Thursday, June 26, 2008

Factory shooting underscores importance of solid crisis communications planning

Yesterday’s tragic shooting spree at the Atlantis Plastics plant in Henderson, Ky., serves as an unfortunate reminder that disaster can strike at any time.

Fires, explosions, natural disasters, chemical spills, manufacturing accidents, labor strikes—every crisis threatens a company’s stability, its reputation and, in the worst case, its survivability.

That’s why, when a crisis occurs, your response must be swift and effective. And the secret to taking quick control of a crisis? A sound crisis communications plan. It’s a strategic roadmap to get you through a situation, while minimizing potential damage.

Here’s a primer for developing your plan.

Getting started

  • Set your crisis management team. Include the CEO, department managers, public relations team members, legal representatives, security and human resources personnel.

  • Outline your protocol. Work with your internal or external communications team. Get the necessary resources aligned. Work through the possible contingencies and conduct a crisis audit.

  • Determine your communications process. Identify your audiences and how you’ll communicate with them—face-to-face, telephone, e-mail, etc. Prompt, proactive communication is essential.

  • Anticipate common questions. Prepare responses that can then be modified based on the nature of the crisis.

  • In the moment of crisis

  • Never provide a "no comment" response. Such evasion is often interpreted as though you have something to hide.

  • If you’re still gathering information, say so. Share what you know and pledge to provide additional information as soon as possible. You’ll show that you’re actively working to stabilize the situation.

  • Never lie or speculate. Stick to the facts that you can speak to with certainty.

  • Exude calm. Your demeanor can directly affect public perception of the situation and your company overall.

  • And here’s the best tip we can give you, by far: If you don’t already have a crisis management plan, start developing it right now.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Sustainability Efforts Must Come before Marketing Hype

    The current issue of Advertising Age has an interesting feature about the rise of sustainability officers and their relationship to marketing.

    “So goes the evolving dance between sustainability and marketing, as chief sustainability officers become as prevalent as chief marketing officers in Fortune 500 companies. Although more marketers are striving to act and look green, their sustainability officers seldom come up from the marketing side.”

    And why don’t they come from the marketing side? Because the more successful eco-friendly efforts start from the grass roots. They fully integrate the spirit of sustainability into the rest of a business.

    To illustrate this point, the AdAge piece goes on to highlight the sustainability initiatives of Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and other big players. These companies don’t have massive “sustainability departments,” just leaders in charge of making things greener across their companies.

    If your organization isn’t big enough to justify hiring a sustainability officer, a commitment to sustainability can still be carried through. But either way, green should not be a figment of marketing imagination.

    That’s especially true for companies taking environmentally focused products to market (like several of our clients). As we pointed out back around Earth Day, the marketplace of green claims is getting pretty noisy. Audiences are starting to tune it all out. So if you’re selling green, you have to walk that talk.

    Besides, there may be an even better reason for going greener throughout your company. Potential business benefits such as increased energy efficiency will likely have a far more positive impact on the Earth and your bottom line than any green marketing claim ever will.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Do You Have a “Web site” or a “Website”? Get with the Times.

    “Web site” or “website”?

    If it were up to us, the great Web debate would have been settled by now. But the Associated Press Stylebook still clings to the stodgy ol’ “Web site.” Therefore, for press releases and bylined articles, PR professionals have little choice but to use “Web site” or risk the scorn of AP-loyal editors.

    True, “Web site” may be an accurate reflection of the term’s roots as a location on the World Wide Web. But that matters little because “website” has become the familiar compound word of choice for nearly everyone outside AP-alachia.

    Technology, information and the related terminology are evolving fast in the Internet age—much faster, it would seem, than an old-media organization such as the AP is prepared to handle. (See also our post from February about media coverage of the Favre retirement, when organizations well versed in new media were much quicker to spread the story.)

    So, what about your organization? Are you staying ahead of the interactive technology curve, or at least with it?

    If you’re still insisting on calling your portal a “Web site,” you may have fallen behind on other advances. A few additional red flags that show that an organization is out of touch:

    -- A “news” page where the “latest news” consists of releases from two years ago.
    -- An information dump that amounts to little more than a stagnant adaptation of the company literature—known as “brochureware.”
    -- Anything that shows up on the Web Pages That Suck blog.

    OK, so maybe you’re hip to buzz-worthy initiatives such as search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). But even so, if the site you’re driving traffic to is burdened by any of the flaws mentioned above, you’ll look silly to your new visitors—and they won’t come back.

    Our recommendation is first to modernize design and content to make it clean, current and easy to use. Of course, you might start by calling it a website.