Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The News Never Changes, It Just Happens to Different People

I'm often asked for my opinion of the very best example of crisis management. Everyone expects me to cite the Tylenol product tampering case of 1982.

In what is now a legend in crisis management circles, Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, came out of the crisis even stronger, through an unprecedented and extraordinarily aggressive campaign that was marked by the speed with which they responded, the candor with which they communicated, and the profit-be-damned commitment to public safety that they demonstrated at every turn.

Unlike the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, or the Firestone tire fiasco, Johnson & Johnson didn't think first about lost profits. The reason that J&J was able to rescue a high-profit product that at the time commanded a whopping 35% of the OTC analgesic market, was that they immediately ordered a massive recall of more than 31 million bottles (with a retail value of more than $100 million), which assured the public that J&J had put the public's health and best interest first.

But surprisingly, the Tylenol product tampering case is not what I consider the "best" example of crisis management.

The best crisis management cases are the ones you never hear about.

Mostly, the reason you never hear about them is that the company (and most likely their PR agency) realized that a crisis can happen to anybody, at just about any time, and they prepared for how to act and respond when it inevitably does happen.

Here is the short version of what you and your company should be doing NOW, in advance of the inevitable chaos and scramble that a crisis will bring on:

1. First and foremost, agree that managing your organization's reputation is always "Job One." Hold close to your heart the admonition of Warren Buffet who once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.”

2. Conduct a "Vulnerability Assessment." What are your greatest risks? (make a list). Ask your CEO what keeps him or her awake at night? Identify and prioritize worst case scenarios.

3. Then fix what you can in advance.

4. Assign responsibilities and contingency accountabilities now, while cool heads can prevail, and outside of the glaring spotlight. Hash out any potential differences now with lawyers (who often want to immediately take over and stonewall the media -- which is almost always disastrous). Remember that somebody has to keep flying the plane (in other words, you still need to be able to do business while the crisis unfolds). Make sure you that you have someone at a high enough level whose job it is to NOT be immersed in the crisis, but to make sure that business continues as normally as possible.

5. Identify your media spokesperson, and have a back-up in case that person is unavailable. Then make sure they are professionally trained in how to best communicate with and through the media. (I often say that dealing with the media is a lot like playing golf. Virtually ANYBODY can do it, but it takes a fair amount of talent and a good deal of practice to shoot under par.)

6. Develop a briefing book with background materials and "talking points" for potential problems.

7. Like it or not, your employees are front line – get them ready. Publish policies that proscribe their speaking about the company with the media, but also put measures in place to communicate with your staff, giving them as much information as you can.

Almost all crises have consistent elements, which you can -- and should -- plan for in advance. In today's world, the media cycle is down to seconds. The Internet has made widespread communication almost instantaneous. Blogs allow rumors spread by your competitors.

Remember the old saying, "The news never changes, it just happens to different people." A crisis can happen any time and to any company. If you aren't prepared to tell your story, it is entirely probable that someone else will do it for you. Can you really afford NOT to be prepared?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking Offense With the Princeton Review, part 1

The Princeton Review, which bills itself as "a leading provider of test preparation and educational support services" has a wonderfully Ivy League-sounding name. After all, what parent or prospective college student doesn't want to be considered "Princeton material?"

Turns out, The Princeton Review pretty much exists to prepare students to get better scores on their standardized tests. Which is fine. I have no problem with that. What I DO have a problem with is how they describe potential careers to young, impressionable students. In particular, the over-simplified, unsophisticated and dumbed-down information that they perpetrate about my chosen field -- public relations -- has me hopping mad, and (since I have this blog to blow off some steam) I feel the need to respond.

Here's how it begins: A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation. If you are a PR pro, you probably stopped and puked when you read "image shaper." If you speak the English language, you either had a little chuckle or just shook your head about the antecedent problem with the penultimate word. If you are writing this load of crap for The Princeton Review, you probably have no idea what I am talking about.

But worst of all, if you are a high school student thinking about making a monumental life decision by choosing a career, you are probably thinking that PR is a fluffy job with no real accountability for achieving solid, measurable results -- one big "truth-be-damned, let the good times roll" kind of a job.

It's time we as PR pros let people know just what it is that we DO for our clients. Here's the short version (pay attention Princeton Review): Public Relations is about communicating and building relationships. We build relationships for our clients with all of their important audiences and stakeholders. These relationships help our clients to do what it is that they do, better, more efficiently, and more effectively. Often that means helping them to sell more products or services. Just as often, it means communicating their vision and direction with their employees, so that they, in turn, see that they have a stake in the client's success, and are motivated to help the client to do more, do it better, and do it more effectively.

Our success usually depends on us developing relationships for our clients with their customers. This is often accomplished as a result of relationships that we have fostered with the press. These days, we can often encourage relationships and engage directly with customers, through social networking sites and other Internet venues.

Is "image shaping" a part of this? Of course it is. But calling PR pros "image shapers" is pretty much akin to calling doctors "pill prescribers." In both cases, those tasks are essential to our ultimate goals, but hardly the goal in and of itself.

I could go on and on for hours on this topic. Oh, and notice that I've only taken issue with The Princeton Review's opening sentences. There is more -- much more -- that I can say (that part about telling lies? Putting a "warm and fuzzy spin on a company's latest oil spill?" AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!), but it will have to wait for another day.

Friday, November 9, 2007

How to Launch a New Company or Product

Here is a link to an article that I authored on how to launch a new company or product. It appeared in the November issue of New Jersey Business magazine. Enjoy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Another Point of View about Facebook

I just stumbled upon this interesting article from Daniel Lyons at Forbes. It's worth a read, especially if you are over 40 and somewhat stressed about either pulling the trigger on creating a Facebook page (that would be me, by the way), or wondering if your friends and business colleagues will see your existing page and somehow think less of you.

Buried within this somewhat whimsical and well-written piece are three facts that have just convinced me that I need to set up a Facebook page. They are:

- Facebook adds 200,000 new members every day.

- The site is one of the most popular destinations on the Web, with 54 billion page views per month.

- In May Facebook opened its site up to outside software developers, and now there are 3,000 additional applications created just for the site.

What does it all mean? Well, as Arlo Guthrie put it in "Alice's Restaurant:" (Again showing my age. And by the way, complain to Arlo about the non-politically correct language if you feel the need):

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin' a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin' a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

It seems to me that we have a movement on our hands. And I'm joining it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Social Media: It's here. Get used to it

"Social Media," one of the key components of the Web 2.0 revolution, is rapidly gaining strength and momentum, and exhibiting tremendous staying power. Not that it is a be-all/end-all, nor is it replacing the "traditional media," but nowadays if you don't have a strategy for incorporating social media into your marketing communications plan, you are missing a very large, very important and rapidly growing boat.

Just this week, Google's stock price raced through 700, due in large measure to anticipated demand for and use of new social networking applications. And last week, Microsoft handed over $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook -- which works out to a perceived value of $15 billion (yes, that is BILLION with a "B") for Facebook.

The big boys are taking notice, and what they see is a very lucrative "the sky's the limit" market for the continuing surge of social media.

Need more proof? Take a look around at who is blogging these days. Around here at R&J, it's not only the old guy (me), but one of our up-and-coming superstar Account Coordinators, Crystal Decotiis. Take a look at Crystal's blog here.