Tag Archives: public relations

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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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

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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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CLEAN OUT YOUR COMMUNICATIONS JUNK DRAWER WITH A COMMUNICATION AUDIT

It is a time for new beginnings, fresh thinking, purging files and finding different ways of doing things.  If you’ve been managing your communications function for a while — or, if you’ve recently inherited the position and found yourself asking, “why are we doing what we’re doing?” – it is a good time for an audit.

The word “audit” is a bit daunting, but really what we’re talking about is an evaluation of what you’re doing now to see if it is:

  • in line with your organization’s goals… your communication department’s goals should be directly aligned with those of your organization
  • meeting the needs of your stakeholders, because if it isn’t, then why are you doing it?
  • driving knowledge and behaviors so that stakeholders act on what has been communicated

A communications audit examines what you are doing now to assess what’s working and not working for your critical audiences.  It helps focus on communications vehicles and messaging that has the greatest impact.

JJ&W asks the following questions when conducting a communication audit:

  1. What does your organization’s communication system look like?  We look at how communication is flowing from the top down, the bottom up and across the organization (laterally).  Do you have a good balance of one-way and two-way communication tools?
  2. What audiences are you reaching with each communication tool? Have you asked these audiences how they would like to be communicated with, or are you just bombarding them from all directions and hoping something sticks?
  3. Have you accounted for the changing demographics of your target audiences? If you’re a utility who is geared toward communication with the senior generation, have you thought about how you might change things up to reach the millennials who are becoming your customers – and will be with you for a long time to come?  Are you communicating in the right languages (not actual languages but idioms of that generation)?
  4. Are the key messages resonating with your audiences? Are those messages driving understanding and behavior?
  5. How effective are your digital communication tools, including social media? Are your target audiences using and responding? Are they clear on where to get their “need to know” vs. their “nice to know” communication?
  6. Do all your communications look like they come from the same organization? Do they have an easily-recognizable family look & feel that immediately lets audiences know where to find information?
  7. Have you gotten the perspectives of more than the senior management team? Have you talked to the front-liners who may not be sitting at desks with computers to find out how, and if, they’re getting the communication they need to do their job?

And if you want to leverage the real power of communications… how about some questions to probe the culture at your organization?  Do people perceive they can “fail forward” or are they fearful of taking risks that might result in punishment?  Do they feel communication is transparent, or does leadership hold things “close to the vest?”

This is an excellent time to clean out your “communications junk drawer” – get rid of anything that’s not working and fill in the gaps with effective methods and messages that are right for the stakeholders you are trying to reach.

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com /603/770-3607.

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