The Doctor of Crisis Communications

Crisis communications doctor gerard braudIf you were a smoker and your doctor told you to stop or you would die of cancer, would you stop?

If you had diabetes and your doctor told you to change your diet so you don’t die, would you change?

Amazingly, there are people every day who ignore the advice of an expert and do the wrong thing. Some are stubborn. Some are in denial. Some just magically hope the problem will go away.

I’m watching two crisis communications patients die right now. As their doctor of crisis communications I submitted to each a plan of action that they could have taken long ago, when the early warning signs of a crisis were on the horizon. Both are major smoldering crises on the brink of igniting.

Time was on the side of each patient 60 days ago when they first contacted me. Time is now their enemy because the flash point has arrived and the media are writing stories on each. No messaging has been written. No news releases created. No media training has been conducted.

A doctor can’t miraculously cure cancer in a patient that has refused to listen to expert medical advice. Likewise, we in public relations are called upon too often to make miracles happen. We can’t always do it.

I could try to save each of these patients, but I know the effect of the communications we would do so late would be about 1/6th as effective as what was originally suggested. I know that this marginal benefit would cost them much more than the original plan, with less than satisfactory results. I don’t know that I want my name associated with a marginal response that lacks planning and execution.

Persuading audiences, engaging employees and communicating to the media takes time. Strategies are best done on a clear sunny day. Media training and writing a crisis communications plan should have been done weeks ago.

In one case, an organization will face very expensive legal bills and payouts. Their reputation will be damaged. People will likely get fired.

In another case, lawsuits will likely be filed, the institutions reputation will be damaged, I predict their revenue will fall, and there will be an employee revolt. The best employees will quit and go to work for their competition. Many angry employees will remain on the job, polluting the human resources culture for a decade or more. In the process, customer service will suffer, leading to a greater loss in revenue. This institution may also get gobbled up by a competitor as the value of the company drops.

Why do people ask for advice and ignore it? Who knows? They just do.

By Gerard Braud

Ebola School Crisis Communications Lesson: Ask for Help

school ebola gerard braudOf all the Power Point presentations by his leadership team members, the CEO only stood and applauded the vice president who showed he was having difficulties in his division, when the other vice presidents showed rainbows and green lights. The company was millions in debt with falling sales and the CEO knew that everyone who painted a rosy picture was either a liar or delusional. The one who asked for help was the star.

A colleague shared this story supporting my premise in my Ebola communication considerations blog. In the blog I suggested that public relations, marketing, media relations and crisis communication professionals will not be fired if they ask for help. Instead, your school administrators and leadership team will respect you for telling the truth and knowing that your truth may save the reputation and revenue of your school or university.

The field of communications is misunderstood, even by school leaders. Many school administrators hire one person to manage their image. They expect publicity. Often the president will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Sadly, many with an MEd or PhD don’t really understand the differences either.

Even in public relations, many do not realize how difficult it is to be a crisis communication expert. The expert is the one who prepares on a clear sunny day for what might happen on your darkest day. At the university level, most public relations classes touch on crisis communication as an evaluation of how well you manage the media after a crisis erupts. That is outdated and flawed. Preparation = professionalism.

Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge and expertise rather than asking for help. The reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most administrators, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue.

Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the school’s reputation and revenue.

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Free Webinar Recording Ebola Crisis Communication-1Ask for help.

If you’d like some FREE help, please listen to this free webinar recording that explores what you need to do today to prepare for your possible Ebola communications tomorrow.

– By Gerard Braud

 

5 Ebola School and University Crisis Communications Considerations

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard BraudYour personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your school or university. On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees or students gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you. We’ve already seen schools in Ohio and Oklahoma close or request that students stay home, just for this very reason.

Here are 5 Ebola School Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

Ebola may touch your school or university because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications. You’ll need to communicate to parents. Depending upon the age of your students, you may need to communicate with them. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many school administrators or systems hire one person to manage the image of their school. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, for example, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask for help. The reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most leaders, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue. Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the school’s reputation and revenue. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Ask for help.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Cash Outflow and Reputation Damage

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  •  The cost of rumors
  •  The cost of a single case linked back to your school
  •  The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your school
  •  The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  •  The cost of employee illness and lost productivity
  •  The cost of your school closing

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your school and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving you huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus, now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get the attention of your boss in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all schools equally to sometimes get their attention.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your school leaders. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human resources, international student services, and residential life departments will all need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I hosted a live discussion via webinar. You can listen to the replay for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

Remember, ask for help. If you need my help, please phone me at 985-624-9976.

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning for Schools and Universities

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudShould your school or university begin getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now? Some will think, “It is too soon.” But as one school in Dallas has discovered, an educational institution can become part of the Ebola crisis without warning.

If you are an administrator, a public relations professional, or a crisis management professional, NOW is the time to realize Crisis communication workshop gerard braudthat it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your institution for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with is treated like a 19th century leaper – no one wants to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Boarder Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, and the victim’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means fourteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven that generally the document they call a crisis communications plan is woefully inadequate and in no way meets the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Could your school or university suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could damage our reputation forever.”

“Forever?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control. Could the same happen to a school? I think so.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? It could happen without warning.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you are an administrator? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth out time and effort,” is what the vast majority of institutions will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

 

- Gerard Braud