Be sure the CEO has media training.

Be sure the CEO has media training.

Human Resources Directors can suddenly find themselves on the front line of a crisis battlefield during the course of a routine workday. Just take a look at any newscast or twitter feed and you will find companies in crisis from cyber attacks to corporate takeovers and workplace violence.

This week a client invited me to speak with her regional Human Resources Directors group about the steps to take in a crisis. Here is the presentation that I gave. The HR Directors particularly enjoyed the interactive scenario at the end in which three teams created their own crisis communications plans within a short time period.

Do you have additions, questions or comments about what you would do in a crisis? I would love to hear from you before I present this again to our Chamber of Commerce leaders later this month.

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Sometimes we just want to erase crises.

Sometimes we wish we could erase a crisis.

Recently I had the distinct honor of spending one hour on the phone with “America’s crisis guru”™, Jim Lukaszewski. I had recently wrapped up some crisis communications work for a client and eagerly wanted to do more. After listening to Jim on a recent webinar about the Brian Williams scandal, I decided to “learn from the master.”

Here’s what Jim shared about crisis communications (which he defined as “people stopping, reputational stopping, show stopping, product stopping, victim creating and sometimes high profile work.”)

1. Call it Readiness Review. No boss every wants to believe they will have a crisis. Generally speaking they are correct. As Jim says, true crises, such as violence in the workplace or an executive caught in an untruth are few in number. So ask the boss “What are you ready to handle? What are you not ready for?” Make a list of things that can be done better.

2. Tell a Story. Jim said that stories are the second most powerful way of learning. What’s the lesson in the story? Boil down the lesson into teachable elements like numbered lists.

3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes. Say something that matters to the other person from their perspective. Remember, it’s less and less about “me.” Focus on the person. Be interested in them and their perspective.

4. All Problems are Management Issues. Is it a management/leadership problem or a followership problem?  No one knows the business like the boss – it’s their business. What are the options? Communicators are really option providers as opposed to solution providers as some professionals call themselves.

5. Ask Good Questions. What would the boss tell his/her mother? Jim said most great leaders have a close relationship with their mothers. That’s why this question is one of Jim’s favorites. No doubt it brings any matter to a simple truth. It’s certainly one question we could all use in business more often.

What are some actions you would add in a “readiness review?”

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MythbustersRecently I had the opportunity to speak with a class of incoming freshmen at Milligan College about careers in public relations. My presentation was called PR Mythbusters.

Myth #1– PR presents many glamorous job opportunities (a la Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.)

Reality:  PR is all about your client and making THEM look good!

Myth #2- PR is about press conferences and press releases.

Reality: While it is true that we create these kinds of events for clients there is a tremendous amount of behind the scenes planning work that goes into what you see on the visible, front end. To be good in PR students must excel at written and verbal communications.

Myth #3- Publicity is only needed when bad things happen.

Reality: Publicity is a two edged sword. Sometimes it can be used to address crises as in a well-thought out crisis communications plan. Other times it can be used for much good as in our recent Socktober campaign with Kid President that brought in over a thousand pairs of new socks for the homeless in our community.

Myth #4– Any publicity is good publicity

Reality: Although Hollywood stars may ascribe to this,  there are times when some of the greatest accomplishments of a public relations professional include keeping a client out of the limelight.

Myth #5– Anyone can do it

Reality: It takes a well trained, well thought out team to execute a top PR plan including strategy and tactics. Our current Up & At ‘Em Turkey Trot PR committee incorporated last season’s Biggest Loser top five finalist Jennifer Messer as grand marshal. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher (and Science Hill High School grad) Daniel Norris is also helping spread the word of the popular Thanksgiving Day Family Fun Run/walk.

Myth #6– Social Media is just for fun

Reality: Social Media, particularly LinkedIn, can be a great connecting tool that will build professional bridges now and in the future. Futhermore using social media well can help build clients personal and professional brands.

What are some PR Myths or reality questions that you may have?

Here is the SlideShare Presentation

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An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777.

If you don’t think a crisis could happen to you let’s look at two very different cases that both involved crisis management and a dire need for public relations/reputation management. Last week I touched on Paula Deen and her horrendous interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show after skipping out of her previously scheduled first interview. This week we have a more tragic example of a company in need of crisis communications, with the Asiana airplane crash in San Francisco.

Social media enables each of us to become citizen journalists. Any company that ignores that fact, is truly sticking their head in the sand in today’s society.Let’s look in-depth at the reaction to the Asiana airplane crash at SFO. A huge shout out of thanks to Jeff Domansky, the PR Coach, for connecting me with this superb SlideShare slide show from SimpliFlying, an aviation marketing firm.  This is a must-see for anyone interested in social media or in crisis communications.


According to the SimpliFlying timeline of the air crash,the first reaction was a tweet from a Google employee who saw the crash and sent her tweet one minute after the plane crash landed at San Francisco at 11:28 AM, Saturday, July 6, 2013. Journalists across the country clambered to interview that first tweeter. SimpliFlying credits the NTSB with staying on top of social media throughout the day, posting regular updates. (They’ve since had their own PR woes.) However, Asiana airlines did not respond with a press release until 8:43 PM that evening. In this case silence did in fact speak louder than words. The company was roundly criticized for not quickly making a statement to the media through Facebook or twitter.  The most interesting slide of all shows the stock price of Asiana Airlines plummeting as rumors were running rampant about their pilots lack of experience. So for those who don’t think social media matters, look at the bottom line.

Some takeaway tips from MarketingMel:

Whether you are Asiana Airlines or a business professional in East Tennessee,

1. Be prepared: Have a crisis communications plan in place. Incorporate a social media strategy as part of your crisis communications plan.

2. Always show empathy and concern for those involved. Tragically, school children lost their lives in this crash. Getting the CEO to San Francisco was a great start on that road.

3. Prepare three key messages: Remember that we humans think and remember in threes. Assess the situation, prepare your talking points and stay on message.

4. Tell the truth: Never fudge the facts. If you don’t yet know an answer find it out and then get back to your audience.

Remember that in today’s age of instant communications, timing is everything. The conversation will go on whether you are there or not so make sure your crisis communications plan is in place as part of your overall strategic planning. If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me. I “cut my teeth” practicing for crises when I worked in public relations at a nuclear defense company. I have since helped attorneys and their clients as well as private corporations and public officials prepare for the unexpected.

What are your thoughts about the air crash and the way in which it was handled? How would you have handled it better?



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Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 9.07.30 AMWhen The Food Network’s Southern cooking guru Paula Deen fell on her own sword during The Today Show I was actually on a family vacation at the beach. (Although I was basking in the sunshine and not near a TV  I began getting tweets saying the rotund Savannah, Georgia chef needed MarketingMel’s Crisis Communications help!)  So I popped up The Today Show interview on my laptop, watched with horror, and came up with the following hints for any client in crisis. Here’s what I would have urged Paula to do if she had been my client:

1- Have three (3) talking points and stick with them: People remember in threes. It’s an old writing and public speaking trick and it works. Example: I’m here to apologize, I’m here to make things right and I’m here to move forward. Then elaborate briefly on these.

2- Do NOT let the interviewer get you off track: Wow! Matt Lauer came out with guns ablaze but Paula should have been ready. After all she blew him off the week prior (see Bonus Tip.) However, you Paula, already have your three talking points prepared ahead and you will stick with them. Remember, the main thing’s the main thing! Stick with your key messages.

3- Show empathy: This is huge in any crisis. Someone or something is obviously hurt. Therefore show empathy to the one who has been “done wrong.” Example: “Years ago I made a mistake. Since that time I have ______ (fill in the blank to show how you have righted the wrong and you are now moving forward.) We’ve recently seen some politicians do this but guess what? At least two of them are back and running in New York City elections. If done right, the American people are pretty willing to accept a sincere apology. Last time I checked we all make mistakes.

Bonus Tip for Paula: Don’t blow off The Today Show the first time! You are a celebrity so your moves will be watched closely. Don’t arouse curiosity.

If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me! I have years of experience, including my start in public relations in the nuclear industry, and would be glad to help you. 

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Flickr Image by Haags Uitburo

Taking the time to put a social media policy in place now will lead to freedom later. This is a case study. I guess you could call it the modern day version of crisis communications. It’s the story of one client and why they were really glad we had a company social media policy in place for them when MarketingMel helped guide them in the launch of their social media presence.

Now, the story….Sadly, not all people play nice. Not all people think before they write or post. As we prepared to launch this client’s social media presence  we put a social media policy (with its own visible tab). The idea would be rather like locks on car and house doors. Let’s keep the honest people honest and if some crazy person tries to break in we can point to our policy. Several months went by (about five from the time of launch) and there was still no need for the policy. Then one day, in response to a job posting (of all things), someone decided to post a truly insane, slanderous tirade aimed at another human being (who was not employed by our client) and chose the client’s Facebook page as the medium. We quickly caught it. Thankfully we had the policy in place and suggested the client message the slanderer and point it out. It’s the first time we’ve ever had to advise to take something down and, in retrospect, I supposed there could have been a public notation made as to why the post was being deleted. Since that time I’ve advised other clients to be sure to have a social media policy in place and I help them write them. Ironically the person who posted the tirade actually came back to post some positive comments later. Do you have a social media policy? What are your experiences? Please share your success stories with us so we can all learn here.  By the way, I really like the motto on Best Buy’s social media policy statement: “Be Smart. Be Respectful. Be Human.”

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P.R. pro's are welcome in a Crisis. Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I worked in marketing for a large law firm I remember my husband’s response to all of the lawyer jokes and kidding. “Just try going into court without one.” The same could be said for a C.E.O. turned loose in a crisis storm without a good Public Relations consultant to provide guidance. Major crises are in the news daily. Behind those giant companies and institutions are the P.R. firms consulting with them.

Crisis communications is a specific niche within the public relations field. Ideally every company should have a crisis communications plan in place prior to the crisis occurring (it’s not just a matter of if one will occur, it is when!)  I remember routinely rehearsing crises at one large defense company where I was employed as a communications specialist. Look at most of our schools today. Drilling and preparedness is routine for these students.

A good P.R. pro will weigh the pro’s and con’s of given media strategies and help to formulate an overall communications plan to deal with a crisis. This year I was called in to handle a client crisis involving a potential hostile takeover attempt. On very short notice I was working with the board chair, the chief executive, the general counsel and the media! A good P.R. Pro knows how to handle the top business executives and how to speak their language. I read with interest Stacy Blackman’s article in U.S. News and World Report, “Why B-Schools need to teach P.R.”  While the language of business is key, it’s the well strategized and crafted communications message that forms the bridge from business to the receiver. It’s ultimately this ability to speak “bilingually” when needed that gives a P.R. pro a seat at the corporate table. In my client’s case the self-described “white knight” was turned away thanks to a sound communications strategy that took into account the client’s business and communications needs. It would behoove M.B.A.’s to learn public relations in school as eventually most CEO’s will end up working with a Public Relations professional. Does your company have a crisis communications plan for 2012? These days social media must be an integral part of any plan. Here are some excellent resources to get you thinking.

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David Letterman

David Letterman

David Letterman’s recent public indiscretions got me thinking about my own career as a public relations professional.  As long as there are people in the world those of us in the public relations profession will have job security. All humans stumble, but some just happen to do it much more publicly than others. So to use Dave’s own top ten list: Here is why there will always be a need for PR people.

10- Politicians and political candidates will keep running for office

9- Companies will want to engage with and not run from their customers

8- Executives will need to know how to look/speak and talk on camera

7- CEOs will need someone to see the long term strategy not just the short term dollars

6- Individuals and companies will seek out new ways of communicating with their customers via the next great twitter, Facebook etc.

5- Public officials will stub their toes and have to make public mea culpas

4- Companies will need a crisis communications plan in place in order to thwart disasters

3- Someone will have to advise the reigning emperor that he is not wearing clothes

2- (Speaking of no clothes) Late night talk show hosts and movie stars will be unable to keep their pants zipped

And the number one reason there will always be PR people:

1- Oprah will keep feeding the media machine full of sobbing apologies and the public will continue its thirst for more

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