Quest PR Archives - TAB Corporate

7 Top Tips for Online Crisis Communications

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by Sharon Cain, Quest PR

One of our favorite sayings at Quest PR is that good PR is “being in at the take-off and not just at the crash landing”.

In other words, don’t bring in a PR expert only when you have a crisis; ensure that good communications runs throughout your business so you are prepared for any incident that might have an impact on your reputation.

Digital media, including 24 hours news and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, have had a dramatic effect on corporate reputations. These channels enable members of the public to become “citizen journalists” or to express anger and concern in an unprecedented way. An online crisis or a reputational management issue for a brand can spread like wildfire as disgruntled customers take to a plethora of digital channels to express their anger.

Anyone doubting the power and speed of social media to break and spread bad news has only to look at the recent incident involving the sale of “mental health patient” fancy dress costumes by supermarket chains Asda and Tesco. The sale of the offending Halloween outfit on the Asda Direct site provoked outrage on Twitter, with celebrity tweeters – including former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and ex footballer Stan Collymore, both of whom have suffered from depression – expressing their disgust. Mental health campaigners, including charity Rethink Mental Illness, demanded on the social media site that Asda “please explain” why it was listing the product and asked for it be withdrawn.

Because Asda monitors its social media platforms it was able to respond within hours – taking to Twitter to issue statements. The costume was quickly withdrawn from sale; Asda apologised and promised it would make a “sizeable” donation (£25,000) to mental health charity Mind to apologize.

Following the controversy, Tesco also agreed to withdraw a similar Halloween costume from its website.

Despite Asda’s speed of response, the story still made national headlines the next day with the media using the Tweets to build their story. Many national journalists were actually involved in the Twitter conversation about the costumes so were watching the story gather speed in real time.

If the worst happens to your business what should you do? Here are seven simple steps to help handle your crisis communications:

  1. Acknowledge the problem or crisis – say ‘we know what is happening and we doing something about it’.
  2. Respond quickly – social media is immediate and bad news can go viral in moments.
  3. Stick to the facts and don’t speculate.
  4. Be honest and transparent and don’t try to cover up or fudge the issue.
  5. Respond on the social media platform where the crisis broke before posting across other social media.
  6. If appropriate, say sorry or admit you are wrong.
  7. Let people know you’ve done that or are doing to address the situation.

At Quest PR, we always advise businesses to document the incident or crisis. Examine what has happened, debrief all staff involved. What are the lessons you can learn from it and how can you improve your incident planning and communication? Use the information to update your crisis management plan – and if you haven’t one then make it a priority to compile a plan.

As experienced trainers in crisis and incident management communications, we have noticed a significant increase in concerns from forward-thinking businesses and organisations about how to handle their online reputations. We understand that planning is critical if you are to monitor and quickly deal with any customer complaints online. If your customers see you deal swiftly and effectively with any crisis, small or large, damage to your brand and reputation can be limited.

Rebecca Marczak, marketing director at Envirovent, leading UK ventilation manufacturer, explains: “Recognising the growing importance of being well prepared to effectively manage our reputation and communications, whatever eventuality, we embarked on a Social Media Incident Planning Communications Workshop with Quest PR. We chose Quest owing to their expertise in working on reputation-management across all media channels, particularly digital. Tailoring the workshop to our needs, we gained a number of practical tips in applying good practice approaches to both traditional offline and new social media platforms.”

Sharon Cain, Quest PR

Former Sky TV and BBC journalist Sharon Cain is the MD of multi award-winning Quest PR which fuses traditional PR and social media and guarantees results. For more information contact Sharon via e-mail to: [email protected], connect on LinkedIn, follow @sharoncain on Twitter or call +44 (0)1423 564 192.

 

Media Training – because you only get one chance to make an impression

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Sharon Cain, a former on-screen Sky TV and BBC reporter, trains key spokespeople from the public and private sector on emotive issues spanning investment decisions, deaths, redundancies and controversial planning applications. She also educates organisations’ on the wealth of opportunities they can harness across broadcast and print media by positioning themselves as industry experts.

With weekly viewing figures* powering to over 5 million for Sky News and almost 10 million for BBC News – when invited to be interviewed live on camera the objective is to be a success and be invited back as opposed to a jabbering wreck.

Cain says: “There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than a company spokesperson floundering in a TV or radio interview because they are not equipped with the right skills and fail to come across as competent and confident.

“Contrast this with a powerful advocate of an organisation who can lead and steer the interview and provide a strong ‘soundbite’. Reputations can be won or lost in media interviews – which make it even more incredible that many organisations assume they don’t need media training.

“There is likewise a real problem with potential interviewees thinking the training merely involves being taught how to answer tough questions with a succinct soundbite – and that anyone can do it. Effective training provides an invaluable insight into the media and sound understanding of how it operates to enable interviewees to see the bigger picture in the literal sense of the word.”

Embracing changing media

Cain also highlights how seismic media changes and unprecedented internet developments have heightened the importance of responding to opportunities and rolling them out across traditional and digital platforms.

“With continued financial pressure on media outlets, understanding your media has taken on an unprecedented importance. Journalists don’t have time to rewrite convoluted articles or press releases – neither do they have the capacity to coach people into giving a good interview or edit long, rambling answers – you have to help them by hitting the mark first time.

“The pressure on the media to fill airtime, columns and on-line content presents opportunities to reach a far wider audience by becoming an asset to them – journalists call us at Quest their ‘Go to’ people.

“Savvy organisations understand the differing requirements of the print and broadcast media –  for example, ensuring a story has ‘legs’ to enable forward planners in TV to visualize how the story will stand up with footage and interviews.”

Who should speak?

According to Cain, a key issue is that many businesses also put the wrong person forward to be interviewed by the media – assuming it should automatically be the CEO, Managing Director (MD) or COO.

She says: “If your company’s MD, or chosen spokesperson, does not come across as credible or sympathetic – particularly in relation to a sensitive story – then it’s vital that someone else in the company is trained up to be the media spokesperson.”

Reap the rewards

Maximising the opportunities such as being called on the media as an industry expert or thought leader can not only leverage businesses above their competitors but also power their sales pipeline. At Quest we’ve experienced how clients have benefited from new business contracts and enhanced their profiles and reputations by piggybacking on the news agenda and providing expert comment and/ or interesting perspectives on the news.

“As a former TV and radio journalist I would always contact the competent and confident spokespeople who understand the importance of reacting fast and who delivered for my news organisations time and again.

“In today’s competitive climate and with predicted slow growth ahead – can your company afford not to invest in top class training to catapult you into the media spotlight and showcase your expertise?”

*Viewing figures from Broadcasters Audience Research Board (http://www.barb.co.uk/) for w/c 5 August 2013

Former Sky TV and BBC journalist Sharon Cain is the MD of multi award-winning Quest PR which fuses traditional PR and social media and guarantees results. For more information contact Sharon via e-mail to: [email protected], connect on LinkedIn, follow @sharoncain on Twitter or call +44 (0)1423 564 192.