Category Archives: Strategy & Tactics

How To Say “No” Effectively to Leadership

Such a joy to be back IN PERSON for a presentation at the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) annual seminar last week.  It reinforces how important face-to-face communication is in building relationships and cementing our learning.

My colleague John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA and I presented on the challenges and strategies needed to say “no” when leadership is heading in the wrong direction.  Some “takeaways” (both from us and our participants) included:

  1. Remember leaders are human too (and that includes our School Board members).  They have egos, and they do not want to appear wrong or be depicted as bullies; they want to please others, etc.  They also have past experiences that influence their decisionmaking.  The key is to really get to know your leadership what makes them tick and motivates them.
  2. Five strategies for saying “no
    • Education – being the expert before the issue arises, teaching leadership about effective communication practices and behavioral/communication theories, strategies
    • Having data – doing research on stakeholders to know them well; also having ability to do dipstick research overnight to help inform any decisionmaking
    • Offering options rather than solutions (caveat: never offer an option that is not good – it is the one they will pick)
    • Create scenarios on what is likely to happen with or without action, with options (including their suggestions).  Be sure to include pros and cons.
    • Know who influences leadership, where they stand on most subjects; and how to most effectively use their influence to help guide leadership when needed
  3. Critical strategies/theories to utilize, educate leadership about:
    • PR Behavioral Model (Jackson/Grunig) 
    • Behavioral Messaging (Grunig)
    • (email either one of us for copies!)
  4. Regularly conduct issue anticipation brainstorming to identify issues that might break and build strategies.  Group into “latent”, “emerging”, “hot” and “fallout” issues to manage discussions.  Here are some issues that were identified by session participants:
    • COVID-19 and its continuing impact on school communications
    • Critical race theory conspiracies that appear to be happening independently but are reportedly being fueled by organized conservative groups
    • Violence being directed at Asian-American families and students
    • Organized opposition to school district efforts to make LGBTQ students feel welcome and safe in school
    • Cyber-security in light of recent malware and ransomware attacks on other sectors
    • … and, of course, those that were old which may become new again, e.g. gun safety, sex education, etc.

For more on these subjects and more, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or email us. We would love to hear from you!

Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Counsel & Partner, JJ&W, ssmith@jjwpr.com/603.205.6302

John Lyday, APR, Fellow PRSA, jlydaycommunications.com/309.201.3669 www.lydaycommunications.com

Pearls of Wisdom from pr Road Warriors

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the PRSA Northeast District Conference called, “Pearls of Wisdom From PR’s Road Warriors.”  One of the things I value most about my membership in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the willingness of our members to share their experiences (as well as their networks) with each other.  A few “pearls” from this session with Gail Winslow, APR (Director of Corporate Marketing, LexaGene); Clark Dumont, APR (Dumont Communications) and Gail Rymer, APR, Fellow PRSA (Gail Rymer Strategic Communications):

  •  Prepare Yourself With More Than Communications & Writing Courses.  Though the ability to communicate succinctly is important, it is not the only skill required in public relations.  An understanding of how to motivate behavior (psychology, sociology); how the organization you’re counseling operates (business); corporate culture (organization development) and research (statistics, analysis) are all essential.  “Knowing that PR is being called upon to provide metrics on outcomes and how PR contributes to ROI (return on investment), I wish I’d been less afraid of statistics back in the day,” said Winslow.  (References:  PRSA’s Barcelona Principles and 9 Ways PR Impacts The Bottom Line by Patrick Jackson). The good news:  we are never done learning in this field, and there are many opportunities for professional development, via courses offered from professional associations like PRSA, going back for a Master’s Degree or developing specialized skills through certificate programs.
  • Take Advantage of Networking & Mentoring Opportunities.  Whether you are attending a PRSA International Conference, representing your organization in a Rotary or Chamber organization or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, there are countless ways to build your network.  “Say yes to every cup of coffee” — because you never know where it might lead.  It’s never too early to seek advice and counsel; surround yourself with people who can serve as mentors throughout your career as you build your “personal Board of Directors.”  Reference:  www.prsa.org for information on Mentor Connect. The good news:  every time you invest time in mentoring someone, there is a good chance “reverse mentoring” will occur and you’ll learn something new yourself.
  • Building Authentic Relationships Requires Transparency And Good Listening Skills.  Gail Rymer, who had a long and successful career in Environmental Communications with Lockheed Martin and Tennessee Valley Authority, faced many “angry publics” in her career.  “There is no replacement for face-to-face communication — but it takes time and effort.  Only by listening to the issues, finding common ground and providing honest answers (even if they aren’t popular answers) will you earn trust.”  Identify those who are influential “opinion leaders” who can serve as credible 3rd party ambassadors.
  • Use Core Values To Guide Your Decisionmaking.  Clark Dumont shared wisdom gleaned from a culture transformation effort he led while working for MGM.  “When you’re disrupting people’s lives, it becomes personal.  Start with the ‘why’ – providing the rationale for change is key.”  Using values as their guide, MGM established themselves as a leader in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).
  • Trust Your Gut And Have Confidence In Yourself.  Confidence comes from a combination of experience and education, but even highly-skilled practitioners can suffer from “imposter syndrome.”  Have open conversations with organizational leadership; talk their language but stand by your own principles.  Explained one panelist: “I was told by leadership that I didn’t have the pedigree – meaning I didn’t have a degree from Harvard – to continue advancing in that organization.  During COVID-19 I took an executive leadership course at Cornell University that helped me build the confidence in myself to walk away from that job and find a better fit for my skills, talents and career path.”

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 contact rschell@jjwpr.com.

Using the Triggering Event of COVID to Impact Culture Change

Triggering events, whether created for us or by us, can create a fissure in the current behaviors and beliefs of stakeholders. These fissures, if smartly managed, can help transform an organization’s culture.

Even before the trauma of the last year, healthcare was reeling from a bevy of changes and pressures. Nursing shortages, changing business models, cut-throat competition, systemic racism, the disappearance of small, rural hospitals, and more had an already shaky system on the edge.
Staff were dissatisfied and demoralized. This was no longer a profession respected and supported or so it felt.

The upheaval of an event like COVID19, for all its negative outcomes, can be a catalyst if harnessed, to re-imagine and re-create an internal culture that can thrive going forward.

Five COORR steps to take:

1. Catharsis
2. Opportunity
3. Ownership
4. Repair
5. Repeat

Catharsis: Allows employees to express their feelings, pain, ideas. This is the time for leadership to listen, empathize, comfort and express humanness. It is accessed through meaningful and thoughtful listening by way of qualitative and quantitative research.
Opportunity: Opportunities and problems are identified in Catharsis and with an environmental scan to see what in the future may become pressing. These are verified with employees, prioritized.
Ownership: Responsibility for seeing that change happens is assigned at all levels, not just leadership. By spreading responsibility throughout the organization and levels, silos can be torn down and healing can begin.
Repair: Measurable goals and objectives are established, strategies determined, and action is taken. Ongoing measurement tracks successes and need for tweaking actions.
Repeat: Change is not a “one and done” process. Different groups are ready to move at different times. Some need others to take the lead, to make sure change is not dangerous. Sometimes alternative strategies need to be adopted to move those who linger.

As vaccines ramp up (a triggering event of its own), and COVID winds down (hopefully), the window for change is ending from this triggering event. Make use of professionals with communication and organization behavior expertise to be most effective in this effort. Act now and make a difference for your organization.

#MASKUPMA: APPLYING THE BEHAVIOR CHANGE MODEL TO COVID-19

Here in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has launched the #MaskUpMA campaign to raise awareness and stimulate behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our state in the coming months.  His collective efforts to guide the public’s behavior during the pandemic follow the 4-Step Public Behavior Change Model, based on the work of leading public relations behaviorists Jim Grunig, Harold Mendelsohn, Max McCombs & others:

  1.  Coalition Campaign:  This phase focuses on 3 steps: Problem Recognition:  Good news – the vaccines are here!  Bad news: implementation is slower than projected.  Therefore, it is critical to follow COVID-19 protocols to slow the spread as we patiently wait for the phase-by-phase vaccinations to protect us. Problem Personalization:  To date, there have been over 12,000 deaths and 420,000 cases of COVID19 reported in the state of Mass.  A visit to mass.gov will give you access to updated statistics by age, town or city and other demographics – in your preferred language. Constraint Removal:  The #MaskUpMA campaign, which reiterates the simple message “wear a mask to protect yourself and others against the spread of COVID19” includes video testimonials by everyone from Governor Baker to Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, PSAs and a dedicated section of the Mass.Gov website Mask Up MA! | Mass.gov
  2. Enforcement:  Since Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on March 10, a series of executive orders have been signed which range from limits on indoor (10-person) and outdoor (25-person) gatherings to required face coverings in public places to a “stay at home advisory” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.  Public establishments violating mask-wearing and social distance protocols have faced hefty fines.
  3. Engineering:  Structural changes have been put into place to discourage behaviors that might lead to spreading COVID19.  These include closing restaurants at 9:30 p.m. to discourage large late-night gatherings, limiting the number of people per table (6) and setting up tables to comply with social-distancing guidelines.  Another example of structural changes: the requirement of temperature checks of patrons when entering certain gyms, dental offices and other places of business.
  4. Social Reinforcement:  11 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks and social distancing have become as familiar as recycling.  One could argue that social reinforcement has almost gone overboard as people engage in “mask shaming” – even when people are walking and riding bikes outdoors and observing social distance protocols.

This model makes sense when applied to just about any issue (see JJ&W blog from July 2017 on “Changing Behaviors on Concussion Treatment Through Chalk Talk) and will undoubtedly serve as the foundation for vaccination, COVID-testing and other behavior-change campaigns.

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”.

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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.

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