© 2000 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
The major benefit of the Internet is the opportunity to quickly and inexpensively communicate one's messages worldwide. The major
downside to the Internet is the opportunity to communicate one's mistakes worldwide.
It's bad enough when real or perceived wrongdoing is thus communicated, but when poor impressions are created by website typos, major
grammatical errors and amateurish copywriting, the host organization suffers totally needless damage. Too often, far less attention is paid to the quality of
a company's website than to the quality of its print communications. Have you read your own website carefully, recently, and had it proof-read by some other trusted sets of eyes?
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Crisis Media Coaching Guide
by Deborah Lowe, Ph.D.
San Francisco State University Marketing Professor
Editor's Note: In the previous issue of CM, you read Deborah's "Crisis Ambush Interviews from a Reporter's View." This is the other side of
the story, a coaching guide Dr. Lowe developed when she "came over" to the PR side of the house. I particularly like the many alternatives she offers to saying "no comment."
Crisis communications for corporations is often difficult for people handling media relations because the questions are often hostile and pointed. A crisis
is not always a natural or man made disaster. It can be a scandal, or some form of controversy that could attract negative media coverage. For CEO's
and other managers who are not used to people aggressively asking questions in a hostile tone of voice, media coaching to handle the situation is essential.
Effective media relations in a crisis means that the PR spokesperson cannot get angry, react defensively, or blame the media. The company spokesman
must remain proactive and open in tone of voice and body language to be effective. Media relations in the new global village requires a knowledge of
media methods in the 1990's and defensive moves to counter ambush interviews, as well as layered questions.
Media Coaching Rules for Training Corporate Executives
The defense for an ambush interview is not to run, or hide behind a door and talk through a crack in the door. If they catch you getting in
your car, do not open the window and talk through a crack in the window.
Coaching tip: in an ambush interview, stand your ground, answer two questions and then cut the interview off.
Do not use furtive, guilty, non-verbal body language. In a crisis, using furtive body language will make your executive look guilty which makes for great TV but lousy credibility.
Coaching tip: if people have a choice of whether to believe what you say or your non-verbal body language they will always believe the non-verbal body language...
Think of the reporter as a cab with the "on duty" sign lighted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A reporter is always "on duty" even
in social situations. There is no such thing as an "off the record conversation" anymore.
In a press conference, project confidence and firmness and never use hostile tones of voice.
Insist on finishing your three key points in a proactive open manner.
Never argue with a reporter or a paper. You will lose. Bashing the media generally makes the reporters band together and your coverage will be worse.
If you make a mistake, correct it immediately. Reporters know that people are human. Say, "That came out wrong. What I meant to say
was.........." The reporter must report on the new information you gave and not the misstatement.
If one of your company team is obviously under fire and has mentally frozen, stand up beside them, put out your hand palm forward, and
say, "I think that I can add something" or "I think that I can clarify that."
If the reporter asks you a layered question (five questions in a row), pick the question out of the five that you want to answer.
Never say "no comment" to a reporter. It is like waving a red flag in front of them and they will be convinced you are covering something up.
Coaching tip: instead, use transitional phrases from the following list:
I can't tell you that, but I can tell you about the process that is underway to get those facts.
I can't tell you that, but I can tell you who will be releasing that information.
I can't tell you right now, but I can tell you that we will have those answers in three days.
The hallmark of our company is that we never assume any information. What you are asking for is speculation, and I cannot provide you with what might be inaccurate information.
I don't know but let me look into that for you and get back to you.
If you are asking me to speculate and give my personal assessment of the situation, I would tell you that a gut feeling is just as good from one person as another and I simply cannot
speculate. What I can tell you is what we are doing to find out the answers.
That's a good question. Believe me, I think we all wish we had that answer. I can't give you the facts you want but I can tell you we have talked to all government agencies, and have
crews on the scene cleaning up as we speak. Let's look at the visual with our three-step action plan.
I'm glad you asked that question. We are aware of the severity of the situation, and of course, we are taking things very slowly at this point to avoid any rash action that might be
construed as a reckless way to handle a corporate disaster.
Frankly, I would like to give you that answer, but we have not been able to confirm facts in that area. We will issue a full report of the details the minute we have them.
I would like to give you that information but the (fire department/police department/government agency/expert/etc.) has that information and will be releasing it when their
investigation is complete.
Dr. Lowe was a pioneer in news, starting as the first woman reporter for City News Bureau, a wire service in Chicago that went to the
Tribune, Sun Times, Daily News, and American in 1968. She is now a full professor of Marketing at San Francisco State University, specializing in teaching graduate Internet Marketing, Digital
Advertising, and Internet Public Relations. Dr.Lowe can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responding to Threats from Cyberspace
by Brian Schaible, APR
Some call it "anti-corporate activism," on the Web. Others say it's old-fashioned terrorism in an electronic form. No matter what you call it,
James Lukazewski, chairman and president of the Lukazewski Group, and David Armon, senior vice president of PR Newswire, say your crisis communications plan had better be ready to deal with threats from
Speaking at the recent Public Relations World Congress 2000 in Chicago, Armon said the perpetrators could be anyone from a customer with a
legitimate gripe that they haven't been able to solve by other means, to employees of a competitor who are spreading disinformation to damage
your business. Other possibilities could be investors seeking to make a quick buck from swings in your company's stock price, activists trying to
get your company to stop doing something, or disgruntled employees seeking revenge.
Regardless of the source or motive, Lukazewski advised restraint, rather than a knee-jerk response. "It's important to determine the level of the
threat," he said. "Are your customers, suppliers, etc. calling to express concern?"
The first step in neutralizing a cyber-crisis is diagnosing the threat, according to Lukazewski and Armon. What is the complaint or issue being raised?
Who are the participants and affected parties? What has the exposure been, and in what media? How credible are the perpetrators? What is the potential effect on your business? How old is the issue?
Now you're ready to respond. Actions can range from doing nothing to preparing legal action. Armon recommended your first action be to solve
the problem, if possible, and at the local level. The most wonderfully crafted news release or response posted on your website won't get you far if the
problem still lies smoldering in the background. Once the problem has been taken care of, you need to get the word out. Channels may include e-mail,
bulletin boards, discussion groups, websites, and intranets. Regardless of channel, Ammon said the most effective communications are tightly focused and come from company experts, officers, etc.
Often ignored in the flurry of actions and counterattacks are simple questions you may be receiving by e-mail, fax, or phone, according to
Lukazewski. "Answering the question is the single most important thing you can do," he said. "Respond to every e-mail you receive. Each one is
important." Simple questions from customers, employees, regulators, and others left unanswered can quickly turn erstwhile supporters into antagonists.
Internet monitoring is a critical early warning system to identify crises before they expand at Internet speed, the two seminar leaders said. Activities can
include participating in chat rooms and e-mail discussion groups, reading a cross-section of online media that cover your business, and checking out "gripe" sites such as gripenet, wordofmouth.com and planetfeedback.com.
Lukazewski recommended practitioners review the company's Internet presence and methods for dealing with consumers and other site visitors.
"Many companies do not use the Internet well for consumer relations," he said. "Their channels for receiving communications become little more than
repositories for complaints from disgruntled customers."
Reprinted from the Top of the Week e-newsletter published by The PR Network. Brian Schaible is a principal and co-founder of The PR Network.
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: Thank you so much for your helpful newsletters and sage advice. My "nighttime monster in the closet" of late is BOY SCOUTS. Do you have
any thoughts to share in this tragic lose/lose issue that pits school districts against a kid-centered organization which violates those own districts' non-discrimination philosophies? -- Mary Waggoner, Director of
Communications, Issaquah School District, Issaquah, WA.
CM: Think about getting your answer from the best source: your own, probably well-identified target audiences. Do you know what the people
whose opinion means the most to you think about the situation and what THEY think you should do? We can't keep everyone happy all of the time,
but we can conduct "market driven" communications which will hopefully win the hearts and the minds of the majority. Survey your parents, your
teachers, your kids. See how strong a stance they think you should take, what language they think is appropriate. Study how other districts have
dealt with the issue and learn from their good decisions, and their bad ones.
My personal belief is that there shouldn't be ANY compromise on the subject of discrimination. But in this democracy of ours, if the majority feel
differently, it would seem to me that their elected or appointed officials should try to accommodate the majority of those they serve, within the limits
of the law. Ask your district, listen to your district, and respond accordingly.
"Crisis Manager" now has more than 1,000 subscribers and a high "pass along" readership. It is also reprinted by a number of PR firms for
redistribution to their clients. We will accept tasteful advertising from firms whose credentials will first be investigated. We are starting to look at the
possibility of long-term sponsors for the newsletter. We also accept short text-based ads in the newsletter and on the website. Research demonstrates that readers click through from text much quicker than from
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(Have a newsletter and/or website and want to exchange links? Let's talk about it! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
These sites have proven valuable to my business and may do the same for yours.
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