Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Best Defense…

When people ask what we do, I say “We do two things – offense and defense.”  On offense, we tell our clients’ stories consistently and effectively to the people who need to hear it.  On defense, we help to manage and overcome a crisis by… consistently and effectively telling our clients’ story to the people who need to hear it.

“The best defense is a good offense” is a well-worn phrase, and just as true in communications as it is in sports.  The longer, and more effectively, an organization has been delivering their message and defining itself on offense the better it will fare on defense.  That’s especially true when an unexpected crisis hits from out of nowhere.   However, there are other things that you can do – today – to be prepared to protect your business and your reputation.

Here’s a quick checklist of the obvious, and the not-so-obvious:

Put a Plan in Writing
  • It is true that “No plan survives the first encounter with the enemy”, but you can anticipate likely scenarios, and have a plan for what we call the ‘First 25%.’
  • Identify key leaders in the organization who should be on the Crisis Team.
  • Make sure the plan is updated regularly and you know where to find it if a crisis develops. 

Know Your Crisis Team – and Where To Find Them!
  • Plan and assign crisis roles ahead of time.   The Crisis Team doesn’t need to include everyone at the organization, but if it only includes the CEO and his/her assistant, you’re off to a bad start.
  • Get 24 hour phone numbers and e-mail addresses for all key people – and their key people, including admins and assistants, then conduct periodic tests.  You’ll be surprised what you find when you dial the numbers.  Note – a crisis isn’t the best time to learn that the cell phone for the guy with all the passwords doesn’t work at his cabin deep in the woods of Maine (true story).
Prepare a one-pager with key facts about your organization.  Be sure to include:
  • What you do and who you are (your elevator speech)
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many people work with you?
  • Highlight community involvement, philanthropy, achievements, awards, recognition – these all provide important context and help answer the question “Who are you?” more fully.
  • Make certain the info matches the website
  • Make it available in print and PDF
Know What You’re Saying About Yourself
  • Keep your web site up to date, since it’s the first place people will go to learn about you.  Check and update the site on a regular schedule.   Make sure someone on the Crisis Team can update the site quickly and effectively.  
Stake out your on-line real estate
  • It’s a good idea to reserve your URLs, and a reasonable number of others that could be misspellings, typos close to your name and derogatory variations of your name.
  • If you haven’t done so already, establish a presence on social media. Post some content and cultivate “Followers” or “Friends”.  Social media can prove to be an extremely valuable unfiltered platform for you to reach key audiences when a crisis occurs.  The more robust and current you can make it ahead of time, the better off you’ll be.
What are other people saying about you?
  • Check your search engine results - It’s the second place people will go.
  • Compile recent media coverage, be ready to highlight the good news and have clear, credible context for the not-so-good.
Know what’s on the public record
  • Have you been sued?  Be ready to talk about the losses, but even opponents’ filings in cases that you won can be harmful if not addressed.
  • Are your regulatory filings up to date?  Have clear, candid answers for any questions that may be raised by any sanctions you may have faced.
Reminder: Sloppy paperwork can be damaging
  • Incomplete, inaccurate, contradictory or out of date paperwork, particularly those that are public can be a problem.
  • Also – always think twice before hitting send on that e-mail.   The most innocent message may be a problem out of context. 
And finally – play offense
The Key Elements of Offense:
The Goals
  • Define yourself on your own terms.
  • Tell your story to the people who need to hear it.
The Four Pillars of Offense … and Defense
  • Who is your audience?  
    • Who needs to hear your message?  Who do you want to influence?
  • What is your message?
    • If you can’t say it in 10-15 seconds it probably needs some work.  And remember – it’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
  • What information, or content, supports that message?
    • What stories or nuggets of information help tell your story? 
  • How do you distribute your content and deliver your message?
    • In this day in age, you need a multi-faceted approach.  Word of mouth or a random newspaper ad can’t get it done today.  
There’s a lot more to being prepared for a crisis – but this list is a good place to start.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Day After The Big Story

“Content” is the big communications buzz word these days.  And while a lot of the “content” that’s out there is actually spam (more on that next month) in many ways, the best content is still third-party content – which in our case is news coverage of the great work our clients are doing.

News coverage is the best content because it has the benefit of someone else telling your story.  But not all third-party content is created equal.  While some coverage is almost always better than no coverage, the more widely viewed and more respected the outlet, the more valuable the content.  Another important factor – is the content/coverage in a publication being seen by the audience you’re trying to reach?

Recently, we hit the bull’s eye in The New York Times with a story about the success of our client the Quonset Business Park.  A former Navy base on Narragansett Bay, Quonset was widely perceived to be underperforming for years until hitting its stride in the last decade.  Today, it is the region’s premiere business park and the leading engine of job creation and economic growth in Rhode Island.

The Times story “Quonset Makes a Name for Itself in Business” captured Quonset’s success well.  Even better, the Business section of The Times is the ideal place to reach one of Quonset’s key audiences – business decision makers who are looking for a place to start or expand their business.

Once the sun rose on the day after The Times story, though, came the obvious question – what next?  At our firm, getting good media coverage for our clients is only the beginning of the process.  From there, we go on to amplify the story and work to get it in front of as many people as we can.  We do this by making it available on as many platforms as possible, some of which we publish ourselves on behalf of our clients.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Next – social media.  If you go to the Quonset Twitter feed you’ll see numerous tweets, starting on March 15, mentioning key points in The Times story, and linking back to the story for those who want to read it.  You’ll see Quonset re-tweeting other mentions of the story, as well. 
  • Check out the Quonset Facebook page.  You’ll see similar mentions.  Also – we took advantage of the heightened interest to invest in boosted posted posts on the platform – where we paid a few hundred dollars to reach a larger, targeted audience.  This, in turn, resulted in a jump in Facebook followers for Quonset.  (Nothing succeeds like success.)
  • We amplified the coverage of the coverage on Quonset social media.

Bottom line:  For us and our clients, what happens in the days after good media coverage is at least as important as what happens in the days before.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Can You Believe That Poll?

The most compelling action in the 2016 Presidential campaign (before any actual votes have been cast) is on the Republican side. Most polling seems to reflect the same trends – i.e., Donald Trump leads with a plurality of support among Republicans, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, with the “establishment” candidates flailing.

But on the key question of who will actually win, it’s anybody’s guess. Why? First, polls are only a “snap shot in time.” Pollsters say this all the time, partly out of self-preservation, but it’s also true. Things can change quickly in campaigns, and intervening events can make a poll completed on Monday largely outdated by Friday.

In Iowa, where Cruz and Trump are competitive in the February 1 contest, it’s proving difficult to predict a winner ahead of time. I’d bet on Cruz, because I suspect his Get Out the Vote (“GOTV”) effort, crucial in getting supporters to the polls in the state’s quirky caucus system, is better. Like Ben Carson, Trump is likely to learn that winning campaigns are a lot harder than they look, and that a presidential campaign is a tough place to start your political career.

The much more important consideration in determining the “accuracy” of a poll, however, is the methodology used to conduct it. This can largely be broken down into two big questions –
1) Who are you asking, and;
2) How are you collecting the data?

Here’s how that plays out in Iowa. The best way to answer the question “Who will win?” –which is really “Who would win if the election were today?” – is for a human being to ask a person likely to vote in the caucus who they plan to vote for. Both of these elements – a live interviewer and targeting a likely voter – are crucial. Anything less than this is the first step on a quickly descending staircase of credibility and value.

Unfortunately, polls conducted like this are hard to find because they are so expensive. Why?
• You need to have a thoughtful way to determine who, really, is likely to vote;
• It takes time and real expertise to draft a sound, useful questionnaire;
• In conducting the poll, you need good callers who understand the questions and ask them the right way;
• You need callers who can be trained to pronounce candidate names and place names correctly;
• Polls that dig deep seeking more information, usually conducted by candidates, are long, and it’s difficult to keep participants engaged all the way through to the end;
• It’s harder to find voters in the era of the cell phone, and to determine a valid mix of cell phone and landline numbers;
• It takes time and expertise to interpret the data, weighing it to reflect voter demographics in the area.

Since few public polls approach this standard, they all should be greeted with healthy skepticism. Media outlets used to do them with the necessary rigor, but few can afford it anymore, with some national exceptions (NY Times, CBS, etc.). Local media outlets are, for the most part, unwilling to spend the money it takes to get really good data, which is important to remember as we approach November. Instead, they usually settle for online polls or automated telephone polls. (I think my dog Buster responded to one of those the other day.) What you end up with is very cheap data that barely passes the accuracy laugh test – but is sometimes reported by the media with a straight face. Meanwhile, the best information is usually found in the hands of well-funded candidates, is jealously guarded like the precious commodity that it is.

All of this may help explain the post-Iowa GOP landscape in a few weeks if/when the results from the caucuses do not reflect the “results” of the “national polls” published over the last few months.