“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” is the famous line from the 1967 Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. It best sums up the Marathassa – Burrard Inlet oil spill and points to a critical failure we often see in a crisis. In planning for a crisis, organizations forget the importance of communication, not only in dealing with the crisis, but also when informing the public. They plan how to deploy resources and deal with the crisis internally, while often forgetting what exists outside of their organization.
A timeline in the Globe and Mail shows several communications failures that lead to delays in calling out cleanup and containment crews in the Marathassa spill. Once deployed, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) teams did an excellent job, cleaning up 80 per cent of the oil in 20 hours, but the communication delays turned what might have been a minor incident into a major event. Those internal communication failures were then compounded by a failure to inform the City of Vancouver until 12 hours after the spill was first reported. This turned it into a major story.
Rather than being praised for its response, the Coast Guard faced a storm of criticism for an inadequate response and cleanup effort. The public was unhappy. Local politicians were unhappy. The Provincial Government was unhappy. This could not come at a worse time for proponents of expanded crude oil shipments out of the Port of Vancouver. Oil spill prevention and a world-class response are central to gaining public support. Public and political sentiment is that this was not world-class. Poor communications lead to a slow response, which let the crisis get out of hand.
The Coast Guard’s prime stakeholder in a crisis situation is not the Federal Government or Coast Guard management in Ottawa. The Coast Guard’s number one stakeholder in a crisis is the public who they are charged with protecting and that includes local governments who represent all of us. That stakeholder was forgotten.
So how do you avoid making the same mistakes in your crisis? Here are seven things to think about:
1) Have a crisis communications plan. Crisis planning is not complete without a crisis communications plan. Who to call (or tweet), when to call (or post on Facebook), what to say, and how to best get your message out. To be seen to be effectively responding, you have to tell someone about it
2) Alert your communications team right away. Don’t wait until the story is out of control—get the communications team working on the crisis from the outset. Bringing in heavy hitters from Ottawa didn’t save the Coast Guard’s reputation, nor change the public perception of the crisis. By then the story was written by the public, the media, and the critics. The story was “clean up was a failure,” “world-class spill response was anything but” and “Coast Guard cuts made the problems worse.”
3) Prepare your statements in advance. Have fill-in-the-blanks templates for media advisories, statements and news releases for predicted events so you can get those out to the public quickly. It should include social media channels and your website as well.
4) First out with the information controls the message. The first voices set the narrative, the tone of the story. It’s your crisis so you know the most and you know first. Use that to your advantage. Become the source of accurate information. Media and the public go to who can provide the best information. In an information vacuum, they go to who screams the loudest.
5) Know who your stakeholders really are. Make a list. Make a list and have it as a key element of your crisis communications plan. Who they are and how to reach them. If the public isn’t on the list, they need to be there and the best way to reach them is through the media: both social media and traditional.
6) Define each potential crisis in advance. You should have a list of potential crises, each given a crisis rating based on seriousness and a planned response for each level of crisis. That way in the heat of the moment you can just follow the plan and effectively manage crisis communications.
7) Exercise the plan often. The worst thing you can do is create a plan and never practice it. If you regularly deal with minor events, get in the habit of pulling out the plan, assessing the seriousness and whether to call in the communications team. It’s free practice! Follow the same steps until they become routine. Use the templates mentioned above. It should become second nature so when a major crisis happens you know what to do. If you don’t have regular minor occurrences, then you need to do formal practice until you are confident in your ability in a crisis.
Look at the oil spill and relate it to a crisis your organization could face. Would you do better or make the same mistakes? If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, or if you have a plan but don’t know how to use it or where it is or who to contact and how to do that, then expect bad news. A crisis defines your organization. Your response to a serious event is revealing.
Tags: communications vancouver, crisis communications Vancouver, crisis management, issues management, Media relations vancouver, Vancouver PR
Peak Communicators is a green office, and I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense.
The walls are green, the carpet is green, our logo has green in it, as does some of our office supplies, and there are a few pieces of greenery around the office.
Sometimes we also wear green.
But green isn’t just one of Peak’s brand colours. When it comes to environmental practices, green is our mantra.
While we work hard all year to be environmentally sustainable, here’s a look at what makes the Peak offices green and eco-friendly in the spirit of Earth Day:
1) Car-free commute: Whether it’s by foot, bike or transit (shout out to bus 241!), the overwhelming majority of us Peakers saunter in via an Earth-friendly mode of transportation. We forgive Alyn for driving because he’s kind of a notorious ‘car guy,’ and because Chris offsets Alyn’s drive by telecommuting in from Kelowna.
2) Organic waste recycling: We received our compost bin a few weeks ago and the announcement raised a round of email cheers from the staff. Clearly we’re all about composting because we fill that bin up every single day.
3) Paper recycling: We’re media people and therefore we read all of the daily local and national newspapers. But with great power comes great responsibility, so we happily turn around and recycle them (almost) as quickly as we read them
4) Reusable dishes and containers: Those of us who cook at home bring our lunches in reusable containers and will use the office dishes to chow down. Also, Peak generously provides us with our morning coffee and tea (that doesn’t come from k-cups, and which gets recycled after brewing/steeping), so we keep some of those disposable cups from the local coffee shops out of the landfill by using our ceramics.
We also represent a number of amazing clients who are making huge strides in environmental sustainability and eco-friendly workplaces.
Tell us in the comments what does your company do to go green year-round.
Happy Earth Day from Peak!
Tags: Vancouver PR, Vancouver PR agency, Vancouver public relations
Hundreds of buyers lined-up at the WestStone Properties Evolve sales centre for an opportunity to buy a home in the 35-storey concrete condo tower in Surrey, which boasts prices starting at $93,900 during pre-construction.
Please visit the Evolve Condominiums case study page for more information on the previous work we’ve done for this client.
Tags: Real Estate PR, Vancouver PR, Vancouver PR agency, Vancouver public relations, WestStone Properties
On Sunday April 12th, 2015, Hillary Clinton finally announced her much anticipated run for presidency. When this news broke, the conversation did not seem to focus on her qualifications, her platform, or even the possibility that she may become America’s first female president; the chatter was all about her campaign logo.
Within hours, social media was ablaze with critiques and comparisons to her block-letter “H” with a red arrow running through it: some saying it resembled hospital signage, while others stated it looked like something created by a 10 year old on MS Paint.
To be fair, Hillary is not the only political pundit to be on the receiving end of this type of “crowdsmashing”, a term coined by Paul Ford to describe how social media has allowed people to rally in a mob-like fashion to pick apart something they are not pleased with.
Crowdsmashing can be even more vicious if a well-known entity decides to undergo a rebrand. People do not like change, and social platforms allow them to voice that displeasure, and find out who else shares in their unhappiness.
This whole debacle surrounding logos and social media got me thinking about two facets of communications I deal with on a daily basis:
1. Our world is becoming increasingly visual
Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram currently lead the way in terms of fastest growing social media platforms. What else do these three platforms have in common? They’re light on text and heavy on imagery. In a digital era where our attention is so fleeting, we are placing increasing value on things that are visually appealing to us. If we don’t like what we see almost immediately, we are clicking/swiping/scrolling on to something better.
This phenomenon can also be extended to something like your company website. You may be the best and most innovative at what you do, but if your website appears dated, unorganized and difficultto use, it will be seen as a reflection of your business and users will start looking elsewhere. Remember that 55% of users spend as little as 15 seconds on your homepage, so your website has to catch their eye in order for them to stick around and potentially use your service.
In terms of media, TV places an extremely high value on great visuals. If your pitch to TV outlets doesn’t offer imagery that will entice their viewers to continue watching, don’t expect to have it picked up.
2. Everyone’s a critic
When a client story is told on any outlet type, the content is typically shared across social channels, or is open to comments online. You could be telling the happiest or most factually correct story possible, but there’s likely someone out there who wants to point out something negative, or who claims to know even more than you (I’m sure all the people critiquing Hillary’s “H” have years of graphic design and branding experience).
One negative, anonymous commenter on a story likely isn’t something to sweat about; however it is important to continuously monitor the chatter surrounding your brand online. Whether you’re running a social media campaign or a news story about your company just broke, following along with audience sentiment is vital in informing you of what aspects are and are not working, and whether or not you need to get out in front of a crisis before it starts to escalate.
When it comes to day-to-day social media responsibilities, if your company is receiving questions or complaints, it is important to respond to them quickly and professionally even if you find them trivial or know them to be incorrect. Ignoring these public comments will make it appear as though you have something to hide, or are neglectful of customer needs.
So whether you’re trying to become the President of the United States or just trying to generate business, understanding what is visually appealing to your audience and monitoring the conversation surrounding your brand online is important.
Tags: Government relations Vancouver, Vancouver PR, Vancouver social media
The foundation of successful communication is clear writing. If you want your message to get across and be taken seriously you need to be clear.
Some people believe that in order to gain attention, their story needs to be BIG and that leads to exaggeration.
One year at CTV Vancouver, we were major offenders ourselves. We had to ban the term “parent’s worst nightmare” because we used it so often on our newscasts. It had become lazy shorthand for almost every story involving a child. A child’s serious life threatening illness was a parent’s worst nightmare. A child being bullied was also a parent’s worst nightmare. So too were a murdered child, injured child, a missing child, even a close call involving a child. It was unnecessary hype which detracted from the news rather than enhancing it. Our news had become a parent’s worst nightmare.
You see this phenomenon in other storytelling. I had a chuckle recently when the price of oil rose by about three dollars overnight and business writers said it had “skyrocketed,”“soared,” or “surged” higher.
The writers might defend themselves by saying a seven per cent overnight move in oil prices, albeit temporary, is a big move, but in saying so it lacked context. It ignored the fall that preceded it. By having a narrow focus on just a few hours, the writers looked foolish to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the oil market.
Imagine you are watching a movie where actor Jackie Chan jumps off a 107 foot tall building. I like Jackie Chan; he does all his own stunts and has the bruises to show for it. At the 45 foot mark Jackie hits an awning and bounces up about three feet. Would movie goers gasp and say “look at him skyrocket! Wow Jackie is soaring!”? I think not.
Oil had fallen from a high of $107 in the summer to about $45 before thisskyrocketing, soaring, surging move happened. That’s the proper context.
Here are seven ways to avoid similar news release exaggeration, that makes you and your company look silly:
- Never forget the context. Context is important and relates not only to you but also to your community and sector in which you operate. So for example, your “best year ever” may be true, but if your competitors have grown twice as fast as you, you might want to focus on something else—like innovation or new product development.
- Don’t be lazy; be creative. Clichés such as “parent’s worst nightmare” are a crutch. Don’t use what you used last time by default. Take the time to be creative and get it right.
- Be specific. If it’s your best year ever, what is the measure? Sales, sales growth, staff growth, profit, happy customers?
- The headline needs to match the story. The headline at the top of the news release needs to be supported by the words below. A critical error is using a jaw-dropping headline which isn’t supported by the facts. It causes media blood pressure to shoot up with excitement and they get let down by the content. A disappointed assignment editor will kill your future story opportunities.
- Stick to what you know and can prove. Facts are important. Media will want proof and if you can’t prove what you are saying then a positive event can turn negative in a hurry. Media are like sharks, when they smell blood in the water a feeding frenzy begins. Don’t believe me? Ask a media person. Feeding frenzy is a news media term not limited to the Nature Channel.
- Tell your best unique story. If everyone in your industry is telling the same story, highlight what makes your story unique. If you can’t think of anything fresh, neither will the media.
- Be flexible. If it’s a busy news day, your story is not getting on. It means your plans need to be flexible. If breaking news has made your story no longer relevant for that day, make yourself available tomorrow. Show you understand the needs of the media and it will pay off down the road. Don’t get mad that your story was bumped, even if the media cancelled an interview at the last second; get your story out there the next day instead.
One final thought. Every time you interact with the media you are making an impression, even when the media decides not to run your story. A good impression means you will get a fair hearing next time while a bad impression closes that door, sometimes forever.
Tags: communications vancouver, Media relations vancouver, Writing