Category Archives: Crisis & Issue Anticipation

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!

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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.

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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.

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Give Where You Get: Social Responsibility Policies That Make Sense

According to the Cone Communication 2017 CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) study, 87% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Two-thirds of Americans will refuse to purchase a product if they learn that the company supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.

It is important for corporations to be transparent about how social responsibility dollars are allocated and what issues they are supporting. Nonprofits also need to be forthright about who is funding them, and how the money is spent.

JJ&W has been a proponent of developing clear corporate social responsibility/giving policies for many years, and urging clients to communicate about them. Whether you are Target (donating 5% of profits in communities where they have stores) or Xerox (involving over a half million Xerox employees through their Community Involvement Program) or Google (with initiatives like Google Green, a corporate effort to reduce the use of resources effectively while supporting renewable power), strategic social responsibility is an opportunity that should not be ignored. Some organizations, like Patagonia, are even choosing their suppliers based on social responsibility practices. They vet suppliers using a 4-fold approach, considering ethical sourcing, social responsibility, product quality and environmental compliance before they select.

Questions your leadership should be asking about their corporate social responsibility policy:

1. Are we supporting causes and issues that have a connection to our business?
2. To what degree are we encouraging employees to get involved in social responsibility activities? (Note: programs designed this way
have the additional payoff of increasing morale and teamwork)
3. How well have we communicated the policy in order to make clear where we are spending social responsibility resources – so we don’t
waste the time of applicants or the department in our organization charged with weeding through the applications?
4. How well have we communicated the results of our social responsibility programs? Have we effectively tracked where employee time and
corporate dollars are spent, and how this time and money has translated into results? Do our employees, Board members, vendors,
customers and other key audiences know about these results?
5. Are we giving where we get business?
6. Are we supporting the masses or practicing focused philanthropy?

In 1991, JJ&W established the JJ&W Behavioral Science Prize, aligned with our values and in honor of our 35th year of practice. Guidelines specify the Prize should be awarded to a person or persons who has/have contributed a significant body of theory and/or research that enhances understanding of behavioral public relations and whose work is available to scholars and practitioners. Recipients come from the field of public relations, social science and business. (For more about the award and a complete list of winners, visit www.jjwpr.com).

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Just Because We Can, Should We? Why Organizations Should Not Rollback Policies, Just Because Washington Now Says We Can

The Trump Administration is busy reversing a myriad of policies that had been put in place by the previous administration.  They say these policies "hinder productive business growth and job creation".  I am not arguing that one way or the other. I do want to remind us, though, of the impact these decisions could have on the bottom line of many organizations. 

It is evident, despite the pendulum swing to the right, that the majority of society does care about — and hold accountable — organizations who conduct themselves in ways that damage the environment, discriminate against employees, cheat customers, etc.  Even if the court of law says these actions are technically legal, the court of public opinion will prevail in the form of fallen reputations, loss of profits and in some cases, businesses that are forced to close their doors.

Consider just a few examples from the past and today — Philip Morris and cigarettes, Hooker Chemical and Love Canal, W.R. Grace famously retold in "A Civil Action", and more recently, Volkswagen and BP Oil.  Sometimes these actions were legal — but eventually, these companies suffered for those actions and were deemed “unethical” if not “immoral”.  As society evolves and becomes more and more sensitive to "bad actors", it is even more critical that public relations have a seat at the management table to weigh in on business decisions, anticipate the issues that could take our organizations down and help to build the bank of goodwill that will keep reputations intact during a crisis situation.

Public relations practitioners today have the great responsibility of building and protecting organizational reputations over time.  We should be impacting decisions before they are made and warning leadership about actions that could hurt the organization in the future. It is our job to warn leadership of the long-term effects of bad decision-making.  Whether these actions are legal or not, the question is:  are they ethical? responsible? in the best interests of our organization in the long run? 

 Here are a couple of examples of businesses seeking regulatory rollback:

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/329664-chemical-companies-ask-epa-to-kill-pesticide-risk-study

https://thinkprogress.org/mats-delay-pruitt-trump-5c9ad958b44f

And some examples of companies trying to do the right thing:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jan/10/donald-trump-climate-change-letter-businesses-investors

https://www.bna.com/industry-scrambles-save-n57982085162/

 

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA
Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W

 

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Schools in Crisis : Why Schools Administrators Should Continue To Be Afraid … Very Afraid

School predatory sexual abuse scandals continue to be a “hot” issue for decades for educational institutions. Schools can be a Petri dish of opportunity for those who seek to abuse or exploit young people, much like youth sports, summer camps, church groups, etc. How it is handled — whether it happened last week or many years ago — is critical to an institution’s reputation and relationships for decades to come.

It can feel unfair to have a school condemned for something that happened decades ago, when no one currently on staff, the board, or others were present. It can be frustrating to have a pristine institution painted with in broad-brush strokes, blemished just because something happened elsewhere. It can be horrifying to watch an institution’s reputation implode because of the actions of one individual.

There many examples of how not to handle these situations. Many administrations have chosen to keep their heads down, praying that nothing happens on their watch. But it is their responsibility to reduce the risk to their organization now and in the future — not just while in positions of responsibility.

It takes guts and a real concern for the future to scrub the institution for current or historical missteps, misdeeds or outright crimes. To face them, own them and do the right thing now. Tearing off the band-aid, acknowledging what went wrong, addressing the pain and then making things right is the only way to assure that an organization now and in the future will be understood as one that truly cares about its students and doing the right thing.

There will be those on the Board, as well as alums and staff who will react in horror: “why are you bringing this to light? Why would you voluntarily acknowledge something like this? This was decades ago and no one cares?” Ah, but they do. Somewhere, someone is dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by educational institution and their leaders.

If you educational leaders care about their school, then they need to stand up for the right thing now: Do a cleanse that goes back to the beginning and examine anything that can be found; Talk to those who were involved, document what happened and why, and start talking about it in ways that show an enlightenment that proves that your school will never again allow, never tolerate, never cover up, never sweep under the rug something so hideous.

Will it be bumpy? Yes. Will it raise questions? Of course. Will these schools be setting the best example for their students, their faculty – their community and other schools? No question. But, will the school that does the right thing be better off for it in the long run? Absolutely. And should you have a plan of action for how to handle, who and when to inform, how to talk about things? No Brainer!

 

Stacey Smith/ssmith@jjwpr.com

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Issues Anticipation for Healthcare Institutions

There are a wide variety of issues that can cause organizations significant heartburn — if not outright damage — and occasionally, destruction.

It is the role of the public relations practitioner to conduct an ongoing scan of the environment (from both an internal and external perspective) to predict and prepare for these issues before they develop into crisis situations.

It is essential to know how to identify different types of issues,  find “triggering events” that could  spotlight these issues and have action plans in place for dealing with them.

JJ&W has prepared this piece from the perspective of our clients in the healthcare industry – though the issue categories and preparation tips are applicable to all industries. It is based on lessons learned firm’s long history of preparing for and dealing with issues (and crisis situations) and it integrates our behavioral approach to public relations. Click here for article

Your feedback is welcomed!

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com

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