How to Prepare for a PR Crisis

A crisis can happen at any time. And most often it happens when you are least prepared. And when it happens, there is no such thing as a small crisis. In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects. These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable. The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are some recommendations from T.J. Sacks & Associates, a New York-based public relations agency with experience fighting the good fight for companies in a bad situation:

1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.

2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today.

a. Identify your key response team.

-Media train them early and often—ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses.

-Have their contact information on hand for rapid access.

b. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.

c. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.

-Train your receptionists and phone people so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.

d. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.

e. Stage crisis readiness simulations.

3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales are doing exceptionally well.

4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?

5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, and the team assembled, they should meet quarterly to review their “action plan.”

6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to a crisis of confidence for an infant formula to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.

Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door and be truthful and quick to respond when the media call. Your reputation depends on your planning for the worst and being grateful that it has passed.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client?  I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago.  They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.

After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program.  But first, I asked if they had a budget.  Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.

So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.”  Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.

So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:

  1. Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
  2. Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom.  Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated.  Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere.  Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
  3. Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders.  So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.

5 PR Tips for Managing Your Online Reputation

Here’s a great “geek joke:” Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.

I always tell young employees to be careful of what they post on social networks cause it may come back to bite them in the ass.  Whether it’s partying at a frat house with beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social networks can lead to job declines and worse.  The best protection is not to post ‘em.  Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles, to push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search results.

  1. Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself including Google Images. Heavens forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, or worse.  If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
  2. Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all content you want to share only with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and friends and family can easily forward embarrassing photo without your consent.
  3. Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like Stephen King in order to get your own personal domain name.  This is the place to start building your personal reputation:  Place your bio, photos, blog posts and articles from sources you respect.
  4. Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments.  Post your personal information on sites like Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+.  And if you’ve got some good graphic illustrations try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups on sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
  5. Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including, of course, your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites—do this—it will make your online presence stronger.

Public Relations Strategies During the Pandemic: Keep Calm and Carry On

My great-grandparents both died during the 1918 pandemic that struck Philadelphia like a bolt of crackling lightening. As a small child I remember my parents speaking about it in hushed almost frightened tones. It was something to be dreaded. And now here I am in the middle of what seems like a page out of Stephen King’s The Stand.

Today I find myself not only trying to protect my health and safety but also that of my clients. What worked yesterday just will not fly today, whether it’s working with traditional or social media. Consumers aren’t ready to accept the light and fluffy, but there is that careful step somewhere between “light and fluffy” and “all pandemic all the time.”  Since I’m just now finding my way through this event, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and guidance with you.

  • Toss your old strategy out the window. For one of our retail clients, we advised driving consumers to the website, with a shift towards a major ad spend on social media to drive them to the online store. For one of our healthcare practitioners, we advised fulfilling her dream of an informative blog aimed at patient needs while home during the virus. And for a medical device manufacturer, we shifted consumer outreach from retail to online strategy.
  • Revise your messaging. This one is a no-brainer. For one of our architectural clients, we shifted messaging from renovation/construction to home décor since basically all construction jobs in New York City are closed, but design could be worked on from home.
  • Be sensitive. If you are going to tag the virus in your content, make sure it’s done in the most sensitive manner. Everyone is sheltering in place. In your social media posts ask followers how they are doing. Be honest and tell them how you’re doing too. Create empathy. Empathy is key here. You don’t want to be tone-deaf and alienate people. If you turn to big brands, for example, you’ll see that some of them have gone quiet. It’s a delicate situation because you don’t want to sound like you’re just selling at a time like this.
  • Keep calm and carry on. The current situation requires leadership to be level-headed and calm, but also creative. Use communications tools, especially tech tools, to win people and influence consumers.
  • Stay optimistic.  As my mother was fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”

9 PR Best Practices for Corporate Blogging

Blogging can be a great opportunity for some organizations and brands to enter the social media world and thereby put their best foot forward on behalf of their company/product.  But before you jump head first into the blogosphere it is important to develop a strategy that helps present you in the best light while also grabbing the attention of your target audience.  Here are a few start-up tips:

1. Grab their attention. Nowadays it seems that everyone has taken to the Internet with an opinion, 10 tips or guidelines. Make sure that you start off your blog with something that is relevant to your audience and will make them want to continue reading. You’ve only got a few sentences in which to grab their attention. Make it worth their while to stay.

2. Use bullets or numbered lists. Everyone loves a list whether it is 10 tips, bullets or just visually pleasing in the layout.  You are competing for everyone’s time and attention spans are waning, so the setup of you blog is very important.

3. Develop keywords.  For search engine optimization (SEO), your keywords matter especially in the title as well as the tips themselves.

4. Use hyperlinks. In addition to using strong keywords, the use of hyperlinks aids tremendously in spreading your blog post throughout the Internet.

5. Write about what you know. Everyone is an expert in his/her field so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others, how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.

6. Provide advice. Position yourself as the guru or specialist in your field. With experience comes knowledge and it is important to pass this knowledge along to others. Blogging offers a perfect outlet.

7. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook

8. Watch your length. Blog posts are 250-600 words long according to the industry-accepted standard. The more frequently you post, the shorter your post should be

9. Keep the posting schedule consistent. I try to post regularly on my blog so that followers will look at the site as a go-to place for insights from the president of a New York public relations agency.

Why PR Interns Should be Paid

As owner of a New York-based public relations agency who has been working with college-age interns forever, I wanted to go on record saying that it is time that the rest of you realize that they are not slaves, nor in indentured servitude. If they are providing a valuable service, well, then they should be compensated for it, and not just with college credit.

My favorite adage is this: If you pay them then they will come.

When I first went out on my own 15 years ago, and had no paid staff, I quickly discovered the benefits of intern laborers—they work hard, they can accept a lot of responsibility and they should be paid for their work efforts. And from the beginning I decided to pay them an honest hourly wage—even if they were receiving college credit for the internship. I even threw in free lunch just to grab and keep their attention.

So, here’s why I strongly believe that you get what you pay for:

1. If you pay them they will come. At the beginning I knew I needed cheap labor, though not free. I asked a number of colleagues who like me had tiny start-ups, and to a man/woman they all agreed that I would have better attendance, participation and happier internes if there were paid. They were right.

2. Mentoring is the key. Since the starting hourly wage and free lunch were still not enough in my opinion, I knew that from the beginning I had to make their internship worthwhile. Therefore I always made sure to provide them with the following:

a. Responsibility
b. Accountability
c. Credit for having a brain
d. Dedication/loyalty

3. Valuable opinions. It is important to understand that although these are young people working for you, that they offer valuable insight into the mindset of Generation Z, those born after the millennials—and this can sometimes add an additional dimension that you might not have thought about. Don’t be afraid to ask them for insight.

4. Internships can lead to jobs. I have often provided invaluable leads and job referrals to my interns and also have served as a valuable reference to them—more valuable in some ways then payment, one does not replace the other.

5. Foot in the door. Companies that offer unpaid internships often barter that it’s a way for the college student to get a foot in the door. Excuse me, but how is the intern going to pay for the shoe on that foot without a decent hourly wage?

6. Death knell for college internships. This is what the “other side” is providing as a reason not to pay interns for time worked. Really. Washington is trying to regulate it so that companies that currently take advantage of college kids are penalized for it. Although I myself am not a big believer in Big Brother interfering with my business, this should certainly cause those companies who are abusing college kids to start rethinking their policies.

Nobody Calls Anymore

I just had a meeting with a potential new client from China.  It went well enough that halfway through he asked me, “So how do you communicate with your clients?” To which I responded, “Telephone, text, Skype, FaceTIme or email.” He queried. “What about WhatsAp?” And right there, in my Park Avenue office conference room we stopped our meeting in order to connect via WhatsAp.

I think it’s an extraordinary thing that we now have so many tools with which to communicate to potential clients, friends and family…yet, somehow the art of communication has fallen to the wayside.

Here are a few of some valuable tips on how to make the most out of the art of communicating:

  • Come prepared. Prepare a list of points that need to be covered in the conversation.
  • Listen before you speak. Make sure you have not only talking points prepared, but also listening points. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your opinion or thoughts across and therefore miss the important nuances that are coming from your client.
  • Avoid relying on visual aids. Steve Jobs instituted a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentation. Be prepared to use works, compelling storytelling and nonverbal cues to communicate your points.
  • Non-verbal cues. One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55 percent of how an audience perceived a presenter. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. Fill up the space you are given, maintain eye contact and if appropriate, move around the space.
  • Don’t interrupt. It is very rude to interrupt a person while they are speaking. Nobody likes to be interrupted because it hampers the thought process and it is disrespectful.
  • Don’t be defensive. Be neutral and transparent so that you can understand what is being discussed. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Don’t deviate. Stay focused on the agenda at hand. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Be confident. If you’ve been invited to the table, then assume that you are expected to be part of the conversation.  Don’t look for validation or an invitation to join the conversation from your superior.
  • Be open to new ideas. New ideas can come unexpectedly, so if a younger, less experienced member of the team comes up with a great new idea, or helps open your eyes to a new direction, be open and receptive.
  • Explore new communications methods. Just like when my Chinese client suggested opening a line of commutations via WhatsAp, be open to some of the newer technology that may make communication easier, faster and more effective.
  • Master the art of timing. Great communicators, like all great comedians, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

You learn a lot while studying your college major. But once you leave your beloved alma mater behind, you may realize there are some very important life lessons that you never learned.
If you want to avoid that terrifying task of entering the real world without the skills you need to succeed, take the time to learn them before graduation day rolls around. Here are some skills they don’t teach you as a public relations major:
1. How to manage your money. So you land a job in a New York public relations agency right out of college and the company provides you with the option to join its 401K. Without a basic understanding of the stock market, which is almost never taught in school, you will be dead in the water.
4. Social skills. Some of  the best jobs require social skills. As a kid in kindergarten you learned to play well with others. Then, as you moved along in school, these skills were replaced by impersonal lecture-style teachings of hard skills and less peer interaction. In a field such as public relations, softer skills, like client interaction and counseling, motivating colleagues, and being a team player, are emphasized.
5. Leadership skills. A good leader’s job is to get work done through people. Skills such as how to hire the best people, how to provide mentoring, and how to successfully lead a team are often left for on-the-job learning.
7. How credit works. Just because you were able to secure a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it mindlessly. With some credit rates as high as 28%, it could take you years to pay off a $1,000 balance. So, don’t party hardy unless you can pay with cash.
8. How to find a job. Unfortunately, the very basics of how to go about researching and landing a job are skills that are often self-taught. Seek out professors, counselors, and career centers for assistance in this vital area.

How to Prepare for a Crisis

How to Prepare for a Crisis

A crisis can happen at any moment. Most often, it happens when you are least prepared.  And when it does happen, there is no such thing as a small crisis.  In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects.  These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable.  The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are six tips on how to prepare for a crisis:

  1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.
  2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today.
    1. Identify your key response team.
      • Media train them early and often—ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses.
      • Have their contact information on hand for rapid access.
    2. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.
    3. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.
      • Train your receptionists so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.
    4. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.
    5. Stage crisis readiness simulations.
  3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales is doing exceptionally well.
  4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction a social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?
  5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, the team should meet quarterly to review their “action plan”.
  6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we’ve worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses, and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.

Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door, be truthful, and be quick to respond when the media call.  You reputation depends on your planning for the worst, and being grateful that it has passed.

5 PR Skills My Cat Taught Me

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5 PR Skills My Cat Taught Me

I’ve been living with cats for most of my adult life and let me tell you, they are the leaders of the house and sometimes of my life. The first year that Johnny, my current 13-year-old cat, lived with me, I hardly knew he existed. He hid from me, played hard-to-get, and, quite frankly, I thought he hated me. At one point I actually said to my sister, “OK I’ll keep him, give him free room and board, but we’ll never bond.” Well, was I wrong. Thirteen years later he has gone on to show me some interesting public relations skills that can be used in the industry.
1. Be creative. I always thought the manufacturers of cat toys were not cat owners. Why else would they develop some of the least exciting toys ever? Just leave it to a cat to find creativity in a small piece of silver foil, ribbon, or fallen paperclip. Great leaders find creativity in areas that the rest of us mortals may never explore. They go off to turn a problem over and come up with a creative solution.
2. Be observant. It fascinates me to see Johnny staring off into space. There could be a multitude of reasons as to why he’s doing it. Trying to determine the scope of the universe? The distance between Earth and Mars? The square root of 16? Great leaders know how to observe, listen to other points of view, and to, thereby, help avert conflict. They can help solve marketing problems or just bring new perspective into an old marketing plan.
3. Be engaging. Whereas dogs have an in-your-face style of engagement, cats are far more subtle. They will quietly appear whenever you least expect them, bringing warmth and comfort. A good leader does likewise, often in the form of a fresh approach, problem-solving guidance, or just warm words of encouragement.
4. Be an explorer. Open a door or take out an empty shopping bag, and low and behold, faster than a speeding bullet, your cat will be inside exploring the new space. And if you use encouragement, you’ve got the beginning of a brand new game. A great PR leader does the same. They explore new ways of thinking about old problems, bring news challenges into your thought process, and help you to expand your own creative process.
5. Don’t be judgmental. A cat doesn’t judge you by your appearance. If you never put on makeup or shave your beard, your cat won’t care. A good leader doesn’t judge someone for trying out new ideas or new strategies, or for not knowing the next step. And they certainly never judges a book by its cover. Hiring someone who doesn’t seems to fit your traditional mold can often lead to new out-of-the-box thinking.