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Community public relations – Managing crisis


Carpet bombing tactical aid

Carpet bombing tactical aid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are in India, or even elsewhere in the globe, you would have sure heard of Koodamkulam, which sometime back was the epicentre of brewing trouble, with the protests by the local populace snowballing into a mass movement. While what and who is propelling and catalyzing this people aggression (and any such community driven flare up anywhere) are complex questions, the only savior in such occasions can be a very pro-active communication/PR strategy by the authorities, and all PR professionals involved in containing any such ‘citizen movement’.

While the in-situ circumstances can differ from place to place and country to country, there is some amount of standardization in the communication strategy that can be followed with rigor. These are essentially aimed at not muddying the situation in the run up to the final citizen flare-up and also in the course of any such agitation.

  1. Communications committee – This committee shall draw people from all the stakeholders and various interest groups – a judicious blend of experts to with the kind of plant/industry, with equal representation by the locals, who perceive them as the affected community.
  2. Isolate the non-stake holders – Any agitation or public movement gets precipitated and turns rudderless when people who are not connected with the local interests move in to garner some political mileage, and in turn hijack the entire local movement. A prudent strategy would be to keep watch for such vested interests in any public agitation. In handling such agitations, isolating the non-stakeholders by consistent means of ‘direct’ engagement with the locals is the key. The goal must be to earn trust, address the genuine concerns, and get all the fringe elements out of the game.
  3. Form locals committees – It’s never too late to completely involve every bit of the local community, when the situation looks like it might spiral out of hand, even remotely. The authorities and communicators must use every tool in the communications armor to reach out to the locals. Communicate to them that the authorities are willing to address every single concern/fear that may be in the mind of every one, who thinks he or she may be affected. This must be a sustained exercise, with no timelines, and the intent must be to understand what exactly are the perceived fears that loom large in the minds of the people in that area. Those which are well founded must be answered with facts, and those ill founded and planted by miscreants can be quashed to the dustbin.
  4. Unleash a carpet-bombing local PR campaign – This might sound too aggressive – yet, in situations of public agitations, there is no rescue other than to communicate more and more. A crisis in the best time to speak out must be the PR mantra – while the opposite in reality causes incalculable harm to success of any well laid communication strategy. Make use of not just the national media in that place, but make sure every local reach to communicate is made use of – vernacular media, local radio, community radio, billboards, leaflets – just every possible tool to reach door-to-door in the region. Remember – if the fringe can manage a perception that there is a massive opposition to the plant or public amenity, the authorities can plan a turnaround in that perception with a well planned and executed strategy.

This is a broad communication template – a  combination of all these above will make sure that a space is created for a people centric dialog, which would lead to a solution to any citizen agitation.

Earning trust, end of the day, is the result of a sustained PR effort, with a conscience.

Executive leadership, art of communicating, & “Reputation”!


English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...

English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 16, 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Pictured, from left, are BP CEO Tony Hayward, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden, Obama, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person on the communications learning curve ever, I am a great fan of Steve Farnsworth’s @Steveology blog, and a student alike.

I found this post “3 Things Executives Can Do To Be More Quoted In The News” a very informative one in the context of every top manager/leader being communicators for the organization!

By now, the world of communicators is too familiar with the reputation disaster the erstwhile BP CEO Tony Hayward was, in his now famous (rather infamous) “I’d like my life back” comment to the humongous disaster, the oil spill was.

The cardinal rule for any CEO/CXO who is in the line of sight of the media is to be always “battle ready”. This might indeed sound ominous, yet it’s the closest to reality and the best communications mantra!

Picture this – there could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which has just been just happened a few minutes ago (hours and day response time are dead and gone forever – another rule to remember!). Any of these calls, if not responded to swiftly, can a long term ‘reputation impact’ on your company and its fortunes.

Add to the events per se that may impact your company, the buzz in the social media universe – someone cooks up a rumor, or goes by sheer hearsay, and tweets or posts a few words that could go viral in minutes, or hours – the ‘reputation’ consequences will impact you and your company too!

One quality that will keep your reputation index in good stead is this – your ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from any corner of the world!

The CEO may not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit and realize that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

What happens in real-life is, on many such occasions, just the opposite – out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is wee bit casual.

This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media and negative soc-med, and  you are possibly and un-alterably messing up an already fluid situation.

If you think that an expert coaching intervention is needed to handle such events with the media, do ask your board or your organization, and tell them that it is a reputation imperative. Most organizations tend to have the belief that the CEO spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication! This can be a huge advantage but not a pre-requisite at all.

In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts and truth, yes, nothing but truth – put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional and casual attitude! Make sure that facts are not colored by style and the tone and tenor of the spoken or written language!

Executive leaders must endeavor to be masters in the art of communicating to the media. And get to being masters one event or crisis at a time – sans making any costly ‘reputation’ screw-ups.

Wild ‘out-sourcing’ of “reputation”, or ‘owned’ engagement?


English: Reputation management graphic that br...

English: Reputation management graphic that breaks down the elements of reputation management and how they fit together. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This might sound banal, but this is a harsh reality that can be re-stated a hundred times – the advent of social media, and its proliferation in our lives, has completely morphed the face of contemporary public relations!

Earlier on, even a couple of years back, we communication professionals worked in our own silos, even cutting off from the ground realities of the organization and the media landscape out there! It was a closed world, and the PR folk determined what can be and must be communicated to the rest of the world – and the tools like media briefings and press conferences came in handy in this one sided communication! Even better, PR enjoyed the luxury of entertaining and enjoying the luxury of selective coverage with ‘cultivated’  media (in my opinion, that’s a huge fail – there is nothing like cultivated media – you only get as much mention as your content-worthiness!)

With the arrival of the social world, those small joys are dead and gone! It’s a democracy of communication both within and outside the organization – the people in your company, and those in the outside world are more informed, and in no time, by the power of social.

You may shy away from conversation; and you may think you do so for the right reasons! Even as you do that, the tools of the social world are making sure that somewhere out there, there are a hundred other voices cooking up a storm in your reputation tea-cup!  If you are not pro-active in informing first, and creating engagement islets with all your stakeholders, then your reputation management is being unwittingly outsourced by you to the entire world!

If you are in today’s public relations business and doing something akin to the above, you must be crazy. And not that, at stake is your own reputation?! Saner communication professionals will never do that!

Step forward, communicate first and right, and willingly engage…    when you do that, you own the engagement, or if not own, you are well in control of your reputation!

Own the engagement, and never ever outsource reputation management – willingly or unwillingly!

Is Social ‘brand lift’ your target?


Social is all about engagement, and conversations.  The singular objective of any sane social media strategy is to foster engagement and create an ongoing stream of conversations, around your product, services, people – all encompassing to your brand!

Any strategy that drives up the engagement levels of your brand (or call it engagement of people with your brand), does in all certainty add to the overall marketing goals of your organization.

To rephrase, the singular intent of the strategy of any organization in social media space must be, to borrow a term from Jon Steinberg , to endeavor ‘social brand lift’.

How does Jon define ‘social brand lift?

He says, in one of his posts – “Social Brand Lift occurs when content that is candid, interesting, though provoking and shareable lands in the hands of the people most interested in discovering it”

In the case of your organization, or brand, the targeted brand lift must lead to an increase in a favorable perception towards the product or service. So, the goal of every single component of the social media plan is to make sure brand lift happens.

Brand lift happens when there is a purposeful engagement by the visitors to your site, followers across the various platforms your organization is in, and in the manner in which every query or concern in respect of your product, service, or even people issues is answered.

Social brand lift also happens only when compelling content is in place in all your social touch points – which are veritable goldmines that must be aimed at a great engagement with your target world.

To endeavor a social brand lift, is the baby step your social media strategy/execution takes, in building stronger and favorable brand perceptions for your organization.

Revisit your social plans now. Have you made sure that each of its components aims at a brand lift?

Social playbook – you thought it was all about PR or branding??


When was the last time you thought that a communication plan or social media action play book created for your organization (or the client if you happen to be an agency) could be to do with anything other than branding, public relations, buzz, and may be HR/employer branding?

The probability of this is very high – and it’s quite but natural for communication professional to work in a silo – a silo or PR or employer branding et al.

Well, those days are gone, and if there is such a play-book you proffer to your leadership, you are taking the first step in being a social media myopic.

The proliferation of social media across the different levels in your organization is complete, and you are well aware of this. By the same logic the proliferation of social media is as much complete in the external world – a world that encompasses your prospective employees, the next COO you are out to hire from out there, your product/service consumer, your media consumers (aren’t our journo friends consumers of what we communicate, and channels to a larger audience? J), your lenders (banks), your vendors and so on and on – just about every constituent you can imagine to be of present or future consequence.

Yet, how often does a play book you and me make cater to such a varied and dynamic constituency? If social was all about some buzz in the online world, then your playbook can be as you wish. But social is all about engagement, and at some point measurement of what the social media plan has delivered in value to the organization – and how much the plan has impacted the entire universe of constituents’ (call them stakeholders if you wish)

True, it will be impossible to make such a comprehensive play book. But what is important is to make sure that the kind of message that is sent out there is not just plain breast-beating to build an employer brand, but also to cultivate an image of a credible and competitive player in the space your organization is in.

Revisit your social plan now – do you see the kind of silo-isation as mentioned in the first part? Or can you see that you are factoring and attempting to engage the entire universe of constituents in your plan?

Revisit and Rewrite your social book today if need be. Not today, right now! 

Media briefings… some greatly useful notes for communicators


Communication professionals in any organization constantly have to face the media, on a litany of ongoing issues. They could be at any level – be it the Corp Comm executive, right up-to the CEO. Media briefings are regular pressers are just a couple of communication tools that have yet retained the charm, despite the arrival of a barrage of social media tools, which are at the disposal of any right thinking public relations professional.

If one looks around, its it such media briefings and pressers that communication professional are at the risk of exposing themselves and in turn make their organizations image vulnerable – not by mistakes in facts, but by failing to address questions in the right manner.

More so, in times when crisis hits at the heart of an organizations PR armor. Under pressure, its very natural that the communications professional however well equipped, reacts to the situation, as the media event goes astray by the volley questions lobbed in by the media. Faced with this barrage, even the best communicators wilt under pressure, reacting with their emotion laden language – all leading to a perfect recipe for an ‘image disaster’.

Yet, such situations can be better handled, more deftly, and to the complete ‘image advantage’ of their organization.

  • Lay down ground rules – At the beginning of the presser, make sure you lay the ground rules – state it  in clear terms that the intent of the briefing is to address such and such specific issue, and any question shall be around that issue only. Any query that does not pertain to the issue on hand would be taken to be answered later.
  • Better, begin with a written statement – The simple step of circulating a well written media note, detailing the views and facts on the topic would serve well as a pre-cursor in setting the agenda for the right kind of questions. Make sure the facts that need to be taken to the media are mentioned with utmost clarity, and mention that questions can be around the statement. By making such a statement, you also possibly tend to take the steam away for any digressions that are planned by some members of the media fraternity.
  • Plan for complementary statements – You have in hand a written statement; but if there are some questions that can be responded to with more facts, it would be a great idea to respond verbally, and also tell the media that these responses will be typed and circulated at the end of the presser. This can be easily done with the help of the communications team; and not just that, a complementary press note at the end of the press conference is a great way to re-iterate fact, highlight your responses, and way to ensure there are no map – territory distortions at the end of the day.
  • Maintain a friendly and cool demeanor – this may sound way too basic, yet a whole lot of media face offs go astray only for this precise reason. One provocative question, and the communicator loses his cool, making a completely unintended gesture or remark – and however the presser be well armed with facts, this one spar hijacks the image of the organization. The best way to handle any unfriendly question is just a broad smile, or stating can we take it later, or I would come to back to you as soon as I can provide this information. And if the media persists with the same uncomfortable question, the communicator must persist with the positive demeanor, a simple smile, and the planned response – one of the three above. With this, in a matter of few minutes, the questions will move on.
  • Avoid a “we know all” trap – Its often suggested that communication professional while addressing the media, must know all – yes, you must  be armed with a whole lot of facts on a situation. However, that is so different from displaying or exhibiting a know all demeanor in front of the media. That demeanor, mostly leads to a tinge of arrogance, and arrogance is the last thing you need in your PR weaponry. And it is such arrogance that tends to color the most accurate facts with the yellow of distortion. So, it is in your interest and organisation’s interest that you always maintain “I don’t have all the answers, but will endeavor to get them soon” demeanor right through. In fact make it a SOP for your media interactions, and the benefits are immense.

These 5 simple practices will serve to better your image management in a big way. They may sound simple, yet it is these that most of us as communicators or PR professional fail to inculcate in our PR armor, and also educate our spokesperson.

How about some ‘information integrity’??!!


All our press releases

All our press releases (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

What puts off journalist friends most, when you churn out information on behalf of a client, in the form of a press kit or a media release is this – factual errors.

Might sound so rudimentary, but as a matter of fact such errors creep in while we battle with deadlines, or with over-enthusiasm to send out the release so that we help the journo meet the deadline?

It’s the journalist’s responsibility to check the facts in any story – that said, if you are representing a client, you are the custodian of the facts mentioned in any media information that disseminates from your end.

Factual errors are not the big ones like the client concealing the facts or misrepresenting reality, in a crisis situation. Simple errors like getting the name of the person/product spelt wrong, getting the timeline of events wrong, or just spelling the CEO’s surname wrong – such errors come easily to the notice of the consumer – the reader of the viewer of the news, when and if it finally gets there.

And if it does, at stake is the credibility of the journalist, the media house, and your own client. In most cases, such mistakes creep in, in minor details which we tend to take for granted.

As a PR pro, make sure that the eye for detail is in play, every time, with every client. When you claim to manage reputation of clients, the least expected from you is to ensure information integrity.

To err in information is a big fail in the world of PR and reputation management!

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