Entries in Public Relations (8)


Ready or not, crisis lurks

Not to be an alarmist, but let’s face it: A crisis can lurk around every corner.

From corporate data breaches and shareholder revolts to inner-city riots and product recalls, in a moment’s notice your business, your organization – your reputation, your brand – is at stake when things go very, very wrong.

And, boy, can things go wrong. We’ve seen poorly handled crisis responses – Tony Hayward of BP, anyone? – literally cost millions of dollars and careers. But we’ve also seen crises handled well. Some hospitals that handled the Ebola hysteria come to mind.

And so it’s how you handle a crisis that makes all the difference, even when the crisis did not start with you, especially in our age of instantaneous information.

How can you be ready if you don’t know what will happen to you?

  • Plan. An organization of any kind should have a crisis communications plan. Not to be confused with a disaster recovery plan that deals with business continuity, this plan outlines what can go wrong, who will respond, and what some early messages are when media and other stakeholders want to know what happened. 
  • Practice. A plan is nothing without practice. I advise clients to practice their plans at least once a year to make sure their plan is up to date and workable in the event of a crisis. Involve as many people as you can because you never know who will be needed. 
  • Adapt. Leadership changes. Crises change. Facilities change. Adapt your plan to changes in your business and industry. Renew your plan to face ever-changing realities. Train accordingly.

You don’t have to be a professional communicator to plan for and respond to a crisis.

The other week I guest-lectured to a class of master’s degree students in healthcare management at Virginia Commonwealth University. For three hours I took these future hospital administrators through the process of planning for and responding to a crisis, replete with tips to communicate to media and other audiences.

They were wide-eyed knowing many things can go wrong in a healthcare setting. But after they practiced in videotaped sessions, I was emboldened knowing these future leaders would be prepared to face a crisis.

All it took was old-fashioned preparation and practice. And a video clip of Tony Hayward wanting his life back.


(Thomas Becher, APR)


When was the last time you were the only American in the room?  

If you have ever had that privilege, you know what a rarity it is for most Americans.  As I led a three-day crisis management and business continuity workshop last week for international development professionals from more than a dozen countries, I was reminded just how important (and challenging) communicating across cultural boundaries can be.  We were dealing with life and death scenarios where what you say and what you do have deep implications on the safety and security of those around you.  Communicating effectively was more important than ever. 

Here are five lessons I’ve learned over the years by being the only American in the room:

  1. Listening is more important than talking.  You don’t learn by talking; you learn by listening.  Spend time listening to those around you who have different perspectives, come from different cultures or simply think differently than you do.
  2. Asking questions is critical.  Be curious about those who are not like you.  They will surprise you.  As a result, you’ll be able to speak from a perspective that invites people to ask you questions of you.  Genuine curiosity has resolved many diplomatic conflicts over the years.
  3. Show some initiative.  Learn about your audience’s history, their culture(s) and their local news.  Find out what matters most to them.
  4. Capitalize on the human experiences that tie you together.  Every single one of us is a son or daughter. Most of us have had some sort of schooling.  Many adults have experienced the joy or pain of being a parent.  Find common human experiences and build on them to make connections with your audience.
  5. Don’t assume.  Own your own experience and knowledge, but be humble as you tell others about it.  Don’t assume they’ve has the same experience.

Last but not least, remember that a humble smile goes a very long way in establishing a relationship across cultures. 

The staff at ND&P have traveled to and worked in more than 60 countries around the globe.  We’re adept at being the only American in the room.  How can we help you increase your presence abroad.



(Chris Turnbull)


Malaysia 370: Absence of leadership under fire

The twists and turns of the disappearance of Malaysia flight 370 are alarming and increasingly heart-breaking.

While it will take months and even years to fully piece together this Bond-esque mystery, the most shameful developments have been how this tragedy was handled.

From texting families to incorrect facts, this has been an emotional, roller-coasting public relations farce.

Having worked in the airline industry – and handled my share of crises – I believe the basic tenants of crisis communications have not been followed.

In a crisis situation, companies need to:

- Gather the facts and don’t speculate until they are known.

- Communicate quickly and often to acknowledge the problem, even if all the facts aren’t known.

- Focus intently on those directly affected by the crash, in this case passengers and crews.

- Be empathetic, responsive and honest.

- Take responsibility.

- Fix the problem.

Malaysian Airlines – and many governments – clearly didn’t follow the protocol.

Facts were given out early on that turned out not to be true. Communications from the airline were painfully slow or at best inconsiderate (texting families that the plane was likely down in the ocean and then saying there may be hope?). There’s been finger-pointing instead of fact-checking. And no one seems to be in charge.

Add to that that various nations were reticent to share satellite images or radar information and you get a Keystone Cops nightmare that undermines confidence in the investigation and credibility of the airline and Malaysian government.

Granted, this type of tragedy is unprecedented. But there is no excuse for not following international standards to communicate to stakeholders during a crisis. Even if the best response is: “We just don’t know but we’re doing everything we can to find out. In the meantime our focus remains on helping the families of those on board.”

Companies, governments or organizations are judged not just by their operational performances. They are judged on how they handle adversity. Clearly, someone failed here.

Unfortunately it’s the families of the 239 people on board who are paying the price.



(Thomas Becher, APR)


The (not necessarily all good) changing face of communications

A couple having dinner, each glazed to their own cell phone. Teens leaving school, each actively engaged in a handheld device walking next to classmates. A family relaxing at a resort, each member sprawled on a poolside chaise – not talking to each other but engrossed in their digital extensions.

In public relations, the medium is as important as the message. With an increasingly mobile society, more people are getting their news, their ads and their word of mouth through their phone. As PR strategists, we continue to adapt, ensuring that the messages we are promoting are not lost in the ever-crowded information marketplace.

But as the above example shows – and I observed all of these scenarios – not all of this is good. It seems that the days of conversation, face-to-face dialogue, taking time to disconnect are going by the wayside. And that’s a problem.

I worry that future generations – those raised with mobile devices, those who always get information on demand – may lose the fine art of conversation, research and original thought. I also worry what it’s doing to the family dynamic – when parents and children and loving couples, drawn close by family ties and yet ultimately limited in their time together, would rather stare at a small screen than gaze into each other’s eyes. And talk. With a voice, not a tap or text.

So while there’s a place for mobile innovation, let’s not forget to use our original communication channels.  



(Thomas Becher, APR)


Publicist or strategic advisor?

For the uninitiated, public relations is thought to be limited to, say, generating news coverage or planning an event.

How wrong they are.

Sure, strategic public relations can lead to impressive media coverage and social media buzz. And we PR pros sure know how to throw a memorable party and write a compelling speech.

But the frills stop there. The right public relations professional is more of a strategic advisor – the confidante at the table who can influence decisions, weigh policy, determine the best approach and communicate your vision – in good times and in bad.

We’re the ones who facilitate conversations, create the messages (and test them) and drive conversation through well-thought out plans that solve business problems.

Recently we were asked by a Fortune 500 defense contractor to prepare its executive team for major change. To their credit, they recognized the need to communicate the change to their many stakeholders.

They wanted the ND&P team to facilitate discussions on how to best communicate the changes and help determine who should communicate the messages and when. Following a day-long planning session, they were ready to communicate massive change, speak in unison and use crisp, understandable messages.

This behind-the-scenes strategizing is what PR pros do best. We’re trusted business advisors – right up there with attorneys and accountants – who help propel businesses, organizations and individuals forward.

Combined with an integrated marketing campaign, the right public relations strategies can win over audiences, change minds, define conversations, increase visibility, enhance trust and grow profitability.

So forget the PR “flack” of old. The profession has evolved from publicist to advisor.



(Thomas Becher, APR)