrity should support their brand. As we have told the professional athletes we have worked with, make your mom proud!

Love it or hate it, none of us can afford to turn our backs on our personal brand. We recommend you embrace it, and put your best (brand) face forward.  

 

When Doing Good Builds Your Brand

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Courtesy MyPillow

American businesses are generous. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, corporate donations quickly surpassed $157 million. With the even more powerful Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, there could be much more generosity to come.

For many businesses, doing good can be an opportunity to build your brand. But in our experience, that only works if you follow a couple important steps.

Be Authentic

When a tragedy like Hurricane Harvey strikes, many people and businesses feel the desire to help. Jim McIngvale, known as Mattress Mack in the Houston area, immediately opened his showrooms to those displaced by the flooding in his hometown. He put a message out on social media inviting them to come enjoy a safe, dry place. He provided food and water for the hundreds of evacuees that showed up.

Before deciding how to help, look at what is authentic to your business and your brand. Mattress Mack certainly went above and beyond, but his decision to help was right in line with what he does and his reputation in the community.

Houston Texans football star JJ Watt was once focused on endorsements. He starred in commercials and movies and hosted awards shows. But in the past year, that has stopped. JJ, admittedly, has different priorities now: his family, friends, football and his charitable foundation. So sitting in a hotel room watching the coverage of Hurricane Harvey, JJ decided to act. He set up a charitable account and used his reach on social media to ask for donations. Within a week, JJ had raised $18.5 million and reinforced his new brand.       

Don’t Do It For Fame

A decision to help, whether by donating money, product or time, should never be made with the intention of getting positive press. MyPillow inventor Mike Lindell built his business on his desire to help people. So it made perfect sense when he decided to donate 80,000 MyPillows to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. He didn’t make the decision to generate media attention, but it did end up getting coverage in his local market of Minneapolis and led to a national Fox Business News interview.

Mattress Mack received praise on social media and was featured on local and national television shows from CNN to ABC News to CBS This Morning. However, media coverage wasn’t his motivation for helping. This isn’t the first time Mattress Mack has opened his showrooms to evacuees. He did the same thing following Hurricane Katrina, proving his desire to help comes from the right place.

The great thing about generosity is all involved, from the giver to the recipient, tend to benefit. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

A New Type Of Media Crisis Every Brand Should Plan For

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With the 24-hour news cycle, smart phones and livestreaming, anyone with a phone and wifi can become a “journalist” and unintentionally instigate a new kind of media crisis for businesses.

The most recent incident, the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, thrust a backyard brand, sports team and military heroes into the spotlight. Some of the alt-right protesters at the University of Virginia were carrying Tiki Torches; a division of white supremacists who call themselves the Detroit Right Wings use an altered Detroit Red Wings logo; an 82nd Airborne Division hat was photographed on one of the protesters throwing a Ku Klux Klan sign.

These three brands didn’t do anything themselves to become a part of this story, but they did make some smart and swift decisions other businesses can learn from.  

Understand The Impact

As photos and videos spread like wildfire on social media and news sites, all three of these brands understood this headline wasn’t going away. People on social media were tweeting to the brands questioning their political points of view. It’s likely Tiki Torches hadn’t ever expected to be in this type of controversy, but they knew their own message and values and realized any association with this story was not consistent with their brand.

Respond Quickly

The Detroit Red Wings issued a statement hours after photos of their altered logo began circulating on social media. Within two days, both the 82nd Airborne Division and the maker of Tiki Torches released statements. The 82nd Airborne Division even took to Twitter to respond directly to Tweets about the hat-wearing protester. If you don’t tell your side of the story, the media and the public may fill in the blanks for you. We tell all our crisis media clients, no comment is a comment.

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Press

When faced with a potential crisis, the brands used it as an opportunity to communicate their message and gain positive public sentiment.

The Red Wings came out with this, “The Red Wings believe that hockey is for everyone, and we celebrate the great diversity of our fan base and our nation.”

Tiki Torch said, “Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”

The 82nd Airborne wrote, “Anyone can purchase that hat. Valor is earned….Anyone who thinks this man represents our culture and values has never worn the maroon beret.” And, when asked by a Twitter user who the man in the photo was, they responded with a photo of a “real All American Paratrooper.”

From a national news crisis to a mishandling of an online complaint to a viral customer video, there is new style of media crisis and the best way to prepare is to have an identified clear message and a plan.

 

Don’t Race (I Mean, Jump) The Shark With Staged Events

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Put down the oversized scissors and gold shovel. It is officially time to retire the groundbreaking, ribbon-cutting, podium-producing staged events.

Spend any amount of time in a newsroom and you will undoubtedly find yourself at one of these events. They are rife with pomp and circumstance and awkwardness. Did you know there are multiple websites dedicated to selling giant ceremonial scissors?!

Before you send out your next round of invitations, let’s look at how staged events can go wrong:

Mislead the public

Michael Phelps versus the Great White: it was the must-see event of Shark Week. But after all the build-up, viewers were let down to learn the shark was a fake. Social media blew up, forcing the Discovery Channel to issue a statement claiming it never said Phelps would be racing a real shark. Discovery Channel certainly got the hype and buzz it was looking for, but it is also dealing with the fall out. For a business, misleading the public can be a brand crusher. Most people do not want to do business with or support a business that they cannot trust and believe in.   

Don’t highlight the best story

We recently had a client ask us about doing an event, perhaps a ribbon cutting, to celebrate their collaboration with another business. The problem: they wanted to stage an event for the sake of holding an event rather than thinking about what would tell the best story. Since the facility had been up and running for a year, the media and public would see right through a ribbon cutting event. There was a fantastic story lurking behind the scenes of this collaboration. That is the story that we recommended be told.

Done for the wrong reasons

We often see this with charity events. A business will decide to do something with a charity or a celebrity in an effort to get media coverage. Charity events do work for media coverage when they are authentic. They should be done because they align with your brand or support something your business is passionate about. At the end of the day, the best event for building your brand is one you would have done with or without cameras.

Why should you have a media event?

Sometimes there are a lot of players, and it is easier to get them all in one spot.

Sometimes it is best to ensure you give everyone the very same message at the same time.

Sometimes there is an actual event happening that the media should be aware of.

We are not saying a media event is never a good idea. We do recommend you think through the purpose for your event and your message, and then, please leave the gold shovels, branded hard hats and giant scissors at home.

Xtreme Messaging

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It wasn’t a record crowd for the first X Games in Minneapolis. But from our perspective, it was extremely successful.

Over four days, athletes from around the world took over downtown Minneapolis and U.S. Bank Stadium to wow us with their tricks and flips. While the competition was impressive, we give props to the X Games for its winning messaging. As an event coming into a new city, with sports looking to grow their fan bases, the X Games and its athletes nailed a double backflip.

Your tricks may not be as extreme, but the ABCs of the X Games are easily translated to business and branding.

Accessible

Well before the first race began, X Games organizers and athletes were giving interviews. A gold medalist skate boarder took the time to try and teach a local reporter how to skate. You heard athletes and organizers on the radio and TV and saw them quoted in newspapers and online. The athletes were accessible.

Translation to business: Put your brand out there! Take opportunities to reach new customers or clients. You can’t be promoting a brand if you are not taking advantage of every chance to reach your audience.

Believable

The message, from athletes and organizers alike, was consistent and positive. They were excited to be coming to Minneapolis for the first time, excited to hold the majority of events in one location at the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium and excited to have the plaza outside for parties and concerts. Because the message was consistent, it was also believable.

Translation to business: Whether you have a multimillion dollar business or are an entrepreneur just starting out, you need to know your message and consistently communicate it. That consistency ensures your clients and employees know what to expect. It makes your brand believable and trustworthy.  

Charismatic

The people representing the X Games were clearly having fun. These are elite athletes performing dangerous sports, but they demonstrated passion and excitement. It appeared they respected each other and enjoyed what they were doing. The charisma they displayed made us like them, their sport and the X Games. The fun was contagious!

Translation to business: Business should be fun. What is your business or brand passionate about? Make sure you are communicating that to your clients and employees. We all want to do business with companies we believe in and people we like.

The X Games will be returning to Minneapolis next year, and one thing is for sure: like their sports, they take messaging to the extreme, and it has certainly made us fans!

The Standard Book of PR Spells

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“Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.” ― Albus Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

At Media Minefield, we are in the business of magic. Our Core Focus is to redefine public relations with a little magic. Words are our wands.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, we thought we would give you Muggles a peek at our spellbooks to let you in on some of our secrets, the spells we use every day.

Lumos Your Message (Lumos = The Lighting Charm)

It always starts with your message. As a company and as a brand, you need to know your key messages. Once they are identified and you have some consistent language, then you can illuminate them through earned media.

Accio Earned Media (Accio = The Summoning Charm)

There are many opportunities to generate earned media for yourself and/or your business. The most effective way is to provide expert advice. The benefits of earned media coverage are an increase in visibility, awareness, name recognition and business.

Reparo Your Image (Reparo = The Mending Charm)

Unfortunately, in this day of social media reviews and 24-hour news cycles, some sort of media crisis is nearly unavoidable. It is how you handle the crisis that really matters. We recommend taking ownership, apologizing when necessary and outlining action steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The public is forgiving and images can certainly be repaired.

We work with media contacts across the country, and we have yet to work with a Rita Skeeter using a Quick-Quotes quill to make up inaccurate quotes for The Daily Prophet, but we certainly have helped clients dodge some media dangers reminiscent of the Dark Arts. It’s important to have a PR Witch or Wizard on your side so that earned media opportunities can work their magic for you and your business.

“What were you doing under our windows, boy?

‘Listening to the news,’ said Harry in a resigned voice.

His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.

‘Listening to the news! Again?’

‘Well, it changes every day, you see,’ said Harry.”

― “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

What To Do When Earned Media Is Off-Message

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Talk to anyone who has been interviewed by the media multiple times and they probably have an example of an earned media story that wasn’t everything they hoped it would be. We are experts in the area, and even we found ourselves in this situation recently. With earned media, you aren’t paying for coverage, so you don’t always know how your message will be featured or the angle of the story.

Sometimes the media makes mistakes. Sometimes, they paraphrase. Sometimes, they pull out a portion of your quote. Sometimes, you wish you would have said something different. No matter what the reason, you have a few options when dealing with earned media that is off-message.

Grin & Bear It

In our case, our Core Values were edited and paraphrased for length in an online article about work perks. We certainly wouldn’t have used that language ourselves, but it is still on-message with our brand. However, we strive for consistent messaging, so we decided not to promote it on our social media channels. In our experience, writers will remove a word or two from a quote to make it fit with their paragraph. Again, in these cases, our client’s message is still delivered, and they are still being featured as the expert. It is still a win and isn’t worth seeking any action.

Ask For a Retraction

This is extremely rare, but we have had to do it for a couple of our clients. If facts are wrong or a quote is twisted and it is bad for your brand, it is worth it to go this route. Getting a retraction is typically an involved process, and it helps to have someone on your side who speaks the language and understands what can and should be corrected. This usually requires involving the higher-ups in a news organization. Any changes to a story after it becomes public will have to be noted.

Go On The Offense

Don’t wait for the media to come to you. You should be putting yourself out there to talk about stories and situations that highlight your expertise and your brand. Right now, we are working with a company that just came off a media experience they felt was off-message. We are showing them how you can control your message and generate positive press.

You may be asking yourself, why should you take the risk of pursuing earned media? The answer lies in the power of editorial endorsements. You are seen as an expert in your field. It increases credibility with potential clients/customers and your competition. Several of our clients have received calls to their office after a live interview while they were still on air!    

Earned media is so powerful, advertising is now posing as editorial endorsements. Radio hosts are paid to push a product or company. Ads today often sound like they are interviews. Print or online advertising is written to look like an article. But consumers are savvy. They know the difference between advertising and earned media, making earned media a great asset for your business.

 

An Open Letter To Journalists

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As former journalists, we remember what that life was like: always on a deadline, frantically making calls to get the interview or statement you need, under pressure to be the first to break the story. It is a stressful world.

Since Media Minefield’s inception, we have been focused on making life easier for our media contacts across the country. The needs of journalists are as important to us as the goals of our clients. But like any good partnership, there are things we need from you, our media contacts.

Reach Out
There is nothing we dislike more than seeing a story involving one of our clients without a comment from our client. If you know anything about us, you know we don’t believe in a “no comment.” We preach this to our clients, so if you give us the opportunity to respond- we will! We know you have been conditioned to believe that companies will give you nothing more than a “no comment” and that PR people will take days to get back to you. Your frustrations with the industry are the same as ours. It is why we are intentionally different, and it leads us right into our next point.

Don’t Pre-Judge Us
As former journalists, we have been in your shoes. We have received emails from PR firms that didn’t know how to spell our names. We have mass deleted an in-box full of outdated, wordy press releases. We hope to never be one of “those PR people” for you. We promise we will do our homework, only pitch you stories we believe you would actually be interested in and never send you press releases. We only ask one thing in return: don’t assume you know us, our background, our goals or our game. Unless you are assuming we are working to give you an interesting, informative, entertaining interview or story.

Remember Our Name
When we do give you that interesting, informative or entertaining interview, we hope you will remember our name. Media Minefield came from being in your world, from seeing business after business and publicist after publicist handle PR all wrong. It was birthed by a journalist who was fed up with receiving “no comment”, missing deadlines due to a PR fail and getting phone calls during breaking news. It came because we believe businesses and the media can and should help each other. We are looking to build a relationship with our media contacts, to be someone they can turn to when they need an expert or a hometown story or a response from a national company in a crisis or need an interview who understands how to talk in sound bites! And you can count on us to move at the speed of news.

Around here, we often joke our new media contact is our new best friend because we value him or her so much. We might not be able to grab coffee with each and every one of our contacts, but we feel your pain. We understand and want to give you, your audience and your editors excellent content that meets your deadline.

Redefining Public Relations with a Little Magic

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When it comes to earned media (the kind of media you don’t pay for), Public Relations is an often misunderstood, sometimes misliked and occasionally despised industry.

We are trying to change the perception of the industry. We believe in the power of the press, especially when leveraged via social media, because it offers businesses and brands a unique ability to receive legitimate recognition. 

However, after hearing so many horror stories from our news contacts and our clients, who have had bad experiences with firms, we wanted to offer some tips to help you hire the right firm and approach your current PR relationship with realistic expectations.

No hidden agenda here. We love earned media and want you to see its value as well!

Expectations

If your goal for using a PR firm is to secure media in credible outlets that target your audience, they should do it. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. PR and kids’ sports (don’t get us started) seem to be the only places where effort is accepted and even rewarded. A seven-page report outlining all of the outlets your firm reached out to, is of no benefit if they did not secure actual media interviews.

Fees

There are many different pricing models in the market. We’ve heard of firms that encourage writers to spend hours writing a press release to increase the invoice. We’ve heard of firms who significantly increase the cost of posting press releases on a news wire. We’ve heard of firms who charge thousands on media kits. Some firms ask for a long-term commitment, some charge per media interview and some charge hourly. Our advice is to find a firm that aligns with your goals. Do you want to pay for time? Do you want to pay for materials to give to the press? Do you want to pay for someone to secure you interviews? 

Experience

To ensure your firm can secure earned media, they need to think like news reporters, writers and decision-makers. The PR professional handling your account needs to understand the difference between a package and vo/sot, an MMJ and a photog. In fact, they need to have written them so they know how to write copy that could actually be printed, published or broadcast. Only a media-centered mindset can be successful in securing regular and consistent media. For example, we rarely use press releases because we know, based on our experience as journalists, they are not reliable for securing regular media coverage. We believe in securing media based on the relationships we’ve built with media contacts across the country. Ask your firm what their placement rate is? How many of their clients have they secured media interviews for? (Shameless plug: We have a 100% placement rate, which means all the clients we’ve ever worked with have received media interviews.)

Practice

You are a (fill in the blank) expert. You are not a news anchor, reporter or host. You should not be expected to know how to do a good TV, radio or phone interview. You should not know which camera to look at or how much makeup to wear or how to talk in sound bites. Request training and practice from your firm prior to each interview. Make sure they teach you how to handle a tough question during a live interview. Oh boy, do we have stories….

Provide ROI    

PR is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint, and it can be difficult to show ROI. However, it is totally reasonable to request viewership and valuation reports so you know how many people are seeing and listening to your appearances. Whether it is client retention, new clients, new employees or increased brand recognition, you should expect to receive value from your relationship with a public relations firm.

At Media Minefield, we are redefining public relations with a little magic. We are disrupting the industry because accountability, honesty and results should be part of any PR relationship.

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