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Entries in crisis (23)


MH370 - Three important crisis communication lessons

Look, there are very few people out there that really think that Malaysian Airlines have handled this crisis well. And even fewer who are PR or Crisis Communications experts.

Three very important lessons can be learned – which can be applied to most companies, whether or not you are flying 660,000 lb mission critical device with 239 souls. 

1 – Speed

Your plane goes missing… you need to come out and say it.  Speed to react is one of the most important things in a crisis communication situation. 

First up, how long do you think it takes for you to realize that you have a plane missing?  I’m not a commercial pilot, but I would guess that if you own a Boeing 777 (which incidentally costs between US$ 205 - 231 million) you want to keep pretty tight tabs on where it is at all times.

For sure, you know it is about to land (within a few hours), hopefully at your scheduled destination.  You also know that there will be a number of people meeting your arriving passengers. 

You have exactly the delta between loosing contact and scheduled arrival time to have a plan in place and then to start communicating.

Why is speed so important?  Because of a medium vacuum. 

A media vacuum is when the media are looking for answers, and the company that is supposed to be taking control (in this case, Malaysian Airlines) is not available for a contact.

If you were a journalist and you heard a plane had gone missing, what would you do?  My guess is that you would contact the airline.  If the airline does not respond, you still have a story, but now you need to speak to someone else.  You’ll try and speak to relatives of passengers, anyone connected to the airline, and then pretty much any ‘expert’ you can find.

‘Experts’ are just one hairline away from ‘fanatics’ in whatever they spend their livelihood peddling. If you ask the UFO expert what happened to the plane, you’re pretty sure they are going to say it was abducted by aliens.

The airline has now lost control of the story and worse still don’t have a seat at the table.  They created a media vacuum, the media filled it, all control is lost.


2 – Communication Medium

Let’s just assume you’re single.  You start dating someone and after a few dates you decide this is not something you want to continue.  Do you:

  1. meet with them to explain the situation
  2. call them up and explain the situation
  3. send a text message

Time is important, and cultural differences aside, it is best not to text people information that is pertinent to their or other people’s well being. 

I mean, come on, even the most positive text messages can be miss-interpreted.

Use a step method.  Send a text (simplest, quickest medium) to reach people, to let them know there is a recorded message update, or a meeting going to happen (if logistically suitable), but don’t send the text message to communicate the information.

3 – Proactive Crisis Communication Plan

No company that has ever been in the media should be without a proactive crisis communication plan. Here’s why…

First off, most media coverage is of companies that have already been in the media.  If your company has not previously appeared in the media, then you’re not immediately news worthy.  The more you have been in the media, the more news-worthy you become.  People are interested and thus the story continues. For the most news-worthy people / organizations, just try sneezing.

Second, is risk assessment.  If you deal with thousands of customers, control any devises that could cause harm, are subject to uncontrollable forces (natural or otherwise) then you have to know that adverse things will happen – it’s just a matter of time. Maybe you should take that into consideration and get ready now.

Third, we’re back to time.  Those precious minutes between the plane being lost and expected arrival time is about enough time to contact the key people and find the proactive crisis communication plan. It is NOT enough time to think of a strategy, get consensus, train your team, produce media tools, reach out to media, etc etc.

Producing a proactive crisis communication plan today will pay dividends in the future.  Crisis Communication training now is the same. 

You know if you’re news-worthy, you know if you are at risk and you know what to do to save yourself – so take the appropriate actions now.

While our thoughts are with the passengers and their families – we’re not shedding a tear for the communications of Malaysian Airlines.  As an organization they did know what they should have done, they had the opportunity to do it, but someone decided that they didn’t have the time or money to get a proactive crisis communications plan in place and train staff accordingly.  That was a very costly decision. 

We just hope others benefit from it.


Learning Crisis Communication the Justin Bieber way

Justin Bieber wants you to know he's not the next Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears or Corey Feldman. Even though these celebs probably achieved less than Justin and probably get far more publicity. 

The 19-year-old pop star has been making headlines with erratic behavior that includes showing up late to concerts, passing out backstage, threatening paparazzi, wearing gas masks, going shirtless in freezing temperatures and allegedly spitting on a neighbor during an argument.

Bieber hasn't taken the negative press sitting down, and has fought back via Twitter and Instagram rants about fake stories and "countless lies." Now, after being accused of battery, the pop star is striking back again, telling Us Weekly that he's not on the verge of a breakdown, as reports suggest.

Crisis 101 in today’s social media world – the right place to fight negative press is in the same place/medium that it appeared. It’s the simple things that are easily forgotten.  Each newspaper, blog author, social media platform, etc have a following.  If I hear something bad in the LA Times, then I’m an LA Times reader. If I hear it on Twitter, then I clearly use Twitter to get my news.  Justin, mate, only fight negative press where you see it (despite your youth and obvious social media prowess), don’t take the fight to the social media airwaves if it’s not there already.

"The biggest misconception about me is that I'm a bad person," Bieber told US Weekly. Well, no one was saying that (actually), and do you know any bad people that admit to being bad people?  This seems to be one of the worst quotes I have heard in a long time.

It's clear that Bieber (or his team) has grown very uncomfortable with the amount of negative attention that he's been receiving lately, and though he's on the defensive he does admit that he's far from perfect. "I'm young and I make mistakes. That's part of growing up," he told Us Weekly. "I mess up sometimes. It's part of growing up."

I love this!  I think I will use it in my next press interview. 

Yes Mr Business Editor, I know my company did wrong, but you know what, we’re a young company and we messed up – that’s part of our company growing up.

Perhaps the bigger PR question should be – can Justin continue to get quality media coverage without causing problems?  It’s clearly difficult to continue to attract positive media coverage. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears et al know the problem and went the ‘all publicity is good publicity’ route… even if it includes unflatering pictures, drunk driving and theft.  What will Justin do and how will that effect his still intact ‘good boy’ image.


p.s. If anyone has any tickets for Justin’s upcoming tour my 5-year-old daughter wants to know!


An early look at Super Bowl XLVII Commercials

Every year the Super Bowl brings commercial excitement.  This year spots are selling (30 seconds) for $4m.  Lets take the opportunity to watch what happens at Super Bowl time, which brands can communicate effectively and what crises arise.

It’s early yet, but there are two stories to follow:

1 – Taco Bell (headquartered in Irvine) have already pulled their Anti-Vegetarian commercial due to pressure groups.

News story here

A copy of the commercial here


2 – VW have a solid history of winning ads at the Super Bowl – you’ll remember the Star Wars commercial from 2011 - here.

Here is what looks like the new hit for 2013.


What do you think?

What is your favorite past Super Bowl ad?


Modern Messaging for Crisis Communication

Lets face it – we’ve been drawing up the same messaging in a crisis situation since we started communicating in a crisis.

Now it’s time for a revolution.

There is a great TEDTalk by Simon Sinek from September 2009 entitled How great leaders inspire action.  In it Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.  The video has had over 7.3 million views, but if that wasn’t you I’d recommend you spend 18 minutes checking it out.

But, what does this all have to do with crisis communication?

Well, simply – messaging. Which seems to be the heart of successful crisis communication, for if the message is wrong – the whole campaign will fail.


Most messaging that we produce travels from the outside of the circles to the inside – following the path of the blue arrow:

Example 1:  What happened at 6:00pm on Friday was a mistake, caused by miscommunication between multiple teams, for which we are very sorry.

This ‘blue line messaging’ is very familiar to traditional PR folks and especially hits home to those who have been producing crisis communication messaging and tools for some time.

Lets see what happens when we turn this on its head and we do some ‘red line messaging’:

Example 2: We’d like to first of all express our sorrow in this situation, which was caused by miscommunication between multiple teams, which led to the mistake that happened at 6:00pm on Friday.

The subject and the verbs are largely the same (the sentence basically uses the same words to say the same thing), but the order of the sentiment is different.

By giving the reader of the message a cause or a belief, the rest of the message becomes more believable and is received more favorably. And anyone in crisis communications knows that believability/credibility is crucial for success.

Sinek’s talk goes into some pretty competing reasons why this is so, but for the PR attention deficit; you just need to know that it works – so use it!


The War Against Crime & Crisis Communication

There are possibly many learnings from the heavily armed gunman attacked an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday, that terrified audiences, killed 12 and wounded 38... and of course the number one priority is that thoughts and prayers go out to all who were there or are effected by this senseless killing.

And now a moment to think how this will effect good old commerce.  Financially speaking, Warner Bros have the most to loose.  They are the power behind the movie - The Dark Knight Rises - the Batman midnight premier where the shooting occurred. On Friday mid morning, the radio stations are full of chatter from understandably concerned mothers who now are not going to let their families go and see the movie.  Why?  Irrational fear of a copycat attack?  A realization that life is fragile and anything could happen?  A need to keep children away from violence? 

It doesn't matter. What is going to be important to Warner Bros is that their ticket sales - at the most important opening weekend in their domestic market - is going to be adversely effected.  By early next week we'll know by how many millions of dollars.

This goes back to advice we give every crisis communication client.  It doesn't matter how awesome you are as an organization - you will get effected by a real crisis that will hit your bottom line.  Just think about the bad luck Warner Bros have just been handed.  They created a script, developed it into a screenplay, got the best talent to act, direct & produce it, nailed the marketing, perfected a global distribution model, worked with partners to create cross promotions and add on sales - no doubt had excellent legal and accounting teams around this project.  In short - they did everything right.  They invested some $250 million in this production.  Then something clearly out of their control will not only add more costs (they have already announced changes to their marketing and launch distribution), but will cost millions.  Not to mention this movie (not unlike others in this series) now has a tragic story behind it.

At the time of this post, there is no apparent crisis communication from Warner Bros on their main site, on the site of The Dark Knight Rises or the associated Facebook accounts.  There may be some communication somewhere, but I've yet to find it.

Should there be? When do you communicate and when do you keep silent?  It's one of the most important decisions in any crisis. 

Our general advice is that if you are already in the media, known by the media and communicate with the media, then you need to own the crisis communications.  In this case, I doubt we'll see Warner Bros as a central organization getting too involved - they're not the public face.  What I do expect is that media will start asking questions to the notable director/actors from this movie.  In effect these are the front line spokes people for this project.

So our crisis communication advice right now is to ensure the spokes people are getting the best possible media training and rehearsal for the soon-to-come barrage of media questions.

For more advice on how we can help your crisis communications - call us today!

What do you think Warner Bros. could do today in terms of crisis communications to mitigate financial loss?