Crisis Management – Why Your Plan Should Include More Than Just Managing the Crisis Itself

Turn on the news today and you realize that crises come in multiple forms. Scandals, data breaches, natural disasters and public health concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.

The importance of having an actionable, tested plan with holding statements is well documented and understood. C-suite, IT, marketing, human resources and other departments all talk about it and recognize the ramifications of not having a plan.

While the need for a plan is not questioned, it is critical to assess where the charter for this plan starts and stops. If it is robust and forward-thinking, it should include an analysis of your current communications status, including evaluating your current brand reputation and acknowledging that your stakeholders’ perception of you now will impact you during moments of crisis.

If your company’s reputation is solid and you have built a brand that is trusted and transparent, customers and stakeholders will typically show you more goodwill during crisis periods. However, if your company is perceived as less than transparent, a crisis will only further deteriorate the brand. It is critical that your brand establish a solid reputation now so that in the long run so that you have more cachet with brand evangelists.

Another consideration of the plan is how far it should extend. After you have put out the immediate fire, should you go back to the status quo of how you were doing things before?

Absolutely not. Crisis management must extend well beyond the crisis itself and transform into a robust reputation management campaign. While having a good reputation to start with helps minimize damage, a crisis will undoubtedly impact your credibility with customers, prospects and stakeholders so you MUST have an initial plan ready for how to rebuild that trust.

Similar to the actual in-moment crisis management work, reputation rebuilding will be different in every scenario. However, you should think about how each type of crisis will impact audiences and plan potential tactics around it. For example, let’s take the case of a product recall impacting medicine that is administered to children. A few potential ways to rebuild trust include:

  1. A webpage that stays up for at least 6 months with all of the information about what was done to correct the issue, how customers should dispose of the product and all other essential information consumers should know.
  2. Public media engagements to talk about how you will prevent the issue going forward.
  3. Events including local townhalls and Twitter chats with consumers about the situation.
  4. If possible, a review by the FDA to formally show what was changed.
  5. Internal company townhalls to discuss the issue so that employees can be heard.

These are just five tactics; there are so many more that can take place. But as you can see the goal is to rebuild trust with ALL audiences once a crisis occurs.

For a crisis plan to be truly effective, you need to rebuild trust in the long-term, not just mitigate the issue in the moment.

6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

It all sounds good in theory. The CEO, VP of sales, chief marketing officer, or some other higher-up decides that the key to boosting sales, raising funding, or driving some other positive business event is to launch an interview-driven PR program.

“We need our executives to be viewed as experts by our target audience,” they declare. “Having them interviewed by trade publications, or even the national media, will help us build visibility and credibility, which will bring prospects flocking to our website.”

There is definitely some truth in that. Having your executives regularly commenting on industry news and trends, especially in the trade media, can have quite the halo effect on the company as a whole.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s more to it than hiring a PR agency and expecting them to set up interviews. Even the best PR agency in the world (notice where that description links to) can’t do it by themselves – no matter how much you pay them.

Creating a successful interview-driven PR program requires a lot of coordination and collaboration between the client (your company) and the agency. It also requires a few elements that your company is solely responsible for.

If you can’t deliver on them, the interview-driven PR program is destined to fail.

So how do you know whether you’re prepared to embark on that particular journey? Just like in playing poker, there are a few “tells” – involuntary actions or gestures that indicate how strong your hand is. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Your executives like doing media interviews

It seems rather obvious, but it actually isn’t. Some people don’t really like being interviewed, or talking about themselves. This is often true of technology experts who launch companies, or clinicians in healthcare and health IT.

Ideally the person selected to do media interviews enjoys the process to some extent. His/her enthusiasm for the company and the topic will be contagious, leading to great coverage.

If you don’t have such a spokesperson, and can’t hire one in, the other solution is to media train the executives you do have. Often the lack of comfort comes from being unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to speaking with strangers in that type of setting. Media training can help alleviate those concerns and turn a wallflower into a media star. Or at least a likable, credible spokesperson.

Your executives will make time for media interviews

This is often a tougher attribute to find, especially in a smaller organization where C-suite execs are not just running the business but meeting with customers, talking to investors, rallying the troops and perhaps even getting involved with product design and execution.

Yet it’s essential. Most reporters (and editors) operate on tight deadlines, and have multiple stories brewing at once. If your executive can make him/herself available when the reporter has time to talk, the reporter will likely move on to someone who can.

Most of the time the window will be a day or two. Sometimes, however, the window will be within an hour or two. And the larger and more desirable the media outlet, the more likely it will be the latter.

If your executives want a week’s notice (or more) to schedule an interview, you’re probably not going to get much coverage. Unless the executive is already incredibly rich and famous, it’s important to understand that securing the interview means being ready to speak whenever the reporter is ready. Of course, if the executive is already rich and famous, he or she can usually dictate the terms of the interview. For everyone else, it’s ask and react.

Your executives have interesting, non-self-promotional stories to tell

Unless the media outlet wants to do a profile of one of your executives or the company, most interviews are not going to be inwardly focused. Instead, the executives will most likely be asked to comment about the news of the day or longer-term industry trends.

For example, in healthcare if an executive is asked to comment about interoperability, the reporter isn’t especially interested in hearing about how interoperable the company’s product is. At least not at first.

Instead, the reporter is looking for insights about interoperability in general that readers or viewers can’t read or see anywhere else. It doesn’t have to all be original; it could be taking two disparate factors and showing a previously hidden relationship between them.

Whatever is said, though, it has to offer evidence of more universal, big-picture thinking that helps the reporter move the story forward. Even better if the reporter says, “I never realized that.”

This, incidentally, is why reporters are often reluctant to interview the VP of sales. They’re afraid they’re going to have a 30-minute conversation about the features of the company’s products.

Offer up great information and insights, however, and the executive won’t just get quoted. He or she will become a go-to resource for that reporter.

Your executives can customize the story to the audience

Most high-ticket products and services require several levels of approval before they can be purchased. There are also usually certain job titles that, while they can’t say yes, can definitely say no.

The executive being interviewed must be able to speak to each of them regarding things they care about in terms they can understand. A CIO at a hospital will likely have different concerns about an issue than the chief medical officer, or the chief nursing officer, or an emergency department physician, or someone in the business office.

In an interview the company executive must not only understand who the media outlet’s audience is but how to frame the discussion in terms they care about. The same generic talking points won’t work for all.

This is a skill all unto itself. It can be learned, but it most definitely must be practiced. The more the executive can customize the story, the better chance it has of finding its mark.

Your executives know they may not make the cut

Even if your executives do a great job in their interviews, there may be times they don’t appear in the story anyway. The focus of the story may have changed, or the editor didn’t like something about what was said, or the story may have been running too long, or a dozen other things may have happened.

They need to understand it happens from time to time and just move on to the next interview. Now, if it happens several times in a row it may be time to review the message and how it’s being delivered.

Most of the time, however, it’s just a glitch or an unfortunate circumstance. Even great poker players get hands they can’t bluff their way out of. Simply fold that hand and focus on the next one.

Your executives understand they can’t control the final output

At the end of an interview, company executives will often ask if they will be able to review a story before it comes out. With rare exceptions, the answer is no.

It’s nothing personal, it’s just not done. Which means the executives, and the organization as a whole, will have to understand there is some risk that the reporter will get something wrong, or write something they don’t like.

That said, most reporters, especially those in trade publications, are not looking to do a hatchet job on the executive or the company. But they’re not there to be cheerleaders either.

They want to present a fair and balanced story that conveys verifiable information to their audience.

If they get a fact wrong, spell the company’s or executive’s name wrong, or make some other object error most reporters (or their editors) will correct it. But if the company’s corporate messaging says X and the article doesn’t read that way, it’s likely to stay that way.

Knowing that, and being able to live with it, will drive a lot more interview coverage than insisting on controlling every aspect of the final piece.

Going all-in

Clearly, focusing on an interview-driven PR program isn’t for everyone. In some cases, a content-driven program might be a better approach.

But if you have one or more executives who are knowledgeable about the industry, love to talk about it (even on short notice) and understand there may be an occasional miss among the many hits, it’s time to start interviewing PR agencies so your media star can be born.

New hire press releases: Is anyone listening?

New hire press releases: Is anyone listening?

Anyone who’s been in the media, marketing or communications industries has likely seen hundreds. If you’re an ex-reporter-turned-PR-guy like me, then you’ve no doubt seen thousands.

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about performance bonuses or letters of adoration from admirers. I’m talking about new-hire press releases.

Just about everybody issues them, but not exactly every media outlet covers them. In fact, quite a few health IT publications don’t regularly cover new hire announcements that aren’t of the big-name, big-company, big-title variety. (In other words, if your release is about the new CEO at Cleveland Clinic or chief technology officer at Haven, the new Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan healthcare company, you don’t have to worry about much of this.)

For large companies and for CEO hires, it’s standard practice to issue a press release. For everyone else, the situation gets a little murkier. So, in those cases, are new hire releases worth the investment of time, effort and resources? Often, yes, though certainly not always.

For anyone on the fence about issuing a new-hire press release, here are three questions that may provide clarity on which way to go:

Can you benefit from local media coverage? Some companies are interested only in national and trade coverage, electing to eschew local coverage, and that’s fine. For example, it might make little sense for a company interested in reaching decision-makers at electronic health records (EHR) companies to obtain media coverage in its local market, because there may be few, if any, EHR vendors headquartered there. In other cases, it could be advantageous, such as when a young company has received a venture capital investment and wants to go on a hiring spree and could benefit from some local publicity. New-hire announcements are much more likely to generate local coverage than national or trade coverage, so companies seeking local coverage may benefit from a release.

Are you looking to generate market awareness? Just because national and trade journalists elect not to write about a new hire, it doesn’t mean that no one is paying attention. Analysts, investors, reporters and close other-industry observers – in those words, people whose job description includes following the latest development health IT – may very well notice. Press releases, in general, and new-hire releases, in particular, are an excellent way to introduce your company’s name to people who may later become valuable contacts.

Did you recently launch a new initiative? Maybe you’ve recently launched a new product, entered a new market or shifted your company’s strategy. A new hire release is another means of spreading the word, even if you’ve mentioned it earlier in a prior release — assuming this initiative is any way connected to the hire. When I was researching a new company in my reporter days, one of the first steps I’d take was to scan the company’s press releases page on its site because it gave me a strong idea of what the company considered its major to-date accomplishments. In that respect, think of a company’s press releases – new hires, included – as a track record of the noteworthy achievements it wants to share with the world.

Though sometimes regarded as the red-headed stepchild of press releases, new-hire press releases can be worthwhile and valuable; just make sure you ask yourself the above questions before publishing one.