When is a crisis a crisis?

Every organization needs to protect its reputation.  And when something occurs to jeopardize that reputation, the crisis communications experts go into action.

But how do you know when a crisis is a real crisis?  How do you know that trying to alleviate a crisis won’t just make matters worse by calling attention to it?

These are good questions.  When you know something is about to happen, like a lawsuit, consumer complaint, or viral video, the immediate reaction is to stop it in its tracks.  That is often a good strategy, but not necessarily the right one.

There are several issues to consider.  First, the crisis you think will happen often never materializes.  We tend to project the worst, but sometimes our fears get the better of us.

Second, we sometimes react prematurely.  The first step when addressing a crisis communications situation is to be certain of the facts.  One of the worst things you can do is respond to the unknown.  But it can be tricky.  If the media are all over you, then you want to appear to care and assure everybody that you are handling the situation.  But how can you handle a situation you are uncertain of?

While the first step is to address the crisis, the step before that is to assemble your crisis communications team.  The team should consist of the head of the organization, PR counsel, legal counsel and person(s) closest to the issue.  It is important that this team have a mechanism in place to contact one another quickly and easily.  When a serious crisis occurs, every minute counts.  You don’t want to have to scramble to find each other.

Then, make sure of the facts.  Who is impacted, who is responsible, what happened, how are you fixing it and so forth.  These are basic questions that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

The worst thing you can do is wait if the media are on top of it.  Staying silent gives the impression of not caring and hiding.  You don’t want to initiate contact with the media if they are not on the story, but if they are, then you need to respond with sensitivity, professionalism and solutions.

Remember what a wise person once said.  “It takes decades to build a positive reputation and seconds to destroy it.”  In this world of instant communication, where information travels the globe in seconds, speed is important.  If others are talking about your organization negatively, and you are not in the conversation, something is terribly wrong.

That’s why having professional crisis communications experts — people who have been through crises many times — is so critical.  Every crisis is different, but having someone who knows how to navigate the media and provide expert advice can mean the different between successfully handling a crisis, or paying dearly.

Michelle Wolf’s rant was no accident

The White House Correspondents Dinner was created as a truce between the White House and the White House press corp.  Every day, the two go at each other, with reporters asking biting questions and the White House spokesperson offering often deflecting answers.  But there is one evening a year — the dinner — when the two sides are supposed to sit down together and call a truce.

However, the dinner that just happened, with host Michelle Wolf, was quite the opposite.  Whether her routine was cleaver or not, funny or mean, serious or lighthearted, is not the point of this essay.  Her objective was not to host the event.  Her objective was to be talked about and further her career.

In today’s world of social media and cable news shows, there is a lot of time and space to fill.  Gone are the days when news programs told us what we needed to know.  Today, they have hours and hours to fill and computers to clog.

That’s why if someone wants to be talked about, and hence grow their fan base, then the best way to do that is to be outrageous.  If someone in the public eye is outrageous, over-the-top and crosses the line, then some people will get angry. Others will defend her/him.  In either event, that person becomes the focal point of discussion, whether you agree with them or not.

That was Wolf’s mission.  As a participant on The Daily Show, she isn’t exactly a household name.  But the day after the dinner, she was headline news.  Now more people know her name and more will follow her on Twitter and more might see her comedy shows.

Once gaining notoriety was done by making constructive contributions to the public discourse, being intellectual or cleaver.  Today it is simply just being outrageous.  It is career death to be bland.  Nobody will take notice of you.  You might say things that are truthful, insightful, brilliant, but nobody will care.  On the other hand, say things that make people gasp, blush, or moan in anguish, and you now have put yourself on the map, regardless of who you may have wrongfully attacked, embarrassed or hurt.  All that matters is your career.

For those who think that Wolf’s “jokes” were just jokes, think again.  It was a calculated PR move by someone who understands that marketing a career starts with getting attention.

And hats off to her.  She succeeded.

 

Why Nonprofit Marketing Matters

Just recently, I met someone at a gathering who told me that “nonprofits should not market or do public relations.”  Being in the business, I asked why? Their answer was straight and simple.  “Because if they do good work, everybody will know, and if they are worthy of support, they will receive it.”

I found this answer interesting yet curious.  If this is the case, they why does any product advertise?  Why does McDonald’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising if they offer a product people want and virtually everybody knows about?

Why should any company market itself?  The old adage, “if you build it, they will come,” seems logical.  But is it true?

The comment from this individual wasn’t about marketing in general, but nonprofit marketing.  Somehow this person (I am purposely avoiding mentioning where it is a he or she) believe that nonprofits exist to serve the public and that should be enough.  They should not spend money on marketing because that money should go to their work.  I guess in that case, nonprofits should not have paid CEOs because they will run themselves.

Unfortunately, the reality is much different.  Nonprofits that rely on funding without asking for it, often find themselves left behind.  Study after study has backed this up.  Research shows that the number one reason people give money to a particular charity is simply because someone asked them.

Yes, some philanthropists has passions and seek out organizations that do that work.  But few do Google searches for a nonprofit and then write a million dollar check because they life their website.

Marketing strategy drives fundraising and fundraising propels nonprofits.  So to say doing good will attract funding alone, is rather naieve.

Also, we must consider just how many nonprofits do similar work.  How many charities exist to combat cancer?  How many to solve homelessness?  On and on.  There are very few unique charities, and those that are unique are very niche and have small followings.  So nonprofits operate in competitive environments and need strategic marketing and PR – public relations — so they can raise the funds they need to do the job they need to do.

Marketing isn’t everything.  Much goes into running a successful nonprofit, but while it is often easy to try to do without, if often becomes evident that it is the most critical function that enables an organization to thrive.

 

 

How to find a PR Firm

Finding the right PR firm sounds easy.  But not so.  Finding and then contracting with the right public relations firm takes research and that’s just to narrow down the search.

What kind of PR firm is right for you?  That depends on many factors.  First, are you looking for a huge firm with lots of employees, locations and employees?  If so, then do you have a huge budget to  match?  If not, you’re looking at the wrong place.

But size isn’t everything.  Many if not most boutique firms were started by people who worked for the mega firms.  Now, they are off on their own with small, nimble staff and budgets to match.  If you are General Motors, then yes you need a mega firm.  If you are a $150,000 nonprofit, then you can’t afford them and more important, they are not right for you.

The most critical aspect of finding the right firm is the experience they have.  You want a firm (with employees to match) that have working in your industry successfully for many years.  If the PR or marketing firm tells you they represent nonprofits, ask how many if the number is not in the double digits, you are working with a firm that doesn’t have the experience you need.

You always want a firm that has experience not only in your industry but business sector as well.  It’s not enough to hire a firm that represents corporations.  If you manufacture cars, you want a firm that has represented car companies.  There is an entire system involved in how to publicize cars.  The are certain media, car shows, seasons, collateral production, lots to know.

If you are looking for a doctor to perform an operation, you are not going to go to a doctor who has done one operation like the one you need.  They may have gone to medical school and might be a great doctor.  But if they haven’t performed the exact surgery you need, you’re going to seek a doctor that has.  The same is with lawyers.  You want a lawyer that has handled many cases like yours. And the same is with PR and marketing firms.  You want a firm that is not only the right size, local and affordable, you want a firm that has worked with many organizations that do the same thing you do.  Don’t let a firm get their experience on your account.

It also is important to consider chemistry.  You want to work with people you enjoy working with.  You don’t want to feel you are imposing every time you call them.  You are the client and they need to treat you as if you are their only client, regardless of how many clients they actually have.

Last, don’t be afraid to ask how you judge success.  PR is an intangible business.  It often is difficult to pinpoint success.  How did that customer come to you, from that article that ran or from your reputation, your website or maybe someone saw the article and told a friend.  Tracking how business comes in is important.  It validates whether the PR firm you hired is working or not.

That said, like all consultancies you never really know if a relationship with a PR firm works until you work with them.  We also recommend a six month initial period to see what they can do and if the chemistry is right.  You also want to get a good feeling for their billing.  If they are billing you for every penny, it will be aggravating an interfere with the relationship.

If you need help locating a PR firm, and Farr Marketing Group is not the right firm for you, we will be happy to help you find the firm with the right experience, size and budget that meets your needs.

 

 

 

The Nonprofit PR/Marketing Audit

Not-for-Profit organizations exist to do good. And most do. At the same time, they need PR, marketing and exposure to further their mission.

Many nonprofits don’t recognize they operate in a competitive environment. At the same time, many don’t accept the fact that there are probably dozens of similar nonprofits doing similar work.

So how does a nonprofit stand out? How does it convey its unique mission? How does it tell its story?

It is not easy. To tell a unique story, you have to have a unique story to tell.

That’s where fresh eyes come in. The nonprofit PR/Marketing audit is a way for a PR consultancy firm to take a fresh look at an organization and its unique selling proposition. In almost every case, the outside PR firm will see things those on the inside take for granted or don’t see.

When considering a PR campaign, consider first starting with an audit. It will shed valuable light on your organization and bring to life your story that will set you apart from all the others.

The challenge for nonprofits to get their messages out

Those of us in the PR business, both as consultants and in-house, face the challenge of making our stories relevant and newsworthy.  This has always been a difficult process, but today it is even more difficult for marketing and PR people given the media environment.

When virtually all major news outlets are focused on any one story — in this case the presidency — makes breaking through with other news more difficult.  The media will cover what the media want to cover.  It just means that we in the public relations and marketing business have to be more focused and strategic to get the media’s attention.

This is not only for PR consultants, but nonprofits as well.  When they create programs and activities, they need to keep in mind how it will attract media attention.

Again, this is not easy, but it’s the reality of the times in which we live.

 

How much PR can a nonprofit expect?

As nonprofit PR specialists, we hear the same statement by nonprofit organizations all the time:  “We are the best kept secret in town.”

Every nonprofit believes they don’t get the amount of publicity they deserve.  After all, they do great work, have a dedicated staff and make the world a better place.

And they all are right.

But the reality is there are tens of thousands of nonprofits in America and only a limited number of media outlets.  Even if all media did nothing but wrote about the good works of nonprofits, there wouldn’t be enough space or airtime.

That’s why nonprofits need to take a strategic approach to their media relations and marketing.  It is not a good strategy to flood the press with news releases or pitch emails.  These should be done when stories warrant.  Doing great work is not always going to make CNN.  Doing exceptional work, that is visual, extremely unusual, and has a twist the media look for, will.

It is important for nonprofits to adopt realistic expectations.  No nonprofit, even the largest and most high profile, get their stories in the media every day.  So work to create effective, impactful stories and pitch them correctly and the media will respond.

A Picture is Worth a Senate Seat

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more true than with the situation with Sen. Al Franken.  Caught in the middle of the avalanche of allegations of sexual improprieties, Franken tried having it both ways.  His initial statements were that he respected the rights of women to express their feelings, while at the same time saying he didn’t remember events as they were portrayed.  He said he wouldn’t resign and keep working for the people of Minnesota.

Then the picture appeared.

While he tried to hang on to his job and senate seat, the infamous photo that he took before he became a politician haunted him.  It was everywhere and he couldn’t escape it.  One has to wonder if he hadn’t taken that disgusting and not very funny photo, whether he could have weathered the storm and hung on.  But photographic evidence, especially a picture as blatant and posed as this one, was more than he could withstand.

Photography and video are powerful instruments, perhaps the most powerful we have next to in-person statements.  The world has changed — for the better and sometimes for the worse — because everything we do seems to be caught on camera.  If there aren’t security cameras mounted on building rooftops capturing our every move, there are a dozen people with cell phones who will.

This new reality has made the world a bit safer. It has helped law enforcement catch and identify criminals.  And today, it brought down a sitting United States Senator.

In the public relations business, we promote and encourage clients to use photos and video.  Let’s face it, people have short attention spans and always prefer looking at a photograph than reading a story.  It is faster, easier and shows what really happened.

When marketing a product or business, the use of pictures and video is a must.  It cuts right to the core of messaging.  Photos that are not too arranged or Photoshopped, display the truth more than words ever can.  Sen. Franken discovered that today when he lost one of the most powerful jobs an American can hold.

Maybe if he goes back to comedy, he will think twice about doing something so foolish and denigrating, and think a second time about having it caught on camera.

Litigation PR — Good Marketing or Good Legal Strategy?

Is the courtroom the place where legal issues are decided?  Or, is it decided in the court of public opinion managed by public relations and marketing pros?  The lines have become muddied.  It seems that before a case gets into the courtroom, it has been decided on TV by pundits who give legal analysis without the minor advantage of having any legal background.

It is often difficult to divide politics from legal issues.  They spill over to one another.  Cases involving illegal immigrants don’t become cases of law, they become cases of opinions on legal or illegal immigration.

That’s why attorneys have learned to get their positions heard and seen on the media before the court. And that’s where public relation practitioners come in.   If they can persuade public opinion to their side, then more often than not, they won’t even have to go to court.  They will win by the compromise brought about by public pressure.

 

The PR of Sexual Misconduct

There seems to be no end to stories of newsmakers being accused of sexual misconduct.  It makes headlines when it is a celebrity or politician, but one can be certain it reaches into every corner of the workplace.

The latest and most high profile is Minnesota Senator Al Franken who has been accused of groping and inappropriate actions and remarks against a host of women.  Yesterday the former comic and Senator faced the media — briefly — to say what he’s been saying since the allegations, and photograph, came to light.

But while the media hurried in a frenzy to cover, Franken said nothing new.  He said the same thing he said since the allegation was made public.  He also said the same thing every accused says.

There seems to be a playbook of what to say and what not to say in these situations.  Most will admit wrongdoing and promise to never do it again.  They know denial will just give more life to the story.  So it’s best to admit they did wrong and hope the story dies.

It is typical PR strategy.  The first step is to get ahead of the story, if you can, but you don’t want to create a story that might not happen.  When and if it does, then protect yourself legally, admit to wrongdoing, go to therapy, apologize and hope your fans and constituents move on.

It seems likely this is a story that will live on forever.  Men in positions of power levy their power for their own gain and satisfaction.  The stories we have heard are probably a small fraction of the stories that exist.  But unless legal action is take, as it is with Harvey Weinstein in one case, there is not much to do other than hope people will eventually forget about it.