Posts Tagged ‘crisiscommunication’

Crisis demands understanding, says expert Hennes

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

IABC Cleveland is no stranger to Bruce Hennes. He’s the 2011 communicator of the year and his firm, Hennes/Paynter, is the local champion of effective crisis management through communication. At the 21 Feb. lunch, a small but lively crowd ate up his pithy prescriptions for communicating in very bad times.

I’ve seen Bruce speak many times, first at a luncheon for the Legal Marketing Association, then at an IABC lunch in 2011, and now today, and he always impresses me. As a speaker, he’s an unassuming guy, not given to theatrics, but his content is peerless and his delivery always excellent. Many speakers could learn from him how to hold an audience’s attention through sheer strength of story.

Hennes uses catchy terms — the 3 Tells, 3 V’s, F’up, Fess-up, Fix-up  —  and demonstrates through example what he means. The first of these is the command that supercedes all others — you have to tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all. The 3 V’s are the frame that the media places around stories. Everyone involved is one of these: Victim, Villain, or Vindicator. Care to guess where business (especially executives), education administrators and other “powerful” people find themselves?  The goal for most organizations in the midst of a crisis is to move from villain to vindicator, he says. When you, ahem, Mess up, you need to fess up and describe what you’re doing to make sure it never happens again.

The media brings its own filter to the proceedings, and they’re on the lookout for you to reinforce the role they want you to play. That’s why “no comment” or its usual cousins are so bad — what does “no comment” mean to you? Guilty!  Hennes insists that the media’s job isn’t to inform or educate, it’s to tell stories — the triumph of the Little Guy over the Establishment being a fairly common one — Victim, Villain, Vindicator.

The good thing is that when we know that, we can take action.  Hennes tells a story about an embezzlement scandal at a governmental organization. Hennes/Paynter brought the executive director straight to a reporter and gave them the story in exquisite detail, without violating privacy dicta, and when the very big story broke, its headline put the organization in very positive light, instead of the reverse. The reporter told Hennes later, that if the organization had not brought the story in, the paper would have socked it to the organization big time.

Entertaining, educational and excellent all the way around.

Note: I’m still having no luck uploading photos for the blog since it changed URLs. Help? 


Herman Cain as Crisis Lesson

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Others have already written on this topic, so I’ll offer just a few things to consider when discussing Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain.  Foremost is the distinction between legal advice and public relations advice: they’re not the same thing.

There are four women who’ve claimed that Cain offered unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances during the 1990’s, when Cain led the National Restaurant Association. All four were employees of the NRA, though one was no longer an employee when she claimed the harassment occurred. Two filed complaints and received cash settlements. To others did not file complaints. Legally, payment of settlements is not proof of guilt. PR-wise, most people would say they are.

Legal-beagles are no doubt telling Cain to deny these incidents occurred. No one can prove otherwise, legally.  Sexual harassment seldom occurs with witnesses present. Ask President Clinton about his experience with these matters. His alleged behavior while governor of Arkansas was orders of magnitude more egregious — state troopers acting as spotters? Dropping trou to Paula Jones? And then there’s Monica Lewinsky — hmm, leader of the free world and white house intern?

Under the law, sexual harassment has two potential proof points — hostile work environment or quid pro quo. Pattern of harassment that creates the hostile environment or swapping sex for employment. Under the law, being a boor isn’t a crime.

So for an attorney, there’s no evidence of sexual harassment. For a PR counsel, that simply doesn’t matter. Who here believes that these four women made all this up, especially the two who filed complaints and received cash?  One publicity-seeking money-hound is one thing. Four is another.

Meanwhile, Cain denies, and the story is hot every day. What if Cain’s news conference had featured this statement:

My fellow Americans, as much as it pains me to say it, there was a time in my life when I behaved less than admirably regarding my relationships with women, and the allegations you have seen and read lately stem from that dark period some 15 years ago. By the grace of God and the support of my family, I was able to recognize that though my actions did not fit the legal definition of sexual harassment, they were still inappropriate and wrong. I deeply regret my actions and have sought support and guidance from my family and my faith to become a better man, a better Christian.

We could wordsmith this to death, of course, but where does the media go after hearing this? Cain could have taken questions, and to each that asked for details, reply that there’s no point in rehashing the incidents, and that he is very sorry for the pain he caused to the recipients of his unwanted attentions.

Of course, the whole thing flares up again if there are additional allegations from after the NRA, particularly Godfather’s Pizza, where he was CEO. The other thing to keep in mind is that the case against President Clinton was more substantive on par — more people, the Troopergate material, and a continuing pattern.

Chances are, Cain won’t get the nomination anyway — but I don’t think it’s the end of his campaign.



Crisis Analysis, SocMed Use, Get Globe/Mail Attention

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Canada’s outstanding The Globe and Mail has two stories today worth noting.  Vancouver, B.C., retailer Lululemon is using Twitter to gather intel from its customers about what sizes and colors to stock; British Petroleum gets second-guessed in its crisis communication strategy under the headline, “Lessons in Leadership Spill from BP.”

BP’s feckless communication strategy, especially demonstrated by company CEO Tony Hayward’s frequent gaffes when speaking off the cuff, deserves to be pilloried. Hayward and company were obviously led by lawyers in this regard, minimizing the potential impact of the disastrous gusher, appearing too rarely in public and pointing blame to subcontractors. Hayward’s “I’d like my life back” rang especially tone-deaf in the wake of 11 deaths and the potential for catastrophic wildlife impact (not to mention the economic peril for the gulf fishing industry.) Several communication experts get quoted in Wallace Immen’s excellent piece, including Michael Stern (Michael Stern Associates), Prof. Julian Barling (Queen’s University School of Business), and Guy Beaudin, (RHR International).

Lululemon sells athletic ware, and by all accounts does a bang-up job of it. Some of the success, according to CEO Christine Day, is due to its use of social media — Twitter and Facebook.  Reporter Marina Strauss quotes Day: “We learn more about [which items are in demand] on Facebook and social media: what are the guests really screaming for, and so we use [the feedback] to get a little bit more indication.”

Keeping an eye on its 127,000 Facebook fans and 32,000 Twitter followers gets Day and company a faster view than its store performance metrics (and offers perspectives from people who are just thinking about going to the store, rather than having bought something there — that’s an interesting view on potential demand, the pipeline, some call it.)

The social media use has two purposes, according to the article — to gather information, and to drive traffic to the company website. When we’re looking for ways to measure the effectiveness of social media, website traffic is more often cited than the research value, which is a pity.  Going back to the ROPE method of communication planning (Research, Objectives, Programming, Evaluation), you don’t have anything without the research.

If social media served no other purpose than market intelligence, it’d still be worth the investment, no?

{P.s., my Canadian sojourn is nearly complete – back to a more regular schedule next week.)