So What Now? Anticipating Fallout Issues In The Aftermath of COVID-19

As with any crisis situation that an organization faces, things may quiet down and even get resolved (as in a strike), but there will likely be additional issues to consider in the aftermath.  This is particularly true for this pandemic – even as it continues, other issues will rear up, case in point: Amazon’s strikes over work conditions and leadership resignations.  (See  https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52534567#)

For those familiar with issue anticipation, one of many responsibilities of leadership (especially PR/Communications) issues typically fall into 5 categories:

  • Latent:  The issue is largely on the “back burner. Nothing is really happening at this time, but the potential is there for the issue to emerge.  Example:  In the PR field, the issue of “licensing” was once hotly debated but moved to “latent” when accreditation in the field became an option that replaced the need for licensing.
  • Emerging:  A small percentage of the population has identified the issue and it is gaining traction, but it is not yet “hot”. Example: The connection between opioid overdose and brain injury.
  • Hot:  A current issue that is the subject of extensive public debate. Example:  COVID19.
  • Fallout:  An issue born as the consequence of a hot issue.  For example, one fallout issue from COVID19 might be the expansion of remote offices as companies look for ways to cut costs and gain more confidence in the ability of employees to work from home.
  • Association: An issue that hasn’t impacted your organization directly, but it has happened to a similar organization, and therefore your stakeholders are wondering “could that happen to us?” Example:  An active shooter on a private boarding school campus.

While some organizations may have been prepared for a “widespread illness” crisis scenario, virtually no organization – with the exception of some very forward-thinking healthcare organizations — were prepared for something of the magnitude that is the COVID19 global pandemic.   In fact, we have had clients ask us, in retrospect, to amend their crisis communication plans to include a global pandemic scenario. 

Now that the “new normal” is in place, it is time to think about what fallout issues we may have to contend with going forward.  Consider the potential impacts of the current COVID19 environment as we look 6 months to a year out and/or before a vaccination is approved:

  • Consumer fear as a barrier to travel, dining out, using public transportation, attending large gatherings, going away to college, etc.,
  • A potential increase in drug and alcohol misuse (as a coping mechanism),
  • Potential increase in anxiety, depression and mental health issues,
  • Remote workforce preference (by employees and corporations),
  • Labor issues in the spotlight as they fight to protect front-line worker rights,
  • Increase in requirements to safely produce consumer products adds to business overhead, which is then passed on to the consumer and creates more expensive products and services,
  • Increase in taxes to cover the unanticipated expenses resulting from COVID19,
  • Labor trends:  will those headed for retirement take an early retirement package or feel the need to work longer after experiencing stock market losses?
  • Investors change behaviors:  will they take advantage of buying opportunities in a down market or pursue investment opportunities with less risk?
  • Nonprofits consolidate as they compete for a smaller pool of available philanthropic dollars,
  • Decrease in face-to-face professional development (conferences, etc.) and an increase in professional development offered online,
  • Emphasis on environmental controls after seeing the short-term positive effects of the stay-at-home order on our air and water supplies,
  • Healthcare costs increase as health issues related to COVID 19 spike and vaccines for highly-contagious illnesses become mandatory,
  • Consolidation of small businesses as many experience bankruptcy after extended period of closure forced by restrictions,
  • Trend of “gap years” and community college attendance in lieu of paying high college costs for what could end up being a remote learning experience, at least in the immediate future,
  • Increase in “depression-era savings mentality” now that the new generation has lived through uncertain financial times.

It is the role of every public relations/communications leader to think about and prepare for what is next for your organization and to think strategically about how you will communicate about it.  Building trust and communicating with transparency will be critical. 

How effectively your organization communicated during this crisis and responded to stakeholder needs will either have improved your reputation as a trustworthy company or damaged it.  Either way, communicating in the “new normal” era will require your organization’s highest and best skills going forward , so those in the PR/communications field – and those they report to — should consider them “essential”!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH.  For more information, visit JJ&W’s website at www.jjwpr.com or email Stacey at ssmith@jjwpr.com.

Summary of JJ&W’s WEbinar for PRSA: External Communication with Stakeholders During Covid-19

What is known about how humans process risk and crisis remind us that not every member of a stakeholder group is at the same point in their understanding, acceptance, processing or action steps.  In fact, most are likely ricocheting daily, if not hourly, between these waypoints as they deal with the mental and emotional toll that the all-consuming change that is COVID19 has taken on their lives.  Today they may feel positive and productive.  Tomorrow they may not.

How we deliver the messages that need to be communicated, the words we use, and the environment in which messages are received must be carefully calibrated to resonate with our stakeholders. They must take into consideration their values and their current emotional state.  They must be clear enough to motivate specific behaviors.

Thus, we move to the lowest common denominators when preparing communication:

  1. Use simpler, more direct language
  2. Elevate empathy
  3. Include doable action steps

Simpler, more direct language   Write at a 7th or 8th grade level (see Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests). Even the most educated have problems processing ideas when things are stressful or there is upheaval. Say what needs to be said in the simplest way possible – short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. 

Elevate empathy   Express shared emotions without telling them how they feel.  “We are all anxious” is different then “We know you are anxious”.

Doable action steps:  Suggest something they can do as a result of your communication.  “Make a donation”, “call a friend”, “read on our website” are all actionable ideas.  With no call to action, your messaging is just a big “so what”. For example,  COVID19 communication now has plenty of “calls to action”, including:  “maintain a 6-feet-apart social distance when out in public”; “wash your hands for 20 seconds” and “stay at home unless you are an essential worker or you have to get gas, groceries or pharmacy items.”

In addition, don’t make stakeholders work to find your messaging or create additional “new” vehicles to communicate.  That is just another stress on them.  Use the channels they are comfortable with, used to using, and trust.

Finally, monitor the environment for ongoing changes that might make your communication insensitive if not offensive.  This requires being flexible on how you choose to communicate and constantly monitoring the environment for potential message conflicts.

For instance, the cruise lines for too long continued to run ads and send mailing that promoting trips.  The hotel industry was slow on the uptake as well. Some smaller organizations, perhaps being nimbler or more empathetic, switch gears faster e.g. Planet Fitness suspended monthly fees right away and ramped up their online platform to encourage continued activity.  Compare that with Boston Health Club (see good reading on that one see Robin Schell’s last blog)! 

Stay well!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel & Partner, Jackson Jackson & Wagner

A Case Study In How NOT To Build Relationships With Customers: Boston Sports Clubs

Here’s what happens when you are NOT proactive and DON’T LISTEN to customers … I’m afraid Boston Sports Clubs are about to learn a painful PR lesson.  

While many gyms communicated proactively to customers that they would be halting billing and freezing memberships, Boston Sports Clubs went out of their way to make it nearly impossible for members to cancel memberships and freeze accounts during the COVID19 closure period.  A few weeks after closing, they sent an email to customers letting them know that when they re-open, they will work with members on credit arrangements.  They did not, however, provide any options for stopping payment while they remain closed.  As a result, they find themselves in the following boat:

  • Angry customers are blowing up BSC’s Facebook page with complaints
  • A class action suit filed against parent company Town Sports International, alleging it is impossible to cancel memberships
  • In Massachusetts, multiple complaints have been filed with the AG’s office and they are now investigating
  • Local media covering the story and suggesting members who want out of their memberships call their credit card company to cancel payments. 
  • Media have asked for personal stories about member experiences with BSC, indicating this negative press is far from over

In visiting the FB page of the local BSC, I found many negative comments about the rudeness of staff and dirty condition of the gym. BSC uses the same impersonal response every time:

Boston Sports Clubs We appreciate you taking the time to review our club. We’re very sorry for the issues you have experienced and we’d like to follow up with you personally. If you could email HereToHelp@tsiclubs.com, a member of the Customer Services team will get back to you shortly. Thank you for reaching out. Best, The HereToHelp Team

BSC fails to realize that this is a time to “serve not sell” your customers, not take advantage of them.   When gym members are being forced out of their normal behavior routine of going to the gym and are finding alternatives (exercising outdoors, constructing home gym setups, live streaming yoga classes), they should be finding ways to excite members about coming back, not drive them away.   Clearly BSC did not study their competitor’s policies or look at some of the creative ways other gyms are using their space to serve the public and build relationships with members (https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20200331/quincy-ymca-to-serve-as-secondary-homeless-shelter). 

All of this could have been avoided with some proactive communication and customer-friendly policies.  Lesson shared!

In Uncertain Times, Build Loyalty with Stakeholders – Lessons From The Pan-Mass Challenge Decision

      For those of you who are not familiar with the Pan-Mass Challenge, or the PMC, it is the largest single athletic charity event in the country. This 2-day cycling event, founded by Billy Starr in 1980, engaged 6800 participants and raised $63 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute last year. People are motivated to give because 100% of the rider-raised funds go directly to cancer research.
     In addition to the time and effort it takes to train for the bike rides (these vary in length from 25 miles to 190 miles), participants are also asked to guarantee (with their personal credit card) $5500 each if they are doing the full 2-day ride. Many say the stress of fundraising is more than the stress of physically preparing for the ride – yet, people are committed to participating, because cancer has impacted so many loved ones.
     Given the impact of COVID-19 on many businesses, Starr made the unprecedented decision to do away with the minimum fundraising requirement for the first and only time in 40 years – recognizing that riders may have a difficult time raising money from their regular sponsors.
     See paragraph #2 from Starr’s note to all PMC cyclists. His message will likely lead to several positive behavioral outcomes:
     1. Building loyalty with fundraisers and volunteers. Taking care of the people on the front lines of the fundraising effort insures they will want to keep coming back, participating and fundraising, in years to come when the fundraising environment improves.
     2. Motivating riders by reinforcing the mission. Starr does a good job of reminding everyone of the reason they ride … because the money raised saves the lives of people with cancer. Those with the means to do so will likely dig a little deeper into their own pockets to make up for the shortfall of their sponsors.
     3. Encouraging self-motivated fundraising. Starr says “Let your conscience be your guide” regarding your donor base and “As for timing, do what feels right for you”, acknowledging that he typically encourages riders to “ask early and often”. For this year, though, his instruction is to throw the usual fundraising recipe out the window and use our best judgment on how to get the job done.

As a longtime PMC rider, I am motivated to meet my fundraising goal despite the obstacles this year, so wish me luck!

To all PMC cyclists,
     The last few weeks have been extremely stressful for everyone. All of us have been profoundly affected by this public health crisis, and part of our anxiety is not knowing when it is going to end. One thing is certain: showing compassion to one another will help us all get through this.
With that spirit in mind, the PMC is taking an unprecedented step: WE WILL NOT ENFORCE FUNDRAISING MINIMUMS FOR 2020. Do we still need each PMC rider to raise as much for cancer research and treatment as she or he can? Yes, but you don’t need the stress of having to ask donors to support your ride if you believe they don’t have the ability to do so. For 2020, we simply ask that you raise what you can, support your own ride with a gift if you have the means, and otherwise let your conscience be your guide regarding your donor base.
     As for timing, you should do what feels right for you. Normally, the PMC encourages riders to begin their fundraising early and not be afraid to ask often. If this approach feels inappropriate at this moment, you should modify your PMC fundraising for 2020 with timing that works for you and your donors.
     For 40 years, the PMC has represented hope for cancer patients everywhere by raising vital funds for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That’s not going to change in 2020. The remarkable longevity of the average PMC rider tells us that you are committed to this cause and will be in the future. Thank you, and we send you our wishes for good health.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior partner and counsel at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH. She will ride her 8th Pan-Mass Challenge for Team LUNGSTRONG, to raise money for lung cancer research, in August 2020. For more information about JJ&W, visit www.jjwpr.com. For more information about LUNGSTRONG, visit www.lungstrong.org.

Isobel Parke 1926-2020

ISabel Park

Isobel Parke was born in 1926 in Dorset, UK, the 3rd of 5 daughters of Charles and Jean Hamilton Gordon Parke.  She graduated from the Winsor School, Boston, MA, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, UK, with a degree in History in 1947.  Isobel worked for a short time at the UK Ministry of Education. After teaching in Germany and Kenya, she served as the adult education manager at Moor Park College (Farnham, UK) for 12 years.

In 1965, Isobel joined the behavioral public relations and management consulting firm of Jackson Jackson and Wagner in NH, where she provided invaluable counsel to clients in a wide variety of industries for over 5 decades.  She was a trailblazer, advocating for public relations practitioners to have a place at the decisionmaking table and influencing the PR field with their innovative strategies and behavior-change theories.  She was married to Patrick Jackson, a past PRSA president and PR leader in the public relations field.

An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Isobel served as National Secretary.  She was inducted into the College of Fellows in 1991.  She served as PRSA’s representative on the Council for Journalism and Mass Communications as well as on two PRSA education commissions. Isobel was best known for her work with independent schools and environmental concerns. Her work with the coalition SPACE (Statewide Program of Action to Conserve our Environment) led to a NH constitutional amendment change in 1968 and passage of the current use law to preserve open space in NH – a law that still stands today. She was the first woman president of the NH Timberland Owners Association and served on both the boards of Lamprey River Watershed Association and UNH Cooperative Extension Rockingham County Advisory Council. Passionate about land conservation, she worked closely with the Southeast Land Trust on their efforts to conserve open space.

Since 1963, Isobel lived on Tributary Farm, a 1745 house in West Epping, NH with 700 blueberry bushes and 160 acres of forest land.  She loved spending time outdoors and in her garden; and every July, she would host a blueberry breakfast for members of her JJ&W family. Raised in the Episcopalian church, she became a long-time member of the West Epping Quaker Meeting.  Loved and respected by countless family members, friends, professional colleagues and clients, Isobel will be missed by us all.


A Celebration of Life will be held in the spring and announced when set. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a conservation or environmental fund of your choice.

School Communicators Take Note: For Flawless Execution, Prepare Beyond Your Written Crisis Plan

Yesterday, it was the dismissal of a teacher at the Fieldston private school as a result of anti-Semitic remarks that enflamed tensions between Jewish parents and school administrators.  Today, it is concern over the Coronavirus and its impact on boarding schools with Chinese pupils and international study programs abroad.  What will it be tomorrow?

While most private schools – especially those with boarding school programs – have had had to put their crisis communication plans to the test with issues ranging from student fatalities to inappropriate teacher/student relationships – how many have solid issue anticipation programs in place to prepare for the crisis around the corner?

In our experience, spending a little time and money upfront on thorough preparation goes a long way.  For consideration:

  1.  Updated contact information for ALL key internal audiences.  Most schools have their Board members and leadership team on speed dial…but anticipate everyone you want to communicate with directly in a crisis.  This means working with Development to insure you have up-to-date text/email information for alumni, and with Admissions in case prospective students need to be reached.  When the crisis hits, you want to be able to press a button for instant notification.
  2. Spokesperson training in advance.  Chances are, your Head of School and Communication Director have had the most experience with on-camera or phone interviews – but how about your subject matter experts?  For example, you might have your Head of Security as the spokesperson in a data breach situation, or Human Resources for a roundup story on your school policies impacting transgender students.   Mock interviews — where your spokespersons can practice staying calm and circling back to key message points in the face of tough media questions – are a valuable exercise.  Take it one step further by recording and playing back the interview to observe body language, nervous habits etc.  Make it engaging by involving the others in the recap of what worked well and what needs improvement.
  • Make time for issue anticipation and social media monitoring.  Whether you appoint someone inside or work with an outside firm, your Communications Director should be asking themselves this question everyday: “What’s going on out there, and could it happen here?”  Social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite Insights and Synthesio allow you to monitor news sites, blogs and forums by specific topics and audiences.  Cultivate relationships with your PR/communications network of professionals for best practice sharing.  Google search recent cases on topics of concern to see how other schools handled – or mishandled – issues and learn from their situations.
  • Prepare templates for likely situations for a “headstart” on your holding statement.  While you can’t have a statement for every situation, you can identify likely issues within specific categories (e.g. mishandling of finances, security issues, personnel issues, accidents and fatalities etc.).  Decide with your leadership/crisis management team on key messages to deliver in each situation – then get the holding statement templates blessed by the legal team in advance.
  • Update your media, social media and spokesperson policies.  It’s one thing to have these on paper, buried on page 60 of your crisis plan, and another to proactively and regularly communicate them to all members of your school family.  You want everyone to know what to do when the media calls, or how to handle student friend requests on LinkedIn and Facebook.  When new employees come on board, make sure they are up to speed as well.
  • Have a system in place for the “Lessons Learned” review.  Decide who from the crisis team should be involved and schedule the review right after the crisis ends, while it is fresh in everyone’s minds.  Important:  appoint a good note-taker to capture the conversation … chances are you, or a colleague, will need it for future reference.

For more information on issue anticipation programs and proactive media training, contact Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner at 603/770-3607.

Stand Out From The Crowd: Research-Based Branding

My colleague Jayme Simoes and I had the pleasure of presenting on the topic of branding twice recently, first at the NH Nonprofits Conference and Expo and again at PRSA’s Northeast District Conference, NEXPRSA, in Providence, R.I.

Here are a few highlights:

  1. A brand is a space in the mind.  It’s more than a logo or a tagline; a brand is about the feelings and perceptions you stimulate when both internal and external audiences hear your name.
  2. Research is key to the process; it can help you test words, phrases and visuals before you roll out your branding campaign; create a baseline for measuring your success and provide an opportunity for a mid-campaign check with key stakeholder groups to see if messages are resonating with them.
  3. Articulate your U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) in your mission statement.  Does your mission statement differentiate you from your competitors, or is it so “plain vanilla” that it could belong to anyone?
  4. Think strategically before you rebrand.  There are plenty of “triggering events” that may cause you to consider a rebrand (e.g. merging with another organization, expanding or changing the products and services you offer or even an upcoming milestone anniversary).  If you’re well-known and easily recognized, though, there’s no need to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” … a refresh of your brand may be enough.  For the “serial rebranders” – you may be doing more harm than good by confusing your customers.
  5. How effective are your brand ambassadors?  Is everyone in your internal family speaking with One Clear Voice?  Take the “elevator speech” test – select any 3-5 people in your organization and ask them, independently, to describe what your organization does.  Are they hitting on your key message points consistently?

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel and Partner Jackson Jackson & Wagner , 603/770-3607 or rschell@jjwpr.com

The Art & Science of Behavioral PR Research: Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and ROI

I’m delighted to be visiting the PRSA Tucson chapter this spring to talk about “The Art & Science of Behavioral PR Research:  Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and Return On Investment”.  To give you a sense of what I’ll be talking about on April 23rd, read on!

Choosing the right strategies (for example, using the best methodologies for collecting data you need from the right target audiences) and asking the right questions the right way will insure that you are on a productive path to getting the information you need.  In many cases, your best measure of success will be the behavioral outcomes you achieve as a result of your researched-based campaign.  For example, if your goal was to increase membership by 30% this past year, you can measure your success by the numbers – you either hit that target, or you didn’t.  If the proposal for a new Walmart is accepted by your town – and you are Walmart – that is a measure of success.

A few things to keep in mind when designing and collecting research data:

  1.  Use creativity in your data collection strategies.  To get feedback on the newsletter at a national laboratory we counseled, we polled employees passing through the on-site cafeteria – which is where most people grab a copy to read at lunch.  To test perceptions and barriers to purchasing beer, we stood by beer cases in select stores and waited for the customer to put their hand on the beer they planned to purchase before asking questions about why they made their choice.  Think about your target audience and the best way (as well as the best time) — to capture their feedback.
  2. Ask the right questions.  Finding out if a potential customer is aware of your product or service is a good first step, but don’t you want to go deeper to find out their behaviors around that product or service?  Would they recommend it to others?  Have they done so in the past?   How likely are they to try an upgraded version of the product or service at a slightly higher cost?  Why or why wouldn’t they do that? 
  3. Ask your questions the right way.  Avoid biased or “leading” questions.  Vary your scales to make the respondent really think about the answers, in order to avoid “auto-response” and the tendency to check the same number of the scale for every question.  Include some “open-ended” questions to get valuable data about the “why” behind the question.  Anticipate the cross-tabulations you’ll want before you finalize the survey.
  4. Choose methodologies with a double purpose.  Research can be an opportunity to educate as well as measure.  To get a handle on the energy-saving behaviors customers were doing now and would consider in the future, we asked about everything from unplugging appliances when they were not in use to buying LED light bulbs to purchasing solar panels.  When helping a public health network identify behaviors around preventing Lyme disease, we used a “pre” and “post” test to measure the jump in knowledge levels and likely behaviors as a result of a presentation on that topic.
     

For more information about behavior-based research, register for “The Art and Science of Behavioral PR Research:  Effective Strategies For Measuring Outcomes and ROI” sponsored by the Tucson PRSA Chapter on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  For more information about Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA or Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit www.jjwpr.com or email Robin at rschell@jjwpr.com.

The Future Looks Bright For The PR Profession: Lessons From The 2018 PRSA International Conference

While attending PRSA’s International Conference in Austin this year, I thought how proud JJ&W’s founder, Patrick Jackson, would have been of all the conversations revolving around measuring behavioral outcomes and the PR practitioner’s role as relationship-builders and strategists… particularly at a time when our organizations, and our country, need these skills the most.

A few themes from the keynote and breakout sessions:

1.  As PR Professionals, it’s our job to help organizations understand how their key audiences think – how to reach them – and motivate them to behave

There were many sessions offering glimpses into the psychological profiles of Baby Boomers, Gen "X", Millenials/Gen "Y" and Gen "Z".Aria Finger, millennial marketing expert and founder of TMI Strategic Consulting, has engaged 6 million young people with her “DoSomething.org” website.Described as a “global movement for good,”she takes a creative approach to getting Gen Z involved in issues ranging from anti-smoking campaigns to collecting clothing for teens in need by asking them 3 simple questions:

       "What are you passionate about?”

       “How much time do you have?”

        “What would you like to do?”

Check out their website for more examples…including the “Teens For Jeans” partnership with Aeropostle.By the way – their original outreach for “Teens for Jeans” via email registered 89 volunteers – but their text outreach garnered 3,560 responses!Know what channels work best with your target audiences.

2.   PR can help drive the “Purpose Beyond Profit” movement by helping organizations identify the causes that make the most sense for their business.

In the “Digital Transformation of Communications” session, panelists discussed the fact that more than ever, CEOs and businesses are expected to lead change.Patagonia's very clear purpose of making the environment better and Starbuck's“Changing the World One Cup At A Time” campaign are two of many examples cited at the conference.Jonathan Mildenhall, marketing expert and former CMO of Airbnb, talked about the concept of “purpose driving performance”.He described how Airbnb took on the transgender discrimination issue with their “Mankind/Womankind/Trans-kind” universal belonging campaign.They used the triggering event of the ESPN ESPY Awards in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for courage, to launch the campaign.How has their approach impacted the bottom line, you ask?Airbnb now has 4,200,000 homes, 70 million guests and the company is valued at $31 billion.

3.    PR has the skills to bring conflicting parties together and facilitate civil debate and “eloquent listening”. 

The current Edelman Trust Barometer ratings show trust is at an all-time low. Keynote speakerRobert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, cites several reasons for the tumultuous, anger-filled environment we have today :

  • Tribal Geography (we live — online and off– where everyone thinks like us; we need to break out of our geographic and psychological bubbles, but it’s uncomfortable so we don’t like to do it)
  • Stagnant Wages:  Median wages since the 70s have not changed very much and there is a general frustration that “the system is rigged against us” – thus explaining the political gravitation to more extreme political figures like Trump and Sanders, who represent a move away from “politics as usual”.
  • Media Stirring The Pot.  The media is good at using anger, fighting and conflict as a way of grabbing reader/viewer attention.  As a society, we’ve lost the ability to listen with respect and engage in civil dialogue.  Reich says PR people can have influence not over the conflict of debates but over the tone of the debate.

There is an opportunity for PR to showcase our trust and relationship-building skills…both externally (i.e. by engaging communities opposed to an issue) and internally (i.e. within our employee work groups), capitalizing on our counseling and organization development skills.

4.    PR can help our organizations “break through the clutter”, by both using what we know about graphic psychology and utilizing emerging technologies.  Fun fact from consultant Christopher Hannegin:  4 out of 5 Smartphone users check their device within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning.  Yes…guilty here! 

And if you don’t believe we live in an over-communicated world, check out www.internetlivestats.com to see how many photos have been posted to Instagram, how many tweets have been sent etc…

According to Hannegin, we need to “tell the unexpected story” and “show familiar stuff in new ways”, incorporating the use of infographics when relaying complicating earnings data for our clients, for example.Stella Low, Sr. VP of Dell, urges us to continue learning about immersive technology and to consider how “virtual reality” and “augmented reality” can be used as new tools in the PR toolbox.

5.    PR is worth its weight in gold during crisis situations.

For years we have been talking about the need for the “court of public opinion” to be considered along with the “court of law” – and it is clear from the number of crisis communication presentations at conference that we have arrived at the decisionmaking table in crisis situations.Higher education consultant Joe Brennan and Eric Stern did a session on the “6 Tasks Every Leader Must Do” in a crisis and urged PR practitioners to:

  • Prepare for multiple scenarios – and while you’re preparing the spokesperson, include your 2nd in command — needs backup!
  • Guide leadership to speed up a traditionally slow decisionmaking cycle – your statement can’t wait in today’s 24/7 news cycle
  • Define the end of the crisis; rituals help to transition (e.g. a candlelight vigil after a shooting allows people time to grieve, and then move on)
  • Conduct a lessons learned review – it’s an opportunity to fix what went wrong for next time – but also, to recognize what went well.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH.For more information, visit www.jjwpr.com or email her at rschell@jjwpr.com.

Strategic PR Planning Is Critical To An Organization’s Success

If your first thought when presented with a public relations problem or opportunity is to brainstorm tactics – e.g. “let’s do a newsletter” “send a tweet”, “post on Facebook”, “hold a meeting” — then you are planning, but not strategically.

If your first thoughts are: “how does this opportunity fit with our overall goals?”, “what behaviors do we need from our priority stakeholders?”, “what are the underlying psychological or structural barriers in the way of achieving those behaviors?” , “what communication/behavioral theories or case studies could support or guide our decisions?” … then you are being strategic.

I explain to PRSA Strategic Planning workshop attendees that they probably are strategic thinkers already. However, it’s often easier to default to tactics that are in our comfort zone and can be quickly implemented. The problem is that just executing tactics without strategic direction could end up being a waste of our time and our organization’s resources. In today’s environment, public relations practitioners are being held accountable to the bottom line … we need to be able to justify our actions to senior management and provide measurable results, just as legal, finance and other departments do..

The strategic planning process consists of five distinct areas of work: 1) Establishing Direction, 2) Gathering/Conducting Research, 3) Objective Setting by Priority Publics, 4) Determining Strategy, Tactics, Evaluation, 5) Setting Timeline, Budget and Staffing. Once the plan has been determined, we need to stay flexible, knowing the environment we are operating in could change; a “triggering event” could impact the effectiveness of our strategy; or research could show that our priority audiences are not responding to our key messages.

Before we even begin the implementation of our plan, we must have a clear idea of what success will look like …for example: our internal audience will buy-in to and support our process; senior management will lead by example; our budgets and person power will increase; we will achieve the behaviors we set out to change or reinforce; and we will become an integral part of the leadership team charged with achieving the organization’s overall goals.

I’ll be presenting a half-day version of the day-long workshop at PRSA’s International Conference in Austin, TX on October 7. Join me!
For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com

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