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crisis communications

Authentic Communication in a Crisis


Authentic Communication in a Crisis

Lately several big brands have been caught behaving badly, and their reputations have suffered. Communication in a crisis can either make or break your brand moving forward. Crisis communications expert Blake Lewis shares tips for repairing relationships and minimizing brand impact.



The 10 Commandments of Corporate Communications

10 Commandments Final

10 Commandments Final

By Shelby Tidwell The evolution of global news media has affected news outlets everywhere, including the Associated Press (AP) – the largest and most respected news organization in the world – which has altered its corporate communications department to contend with ever-changing media standards.

Ellen Hale, former senior vice president and director of corporate communications at AP, recently spoke to PRSA Dallas and Press Club of Dallas members about her time at AP and offered “The 10 Commandments of Corporate Communications.”

  1. Corporate communications should be the canary in the coal mine. You should be the first to indicate if a situation could be misinterpreted by the media.

  2. If it looks like the issue has wings, get in there fast and disrupt it before it gains traction with the media or public.

  3. Don’t count on anyone calling for comment or clarification; assume they will run with their own interpretation of the story or image.

  4. Be proactively transparent.

  5. If you’re wrong, fall on your sword – fall on it fast and completely.

  6. Explain, explain, explain!

  7. Know when to stop explaining. Get in, get out and don’t extend the issue any longer than you have to.

  8. If you don’t have shareable content, you’re sunk.

  9. Social media can be a curse, but it has proven to be a friendly beast – take advantage of it!

  10. Cultivate relationships with those in the media who can help.

If there’s a trend in Ellen’s list, it’s that honesty and transparency are not optional. The bigger and more powerful your organization is, the more likely you are to be under scrutiny. Don’t give your critics the chance to misinterpret your message – but if they do, be the one to correct it.


Cleaning an emerging crisis


Cleaning an emerging crisis

Chipotle has gotten itself into pretty hot water lately, and it looks like the quick-service restaurant’s woes may be just beginning. Stock price has fallen by a third. Earnings per share estimates have been revised down, again. Federal investigators are knocking on the door. Loyal customers are sounding off. Surely company leaders are feeling sick. In classic public relations, this is a textbook emerging crisis.

An emerging crisis sounds less threatening than a “flash and bang” event. But experienced, strategic public relations practitioners will warn otherwise. Emerging crises can take a serious toll on a business.

It starts with an incident. Typically, that incident resulted from something that could either have been prevented or could be fixed with a policy change or shift in operations practice. Leaders may see it as an isolated case. No big deal.

Except it happens again. And maybe again. And once more – but this time on a much more public scale.

We counsel clients to beware of the emerging crisis. Here are tips for mitigating an emerging public relations crisis at the onset:

  • Take it seriously. Even an isolated incident is worthy of proper attention. It may never grow into a full-blown crisis, but the possibility certainly exists and can have damaging effects on your business.
  • Hire experienced communications counsel. If you are sued, you turn to a lawyer. A company has a team of CPAs to handle its taxes. When a crisis occurs – or better yet, to mitigate or prevent such an event – a professional crisis communicator can lead the company through best practices to preserve the business and protect its reputation.
  • Determine the root of the issue. Find out the cause and work quickly to resolve the problem for your customers, employees and stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the scale and scope of the problem. In a multi-location business, like Chipotle, it is probable that a similar event has occurred or could occur in the future. Communicate with the broader team to pinpoint how far the crisis could potentially reach.
  • Establish a forward-looking plan of action. Don’t apply a Band-Aid when a suture is needed. It’s important to set a long-term plan for holistically addressing the issue. Think about implications to each store, the corporate team, company stock and corporate reputation.
  • Maintain open communication. Throughout the process, share the company’s proactive approach to solving the problem. Show compassion and concern, and demonstrate your genuine desire to make it right. Authentic and open communication gives customers, employees and shareholders confidence that the issue will be resolved.

Hindsight is a luxury, not a guarantee. As a company leader, beware of the emerging crisis – and take actions to protect your brand and your position.

Photo by Michael Saechang, via Flickr



Are You Prepared for a Crisis?

As you may have seen on our social media pages, LPR has participated in two significant crisis response drills in the past two weeks. Since we specialize in communications for the oil and gas and transportation industries, these drills aren’t new to us. But, in our opinion, you can never be too prepared for a crisis. Crises aren’t exclusive to these higher risk industries. They come in all shapes and sizes, including data breaches, scandals, lawsuits and accidents that can affect any business. Here are a few things to keep in mind in preparing your business for a crisis.

Have a plan in place…and practice it at least twice a year. 

Crisis response plans are meaningless if they aren’t practiced, updated and shared with team members on a regular basis. Is your crisis plan on your company shared drive? Does everyone know where it is? Is it saved to your local computer in case the network goes down?

Designate a spokesperson…and a few backups.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to preparing and training a spokesperson. Make sure several of your key leaders are equipped to respond on a number of crisis scenarios and create a designated chain of command to eliminate uncertainty.

Know your key messages.

In a crisis event, every second counts. Develop key message points for potential crisis scenarios in advance, so you don’t have to waste precious time starting from scratch. Companies that communicate quickly and decisively under pressure appear much more in control of a situation than companies that stay silent in the hours immediately following an incident.

Don’t forget about logistics.

Do you have an emergency operations center or a place (other than your office) where you can organize your response team, speak to the media and plan your next move? Is it equipped with everything you need, including reliable Internet and backup connectivity? In one of the drill scenarios last week, we had to operate without cell phone service for about two hours. It wasn’t easy, but we came up with a few backup options that will be very helpful if we lose cell service during a real incident.


While it can be difficult to take time away from usual operations, planning for a crisis can save a business’ valuable time and money, as well as its reputation. Be prepared!







The Modern PR War Room

Photo by Ewan McIntosh
Photo by Ewan McIntosh

We live in a world of increasing connectivity and demand for real-time marketing. With a 24-hour news cycle and content being pushed through multiple social media channels, it’s vital to have the intellectual bandwidth on staff to manage the immediate demand. With centralized operations to facilitate rapid and targeted messaging, public relations war rooms can make or break a successful campaign, event or brand.

Preparation and Planning

What makes for an effective modern PR war room?  Preparation and planning are essential. Draw strategic inferences and scheduling cues from previous, similar or competitor events and programs. Was the last townhall, Twitter chat or Google+ Hangout a success? Why or why not?

Is every department or issue area represented?  Do you need surrogates lined up for media hits? Check schedules to see who is available. Ensure all team members and spokespersons have background and appropriate messaging going in. Getting the right team prepped and ready to go should be done well in advance.


Have as much pre-approved content as possible, including messaging strategy with examples, talking points for spokespeople and digital content with infographics, photos and videos.

Build a timeline, but remember to budget room for spontaneity. Inevitably something will surprise you. Will you have the intellectual, informational and physical resources to provide a thoughtful response?

For rapid response events, what will you need to maintain successful operations for the duration of the event? Equip your team in advance—a live stream, multiple screens to monitor news coverage, pre-approved statements and news releases and maybe even dinner to keep the staff going.

If you don’t have the right team in place with the right resources, your brand likely won’t be on message.

Social Media

How do you win on social media? You’ll need to have a focused strategy for messaging throughout.

Think about who the influencers are and engage appropriately, using replies, retweets and favorites. Does your brand have a frequent complainer on Twitter? It isn’t effective to reply to every negative comment, but you should respond to critics and customer service complaints.

Use apps to maximize your reach. Don’t miss out on opportunities to appropriately exploit innovations of social media like Instagram, Swarm, TweetDeck or HooteSuite.

Having socially savvy people with content and messaging that’s pre-approved equips and empowers your team of digital ninjas with a solid foundation to win.

Metrics and Evaluation

Deliverables should be clearly defined, and feedback should be expected.

Are you trying to beat last year’s social media analytics? Which ones—impressions, engagement or new followers? Defining the goals specifically sets the expectation for success. Doing this will ensure you have someone ready to go on-camera after an event or can push your team to capture a wider audience for digital engagement.

Continuous feedback is important, too. Listen to your team on site so nothing is missed. And before you put the campaign to rest, make recommendations for future operations to help the next event or program be an even bigger success.

Bringing it all together.

Preparation and planning will be the crux of the operation. Focusing on these tips for a modern PR war room should set you with a stellar team equipped to effectively communicate – and more importantly, engage – with your most critical audiences when it matters most.

Photo Credit: Ewan McIntosh