Peak Communicators
April 12, 2017

Navigating through the social media storm

Most of the world now knows about the “United Airlines incident” after a video of a 69-year-old passenger being forcibly removed from his seat went viral earlier this week.

The video, shot from another passenger’s phone, showed clearly the screaming man being dragged down the aisle, leaving him bloodied and terrified – along with the over- booked flight of witnesses.

Within hours of the video being captured, #United was the leading hashtag worldwide on Twitter. Even in China, where Twitter and Facebook don’t exist, more than 97,000 comments had been recorded on one Weibo post by the end of the day, along with a new hashtag #Chineselivesmatter.

Following the Twitter (and Weibo) eruption of the United Airlines incident, we’re reminded us just how vital a solid social media communications strategy is to any business, particularly in the event of a crisis.

When a crisis does hit a business, social media excels as a way to spread news in a quick and efficient manner. Bad news will always travel fast, and these days it’s likely to gain traction on social platforms before the traditional media get to it. It’s important to have steps in place to manage reaction in the midst of a social media storm and how monitoring early warning alerts of any change in volume or sentiment around your brand will give your team a chance to prepare for what’s coming.

When tackling a social media crisis, I believe there are 5 essential steps that need to be included in any PR plan:

  1. Plan ahead.

Even if you can’t predict what might set off a social media meltdown, the steps you will need to take are the same: Respond, reassure, research, respond again, and react. Your plan needs to state how you will do this within the tight time demands of social media. Who gets notifications? Who can access the Twitter account? How slow is your approval process? Who has final sign off? Contact details for spokespeople? Have pre-approved statements available, this will make the reaction process far more manageable.

  1. Listen.

Every business should have social and media monitoring set up to capture what is being said about its brand so that if there’s a spike in negativity, or an emerging issue, you can react instantly. Frankly, a Google alert isn’t really sufficient. For effective monitoring, you need to pin point what it is you want to listen for. There are 6000 tweets sent every second, so understanding the language around an issue will make it quicker and easier to find the relevant ones. Successful monitoring should include daily reporting, early warning alerts if there is a change in volume or sentiment, or mentions from highly influential critics.

  1. Prepare your posts.

When something happens, you need to be out, publicly, with a response in about 10 minutes. Have a holding tweet at the ready, or a post that acknowledges that something has happened – even if you can’t give out specifics, being the first to acknowledge a situation can go a long way. Even a post that says “We understand an incident has occurred. We are finding out more information and will update in 10 minutes” is better than nothing.

  1. Pick your platform.

Twitter is the place for breaking news. Facebook is the place for connecting and seeking feedback. Instagram should not be used anywhere near a corporate crisis. Understanding the difference of your social media platforms and having sufficient followers to ensure you can engage when needed is important.

  1. Respond swiftly and carefully.

It is essential that in any situation involving your business, you are the first person to weigh in and that you have the right information on hand. If you do something wrong admit, apologize, and accept responsibility. The sooner you do, the less likely that your original stuff up will spiral out of control. It’s important to not add fuel to the fire. Understand how your situation is being reacted to on social media and plan your responses accordingly. Even if you do believe your actions are justified, pause to think about how they are perceived.

Chances are, your business is not in the habit of dragging people out of plane seats while being filmed on a smartphone, but there are lessons in United’s response for everyone.

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April 6, 2017

Moving beyond ‘key messages’, the value of an authentic narrative

At its core, public relations are about storytelling and now more than ever brands need to have a powerful and compelling story to engage and mobilize their audiences.

The trouble is, storytelling has its limitations. In today’s saturated communications marketplace, where information is digested in smaller sizes and competing against more channels, the ability for a story to engage and retain an audience is becoming increasingly difficult. Furthermore, technology has expanded the ability of audiences to digest information, so brands must find a more meaningful means to deliver a coherent and credible message.

Moving beyond storytelling

Brands today must move beyond segmented campaigns and episodic storytelling and develop a narrative, an central thematic that is the basis of the brand’s identity and strategy. A foundational idea that encompasses and forms all areas of a brand’s engagement across its myriad of channels and stakeholders, be it employees; consumers, traditional media, social influencers, policy makers, etc. A company’s narrative should tell everyone what it stands for and offers an idea for those stakeholders to connect with and align behind.

Today, public relations, corporate relations, publicists and marketers are all competing to engage the same audiences through more integrated means – paid, earned, social and owned – meaning that messaging needs to be not only engaging but also consistent across the various streams, and most important of all, in real time.

Brands must lead conversations

Digital and social media platforms have changed the way brands engage with their audiences. Communication no longer flows in a single direction; audiences are now feeding back to companies on a constant basis. Brands must now lead “conversations”, interacting with their audiences in real time, which has quantifiable impact on their reputation.

Brands lead the conversation

Proactively driving engagement is now an absolute. While engaging with audiences across these various channels, brands need to utilize a coherent narrative, one that provides clarity and consistency of that engagement. The ability to communicate a compelling, inclusive and consistent narrative has the power to inspire, energize and mobilize an audience in ways our industry never thought possible.

How to develop a strong narrative

  • Have a real understanding of the brand’s purpose and its values. Consumers today are more value driven than ever before. How a company is trying to achieve its objective, is as important as what it is trying to achieve. Ensure your narrative seeks to explain what the brand stands for and what is it is seeking to achieve.
  • The narrative must be relatable and easy to explain. To maintain the attention of audiences, a narrative cannot be bogged down in jargon. A strong narrative is based on fact and is not only persuasive but also easily repeatable.
  • Be inclusive and insightful. Narratives need to evoke an emotional connection and invite participation. It presents an idea for an audience to believe in, support, and ultimately recommend.

In our hyper-completive, over-saturated communications environment, being able to portray a potent and authentic narrative has the power to genuinely connect with an audience, inspire them to action, and lead them on a journey.

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March 7, 2014

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Tomorrow, March 8th 2014, marks International Women’s Day, a great time to look at how women in Canada are doing in the PR industry.

According to Service Canada, employment in PR has risen significantly and is expected to continue to grow (good news!). When last surveyed, women held around 69 per cent of these roles, compared to 47 per cent of the workforce across all Canadian industries. Communications appeals to women.

However the current state of affairs of women on boards (across all industries, I might add) isn’t rosy. A recent study looking at 12 major North American cities shows that Canada’s four largest cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary) rank below all major U.S. cities other than Dallas in terms of the number of women in management roles. This could impact future growth according to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Furthermore 93 per cent of women in senior positions in Canada believe they make less money than a man performing the same work, according to a survey byRandstad Women Shaping Business.

How can we better support women in the workplace in Canada?

Some proactive steps are being taken, with it becoming compulsory for companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange to disclose how many women are on their boards and set targets for future quotas.

However more can be done, particularly in our industry where women account for such a high percentage of the workforce. We should be leading the way.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Job share: Allowing two women to job share on a part-time basis can be empowering. Constant communication is essential if this is to work, which shouldn’t be a stumbling block for PR professionals. We’ve used this method at Peak for women returning from maternity leave, allowing us to retain great employees.
  • Part-time working: When job-sharing isn’t an option then part-time can also work, depending on the role.
  • Mentorship: Female mentors can be a great support for individuals juggling multiple priorities. A VP at Peak mentors women entrepreneurs in her spare time, offering guidance to help other women in the community succeed.
  • Networking and support groups: Communities that focus on women in business can be helpful. Women in Leadership is one organization that offers leadership-focused events in Canada’s major cities.
  • Recognition: It’s important to celebrate successful women leaders in the PR world. PRWeek in the US publishes its US Power List, which in 2012 featured 17 women. This provides role models for aspiring PR employees, and I hope to see the number of women featured rise over time.

Supporting women in the workplace is good for the employee and employer, positively affecting retention rates. Take a moment over the weekend to consider how you can help ambitious women achieve their goals and the impact they can have on your business. Let’s change these statistics.

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September 24, 2013

Are You a Strategic Thinker?

StrategyStrategy. Possibly one of the most overused yet incorrectly used terms in business today.

Drop the word strategy into discussions around the boardroom table and people start to listen. Not only does it sound good but it is often associated with seniority, experience and high-level thinking. All very impressive. But over the years, I’ve sat in countless business and communications meetings where the word is thrown around, prodded at, sometimes discussed but frequently avoided when you drill down into the substance of what is actually being said, or not said. Forget the elephant, strategy has become the beast in the room – the one that everyone is aware of but no-one quite knows what to do with.


So what exactly is strategy and where do we go wrong with applying this concept?

I’ve spent some time trawling the internet for the best strategy definitions, examples, videos, common pitfalls and I was surprised to see a mess of content that struggles to define what it really is. I’m not saying I have the best definition either but I do remember attending a training session in London a few years back and our strategic master told us that, every time we struggled to articulate what the strategy of a plan was, think about war. After all, the word strategy comes from the Greek, stratēgia which loosely translates as the ‘art of leadership’, particularly in relation to the military.


To put this into context, the next time you have to define the strategy of a business or communications plan, think about what your plan of action is – how are you going to achieve the goals you’ve set out to achieve? How are you going to bring about the desired future (remember the: Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?)? How would you summarize that high-level thinking?

Strategic Planning 

This is where having a clear idea of your company’s/client’s purpose (mission), goal (vision) and values is imperative. Defining your competitive advantage is also key (undertaking a SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – really helps too). This is ultimately what will distinguish your business from the rest. If you don’t understand this, your strategy cannot succeed. But once you have defined these points and are confident that you have a high-level plan of action in place that will achieve your end goal, you should quite easily be able to work the other elements of a strategic communications plan out:

  • Long- and short-term strategic objectives
  • Audience
  • Key messages
  • Tactics/actions
  • Roles and responsibilities (accountability is key in executing any plan)
  • Timeline
  • Measurement
  • Next steps

Common pitfalls


Some of the most common mistakes people make when talking strategy is that they start talking about objectives or tactics instead. It’s also very easy to create a strategic communications plan and then forget about it, or not make anyone accountable. A strategic plan will only be as good as the people who execute it. So you need to ensure that someone is the overall owner of the plan and that everyone else is clear on their deliverables. Communication is vital in the strategic planning process – ideally, multiple stakeholders should have input into the plan and the final plan should be presented to all stakeholders so that everyone is aware of it and understands its importance to the growth of the company.

Equally, progress reports should be shared regularly. And strategic plans do not need to be long. I’ve seen some bibles in my time which, quite frankly, make it difficult to digest page one knowing the long journey ahead. Keep them short, sweet and accessible – they’ll be far more useful this way.

Business Ppl

Finally, it’s important to note that strategic plans should be living documents. They should be revisited regularly and updated according to the needs of the company and the demands of external factors.

Happy planning!

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July 25, 2013

Who Will Replace David Baines?

In June, David Baines, Scott Simpson and John Manthorpe said farewell to Vancouver Sun business readers. They had accepted Postmedia’s voluntary buyout options. Postmedia is losing millions every quarter and is operating under a heavy debt load – reflecting a general decline in the viability of traditional media. 13228899114_4c875b4884_o

I will miss David Baines the most. He was an award-winning columnist who for the past 25 years exposed questionable practices, stock fraud and misconduct in the business world. He was afforded a generous amount of research time and he often took stories to the “legal edge.”  His parting shot was a multi-page article looking at the financial stewardship of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

In his farewell column Baines said, “I learned that it takes money, not just to publish stories, but also to defend them. I am fortunate to have worked for a newspaper that has the means and mindset to do both, and to have had great libel lawyers … to guide me through this jungle.”

In the current media landscape, local TV, radio and print news seldom have the staff, the research time or the finances to pay for libel lawyers.  There are still many talented journalists in our market, but they are provided with less opportunity to do in-depth work.

I’ll miss the journalistic excellence and in-depth stories that Baines provided. Let’s hope local media will still have the resources to cover much more than just the headlines in the months and years ahead.

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