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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
I hear it at least once a week. A grandiose statement about how savvy twenty-somethings are and that they are the experts in exploring and using technology. I interact with that generation every week at the college level, and see a different type of native. In the past two years, I have had students who:
- Did not know how to upload a document into an online dropbox;
- Have never read a blog
- Have only used Facebook, Reddit and YouTube
- Are afraid to use an online learning system or take an online class
I don’t want to make a similar grandiose statement to say that all twenty-somethings are digitally averse, but it’s clear to me that we should not make assumptions either way and use every opportunity to share the rush that comes from learning something new in the digital universe.
Conversely, my students have also taught me about what’s important to them in their digital lives.
This has broad implications for school systems, for employers AND for students. It’s not about your age. It’s not about whether you are a Boomer or Gen whatever, it’s about teaching the next generation to learn by exploring.
Photo by Anthro 136k on Flickr. Published under Creative Commons license.
In case Halloween is under the radar at your attraction, here are some staggering stats from the National Retail Federation. 170 million people will celebrate Halloween this year, according to the group’s annual consumer spending survey. 24% of those plan to “visit a haunted house,” a category which has grown consistently year after year from 14.9% in 2005.
It’s no surprise then that area attractions are looking to capitalize on spending this holiday. Why shouldn’t they? Most Texas attractions can only grow so much in the summer months and are looking for ways in which travelers can enjoy a repeat visit, extend their length of stay or spend additional money.
While Halloween activities are not new, they are growing in popularity and diversity with categories for children and adults. Here are three in San Antonio which are new this year.
Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld
This is an add-on to a SeaWorld visit and includes backstage tours of key attractions at the park’s Howl-O-Scream event, front of the line access and reserved seating. When you purchase this tour, you get a daytime look at how the Frightmare Forest is designed and a makeup demonstration with real tips you can try for your own Halloween costume. The Face Your Fears Tour is one of several unique experiences offered by SeaWorld at Halloween.
“Halloween is one of our park’s most celebrated and well-received traditions,” said Brian Carter, director of PR & Digital for SeaWorld San Antonio. “We add new elements to Halloween and our other consumer events as a way to grow the footprint of the event and keep our guests coming back to see something new.”
Terror on the Plaza
In downtown San Antonio, just across from the Alamo, Ripley’s Believe it or Not added Terror on the Plaza during select dates in October.
Dinner and a Ghost Tour
These all address the “ghastly” side of the holiday, which is an expensive investment for smaller attractions. There are many other themes which a destination, hotel, or small attraction can consider to take advantage of the milder temperatures, seasonality and consumer travel habits.
Photography – While your visitors are munching on seasonal goodies, they might also be taking pictures, as the folks at Tourism Currents point out in their recent newsletter.
Family – Any theme that helps families carve out time together can bring added visitors to your destination.
With the average person spending $79 at Halloween (up from $49 in 2005), it’s a season that attractions need to think about expanding in the future.
Read the National Retail Federations’ complete Halloween Spending Survey results here.
Ed Note: I was given the chance to experience the Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld in preparation for this story.
It’s easy to get lost in conflicting advice when you attend conferences.
I’ve been to one too many conferences in which I came away with a mere checklist of tactics which I was told to get….right now. Lately, the list includes social media, mobile web sites and integration. All those things are important to those of us who are embedded in the travel industry.
In order to become influential in the next ten years in the way Walt Disney was influential in the 1960s, then a different line of thinking is in order.
At the recent Texas Travel Industry Summit, one speaker stood out because he helped us to elevate our thinking beyond room nights and attraction attendance. Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, might actually be from the future. He takes an anthropological approach to identifying trends and consumer behavior. His street cred is sky high and his view is global in a way that few in our industry can claim. Read more about him here.
Walsh’s presentation was like a bolt of lightning, delivering nuggets about the future of travel too numerous to mention in one blog post. Three of his points really resonated with me.
Stop looking at individual trips and start looking at the travel experience life cycle.
We used to call it repeat business, then we called it loyalty programs, but Walsh’s advice is to look beyond individual experiences. Can you weave your organization, destination or attraction into the consumer’s life cycle by offering experiences that transcend individual purchases?
Start looking ten years ahead by listening to teenagers now.
Most focus groups used by travel organizations look at their current consumers, usually women in the 25-45 age range. These are the current travel decision-makers. But in order to offer products and services for the next generation of decision makers, we need to start listening to their needs, habits and interests today.
Disruptive technology has changed the way we process information.
Like it or not, the long-term effects of multi-tasking and “hummingbird” searching is changing the way we think and the way we make decisions. As travel organizations, we need to be poised to capitalize on spontaneous travel decisions and more circuitous decision-making. This should, in essence, change the way we approach marketing and communications plans.
Walsh’s presentation liberally hinted that the travel industry is about to reach a tipping point. Will your travel organization be ready?
It’s hitting the fan. Your organization is in crisis and you have 30 minutes to get your act together and prepare the first response. The challenge for any organization in crisis is that you are still gathering facts to figure out what happened yet the “always-on” media and persistent public demand a response.
It is at this moment during a crisis that most organizations falter – by trying to deliver a statement that is the definitive answer to multiple stakeholders. In the current media environment, that concept is frustrating and false. Frustrating because you can’t know everything about the crisis yet and false because by the time you get the statement is approved internally, the information will change.
What should you do avoid losing your momentum and satisfy those who are watching you?
Craft a quick bridging response.
A bridging response is simple, straightforward, yet slightly vague. It acknowledges to all your stakeholders that you are AWARE of what is happening, that you are RESPONSIVE to what’s happening, yet buys time until you actually have real information. Verified information.
Many organizations are routinely affected by weather conditions. We know that there is a hurricane season annually and other parts of the country are routine plagued by tornadoes. While each storm system is different, there are often commonalities. So using an example of a weather crisis for an example, let’s see how this approach could play out.
An extreme storm hits your town, causing power outages and damage. How much damage? Is anyone hurt? When will you be up and running again? What should we do in the meantime? You probably can’t answer all these questions in the space of 30-45 minutes, but here’s what you CAN say.
We have been affected by [storm name or condition or event] and are in the process of assessing the effects to [people, place]. Right now, our teams are [share what they are doing: touring the facility, driving the area, etc] and as soon as we know more, we will keep you updated.
Bridging responses help establish that you are in control and working the problem, which makes media-watchers much more forgiving than the organization that waits until their statement is just “perfect.” But, it’s up to you and your organization to keep your stakeholders updated periodically as new, and verified, information becomes available.
A disturbing media trend emerging the past few years really came to light for me last week while scanning the morning news programs: media interviewing other media. I’ve noticed it on two occasions: celebrity news and breaking news. Here are two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Celebrity News
Celebrity A is divorcing Celebrity B.
The news coverage includes B roll of celebrity A emerging from a night club and Celebrity B leaving a hotel or restaurant. The story also includes file footage of the couple – together—in happier times as well as clips from their last hit record, blockbuster movie or product release. But what the news team really wants is the celebrities talking about the break-up, which celebrities almost NEVER do. Not if they have a good PR team and legal team. So, when the editor is screaming, “Get me someone, anyone, who can talk about the divorce” what’s a reporter to do? Call in the editor of a celebrity magazine who may have the inside scoop on how the relationship unraveled.
Scenario 2: Breaking News
Tragedy Strikes and All Hands Are On Deck
A horrible tragedy occurs and news organizations are interrupting regular programs to cover it. Every news organization wants to offer in-depth coverage by going beyond the basics of what just happened. So they start to develop sidebar stories to fill in the time already allotted to enhanced news coverage while they are waiting for a development, press conference or official information. They might develop profiles on people, location or work the angle on the economic impact. This buys them time and makes it appear as if they are advancing the story. Another solution is to compare and contrast this tragedy to others.
Why Do the Media Do This?
First, it’s a question of access. There are only so many good spokespersons to go around, so if another network or newspaper gets hold of them first, you are stuck.
A second issue is expertise. There are fewer beat reporters on the job today and general assignment reporters have less in-depth knowledge to cover a story beyond the basics.
The last issue is vanity. It’s pretty easy to fill time by calling your friend who edits the celebrity publication and get them to agree to an interview.
Why This Practice Should Stop
Media outlets using this practice are highlighting sources and information that should serve as background. The celebrity publication editor and industry watcher are being elevated to primary sources of information, which they are not. Viewers are seduced into thinking the source is important because they have a slot on national television.
So the next time you’re watching the morning news, pay attention to who is being interviewed and consider the source. It may not be as credible as it seems.
That’s what’s on my mind today.
Is your organization’s website redo managing you?
Has this happened to you? You decide to redo your website. You ask around, get a couple of quotes and next thing you know, you are in the middle of a project that’s going off the rails. It takes too long, you don’t know how to work with the web team who’s designing and developing the bloomin’ thing and you don’t have time in your day for all the details to get it going.
Organizations small and large have this problem. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four things you can to do keep your project moving.
1. Make a detailed RFP
An RFP (Request for Proposal) outlines everything you need from the firm who will design and develop your site. The more detailed it is, the more accurate your quote will be. This helps to keep your organization on budget. First, you will want to express your organization’s mission and vision as well as goals for the re-design. Who is your target audience? If you know, it should be in the document. Do you have websites you admire for look and functionality? Put those as examples in the RFP. Other items to add are website requirements, time frame, key players, creative direction. Tech Soup has a complete RFP library. It’s targeted to nonprofits, but is very useful in crafting one for your organization.
2. Get internal approvals first. And Always.
The biggest time suck in any web project are internal approvals. You look at a design, give feedback to the designer, send feedback to the designer, then the boss or team changes its collective mind. This is a HUGE time waster and has the potential for driving up costs to you and to the web firm. The best thing you can do for your web firm is secure all internal approvals first, so everything you send to them is final.
3. Appoint a Strong Project Manager
It might be a member of your team. Or it might be an independent consultant. It should NOT be someone at the web firm. They are already managing the design and development. A project manager organizes the flow of copy, tracks all the approvals and the job flow. She makes sure photos are sent, organizes to shoot new ones, tracks down the details to keep the project moving. Without a strong project manager, deadlines can be missed and it is easy for the project to go off the rails.
4. Spend More Time on Content than on Design.
Don’t get me wrong. I love good design. But content — the text, photos, forms and links on your pages — are what will bring people back to your site time and time again. Strong, frequently-changed content, will make search engines happy and make your page views soar. If you are really smart, you already have a content strategy for your web presence AND you know that even though your web redesign is done, it’s truly never done. It’s a dynamic hub and should be updated as often as you can. Daily or weekly is best, but monthly can work for smaller organizations. It’s best to bring in your content team as you are kicking off the project, not when design is complete and you are close to launch.
So what’s the worst that can happen? The timeline can stretch out, turning that three month project into a year-long nightmare. The budget can overrun because of delays and in the end, no one seems happy.
On the other hand, if you combine a strong RFP and project manager, with a content strategy and a great web firm, you completely change the game.
A friend was recently lamenting his frustration on yet another crazy board meeting. The group dynamics were contentious and the meetings went way too long. The leader often stifled conversation during meetings.
After serving 12-plus community organizations in the past 10 years, I have experienced boards, committees and organizations with a wide range of communication dynamics and interaction styles. It’s no surprise that not all group dynamics are effective. Here are some illustrations of boards who didn’t get it right. Which ones have you served on?
The Rubber Stamp Board
This group moves business according to the agenda and based on past formulas. They do not discuss, but present, approve and move on. They’re all physically present, but not engaged.
The Feedback Loop Board
This group has analysis paralysis. Each time they come close to making a decision, they stop, gather more information and begin the discussion process all over again. They are overly engaged, but not productive.
The Saving Face Board
This group is concerned about image more than action on behalf of the organization. Chances are they are recovering from a catastrophe of some sort.
The Family Feud Board
This group spends more time arguing than they do performing. No action is taken without a fight. Members leave each meeting frustrated and stressed.
The Monster Board
This board is so large that just getting them to show up is action enough. It’s a blessing when they read the agendas provided for each meeting.
The All-Business Board
This group handles business with lightning speed, but lacks the passion for the mission of the organization and have no idea what the other board members do in their professional lives.
The Countdown Board
This is a group with a significant number of members who are about to term out. This puts the tem into a holding pattern.
The Desperate Despot Board
This is a board with an overzealous leader. Don’t cross him or her because it will throw a monkey wrench into the works.
The Larger-than-Life Board
This is a board driven by the “see and be seen” mentality. It’s more about who is on the board than what they can contribute to the benefit of the organization.
While these illustrations exaggerate characteristics of boards and committees who are struggling, there are three key characteristics which can create better balance in your board.
- Good Communication. The ability of a group to complete the service for which it is gathered is largely dependent on good group communication.
- Consistent Engagement. This means communicating to the board between board meetings and providing regular updates on projects, finances and other routine business.
- Reasonable Expectations. This is an important first step in recruiting and maintaining board members. What is the expectation of time and financial commitment? Is the group an advisory group or are they invested in the oversight of the organization?
Boards need to have a balance of communication, engagement and expectations to avoid becoming the “Family Feud Board” or the “Rubber Stamp Board.”
With planning and attention, pretty soon your board might be called by another stereotype: The Perfectly Balanced Board.
Have you ever served on a board like this? How did you struggle through it? I would love to see your comments below.
In the early days of my public relations career, it was an accepted fact that you should train the key people in your organization who may be called upon to speak to the media.
In some organizations, this “training opportunity” was geared to one or a few key executives. In larger organizations, it was often many more, drawing on the philosophy that subject matter experts should be used whenever possible.
There were three reasons to this approach:
- Rewiring the executive’s brain to think on his feet during a live television interview
- Educating them on media agenda and news flow
- Developing key messages for your executive to share during interviews
We all know that approach is a crap shoot.
Some execs are great on camera, some are terrified of it and others should be. It’s easy for any spokesperson to get off track, be distracted by the technology, or be so loaded down with facts, figures and messages that he or she loses their way in an interview.
During my years on the public relations team at SeaWorld, we minimized the liabilities of individual spokespersons with a rich and varied group from which we could draw when opportunities arose. In this case, more is better and during particularly busy times – like the birth of an animal or the opening of a new exhibit – we could offer news media more variety with more spokespersons.
This thinking was completely geared to traditional media and involved a very linear process of preparation that went something like this:
- News media calls.
- PR person negotiates details of date, location, time, spokesperson.
- Spokesperson is prepared.
- News media arrives.
- Interview/live shot/taping occurs.
- News media departs.
- Interview runs.
- Opportunity is evaluated.
Now that the news cycle is round-the-clock and everyone is a publisher, it’s time to change the approach and the process.
If organizational communications are to succeed in the next 10 years, every person in the organization needs to understand the “why” of the organization AND be able to communicate it. While media training will still serve an organization well when preparing for 60 Minutes or CNN, each organization has opportunities EVERY DAY in which to tell its message, online and IRL – in real life — in the community.
This means organizations need to invest in developing media literacy skills for its employees. Preparing them to respond and empowering employees to tell the organization’s story will go farther in advancing the organization’s identity than traditional media training achieves today.
Does your organization empower your employees to represent online or in real life? Tell us what strategies are working for you.
A lot changes when you age. My attention span has really changed in the last five years. While I’m not exactly sure whether it’s physical aging or environmental factors, I have recently begun calling this syndrome “late onset ADHD.” Never in my working life have I had so many things happening at once. Irons in the fire, balls in the air, massive multi-tasking — call it what you want, my work habits are complicated and messy. And it shows no signs of changing any time soon.
With apologies to the many people who live with the real thing, the symptoms of my “late onset ADHD” include:
- Incessantly checking devices
- Moving with breakneck speed to a new project before current project is finished
- Transferring papers from the left to the right side of your desk, so you can check off “clean desk” on your to-do list
- The need to keep at least 6 windows open so you can tab through them quickly while working
Does this sound familiar?
Apparently, I’m not alone. Several researchers are looking at the effects of multi-tasking and multimedia use on our brains. And so far, the news is mixed.
Clay Shirky, in his book Cognitive Surplus, believes that we have more opportunities than every before in our connected world. From his frame of reference, we are using more brain power now than we did when we were passive media consumers, ensconced on the couch, enjoying media which was carefully chosen by us by those who had the power to create media. Shirky believes that our vast amounts of free time combined with the ability to create our own media to solve puzzles and problems; in fact, he believes we’ve got lots of spare brain power in which to do that. Shirky introduces the concept in a 2010 TED Talk in France.
Not everyone is as optimistic as Shirky about how our connected world is changing the way we think.
Guelph University professor Naseem Al-Aidroos is studying the brain’s attentional mechanisms to see how it filters and prioritizes what to pay attention to and what is less important. His findings suggest that task completion was higher when participants were asked to pay attention to certain visual cues. For those of us struggling to pay attention at all, this complicates task completion. Who gets your attention? And for how long?
Last year, CNN did a story about the research of David Levy, who categorizes our massive multi-tasking as a condition called “popcorn brain” — described as a brain constantly stimulated by multitasking that it cannot adapt to routine offline tasks.
So what’s the antidote?
I have discussed the “always on” with many colleagues who are in a similar condition. All are trying to develop strategies that take them back to the real world more frequently, in the hopes of resisting the magnet attraction of their devices. Here’s a few I’m ready to try.
My former SeaWorld colleague Kathleen Mundy lives on a ranch outside San Antonio and walks her property each morning. She posts short, but engaging descriptions of these walks on Facebook. She doesn’t post every single day, but when she does, I always read them. She has a chair in a special spot on her property called the thinking chair. You can see it in the picture above. That’s two great strategies for disconnecting: walking and thinking.
Other colleagues discuss scheduled downtime, turning off devices after or at a certain time so they can focus their energy on something else.
While these may not be perfect solutions, they do create some boundaries to let ideas flourish. I’m going to try all three of these strategies over the summer, as well tackling the IRL (in real life) stack of books next to my desk. What strategies do you use to combat “late onset ADHD”? I would love to hear about them in the comments section here.