6 Crisis Communications Resources

crisis communications resourcesTO GO!

A quick glance at the news this month is a good reminder that a crisis can happen at any time. The weather is creating crisis situations for many organizations; others have been surprised recently by technical failures or social media mishaps.

If you haven’t looked at your crisis plan in a while, now might be a good time to check out these six resources and get your organization ready for its next crisis.

  • Every Organization Needs a Crisis Plan

If you are NOT in the middle of a crisis right now, this story distills the planning process into the essential Elements. Read: Essential Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan.

  • The First Hour Is Your Biggest Opportunity

It’s make-or- break, actually. What you do in the first hour of a crisis can determine how your reputation survives – or doesn’t. Read: What To Do the First Hour.

  • Say You’re Sorry

No really, you’ll need to say it. And there’s a LOT of ways to do that. Here’s 33 ways to apologize in a crisis.

  • You WILL Make a Mistake

But if you’ve read through this far, it may not be fatal. Here are common mistakes organizations make in a crisis.

  • How Will We Ever Get Through It?

You can – and you will. Here’s a great success story from a small organization, the National Corvette Museum, that shows you can survive and live to tell about it.

Get the E-Book. If you really want to prepare your organization, go here to download my FREE e-book on Managing Your Next Crisis. It’s written with travel organizations in mind, but it’s loaded with information on preparing for any organization.

Go here: http://stepincomm.com/managing-your- next-crisis/

How the Corvette Museum Survived a Sinkhole

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Small Organizations CAN Handle a Crisis

Alongside Interstate 65 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, you can see the iconic Skydome of the National Corvette Museum from the freeway. It is a place where devoted fans come to see and admire America’s iconic cars. It is also a small, but smart organization who handled a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Here is their story.

On the morning of February 12, 2014, at 5:38 a.m., the ground beneath the museum gave way and swallowed eight of the museum’s irreplaceable pieces. It was a sinkhole, 60 feet long by 45 feet wide and 30 feet deep, something we normally associate with Florida’s shifting water table. You can see the security video of the first part of the collapse here:

In the early hours of the morning, Katie Frassinelli, the marketing and communications manager for the Museum got the phone call. Around that time, the story started to travel because the local media monitoring the police scanner heard the original report from the Museum. Within hours, they were in crisis response mode.

How did they handle the sudden onslaught of media at their doorstep within three hours?

The National Corvette Museum team was prepared for rapid notification to some of their key stakeholders because they had several email distribution lists. This allowed them to reach staff at work AND at home and to quickly notify their board of directors too.

“I think everyone was in shock when it happened because a sinkhole in a building is not something you ever imagine happening, so it took us a few beats to get our communication rolling,” Frassinelli says. “But once we got going, we got faster and faster about letting people know what was going on.”

“We wear a lot of hats –we learned to prioritize,” says Frassinelli. “We didn’t go home until we responded to everyone.” They also didn’t discriminate by size of media outlet. As she noted in her presentation to the PRSA Travel and Tourism Section conference last month, “you never know who could pick it up.”

On the day of the crisis, they held two press conferences, which went a long way toward getting their story into the news. They held a press conference the second day, too, but their team worked around the clock to make sure the museum opened that day, so their message became “business as usual” instead of “devastating crisis.”

At the time, the Corvette Museum had 80 staff, 20 of which were full time. There were 12 on the management team and 2 full time and one part time staff in marketing and communications including Frassinelli. One clever tactic they used is the part-timer answered and logged all the incoming calls while Frassinelli responded to the calls. This is a great way to divide the work in a crisis and stay organized, too. As well, most interviews were conducted by Frassinelli or the Executive Director. This made their messaging consistent and focused.

After the second day, the interest tapered off until they started the process of retrieving the cars out of the sinkhole. This gave them another surge in inquiries. When they began that process, they installed additional live streaming cameras so fans could watch. It was so popular, the broadcast maxed out their servers.

Here’s a news story from CBS from the day the first car came out of the sinkhole.

Every “first” after that created a wave of new interest, according to Frassinelli. When they let visitors in to see the sinkhole, they got a wave of media coverage. When they decided to keep the sinkhole, they got media coverage. BUT all of that media coverage was positive!

Key Takeaways from the Corvette Museum Team

  • The team immediately collected media emails and turned it into an update list. Now they have a massive list of media which they can continue to communicate with over time. They used it right away for those periodic updates, saving them a LOT of time.
  • They took lots of high quality photos and videos so they had assets to share for news media inquiries.
  • They also uploaded video footage from their phones to get it out quickly. They chose speed over quality so their message was being shared, but also made high quality available for those who didn’t have tight deadlines.
  • They changed the way they wrote their press releases, using an article style they had not previously adopted. This made it easier for news media to use and they were able to re-purpose the content for members, a key stakeholder group for the organization.
  • Saying thank you and expressing gratitude goes a long way.

 

Turning a Crisis Into an Opportunity

When they began the process of recovering their lost cars, they installed additional live streaming cameras so fans could watch online from every angle. It was so popular, the broadcast maxed out their servers. The construction company got special Operation Corvette + badges for their cranes and helmets which became a positive buzz factor as they began the clean-up. Their Facebook page grew as a result of the incident – from 50,000 fans to 200,000 fans. They had a 67% increase in visitors to the Museum. They even bottled the dirt and rocks from the sinkhole in little jars and have sold more than 2000 in the gift shop.

 

coprvette cave in exhibit

 

But here’s the icing on the cake: they have turned the entire event into an exhibit called Corvette Cave In, which opened on the two year anniversary of the event—Feb 12.

A key question to ask someone who has survived (and thrived!) in a crisis is ‘when did things return to normal?’ When Frassinelli was asked this question, here’s what she said: “I think things will be back to “normal” by the end of the year.”

The National Corvette Museum turned a threat into an opportunity which is still paying dividends for the organization and its visitors. It’s an amazing case study of how a small organization survived through a crisis and is a great example to travel organizations and their leadership teams.

Sorry or Not Sorry? Why Companies Should Apologize

Im sorry graphic for post

There’s nothing like getting a heartfelt apology. And nothing more disappointing than an apology that feels insincere. Setting aside the snark of the Internet – just search for #sorrynotsorry and you’ll see why – apologies are REALLY HARD. They are hard for us as individuals in the course of being human, but they are even harder for organizations.

Why?

It’s Complicated!

In their article “The Organizational Apology: A Step-by-Step Guide”  in last September’s Harvard Business Review, co-authors Maurice E. Schweitzer, Alison Wood Brooks and Adam D. Galinsky, write that humans are predisposed psychologically to avoid apologies. So the fact that we are human makes it even harder to apologize if we’re doing so on behalf of an organization. Ouch.

Even more telling is the authors’ suggestion that as soon as we wear our organizational hat, we are far more likely to look at situations from a legal point of view.

“Even a leader who isn’t actively consulting with an attorney may worry that an apology could create legal problems,” they say. “Companies need to stop thinking this way. Most apologies are low cost – and many create substantial value.”

If your organization hasn’t thought about how apologies might be given and under what circumstances, the rest of the article poses 4 questions to consider whether an apology is warranted and suggests the right and wrong ways to apologize, keeping in mind the audience, timing and details of preparing one.

It’s no surprise that business leaders aren’t sure how to apologize since crisis communicators and business advisors often disagree on the tactical side of delivering apologies.

But is our hesitation to apologize part of our culture? Another article in the Harvard Business Review from 2012 analyzed cultural differences between Americans’ approach to apologies and that of the Japanese.

“Our own work found that a core issue is differing perceptions of culpability: Americans see an apology as an admission of wrongdoing, whereas Japanese see it as an expression of eagerness to repair a damaged relationship, with no culpability necessarily implied. And this difference, we discovered, affects how much traction an apology gains.”

Are we so worried about who is to blame that we have trouble offering sincere apologies at all?

Time after time, crisis communicators and reputation management experts advocate swift, sincere apologies. Yet every week, we see another example of a corporate leader delivering an insincere or stilted wreck of an apology.

It turns out, though, that there is a body of research which shows that apologies can affect stock prices immediately. Sincere, sad, responsible? Stock price recovers. Smiling, insincere? Stock price may be affected – and not in a good way. You can read the story about smiling during a crisis in Cyber Alert.

It’s time to remember the importance of sincerity and communicating from the heart. The right apology is part of that sincerity.

Destination Managers: Improve Internal Relationships Before Your Next Crisis

Hands-in-a-tug-of-war-to-show-internal-conflictAt a recent conference on crisis communications, a participant stopped me and asked this question:  What do you do when your leadership is not communicating?  WHAT? Her real question was this: during a recent crisis in her town, the city leaders were not communicating to the tourism pros in town, yet the reputation of that destination was at stake due to national media coverage and social media chatter.

Most of the conference participants were horrified to hear her story, but it is not uncommon. There are many organizations that, when faced with a crisis, go somewhere inside their heads and forget key stakeholders. They are so focused on what’s happening externally, that they don’t stop to consider key internal stakeholders.

She wanted a quick answer, but I honestly don’t think there is one. The answer is to improve those internal relationships before you need them the next time. Here are three things you can do to improve those relationships.

First, reach out to those who you will need in your next crisis. What does this mean?  This could be the fire chief, the police chief, the city manager, the head of a particular city department or it could be the hotel across the street or your competitor down the road.  Each one of those organizations or departments may be able to help you –either in front of the camera — or behind the scenes — in your next crisis.  Buy them a coffee and find out how you can better work together.

Second, find out what kinds of internal communications systems might increase the speed and clarity of your internal communication.  Can you launch a private channel like Yammer or a group text program to keep internal stakeholders posted during that time? Think about ways of working and test them out when things are quiet.

Finally, is it time for a drill? Once you’ve opened the lines of communication, maybe the only way to find out how you might work better together is to test it with a tabletop drill. Think of a likely scenario that would affect your destination’s reputation, but one that might not be managed by you. A weather crises is a likely scenario. You will no doubt learn about each other’s “ways of working” and know what you will need to do next time.

Internal miscommunication is a common problem for destination managers, especially because they may only be involved on the periphery of an actual crisis. Yet, the best way to communicate that a destination is open for business and ready to greet visitors is for all agencies to work together to improve their crisis response. It can be done. All good relationships take time, and better internal relationships are certainly worth it.

Add Crisis of Reputation to Your Crisis Planning Kit

Wrinkled Sheet Of Paper With Inscription "reputation"Most companies planning for their crisis communications focus on physical types of crises like natural disasters and crime. Increasingly, however, it’s just as likely that an organization will face a crisis of reputation and the crisis will happen on social networks. This is a shocker to many traditional companies. You can just imagine the CEO saying: “Why should we put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb?”

In short, if you don’t, you’ll be toast.

Online conflicts can be brutal as anyone who has weathered one will tell you, but you CAN survive one. The key is to be aware of what’s going on in the virtual world and to prepare for the next conflict.

“Your online privacy—the combination of what you and other share about you online and what you manage to keep off the Web – and reputation are inextricably intertwined,” says Andrea Weckerle, author of Civility in the Digital Age.

An online conflict can be completely manufactured.  It can spring from erroneous information, a misunderstanding,  or the widespread opinion of a key influencer.  This is completely counterintuitive to how most companies prepare for real crisis communications. It is just as likely to spring from a genuine customer service issue or human resource matter which is advanced by a loud and influential person in your networks.

A traditional crisis usually has a beginning, middle and end, allowing the team to return to a normal state of affairs. This is not always true for an online conflict, which keeps coming back because of the social network convention of sharing and passing along links (false though they may be!) as well as the likely results from search engine queries.

There are things you can do to prepare for this type of crisis, but it does take a time commitment.  First step: find out your current online reputation.  Do this when things are normal, not when something’s brewing.  One thing you can do is Google your company name once a week and see what you find.  Then Google your company name with “stinks” or another bad word and now see what happens. Once you do that, it opens up additional opportunities to search networks like LinkedIn, Glass Door, Yelp and Trip Advisor to see results there, too. Second step: start fixing anything you find which is inaccurate or incomplete.

This only scratches the surface of monitoring your online reputation. Among the many gems in Weckerle’s book is a complete chapter on monitoring your online reputation with detailed instructions on how to do it. This book is a blueprint for managing all types of online disputes, based on Weckerle’s experience as an attorney and as the founder of CiviliNationan organization dedicated to making the internet a more civil place. It is full of relevant case studies and numerous strategies for resolving every type of online conflict imaginable.

Even if your company is not in an all-out crisis of reputation online, learning to navigate negative reviews is part of managing civility online.  The Journal of Consumer Research reported that negative reviews which were polite actually helped to sell the merchandise which was reviewed.

Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products — even when those reviews include negative opinions.

The authors — researchers Ryan Hamilton, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Ann L. McGill — found that cultivating civility might make consumers feel better about a product.

So, why should you put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb?  Your reputation depends on it.

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

 

33 Ways to Apologize in a Crisis

White board with words "We Screwed Up.." to illustrate 33 Ways to Say I'm Sorry Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at Social Media Breakfast in Houston, organized by my friend and colleague, Kami Watson Huyse. The topic: “Crisis at the Speed of a Tweet” was a lively discussion, talk-show style, with more than 75 interested participants. The event is live-streamed and you can watch it here. (Warning: the video is one hour long!)

During the question and answer session, I jokingly said that I had 400 ways to say I’m sorry. This was in response to questions about being timely in a crisis.

Upon further reflection, I realized that I had grossly exaggerated the number of ways you could apologize in a crisis – unless of course, you add in foreign languages, which is far from fair. What did seem fair was to take pen to paper and actually write down all the ways to apologize in a crisis. It amounted to the 33 “sentence starters” you see below.

If you find yourself representing a company in a crisis, you will no doubt need to apologize before the crisis is over. And, the rapid turnaround of events might find you a bit tongue-tied or bereft of ideas to convey the right amount of regret to the right audience. This list is designed to help you make the right choice during your next crisis.

  1. There are no words…
  2. We are filled with sadness today…
  3. We were deeply moved by…
  4. We regret to announce that…
  5. I (We) got it wrong and we are sorry…
  6. It distresses us to share this news today…
  7. It is with a sense of loss that we….
  8. We deeply regret that…
  9. We collectively grieve today as…
  10. We were horrified to learn…
  11. Like you, our hearts are heavy…
  12. Words do not adequately express…
  13. We join with the community …
  14. We are anguished to hear….
  15. We sincerely apologize…
  16. We had no idea …
  17. We are deeply troubled…
  18. There is nothing we can say to make up for this mistake…
  19. We completely sympathize with the current situation…
  20. We apologize for the error…
  21. We ask for your understanding at this time…
  22. Please forgive the….
  23. Nothing can excuse….
  24. Please pardon our…..
  25. We do not condone…
  26. We screwed up and we take full responsibility…
  27. Our actions were inexcusable….
  28. What we did was careless….
  29. Please allow us the opportunity to…
  30. We regret any part of our actions which may have played in this situation…
  31. We are disappointed and will take immediate action…
  32. We have learned a lot from this and we are taking actions to ensure this never happens again.
  33. You are right to be frustrated.

Special Note: Contributions to this list came from my colleagues at #solopr including Karen Swim, Bill Bonner, Kami Huyse and Cherie Gary.

What creative ways have you used to apologize in a crisis?

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

7 Deadly Sins of Companies in Crisis

Every day, a company somewhere finds itself in crisis. Some will handle it expertly but others will completely bomb out. Here are seven epic mistakes or “sins” that will lead an organization in crisis down a path of fractured reputation and poor crisis response.

1. Unprepared — the unprepared organization has no plan, wallows in confusion, looks like a deer in headlights.
2. Arrogant — this company or its leadership loses sight of the big picture. It’s all about them and their reputation and not about those affected by the crisis.
3. Reactive –the reactive organization is too close to the situation, takes the social media chatter too personally, gets defensive.
4. Indecisive — an indecisive company is having a crisis of leadership, has lost trust with its stakeholders.
5. Insensitive — the insensitive company is robotic, lacks emotion, tries too hard to dispense with the problem.
6. Distant — the organization is out of touch with its audiences. They might appear lost.
7. Evasive — this company is sneaky, has something to hide, or is not ready to admit fault.

How can you avoid being on the 7 deadly sins list? If you feel your organization might be in danger of being indecisive, distant or evasive, it’s time to look carefully at how your organization can become honest, thoughtful and considerate — before your next crisis.

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

How to Tame that Arrogant Spokesperson

A Sign Of ConflictThere’s nothing more challenging for a crisis management team than an inflexible spokesperson. You can picture it in your mind instantly. This person knows everything, will not take direction, cannot take constructive criticism.

In a crisis, the person who becomes the face of your organization should ooze humility. He or she should represent, with extreme grace and style, your organizational point of view and cultural footprint.

Yesterday the students of Travel and Tourism College, an annual event coordinated by the Texas Travel Industry Association, voiced this challenge in our sessions on crisis management. It seems that many organizations have been faced with an arrogant spokesperson and they were looking for strategies.

How do you tame that arrogance into something workable before your next crisis? This is a tricky problem because if one person is your stumbling block, chances are your team dynamics already has some issues. But there are a few workarounds which might help smooth out the kinks. Here are 6 ideas for crisis managers to try.

Do Group Media Training

Raise the quality of everyone’s interview potential with a group media training session.

Use Mock Interviews to Improve Performance

After that media training session, put your newfound skills to the test and have each member of the group do a mock interview. Record them and do group critiques. It’s the best way to highlight good interviewees and those who need improvement.

Cultivate Multiple Spokespersons

Should the same person ALWAYS represent your organization? That’s a hefty burden and a liability in many cases. By cultivating multiple spokespersons, you spread the burden – and the liability – and eliminate the power structure of a single mouthpiece.

Use Three Key Messages

Maybe you are asking too much of your spokesperson and they have information overload. Limit what they need to transmit to a handful of key messages – no more than three – to keep the interview sharp.

Critique Every Interview

Every interview can be improved. Every spokesperson can learn new things. Critique every interview starting with what went well followed by what could be improved.

Partner Up

Sometimes partnering the arrogant spokesperson with a kinder, gentler person in a two-person interview can help deliver the message. This is a strategy which Kellye Crane of SoloPRPro has used successfully with clients who need softening around the edges.

If you’re having trouble with a spokesperson who is inflexible and can’t take direction, try one of these 6 ideas and see if it makes a difference.

Essential Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan

Formulating a crisis response and communications plan is an important first step in preparing for your next crisis. Some of the best crisis plans are simple. Rather than envisioning every “if this, then that” circumstance, a robust crisis plan which is somewhat vague might be the perfect framework for your organization.

Every crisis plan contains similar components. However, each component should be relevant to your organization and its structure as well as peculiarities of your geographic location (coastal travel organizations will face annual hurricane preparedness whereas others face tornado season). A good plan should also have power – the power for the team to follow its steps in a crisis without stopping to seek permission or get approvals. It should empower a team to work a crisis in the first few hours without sanctions or interruptions.

Does your organization have a crisis plan? If not, you can get started today with these essential elements.

Goal or Objective

This brief introductory section should outline what this plan is designed to go, with words of encouragement for the team who may turn to it suddenly for help. It will help set the tone for the team in crisis.

Purpose

Clearly and plainly stated in a few bullet points.

Definition of Crisis

A general definition may give clarity as a crisis emerges and should include a bulleted list of examples specific to your business or organization.

Statement of Organization’s Crisis Policy

If you already have one in an employee handbook or business operations guide, it should be repeated here.

Crisis Preparation

What has your organization done in advance to prepare the team to manage a crisis? Where do you keep the plan? Do you have a conference calling number reserved? How is the team alerted? Do you have outside counsel on standby? Their information should go here. Are there reporting forms which will be used later? They should also go here. Some organizations have designated muster areas if their physical plant needs to be evacuated. What about designated areas for news media to gather? Where are the emergency supplies located?

While some of these questions seem obvious, it’s important to have it all in one place. Why? What if the one person who stocked the emergency supply cabinet or the one person who has the evacuation plan memorized is on vacation, or worse, is involved in the emergency itself?

Crisis Management Team

This section should state the titles and areas of responsibility for each member of your team. It might be useful to include a chart of the team members.

Command Center

Information about how and where you will establish a command center go here. Also, an alternate location should be named.

Crisis Management Timeline

This is the blueprint for how your team will identify the problem, begin to solve it and communicate what they are doing to the stakeholder base. There will be 4-6 steps to managing your crisis, although depending on its complexity and severity, you may follow the steps more than once.

Pre-approved Statements

Every organization has a handful of crises that are likely to happen. For the travel industry this might include weather emergencies like tornadoes and hurricanes, medical emergencies of guests and visitors, crimes committed at the organization like robbery, car accidents and domestic disputes.

Monitoring

Every organization should routinely monitor what is being said about their brand. This might include online services or keywords but may also be part of a media database subscription. These tools change frequently, so it’s important to know who has access and what they are capable of delivering in a crisis.

Evaluation Procedures

What action is necessary at the conclusion of a crisis? Are you bound by law to file a certain type of report? Is someone on the team required to write an after-action report? Will the team gather at a certain time after the crisis is over to evaluate what happened and any changes which need to be made in the organization before the next crisis? A good crisis plan will identify a timeline for these things to take place. It’s important for the crisis management team to download emotionally, too. Putting a statement about what’s required related to evaluation sets the stage for that to happen later.

Attachments

Your plan should include all necessary attachments like the management team chart and contact information spreadsheet, media lists, company backgrounder, pre-approved statements and company “boilerplate” language.

You can start the journey to making your organization crisis-ready when you start to build a plan from these essential elements.

More Crisis Planning Resources can be found here.

This post reflects some of the material I will be using next week for Texas Travel Industry Association’s Travel and Tourism College, an annual event to elevate the expertise of travel professionals in Texas.

UPDATE: Want more? Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

Coping in a Crisis: What to do the First Hour

How you respond in a crisis largely depends on what you do in the first hour after you become aware that something bad has happened in your organization.

The suggestions given here are to supplement the crisis communication plan you are already using and should help with work flow in the first hour.

Clear Your Desk

Figuratively and literally.  Get rid of anything that is not germane to this one problem.  You can pick up on the rest when things return to normal.

Be the Hunter and Gatherer

Before you can start to communicate FOR your organization, you need people to communicate TO you from within the organization. Have your phone list and alternate contacts list on your desk.  Work the list, gather the team and their collective knowledge.

Stay on Top of Customer Contact

Some companies go off the rails during a crisis because they miss the little things.  Get anyone who can help answer phones, watch for news coverage, monitor social channels, and otherwise see what’s happening on the “outside” and arm them with a run sheet to keep track of the calls.  At the end of this post, there’s a sample which you can download and adapt for your organization. While this sounds old school, the most routine crises involve power outages from weather incidents, so you may not have access to your monitoring service and desktop computer.

When I was in corporate communications, every person on the team had 10 of these blank forms in their Crisis folder. We also made sure that the receptionist and call center team had them too. When the crisis was unfolding, they pulled them out of their desk and were ready to go. They are also a powerful way to take the pulse in a crisis.

Use Time Codes

As you receive information from the field or your crisis team, write down the time you received it.  I remember a crisis where a directive from the fire department which was given at a specific time changed the outcome of our response significantly.  Writing these “on the board” can be helpful later on.

Use a Bridging Response

While you are simultaneously gathering information, checking your customer contact sheets, you can also start drafting a bridging response which will get you through the first hour.

Set the right tone during the first hour of your crisis.  It is a good investment.

Here is a template to create your own Crisis Communication Run Sheet. Feel free to adapt for your organization:
Step in Crisis Template