Category Archives: Now is Too Late

Straight talking about crisis learnings–from Ford

This article from Daily Dog contains a summary and overview of the crisis experience of the top crisis communicator for Ford during Firestone crisis of 2000-2001. This is some of the best stuff I’ve read on crisis communciations in the last while–it is very real, very honest and hits the key points. Jon Harmon, Director of Communication Strategy for Ford, learned the lessons well and communicates them simply and powerfully.

In case you don’t follow the link and read the whole story (which I highly recommend) here are a few salient points:

On Planning:

It all comes down to readiness—get your crisis plans ready in advance. Don’t wait for a recall to happen. First, identify the PR people and outward facing organizations you have to work with. Get the necessary resources aligned. Meet now to do that. Part of the agenda should be to work through the possible contingencies, including recalls and other possibilities. Conduct a crisis audit and game this out in advance. Have a live drill where you go through something like this with your frontline people—and get your policies and responsibilities worked out on paper now. Then, repeat it periodically.

Impact of bloggers and New Media:

The next big crisis or time something like this happens, the agitators will work the news cycle as usual—but they will also include New Media, CGM [consumer generated media], video and blogs. It’ll be a whole different kind of whirlwind for corporations to combat. I think that, unfortunately, most corporations will be fundamentally unprepared for this. This is an era where people, bloggers included, can use New Media to drive the news cycle in a sophisticated manner.

On opponents and the need for speed:

What was different was that the agitators, the plaintiff attorneys, had become very media savvy. They were driving the news cycle every day. The news cycle is shorter and the hole has got to be filled. It creates a real frenzy. In this case, there was litigation in play. So they fed the story bit by bit instead of getting it all out at once. Specifically, they had documents from Ford and Firestone and would release a new one every day. They’d call up a major news organization and tell them about this damning document—and then fax it to them.

Summary:

Also, realize, as I said earlier, that you’ll have to react on the fly—no matter how thorough your plans look. Then realize that you have to communicate continually during crises.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that these are among the key points that I wrote about in Now Is Too Late and Now Is Too Late2. These are also the key points that lay behind the creation of the PIER technology. It’s is just great having someone like Mr. Harmon help confirm the essential elements that those in crisis management and crisis communication need to understand.

Iran's President is Blogging

First, here’s the story via Al Jazeera.net. This is amazing–and yet it is not. In my soon to be released book “Now Is Too Late2” the last chapter is titled “The Ultimate Communicator.” It talks about the trend toward the emphasis being placed on the heads of organizations to speak directly to their stakeholders. It is iranic (I mean ironic) that Iran would show more understanding of how important that this in today’s instant news/direct communication world than our leaders. Where is the blog from Michael Chertoff dealing with the latest terrorist threats? Where is the blog from Lord Browne of BP dealing with the pipeline problems in Alaska? And yes, where is our president?

No time for it? How silly is that, when there is plenty of time to prepare for all kinds of press conferences and the like. Why tell your story exclusively through the MSM, mainstream media, when more and more the audiences want and demand that you talk to them direct through the internet. They will catch up, no doubt. But in the meantime, Pres Ahmadinejad (we might learn to spell his name this way) is having his way convincing the blogosphere of the evil intentions of the US administration to him.

More about President Ahmandinejad’s blog once I’ve had a chance to review its 2000 words (yes, he said the next posts would be shorter).

Aine McDermot and Purposeful Journalism

I am a fan of newsvine and the model it presents for the global “watercooler”. By that I mean the real time discussion of current issues by those participating. Aine McDermot is a familiar name to newsvine junkies. And here is a very insightful and thought provoking article posted on newsvine by this talented writer and thinker. Purposeful Journalism.

I especially appreciate the comments about how mainstream media has blurred the lines between entertainment and journalism, driven by their need to run profitable businesses. For those interested, this is a major topic of my book “Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News” and the soon to be published second edition, Now Is Too Late2.

Her comments on “Social Journalism” are equally relevant but I sense are just touching the surface of this fascinating and incredibly important topic. Everyday I become more convinced that the world of public information, news, reporting, public affairs, corporate issue management and crisis communication is changing dramatically and the change is driven increasingly by the blogosphere and the huge culture changes that the blogosphere represents and is leading.

If you are in corporate communications, or are a CEO or senior leader of an organization that operates with a public franchise, I encourage you to check out Newsvine but also read this intriguing article.

Crisis communication planning made easy

Meeting with a client shortly to put a simple crisis plan in place. He’s a contractor with sizeable projects in multiple states. So this is kind of help me prep for that.

Every crisis consultant does things differently no doubt, but here is my approach with a client like this.

1) What are your goals? How do you define winning in a crisis? The answer usually comes down to wanting to minimize damage. I will remind him of the Chinese character for crisis which can be read as “risk” and “opportunity.” A crisis represents a great risk of damaging or destroying reputation and potentially the enterprise, but it also represents opportunity to enhance that reputation according to how the crisis was handled and communicated. What do we need to do in a crisis to help people think of us more positively?

2) Who will speak? Identifying spokespersons and making certain they are properly trained and prepared is essential. Also, preparing those who are not spokespeople to understand the policy and to learn how to “refer and defer” is also very important.

3) Who are the people whose opinion of you is most important to your future? That helps identify and prioritize stakeholders. Reporters are important, but their opinion is not the only one that counts. Key managers, employees, customers, suppliers, bankers, subcontractors, neighbors, potential opponents, industry influencers, government officials, etc. Know them, prioritize, and build lists to enable you to phone and/or email very quickly. I usually create lists of Level 1, 2 and 3. Level 1s get phone calls. Level 2 get emails and letters. Level 3 get more general emails and direct to website.

4) How will you communicate? Through media only? Big mistake. Prepare to manage message development and distribution to multiple critical audiences. And prepare to do it from wherever and when you’re entire IT infrastructure is down. This need is what led to the development of PIER, still the only web-based crisis communication control center. It is the reason why the US Coast Guard was able to continue to communicate non-stop during Hurricane Katrina despite having a distributed team and all IT resources under water.

In this, don’t forget your website. It is just about your most important asset for communications in a crisis. If you can completely control it without having to do go through some ridiculous chain of command and IT management process, you are flat out dead in the water.

5) How will you respond to and manage inquiries? Who will do it? Are they capable? Do you know where the inquiries will come in? How will email inquiries be managed? Who will prioritize and make sure of the responses and speed of response. Again, this daunting problem is why we created PIER which also fully integrates and manages the inquiry function.

6) Remember, now is too late. To try to put these pieces in place during an event means you will not communicate in time. It’s an instant news world and that means virtually instantaneous response. That can only be done through appropriate preparation.