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Friday, October 26, 2012

Be first, be right, be credible: Major Mike Lagace and crisis communications

Earlier this week, my friend Amy Tuckett and I headed down to a CPRS (Canadian Public Relations Society) luncheon and workshop between classes. We had the opportunity to listen to Major Mike Lagace, public affairs officer for the Canadian Armed Forces, speak about his experiences in crisis communications.

Major Lagace has extensive experience working both for the Winnipeg Police Service and the armed forces, so to say he's had his fair share of crises to deal with would be an understatement.

He was there when J.J. Harper was killed. He was there for the flood of '97.

The flood of '97 hits the Red River Valley. Picture from manitoba.ca.


While we've covered crisis communications pretty extensively in school, it was great to hear to a PR veteran share some of his personal stories and advice.

His main message was: Be first. Be right. Be credible.

If your organization has been hit with a crisis, you need to respond immediately to the media and your audiences. Even if you don't have the exact details of the situation, any comment will help.

And the more empathetic you are, the better. 

Major Lagace emphasized that messages of empathy should come before messages of sympathy. In other words, it's better to say "We've all been affected by this flood and we will get through it together," than "I feel sorry for the people who've been affected by the flood."

And, obviously, you should be genuine in what you're saying.

While it's important to be first, that still means you have to be credible. Major Lagace showed us a video clip of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, discussing his first reactions to September 11. Giuliani said the media wouldn't quit until he gave an exact number of those who died that morning, which of course, no one knew quite yet.

Giuliani's response was, "The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately."

Rudy Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001. Picture from nytimes.com

 Giuliani was simultaneously first, right, credible, empathetic, and genuine.

If you don't know all the facts of a crisis, give facts in increments. Communicate your messages as you know them. But remember that the first message you communicate is the one your audiences will remember most. That's why you always want to be right.

If, in your first interview with the media, you say, "We think around a million people died in this flood," but during your next interview you say, "You know what, I was wrong. Only a thousand people died," guess which quote will stick in peoples' minds?

Major Lagace also told us that statistics carry more weight than anecdotes. You'll be more convincing if you include statistics in your key messages.

Above all, Major Lagace told us that, during times of crisis, we should allow people the right to feel fear. Don't be patronizing or dismissive. We can empower our audiences and promote action - let them know what they can do to feel safe, while letting them know it's natural to feel afraid.

 Explosions in the Sky - It's Natural to Be Afraid

While I hope I never have to deal with crises on the same scale as those Major Lagace has handled, I now feel a bit more prepared.

What do you think? Do these ideas make sense, or is this all a bunch of PR spin-doctor mumbo-jumbo? Let me know!
 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't be a jerk online - you could get fired

Earlier today, a friend of mine tweeted about an Ontario man who got fired from his retail job after his employers read something he posted online.

This CBC article tells of the London-area man who got fired for posting negative comments about the death of Amanda Todd, the BC teen who committed suicide after being bullied online.

Amanda Todd. Picture from Wikipedia.   




The CEO of his company said their firm and swift action was appropriate, but this case highlights the growing grey area between our online and professional lives.

Surely whatever the man said was inappropriate, but did it really affect his work as a salesman at Mr. Big and Tall?

In my opinion, making negative comments about an unequivocally tragic story is tasteless and a definite comment on your character. I understand why he was fired - his actions are a direct reflection on his employer. Would you really want an unpleasant person working for you and representing your company?

But - what if he was an incredible employee? What if he was bringing in sales like nobody's business, and was singlehandedly responsible for the company's success - should he still be fired?

Oh snap. Picture from blog.jeroenhoekman.com.

What do you think? Is it fair to lose your job over something you said on the Internet - especially if it had nothing to do with your job? Were the folks at Mr. Big and Tall out of line for firing him, or right on the money? Let me know!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lance Armstrong: SAY IT AIN'T SO

Well, I'm afraid I must add an unfortunate addendum to my previous post on Lance Armstrong and the ethics of PR.

But at least it gives me an excuse to post my favourite Weezer song (for the second time in this blog's history):


The USADA has just come out with a whopper of a list of evidence against old Lance. Say it ain't so, Lance. Your drug is a heartbreaker, indeed.

I really was on his side, but now the evidence is more than just circumstantial.

To top things off, Lance refuses to respond to any of the charges, and is even considering taking a lie detector test to prove his innocence.

Picture from theglobeandmail.com


While all this goes on, Lance continues to promote his cancer charity, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. If you take a look at his Twitter feed, he has yet to acknowledge the scandal in tweet-form.

His key message remains the same: "I am a family man, I am a cancer survivor, and I am an advocate for finding a cure."

Given that he's helped raised millions of dollars for cancer research, does it really matter if he cheated? I know it's morally wrong, but some good came out if it, right?

What do you think?

Friday, October 5, 2012

KitchenAid: a lesson in issues management

Well, up until a few days ago, I didn't even know KitchenAid had a Twitter account. Though I suppose it makes sense - they're a well-known brand with an established target audience that is currently one of the biggest users of social media.

According to research from the Nielsen Company, women between 35 and 54 are most likely to do social networking on their mobile devices.

What else are women between 35 and 54 more likely to do? Use KitchenAid products.

It's safe to say the KitchenAid brand works hard to project a sort of down-home, motherly image. When you think KitchenAid, visions of freshly baked cookies and Sunday mornings in the kitchen with ma come to mind.

Ahh, the good old days! Picture from joecorbi.com.


Offensive slurs about the president and his dead grandmother? Not so much.

But that's exactly what went down during Wednesday night's presidential debate. Obama had mentioned his grandmother, who died three days before he was elected president. Moments later, @KitchenAidUSA tweeted the following message to its 25,000+ following:

"Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! 'She died 3 days b4 he became president'."

Yikes.

Given the language of the tweet and its inconsistency with the tone of the KitchenAid brand, it's pretty clear it was sent out by a member of the company's social media squad who forgot to switch over to their personal account before sending the message.

It's a common error, but it shouldn't have happened. KitchenAid responded quickly and efficiently to the faux-pas.

The tweet was quickly removed, but as we all know from first-year PR, once something's been put out there, it's out there for good. Luckily, KitchenAid CEO Cynthia Soledad (or her PR people) had the smarts to take matters into her own hands. She posted the following message on the company Facebook page:

"Hello, everyone. My name is Cynthia Soledad, and I am the head of the KitchenAid brand. I would like to personally apologize to President Barack Obama, his family and everyone on Twitter for the offensive tweet sent earlier. It was carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won't be tweeting for us anymore. That said, I take full responsibility for my team. Thank you for hearing me out."

Picture from radaronline.com


She also responded directly to media and other followers on Twitter, and made herself available for interviews and to address any questions and complaints anyone had.

I'd say Soledad was extremely successful in handling an unfortunate situation. She was honest, transparent, and readily available for questioning. She didn't pass it off with a shrug and a "Everyone makes mistakes!". She took full responsibility for what happened.

But could she have prevented it from happening in the first place?

Whoever it was that sent out the offensive tweet probably has their own excuses for why they did it. They were drunk, angry, whatever. But could KitchenAid have prevented this whole debacle by not hiring this person to begin with? Did they do any background checks on the person before they were hired - including scouring their personal social media sites for inappropriate language and behaviour?

It may seem like invasion of privacy, but these days when you're applying for jobs in the communications field, you gotta make sure you're presenting yourself professionally at all times. Even online.

Except, maybe, if you're applying at KitchenAid.

 "Bad Communication" by Sufjan Stevens.

What do you think? Did KitchenAid handle this well? Will this affect their sales and bottom line? Will everyone forget about it a few days? Let me know!