Tag: crisis management

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

Your customers should always come first in a crisis

There was a collective intake of breath throughout the PR industry this week when news reports declared that a Thai Airways plane had skidded off a Bangkok runway on Sunday injuring 14 passengers on board.

It wasn’t the incident that had caused a stir with PR agencies however it was the fact that in their misguided wisdom, Thai Airways had taken the unusual approach of ‘blacking out’ their logo so that any media reports would  not display the company’s branding.

There are many, many reasons why this was a very misguided act on behalf of the airline, not least based on the fact that all reports would still reference the brand within their stories, name checking the company as they did so, and also that blacking out the logo simply created a reason for the business to continue to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons!

The first rule of any crisis, for any brand, of any size is to stand up and take responsibility. If there has been a problem that you are aware of and you are responsible then hold your hands up. It is far better to say sorry than it is to offer a no comment or attempt to portion blame elsewhere.

Crisis can be difficult, particularly when the press are involved but the simple truth of the matter is that in order to maintain a level of dignity and credibility throughout these situations, companies have to address the matter professionally.

Thai Airlines should have been making a statement in response to an incident, which lets remember had left 14 passengers injured, as opposed to putting their brand first. A simple two minute comment which started with: We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to our passengers… and then ended with: We are in the process of carrying out a full investigation into this matter…

The un-written statement from the brand based on their actions reads more like: We have better things to do than consider our customers at this difficult time. Instead we are going to take poor advice and cover up our logo. We will be back shortly – does anyone have any black paint?

As a result of their actions the business haven’t so much blacked their logo as their name.

Having managed crisis for some of the UK’s leading businesses, here at Open Communications we are no stranger to difficult situations. Our advice to clients is always to be honest. In any event we work from our clients offices to ensure that we are on hand to offer the advice and guidance that they need.

It would be silly to suggest that crisis are simple, they are particularly uncomfortable and potentially damaging. Irrelevant of how disastrous a situation appears it can be handled correctly and professionally, ensuring that whatever the outcome the directors of a business can maintain their integrity and where possible the reputation of the brand.

Here are five top tips for managing the communications in any crisis situation:

  1. If required issue an internal announcement to all employees giving brief details of the situation and also guidance on who to direct any media enquiries through to
  2. Arrange a meeting with all board directors and senior managers within the business
  3. Discuss in detail what has happened and most importantly why
  4. Draft a statement to all media
  5. Manage all media enquiries and DO NOT under any circumstances issue a no comment

As you would expect, we would always advise that in these instances the first thing that you is contact your PR agency. If you don’t have a PR agency then we would strongly advise that you find one with the experience and credentials needed to support you during what could be one of the most difficult times of your career.

In the same way that people rely on legal practices when things go wrong, organisations should trust and rely on communications experts when it matters most.

And remember, no business ever has a crisis, until it has a crisis!

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.

 

Open Comms makes a move and secures two new clients

“Open Communications, the PR and marketing communications agency based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard near Wakefield, is celebrating four years in business with two new account wins and a move to larger premises.”

How exciting, we are finally in a position to announce our office move (it was three months in the planning!). After achieving four years of growth we have moved to purpose built offices at Nostell Priory Estate Yard. It’s exciting times and not least because we now have our very own meeting room and a store cupboard for all of the products we manage for our clients – Hannah still looks gleeful everytime she comes in and doesn’t have to move a pile of boxes to get to her desk.

In addition to the office move we can also confirm that we have been appointment as preferred PR supplier to Al-Murad Tiles, the largest independent tiles re-seller in the UK and Abduls takeaway and diner with sites in Pontefract and Wakefield.

We will be managing the PR and promotions for both businesses and will work with the teams to generate campaigns that run throughout the year increasing footfall and improving brand awareness.

It has been an interesting and eventful four years to say the least. We set out to create a straight talking PR agency that would care less about air kissing and more about achieving results and that’s exactly what we have done. As a result, we now have new premises and a list of clients that we are incredibly proud of.

As well as securing retained clients, over the years we have also developed a range of services including Open for New Business, an offering which makes PR accessible to smaller businesses and Open 27/7, crisis management for companies who require support during their most challenging times.

Since we launched in 2008 Open Communications has developed as an agency and we now work with some of the UK’s leading businesses including snack manufacturer, Intersnack and confectionery brand HARIBO. We have also been proud to work with smaller businesses who we continue to support as they develop and grow.

All in all we are a very proud and passionate team and would like to take this opportunity to thank our clients, our suppliers, colleagues and those we network with. Here’s to four years and many more to come!

The print press, PR and that election

It’s been a roller coaster few weeks in the USA with the constant evaluation of who is in the lead, which candidate won which head-to-head debate and who came across as well informed, stronger and most suitable to become President, taking on the responsibility to run one of the largest countries in the World.

I’m not a politically driven person per se but you couldn’t miss this show with billions of dollars reportedly spent on each campaign.  The elections even went so far as to appear on the Simpsons, reiterating the significance and absolute inability to avoid this historical ‘battle’.

No day went by without an evaluation and critique of each candidate and this is what I found most interesting. Clearly the overall success of the elections was due to the vote however each party had to convince the public that they were the best candidate for the job – they were managing their reputation to engage with the public and encourage them to make a mark against their name, not dissimilar to the way that businesses encourage the sale of products or services.

The elections were very much a demonstration of the principles of PR. Each campaign started with a launch before moving on to a drip feed of stories. Then came the crisis management with debates and public appearances scrutinised in finite detail. After this was the consistency of messaging and the reiteration of values and personality. Finally, defeat and success, both of which were handled with dignity and grace, once again using techniques that can be closely aligned to those used during a crisis situation. And let’s not forget the use of social media throughout the election and the now famous tweet ‘Four more years’, taking the message from local to global in seconds.

The headlines however failed to meet with expectations with Chris Evans announcing Wednesday 7 November as the death of the print press – a little unfair but his comments related to the fact that due to timings it was simply impossible for the print media within the UK to report the final outcome of the elections in time for the morning papers.

Perhaps times have changed and behaviours with it – I could be alone but I read the newspapers to find out what is going on generally before relying on broadcast or online to get the up to the minute news. I don’t believe that people will think the elections are still taking place because the newspapers were unable to report the results.

May be we need to think about the objectives of the papers and then give them credit where it’s due – there will be many bleary eyed journalists this morning who are now updating the digital versions of the news to ensure we are all up to date with the latest developments from the other side of the world.

With the elections now over there is little doubt that the PR machine will be in overdrive for Barack Obama with interviews to arrange, announcements to be made and a campaign that now needs to fight to keep momentum. There will be no popping of champagne corks for him or his team. Despite his announcement that he has the best campaign team in the World they now have an immense job to do but when you analyse their efforts so far you have to hand it to them – a job well done. #PRwin!

A changing legal landscape

Reviewing the media this morning I noticed an increasing number of announcements about the merger of legal firms within the Yorkshire region.  No fewer than three mergers hit the headlines today with stories released from Ware & Kay and P J Lawrence, Switalskis Solicitors and Parker Bird Gardner and Petherbridge Bassra and Brimble & Co.

I’m sure that most people working within the legal sector will know that there are likely to be many more announcements before the market settles into a new shape – which will see fewer firms but larger overall practices offering their services.

Having worked within the sector I found the concept of ‘Tesco law’ very interesting, noting that due to a change in legislation any business could offer legal services, if they had the right people with the right qualifications to do so. This change was quickly termed Tesco law as it would mean that supermarkets could offer legal services if they felt it would be a lucrative market.

Needless to say a company like Tesco would also be likely to offer legal support at cut down prices, providing an appealing opportunity for consumers and businesses alike.  This in turn would create a crisis situation for most legal teams who would have to review their offering and potentially change the way they work to maintain market share and customer loyalty.

Although it is not surprising to see that in order to counter the Tesco law effect local firms are coming together to create larger and presumably stronger practices, as a PR professional I hope that these organisations have a strategy in place to manage internal and external communications during the changes and beyond.

Legal firms are notorious for believing that marketing and communications are fluffy and a ‘nice to have’ as opposed to an essential tool for supporting business practice and enhancing reputation, which in turn generates sales.

It will be interesting to see which firms have considered their messaging and tone of voice following a merger and which have a strategy in place to effectively manage the change. It is certainly a period of immense change both for the practices which are coming together and the market as a whole.

 

Business down but PR win for Britvic

Today’s headlines report a profit fall in Q3 for soft drinks manufacturer Britvic leading to a loss of approximately £15 – £23m. Now before we all take a sharp intake of breath, the business reports that this is as a result of the poor weather and more significantly the product recall of the brands Fruit Shoot and Fruit Shoot Hydro bottles, using a new sports cap.

Whereas most people will be looking at this story and wondering how the brand will recoup the losses, I read it very differently. Within the story, which I read first on The Business Desk, the journalist chooses to use the words ‘well-publicised product recall’.

As a communications agency that commends great work and is not too proud to take our hats off to those who do it well – I would personally like to say congratulations to the team responsible for managing the communication for the recall.

Before you think I’ve finally lost my marbles let me explain.

Ok, so it wasn’t the best story that Britvic will ever have to deal with, no one wants to come into work and have to fend off questions about safety issues, particularly not for food and drink products and let’s be honest it shouldn’t have happened in the first place – but it did, so as a press team you have to get on with it.

Overall I think the situation was well managed, handled appropriately and did the job. Everyone was aware of the product fault and why the brand was recalling the items. The statement was clear and the call to action made sense – you weren’t left wondering if the bottles had been tampered with or if little Jonny’s pack up was more of a danger than a snack at lunchtime.

It can be a difficult call when you have to make decisions like this, but Britvic seem to have made their mind up quickly and as a result they deserve the respect of their consumers. The money that went into advertising the recall, as well as relying on the support of a PR team, won’t have come cheap, so when you add that to the loss of a potential £23m it is enough to make your eyes water but before you go dashing for the hankies turn the situation on its head.

A well-managed crisis situation can do a brand the world of good and not only does it get consumers taking about you, it also puts you in the spot light when it matters most. Today’s press are full of interviews, comments and quotes from Britvic, reiterating their concern and commitment to the consumers. They play down the recall as something that happens to all brands, yet do not dismiss the seriousness of the situation.

This is exactly why it is imperative for brands to have a committed and experienced PR team to deal with crisis situations. It isn’t a game when you get a call to recall a product it is make or break and I am pleased to see some businesses getting it right.

So, once again, well done Britvic. It’s hit you hard this quarter but it won’t stop me from purchasing your products and I’m sure others will feel the same

 

 

When close is just too close!

There is no doubt that social media has its benefits for businesses who choose to use the tools available to them correctly. That doesn’t mean knowing how to post discussions on LinkedIn or understanding a hashtag from an @ sign on twitter – what I mean is that you have to take the rough with the smooth.

At Open Communications we always explain to our clients that if you want to engage with customers using social channels and you feel that it forms a part of your business communications strategy to do so, then the first and most important point is that you have to take the good with the bad.

You cannot engage with people taking the benefits from positive reviews, product endorsements and exposure across multiple channels to a mass (often global) audience, then when faced with a complaint or negative remark choose not to communicate at all. Not only is it bad practice but it sends out a clear message to customers both current and prospective that a business cannot appropriately handle complaints.

One of the best examples I have seen in recent times was the case between Tatty Devine and Claire’s Accessories. It’s fair to say that I had never heard of Tatty Devine before the brand started to trend on twitter. I was then quickly brought up to speed via a number of blog posts and comments informing me that some of the designs launched throughout Claire’s Accessories bore a striking resemblance to those originally created by Tatty Devine.

Admittedly the prices of the products were very different and the quality was clearly poles apart, however the principle remained the same – a massive national business had a frighteningly similar portfolio of products to a boutique designer. Not good.

You would think that the first thing a national business like Claire’s would do is call upon a PR agency to put in place and manage what was likely to become a serious communications crisis for the brand. No, apparently the first thing you do when you are Claire’s is shut everything down and issue a no comment! Not just to the media – but across all platforms including social media.

Tatty Devine however went into over drive; providing customers with updates, images and a statement which was issued to all press – including the nationals. They didn’t go out and use the opportunity to air their feelings about Claire’s, as such – they instead turned the situation on its head and used it to deliver the best and most cost effective PR campaign they are ever likely to have. It was nothing short of superb, great communications and a glimpse of the business acumen behind that company. It’s also fair to say that Claire’s were quickly losing their way and turning a bad situation into a disaster, so all Tatty really had to do was sit back and watch.

This story has died down over recent months with other things taking the spot light – as is always the case in the media – although I did see Liza Tarbuck wearing what I think was a Tatty Devine necklace on TV the other day. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have known my Tatty from my Claire’s but thanks to their excellent and strategic use of social media, I may have a look and see if there’s something that would go with my new outfit.

The upshot is, remember, if you are going to engage with social media channels then be aware and prepared to deal with the good AND the bad. There is no doubt social media delivers benefits to business but it can be a tricky platform to manage when things go wrong and companies should have the infrastructure and contingency in place to handle it correctly should that happen.