Clients and prospects – assumptions?

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In the public relations agency business, there is seldom room for any complacency.  And more than that, there are no room for any assumptions whatsoever.

We have done some very good and immensely satisfying work for a couple of clients in the past year – one of them had a huge image advantage in their target markets, and this was indeed stated by them on more than one occasion – whilst the annual retainer was in vogue. The image visibility for their brands was built from ground zero, and in comparison, the coverage they got was equivalent to a peer who was 10x in size.

Come the annual pitches, and we go ahead, confident of the win again, and adding to the knowledge investments with a lot of tools and additional value add to the client (like we would do for any client we retained).

There was continuing work for this client, and also seamless communication between we, the agency, and their brand teams – making us privy to the next years plans, and soliciting our inputs.

In a nutshell, the business ambiance created was such that we could make a safe assumption that the retainer tenure was being extended to another fiscal – all activity hinted to that.

However, just a day before the contract closure date, someone from the brand team sends in cold mail stating that they were going ahead with a competing agency, on the basis of a better pitch.

Thankfully, we had other clients in place to make sure our business continuity was seamless. However, the sequence of events that led to the strong existing retainer engagement getting disconnected was puzzling to say the least.

Lesson learnt – irrespective of the credentials and the great track record, never assume a retainer renewal, until its signed firmly on the dotted line.

As they say, assumption is the mother of all fuck ups.

So true if you are a PR agency!

Don’t panic.Be crisis management ready.

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The best time to be ready for a crisis is yesterday. If not today. This could well be the cardinal rule in crisis public relations. Yet, this is also far fetched from reality in organisations of today.

For some reason, the word ‘crisis’ is always, always associated with ‘panic’;  most of today’s organizations tend to immediately get pushed into a panic mode, even at a distant sight of a crisis.

What then happens when there is a real crisis on hand, is anyone’s guess.

There are examples galore of how, even the most PR savvy leadership/team of an organization, gifted with a fair amount of media leverage, get withdrawn into a shell and resorts to denial mode – when it’s time to speak more and write more, and information be churned out, to every media outlet possible.
The cardinal rule in handling PR in times of a crisis is to get immediately speaking and sending our fact statements to the entire gamut of media houses – including web2.0 and social platforms. The singular intent once the information/details of the crisis is handed out is to deliberately invite media conversations, with the intent of giving more and more details possible.
Never give a remote sense that your organization is shying away from the media – even when the crisis in not your own making, when you shy away, the immediate conclusion is that the organization wants to hide facts.
While there can be well documented papers (by your PR agency or internal communications team) of how to respond when there is a crisis, it’s easy to manage a crisis when some basics are in place.
Just see if these things are in place in your organization, anytime, rather always…
  • a designated spokesperson, who will instantly be updated on any crisis that may have hit – he is the points man for all information to be given – facts, details, images, live feed and whatever.
  • Handpicked communication team that swings into action – gets into an auto pilot mode in any mishap – which is connected and networked 24/7/365 to take the crisis PR initiatives. Stay abreast all through the crisis life cycle, and ceaselessly and tirelessly handles all queries from every corner of the globe.
  • a communication mechanism (call it a protocol) which communicates to all the key decision makers and every internal stakeholder in the organization the details and occurrences of any crisis that may have hit, how the consequences will be managed, how internal/external stakeholder interests will be protected, what are the cost consequences and the impact on the organizations’ fiscals et al.
  • a standard template that captures all the finer details of any mishap that may occur, roll it out into the form of a media release, so that the same can be handed to the media fraternity  and follow up questions taken.
  • a mechanism that ensure that all the state authorities are informed of the mishap in the shortest possible time, with as much details as gather-able in the least lead time.
  • a media room which gets activated when such an event happens, where all the journalistic fraternity can report from, with all information fed to them officially, live wire

These may sound baby steps – yet, in the crisis management plan, many  times its lack of this basic preparedness that brings in misery to the organization, than the actual crisis itself.

Make sure your organization is set ready in the first steps of managing crises.
As the old adage, being well prepared is half the battle won.  That’s true in managing a crisis too.

Executive apology – the how of it

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Lets admit it – every organisation will face a “United” moment in its lifetime… more often,on more than once occasion.

In a world order of mobile camera citizen journalism, instant amplification and going viral of even a seemingly minor misdemeanor by any employee/stakeholder, leadership of organisations must be ready to offer the ‘executive apology’ to contain and limit the reputation damage of any such event.

But the problem in this is, the indifferent and belligerent way in which apologies are tendered by CEO’s or the top brass of the organisation, which only compound to the already crisis situation. Those at the top seldom realize that an apology is a powerful too in causing a rapprochement with the customer universe, and not just a few words in a statement.

Here are a few ground rules for a powerful ‘executive apology’:

  1. Be swift. An apology is best served the moment you realize that there is a potential issue that could blow out of proportion.  For this, there ought to be a default ‘error task’ communication hierarchy in place. Unless the CEO is in the instant know of something that went wrong, may be in a few hours time, there’s no even use of the ‘apology’ tool.
  2. Be authentic. Yes, the leader is under compulsion to protect his team from any wrong doing, and that’s the true spirit of leadership. But a communication to external stakeholders, which most often an apology is, is not a place to show your HR expertise.
  3. Be unconditional. Most important – never make the apology conditional. Like telling the customer was an errand, we put up him, despite that. Blah blah. Saying so, and being perceived as trying to shift the blame, rather than accept responsibility is only going to backfire big time, and add to the communication woes. Its much easier to say, yes my team was wrong, and may be acted so in a pressure situation; however, the same was not acceptable by the high standards you live by – hence an unconditional apology and regret to every stakeholder.
  4. Be personal. More often, keeping a swift response as an excuse, and also saying that this communication is a facsimile, hence does not need a signature et al, the paper on which the communication goes out becomes less powerful. It doesn’t take anything at all to get the letter signed by the CEO, even remotely, or have digital signatures in place. In case of email, the sender ought to be the CEO or the top authority who is offering the apology, and not from any alternate id.

Incorporating these hygiene factors in your apology will make it even more powerful, and serve to contain the already plummet in reputation. Its best to remember that a well written apology is a very powerful PR tool.

Happy apologizing, the right way!

 

United’s new PR quest?!

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United Airlines is by now a case study in crisis management – rather in the ‘how not to respond to a PR disaster’.  The disembarking of a passenger in an inglorious and rude fashion, in this age of citizen journalism, and oblivious to mobile cameras recording the event, will cost United a fortune in terms of brand value.

Irrespective of the belated and rather hesitant apology by the CEO, Oscar Munoz, and his claim that the airline will not ‘suffer’ its reputation in the long term, the David Dao PR nightmare will haunt the company for long.

Enough has been said about the event and the bad PR aftermath.

Public Relations Manager

What is more amusing, is the fact that the airline had advertised a PR role, a Manager – Brand PR based in Houston, will besides a host of other brand management responsibilities, will “conceive and organize stories and events that generate media coverage and brand awareness”. It will report to Jim Olson.

Does United and the HR team realize that such an advertisement in this battered time, only adds to the crisis woes of the already badgered image of United. Or do they think that this is good PR, as prospective fliers will feel happy that the airline is making amends by hiring an incumbent, who will treat customers with better dignity?

It remains to be seen, if this small act will in anyway add to the sullied reputation of the airline. But, on a different note, to think that the HR team and management at United even remotely think that this will a PR advantage is amusing.

Or may be, the need to hire a Brand Manager was always there, and the present situation is just a coincidence??

Any case, here’s wishing United more good PR!

 

#PR closure challenge?

This is from our most recent experiences in pitching for new clients to manage their PR. On more than one occasion, we have seen that the prospect is visibly thrilled at the presentation and its content.

They say they will come back after a swift internal confabulation. In some cases, they’ve even went to extent of giving a timeline for signup and activity kickoff.

But, once the team leaves and there’s a follow up in a couple of days, the same prospect turns cold, and takes more time to ponder – either the PR idea is shelved or its not a priority…..

What transpires in the interim? What are the better ways to judge a closure?? Any musings…..