Crisis communications: An introduction to our services
Crisis communications: An introduction to our servicesMick Ord2017-10-11T16:19:56+00:00
Most of the big stories I’ve worked on have, in one way or another, been centred around the reputation of either individuals or organisations. Given that most ‘news’ is of a negative nature (otherwise it’s not ‘news’, sad but true) it’s obvious that reputations are at stake, to a greater or lesser degree, whether it’s an individual or a brand.
The first big story I worked on was probably the miners’ strike in the 1980’s when the reputation of key individuals within the political parties, the coal industry and the unions were all at stake at various times, ebbing and flowing as events occurred. The way in which the media reported the conflict came under much scrutiny during and after the dispute, mainly from the political left. I vividly recall interviewing the legendary Labour MP Tony Benn, who regularly complained about the way in which the dispute was being reported by the media. Such was his mistrust of the press that whenever he conducted an interview he brought with him a small cassette recorder so that he had evidence about times when he was misrepresented or misquoted. Given Benn’s meticulous diary-keeping I imagine they’re all stacked away in a tea chest somewhere gather dust and waiting to be archived. Once while working for BBC Radio Newcastle I interviewed Mr Benn and before I pushed the ‘record’ button he asked me whether I wanted replies of 35 or 40 seconds – at the time they were the standard durations used for clips in radio bulletins (they’re much shorter now). No other politician ever asked me to do this. Such questions were designed to show reporters in an overt, very public way that he didn’t trust them and that at the very least that they should not consider quoting him out of context. It also – or so I think he believed- served to discourage the interviewer from ‘interrupting’ his answers by his challenging of the traditional reporter-interviewee dynamic more rigorously than other politicians. Clearly it also indicated to those present that the media weren’t to be trusted for one minute – and this in turn contributed to his political image,‘the Benn brand’. The former BBC radio producer certainly knew his media stuff but public figures and politicians have long been adept – and inept – at manipulating the media in order to get their message across. But remember, it’s different for non-politicians and I would strongly caution against imitating the ways of our political representatives in order to try to play the media game in that way. Benn’s methods were of their time. Today’s 24/7 social-media led news culture is a quite different ball game.
Brand reputation in the Digital Age or “Don’t follow leaders” – Bob Dylan 1964 (Subterranean Homesick Blues)
Politicians are a different breed and our expectations and their aims are quite different to the rest of us. Audiences – yes, that includes your customers – have completely different expectations of non-politicians and even though there seems to be more mistrust of BIG corporations than there used to be the quality of the message from your media-facing representative is crucial when trying to preserve, reinvigorate or rebuild your organisation’s reputation. She/he had better be up to the job in the event of a negative news story or a fully-blown crisis. The tragic events at Grenfell Tower and the way in which South Kensington Council dealt with the aftermath serve as a reminder that swift, empathetic actions and words should go hand-in-hand to prevent a bad situation getting much worse. Which may be one of the reasons for what many critics deemed to be the disastrous council PR.
Crisis communication planning: “It’s easier to build a bridge on a solid foundation”
Each individual whom we train has different communication strengths and weaknesses. Our bespoke training package recognises each trainee’s strengths in order to come up with the most effective ways of delivering your message particularly when under pressure – which is when they’ll be needed most.
Ideally this would be done BEFORE the media come knocking so we can work in a concentrated way on ensuring that you get your key messages across in a compelling way. But real life is rarely so predictable so if you need to parachute us in to help support you during a media storm we can get to work straight away. And we won’t encourage you to ape those politicians who avoid the tricky question. We’ll help you to answer honestly and with integrity even if the message you have to communicate might be unpalatable to your some. What is more unpalatable is dishonesty. Sometimes you’re at the centre of a damage limitation exercise and this needs to be acknowledged by all concerned. Our expertise will keep the damage to a minimum AND keep your integrity in tact to give you something solid to build on for the future. Preparation – of course- is 99% of success and while I would NEVER advise ‘NO COMMENT’ as a response to a media inquiry I would equally warn against rushing into an interview without establishing what you are willing and able to say first or agreeing to an interview just because the media pressure is building up.
We coach you to avoid complacency
Why? Well a few years ago I was showing a senior council officer around the radio station where I was manager and he made a remark about something the local authority had done recently which many council tax payers would have objected to, had they known about it. This was in earshot of one of the sharpest journalists on our team. She quickly pursued the story (much to his chagrin) and we ended up with a scoop that made national headlines. He complained that it was an off-the-record conversation and not meant for publication/broadcast but he was just wrong – there had been no such agreement before he made the comments – he was just being careless. The story was in the public interest and the PR damage to an already under-pressure local authority was already done.
The other side of the fence
My experience has been predominantly as a reporter, producer or editor and I’ve spent my career striving to make sure that our news-gathering service GETS TO THE HEART OF THE STORY, whether that complies with the ‘official’ version of events or not. I believe that’s the case with most journalists whatever their publication or platform but clearly not all. Sure, headline writers tend to go for the pithy flourish rather than the plain statement of fact but most people have fairly well-honed antennae/bullshit detectors and can spot a dose of spin fairly quickly. The trick for a business is to be able to spot the genuine reporter from the charlatan – and if necessary we can advise. My team comprises producers and camera operators with 30 or more years’ experience in the field. If we can’t spot an untrustworthy hack we wouldn’t have survived this long. Our team will monitor media coverage and feed back to journalists as appropriate. Reporters deserve credit when they write a balanced and authoritative story and brickbats when they don’t.
Corporate media training: Intensive news workshops
Fast, authentic engagement is critical during times of crisis and our media training workshops will hone your communication skills to ensure your reputation is preserved despite the white hot glow of unwelcome media attention. Often during a crisis the full facts do not emerge for many weeks, months or even years after the initial event but too many companies and public sector organizations retreat into their bunker when the going gets tough – all that does is create more problems at a later date. It’s important as potential interviewees that our clients understand this when thinking about the key messages that need to be delivered. ‘Sorry’ is a small word with a big impact. Get it right and you could avoid a further three days of bad headlines. Get it wrong and you end up with a tarnished reputation that could take years to recover from. We will deliver a range of mock news scenarios to really test your managers and/or PR teams. We will replicate a real-life breaking news situation with the full range of interview requests, social media developments, fake news instances and so on. We will stretch your team’s ability to cope with a media bombardment and give reliable, practical advice on how to improve your communications systems and ensure that damage to your brand is kept to a minimum. Our team include broadcasters with years of recent and current experience of working with top broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV. Working alongside social media experts with acute knowledge of this ever-changing landscape.
Diamonds are made under pressure
If your expectations are honed to the reality of the media landscape and not what you’d prefer it to be, your public messages will be fit for purpose because you’ll have a better idea of the requirements of the media and therefore, and more importantly, the audience you’re addressing. So it’s back to your customers again. This understanding of the media is crucial to any stage in the crisis management process as we aim to work with your organisation to protect your brand during a crisis and help to restore its reputation when the reporters have all moved on to the next story. Indeed, the axiom ‘an issue ignored is a crisis ensured’ should be permanently etched into the consciousness of every organisation.
“The best way to manage your brand during a crisis is to start the work when there’s no crisis ”
Which is where – ideally – we come in. If you’ve already done your work with the key decision-makers and opinion formers you’ll at least have something to build on when the shit hits the fan and hopefully there is at least a basis of mutual trust between your company and sections of the media. This necessarily involves a certain amount of time investment on your behalf but for any organisation which is here for the long haul it’s time and effort extremely well-spent. If the prep work is done with the relevant movers and shakers before a crisis there should already be a certain degree of mutual trust which will hopefully stand all parties in good stead over the coming tribulations. That’s the theory. Things are seldom as textbook as we all wish and – again – that’s where we come in, supporting, coaching and advising or offering full hands-on support to your company as the narrative evolves. A successful issues management process is the means by which many companies have protected their reputation over the years and Mickord.com believe that it’s a sensible way of projecting a corporate image that is grounded in the community where it’s based. This forms part of the solid base necessary for when a crisis occurs and you’re thrown into the spotlight for all the ‘wrong reasons’. Our service offer includes working with you on a brand management strategy which is designed to protect you during the good times and bad and ensure it is resilient enough to withstand the stress-points. Our skills and experience were honed at the hard edge of journalism and we are keen to come up with an ambitious yet practical plan to ensure your emergency contingency plans are fit for purpose so we can prevent small issues developing into large problems which hamper the efficient performance of your company. Our mock-news exercises will be tailored to the environment in which your company operates to replicate as near as possible the kind of scenarios the team is likely to face in the event of a crisis.
There is no such thing as a ‘natural tv or radio presenter’. The most effective presenters have worked to hone their craft. They just make it seem like it comes naturally because that’s what listeners like – natural, authentic-sounding people.They didn’t just start at the top and discover they were God’s gift to broadcasting; they made mistakes, they screwed up like the rest of us. But they kept at it and didn’t become complacent. One of the biggest mistakes an interviewee can make is try to ape professional broadcasters and celebrities; that’s not what being interviewed is all about. Getting your preparation done efficiently and deciding your key messages are much more important than stressing about the number of times you say ‘you know’ in an interview. And I have some news that might come as a surprise to some – very,very few people like the sound of their own voice on tv or radio. And the ones that do, usually sound awful. We all tend to hear the stuff we don’t like – our message is get over it and concentrate on the message.
One-to-one media coaching
This is one of our most specialist offers for CEOs, senior managers or designated company spokespeople. Or indeed anyone who is about to be thrust into the media spotlight. Each training package will be 100% tailored to the needs of the individual or team taking into account personality, seniority and media experience. Our packages include everything from interview preparation for live and pre-recorded interviews on radio and tv, taking part in panel debates or facing questions from a live audience. Our coaching will benefit your company in terms of its public-facing profile and its internal corporate culture. The skills your team will learn will help their presentation as well as their media skills.
Here’s what leading economist Erik Brittan says about our media training workshop which took place in May:
“We sent six members of our team on a two-day media training course..they came back bubbling over with stories…they all reported that the training was very tough but very constructive..I thoroughly recommend Mick and his team.”
We will prepare you as fully as possible for an interview and if applicable we’ll put you through your paces in an intensive style should you be preparing for a John Humphreys-style grilling!
Our full training package includes a trip to working radio or tv station including a meeting with senior journalists and a chance to observe a morning news conference.