A glimpse behind-the-scenes with perspectives on public relations, communications, marketing and management from Express Strategies. Our own version of conversation starters. Let us know what you think.
When In Doubt, Leave It Out
Yes, you can overthink a decision.
Trying to decide which ad to use, which tag line to adopt, which color to select, which text to include – they can all be confusing, conflicting, bewildering, and frustrating decisions to make. There’s no need to twist yourself into a pretzel, however.
Study the data, if available. Review past practice and past performance, if applicable. Consider the competition or the context, if appropriate. Engage focus groups, or polling, or surveys, or ask those whose professional judgment you trust. (Just don’t expect unanimity of opinion.)
Then, when all of that is behind you, decide. If you’re on the fence about one aspect of the process or another, decide anyway. Trust your instinct, it likely as good as or better than whatever might result from additional hours, days or weeks of sleepless nights and bouncing back-and-forth between yes-we-do and no-we-don’t.
If you feel strongly about something, decide to go ahead and do it. You are the first person that you need to convince. If you are convinced, others just might be as well. And if you’re not convinced, then maybe no one else would be either. If you need a rule of thumb, try this one: when in doubt, leave it out.
It's Better When Someone Else Says It
It’s always better when someone else says you are wonderful. That is especially true when you are knee-deep in crisis mode. While issuing an official response is expected in any public crisis of confidence, it is frequently not your response that will make the difference but the comments of others made in your support. It is what they say that will likely determine if you will weather the storm or go down with the ship.
Who speaks up?
Individuals who can credibly affirm who you are and what you stand for, who can speak from experience about what is right and good about your organization, its philosophy, its commitment, its track-record – and who will sound convincingly undeterred and unshaken by the recent revelation that sparked the public crisis. They must be sincere, not scripted. They must be candid, not canned. And they must believe every word they say. If they don’t, no one else will.
The organization’s official response and actions are obviously critically important. No amount of good words from others will help if the organization continues to dig itself into a deeper hole. But if the organization can quickly straighten itself out – or demonstrably indicate it is committed to doing so – the words of others can be immensely helpful.
Actions do speak louder than words. But words are heard, too.
Don’t Change Your Tune In A Crisis
To recover from an organizational crisis of public proportion, the temptation is to instantly develop a seat-of-the-pants response that is a departure (clean break) from every communications message uttered previously. Don’t succumb to the temptation - doing so would likely be a mistake.
It is preferable, and ultimately more effective, for an organization’s messaging not be seen as a dramatic departure from past tone and content. Certainly the immediate concerns that sparked the media or public frenzy must be addressed - clearly, accurately and concisely - but efforts to become something you’re not tend to fall flat.
Inconsistency can make matters worse, rather than better. It is often more effective to speak clearly in a voice that is consistent with (or at least not inconsistent with) what has been said in the past. You need to ring true to who you have always been.
On the assumption that your organization had a reservoir of support and good will before the immediate crisis, it’s best to sound familiar – to sound (in what you say and how you say it) to customers, clients or business associates as you did when you built that support. People responded then, and likely for a reason. Don’t expect them to rally to your defense if even they can’t recognize who you are.
Messaging can be sharpened, aspects can be included that respond to the immediate crisis, but too much of a departure from what the organization has come to mean to people would be counterproductive – seemingly solving one problem but likely creating another.
Turns Out, Mr. Rogers Was Right
Every day on television for decades, he preached the gospel of neighborliness, of community. Today, it’s called social responsibility. Increasingly, business organizations are seeking out nonprofits to establish or enhance collaborative efforts that can make a difference in individual lives and the life of the community.
Being good neighbors is good business, it turns out. Perhaps it is the Mr. Rogers generation reaching seats of power. Or perhaps it is the impact of fiscal challenges and budget reductions, as government cuts back and non-government organizations are left to fill in the gaps. Whatever the reason, doing good and doing well, low and behold, are not mutually exclusive. Some of known this – and acted on it – for some time. Others are more recent actors.
There is virtually no limit to what can be accomplished when individuals – and organizations – of good will genuinely work together. And there is something quite exhilarating about a partnership forged to have a tangible impact on people and community.
A commitment to neighbors, or neighborhoods, can have both organizational and personal benefits that can last a lifetime – many lifetimes. Identifying matches that work, organizations that are well-situated and well-suited to successful and enduring collaborations, can make all the difference.
It begins with a desire to do so, and a determination to follow through. It begins, in the most basic sense, with a melody of sincerity scoring the effort – one which sounds very much like that which accompanied the inviting and comforting verse of many childhoods, “won’t you be my neighbor?”
Tell the Truth
As Richard Nixon (and others since) discovered, the cover-up is worse. People make mistakes; so do organizations.
When under media scrutiny, obfuscation often initially seems like the preferable course. While that may be true in the short run (or at least it appears to be), it is rarely true in the long run. With a sufficient number of microscopes and spotlights trained in your direction, odds are the truth will come out. It’s always better if you say it first.
Yes, there are shades of gray. But not shaded so deeply as to be unrecognizable from the reality of what truly occurred. People tend to appreciate candor. Even if the news is bad, we’d generally rather hear it straight up then have to ferret it out later.
That’s certainly true when it comes to our children. It is just as true when it comes to our corporations, organizations, associations, business associates, professional colleagues. There are times when no amount of truth can save you (federal crimes come to mind), but more often than not, the public is predisposed to keep things in perspective. If you’ll let them.
Often it isn’t what happened – however unfortunate or misguided - that proves to be the bigger problem, it is what is done after it happens.
Value of Rebounding
Reviewing the stat sheet in a basketball game, one is instantly drawing to the scoring. Goodness knows, the tv cameras certainly are. Most of us tend to focus on the high scorers, the headliners, the guys who put the ball in the basket and ring up the points. But basketball strategists often suggest that the statistic more critical to a teams’ success is rebounding.
You can’t score if you don’t have the ball. And the more frequently it’s in your hands, the more likely you are to achieve your goal – in this case, outscore the other guys.
The same is true in getting the word out about your business, nonprofit, association or organization. The more you can talk about it, promote it, provide examples or samples of it, tell real-life stories about its impact and establish connections to it, the better off you’ll be.
Seize those opportunities. No one knows what you do and how you do it better than you. No one understands the difference your organization makes in its field, or in the lives of its clients or customers better than you. No one cares more deeply about your work, and your organization, than you.
So, grab the rebound – take every chance to tell people, individually and collectively, through personal contacts, marketing and media, what your organization is all about. It may not be sufficiently flamboyant to be seen on the video highlights, but every rebound is an opportunity to score.
The Pendulum Swings Both Ways
Don’t be too overjoyed by a run of great media coverage; odds are it won’t last. No, this is not being overly pessimistic, just incredibly realistic.
Public relations is no easy task, especially with the longstanding rules of the road breaking down, due to changing economics, rapidly developing new platforms and technologies and the sheer volume of media variations of every description (and some virtually indescribable). So it’s understandable when a PR triumph occurs – in the form of a great placement of a story or a run of positive coverage – that both the professional pushing the story and the organization whose story is being pushed are, let us say, pleased.
However high the flight, what goes up must eventually come down. However long the winning streak, eventually it ends. (See Trinity squash team or UConn basketball women.) The same is true with PR. It’s rare that the only coverage ever received – especially by organizations or individuals routinely in the news - will be purely positive. There are occasional one-time good news stories that do occur, when the spotlight shines brightly for just a moment and then moves on. Relish those, because they are few and far between.
More often than not, organizations or individuals who are built up by positive stories are then ripe to be knocked down a peg – by the same reporter or another. One can almost rely on it. The key is to understand this before you launch a PR initiative. Don’t get too high on the highs, or too low on the lows. Expect both – and put the effort into extending the good news and limited the not-so-good. But be assured there will be moments of both.
Some might suggest it is the vast news media machine seeking cosmic equilibrium. Or perhaps it is human nature or basic physics – the pendulum swings both ways. It’s inevitable and inescapable.