Take the case of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a well-respected addiction treatment centre in Powell River where 20-year-old Brandon Jansen died of a fentanyl overdose last March. The centre was getting a lot of bad publicity with family members saying it was easy for Brandon to get contraband drugs within three days of entering treatment.
But investigations by both the RCMP and the regulator – Vancouver Coastal Health’s Community Care Facilities Licensing authority – determined there were no contraventions of rules and regulations.
In fact, the facility had consistently maintained a low risk rating with no other critical incidents or any drug-related incidents reported since the facility was first licensed in 2004. Yet, the centre’s reputation was taking a beating.
CEO Melanie Jordan has much to say about what treatment is – and what it isn’t. Addiction treatment centres are not prisons or lockup. Clients have rights and freedom.
Accredited staff members treat people for many types of addictions including alcoholism and prescription drugs abuse. Root causes of addiction are addressed including mental health and physical issues. Melanie Jordan wanted to speak publicly about the tragic death in her facility and have a voice in the search for solutions to stop the unprecedented number of deaths caused by fentanyl.
She enthusiastically embraced the concept of being front and centre at a news conference to be held November 14th. A Media Advisory was sent out inviting reporters and videographers to attend.
As the news conference got underway, news cameras quickly swung to the doorway where three visitors had appeared: Brandon Jansen’s mother Michelle, her son Nicholas and her lawyer.
They politely listened as the news conference went forward with Melanie Jordan providing reporters with the written investigation reports that found her centre was operating within the regulations.
But her most important message was aimed at the government and the medical profession.
Staff at the centre had not been permitted to administer the opiate antidote naloxone and it was possible that could have saved Brandon’s life.
Since Brandon’s death, the centre has received permission to train staff to administer naloxone and the staff physician can treat clients with Suboxone that takes away the craving for opiates.
With more than a dozen news organizations present at the news conference, this important information was received by the public across Canada. The record was set straight. The way forward was articulated. The news went out – all at once.
And the voice of Brandon Jansen’s family was also heard. They held their own media briefing following the news conference so as much information as possible surrounding this tragic death would be in the public forum.
Melanie Jordan and the Sunshine Coast Health Centre have standing at an inquest into Brandon Jansen’s death scheduled for January. This will be another forum where voices will be heard.
Looking back on nearly two decades of public relations work following a 30-year career as a news reporter provides an opportunity to reflect on how PR and the media interact in 2016. The new reality for the news media is there are now fewer people employed to do what, in many cases, is much more work.
Television news that once was confined to slots at noon, supper hour and late newscasts is now delivered 24 hours a day in back to back ‘news wheel’ formats that stretch reporters, editors and videographers to new limits.
A new media frontier
The power of the internet continues to grow, with bloggers having as much or more impact than reporters for mainstream media.
So how does this impact the ability of companies, organizations and public relations professionals to get the message out in the media?
Simply put, the media landscape may have changed dramatically but there are more opportunities and channels than ever for publicity.
Everybody is talking about Donald Trump
Love him or hate him, Trump is a publicity machine. He is getting more media attention than anyone else on earth with radio, television, newspapers and social channels featuring what seems to be a play-by-play of Trump’s latest antics in the Republican presidential candidate race.
Getting noticed still makes or breaks reputations, makes the cash register ring and brings people to the door.
And so, getting your message out with ‘earned’ media – otherwise known as public relations – is still one of the best ways to become known. Although the number of reporters may be contracting, newspapers and television are still hungry for content. The number of social channels grows every day. Trade magazines also abound and every industry is supported by at least one that’s looking for stories.
If you can’t get the media to tell your story through positive news coverage, do it yourself. Have videos produced and tell the story of your own company, your product or your services with words and pictures that matter to your brand. Then, feature it on your website.
Do something amazing and put it on the web via Youtube, Vimeo or Instagram. Send this to everyone you know. If your story goes viral, everyone will know what you want to get across and good things can happen.
The company only came clean on its deceptive practice of programming its cars to conform to emission standards only while being tested after U.S. authorities threatening to deny certifying 2016 models.
It is one thing for a company like General Motors to face a crisis like the faulty ignition switches that claimed multiple lives and cost the company $900 Million in fines. It’s quite another thing when a company creates its own crisis.
VW now faces fines up to $18 billion in the U.S. alone on top of multiple lawsuits. The company has withdrawn its affected diesel cars from sale here in Canada. Company management in Wolfsburg has warned employees of job cuts as the car sales nose dive and the company sets aside billions of Euros in a war chest.
The CEO of the company took days before he fell on his sword and resigned.
The company was slow to follow basic crisis management: Mess Up. Fess Up. Dress Up.
Key messages from the new CEO were week and predictable:
We are committed to fixing the problems ASAP
The affected vehicles are safe to drive
We are developing a remedy that will meet emissions standards
The world is watching the biggest automaker as it struggles with one of the biggest breaches of public confidence in automotive history.
Volkswagen’s fall from grace has been sudden and staggering. If the company has a crisis communications plan calling for timely and meaningful communications with the public, it has not been put into effective use.
Bell Media CEO Kevin Crull has to go. Wendy Freeman, president of CTV News, must go too.
How can viewers of Canada’s largest private broadcaster have confidence in this news source when the owner dictates how news is covered and the head of news allowed it fearing for her job? In an unprecedented statement from Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CEO of Bell Media which owns CTV was lambasted for meddling in news coverage.
Crull has apologized for interfering in CTV’s coverage of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s decision to allow less expensive cable and satellite TV ‘pick and pay’ options which could impact Bell Media’s bottom line.
An obviously enraged Crull banned CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais from all CTV news coverage after he saw him interviewed on Bell-owned BNN, a business television channel.
Fearing for the loss of her job, CTV News chief Wendy Freeman caved in and allowed the manipulation until more ballsy news people in her organization gathered ranks and put Blais on the late news. But Freeman’s waffling and giving up editorial control under pressure let down all those who work in CTV newsrooms across the country.
Real reporters put their jobs on the line when told how to cover news or to leave out elements that balance coverage. They push back harder when their own management tries to influence what should be fair and objective news coverage for commercial interests.
Crull’s weak mea culpa explanation of how he was merely suggesting coverage that showed the impact of the CRTC decision, apparently without the CRTC chairman’s input, is not enough.
Enlightened Canadians will wonder what other news stories have been ‘shaped’ by CTV’s ownership. What credibility does CTV News have now?
Years ago, I was one of three reporters who strongly protested a decision by the television station president who blocked coverage of a lawsuit launched by disgruntled contestants of a game show produced there.
We told him this could never happen again and pointed out the damage that could be done to the station’s reputation as well as our professional reputations. To my knowledge, there was no further meddling.
That was immediate action with a strong statement to maintain independence and objectivity in reporting news. Bell Media and CTV also have to make the strongest statement possible to regain and retain credibility. That can only be done with the removal of those who don’t uphold these principles.
I was called by BCBusiness magazine writer, Kristen Hilderman, with the question: Does every company need to know how to communicate in a crisis?
The short answer is yes. Any company or organization can face a crisis requiring them to work with the speed of social media to protect their reputation. Once a worst case scenario hits, the scramble is on to do and say the right things.
This subject is extremely topical because Vancouver’s two recent SkyTrain shutdowns, in the same week, were aggravated by poor communication with many hapless commuters trapped on trains.
This followed Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, creating his own crisis by implying women who require larger sizes shouldn’t buy the company’s yoga tights.
He got publicity alright. But it was the wrong kind. The online petition fell just short of calling for a complete boycott of Lululemon stores and their products.
Laterally speaking, it was the Mount Polley mine tailings pond dam failure releasing that brought crisis communications to the forefront. The flood of 10 million cubic metres of waste water, plus more than four million cubic metres of sediment flowing through a failed tailings pond dam, created its own flood of public outcry and media questions.
Imperial Metals seemed slow off the mark — they communicated with a news release on their website. That quickly got stale and nobody in the head office was available to respond to media questions.
So what are best practices in these situations? Have a crisis communications plan. Ensure that it is practical and that it works. Run a crisis simulation so you can find and resolve any glitches.
That plan should be a quick-response blueprint for anything that might imperil your organization’s reputation.
Make sure the plan is short and workable. Templates for holding statements, fact sheets, topics and key messages, news releases, media advisories, as well as a resume of predictable questions and recommended answers, should be appendices. Crisis communicators should be able to use the templates to cut and paste to meet current needs.
Select key spokespeople and put them through media training. There is a well vetted methodology for managing crisis communications by communicating effectively with media and stakeholders.
With all that in place, issues and crisis management is still very challenging, as those who have been dealing with recent events know all too well. But there is a way through and preparation is everything.
A reporter called and started asking questions. I knew the answers and was well into giving information on behalf of the client when it hit me: I’m not authorized to be this company’s spokesperson!
As a communications consultant for this client I was empowered to provide information – send out pre-authorized backgrounders, fact sheets, news releases. But I was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. I stopped in mid-sentence.
“I’m not a spokesperson for my client so I don’t want to be quoted,” I said, probably too sharply. I caught the reporter cold. He was taking down everything I said and fully intended to pepper his story with Alyn “Edwards said…. According to company spokesperson Alyn Edwards…”
It was almost too late that I realized I had set a trap for myself and I was right in it. I knew better.
During the hundreds of media training sessions I have conducted, I stress that companies must appoint and train anyone speaking for the organization and they should only offer information in areas of their direct knowledge and responsibilities.
I also tell them to negotiate every interview. When reporters call, don’t start answering questions until you know exactly who you are talking to, how to contact them and have asked these other key questions:
What is your story?
What information do you want from our organization?
Is there a focus or angle that you are pursuing?
Who else are you talking to?
What questions do you have?
Only with full information should a company or organization decide that an interview will suit its goals and interests. That’s not always the case.
Several years ago, a call came in from a meat processor in the Vancouver area. It was during the XL Meat e-coli crisis in Brooks, Alberta. The B.C. company was not related in anyway. But it was receiving calls from reporters wanting ‘localize’ the story. They asked to take video and photos of their plant operation and interview managers about food safety.
My strong advice was to thank reporters for their interest, tell them the plant is in full compliance with all food safety standards and explain that no unauthorized persons can enter the plant.
I recommended the company not say anything beyond this because, as soon as the public saw pictures or video of that meat packing operation, the company would be immediately associated with the e-coli outbreak and its business could suffer greatly.
If the interview is a good fit for your organization, negotiate a time and place for the interview which gives the spokesperson adequate time to prepare key messages.
Sending a fact sheet or background information in advance of the interview describing the organization, its products and services along with information detailing the subject of the interview could head off up to 30 minutes of needless questions. That also helps ensure accurate reporting.
That’s what communications consultants can deliver while being careful not to unwittingly become a spokesperson for their clients.
Peak Communicators is excited to be partnering with the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce to host two half-day seminars on building, enhancing and protecting your reputation through strong communications initiatives.
Taking place on April 16th at the Capri Hotel, attendees can learn the secret sauce behind building your brand and business. The session will also discuss how to protect your good reputation by identifying an issue before it becomes a crisis and delivering strong messages to internal and external stakeholders and the public.
Other topics to be discussed include:
Building a brand and profile through public relations and media initiatives
How to find and tell your news and your story
Why a crisis communications plan is necessary and how to develop one
Issues management and crisis communications
Using social media tools to build, enhance and protect reputation
The session will be hosted by two senior Peak consultants, Alyn Edwards and Chris Olsen. Both were news reporters for 30 years and are experts in helping companies tell their stories.
Peak Communicators was recently engaged by a well-established successful Canadian-based company selling internationally. The management group was in a quandary: they no longer knew who they were and where they fit in the marketplace.
The capable managers felt the company’s culture had gone flat, its messages were out of date and they were drifting.
They didn’t know who they were, who they wanted to be, where they were going and why they made a difference.
There was a strong feeling that the thousand plus employees had lost the fire in the belly to forge ahead in a changing marketplace and sales environment. Some new conquests were needed.
In short, they no longer knew what their story was or how to tell it. They wanted a motivational story to provoke change.
A story is a narrative describing an event or series events. It’s not a sales pitch for a product or service.
To resonate, a story must have three strong elements: emotion – information – call to action.
Peak facilitated a strategic brainstorming session with senior managers to unlock information. We developed the topics to be communicated and then filled those buckets with messages. Working with the managers, messages were refined into three key messages per topic.
Change is making somebody or something different. For this company, it had to be positive change toward a clear vision and direction. And it had to be exciting. They wanted a new story to lead the process for change.
Questions asked included:
How do you see yourselves? Your products?
Why do you do this?
How do customers see you? Your products?
What is your ultimate product or value proposition?
What does change look like to you?
Where do you see yourself in one year? Two years? Five years?
What would success look like?
A remarkable amount of information tumbled forth during the half-day session. It was an opportunity to re-evaluate, redefine and set a new direction.
The new course should be established by analyzing the data established by the topics and defined by the key messages.
These topics and key messages became the guideposts for all communications: internal for employees, contractors and suppliers – external for customers, prospects and key influencers.
They are also the outline for THE story or stories that everyone can tell.
A communications plan should be a next step to guide communicating the exciting new messages that will give new purpose to employees and renewed motivation for business development and growth.
Obviously B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s new director of communications Sara MacIntyre didn’t do her homework on local media. She had done the same job for the Prime Minister and may have been bounced for being too aggressive. But the back east media is small ‘c’ conservative. They are somewhat pushy but not uber aggressive.
No holds barred out here. When you tell a good reporter in British Columbia that they can’t do something, they are definitely going to do it. Reporters demonstrate the long-held tradition of a free press every day.
Veteran Global Television cameraman Paul Rowand took MacIntyre on while videotaping the Premier who had just invited reporters and camerapersons to follow her into a Vancouver trade show. “No go” from MacIntyre was met with “what did you say?” from Rowand as he kept walking and videotaping while firing off questions including “who are you and where are you from?”
The gum-chewing MacIntyre snapped back with sneering answers with the most condescending looks. Then she did the ultimate no-no: She stood right in front of Rowand’s camera in a futile attempt to block access to the Premier.
The embarrassing Global TV coverage that resulted from the altercations has now gone viral. I will use it in media training as an example of how not to manage media relations.
Former CTV reporter Chris Olsen (Olsen on your side), who was Premier Clark’s past press secretary, lost his job to the feisty MacIntyre. Olsen got off side in his attempts to manage the media even though he was once one of the reporters. The Premier’s office thought he couldn’t do the job. Well, what about MacIntyre?
She’s now off side with reporters who will find ways to continue to make her look bad. She forgot that you may be able to manage reporters, but you can’t control them. You would be better off trying to herd cats.
Maybe she should ask some key reporters for advice on how to facilitate positive news coverage on government. Christy Clark says she stands for open and transparent government. What does Sara MacIntyre stand for?
You’ve heard the old adage about the carpenter falling through his own steps. He was so busy taking care of business he didn’t take care of business at home. Reputation managers often overlook their home turf. And it is sometimes at their peril.
For example, there is no such thing as a totally private life when you are a public relations practitioner. Remember that everything you do and say can live on the internet. So if you are going to tweet and blog about a public cause or politics that may not be popular with all your clients and colleagues, remember that this can come back to bite you…hard.
Communicators and public relations practitioners deal with a wide variety of individuals and organizations as clients. They may not always share your views. It is a good idea to remain neutral and apolitical because you could very quickly pigeon hole yourself or your company as being only about one cause or one party. Simply put, this can be bad for business and make it much more difficult to pitch stories to media.
Treat yourself like a brand
As a sole practitioner, a communications manager, consultant or public relations company manager, it’s important to apply the same public relations outreach activities that you do for your clients to build your own reputation.
Look for opportunities to blog about issues. Offer to do media interviews as a communications expert to comment on how individuals or organizations have failed to tell their story in the best way possible. The media is hungry for experts in many fields and communications is a very important element of crisis management.
Look for issues to weigh in on and let the media know you have something to say and are willing to say it. You never get what you don’t ask for and this type of publicity can really draw positive attention to you as a communications consultant, your organization and your services.
If you or your company is offering a new service or have an innovative product, frame the story and offer it up to select media outlets. An ‘earned media’ news feature has much more credibility than buying an ad and can go a long way towards building reputation and profile.
New hires should always be featured in the ‘Keeping Track’ sections of daily and business newspapers with good head shot photos. Again, this is free advertising and you will be very pleased when people comment that they see your organization is progressive and growing.
When you are communicating and doing public relations for others, don’t forget to build, enhance and protect your own reputation with the same communications outreach. It can pay great dividends.