Issues and Crisis

AHA Creative Strategies is a public relations agency. We’re communicators. We’re social media participants. We’re brand journalists. We use video, video news releases, b-roll, podcasts, photography, articles, news releases, media and blogger pitches, news conferences, media tours, speaking tours, speeches, special events, trade shows, community meetings, annual reports, newsletters and so much more to assist our clients in communicating with their stakeholder groups. (Notice I said “with” – not “to” – that’s very important.) We are in the business of informing, educating and creating conversation. As importantly, we’re in the business of listening and responding.

I mentioned in Monday’s blog post that I would focus on some of the tools we, at AHA, provide to clients and why they are of value. I think before I do that, I should take a step back and define what good public relations is – to us. (I don’t want this blog post to be too long, so next Wednesday I will focus on the specific tactics. Although, I have to warn you, I got a bit carried away – today’s post is a little long!)

Good public relations is working in partnership with clients. Even when it is challenging, we tell them what they need to hear – rather than just take orders and deliver what they want us to. We identify what they need (which isn’t always the same) and we approach what we do with optimistic realism. Timelines, deadlines, client resources and budgets also have to be taken into consideration.

Please visit our blog to read the rest of the post.

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At AHA, we are working with a new client that is dealing with a serious issue within its organization. This particular issue had a great deal of misinformation, miscommunication and speculation around it. One of the challenges that this organization faces is that for quite some time, it has had an internal culture of little or no authentic communication. Not because the senior executive team is uncaring or doesn’t want to communicate, but it is a busy, successful business that has seen rapid growth in the past decade. For many people, there just didn’t seem to be the time to reach out and connect.

Unfortunately that neglect has come back to create internal issues. There are human resource challenges, inefficiencies between departments and some information circulating is just plain wrong – and it is creating concern and anxiety among employees. In the past, this organization had not considered communication a priority. That has changed. There is a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) who is committed to creating open, two-way communication opportunities. He is also ready to work with staff to identify and improve the blocks to communication.

In beginning to create a strategic plan for internal communications, we quickly realized that it is going to take more than an inspiring speech and a promise to respond from the new COO. Credibility and trust need to be rebuilt and the employees are a little skeptical about whether honest, open and two-way communication will become their day-to-day reality. This is going to take a culture change and for that to happen, the shift has to come from a range of areas within the organization. We’re still working this through and will blog more about the innovative ways we’re working with this company to move forward in this area.

For this post, we’re focused on the importance of an organization to quickly and thoughtfully respond to an issue. One of the challenges that most organizations now face is that it is crucial to respond quickly when a potential issue, challenge or opportunity comes up. Gone are the days when you had days or weeks to think about things, to develop the right messaging and positioning. Our world is now fast paced. There is an expectation of a quick response for both internal and external stakeholders. At best, you have 24 hours – and I have to admit, even that seems like a long, drawn-out response time to me. Journalists update their online articles and post new articles throughout the day and night. There is no more news cycle tied to print production and broadcast times. Many people connect with their BlackBerry or iPhone and very few people don’t check their inbox, Facebook, Twitter or other social networking accounts on a daily basis.

Each organization is different, but there seems to be a gap when it comes to providing information to stakeholders in a timely fashion. Approval processes are outdated and cumbersome. Creating a streamlined process is crucial.

Could your organization turn around a response within 24 hours? Within 12 hours? How about eight hours or in four? If it was urgent and a crisis hit, could you have a written document, a video or other form of communication developed, approved and distributed in an hour? These are important questions to ask yourself and your colleagues.

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We recently watched the challenge that McDonald’s faced with a hoax that falsely suggested that the global company discriminates against African-American customers. Is your organization prepared?

At AHA, we often develop crisis communication strategies, plans and manuals for clients. We recently worked on a crisis plan for a client that included a section on how to respond if a hoax hits their brand. The online world has changed communication and facing a crisis or issue, which may include a hoax. Many communicators know this, but are experiencing a challenge in getting the senior executives, CEO, Board of Directors or Board of Governors to realize how crucial it is that social media is included as a part of any communications plan (issue and crisis or a proactive, day-to-day approach).

A good plan needs to be strategic. It also needs to recognize how the online world has influenced how an organization communicates and how stakeholders expect to receive information. Think about how the online world could take hold of a hoax related to your organization and expand its reach on a global level. That thought should make you sit up straight and think about how your organization might react.

There are some initial questions that we would ask a client if there was even a slight chance that your organization could be the target of hoax. Here are a few of them:

  • Does your organization have a proactive strategy in place? If the first time you reach out online is to stop rumours or a hoax, you are already at a disadvantage. A proactive strategy both online and in the real world is important.
  • Are you connecting with your stakeholder groups on a daily basis?
  • Do you know who the critics and supporters of your organization are and where they communicate online? If you don’t know where they gather online, how will you know what is being discussed? (And, if you aren’t aware of their style and tone prior to an issue such as a hoax, you will have challenges connecting with these individuals and groups.) Understanding the people involved in either creating or perpetuating the hoax is also important because if you don’t know who the community is, you will have no basis in making a strategic decision regarding a response (including not responding at all, in some specific cases).
  • Do you have the right processes in place to move quickly should there be a hoax that impacts your organization? If it is appropriate that you respond, then you need to respond quickly. If your organization takes days to respond, the hoax has all of that time to build momentum and that can make it much harder to bring the truth to light.

It is important that you honestly answers these questions and make sure that you are connecting with stakeholders proactively, that you are aware of where your supporters and critics live online (and in the real world) and that you have streamlined your process so that, if it is strategic to do so, you can respond quickly and accurately should your organization be targeted with a hoax.

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In today’s AHA Fast Take Friday, Ruth uses hot air (really) to explain how to manage a campaign if the wind (of public opinion) shifts.

There are two videos here. The first one shows Ruth and I hot air ballooning in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. The balloon ride (and the sudden and quite hilarious landing) lead into Ruth’s Fast Take.

Balloon Ride (and Landing)

Up, Up and Away from AHA Creative on Vimeo.

AHA Fast Take Friday

Hot Air Balloon Fast Take from AHA Creative on Vimeo.

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