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Archive for the ‘Crisis Communications’ Category

Spokesperson Savvy


Think it doesn’t matter who delivers your company or brand’s message during a crisis? Think again.

Do you recall BP’s spokesperson saying that he’d like his life back, while the people of New Orleans continued to suffer?

How about a Toyota executive, reading a statement off a piece of paper, during their massive Prius recall? (I believe that he was also speaking Japanese. The clip that I saw on the news was translated by a newscaster.)

Or maybe you caught Tiger Woods’ robotic, over-rehearsed “news conference”?

All of these “performances” hurt the company and/ or brand involved. And much of the damage could have been avoided if they’d been smart about choosing a good spokesperson, who had received executive media training.

Process of Choosing a Spokesperson

1. Identify someone NOW within your company, who performs well under pressure and thinks well on her feet. Don’t wait for a crisis. Be proactive.

2. Get executive media training/ crisis communications training for that person. In fact, train a few people. In my experience, there’s usually at least one person within a company who is unexpectedly good.

3. Watch the video of everyone who receives media training. Who delivered the messages the best? Who looked most comfortable on-camera? Was there someone that people would relate to and like? Who was unflappable? Who ad libbed well? Who always looked calm and in control?

4. If your brand is popular around the world, make sure that you have spokespeople that can speak every language in your major international markets. I’d recommend that the person also be from that country/ region if possible. People instinctively place greater trust in those that they believe understand them and their culture and by extension their crisis.

Lastly, work on a crisis communications plan. Involve your spokespeople. Make sure that they understand their role during a crisis.

Crisis Comms
in Tucson


First, let me say that I feel great sorrow and sympathy for the families of everyone involved in the tragic events in Tucson, Arizona. But my personal feelings are separate from my professional ones.

While I watched the events unfold, I was reminded that crisis communications are so important and so very difficult. It’s hard to prepare or train people to deal with worst-case scenarios. In many cases, there’s no plan at all because people hope that it won’t happen to them.

Hard as it may be—you must develop a plan BEFORE a crisis hits—not during or after.

The ability to communicate what is happening is critical to the management of a crisis. The sooner you are able to mobilize people, set a plan in motion and inform the public what it is—the better off you’ll be.

Admittedly, it is a terrible thing to have to think about because crises are times of great stress and often tragedy. But the reality is— how you handle the crisis will influence people’s opinions of  your organization/company for many years to come. (Think BP.)

The first 24 hours are critical. But they are also so stressful that you can understand if information isn’t flowing freely or is changing rapidly. You are bound to have conflicting reports about what’s happening during that first day. But by the second day—you should have command of the distribution of information. And there should be one main spokesperson. She should be the face of the crisis for your company, police department or hospital.

As I watched a news conference at University Medical Center on day two of the crisis, I was stunned by the number of spokespeople they offered up. I stopped counting after the fifth person took the podium. They were administrators and doctors. And they tried selling a team approach to medicine, which is presumably why so many people spoke. Unfortunately, only one of them was good at communicating information. The others looked and sounded over-rehearsed and/or awkward. Additionally, it looked like many people were trying to take credit and bask in the spotlight. And truly—that is not the goal of crisis communications where perception is everything.

My Advice:

 1. Choose one spokesperson for your organization/company. Let him communicate the big picture statements and answer the majority of the questions.

2. If you need a specialist to answer questions i.e. a doctor then have her on-hand to address medical questions. Don’t have every doctor involved take a turn at the microphone. Pick one.

3. Clearly establish expectations for future media briefings. (The hospital did this. 10am every day.) The issue: once a day isn’t going to cut it. You can limit news conferences to once a day. But you should make someone available for updates/briefings at least a few times a day—morning, afternoon and evening. And you should make sure that you communicate this fact publicly. This lets people know that you are on top of the situation.

Again—personally, I feel for everyone involved in this grave situation. But speaking professionally, this hospital needed to be better prepared and/or needed to have a better plan in place. Doing so would not only have reassured the families of those involved in the incident, but it would have showcased their facility better than any tag team “taking-credit” approach.


photo credit: bruce_fulton via photopin cc

Netflix Apology?


If you subscribe to Netflix, no doubt you received an email from Reed Hastings, CEO and Co-Founder of Netflix.

The subject line was “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”

It should have been titled, An Apology.

To be fair, his first line is, “I messed up.” His second line should have been, “I apologize.” Instead, it was, “I owe everyone an explanation.”

Too Little, Too Late

Hastings waited TWO MONTHS to address the problems subscribers had with their new pricing plan. During that time, ONE MILLION people unsubscribed AND Netflix’s stock price plummeted. (In July it traded at a high of $304.79. Late last week it closed at $169.25.)

After all of that time, a smart person would lead with a HUGE mea culpa. Nope. He was full of explanations for the change. He explained how the company was splitting into two separate businesses–streaming and DVD delivery. And he apologized IF people thought “we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes.”

In short, it was a carefully worded statement. He could see why you might be offended. But that wasn’t his intent. If you were offended, he apologizes.

WRONG ANSWER! Hastings might have gotten away with that right after it happened. But now– TWO MONTHS later. After you’ve lost more than ONE MILLION subscribers and your stock price has been cut in half? Really?

I beg of you, get some media training. Listen to the public relations professionals that I am sure have been screaming in your ear for many weeks. You might still be able to salvage something from this mess. I’ll even get the ball rolling for you.

Town Hall Meeting

Hold a town hall meeting and invite your subscribers. Let them give you the verbal lashing you so richly deserve for mishandling the new pricing scheme and everything that has followed. Be real! Be honest. Talk to your attorneys about what you can and can’t say. (I suspect that may have something to do with your carefully worded statement.) But it will cost you nothing to say: I was wrong. I mishandled this. I should have explained this better. I should not have assumed that everyone would agree with this new pricing system. And you know what happens when you assume. You make an a$$ out of you and me. And that’s exactly what I did.

By way of apology, I am going to give all of our current subscribers 30 days free access to both the streaming and DVD services. After 30 days, please choose a plan that you think will best meet your viewing needs. If after 30 days, you decide that you no longer want to subscribe to Netflix, I understand. But believe me when I tell you, we will do everything in our power to win you back.

Real. Honest. To the point.


photo credit: BenLucier via photopin cc

Chris Brown Needs
Media Training


Dear Chris Brown,

You are in desperate need of Media Training AND a reality check.

Fact: You pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in February 2009.

Fact: A restraining order was issued against you. For two years you were not allowed to get within 50 yards of Rihanna. (The restraining order is still in effect, but it was recently downgraded to allow Chris Brown to have contact with Rihanna as long as he does not harass, annoy or molest her.)

Fact: The court ordered you to receive counseling and perform community service.

Reality: You are going to be asked about this every time you’re interviewed by the media.

Today, you were thrown easy, softball questions about this incident by Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. And instead of saying: I made a mistake. I’ve received counseling; I’m a different person. In fact, the judge in my case recently praised me for the strides I’ve made. You were visibly defensive and chastised Robin for asking you about this i.e. You were only there to talk about YOUR ALBUM!

All of this leads me to believe that either you have not been media trained or you haven’t worked with someone who knew how to get through to you.

Basics of Media Training

Rule # 1 Never get angry at a reporter or interviewer!

Rule #2 Body language and facial expressions are important! You can’t look ticked off or angry if you want to get past this incident, especially since you’re trying to make people forget you pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna.

Rule#3 Wait until you leave the studio to vent your frustration. (TMZ is reporting that Chris Brown was screaming and yelling at GMA staffers after his interview. They are also reporting that he threw a chair at a window at ABC.)

I have often said, you don’t actually have to be a changed person to change the public’s opinion of you. But you do have to act like a changed person. And above all else, you need to know how to play the game.

Chris, I don’t know if you don’t understand the game or if you think the rules don’t apply to you. But there are no free passes in the media game. If you want free advertising on a network morning news program then you’re going to have to answer questions about Rihanna.

If you were smart, you’d have gotten a really great media trainer to work with you and/or a psychologist, who specializes in anger management. It would have been money well spent.


photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc