Let's Connect

Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 07Oct

    Effective crisis communications includes means having a plan in place to deal with an emergency BEFORE the emergency hits. You don’t necessary need to think of every possible crisis, but you should have some basic fire drill procedures in place in case of a corporate crisis or a scandal or some other eventuality. That includes establishing a protocol to designate a leader in time of crisis. You need to find someone who has a clear head and can deal with the crisis clearly and efficiently. However, your designated hitter may not be available when you need them. So you need to have a pinch hitter ready when you need him or her. If you have a smaller organization and the boss becomes unavailable, it’s even more important to have a responsible alternative spokesperson at the ready.

    The trained spokespersons from “The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming”

    I saw a blog post this week from Jamillah Warner posted on Small Business Trends who offers a “3 Steps to Developing an Emergency Chain of Command for Your Business.” Jamillah offers a solid formula for establishing an emergency protocol quickly and efficiently that mirrors the best practices I recommend to my clients.

    Step 1: Define the emergency.

    This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s simple to think of fire, flood, pestilence, and other natural disasters, since they affect everyone. But it isn’t a real crisis unless there is a victim, or someone who has been perceived to have been harmed in some way. And by their nature, a crisis just happens; you can’t plan for it. So you need to be prepared for any eventuality. When the crisis strikes, you need to have an emergency plan ready, and a spokesperson in place to allay the fears of your customers and deal with the media.

    Step 2. Choose your leaders before you need them.

    When a crisis hits, you don’t want to waste time trying to sort out how to react. Any hesitation is seen as a failure or a chance to “cover up,” whether there is wrongdoing or not. It’s better to assign responsibility in advance. Choose your crisis leaders, define their roles, and train them in advance. And keep the information fresh with regular reminders and meetings. This transfers responsibility to those who need to be prepared should a crisis arise, and makes them feel ready.

    Step 3. Practice, practice, and practice some more.

    There is a reason why fire marshals insist on regular fire drills and emergency services train using mock disasters. It’s because practice makes perfect. Review possible crisis scenarios. Explore appropriate procedures and responses. Let people practice how to respond to an emergency. If you practice regularly, you give your leaders a chance to grow comfortable with handling any type of emergency. You also imprint positive habits and make it easier for the staff to rise to meet the challenge of an emergency. And if you choose the wrong crisis managers, then drills will reveal any problems and give you a chance to correct those problems or find a new leader.

    Crisis communications is too often overlooked, especially by smaller businesses who don’t think they need to be prepared. Everyone needs to be prepared in case of an emergency. Your business could be hit by fire, theft, fraud, or any number of things, and without a crisis plan, the impact could cost your business. You can start by designating the right people to handle emergencies so you can protect your operation.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • 27Jul

    We seem to be up to our ears in media scandals these days. From the News of the World hacking scandal to the latest bad-boy behavior in Washington, D.C., the market seems ripe for experts in crisis communications.

    Which is why I was heartened to read in Entrepreneur magazine’s “Daily Dose” this week profiling the proactive action that Blake Mycoskie, founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” of TOMS Shoes, took to deal with his own communications crisis. Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes

    It seems that following a successful presentation at this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference, Mycoskie was asked to speak to a Christian organization called Focus on the Family. During his SXSW speech, Mycoskie talked about launching TOMS shoes as a socially responsible company that has been providing free footwear to impoverished children around the globe. After speaking to Focus on the Family, Christianity Today wrote an article suggesting that TOMS Shoes had forged an alliance with the Christian group, which had a firm stance against abortion and same-sex marriage; positions that were in direct opposition to Mycoskie’s equality message, and the foundation message for TOMS Shoes.

    Here’s where Mycoskie demonstrates that he and his PR team are on the ball.

    Rather than trying to sweep the accusations under the carpet or point fingers at Christianity Today, Mycoskie took to the web to issue an apology and get the attention, and ultimately support, of his critics.

    He turned to Facebook and Twitter to listen to outraged customers and hear their complaints, and respond.

    He worked with Ms.Magazine to launch a petition to Change.org in favor of , coincidentally on the eve of passage of same-sex  marriage law in New York (a large market for TOMS). Mycoskie was quick to issue his own apology to set the record straight.

    He issued a written heart-felt apology on his own blog, stating:

    When I accept an invitation for a public speaking engagement, my purpose is to share the TOMS story and our giving mission. In no way do I believe that this means I endorse every single aspect of the organization I am speaking to. That may be naïve, and you may disagree, but it is my sincere belief.

    TOMS and I have made mistakes internally and externally over the past several weeks, and I am deeply sorry for letting you down. We have learned a lot and are taking steps so that they do not happen again. I regret that I, and many of you, have been pulled into this issues debate as a result – which was never our intention. However, my biggest regret is that the controversy has disrupted our effort to convene people of good will around our similarities rather than our differences, so that we can join together in serving those in the greatest need while inspiring others to do the same.

    Once he inadvertently put his foot in it by speaking before an audience with a contrary political agenda, Mycoskie did everything right in extricating himself from the mess:

    • He immediately started talking to his followers and his customers to gather information and get feedback. Social media has become a terrific forum to establish immediate customer dialogue.
    • He was proactive in taking charge of the crisis, admitting his error in judgment, and setting the record straight, without laying blame or finger-pointing.
    • He took personal responsibility, stepping forward to face the music and accept responsibility without hiding behind corporate mouthpieces or minions.
    • He was sincere and empathetic in his apology to his followers.

    The result has been positive to Mycoskie and TOMS Shoes. The executive comes across as a straight-shooter and a mensch who made an error in judgment. The response was cogent, rational, and appropriately apologetic and sincere. If anything, this crisis has strengthened TOMS Shoes’ brand image and brought in even more customers while restoring the faith of his followers.

    Share

    Tags: , , , ,

  • 29Jun

    I saw two blog posts this past week that reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who don’t “get” social media and its role in business.

    PBTwitterOne was a guest post on Lindsay Olson’s PR career blog about “Is Tweeting Hazardous to Your Job?” In this guest post, PR columnist Alison Kenney offered up some of the biggest social media faux pas that so-called PR professionals have been guilty of lately. Leaving the recent Facebook/Burson-Marsteller debacle aside, there are a number of other communications professionals who seem to have temporarily forgotten the rules of social media engagement. This from her blog post:

      • In March, Scott Bartosiewicz, an employee at New Media Strategies, the social media agency of record for Chrysler, tweeted a derogatory message about Detroit drivers from the official Chrysler Twitter account, costing his agency its relationship with Chrysler
      • This month, The Redner Group, a small PR firm led by Jim Redner, was fired by client 2K games after a frustrated Redner tweeted a threat to withhold review copies of the popular game Duke Nukem Forever if reviewers don’t offer more positive reviews.
      • Two years ago, while on his way to give a presentation about digital media to FedEx communications employees, Ketchum VP James Andrews tweeted a derogatory comment about travel to Memphis (where FedEx is headquartered). The tweet rankled FedEx employees who called Andrews out and extracted an apology from him. He kept his job.

    In all of these cases, employees are exhibiting poor judgment and making poor choices in expressing themselves. Social media is exposing their mistakes to the public and to their employer.

    What people tend to forget in the heat of the moment, or because the social media tools have become so familiar, is that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and their like are, well, social! It’s not a private conversation with 500 of your closest friends. Rather, when you post, you are putting out commentary for all the world to read, and react to. Which means if you mix social media and work, you have to be extra careful.

    I recently read another blog post by Tom Biro, one of the executives at my former PR firm, Allison & Partners, offering advice about social media in the workplace.

    A lot of companies control or block social media access, and they are certainly monitoring what you do online. (I will occasionally work at a client site and the IT manager frequently sends me reports with a breakdown of my online activity complaining that I am consuming too much bandwidth, so I know he is watching.) I have a client that specializes in providing controls and monitoring for social media access. Like it or not, your social media activities are being watched. And even if they aren’t watching right now, you need to make sure you leave a clean online trail that isn’t going to create problems when a client or prospective employer stumbles on it later.

    While most of the insights Tom Biro offers seem to be common sense, they are worth repeating here as a reminder:

    • Even if you are blocking employees access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you know they are using their smartphones to get around that. While productivity may not be an issues, data leakage and protecting your company’s brand are a concern. Watch what your staff are doing online.
    • Set a good example. Some of the examples cited above are errors made by senior staffers. They should know better, and they should prove that to their fellow professionals with every post.
    • Remember that social media is about dialogue, not monologue. Don’t rant, but comment. Add to the conversation rather than trying to command the floor.
    • You want to use social media to increase your brand awareness. Make sure you are being seen and commenting in the right places to advance your brand visibility.
    • Establish social media guidelines. This is your first line of defense as an employer, and your first reference for common sense as an employee. If you spell out what is and is not appropriate about your behavior online you won’t leave room for doubt.
    • Be transparent about your identity. Be sure you are clear about who you are and your stake in the conversation, i.e. whether you are speaking on behalf of a client.
    • Think before you post. Think about the impact of what you have to say, and how it could affect coworkers, clients, associates,and others.
    • Don’t assume you are anonymous. If you are using a corporate Wi-Fi connection of a company network, someone is watching the traffic so never assume you can’ t be seen. Big Brother is everywhere.

    Effective use of social media is about positive interaction and sharing stuff that is interesting and that contributes to the dialogue. If you use common sense and remember that social media is a very public forum, so don’t say or do anything you may regret later.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • 06Apr
    From today’s CNBC TV feed

     

    Yesterday I posted a blog about GoDaddy’s current communications crisis. Today, I received an email from CNBC asking me to comment. This story continues to escalate, and clearly it’s time for GoDaddy’s management to step forward and say something positive and proactive to restore some of the company’s lost reputation.

    In his recent CBS interview, CEO Bob Parsons said”

    “I couldn’t be any better,” he told CBSNews.com in an interview. “The blowback – you’ve got to look at who it’s coming from: a small but very, very vocal group that moves in unison, inspired by PETA. Very few of them are our customers.”

    Due to the viral nature of the web, this story is indeed touching GoDaddy customers and they are abandoning the domain registry in droves. The blowback is turning into a firestorm as this kind of ongoing coverage demonstrates. Clearly it’s time for the communications team at GoDaddy to step forward, muzzle their CEO, and start rebuilding their reputation. It’s not enough for Parsons to commit to no longer hunt big game. He has to apologize and make amends to the people he has offended, especially his customers.

    And if they don’t act soon, GoDaddy is going to lose much of its business to aggressive competitors that are willing to kick Parsons when he is down. Consider the launch of the NoDaddy promotion from Venovix. It’s time GoDaddy gave up this fight before all their customers switch.

    Share

    Tags: , , ,

  • 05Apr

    Undoubtedly you have already heard about the major major macho faux pas committed by GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons. He posted an online video profiling his exploits killing an African elephant. The video went viral and has shone a negative spotlight on Parsons, and by association GoDaddy. PETA and other animal lovers are outraged, and there has been a huge backlash. Social media guru Peter Shankman put a call out to his social media following (which is sizable) to switch domain providers. Even Hollywood stalwart Cloris Leachman launched a Twitter campaign to hit Parsons where it hurts – in the pocketbook – by directing followers to rival Network Solutions.

    In response to his critics, Parsons remains adamant that his actions were innocent and even altruistic. It’s not that he was hunting elephants. He was helping the natives by taking down rogue wildlife that was ruining the crops of the locals and promoting starvation. This from a recent post on Entrepreneur.com:

    “Parsons, 60, told CBS News he believed people’s "hearts were in the right place" in criticizing him, but they misunderstood his intention, which was to help starving people and stop elephants from destroying crops in Africa.

    “Several comments posted to the video questioned why the cameras zoomed in on villagers wearing orange Go Daddy hats. But the video wasn’t part of a company marketing initiative, a company spokeswoman says, adding that it was "something Bob, the individual, edited and posted." After complaints, the close-ups of the Go Daddy hats and still photos of Parsons posing with the dead elephant were removed.”

    Sound a little disingenuous to you?

    Parsons violated one of the first laws of crisis communications – show empathy. He completely missed the boat in empathizing with his critics. And he missed a golden opportunity to take the high road, admit that he may have been wrong, and find ways to make this right which would create a whole new cadre of loyal customers. Instead, he became defensive, evasive, and pointed to his critics saying that he was misunderstood.

    In fact, Parsons created this crisis by being stupid, then tried to cover his error by being arrogant. He created the crisis and then violated a number of the basic rules of crisis communications:

    1. Apply conclusive action: Be decisive and affirmative and move quickly to head off collateral damage. Instead, Parsons entered into a Twitter war that fueled the flamers rather than calming things down.

    2. Bring unassailable behavior: In a crisis, the element of surprise often catches executives off-guard, which leads to foolish behavior and mistakes. Parsons didn’t take a beat and assess his situation to make himself unassailable. Instead he attacked his critics, which reinforced his wrongdoing. He didn’t accept responsibility for a mistake in judgment.

    3. Use humane words and be empathetic: He totally missed the target here by being an apologist rather than empathetic. He is so busy defending himself that he continues to alienate his customers and potential customers by not acknowledging their position. By standing his ground his is alienating himself from his audience.

    I couldn’t help but recall the old Grouch Marx joke, “One morning I shot an elephant in my Pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” In this case, Parson and his crisis communications team seem to have been caught napping, and as a result, it looks like the emperor has no clothes.

    Share

    Tags: , ,

  • 09Oct

    It pays to be ready with a crisis communications planI wanted to expand on a recent blog post about creating a crisis communications plan. There are many details you have to worry about when building out an effective crisis plan, but the framework for an effective crisis communications blueprint is the same, no matter what your market. Here are some of the basics you should keep in mind:

    1. Understand how to define a crisis. A communications crisis is any event that could adversely affect your organization’s reputation, integrity, brand, and ultimately your business. Remember that to be considered a crisis, there has to be a victim; someone who is directly affected and harmed, whether that person is a customer, employee, stockholder, or some other entity such as a special interest group, the community or the environment.
    2. Know the common elements of a crisis. Every crisis is a surprise. If you can see the train wreck coming then you should be able to prepare and control the message, so there is no crisis. There also needs to be an imminent threat; an element of danger or risk to employees, customers, the environment, somebody. And there needs to be a need for a short response time.
    3. Set goals to handle the crisis in advance. Of course, our primary goal is to protect the reputation of the organization. Beyond that you need to assess additional goals, whether it is to protect employees and their families, serve the needs of the public, protect key stakeholders, or some combination of multiple goals. You need to be clear about your objectives before you can formulate an effective game plan.
    4. Form a crisis team. Have your crisis management team (not necessarily your spokespersons) tapped in advance and create a master call sheet and a plan to make sure you can rally the troops quickly.
    5. Prepare your spokespersons. Once you have your goals and your messaging, you can prepare your spokespersons. Effective preparation extends beyond the immediate crisis. Most companies make sure their corporate spokespersons go through intense media training so they know how to deal effectively with the press in the event of a crisis. Practice promotes perfection and it keeps your team cool and controlled under pressure.
    6. Have background material ready. Make sure your fact sheets and executive biographies are up to date, and you have information you can hand out to the press to help them get their facts straight.
    7. Manage the crisis. This includes managing uncertainty first through quick and definitive outreach to all the parties affected, including the press. Then you can respond and resolve the situation, including setting compensation and memorializing the event so the victims can feel they have been honored and their needs met.
    8. Close the books. During the crisis you should maintain a communications log of all calls and e-mail communications with reporters. When the smoke clears, go back and make sure you have successfully closed each open issue in the log. Also be sure to perform a post-crisis analysis – Why did the crisis occur? Could it have been prevented? Was it handled properly? How did the spokespersons do? What would you do differently next time? Take this information and refine your plan to prepare for the next crisis.

    These are just some of the myriad of things to consider when developing your crisis communications strategy. And there’s lots of great material available online to help you refine your crisis plan. One of the most useful I found was a written by Sandra K Lawson Freeo at Newsplace.org. The PRSA and other groups have additional ideas. We’ll be fleshing out components of the crisis communications plan in future posts but in the meantime, be prepared!

    Share

    Tags:

   

Recent Comments

  • Having utilized a press release submission to promote many o...
  • Thanks Tom! I agree with your "time and place" assessment an...
  • Point taken, Marc. I guess over the years I started assuming...
  • You're absolutely right...kind of. Tom, my firm -- Strate...
  • Hi, Jennifer: In my business we use analyst quotes as indep...