Happy New Year 2021

Photo: Claire Thompson, Waves PR, on boat front (decorative)
Claire Thompson, Waves PR

I’m back!

After a long struggle with Wix, and then a whole load of technical issues trying to get my Waves PR website back, what a fabulous way to start the year – I have my domain, and site back!!

Hello and welcome!

Why the Absence?

I, like many, moved to a Wix site having read that we were all ok with SEO, that it was easily as good as WordPress etc, etc. And my site looked fabulous, but no-one could find it, so it was as good as useless.

I am always happy to talk to anyone thinking about moving. In my experience, it’s currently great for ‘brochure sites, ones that you don’t expect to find in search, but I sadly can’t recommend it to anyone else.

Getting back my domain has had me running around like a headless chicken, not least because of their outsourcing of my domain. Least said, soonest mended, especially as I may inadvertently reveal the limits of my technical ability in this respect – but that’s what tech savvy professionals are for, and I’m proud to count more than a few as friends.

This also happened against a frustrating background of house moves and some fairly major life changes, all for the good in the end, so I can’t blame Wix for everything however much I’d like to!

It’s not stopped me working, but felt somewhat unprofessional since I need to demonstrate that I understand the web!

Past content

I have a lot of old content that I had fortunately backed up – a lot of it I’d like to keep just for the memories of projects I’ve loved. These have included a police helicopter service (Kingston Communications), Twestival (a charity fundraiser online), huge Tweet ups and more. But those heady early days of Social Media startups are behind us, and may be left to another part of the site – memory lane? A decision for later.

For the moment I’ll be reviewing and reposting things that remain current, if not for their timing then for their lessons, including the pieces on Crisis Management. Little by little I plan to recuperate and post them.

Looking forward to 2021

Going forward, I have decided to focus on the things I love – I enjoy crisis management, probably because I’m good at it.

I love writing: everything you research to write is a chance to learn. I’m currently loving blogging for two easy Group companies, and having lots of fun doing it. And I’m keen to take on more writing.

However PR is in my blood – you don’t just turn your back on years of media relations, exciting product launches and strategy, so I’m delighted to take on projects from agencies or small business clients wanting to get best value for their money.

And with 25 years of experience, I have a highly strategic brain – meaning that helping with messaging and positioning, crisis preparation and planning, PR strategy, social media strategy are the places I’ll be able to add value both to agencies (PR, SEO and marketing) and organisations of all sizes directly.

Charity Projects

I am regularly contacted to do charity projects, and often asked to work for nothing.

This has given me a lot of pleasure, and highlights of the past few years have included helping the Reading Hydro Community Project, albeit in a very limited manner ahead of their share offer, and helping Elizabeth Burton Phillips of DrugFam with their positioning (with friend and colleague Darren who invited me in).

However, going forward I will be reducing what I do (in order to focus better) and it has been hard to turn down projects from African startups to Welsh ones, and both health and art projects, causes close to my heart.

I remain involved with CAAGe, the Campaign Against Adult Grooming, which will take on a new form this coming year, and give time each month to translating from Spanish to English Filia, which supports global women’s rights.

So please don’t ask me to take on more – whilst I’m happy to offer advice over the phone occasionally, this is pretty much my limit.

So here we are!

Thanks for reading this far!

I have small amount of capacity, which I’m happy to keep free for projects I’ll enjoy and do well, working with people I like in areas I love: technology, the built environment, arts and design, health and campaigning.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that nothing in life is certain except change, death and taxes. I fully plan to enjoy my work in 2021, and hope our paths will cross.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2021
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Causes of Crises: Overlooking Social Media

Social media is a fabulous – essential –  place to be. The rewards are immense.
However, too many organisations make some really basic mistakes. Amongst the most common are:

  • Inconsistent policies across numerous, inconsistent accounts;
  • Not having a strategy for its use;
  • Not monitoring.

Too often, even now, busy operational executives just want the social media  ‘problem’ dealt with. They know they have to do it, so half heartedly delegate the problem, which leads to…

The Intern Syndrome

Age is no indicator of ability, experience is more reliable. Sometimes people who haven’t yet discovered the joys of social for business have a tendency to write it off to younger people because of their own perceptions of social as ‘a young persons thing’. Some will be experienced but this bears no relation to age. Mark Zuckerberg was just 19 when he created FaceBook’s earliest iteration – he already had years of programming experience, yet there are others with experience only of social media is Snapchatting friends.

This attitude often means that they pass social media to someone with a strong personal presence, but little idea of strategy or messaging, and even less experience of corporate tone of voice. For a small company, if the individual fits the brand, this can prove fine – and for companies that sell only on price, the odd online spat is of little concern to them since it can create attention (and sometimes even SEO juice.

Social media is the most immediate, interactive, close communication with individuals outside of the sales process. It’s way too important to leave to the most junior team member. Yes, juniors can/should often be involved. Mix their life experience, views, creativity, freshness with that of other people. But temper this with a solid hand on the tiller and experienced customer care specialists/experts or sales professionals as required – according to what your social media channels are for!

Too many times to we hear the intern blamed for a crisis. They are there to learn, and we often learn by making mistakes. All of us have meade them sometime, but social media can be a painfully public place to make one. Leaving an intern to handle your social media unsupervised is not fair on anyone.

Failing to Prepare

Everyone has moments on social media. Indeed if a social media specialist has never had a problem, they shouldn’t be let out alone yet!

Much can be done to prepare for the inevitable, preventing a problem from becoming a crisis.

There’s nothing worse, for example, than needing to publish a statement, but finding that the internal contact list is out of date so key people to offer judgement, check the legals, or sign off publication are blissfully unaware of the fact that a storm’s brewing without them.

There are few things more frustrating for a social media manager than publishing something in error because something’s changed internally and no-one bothered to tell them. Totally avoidable, but all too common.

Crisis planning can stop these types of problems becoming crises. Social media training, notably messaging, can avoid problems. Social media policies, properly implemented and changed, can head things off at the pass.

Not taking your brand seriously

Behind Twitter handles called ‘The Real X’ or ‘X-Official’ is often the story of an unclaimed brand.

Someone grabs the ‘brand name’ Twitter account and pretends to be them. Sometimes this is incredibly funny, a deliberate parody and not intended to harm. In this case it’s hardly a problem, and in a roundabout way fairly flattering for the brand/company. But when someone pretends to be you to demonstrate an uncaring or hypocritical side in a problem situation, you have an even bigger problem than the initial lack of care.

Avoidable and Manageable

I’d estimate that around 80% of the crises I see would have been avoidable with better preparation and processes.

This doesn’t need to be administrative ‘sign off before posting’ nightmares. Whilst having posts agreed in advance can be a great way of managing routine marketing postings, any kind of customer care function or reactive sales presence should not be hampered by this – a social media team needs empowering, training and clear guidelines.

Some issues are sensitive and for reasons such as legal cases may demand standard responses, but beyond this, with only a few exceptions. you’re creating problems for yourself that could result in a crisis by allowing only fixed, approved tweets.

Internal/external?

The debate over whether someone internal or external people should be driving social media often rears its head. The only possible response is ‘use the best person available’.

It’s way more genuine to have someone internal, and is likely to offer the responsible party easier access to expertise. But if there’s no-one available or skilled enough to do it internally, a good third party can be great.

Pick carefully. Know who’s doing the work. Don’t leave it to chance.

The choice of internal or external management is one that’s unique to each situation and, despite many claims to the contrary, is rarely the thing that will create, or fail to prevent, a crisis situation. It’s all about the individual(s) managing the social media account, and what help and support they are given – or giving.

Get help before you need it

Not taking your social media seriously? Address potential crises before you need crisis management support!

Obviously I’d love it to be me that you choose to support your crisis prevention, policies and training.

But whether it’s me or someone else you choose, do yourself a favour and plan with an experienced professional. Because social media crises, more than any other communications crisis, can spread a problem like wildfire, fan the flames take it out of your control.

Don’t leave that social media crisis planning on your ‘to do’ list: sort it now! It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time, and trust me, a crisis will almost certainly take a whole lot more time – and money.

Originally published October 18, 2018. Reviewed and republished January 2020.

Causes of Crises: Staff

As a PR consultant with over 25 years of experience, I have been reviewing the kinds of crises that I’ve seen and been involved with over the years, and the principles that have worked when handling them.

“Staff” is as good a place as any  to begin examining common ignition points for problems – and within the term ‘staff’, we should include temporary staff, franchisees, and key project partners/contractors.

If they’re working in our name, whether we’re legally responsible for them or not, in the court of public opinion they’re ours, and in any case, we owe a duty of care to them as well as to our customers.

Disgruntled staff/leavers

Whilst possibly the most disruptive internally, people who leave an organisation taking data and/or customers is perhaps the easiest to deal with in crisis terms. Firstly there are contracts in place, although willingness to bring legal actions varies with circumstance. Quite aside from the expense, ‘going legal’ can often serve to draw additional external attention to an internal problem. and create bad will with former customers who’ve chosen to move with said staff member.

(Handling leavers well is, of course, a better option.)

If data is removed, companies should already have processes in place thanks to GDPR. (Anyone unsure about their processes or how to create them may find a Facebook group – GDPR Shared Resources – a great source of information and a hub of knowledgeable people.) Rumours and FUD* spread by leavers are harder to challenge, but for the most part a short period of increased PR combined with taking any appropriate action to tackle things directly (as well, of course, as internally changing anything with a ring of truth if possible) will help dissipate the ‘crisis’.

From experience, this type of crisis, unless it’s a case of ‘whistle blowing’, generally feels worse internally than it does to the outside world. It’s worth remembering this when handling it.

Employees who’ve done something outside of work (or their family members)

This kind of crisis can be the hardest to predict, and often seem the most unfair to have to handle. Maybe someone’s been involved in a fatal fight, had an accident, or been involved with a scam. It can extend to families (eg Mass murderer/child killer X whose father has worked for [your organisation] for ten years),

It’s also fairly hard to manage because fact finding will be hard because you’re not directly involved. Police and legal bodies are often involved which may put limits on what you can say/do and access to information; the workplace may be disrupted as tongues, naturally, wg and opinions re formed; and there will be a need to balance the needs and rights of the employee with the needs of the company’s reputation.

My experience has generally been that careful, considered, almost ‘locked down’ communication – both internal and external – is an absolute essential, often more internally than externally, whilst still listening to and engaging with anyone directly affected.

If you have to handle the media, call in professionals. Emotions will run high, and having a third party offer perspective will be invaluable for discussing options and responses.

Employees who do something at work

When something wrong’s been done in your name or in your office, you have no choice but to tackle it – and fast. The challenge with crises of this type is that fact finding will be hard – there is no vested interest in telling the truth.

Extreme caution needs using when responding to requests for information, and whilst media and stakeholders may be baying for it, it’s often advisable to use holding statements liberally. Better to be slated for saying too little in the early stages than for issuing false information.

If what an employee has been doing from your office has nothing to do with work (perhaps using the company mail for drugs deliveries or the company Internet for grooming), you still, unfortunately have a problem. You didn’t ask for it, but no-one ever does.

You are going to need to balance the employees rights with the crisis that’s bubbling around you, as well as any victims.

In this instance, knowing your legal position, first and foremost, is essential, and taking advice on what you can and cannot legally say is vital (Although you may want to protect your employee, suspending on full pay pending investigation is often the safest option.)

Formulated responses

Is it possible to formulate responses to crises? Whilst some people love them, I say’not really’, although I have had this requested by clients. Each situation is unique, but, based on experience, prescribed behaviours and principles are way more useful than dictated responses.

It’s the investigation, establishing the truth of the situation, understanding what’s happened, that will help decide the steps you take and help to know what to prioritise.

Prevention

Prevention is always better than a cure. Having a crisis prevention plan in place can stop things escalating, or even nip a potential crisis in the bud.

Can a crisis be good for you?

A well handled crisis can leave you far stronger than you were before it happened. The fuss can raise your brand awareness, and whilst it may be considered a bad thing in the eye of the storm, it makes your brand a familiar one.

Brand values are a consideration – if your organisation is edgy and ‘out there’, breaking all the rules, a staff member who has insulted will be less of a problem than for a Quaker organisation trading on its goodness, for example. If you’re a ‘slag of a snack’ or a gambling site, people’s expectations will be far lower than someone trading on a higher moral platform.

Links back and traffic to your website can help somewhat with Google natural search, which never hurts (and negative PR has been deliberately used on many occasions by SEO specialists for just this reason).

After a crisis it pays – perhaps after a short gap – to ramp up positive PR for a while to turn opinions around and so that negative publicity slips down the Google rankings (that sounds more cynical than it’s intended to be) — and, of course to use any recent ‘fame’ to capitalise on media recognitions/interest. 

It rarely. however, pays to leave loose ends. They will almost always come back and bite you later.

So depending upon circumstances, yes, it’s possible to come out shining. To date I’ve rarely had a crisis where something good fails to emerge for the business. A well handled, honestly lead crisis management campaign can win hearts and minds as easily as they were challenged in the first place.

And, of course, prevention and planning will make any crisis far easier to deal with.

*FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

Originally published October 2018. Moved to new blog, January 2020

Lush : a Crisis Management Perspective

If you read the PR pundits this week, you could be forgiven for thinking that Lush is facing a comms crisis of epic proportions. People are sharing the videos Lush has created with ‘disaster in the making’ comments. And for many brands, this would be truly uncomfortable.

Lush: "Spied on for Taking a Stand" poster
Lush poster

Lush on a back foot? 

Lush may appear to some to be on the back foot and PR folk across the country are knowingly tutting at their foolishness.

However, its campaign is creating change, raising an important issue.

Lush is a brand that demands change. This campaign is bang on brand: many of their own workers are activists.

How the whole thing will pan out remains to be seen, and sentiment analysis online will be confused and confusing because in amongst the negative comments about Lush comms are negative comments about the police and police response.

This is a far braver campaign than most would have an appetite for. Go after the authorities and they’ll go after you, and ‘off duty’ police officers have been persuading store managers to take down their window displays. This for me now presents an interesting ‘crisis point’ – what will Lush do with the store managers who have buckled?

A comment on Policing?

I would be far more concerned about the police reputation – they, to me, are the ones who are mishandling their communications and creating a ‘crisis’  by missing a trick.

I recently dated someone who was not what he purported to be. When I found out the truth I wanted to rip my skin off. Yet it was nothing compared to those women (and men) who’ve been far more duped by police officers who are supposed to be there to uphold their rights to campaign for a better society – one without young black men being stabbed, without guns, with better environmental protections, with better animal husbandry. 

The police are there to protect all of us, not just a select few.

And even if I didn’t agree with the sentiments of the campaign, we have watched policing of far right demonstrations this week. The police are there to uphold a right, not make political judgements. Some of their communicators seem to be forgetting that this is a peaceful protest, well within democratic rights. It’s not an attack on the Police, it’s an attack on a part of policing that has gone horribly wrong.

On the #SpyCops issue, the police have been found, in court, to have overstepped the mark. Not the front line police officers, who fulfil an important role and, for the most part, do it well. But the police using duplicity to get into people’s homes. The people who spied on Stephen Lawrence’s parents. These are not beat bobbies. They are people who were badly deployed by their senior officers.

MPs are pressing for the current public inquiry into undercover policing: without full disclosure regarding what’s happened: that the police have lost trust has little to do with Lush.

But rather than shirt-tail and use the Lush campaign as a way to show how much they are doing to clean up their act, the Police are entering into Twitter spats and ‘having polite chats’ with branch managers, persuading them to take the displays down. As someone with police officers in my own family, I feel the rank and file police officers are being hugely let down. The few who are behaving like this are letting down the rank and file, and creating a wider ‘us and them’ divide.

The Police Federation has called the Lush campaign “poorly judged”, rather than taking the high ground and embracing the forthcoming enquiry as an opportunity to exonerate its members (although, frankly, those responsible will have retired by the time the enquiry’s findings are published).

Weaknesses?

If there’s a weakness in the Lush campaign from a PR perspective, it’s that they don’t seem to have rallied their staff behind the campaign ENOUGH.  I expected to find shareable YouTube videos, images and fact sheets to support the media and bloggers. I’d want to hear them seizing the opportunity for a mainstream media debate. It’s not too late. They have the nettle in their hands – they should both grasp it and convert us all to nettle soup.

Perhaps they weren’t ready for the response – other campaigns have not generated the same furore. But that’s supposition on my part.

When the awards on successful communications campaigns are handed out, if column inches, effecting change and SEO are the metrics, this campaign deserves a podium place. We’ll have to see how it pans out for sales, with so many people saying they’ll no longer buy there. But this week, although I make my own bath bombs rather than pay a silly price for them, I’ll not be alone, I’m sure, in getting out to buy some. It will be interesting to watch.

Despite much lip service to ethics, we don’t seem quite ready as an industry to embrace ‘issues’ as anything other than cute, cuddly and remote– yet.

Blog created October 2018, reblogged January 2020