Expect the Unexpected: Three Essentials for Communicating During a Crisis

Would you be ready if a crisis occurred at your company?  It wouldn’t have to be a major occurrence – just any unexpected event that disrupts your business.  Are you prepared?

Crisis planning has become a necessity in our digital world, where even small incidents can go viral, shattering company reputations virtually overnight.  But a crisis plan is incomplete without a communications component. When a company is in the middle of a crisis, communication often takes a back seat to action, and that can do as much – or more – damage as the crisis itself.

We have written previously on crisis communications planning.  Here are three essentials for communicating during a crisis:

  1. Don’t delay in communicating the problem. It’s the response – or more likely, the lack of response – to a crisis that causes the situation to escalate into an even bigger problem.  Any delay in responding, or even a tepid response, can add fuel to the fire.
  2. Show concern for those affected. It’s important to show concern for those affected – whether they are employees, customers, or the community.  To quote former President Theodore Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
  3. Be honest about the extent of the crisis. When a crisis occurs, you may not have all the facts at your disposal right away.  However, depending on who is affected, you will have to make some kind of initial statement and updates as new information is available.  What’s most important is to be honest about the extent of any damage and what steps you are taking to address the crisis.

How you communicate during a crisis should be an integral part of your crisis planning – especially if your organization is high profile, operating or moving dangerous materials, or providing products or services directly to consumers.

Communicating well can make damage control much easier.

Posted by Margot Dimond.

 

Forming a Productive Relationship with Your PR Firm

Branding Brand Trademark Commercial Identity Marketing ConceptMost public relations firms that have been in business for a while have established relationships with long-term clients.  That’s no accident.  Lasting client/PR firm relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.  The client knows that the PR firm has its best interests at heart, will keep confidential information confidential, and can design and communicate strategic messages effectively.  The PR firm appreciates being part of the team – respected for its contribution to the organization.

How that relationship begins is the key to its success. Every PR firm has a responsibility upfront to explain their process for coming up with a strategy and implementing it, especially for a business or nonprofit organization that has never worked with a PR firm before.  Successful PR-client relationships begin with an understanding of what PR can do and how it can achieve the organization’s goals.

The client also has some responsibility for making the relationship a mutually beneficial one.  Here are three tips for clients who want to establish a positive, long-term relationship with their PR firm:

  • Let them show what they can do. Bring the PR firm in at the beginning of the relationship to inform them of your business goals so they can develop an effective communication strategy to achieve them. Expecting a PR firm to handle a series of communication tactics – news releases, brochures, ads – without allowing them to design the strategy behind them rarely works out well.  An outside PR counselor is trained to look for the “WIIFM” factor – the news significance or marketing message that you may not see as an insider.
  • Communicate. It may take some time to develop trust with a new PR firm, but if a firm has been in business for several years and has a good reputation and established long-term client relationships, that firm is probably trustworthy.  So share as much information as possible about your business, its successes and its failures. PR firms specialize in finding solutions to problems. Give them a chance to do so.
  • Be responsive. Too many great PR plans have been thrown off track by a client’s delayed response to a PR firm.  Timeliness in response to events, news, or a media interview request can mean the difference between gaining positive attention for your organization and missing out on a really great opportunity.

Posted by Margot Dimond.

Five Steps to a Successful Speech

iStock_000012372602SmallDo you dread making a speech? If you do you have plenty of company.  Studies have shown that fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia, affects three out of four people.  In fact, it ranks as the number one fear, with number two being death – a finding that once prompted comedian Jerry Seinfeld to remark that the average person going to a funeral “would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Today, digital communication is the norm, and while email, text and social media present their own special problems, they are a lot less daunting to the average person than presenting to a group.  The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to ease this fear and become an effective spokesperson for your business, whether your audience is one person or 1,000.

When planning your next presentation, keep these five elements in mind:

  1.  Work backwards. Don’t begin writing a presentation until you have determined what you want the end result to be.  What do you want to move your audience to do?  Is your purpose to inform or persuade, or both?  Identify key points you want your audience to take away, and make them easy to remember.
  2. Know your audience. How many people will be in attendance?  What kind of work do they do?  What is their level of understanding about your subject?  What do they want to hear – and what might upset them?
  3. Be understandable.   Regardless of the level of understanding of your audience, it’s always best to speak in conventional English and avoid technical jargon.  Use analogies, anecdotes and descriptive words to make your points.  Although the temptation is to rush through your presentation to get it over with, remember to take your time and keep your tone measured and friendly.
  4. Be yourself. Be honest, open and sincere.  Tell a story about yourself that relates to the content of your presentation.  Gesture naturally, and move around a bit, if possible, even if you stay close to the podium.
  5. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  None of the above will mean anything if you haven’t spent enough time preparing.  Relying too heavily on a PowerPoint presentation or notes during a speech can be deadly dull.  Instead, rehearse your speech until you can present it comfortably.  Have a friend, family member, or co-worker listen, time it and offer a critique.  Anticipate any audience questions or points they are likely to challenge.

Speaking well in public is a skill, and like any skill, the more you practice, the better you will be at it.  You may well find yourself looking forward to your next presentation!

Posted by Margot Dimond

Read All About It! Five News Release Essentials

ExtraExtraMany business people equate doing news releases with having a public relations program, but in fact, a news release is to public relations what flour is to a cake. It’s essential, but not the only ingredient. Don’t depend on news releases alone to enhance your company’s profile. To do that, you will need a strategic, long-term plan.

On the other hand, news releases have the potential of gaining a much larger audience than ever before. Depending on your distribution method, your release can be read by almost anyone – not just journalists. This makes it even more important that you get it right.

Here are a few tips to increase the chances the information in your news release will get read:

1.  Be Clear and Concise.  There are times when company representatives – concerned about being held to account for an inaccuracy – will add so many qualifying statements to the wording of a simple announcement release that its impact is watered down or it reads like a legal document. Rule of thumb: If you are uncomfortable making your announcement without adding explanations to every direct statement, you aren’t ready to send a news release.

2.  Be Interesting.  Journalists get hundreds of news releases every day, so unless you are working for the White House or some other big outfit where millions of people want to know what you’re up to, your news release had better be written in a way to attract attention or it’s going in the recycle bin. That starts with a compelling headline and a strong WIIFM factor. Write it like a news story and include quotes and graphics, such as photos or charts, when possible. Proofread it carefully for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Don’t rely on an editor to wade through it to decipher what you’re trying to say; they don’t have time for that.

3.  News Means NewsThere are companies that send news releases at the drop of a hat – Joe won an award, Mary’s title changed, the company was named one of 50 top widget makers by Widget Makers of America, and so on. An endless stream of this type of “exciting news” lands on the desks of reporters and editors until, at some point, the company’s news releases are ignored altogether. Why? Because the writers don’t know what “news” is, and they end up getting that reputation with journalists. This is not a good policy, and it usually stems from a lack of perspective. If you want to know what journalists consider news, read the news, watch the news, and listen to the news.

4.  Know Where to Send It.  Deciding on where to send your news release is important too. Pay attention to the type of news that is covered in different news outlets. Is there a new executive at your company? Are you announcing a new product or service? These two news items may go to completely different editors or news outlets. If your news has wide appeal, consider using an online distribution service. Do your homework up front, and you’ll be much more effective at getting your message out.

5.  Stay Current.  Putting together a list of news media contacts is just the beginning. You will have to update it periodically to make sure you still have the right editorial contacts. I’ve seen some pretty dusty media lists over the years, and that’s one of the main reasons events or announcements don’t get covered. Keep in mind that people come and go at news organizations. They may leave for other opportunities, or just leave a particular “beat.” Don’t count on them to forward your information. Be proactive in knowing the right person to contact with your news.

This article is an updated version of an original article by Margot Dimond, originally published as an Ezine article.

 

The Importance of Being Understood

Earlier in my career, my boss asked me to teach an in-house class on writing.  While I was discussing the importance of using clearly understood words and phrases, one man questioned the entire premise of the class, saying that in order to impress others, it was imperative to use the same terminology used in his profession.  “Otherwise, it’s too simplistic,” he said.

Today, with multiple forms of communication available, attitudes have changed.   Most business people realize the importance of communicating clearly in both writing and speaking.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for some than for others, and one of the main barriers to clear communication is the prevalence of jargon.

JargonJargon – defined as the specialized language of a profession or other group of people – is not all bad.  It can be a handy shorthand within the specific group of people for whom it was intended.   The problem arises when you are speaking to an outside group or even to a group of newcomers within your profession.  That’s when jargon can cause confusion or misunderstandings.  Ultimately, it can have a negative effect on your audience, who may think you are either trying to impress them or are being evasive by hiding behind expressions and acronyms they don’t understand.

Rarely will anyone say anything, however, and this is the real problem.  While you are chattering away, dropping an acronym here and a technical term there, your audience is probably not going to be listening to you.  After the first acronym, they will be drifting away, trying to determine what that stands for, and after a stream of unintelligible jargon, they will often become irritated or lose interest completely.

The use of jargon is not always intentional.  At our firm, we often train clients for media interviews or presentations, and in most cases they don’t even realize they are using jargon.  They have been in a profession or job for so long they think everyone understands their special language.  They have to spend some time untangling their jargon in order to connect with the audiences they want to reach.

Making the effort to remove jargon from your presentations is worth the effort.  When you communicate clearly in everyday language, you are more – not less – likely to impress people.  They will be impressed with your sincerity, thoughtfulness and leadership, and, most important, they will understand you.

Learn to Speak Layman with Lisa Dimond Vasquez.

YouTube ScreenshotPosted by Margot Dimond

What’s Up with Live Streaming Apps?

Live stream_edited-1This year two live streaming apps roared onto the market and into the PR/marketing consciousness. The buzz around Meerkat and Periscope brought renewed attention to live streaming, which has been around since 2007, when UStream, LiveStream and other live streaming start-ups hit the market.

The older platforms are still around, and they also have apps, which begs the question: Why all the brouhaha about the new apps? After all, many of the videos currently on these apps have the appearance of selfies on steroids, rather than anything particularly useful.

But any new communication tool is always of interest to PR professionals, who want to know how to use them to promote their client companies. So here’s our “first pass” look at these apps.

Social live-streaming. With the new apps, live streaming of events is much easier and more like social networking. You can announce  your live stream to your Twitter followers, viewers can comment on your screen in real-time, and you can respond to the comments as they roll in. A new update for Meerkat even allows a viewer to post a brief cameo on your screen.

Periscope is a few months newer than Meerkat, and both are connected to Twitter (Periscope is Twitter-owned). Meerkat also allows users to connect with their Facebook profile. The apps do differ and they are constantly updating their features, so it’s best to just try them out to see which one you like best.

Multiple uses. With these apps, you can demonstrate products and how to use them, follow your clients to see what they are doing, and stream meetings and events or provide any number of “behind-the-scenes” videos. Of course, if you are hosting a conference or training session and want a more formal presentation, you may want to opt for having a video team do the broadcasting for a webcast to go out on one of the older platforms. But things are changing fast in the competitive field of live streaming. It’s worth giving all of these apps a try.

One caution. There may be legal issues to think about when live streaming on-the-fly. As with any image taken for the promotional purpose of a business or nonprofit, it is necessary to obtain a written release before using it. With live streaming, that may pose a problem.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Writing with Personality

iStock_000018352153XSmallIn a world of texts, tweets and Instagram postings, does anyone really need to know how to write anymore? Yes! Good writing is still essential, especially in business.

Unfortunately, good writing – writing that is easy to read – is not all that common. Many people who communicate very well in person completely fail in written communication. The most vivacious, interesting people seem to change when they sit down to write; they become more formal, stiff and aloof. It’s as if they think the process of writing is a very serious business, one in which the writer must throw away his personality.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and here are three ways to make your writing as interesting as your in-person communication.

  1. Be Conversational. Writing and speaking should not be all that different, and writing at its best is a conversation with the reader. Use conversational language: “help” instead of “provide assistance,” “do our best” instead of “maximize efforts,” and “show” instead of “exemplify.” Read your work aloud to hear how it “sounds” to the reader.
  2. Use Active Voice. There is nothing more deadening to the written word than excessive use of the passive voice: “Mistakes were made” or “The job was completed,” instead of “I made mistakes” or “We completed the job.”   Whether it’s a way to avoid responsibility or sound humble doesn’t matter. When it comes to communicating, use of the passive voice can be as lively as watching grass grow.
  3. Eliminate Jargon. Every profession has jargon, and jargon often comes in the form of acronyms. When readers unfamiliar with an acronym see it, you’ve immediately lost their attention as they spend time trying to decipher its meaning. Don’t assume your reader understands the shorthand you use with peers. Unless it’s a commonly understood acronym, spell it out.

Try these three tips when you write – and let your personality shine through.

Posted by Margot Dimond

WHAT’S YOUR “WIIFM” MESSAGE?

iStock_000026192439Small_edited-1

Yes, but what’s in it for me?

By now, most business executives have heard of the “WIIFM” factor. If not, let’s specify that WIIFM is not a radio station; it’s a shortcut for “What’s in it for me” – the secret to all successful marketing.

When a new technology comes out, people aren’t as interested in hearing about the speed, design or internal workings of the product as they are about what it can do for them – how they can use it and how it will make their lives better, easier, or more efficient.

However, too often product marketers forget this, focusing on their product’s features rather than the buyers – their audience – and how it may fulfill their needs.   That’s a formula for failure.

It’s that way with all selling. Whether selling a product or service, it’s essential to consider the audience and how that product or service will benefit them.

Sales professionals know this. They usually spend a considerable amount of time profiling their audience to gauge what their needs are before they launch into a sales pitch. That way they have a better chance of having an attentive audience.

Keeping the WIIFM factor in mind, here are some guidelines for a more successful sales presentation:

  • Do some background research. Find out as much as you can about the person or company who will be the audience for your presentation, to determine their interests and needs.
  • Concentrate on your audience. At your first meeting, ask some questions to see what their current goals are and what challenges they face in achieving them.
  • Present your elevator message. Give a very brief introduction to your company and your product or service.
  • Present the benefits of buying from you. Using what you have learned from your research and conversation, present clearly and concisely the benefits of your product or service to your audience and how it can address their particular needs.

Of course, using the WIIFM factor does not guarantee success, but it can go a long way toward achieving it.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Defining Public Relations, Part Three: Telling Your Story

iStock_000012372602SmallEffective public relations often involves telling a story, and every organization – whether a business or charity – has a story to tell.  How you tell your story can make all the difference.  It must be true, meaningful and memorable.

A good story engages its audience as no other means of communication can.  As Pamela Rutledge says in an article in Psychology Today,  “when organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share” (“The Psychological Power of Storytelling,” 1/16/11).

Not everyone, however, is adept at telling their organization’s story for a variety of reasons.  Here are some things that may prevent you from telling your story effectively:

  • You are too close to the story to see it clearly.
  • You are so used to talking to other people within your organization, you may assume everyone knows what you know.
  • You use insider jargon that is essentially meaningless to the outside world.
  • Your business has been operating for so long, you have forgotten your story – or, worse, it has become somewhat stale.
  • You’ve become rigid about how your story should be told.

Your story should be about what makes your organization special, how it came to be, and why its work is important.   Here are some essential elements of your story:

Organization.  Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The Beginning:  Talk about your background and how you saw some problem or area of service that you believed you had the answer to; The Middle: Explain how you decided to address the problem; and The End:  Talk about what your organization does now and why it is successful.  The computer industry is full of such stories:  think of Apple’s iconic founding by two guys in a garage, revolutionizing the computer industry.

Simplicity.  Your story does not need to be full of detail.  People who are interested in what you do will inquire about the details, and you can fill them in when they do.  Always have an “elevator” version – a brief synopsis when someone asks what you do at a conference, during a party, or, yes, from one floor to the next on an elevator.

Audience Friendly.  Your story should always be tailored to the audience you are addressing at the time.  For example, your presentation to the CEOs and managers of an industry should not be the same as a presentation to the people specializing in your particular profession.

Keep in mind that even if you tell your story in various ways to match your audience interests, the essential elements should remain consistent.  Repetition is the key to a company story becoming widely known.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Beware of the latest cool communications tool if you haven’t first developed your message

Today’s post by Hollie Geitner is courtesy of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

Some time in the mid-late 1990’s electronic mail (email) became the widely used and preferred mode of business communication. Announcements that had in the past been shared internally by paper memo were soon disseminated electronically via email. Soon after, some companies decided to go “paperless” and ceased publication of their internal company newsletter—much to the dismay of workers who enjoyed reading about a coworker’s wedding or latest hunting prize. I say this jokingly, but it’s true, and there is something to be said for feeling a closeness with your fellow coworkers, even if seeing the 12-point buck picture your cube-mate snagged last month is a bit much.

internal-communications-resized-600The challenge for internal communicators has always been in reaching those who are “front-line” or who don’t sit at a desk all day. When I worked in the corporate communications department for an energy company, about 70 percent of the workforce was in what we considered “the field.” They were lineman, maintenance workers, tree cutters, meter readers and others. Unlike corporate staff, they were out and about all day or running equipment in a power station. If they saw email, it was perhaps at the very end of their shift and often times, they felt out of the loop on company happenings.

Today, the challenge is still there but electronic devices such as smart phones have made communicating with field employees a bit easier. Ragan, the leading source of information for PR and corporate communications, published an article about the growing trend of using digital signs in the workplace. Companies like Auto Trader Group, based in Atlanta, are using digital signs to recruit employees to volunteer in the community as well as to welcome new sales representatives to headquarters for training. While I think it’s a solid strategy for communicating with employees in the places they are in the building (near elevators, on factory floors, etc.) nothing beats person to person communication.

Digital tools—signs, mobile phones, kiosks–are just that, tools. In fact, everything we use to communicate is a tool and the great thing today is that we have more to use than ever before. The risk, however, is in relying too heavily on the tool instead of the message. Nationally, employee engagement is low—only 13 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, State of the American Workplace are actively engaged and committed to their jobs. This means that the majority of employees today are not happy, lack motivation and in the worst cases, spread their dissatisfaction throughout the workplace or in public. It would behoove employers to invest in communicating honest and compelling messages to their employees before they spend thousands on high-tech equipment (tools) to share their message.

It seems so basic and logical, but because messaging can be complicated or uncomfortable and since many leaders are so busy just trying to keep things afloat and make a profit, it may appear more doable to purchase a tool to share a message because then the impact is immediate. “Wow, look at that cool new digital sign in our lobby. It makes us look so high-tech and cutting edge.” Sure, it might, but what do your employees think? Are they reading the messages on it, or are they silently cursing leadership for spending money on unnecessary equipment when all they are interested in is whether or not they are doing a good job for the company and if they’ll be compensated for it with a bonus.

While the latest bells and whistles for sharing messages with employees seem way cool, I would caution companies considering implementing them. Before such an investment, it’s best to have a solid communications plan in place with real and authentic messages that will actually resonate with employees and move the needle on engagement.

Communicate to the middle

In companies with several layers between field employees and top executives, the most effective communication often occurs between manager or supervisor and employer. This is because they have more direct contact with each other on a daily basis. A bunch of messages from the CEO on digital signs will do nothing to engage employees, but meaningful conversations and an open line of communication between leadership and employee will.

Focusing your efforts to the middle and teaching those leaders the best way to communicate with employees is a much more strategic and meaningful investment.  Remember, if nothing else, it is the message, not the tool that is most important. Beware of what we call at WordWrite, “the shiny object syndrome.” Don’t be compelled to invest in the latest or coolest tool, like a digital sign, if you haven’t first put together a comprehensive strategy for what you plan to share with employees and how you plan to measure it.