Sword and the Script

4 Creative PR Ideas for Crisis Communications

4 Creative PR Ideas for Crisis Communications-Chevy-Tweet

Constraint breeds creativity.  It may seem counterintuitive, but the ingenuity of deftly navigating the most difficult of binds goes to show PR is often as much about problem solving as it is communication.

Corporate crisis communications provides a demonstration because there are very clear constraints:

  • Unknown unknowns – the effort to understand what is happening
  • Time hacks – crisis PR demands speed
  • Dichotomy – substantial pressure to credibly refute or validate

1. Chevy embraces the truck.

As a Chevy spokesperson Rikk Wilde’s job was to present a new truck to San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.  As a corporate sponsor this was Chevy’s big moment to showcase some of the finer points about the vehicle they were about to handover to the World Series MVP.  It was an awkward presentation through and through, but at one critical moment, Mr. Wilde noted the new Chevy Colorado, “…offers class-winning and -leading, um, you know, technology and stuff.”

Twitter exploded and some quick thinker doing the Twitter for Chevy simply embraced it with this tweet which read in part, “Truck yeah the 2015 #ChevyColorado has awesome #TechnologyAndStuff!” Writing on the Ignite Social Media blog, Bruna Camargo gave the vehicle manufacturer good grades for its response,

“Instead of issuing some lame press release about how they’re sorry their guy couldn’t be more eloquent, they embraced it, rolled with it, and are now about to bank on it. Can’t cry over spilled milk, or Rikk Wilde’s sweat beads that surely moistened that Chevy-branded trophy. But you can, you know, make fun of yourself and stuff.”

The company is getting accolades from other reputable marketers.  Mark Schaefer, for example, called it GM’s Oreo moment.  Talk about rags to riches.  Crisis communications has changed — and Mr. Wilde should get a raise.  If there was a way to plan that — marketers would!

The video is embedded nearby — imagine watching this from the social media command center — and then tightening your seat-belt:

2. Suggesting edits to a reporter’s story.

Once upon a time there were few options for responding to a negative opinion piece in a major daily paper.  Some of these included a) contact the writer b) contact the editor c) write a letter to the editor in response.  These were all terrible options, which means picking and choosing battles was extremely important.  Today, corporations that put the time into cultivating corporate blogs, have an effective outlet for managing with crisis communications and added an option to the crisis toolkit.

When the New York Times published an opinion piece in part about Walmart, the company vigorously disputed the representation. In very creative rebuttal posted to Walmart’s blog titled, Fact Check: The New York Times “The Corporate Daddy”, David Tovar, then a vice president of communications with the company, offered edits to the Times’ writer’s “first draft.”  A few days later, the Times allegedly refused to publish a letter to the editor submitted by the company, which instead published on its blog.  This was a brilliant move and it’s a response well worth adding to the tool kit.

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3.  Best time to release a bad news story.

Late Friday afternoon used to be the besttime for corporations to release bad news.  The hope was reporters were more focused on getting on with the weekend and by Monday, well, the news would be too old to cover.  I don’t think that’s the case in the tech-driven era we live in – anytime is a great time to publish a juicy story.

So what’s the alternative?  Release the bad news when something else big is going on!  While a few outlets caught on, it probably could have been a lot worse. The Huffington Post was one of those outlets and published a story titled Snapchat Conveniently Announces Legal Settlement During iPhone 6 Launch.  In the article, associate business editor, Alexander C. Kaufman, wrote:

The timing of Snapchat’s announcement suggests that the company may have hoped news of the settlement would go unremarked. The company sent out its press release about the settlement at 1 p.m. EST — coincident with Apple’s big product launch event, which dominated the technology and mainstream press corps’ attention.

4.  Use your own product.

As a business, Yelp both creates and makes news.  From my vantage point it seems the company is essentially in continuous crisis mode over this issue:

Yelp denies filtering reviews to allow a more positive or negative slant depending on whether or not a business is a customer of Yelp.

A while back, Inc. Magazine ran this article – After 10 Years, Yelp CEO Reviews His Own Business – and the play on the word “review” struck me as creative. It’s proactive and counters a continuous theme rather than reacting to a specific headline.

Indeed, the article was written by Michael Liedtke a long time tech writer for The Associated Press, which assures wide distribution include on Inc.com, which I might add, is a sweet spot for Yelp.  And it seems Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman does in fact use his own product:

Q: Do you still write reviews yourself?

A: I do. I just did three or four today. I am at 1,214 reviews as of today. I was on a trip in Aspen, and I just gave a one-star review to this French restaurant. They gave us a hard time. We actually had to walk out. I didn’t even get to the food.

* * *

In these examples we can see tenets of crisis communications applied in modern era where news cycles are accelerated.  Chevy embraced a story while Walmart refuted another.  Timing was factor – reactive and proactive – in both the Snapchat and Yelp example.  Putting all these together provide additional creative PR options for managing crisis communications.

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Company Bites Journalists…Again

Company Bites Journalists

Think the media won’t cover your product?  Well then, you’re just not thinking outrageously enough.  It’s very easy to do, but will require some steely nerves the first few times you try it.

There’s a secret trick that marketers of apparel love to use.  It’s guaranteed to score ridiculous amounts of coverage.  Ready for it?

1. Be offensive and distasteful. 

Create an advertisement that you are 100% certain most people will find hideously offensive; where possible, be slightly prejudice, sexist, or distort a historical tragedy for capital gain. It’s important to be only slightly wrong for the purpose of plausible deniability that you’ll need later. Read More…

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The Brand Hashtag Hijack isn’t the Problem

by Frank Strong

brands hashtag hijack
When the NYPD decided to launch a hashtag campaign with #myNYPD the po-po organization might have been betting the campaign would be the social media equivalent of COPS – or community oriented policing services.

Instead of photos of a charitable officer giving a homeless man a pair of boots, the hashtag was flooded with images that border on police brutality: An officer (allegedly) shooting a homeless man’s small dog and an officer (with tall brass no less) pulling the hair of a handcuffed women. Read More…

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Autotweets Are Not Comparable to TV or Radio Ads

autotweets, schedule tweets

Photo credit: Flickr

There’s a debate over autotweets, or scheduled tweets during times of tragedy

This post kicked it off: Guy Kawasaki is too ‘popular’ to stop autotweets during Boston bombings. This post reinforced the point, with kinder language, but with words that bite: A Letter To Those Of You With 1,500 Twitter Followers Or Fewer.

And we’re off.  Knock down.  Drag out.  Online scrap.  It’s not productive.

The point of the post?

While the news about the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon was just being broken, and for several hours afterwards, most companies shut down their promotional efforts on Twitter and other social media.

Most people and organizations rightly came to the conclusion that to continue to hawk their wares while a national tragedy was unfolding (and people were using Twitter to get and exchange news) was a little insensitive, to say the least.

Most brands stopped. And while I generally dislike the term “personal branding” because I believe within a company — that is a team environment — it is divisive  some people have become brands. In a company, this means there’s an inverse correlation between productivity and ego.   Read More…

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Three Observations the Morning After Tragedy

Thinking of Boston.

Thinking of Boston.

by Frank Strong

I first heard about it on Facebook.  A friend had posted this link to The Atlantic. Initially, the article simply had a couple lines of text and a few screenshots of tweets.  The site has since updated it to provide more complete coverage.

Senseless killing. Tragic. Incomprehensible.

My first reaction was: this is terrorism.  The last time we had a terrorist attack we went to war for a decade. In fact, we are still fighting it.  However, it’s worth noting, before 9/11, the predominant form of terrorism was from domestic lunatics, like the duo from Oklahoma City.

As of the time of this writing, no suspects have been identified and officials have simply said, they currently do not know. Read More…

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Crisis Communications as a Prerequisite to Change

Crisis Communications

Two great reads – one on business strategy and the other sage advice on crisis communications.

by Frank Strong

The difference between good companies and great companies may well be the difference between those that avert potential crisis and those that react to a crisis.

It is the difference between being “committed-to-excellence” rather than only demonstrating that commitment only when someone important is watching.

There’s a second problem with reactionary thinking: the company forgoes the ability to choose the space and timing of the crisis.  Like Murphy’s Law, crisis happens when you can least afford it and siphons away resources and wastes valuable time.

Sometimes companies can do a lousy job on crisis communications and survive; Exxon and BP come to mind.  Sometimes companies can do a lousy job with a crisis and sink; Eron and Anderson Consulting for example.   Read More…

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Google Reader and Google’s Opportunity to Win Friends

google reader

Image credit: Lars Fosdal on Google+

by Frank Strong

Google announced it’s shutting down Google Reader. The company cited declining usage of its aggregation service as justification for killing it come July 1, 2013, but the web has exploded with unhappy comments.

There’s a petition to keep Google Reader running.

Maybe the complaints are from a few that shout louder than the majority.  Maybe the complaints are from a few that are influential.   Maybe.  

I’ve seen some pretty smart people react so viscerally to this announcement, that it must be worth hitting the pause button and perhaps putting some fresh paint on the Google Reader shutters.  Read More…

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Why companies are more prone to social media crisis

 Why would a business deflect the opportunity to speak to customers?

I got an email today, no two, from vendors.  You know the kind…the emails from no-reply@company.com.

Digital River sent me one today that closes by saying, “This email message was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message.”  Likewise, Dominion, who has had social media crisis events previously, wrote “Please do not reply to this message; it is simply a courtesy reminder.”

Companies are full of tactics like this – the endless phone tree mazes of press this number or that number – that customers must navigate in an endeavor to reach a live human being.  It’s a waste of time.  No wonder so many customers turn into social media complainers.

Just yesterday, PR Daily’s Michael Sebastian wrote a post titled, For brands, it’s the Teflon Age of PR disasters.  He begins by saying, “Mini-public-relations crises flare up constantly” – and that’s true, but there’s a cause.  I’m suggesting when companies send emails from no-reply addresses, it’s logical to wager that’s a systemic indication that that company is also going to be prone to online flare ups. Read More…

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Rationalizing the rants that hold PR hostage

Photo credit:  Flickr

Photo credit: Flickr

by Frank Strong

There’s an old saying — if you want to understand someone’s character, watch how they treat the wait staff. Restaurant patrons can be finicky about dining, decor and service, but there’s a gray line between expecting good service and abusing the help.

So too I feel it is becoming with social media — and specifically the trend for explosive, possibly litigious, online rants. “Cyberdisinhibition” was the word eMarketer used to describe the emboldened behavior being observed online as stakeholders, steps removed from the intimacy of interpersonal communication, are more inclined to “lash out” at a company that falls short of perceived satisfactory marks.

Lashing-out in the context of the eMarketer report, is a negative behavior and hopefully, it’s an action of last resort — that is to say a wake up call to an unresponsive, inconsiderate or ill-advised company that has failed to answer reasonable requests to resolve an legitimate issue. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a readily available technique, that’s very easy to use and much harder to resist. Read More…

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PR: getting slammed for taking a stand

Photo:  Gold fish feeding frenzy at the National Arboretum.

Photo: Gold fish feeding frenzy at the National Arboretum.

by Frank Strong

PC Magazine takes Novell to task over it’s blog post on LA’s decision to replace Novell’s GroupWise e-mail product with Google Apps. It’s good example of how new media has changed the landscape of voices.

This post isn’t about products. It’s not about which one is better. It’s not about the benefits or drawbacks of open source software versus proprietary software. Its about PR. It is the chance to take a step back, and consider how things have changed in PR.

In year’s past if company found itself rolled in to a controversial public debate there were in essence three choices: buy a full page advertisement in a major daily newspaper and spell out your case, put the PR department to work or do both. Read More…

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