Sat 11, 2014

When we put words in other people’s mouths

Have we lost something precious in our pursuit for the perfect word or turn of phrase? Steven Burgess’ thoughtful article Society forgets that public figures don’t write their speeches reminds us all what it meant when leaders put the effort into writing their own messages. Can you think of any leaders these days who sit […]

Thu 11, 2014

Make no mistake, the CEO is your senior communications’ strategist

At the end of the day, there is no one who is more senior a senior communications’ strategist than the organization’s chief executive officer. Who else do we want to hear from when our company is going through a major transformation, with a new direction and job losses that may or may not include our […]

Six tips for leaders to address the emotion in a crisis

1341731829125_ORIGINAL

When the new Obamacare health website started crashing last year almost immediately after it was launched, no one took accountability, at least not in the early stages. And that’s what many of the public conversations focused on: no one said, “I’m sorry.”

During my career I’ve handled the communications, the “human” aspect of major issues or crises. Experience has shown me that what usually trips us up isn’t managing the logistics and details of the actual crisis — it’s the human element.

Here are my six common sense rules of what leaders need to do at the first sign of a crisis.

  1. Move fast to fill the information vacuum or someone else will. Many well intentioned leaders have encountered sharp public backlash because they and their organizations didn’t respond quickly enough. The general rule is that leaders have only a short time to respond and then they’re playing catch up.
  2. The more serious the situation, the more your most senior leader(s) must be involved. This rule is absolute if death or serious injuries occur and I am a strong believer that leaders need to be visible in any crisis that threatens health and safety. Too bad no one gave XL Foods that advice two years ago when four people died and others became seriously ill from their tainted beef.
  3. Be transparent in your communications. In a previous post, I talk about how transparency is a test of true leadership. In the 2000 Pine Lake tornado, I worked for Edmonton’s health region. We were told to expect upwards of 200 injured people, but as the night wore on, and only a few patients arrived, we began to wonder. Given the fluid nature of a disaster, it’s hard for the people on the ground to give an accurate assessment at the time it happens. As the media spokesperson, I had little to go with and decided to focus on the emergency response plans we had put in place. My goal, regardless of the outcome, was to assure people we were ready.
  4. Show your humanity. Sadly, it’s one area that leaders do not always do well. In the western world, the stoic, decisive, virtually emotionless leader is held up as the model. The key is to share yourself; the values and beliefs that drive you. If appropriate, offer condolences, an apology.
  5. Depend on your emergency response plan. Any responsible organization that’s in the public spotlight has a comprehensive plan ready to pull out. Experience has shown me that being able to rely on a toolkit of materials — templates, checklists — centres and gives us that few extra seconds to breath and plan the next steps.
  6. Feed your networks. Long before a crisis strikes, successful organizations have built social media networks and established connections with the people and groups key to their success. For leaders, this is gold. Here you have ready-made channels for your information and opportunities to start conversations and gauge the response and impact of the crisis.

The chief communications strategist. Next week I will discuss why organizational success requires leaders to take on the role of chief communications strategist.

 

 

Mon 07, 2014

The right length of blog posts, fat fingers and other social media truths

Who would ever think that longer blog posts are more likely to be read? That the sweet spot for the perfect length of a headline is six words? Rebecca Greenfield, staff writer at Fast Company recently wrote a great article that directly tackled what blogs can do for your business. She made the point that […]

Mon 07, 2014

Are your employees pulling you into their online conversations?

You would think with social media now around for more than 10 years, that we’d have this all figured out: people who comment online about different articles and sign in using both their names and their employers’ names. I can guarantee — you just need to read the comments — they’re not responding because their […]

Mon 07, 2014

The PR profession is at a crisis point

Sure, PR has an image problem and making the world a better place may not align with your impression of what PR or in my case strategic communications, delivers. But if done well, strategically, public relations is all about building relationships and finding common values and areas of interest and concern. More than any other […]