Category Archives: Crisis Advice

Papa John’s Pizza vs. Iggy Azalea on Twitter

Friend, client and crisis communication manager for global oil company, Tom Mueller sent me this analysis which he shared with his colleagues:

Papa John’s Pizza learned a lesson recently in managing brand via social media after one of their staff delivered a pizza to Australian rapper/model Iggy Azalea on Grammy Awards evening.

When the delivery guy recognized Iggy and realized he had her mobile number, he then shared it with some friends and family, who immediately took to texting the star. She complained to Papa John’s via Twitter, only to have the company send her a joke in reply, saying “don’t bounce us” – a play on one of her song lyrics.

Iggy (@iggyazalea) has 4.2 million followers, many of whom retweeted her further comments critical of the data breach and the company’s apparent lack of security around its customers’ personal information, including credit card data. Papa John’s eventually got smart and realized the brand risk they had incurred, probably after receiving thousands of tweets raising concerns about their company.

Iggy, for her part, was very disciplined in her criticism and did not get emotional about how the firm had treated the breach, nor about the tone of its response to her personally. She wanted answers about how the company was protecting customer data; essentially she became an advocate for Papa John’s customers around the world. Some fans urged her to sue or to demand free pizza for life. She responded that she doesn’t mind paying for pizza. Her last tweet on the issue said she wasn’t interested in a lawsuit, just wanted responsible answers from the company – and was in touch with them now.

While there is a place for humor in communications, that approach must be carefully managed with the customer’s concerns foremost in those considerations. Papa John’s missed the mark on this one.

[Great analysis and advice, couldn't agree more Tom. I think one of the challenges here is that many companies understandably use younger staff members, digital natives, as front line of their social media team. This makes sense on the one hand. On the other, they may lack some of the judgment that comes with a few gray hairs. I suspect this happened here as one with plenty of gray hairs and definitely not a digital native, I wouldn't have caught the "bounce" joke.]

 

Broadcast journalism appears to be accelerating its death spiral

There are some outstanding examples of responsible journalism, and reading Francis Fukuyama’s book on political decay reminds me how important quality journalism is to provide accountability in a democratic (or any) society. But two recent examples where I was somewhat involved leave me disheartened–to say nothing of the tragedy of one of my favorite journalists, Brian Williams.

In one example a large local TV station investigative team did an “expose” of a large housing development project. On their teasers and headline for the story, on air and in the online version, they claimed the development was a “cancer cluster.” Now that will get attention. It’s a big claim, and surely needs some substantiation to support it. There was none. They used a community gadfly, well known for her animosity to the local officials because they kicked her out of an office for non-payment of rent, and she uses her blog to attack community officials for any reason. In this case, she accused them of not protecting the public against this development. The only other substantiation offered was an interview with one neighbor (an elderly woman) who said it seemed there was a lot of serious illness in their neighborhood. That, this team considered, was sufficient evidence to tell an audience reaching into the millions that this development was a cancer cluster.

The other involved a screaming headline that was sure to draw attention for its claim about conspiracy. Yet, when you read the story or saw the content of the broadcast report, there was absolutely nothing in their story the justified the accusation. And of course, if someone were to complain, they would point to their story and said, well, we never said those things. And, someone else wrote the headline. Bull.

I’ve long said the media trades on fear, uncertainty, doubt and outrage–FUDO. This is what is used to attract eyes and therefore the price of advertising. Admittedly, these are two extreme examples but I could provide others, and anyone who has been in this business for a while could likely provide many more.

Where will this end? Just how low do viewer trust figures have to go before editors, producers, publishers and reporters understand they are killing the goose? I suspect it will take considerably more. And while I would hate to see it, probably some legislative action to reduce the bar set against defamation and libel.

The one major case, involving “pink slime” has beef producer BPI suing ABC News for $1.2 billion (yes, billion). Despite numerous attempts by ABC to have the case thrown out local and state supreme courts have denied those requests and the case moves forward. I suspect a settlement will occur, but personally I wish it would go to trial and would get much more media attention than it has already. I do not presume to judge the outcome, but holding Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila to account for their scaring the bejesus out people calling a safe product “pink slime” would have some benefit I believe.

In the meantime, unjustified and outrageous media stories are a major risk for many organizations and government agencies. It is so important to remember that these investigative teams must come up with these stories to keep their jobs and to keep their audiences. That means you must prepare to respond.

I can virtually guarantee you that the old method of responding to this which included these options doesn’t work:

- threaten to pull advertising
- threaten to sue
- ask nicely for a retraction or opportunity to respond with similar story

The only thing that I have seen work is a “Fact Check” response where you calmly, without emotion, point out the errors. Digital communications including your news site, your website, your social media presence, your email lists, all provide great opportunities to point out the problems. The issue, as I have discussed here even in the last post, is credibility. The more responsible ones will be concerned about their credibility.

Most, unfortunately, will be more concerned about ratings.

Are reputation crises as bad as we think they are?

A question has been nagging at the back of my head for some time. Are crises really bad for companies? Seems a dumb question, doesn’t it. We have a whole industry (including me) which seems to exist to first scare the crud out of leaders about the devastating impacts of reputation crises, then offer solutions to minimize the damage.

But, is there a connection between bad PR, big-time reputation crises and company or organization success? The question was raised by PRNewser in their review of the biggest PR losers for 2014. Here are a few examples that raise legit questions:
-the NFL–certainly had a bad year for PR, yet ratings for NFL games were higher this year than last
-GM — Congressional hearings, more recalls, reactions to exec salaries–but the company the best November in sales since 2001
- Sony cyber security–Sony was hacked and demonstrated a pattern of lack of data security. Despite most theater chains refusing to show the Interview, the film has already brought in $15 million in digital only channels
- Uber had about as bad a year PR-wise as can be imagined. But it looks like it isn’t having too much of an impact on its fundraising efforts which are valuing the company at about double its value since June.
-
 Microsoft–New CEO Satya Nadella made a huge politically incorrect booboo when he suggested women should rely on good karma for raises. At the end of November, Seattle Times reported Microsoft stock was at a 14 year high, nearly double since start of 2013.
- Congress–11% approval ratings, 95% re-election rates (explain that one!)

Beyond these headline grabbing examples, there have to be hundreds if not thousands of smaller crises affecting businesses and organizations large and small that don’t get the attention or traction of these major stories. In many, if not most of them, while intensely scary at the time, most of the organizations that I am aware of recover quite nicely and quickly once the furor and attention have died down.

However, and there is a very big however, things do not end so happily in all cases.

- Here are a few clear cases and some questionable where bad PR is causing serious harm:

- Police–already two NYPD officers have died in retribution. The well publicized examples of questionable (at best) killings of African-American young men is causing a serious problem for law enforcement–problems of trust and confidence that may affect community relations, recruitment and police safety for years.

- Cosby–I agree with the assessment, sadly, that one of America’s favorite dads is and should be gone from the public scene, and perhaps from the public streets.

-CIA specifically, federal spying generally–from Snowden, to the NSA’s late recognition of likely illegal behavior, to the global discussion about prosecution of American officials for torture, American spies–once the guardians of freedom–are quickly becoming the focal point of moral outrage and distrust around the world. Hard to say what it will take to recover from this.

This review creates a bit of a dilemma. Can it be that crises, at least some crises, are really not so bad for the company and bottom line? Why is it that some crises can be absolutely devastating while others seem to flit by the radar screens at ever accelerating rates?

I need to think on this some more, but a few initial thoughts:

- Crises are not such big news anymore–many of them anyway, partly because there are so many they are almost routine, and that in part is because of hyper-sensitivity. It’s hard to say much of anything these days without offending some person or group. Outrage (like most emotion) is viral fodder. The desperate need of the media for the headline not of the day but the hour, drives them to jump on the least offense and magnify it so that other hyper-sensitive types can jump on board and the two of them can declare a reputation crisis.

- Only big violations of common values really hurt. The Satya Nadella story is a case in point. His comments were clearly communicated out of context. The reality of equal treatment of women was made clear and Microsoft looked good in that respect. If his offense had been a clear and documented case of bias against women, Microsoft in general and Nadella specifically would have paid a much higher price. Cosby on the other hand, assuming of course the accusations hold, has violated on numerous occasions commonly held values. We will not tolerate people in high power who use their power to abuse others.  Nor will most of us tolerate the idea that torture is ever justified, or illegal spying by our own government against ordinary citizens. And clearly, unwarranted killing of anyone–regardless of color–can never be allowed. These are significant violations of not just law, but of deeply and commonly held values.

This conclusion needs much more testing and I offer very tentatively here. But, if it proves correct, it is important in responding to crises. The number one rule of crisis management is don’t make a bad situation worse. That often means don’t bring to attention what otherwise would not be an issue. But that has to be balanced with the need for transparency, honesty and being the first to tell bad news about yourself. An over-reaction to a perceived serious reputation crisis can fit into the category of making it worse. An under-reaction, or more commonly a too-late reaction–can also cause serious harm.

There is great judgment needed in deciding if a crisis is going to blow over quickly and leave little damage in its wake, or if it is going to fester, balloon and overwhelm an organization. How does one get that judgment? It seems it is more important than ever to understand at a very significant level the public perception and communication environment. I guess that means, there is still a need for those experts who can help provide that guidance.

Whew, I’ll breathe a little easier as we go into 2015 now.

 

 

 

Is news now conversation?

I had an interesting conversation/interview with David Bain of Digital Marketing Radio–the podcast available here.  As you learn in media training, you are never sure the “sound bite” the interviewer will use. You can talk for an hour, but find one comment gets highlighted.

In this case, I have no complaints. I was uneasy talking about digital marketing as I am far from an expert on all things SEO, social media for promotion, so-called “content marketing” and all that. Folks will laugh when I say my favorite digital marketing tool is a blog–I’m so 2005.

However, giving credit where credit is due, the thought of news as conversation came from son Geoff, busy developing a “conversation management” tool. It wasn’t the first I heard of this concept, but maybe first time I really pondered it.

It’s true I think. We live in a global water cooler. Someone with something interesting to say, or some first hand view of a high interest topic (such as plane crash or police victim) starts the conversation, sharing what they know or simply their thoughts. (Amazing how often their thoughts consist of little more than four letters, starting with an f.) That is just the start. Folks around the water cooler start to chatter. They get loud, that draws more folks. Everyone’s got an opinion, even if it is just to twitter on about what someone else has said. Someone listening in has a loudspeaker. They get on that and soon a much bigger crowd has gathered. The noise is deafening. Some of it good and important stuff, mostly just chatter, repeats, or more f words. And so it goes…

The conversation goes on until people tire of it (quickly it seems) or there is another conversation of higher interest on a nearby water cooler. We hear a loudspeaker going off next to another water cooler and get drawn there. We look around and there are all kinds of water coolers many of them filled with noisy people.

So, sometimes you just want to shut it off, go find a quiet corner in Starbucks and have a grande. But, no, that’s another water cooler.

 

The biggest crisis comm obstacle: high level ignorance

There are a great many challenges to overcome to prepare a sizable organization for crises, emergencies or reputation disasters. But one seems nearly intractable: the ignorance of those in high places. The very ones who will make the big decisions when push comes to shove. The lawyers, the CEOs, the regional execs, the Incident Commanders, the chiefs, the directors, the presidents.

If the ones who call the shots during a response do not understand the water they are swimming in, the effort is doomed–despite all the preparation that communication and public relations leaders may put in place.

A week or so ago I had the privilege of presenting to the Washington State Sheriffs and Police Chief’s association training meeting. Chief Bill Boyd and I were to give a four hour presentation to these law enforcement leaders. Bill did the bulk of the work on the presentation, but had a medical emergency and couldn’t present with me. One item he had gathered for this really hit me–and those present. The Boston Police radio message from the Incident Commander on the scene just after the bombing occurred included the calm but clearly adrenalin-filled IC’s details on what actions the police on the scene were taking. Then he said, “And I need someone to get on social media and tell everyone what we are doing.” That’s correct. One of the top priorities of this Commander was to inform the public of police actions and the way to do that he knew was through the agencies social media channels.

The fact that this is a police agency who gets it at the highest level was made clear by the incredibly effective use of Twitter Boston Police made during the subsequent manhunt. The video I prepared called NanoNews presents their success and the surprising reason behind it.

Despite an understandable reluctance to dive headfirst into digital communications, I was very pleased to see the effective use of these tools by many law enforcement agencies in Washington State. And was thrilled that about five or six chiefs signed up for Twitter during the training and several came up and said, proudly, “I just did my first tweet!”

The last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to present virtually to a number of communication leaders around the globe. I was struck again by the savvy of these communication leaders about the challenges they face, a savviness these seems far too often missing from those above them. Global communicators face many or most of the same problem as those in North America, but the good old USA seems to have an extra burden: lawyers. I was pleased to learn that lawyers in at least some other countries seem to have a far better understanding of the need for communicators to get information out fast and consequently willingness to allow some freedom and trust. In the US, this seems to be far less likely.

The issue of gaining senior leadership’s understanding of the need for speed, for freedom to use the channels that today’s media and audiences are demanding, was brought to light in one discussion. A major event that happened in one country demonstrated to the lawyers, Incident Commanders and senior leaders what happens when communication is not allowed to flow. Social media became filled with a narrative negative to the responders. That story was never challenged by those responding. The senior leaders asked: why are they allowing this happen?

Bingo. Lights went on.

There are many who will disagree with me on this one, but I deeply believe the great tragedy in this country called Ferguson is above all the tragic consequence of a failure to communicate. And that is no doubt because of the ignorance of the senior police leaders in Ferguson. An ignorance of the news environment they live in, an ignorance of their own community and the sensitivities and need for information. The narrative of the shooting of the young African-American man was seized by those who witnessed it and saw what they saw. Others, who testified in the grand jury, saw things quite differently. But it was only one story that was told, one story that was believed, one story that drove the community to take action.

I don’t presume to know the truth, the full story. But I do know that when untruths are repeated often enough, retweeted enough, network-effected enough, they become the truth. Failure to counter at least to indicate that things are not always what they seem, can be disastrous.

Would the world we live in today be a little different if the Ferguson police leaders understood the world we live in today? I think so.

 

BuyPartisan app and the risk for reputation damage

It’s getting more common for businesses and organizations to get in hot water with consumers by taking positions on hot political-social issues.  Komen Foundation stumbled on funding for Planned Parenthood related to abortion, Chick-fil-A for comments made by its CEO against gay marriage. More recently Panera, Target and Chipotle made news by asking customers not to take guns into their stores, thereby jumping somewhat into the Second Amendment debate.

Most companies and organizations have attempted to tread lightly on controversial political and social issues because of the natural desire to sell products or services rather than sell a position. If they have been involved in political activity it is as quietly and discreetly as they can. Now BuyPartisan is making that almost impossible.

The app is simple: scan the barcode of a product you are considering and the app will tell you who owns it and the political inclinations of the makers based on their political contributions. Starbucks (no surprise to us who live in or near liberal Seattle) gives over 80% of its contributions to Dems. As Stephen Colbert demonstrated on his show General Mills leans Republican (understandable he says since its run by a General), and Kelloggs is balanced.

Transparency is a great thing and I’ve been and continue to be an optimist about the longterm value that increased transparency is bringing to our lives. But transparency combined with the excessive partisanship, toxic talk, abusive disrespect and lack of willingness to even listen to the other side represents a worry to me. Boycotts against companies or organizations can operate with unprecedented speed and power due to the internet and social media. Often these are based on completely false bases as one boycott I have been somewhat involved in demonstrates.

I point out the BuyPartisan app as a sign of our times and a new risk of reputation problems to companies. If your organization contributes to political candidates or causes or has owners, senior managers who do, I would urge you to add a backlash against such contributions to your risk analysis. It’s something else to prepare for.

The real consequence of this will not be more reputation crises. It will be the decline of willingness of companies and leaders to participate in our nation’s leadership through political activity. If I was a comms director for a company right now, I would hope the record of the company and its leaders is one of giving equally to both sides. The pressure will be on to give with an eye to what the crazies on either side will do with the information. Here is where transparency, due to hyperpartisanship, is hurting us.

And that’s too bad. Transparency isn’t the problem. The hatred, disrespect and animosity to those with whom we disagree is.

 

Fake spokespersons find it easy to prank the media

As if crisis and emergency communicators don’t have enough to worry about. In today’s instant news world, without the care journalists once showed to get it right, it’s becoming increasingly common for fake spokespersons to prank the media.

Imagine the nightmare–your organization is in the middle of a major news crisis. While you are working hard to get your authorized spokesperson prepared to go live on national or regional TV, your TV monitor shows a live report going on with someone posing as a spokesperson for your organization.

Think it won’t happen?

1. Asiana Airlines accident: A “trusted source” provided Fox affiliate  KTVU a list of names of pilots on the plane which crashed short of San Francisco’s airport. The names included Captain Sum Ting Wong, and Wi Tu Lo–among others. The names were read on the air by the news anchor.

2. LADWP water main break near UCLA. A fake spokesperson for the LA City water department carefully explained to the LA ABC News affiliate that the huge break was caused by someone throwing a cherry bomb into the toilet, or taking a really big dump. The live anchors were somehow not alerted by the name of the spokesperson: Louis SlungPue.

3. Napa earthquake. Blog reader Larissa sent this link to a CNN Anchor getting pranked by a fake police department PIO by the name of Adam Sure. His explanation for the cause of the quake related to Howard Stern’s backside tipped them off.

The Gawker article references other times that live news reporters got pranked by calls including posing as eye witnesses to the Malaysia Airlines crash.

This trend may have been sparked by the outrageous success of the fake BP PR twitter account that became a big hit during the 2010 oil spill. Here’s a list of the funniest lines from this fake account.

And that’s the good news. Folks like “Adam Sure” and “Louis Slung Pue” are pranking the media for the fun of it and to see if it can be done. Their intention is the challenge and the humor of it. Once they deliver their punch lines and reveal themselves, the game is up.

But, what if someone posed as an authorized spokesperson for the police or emergency management or your company with the intention of doing harm to you or the public? What if they provided plausible advice that would be dangerous? What if someone posing as a power utility spokesperson said under the circumstances given the wide-spread outage and extreme cold it is advisable for people to use their barbecues inside for heating? What if someone posing as a spokesperson for a manufacturing company with product safety concerns in the news announces incorrectly a global recall of all 10 million products and consumers should return them to their stores?

The above examples should provide enough indication that given the lack of care and editorial caution demonstrated by the media, plus their obvious gullibility, that such scenarios are not beyond the realm of possibility.

What can you do?

1. Make sure your local news outlets know you well and have a list of your authorized spokespersons. Send them this blog or the examples I provided and let them know, that while you trust they would show more caution than these examples illustrate, you want to help make sure that they don’t end up on YouTube as the next victim.

2. Include fake spokespersons and fake Twitter or Facebook pages in your list of crisis scenarios. They are secondary crisis–an often ignored category of crisis events that pile on the initial crisis. Know what you will do in advance. What will your organization do if confronted with a BPGlobalPR twitter account? Sue? Threaten legal action? Ignore? Plead with them to stop? Think it through and establish a policy and strategy so you don’t have to be chewing up precious time in the middle of a crisis trying to figure out this one. Same with fake spokespersons. Have a statement in hand ready to put on your website alerting folks to the fake announcement.

3. Add a Fact Check section on your news website–now. Don’t wait for false reports. Best practice today, I’m convinced, is to be quick to accurately correct the record when the news channels, blogs, social media or others get the facts wrong–by error or intention. However, be very careful! Don’t do like this police agency and wrongly attribute the social media report of an offensive bumper sticker on a patrol car to the person sending out the picture. Make sure you get your facts right the first time when correcting someone else’s mistake!

 

Advice to CEOs: Don’t turn your PR over to lawyers

In most crisis situations it is absolutely essential for attorneys and PR experts to work well together. Indeed, in working on plans for organizations I always ask about who their attorney is, whether or not he/she will review releases, and if they are participating in any drills or exercises. In the majority of events I have been involved in I have worked with some outstanding attorneys who understood and appreciated the nature of the partnership and the reality of the court of law versus the court of public opinion.

But there are two situations where I was involved that stand out in my mind where the CEO deferred all PR judgment to attorneys. That was a big mistake. One was because the company involved was a small subsidiary of a much larger company and the CEO of the subsidiary running the crisis believed that his future was more secure if he deferred to the attorneys (corporate attorneys from the head office). That was understandable, if mistaken. (The subsidiary company went bankrupt.)

The other was because the attorney demanded it. Again, there are reasons from the legal perspective. What is said publicly often impacts court action. The legal challenges may very well affect the viability of the business. However, an attorney who demands full control over PR should be a major warning sign and give any organization leader pause.

The issue always is what is in the best interest of the business or organization. Sometimes, no doubt, the legal challenges take precedence. Sometimes, as was the case with Arthur Andersen, you could win the legal battle but lose the company before you even have a chance to go to court. Only the CEO can determine what is in the best long and short term interest of the business.

Our court system is based on the idea that truth will emerge with aggressive representation of both the plaintiff and defendant. Two different views of events are needed and ideally are presented with equal skill. That is the ideal situation in a crisis that involves legal issues–there should be a strong voice advocating for what is best to win in the court of law, and one that advocates with equal ability for winning in the court of public opinion.

To place an attorney whose job it is to represent you in court in the role of deciding what is in the best interest of the company puts that attorney in a conflict situation. Any attorney who demands it should be released. Any CEO who so defers has signaled that he/she does not have the capability of determining the best interest of the company.

The risks of one spokesperson

Tony Jacques, an Australian crisis communication expert, makes some good points in this post about smaller companies facing crises.

I certainly have seen that mid to smaller size companies typically lag in preparation. I think there is a sense that because they are not large they tend to be immune. Only big crises kill big companies, but of course that is not true. While the death of a brand to a reputation crisis may not be big news if it is a small company, to those involved, death is death.

I want to draw attention though to one important point of his blog: the missing spokesperson. Just recently I was in a message planning session with a client and a question came up about what do we say about such and such a situation. The answer from the head came back quickly: you say nothing, refer every question like that to me.

It may seem the safest approach, but often it is not. For a number of reasons, but I’ll focus on the obvious one highlighted by Jacques’ post. What do you do when your one and only authorized spokesperson is out of town, on an airplane, or worse in an airplane that has hit the ground with devastating impact.

In best practice planning, every major leadership position in a response plan has at least three and sometimes four people capable of filling the role. That gets harder with smaller companies, but it remains essential. A company with a dominant leader who has difficulty delegating authority is especially vulnerable in a crisis.

The company Tony refers to may very well have crafted a wonderful statement in response to the negative publicity. Doesn’t matter if when the media calls there is no one authorized to deliver it.

 

 

New study on social media impact on journalism–wanna know why media isn’t trusted?

Oh my, a quick glance at this new study by ING on social media’s impact on journalism very quickly highlights a big reason for public distrust of media.

A key finding: Most journalists say social media content isn’t reliable, but 50% use it as a main source of information. Only 20% check their facts before publishing.

OK, let me see if I understand this. You’re a reporter and you are using Twitter or Facebook as your source for a story. You know/believe that what you are finding on there isn’t reliable. But you rush to publish without checking facts. In fact, you publish first on social media where (60% of you anyway) believe that the same journalistic rules don’t apply.

While the study is Europe-focused and uses a small sample, the findings seem to ring true. Faster, faster with less and less concern about accuracy because, well, it can be corrected later. Professional journalism, rather than combatting the inherent problem with crowd sourcing news, is rapidly adopting the worst aspects of it–in fact amplifying the errors. PR Newser notes that PR folks are finding journalists are checking with them less and less to confirm information. Further, despite the fact that journalists recognize the inherent unreliability of social media content, they report they consider statements about a company on social media more reliable than what the company puts out. Again, that shouldn’t surprise us, but, think about it. A company puts out information knowing it has to be very careful to protect its credibility and the journalists they submit to find whatever any Joe says on social media to be more credible!

What about the future? Those responding to the study fully expect more of the same, and worse. Faster and faster reporting, more reliance by them and the public on crowd-sourced news and social media, less fact checking–and presumably, less trust in corporate communications.

What does this mean? To me (no surprise) it means “you are the broadcaster.” As professional journalism comes to mimic and look more and more like crowd journalism, for companies and organizations the emphasis HAS to be on communicating directly through their own channels. The press release was declared dead a long time ago. Seems to me this study might have just buried it.