Tag Archives: Crisis PR

Guest post from George Dearsley of Avante Media: Crisis PR why it matters – prepare now

crisis PR

George Dearsley, an experienced broadcast journalist takes us through his views on successfully planning for a crisis PR scenario.  He shows how crisis PR planning can be of considerable value.  The difference between survival for a business can be getting its crisis PR right:

The purpose of crisis PR / communications is to help your organisation control and manage the flow of information to the public via the media when it faces a major incident.

The crisis could be anything that threatens or harms people, disrupts business, damages reutation or affects share value.

No one enjoys being the focus of media attention when something has gone wrong. But it is the way senior executives and managers handle such events, which separates excellent organisations from poor ones.

Every organisation needs to think the unthinkable, now – before it happens.

So, devise a major incident plan, choose a team with people who are confident and telegenic, and role-play crisis scenarios today.

What’s the worst possible crisis that could hit your business?

Every week some organisation or business faces a situation, which could threaten its very existence, for example, the global engineering firm Jarvis facing legal action and further damage to its reputation following the Potters Bar rail crash in May 2002 in which seven people died. It finally admitted liability only in April 2004.

But in this era of 24 hour news the crisis need not be of that magnitude to bring print and broadcast journalists to your doorstep.

A fire, a faulty batch on your production line, an industrial dispute, a threat (real or bogus) to tamper with your product … suddenly you are in the media spotlight, and it is not a pleasant experience.

While the media is busy pursuing the story to sell papers or boost TV or radio ratings there may be activists or pressure groups looking to take advantage of your misfortune, and they tend to be more media savvy.

The Media is not your Enemy

Far from it, reporters provide the conduit through which your message can reach all of your stakeholders.

Treat them fairly but manage your messages.

And never say “No comment”. This translates “We are guilty and we have something to hide”.

If you cut off information journalists will go elsewhere for it, to disaffected ex-employees, competitors, angry neighbours and others. They will be issuing the memorable phrases and quotes and the story will be out of your control.

The way you communicate will have an effect on employees and stakeholders. Your employees are your ambassadors in a crisis.

Consider the Toyota Prius product recall PR disaster. The embattled Japanese car maker recalled more than 400,000 hybrid vehicles, following problems with 8.1 million others with regular combustion- engines.

Complaints centred on the braking system.

In addition to the immediate cost – somewhere between $50 million

and $220 million, according to analysts’ estimates the affect on the company’s longer-term price is more worrying.

The initial recall was bad enough. That put a large dent in the firm’s reputation

for producing quality products. It also erased about a fifth of the value of

Toyota’s shares, or US $34 billion.

But the leadership of the company was invisible and when interviews were given the utterances were complicated and full of business-speak.

Three errors to avoid

The single biggest mistake is to lie to the media

The chairman of Bradford City Football Club, which suffered a 56-death fire in 1985, said the fire was a “tragic accident” and “fate.” In fact months earlier he had recognised the stand, which burned down, was a fire risk and had tried to secure a grant to rebuild it.

The second biggest error is to put your head in the sand and hope that no one learns about your bad news.  In other words: do nothing.

The third biggest mistake is only to start to work on a potential crisis situation after it has become public

Before the news breaks, you still have some proactive options available:

  • Test key messages
  • Don’t make unrehearsed remarks to the media
  • Don’t assume that because your company has a big name or reputation you will be saved. People will trust you. They won’t
  • Don’t treat the media like the enemy
  • Don’t be reactive instead of proactive. If you are not in control of the story someone else is. Keep ahead of the game. If you initial PR effort simply leads to more rumour and speculation you have not been effective enough
  • Use simple language. Business jargon and arcane acronyms are not simply a turn-off, they create a barrier to your target audience.
  • Don’t assume the truth will out and you will triumph over adversity
  • Perception is as damaging as reality – deal with it
  • Show empathy…like Richard Branson did when one of his Pendolino trains came off the rails in Cumbria
  • Don’t just issue a written statement. We live in a tele-visual age and people want to see and hear what a spokesperson is saying
  • Don’t over-react and think the story will mean the ruination of your company. Perrier recovered
  • And finally, if incredibly lightning strikes twice don’t just do the same thing all over again and make the same mistakes
  • Learn from the previous media interaction and put right what went wrong before

George Dearsley of Avante Media has worked with HP, The NHS, VW and Shell to name a few.  If you want to talk to George about crisis PR please click on the link or contact Artisan to be passed through.

Crisis, what crisis? Toyota show that even the best get crisis PR wrong.

Crisis PR case study

Crisis PR expert George Dearsley, of Avante, has a 20 year track record providing media training for businesses such as Shell, Kodak, KPMG, Bupa and HBoS.

So he has been fascinated, when once again, brilliant marketers and business people continue to cause incalculable damage to their organisations when a crisis hits.  George compares how BAE Systems got it right and Toyota are still getting it wrong, and it need not be that way:

BAE Systems called me about a year ago and asked me to present to its main board on how the company was perceived by the media.

I was both flattered and intrigued. Why me?  I am not a defence specialist, but looking back maybe that’s exactly why I was invited.

I talked to a dozen national media friends beforehand: the first words spoken were “bribes, corruption, brown envelopes.”   There was little or nothing about full order books, cutting edge technology or good employee relations.

In a recent BBC commissioned poll of viewers voting on “What Makes Lancashire Great?” BAE Systems had come 140th.

Slide two told them that in the same poll black pudding was 1st and the late Fred Dibnah was….26th.  After the wry smiles we moved inevitably to bribery.  It clearly hurt.

But I told them (as I’m sure a PR person would) that the issue would not go away until there was a significant resolution to the whole affair.

I was reminded of that meeting when I saw a wonderful television performance last week by BAE Chairman Dick Olver.  The company, he announced, had agreed to pay fines of £286m in a deal with US and UK authorities to settle criminal investigations into its actions in Saudi Arabia and Tanzania.  He said in the interview the move would allow the company to “put a really hard line separating the past from the future.”

His key messages were all in place and delivered with great gravity and credibility.  It was a majestic performance.

Compare Mr. Olver’s effort with the shambolic PR exercised by Toyota in handling what began as a minor software glitch involving the braking system in one model.

The opening shot was a Japanese executive who faced television cameras wearing a surgical mask, quite commonly worn during Japan’s cold season.  This soon became a metaphor for a company that wasn’t being totally open with its customers.  The brand loyalty, which took years and millions of yen to build, was beginning to melt away.

The safety defects were initially portrayed as an American problem.  But this was not true and the dithering led to new questions about Toyota’s famous quality control.

In Europe and the US there were crucial delays between Toyota’s confirming a planned recall millions of cars and communicating this to the public.

Journalists, keen to keep the tale hot, were delighted when customers called in with complaints about other Toyota models. The dreaded “bandwagon effect” was about to take effect.

Throughout, Akio Toyoda, the company’s president, was invisible.  After weeks of silence he finally faced the media and was thoroughly unconvincing.

He forgot the golden rules:

  • Act quickly and decisively
  • Apologise
  • Thank customers for their patience
  • Explain what’s being done to put the problems right
  • Carry out the remediation as soon as possible, whatever the cost

Toyota is now one of the stories of the day – day after day.  The cars have become the butt of pub jokes and programmes such as Mock The Week are getting great mileage out of the situation.  Toyota is now the Skoda of 2010.

The initial $2 billion recall and the loss of 17% of share value is likely to prove small change when the final bill is totted up.

In Japan there is a proverb: “If it stinks, put a lid on it.”

Sadly, it is the very opposite of good crisis news management strategy.

You’re clamped: a poor attempt to gag by NCP Services

My last post was an innocuous but heart warming story of a man that believed he had been wrongly clamped by NCP Services. The owner of the clamped vehicle sawed his car in two in protest.

Not much of a deal you might say until NCP Services director of communications got on the case.

I had quite an aggressive response to a four paragraph post that simply reported what the BBC had said.

Tim from NCP Services stated based on the factual inaccuracies that: “I would be happy to add you to the database of agencies we would never use.”  You’re barred my son!

It was suggested that I take my “offending” post off, which I replied that because someone thinks it is offensive (could be disagree) is no reason to take something off, unless it is slanderous or grossly offensive or insensitive.

After my reply where I pointed out it was a blog, not a marketing website I got this:  “I didn’t realise your site is just a blog.  I thought it was a marketing website.  Sorry to bother you.”

Well!  You would never have thought communications was becoming more democratic and it was about negotiation and diplomacy and less about force.  And anyone involved in PR, especially if they are senior, should recognise the power of blogs surely?

But you know Tim and NCP Services has a  interesting perspective that might surprise.

When I pointed out the story of the bus that got a ticket in Manchester I got an interesting reply.  The reason was that the bus driver had simply gone off to breakfast leaving the vehicle blocking later buses causing a real obstruction.  That puts things into a bit of perspective.

Tim states NCP Services also have doubled the removal from our roads for untaxed, many in a dangerous state, vehicles.  This is a positive messag that we do not tend to hear or take in.
Clamping and parking fines are a contentious issue.  I know how most people feel and I generally feel the same.  But NCP Services has a story to tell.  Once you explain your position, if it has merit, you can possibly achieve some change in opinion.

Open dialogue has to be the best way for the majority of time.

I am very happy for Tim to supply copy for a post about the work they do and examples of they are trying to change viewpoints and work in an area that arouses strong emotions.

It’s preferable to use “jaw jaw and not war war” as one great man said.

How do you solve an unsolvable PR crisis?

Well, judging by the two PR disasters that are dominating the new – losing 25 million records by the government and selecting an England manager that did not achieve the minimum requirement of qualifying for the European championship – you do what any leader of any high profile organisation does: blame someone else and accept no responsibility.

The government has blamed a junior civil servant and not cuts for not having better procedures for handling sensitive material. Moreover, staff at the Tyne and Wear office involved have been warned not to talk to the press with a strict warning.

Brian Barwick CEO at the FA has decided that he and the board should not go for selecting the wrong or at least an unsuccessful manager – let’s not recount the Phil Scolari very public recruitment farce – whose fault was that Brian?.

Brian Clough once said that if the board make a mistake about a manger they should go. Sound advice.

In a blame culture solve your PR woes by making yourself blameless with your messaging and you can forget about the real problem.

CTI: using newspapers and blogs for PR

CTI has featured in the Manchester Evening News, including the business media section, and the South Manchester Reporter this week to establish that they are up and working only one day after the Dale Street fire.

As part of the PR I used my blog to get the message out. The blogs of friends to link into my blog helped achieve high search engine ranking.

The combined Manchester Evening News and South Manchester Reporter readership is about 400,000. The readership of my blog and I suspect (with respect) the blogs that covered the story would not combined amount to 1% of that figure for one day’s traffic.

Some comments I come across on blogs, portals and other media ask is there any point to blogs when the comparative readership is so low in many instances.

I do not believe a blog is the PR or marketing answer, which some detractors mock it for not having achieved this status. However, not everyone reads newspapers. Moreover, the traffic that came to my blog, in many cases, was coming to view specific content relating to the fire.
In this case the readership of my blog was highly targeted; they wanted exact information and it was delivered.

Blogs are not the major media channel but in an increasingly fragmented media world they cannot be ignored.

CTI and the Dale Street fire: PR update

CTI and the Dale Street Fire
CTI and the Dale Street Fire: how quick crisis PR helped ensure that no clients were lost

CTI was up and running, providing IT services, as normal on Tuesday.

The contingency planning and information back up ensured that relatively little time nor data was lost.

The PR had to convey this to clients and the industry in general.

The following actions were taken:

Clients actually called CTI to find out the situation from early on Monday. They were quickly reassured by Nick and his team. If this had not happened then the clients would have been contacted to reassure them and accurately describe how the fire has affected the projects they had being fulfilled. Luckily not much.

I advised that they also contact leads and past clients, which had had a relationship as in the latter case you cannot tell if they will re-engage or if they will pass on recommendations about CTI to new prospects. If they think CTI has been badly affected then this could lose opportunities.

A release went out Tuesday morning to all the major North West print and broadcast media outlets.

The Manchester Evening News interviewed Nick as did the South Manchester Reporter. Coverage in the Reporter should be available today. BBC Radio Manchester also set-up an interview, but unfortunately it clashed with the hour CTI was given to go into the premises and recover their equipment. It is still a possible.

There was a fair amount of ringing around and I am waiting to see if this effort comes to fruition.

The North West business monthlies will be contacted shortly. There are a few other opportunities I am working on as well but it is too early to say the results.

I used my blog, with the help of fellow bloggers linking in, to help push CTI’s presence on the search engines in relation to the fire. Any search with “dale street fire cti” will bring them up and so will more general searches. Anyone that goes directly to CTI’s website, from a search or by going directly to the website will find a statement saying they are in full operation.

The important thing is that any journalist who uses the Internet to find interviewees might come across CTI’s story because of the blogging activity.

There is also a wealth of opportunities to talk about disaster recovery and with the case study being CTI themselves there could be some brilliant opportunities to talk about the subject in the next few months.