crisis communications

Damaged Goods: Don’t Let a Crisis Turn Into a PR Nightmare. Assess the Damage First.

Getting crisis communications right requires coordinating several moving parts. And because managing a firm through a crisis is no small feat, we thought it would be beneficial to break down the major elements in a series of blog posts. What follows are our top recommendations for dealing with “damaged goods.”

In this post, we kick off our series by discussing how to assess the damage. Next, we’ll look at controlling the damage (or at least containing it). And finally, we’ll talk about the long-term damage that comes from overpromising. Of course, during any phase of a crisis, it’s always smart to consult lawyers and PR experts as needed, who can help steer you through the chaos. Very often that external perspective provides invaluable guidance for crisis communications. Let’s dig in.

damaged goodsFirst, Follow Your Plan: Don’t shoot first and ask questions later.

Remember that assessing the damage during the crisis is the first step in crisis communications that you can’t take in advance. This means that in a perfect world, you would already have a plan in place for managing a crisis…well, okay, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t need the plan because you wouldn’t be in a crisis situation at all. But if we’re assessing the damage, we’re already in crisis mode.

At this point, you need to work your crisis management plan. The most important reason to follow your plan is that you want to avoid reacting without having the right information. Your plan should give you a roadmap to ensure that your crisis management team gets the relevant information to assess the actual damage and come up with a response that addresses its causes.

So, once you have your crisis management team, spokespeople, and holding statements at the ready, it’s time to go through the process of assessing the damage.

What does the assessment process look like?

Get to the truth (or something close to the truth)—ASAP!

Your #1 goal in the assessment phase should be getting to the bottom of the crisis as quickly as possible so that you can respond and show the public that you are in control.

PR experience and theory both suggest that a successful crisis response can be summed up by the following: be quick, be accurate, and be consistent. While proper assessment is crucial for accuracy and consistency, if you don’t take action quickly enough, accuracy and consistency won’t matter.

The ultimate goal of crisis communications is to control the narrative during a crisis. So don’t let perfection be the enemy of a speedy response. You should be ready with a statement within an hour after the crisis occurs. That said, DO NOT SPECULATE. Your response should be informed by the what you know, but don’t wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. Ask the following questions:

1. What kind of damage are we dealing with?

  • Public Safety Compromise: When the crisis is about public safety, the public needs to know what to do to protect themselves. Write a press release and post on social media to get the information out quickly. Make sure to acknowledge people’s concerns and questions. And rather than arguing in public, engage in a measured and meaningful way with those who are affected.
  • Brand Reputation Damage: Figure out how much of the brand is affected by the crisis. It’s important not to over or underestimate the damage. Hearing a CEO say, “I’ll look into it” doesn’t do anything to start the process of repairing the damage. But hearing her say, “I’m deeply saddened by what occurred and I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure this never happens again” can go a long way toward regaining public trust.
  • Missed Numbers: Most of the time, stakeholders and the general public will forgive honest mistakes or unanticipated dips in earnings. This is not to say they will be happy about missteps that cost money. However, what they can’t often forgive are financial mistakes that end up looking like intentional deceptions. Be transparent about the circumstances and explain policy changes or business model changes that will help to avoid future financial missteps.
  • Executive Credibility Damage: This type of damage can be the most complicated to assess and can throw the firm into chaos. It’s important to acknowledge the accusations, allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain cultural changes that will result.

Have templates and holding statements ready for each type of damage that is relevant for your firm. While your company’s initial response may not have much “new” information because it’s clear that a full investigation is needed to get to the real truth, your early response will help position you as a credible source of information and give you the opportunity to begin to tell your side of the story.

2. What relationship bonus points can you cash in?

Make a list of every resource you can think of that could help you assess and control the damage. Then make it a priority to contact anyone with whom you can cash in those hard-earned relationship bonus points. Keep an eye out for these sometimes overlooked beneficial relationships:

  • Traditional media can be your friend: While you may be tempted to avoid the traditional media and control the narrative by relying exclusively on your social channels, if you have contacts in the news media, don’t hesitate to contact them. Traditional media still matters and they will cover the story. Better to be up front and accessible than appear to be dodging questions and hiding.
  • Listen to your team first: It can also be tempting to be reactive, especially when your firm’s brand and reputation are on the line. But rather than firing off a tweet storm, talk to your PR team. They’ve been monitoring the situation too and are likely ready with language that you can use immediately. Strong internal communications are key during a crisis.
  • Seek legal counsel: Having strong relationships with people who understand the relevant laws that govern your industry can be a lifesaver in crisis situations. If you have a Chief Legal Officer or General Counsel, make it a point to engage with them. If you have external counsel, start building those relationships now.
  • Consider key stakeholders: Is your firm publicly traded? Make sure that you have a message for analysts and shareholders that is consistent with your media messages. Consider proactively reaching out to key shareholders and analysts to make sure that they have the appropriate public information. Could this event lead to regulatory or legislative inquiries? Make sure that your Government Relations team is engaged.

Every business, at some point, will have to deal with a crisis. Assessing the damage and using proven principles of crisis communications will determine the difference between a response that demonstrates your firm’s credibility or further damages your brand. Ultimately, when you know what went wrong, you can start the process of repairing the damage.

If you’re deep in the throes of crisis mode now, we wish you good fortune and hope to see you on the other side. Ideally though, if you see your firm on a collision course with a crisis, schedule a consultation with our team and let’s go to work to help you lessen or avoid the damage altogether. At Audacia Strategies, we use bold moves to conquer any crisis!

This is the first in a series of posts on crisis communications. Be sure to return to check out the rest of the series.

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corporate finance

6 Easy Ways to Empower Everyone on Your Team to Talk About Corporate Finance

We’ve discussed the issue of silo’d departments on the blog before. Most recently, we talked about tearing down the wall that divides sales and marketing. Another area where I see walls being built is around corporate finance. Smart executives know how important it is for all departments to stay on top of finances, but they often run up against resistance.

Frankly, that’s a shame. Effective financial communications are critical even when not speaking to shareholders or other investors. So, whether it’s because of a turf war, lack of discipline, or just plain uncertainty, it pays to remove these obstacles and make sure every key employee has a relative handle on corporate finance.

But “I Don’t Do Numbers”

I’ve heard a lot of otherwise talented marketers and corporate communicators say, “I’m a marketer/writer/communicator, I don’t do numbers.” This statement is frustrating to hear Every. Single. Time.

Here’s why:

1. Whether you work for a start-up, non-profit, government agency, or blue-chip titan of Wall Street, finances matter. If any part of your job involves convincing investors to risk their cold hard cash, you obviously better have those numbers on the tip of your tongue (or at least on the top of your mind).

But even beyond the typical financial stakeholders, media, employees, and customers all view companies through a financial lens. They are thinking: How stable are they? Are they hiring? Are they expanding their footprint in our area? Beyond our area? Understanding this perspective is crucial if you’re going to create a message that resonates with your audience.

2. If you can’t speak confidently about your organization’s business model, you’re missing an opportunity to add long-term value to your employer. Executives understand this point well. This is likely one big reason they have landed the positions they hold. And as a leader charged with mentoring others in the organization, you can’t stress this piece of corporate communications enough.

Organizations NEED communicators “at the table,” but if you can’t speak the language of business (finance) then you won’t be of value at that table. Regardless of what you take to be your primary role in the organization, if you want to rise in the ranks, you need to be on the lookout for places where you can “punch above your weight.” Being able to talk corporate finance is a huge advantage.

3. Financials are the proof points to your broader corporate message. In this context, financials can be revenue, market cap, overhead expenses, membership growth, etc. It is difficult to see how a marketer who doesn’t understand this point could truly understand marketing. Any marketing message that is divorced from a company’s finances risks falling flat, or worse, overpromising and under delivering can be a death knell for sales.

Empower Staff to Be Comfortable Communicating Financials

While it’s easy to say that every key employee should be able to speak about corporate finance, it’s a lot harder to make this goal a reality. How do you empower those within your organization to become comfortable with and effective at communicating financials?

1. If your company is publicly-traded, encourage your employees to read your 10-K, 10-Q, annual report, and proxy statements. You could also ask the finance director to do a short presentation or Q&A for all department heads.

2. Encourage leaders in marketing, sales, and other departments to take your IR lead out for coffee (bonus points if they do the same for your financial planning and analysis (FP&A) lead!). There’s no substitute for hearing about the state of an organization’s financials from the experts themselves. They can provide powerful insights and help in understanding the business model.

3. One great way to help get everyone up to speed is to read and talk about your industry publications (including the WSJ and FT if possible). It’s not important for everyone to read them cover to cover (or top to bottom online), but these articles will provide a general understanding of the impact of market movements on your industry. You could, for example, start a weekly meeting with a discussion of an important shift in the market and its impact on your business.

4. Actively follow your competitors and talk about what they’re doing well and where you have the upperhand. Encourage team members to listen to how peers speak about their business in the press, at events, in their writing, and in their financial filings.

5. Keep learning! This goes for everyone involved with your organization. There are some great FREE corporate finance courses out there (e.g., Finance for Non-Finance Professionals created by Rice University professors and offered through Coursera). Also, professional organizations (e.g., PRSA, IABC, NIRI) have opportunities to gain additional business savvy. Consider incentives for employees who put in the extra effort to gain skills in corporate finance.

6. Hire Audacia (joking… kinda). But seriously, sometimes bringing in communications professionals with an actual background in finance can make all the difference. Corporate finance is our world, let us introduce it to your team. Or, better yet, before you go through the trouble of trying absolutely everything, why not sit down for a consultation and let us steer you in the right direction?

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sales and marketing

Tear Down This Wall! 3 Effective Ways to Bridge the Gap Between Sales and Marketing.

For as long as there has been a separation between sales and marketing, there has been hand-wringing over successfully transitioning leads from marketing to sales. Especially when things are not going well, the hand-wringing is quickly followed by finger-pointing (and sometimes other not-so-nice gestures).

It doesn’t have to be this way! Sales and Marketing are both more effective when they work together. But while it’s easy to see how the two should work together, it’s far from easy to make this the reality. Let’s discuss some of the more common obstacles and powerful ways to bridge the divide.

My Experience

Having been on both sides of this fence during my career, I understand all too well the obstacles that prevent an integrated approach. But I have also learned along the way that we’re more likely to see success when everyone concentrates on sidestepping the major pitfalls to cooperation.

I started my career embedded with a B2G sales team and I still believe it was the best place for me to get my feet wet because:

1. Selling to government agencies forced me to think externally.

Coming from the private sector, I really had to work to understand our customers’ needs. Because market dynamics among private businesses are so different from market dynamics among government agencies, there was a steep learning curve. I spent a lot of time researching the industry, so that I could understand my customers better.

2. It taught me that the sales process doesn’t happen overnight.

When you first learn the ropes in sales, there’s a lot of talk about human psychology. The “tricks of the trade” are all about learning the right techniques to help you push all the right emotional buttons and close the deal. There’s also a lot of mystique built up around sales phenoms who can “sell sand in the desert” or whatever your preferred euphemism.

I quickly learned to set aside a lot of this conventional wisdom. I learned that sales is more about trust than trickery and that this holds true whether you are selling an aircraft, business software, or laundry detergent. Building trust-based relationships in B2G, B2C, or B2B requires cultivation.

3. I learned that being effective in business takes a team.

Cliche, but true. Not only did our sales team need to cooperate, but we also needed support from finance, pricing, contracts, operations/delivery, and communications/marketing. A successful customer approach requires more than the right technical solution. It also has to be priced correctly, with a mutually beneficial contract, and a solid plan for customer implementation.

Obstacles to Sales and Marketing Integration

Since those early years, I’ve talked with so many colleagues and clients who struggle with implementing an integrated approach to sales and marketing. I’ve noticed a few common patterns as well as a few common solutions.

My observations from the trenches and a few thoughts on what worked to overcome these common obstacles:

1. Silo’d departments.

Sales and marketing too often run on parallel paths. While there may be the occasional shout out across the cavern to make sure the language is consistent, most of the time, corporate marketing messages and tactics seem a world away from the needs of the sales team.

What helps: Share plans and ask for feedback.

While in sales, I spent a lot of time frustrated that my marketing team “didn’t get” what we needed to really sell. The truth was we hadn’t shared what we needed and they hadn’t asked what we were trying to accomplish. We assumed someone else had shared our goals or that they would instinctively know what we needed. They asked specific questions about markets for advertising placements or trade show investments, but not about bigger goals.

Later, when I was leading a marketing team, I spent a lot of time sharing our marketing plan for the year, asking for feedback, and asking “why” to get to the business goals we were trying to accomplish. For example, I would ask, “Why are we going to ABC trade show?” If the answer was, “because that’s what we’ve always done,” that was a red flag to me.

By the way, my team reduced trade show costs by over 30% and improved individual event ROI in 15 months, just by asking this question about every show.

2. Lack of shared goals at the working level.

Generally speaking, leaders have common incentives based on their shared understanding of business success. Generally speaking, leaders do a good job of communicating sales goals too. It’s fairly clear: orders, sales, profit. But communications can break down at the level of aligning marketing and sales to help everyone meet their goals.

What helps: Finding and communicating shared goals.

As a marketing leader, I would sit with our sales team(s) to understand their goals and align my operations and goals to support them. Then, I would communicate those goals to my team. I would also try to draw clear lines from the company’s mission and corporate-wide goals to each individual’s role.

Knowing the tactical goals made it easier to help each other. These goals go beyond sales and marketing alignment to internally communicating key metrics to help keep things real. In addition to keeping everyone on the same page and holding them accountable for their roles, sharing metrics that are reflective of goals, provides an effective way to share progress throughout the year.

3. Lack of trust.

This one is a bit soft and squishy, but those trust-based relationships (see above) are just as important to internal communications as they are to external communications. Marketers often view salespeople as “cowboys” shooting from the hip. Salespeople often view marketers as stuffy “PowerPoint junkies,” who can’t have a conversation without pointing to a chart.

What helps: Getting away from your office/cubicle/desk.

I’ve found that regularly attending already scheduled staff meetings is a great way for both sales and marketing to hear about the “real” work, as well as get a better sense for how to support, engage, and share fresh perspectives. It’s always useful to hear a fresh take on the market, your competition, or other issues facing your industry.

It’s human nature. The more you hear from others about their reasoning and approach to a particular challenge, the more you will begin to trust their judgment. Trust is key to figuring out how to work together.

So, invite a coworker in another department to Get coffee… Go to lunch… Go for a walk. And ask what they’re up to, what their biggest challenges are, and how you might be able to help.

With sales and marketing on the same page, you will see the hand-wringing and the finger-pointing put to rest. It’s challenging to find an integrated approach that works, but the results speak for themselves.

We have the experience, the patience, and the audacity to break down unnecessary barriers to business success at Audacia. If your sales and marketing teams could use some fine-tuning, give us a call. We’re always game to Get coffee… Go to lunch… Or Go for a walk!

 

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communications plan

Does Your Message Actually Connect With Your Audience? — Finding the Right Communications Plan.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a communications plan were as simple as making sure that you have all of the relevant information organized in a way that makes sense? Unfortunately, finding the right package for this information is also important and can be more difficult. Developing an effective message is essential to getting the word out, especially when the information you’re putting out is highly technical or complex.

While there is definitely a time and place for technical information, we can be conditioned to hide behind complexity, rather than thinking more about our audience to clearly and concisely communicate our message. Although it takes some extra effort to determine what will resonate with our customers, investors, board members, regulatory officials, media, etc., the time we put in is well worth it.

Each Industry Has Its Own Language

When I started my career in the Aerospace and Defense industry, I literally worked with rocket scientists, PhD scientists, mathematicians, and other brilliant co-workers. Talk about intimidating! While I do have a few extra letters of my own behind my name, learning how to best communicate with these folks was challenging to say the least.

What made it especially difficult was not as much about the intimidation (I believe in the value of my work!), as it was about figuring out the industry’s language—you know, that jargon that pervades every industry?

I quickly learned how to call a post-meeting review a “hot wash.” I realized that people in A&D often speak using more acronyms than words. But some of the other lessons were learned the hard way.

I distinctly remember sitting in a new employee orientation receiving a detailed overview about my new firm’s products and services and feeling (a) overwhelmed by the amount of technical information, (b) lost in the lingo, and (c) utterly bored to tears.

I knew one thing for sure: If I was bored by our presentation, our customers would be positively comatose, that is, whenever they weren’t frustrated by trying to understand our offerings and why it mattered. This was the first time I realized that a communications plan could make a huge difference.

Don’t Blame Your Audience for Your Failure to Communicate

Now, be careful not to misunderstand the above lesson. Customers (or whoever our audience happens to be) need to clearly understand the technical specifications, features, and benefits of a solution. However, when we hide behind the technical lingo in lieu of focusing on determining the messages that resonate with our customers, that is when communications break down. We then blame the customers for not choosing our product or service saying, “they just don’t get it.” We can do better.

Instead of playing the blame game, wouldn’t it be better if we designed our communications plan around our audiences and took the time to figure out how translate technical language into a message that even those outside of our industries can relate to?

Here are some ideas for communicating highly complex information:

1. Start with the outcome.

What is the problem that you are solving? How do you help achieve your audience’s goals? In marketing strategy, experts refer to this in terms of “pain points.” The most important reason to start with the outcome when developing a communications plan is that it automatically puts you in an empathetic mindset. Thinking from your buyer’s or investor’s or board member’s perspective makes it more likely that the message you craft will resonate with your audience. My gut check here is: “Would my grandfather understand what we do?”

2. Avoid too much jargon.

A New York University study found that statements written plainly were viewed as more truthful than those that used jargon-y language. The reason? It’s easier for a reader to visualize an outcome expressed in concrete terms and apply it to their situation. Jargon-y language requires abstract thinking and separates the reader from the message.

Even if your audience is well steeped in the language of your industry, jargon is not usually the best way to articulate technical or complex information. Different experts interpret jargon differently based on their backgrounds and how long they’ve been involved in this world. So, if you want to avoid misunderstanding, it’s important to use precise language.

3. Use smart visuals.

While some industries tend to overuse visuals, others seem to forget entirely that they are a valid communications tool. However, a well-placed visual in your presentation will do wonders to make sure your team or investors are on the same page.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that just as you need to consider what resonates with the verbiage you use, you also need to consider what resonates with the visuals you use. That means, NOT an overly complex, flow chart with super small font. Have you noticed the avalanche of infographics all over the web and in business presentations lately? It’s because a strong picture provides a concrete way to help your audience relate to and remember your message.

According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. So, take a page from your favorite professor in college and spend some time thinking about the best ways to show, rather than tell about the relationships present in your information.

4. Tell a story.

Storytelling resonates on an emotional level with your audience—making your brand more relatable and memorable. So, no matter how technical or complex the information, putting it into a narrative form will help you communicate.

In a previous blog post, we talked about ways to add storytelling elements to your communications plan. Even if storytelling is not “standard” in your industry, you can use elements of a story to get your point across. Just remember that however you present your narrative, it should relate to the outcome that you are solving for (see #1).

 

If you follow the above 4 tips, your communications plan will be effective, without being overwhelming, too jargon-y, or too boring. Find the right way to organize the information and to convey it in a way that your audience will appreciate and you will no longer be tempted to hide behind complexity.

Audacia Strategies knows how to help you find the message that best resonates with your audience. With our experts working with you, you’ll move from thinking “they just don’t get it” to “they couldn’t be more engaged.” Let’s do this!

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communications strategy

100 Days: Time to Take a Hard Look at Your Communications Strategy

There is always a lot of discussion in the media and around office water coolers about the first 100 days of a president’s term. What’s been accomplished? What’s on deck? Truly, a lot can be accomplished in 100 days whether you are starting a new job, launching a new campaign, building a business, or leading the free world.

The president is the CEO of the nation, so it makes sense to evaluate the leadership landscape at this point. While it’s unrealistic to think that the first 100 days hold the key to an executive’s tenure…it certainly sets the tone.

For any executive, the 100-day mark is a good opportunity to come up for air and assess how focused tactics are addressing your broader communications strategy. It’s also a good time to (re)address how you talk about your strategy publicly.

As you look back on the first 100 days of 2017, consider where your organization is headed, what is working, and where you might need a course adjustment.

The Big Picture

It’s important in business (and in life) to take a step back to think about the big picture from time to time. Understandably, a long term communications strategy can get lost dealing with the day-to-day challenges and adjusting tactics to fulfill immediate expectations. So, be sure to remind yourself to take a step back, re-evaluate, assess metrics, and relaunch.

When it comes to your larger communications strategy, considering these big picture items will help you manage expectations both with your team and your stakeholders. Consider how you talk about your goals, expectations, and the steps to success. If you feel out of your depth, it may make sense to find a corporate communications partner to walk you through this process.

Recognize When it’s Time to Pull Up

Recently, I met with the executives of a newly launched business. The experience was a great reminder of the importance of keeping the big picture on the radar. We spent the first 30 minutes of the meeting discussing business challenges; how they were addressing those challenges; and how to grow revenue while maintaining—or growing—profit margins.

It was a good tactical conversation. But it wasn’t why I had been invited there. This company was concerned that they were under-valued compared to their peer set. And while all of the tactics to improve operations and financial results were absolutely critical components to addressing the valuation challenge, the team’s strategic goal had gotten lost in their tactical focus.

It was time to pull up. I took them through a process designed to help them assess progress to date; revisit their broader challenge; and address market changes, competitive shifts, and investor perception.

Now was also the right time to take a look at how they had communicated their strategy to investors. Did they know what we were working toward and why? Had we shared critical milestones, success metrics, and off-ramps?

In the first days, months, and even years figuring out what business model to follow and what broad communications strategy will propel an organization forward most effectively is difficult. Sometimes you are so focused on growth and getting the right systems in place that communications takes a backseat.

But having a communications strategy in place, even one that is not perfect, will help you avoid headaches down the road. Suppose you know that you will need to ease back on production during the Q3 or Q4 next year. It will be a lot easier to explain a slow quarter next year if you keep investors in the loop as to your broader strategy starting now.

Keep in mind that strategy shouldn’t be a secret. Secrets = surprises. And surprises are interpreted as risk by investors.

So, as we look back at the last 100 days of 2017. Ask yourself and your team some difficult questions:

1. Have you clearly and publicly articulated your strategy and goals? If the answer is “hmmm… maybe not,” chances are good that your team’s hard work on all those tactical concerns will go unnoticed or unappreciated or unvalued. Or, what’s even worse, the hard work will be viewed as “noise” without an anchor to a broader goal.

2. Have you shared the key success metrics that accompany your strategy? Remember that you have some control over your own evaluation. If there are metrics or milestones that you have accomplished, but which are likely to be overlooked by external analysts, highlight them yourself.

3. How about some of the key tactics that you’ll employ to achieve those goals? Once you have articulated your goals, strategies, and key metrics, anchor the tactics in those goals. Point to, for example, cost reductions, research and development, implementation of new inventory tracking software, etc.

4. How does your broader strategy fit the operating environment? As you execute the tactics of your strategy, your market, and your competitors, your business also changes. Take a moment to pick your head up to assess your operating environment. The strategy you chose to govern the organization when you first launched may not hold up today.

5. What is your strategy to communicate progress against your plan? A steady drumbeat of updates (small and large) lets investors know that you’re chipping away at your strategy. So designate someone to play the role of chief communications officer who will decide when and how to communicate with investors.

Developing a communications strategy can be quite a challenge, especially for new businesses. Our experts have helped teams like yours take a step back, find the right strategy, and execute the plan. Let’s talk about how how we can help you!

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holding statement

Controlling a Crisis is Hard. The Right Holding Statement Can Help.

When an incident or crisis occurs, the public has a right to know what happened and what steps are being taken to resolve the issue. Keep in mind, though, that there are better and worse ways to communicate during a crisis. Too often companies make the mistake of throwing together a holding statement only to further damage their credibility.

With everyone’s first instinct being to shoot video with their smartphones and immediately post to social media, the need to respond quickly during a crisis is apparent. For this reason alone, it’s important to have a crisis management plan in place that you can immediately activate in the event that something goes wrong.

The Holding Statement: Critical to Maintaining Credibility

One crucial, but often overlooked piece of any sound crisis management plan is the holding statement. Having this short statement on hand helps you avoid the dreaded “no comment” statement, which the public perceives as a disavowal of responsibility.

It also prevents the media from writing speculative stories about the organization and the situation. While you may not have the ability to control the crisis, you do have the ability to control the narrative. In other words, a skillfully written holding statement maintains credibility in the face of a crisis.

Crisis Communications is a Delicate Business

During a crisis, communications can have one of two effects: the statements released can mitigate the damage or make a bad situation worse. So, what can your organization do to ensure that your communications calm the storm instead of churning up more trouble?

1. Create Pre-Crisis Holding Statements

What holds true on the basketball court, holds true for crisis management—there is nothing worse than being caught flat-footed. Just as champions on the court run drills to prepare their defense for game day, champions in crisis management run drills to prepare their responses for an emergency.

But before you can prepare those responses, you need to have a good crisis management plan in place. Start by anticipating possible risks and vulnerabilities; then put together holding statements for each one. Remember to think broadly about the types of crises that might impact your company. This could be anything from safety issues to natural or manmade disasters to social media frenzies.

The good news here is that if you take the time to identify potential crises and think through the right statements ahead of time, while heads are cool, you set yourself up for saving your credibility should the worst happen.

2. Consider Distribution

Holding statements can be issued via traditional distribution methods, such as press conferences, but given the current pace of communications and multiplicity of channels, including social media, having multiple distribution methods makes sense.

This means that you actually need several variations of each holding statement you create. Create channel-appropriate statements for each of the following: traditional media distribution, social media video messaging, talking points for key spokespersons, social media posts, customer messages, website updates, and whatever other channels make sense for your organization.

3. Strike the Right Tone

Tone is very important. In the event of a crisis, you will want your holding statement to acknowledge that your company recognizes the need to cooperate with media and to inform the public without sounding authoritative.

If your communications team isn’t careful, the desire to show that you are in control of the situation can come off as arrogance or indifference to the injury that others are experiencing.

Holding Statement Keys: Simple, Informative, Timely

Once you have thought through your crisis strategy with an eye toward maintaining your credibility, keep a few more details in mind as you prepare your actual holding statements.

Keep It Simple: No speculation.

The holding statement is a confirmation of known facts, expression of awareness, and—depending on the situation—expression of appropriate and authentic empathy. Organizations are most often judged on the authenticity of their response in times of crisis.

A cold, legalese message during an emergency (particularly one with physical, financial, or environmental harms) can be a turn off and result in questions about credibility and brand promise.

Informative: Stick to the facts—Who, What, Where, When, How, Now What?

Talk about the actions your organization is taking and the priorities you will address. As with all communications, make sure that your holding statement aligns with key corporate values (e.g., prescription drug safety is our number one priority). Do NOT address rumors, speculation, or unconfirmed reports.

Make sure that key spokespeople are identified and that all inquires are routed through these people. If you skip this step, contradictory statements could end up adding to the chaos, which is the last thing you need. Collaborate with your legal team ahead of time (ideally as part of your crisis response planning), to have agreed upon language and an approval process in place.

Timely: As in, within an hour.

The initial response should be released within an hour of the occurrence of the issue or incident and should state, at a minimum, when the next update is anticipated. You can’t afford to let the rumor mill get ahead of your official statements, so make sure a clear chain of command is in place.

Time is your biggest enemy when it comes to dealing with a crisis. To be ready to spring into action, update your plan and role play scenarios with relevant team members at least twice each year.

At Audacia Strategies, we understand that dealing with a crisis is stressful. That’s why we have systems in place to guide you through. Let our team do what we do best so that you can get back to what you do best. Schedule your consultation and let’s get started.

Do you have your holding statements together?
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crisis management

5 Steps to Crisis Management and Surviving the Trump Effect

In the weeks leading up to the US presidential election last year, there was a lot of speculation about how the stock market would react. Uncertainty does not inspire confidence among investors. That speculation sparked discussion among those of us in corporate communications and investor relations about maintaining situational awareness and crisis management.

Now here we are almost a month into the Trump presidency and there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the air. Regardless of your politics, questions remain. How will Trump’s policies influence stocks, bond markets, commodities, the flow of trade, and economies around the world? Will the intelligence community and the administration find a way to cooperate? How will all of this effect global perceptions of risk and market uncertainty?

Perhaps most important for communicators is that the President has singled out individual corporations and executives via social media and in his public statements. Consider some recent headlines:

When the President speaks—and tweets—markets listen. How can firms manage their reputation (and associated stock volatility) in an era of 3:00 a.m. Twitter-storms?

1. Have a clear story. Test your story.

First, make sure you have a clear corporate narrative already in place. Your narrative should reflect your company’s strategy and decision-making criteria. That is, your words and your actions should align and convey credibility. This is true whether communicating to Wall Street, Main Street or Capitol Hill. When a crisis strikes, credibility can be the determining factor in successfully weathering the storm.

Test your narrative via with a broad team. I recommend having at a minimum investor relations, communications, legal, government relations, operations, and sales at the table. The goal is to have as many perspectives as possible around the table to put your messaging through its paces. If your budget allows for including an unbiased third-party, that perspective can be incredibly helpful to get the group out of its conventional thinking.

During this session, poke all the holes in your message; ask all the uncomfortable questions; ask irrational questions. Nothing is out of bounds. Then, development a plan for countering each line of attack.

Develop holding statements (which deserve an entire post of their own). Consider what you will want to say to investors, the media, and your internal team. Your messages should be concise, accurate, and informative. Test your potential responses if possible.

2. Have a crisis management plan.

Make sure that you have a solid plan in place for dealing with a crisis when it happens. Have a crisis team in place and make sure its participants meet regularly. Have a system in place for notifying stakeholders.

At one time, our only option for a notification system was a “phone tree” and team of callers. Today’s technology makes triggering a crisis management plan as simple as sending a single email, text message or making a single phone call.

Here, it’s a good idea to consider using multiple communications channels and establishing preferences ahead of a crisis situation. Some constantly check email, others are more likely to receive a text message or a tweet. So ensure that information is prepared for a variety of communication channels.

Have an answer to the following questions:

  • How will you notify your team that you are in crisis mode?
  • How will you disseminate information as it becomes available?
  • Who is responsible for putting the plan in motion and seeing it through?

3. Define team member roles.

Be sure crisis management roles are well-defined and documented. Ensure that all team members understand their roles, responsibilities and interdependencies. It’s crucial for everyone to be on the same page and operating efficiently.

Do what you can to prevent untrained representatives from speaking with the media. And make sure that, like a well-tuned orchestra, your whole team understands their specific function.

4. Talk to your board of directors.

Before a crisis hits, discuss with your board of directors the crisis management plan you have put into place. Explain the details of your plan: how you arrived at the strategy, what protocols you are following, your team’s special expertise, etc.

Assure your board that you are preparing for all contingencies. Ask for their input. Often Board Members have been through challenging situations and will have good suggestions that may add perspective to your plan.

Perhaps most important, reassure your Board that all strategic moves will be made with transparency and in accordance with the processes outlined in the crisis plan.

5. Talk to your c-suite.

Engage your c-suite executives early on. Ideally, they should be visible champions of the planning process.

Make sure that your executives are strategically aligned and prepared in the face of a crisis as well. There’s little worse than watching your executive get caught off guard by a question from the media. So train your executives in crisis communications.

Even if your CEO has done an admirable job as the spokesperson for your corporation, there’s a critical difference between promoting a company in good times and preserving a company in bad times.

Dealing with a market crisis is one of the toughest scenarios that organizations face, but if you maintain a clear plan, you will be ready to face the crisis head on. Our team at Audacia Strategies has firsthand experience in crisis management and dealing with some of the most sensitive crisis areas that corporations must oversee.

Are you ready to develop your crisis communications strategy and in need of someone to help you steer through? Contact us to schedule your consultation.

 

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annual reports

Boring No More! Turn Your Annual Reports into Your Best Asset

Annual reports are a company’s most-requested and most-read communications but they have a bad reputation for being dry and boooring. They can be full of jargon and legal speak. But while the proxy rules require all publicly traded companies file annual reports with the SEC, they do not require the information be delivered in the same sleepy fashion year after year.

I have been thinking a lot of about how to better leverage the annual report as a vehicle to share the vision, strategy and culture of a firm. Of course, I turned to corporate reporting expert, Barbara Koontz, Senior VP of Customer Experience, at Curran & Connors, who is a veritable wizard when it comes to helping companies design annual reports that stakeholders actually want to read.*

Because I have learned so much from Barbara myself, I asked her to share some of her insights with you. And she graciously agreed to answer my questions here (edited for length).

Q. Annual reports can be a strong tool to communicate past results, as well as future vision. What do you see as best practices to help the annual report tell an organization’s story?

A. There are several steps that a company can take here to convey its unique vision and values:

1. Use the CEO letter to your advantage: The opening letter to shareholders is still the most widely read section of the annual report. Companies use it to communicate vision, strategy, values, and thought leadership. The letter often focuses attention on recent initiatives that helped achieve corporate goals. Easy-to-read graphics or pull quotes ensure accomplishments stand out. The letter also is an opportunity to reinforce long-term, future goals and demonstrate industry standing.

2. Use video to convey personality: For online annual reports, the use of video is becoming more prevalent. A well-produced, short video is a great complement to the letter and conveys a CEO’s excitement and passion. To increase effectiveness and maximize return on investment, report videos are often directed to all stakeholders so they can also be used for other marketing endeavors.

3. Relate company performance to market trends: In general, it is important to balance company activities against 5 to 10 year market trends. This helps to justify investment in those key growth areas.

Q. Do you see organizations changing their approach to the annual report to express their corporate culture?

A. One of the biggest changes and most successful ways I see companies reflecting their culture is by showcasing employees. Companies incorporate stories, case studies, and photography that emphasizes the efforts of staff in helping the organization realize corporate goals.

We see video playing a key role here as well. A compelling video celebrating the passion and success of staff shows that the company values the contributions of its people, which in turn, results in employees wanting to work harder for their employer.

What may seem like a minor detail at first, the photo of the CEO, also can say a lot about the company’s culture. A suit says “traditional” “established,” and “leader,” while a shirt and slacks says “approachable,” “entrepreneurial,” and “partner.”

Q. Many different stakeholders use an organization’s annual report (investors/donors, media, regulators, customers). What advice do you give to companies to help them make their annual report accessible across multiple stakeholder sets?

A. It is important to design and develop content with all audiences in mind, as well as other communications vehicles that may be used to repurpose and more widely distribute elements from the annual report. When Curran & Connors develops a reporting solution, we consider the different ways the report or aspects of the report will be used as well as the target audiences.

Having said that, no document or reporting vehicle can be all things to all people. So, understanding your primary audience is important. Let’s say the main audience is the institutional investor. In this case, the report should be designed to ensure transparency and clearly communicate data, results, and a pathway to success.

Potential business partners, employees, and community members will also be interested in these metrics, but to effectively reach those groups the information may need to be presented differently. So, you will want to make the information more reader-friendly by applying relevant techniques such as infographics.

In addition, making the information available online is a sure way to make it more accessible to a larger audience. The content can connect to and be connected from a number of digital channels.

Q. An annual report can be a significant expense for many organizations, how do you recommend that companies increase their ROI and extend the reach of their annual reports beyond posting online and sending to shareholders/donors?

A. The two best ways to leverage the investment of your annual report are:

1. Think of the annual report as your “financial brand” for the year: Repurpose the look and feel into other communications documents such as fact sheets, the proxy, quarterly reports, the investor deck, and the IR website. This increases the value of the report and shows a professional and consistent approach to your overall communications.

2. Design the annual report to be easily segmented: Design the annual report in such a way that the segments of the book or online reporting vehicle can be shared via other marketing channels, such as social media. A unique graphic, custom photo or video, and/or case study that ideally conveys a key value driver can satisfy the never ending need for content for your social platform.

Q. As you look ahead, what are you most excited about for the future of annual reports?

A. Annual reports are one of the few documents that tell a company’s overarching story. What’s exciting is how these stories evolve to tell much more than how to reach a targeted bottom line. There is significant interest, for example, in learning about a company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices and how these impact the sustainability of the business.

Millennials are driving companies to be more involved in their communities and to report on these activities. Social media is forcing companies to be more transparent and have more conversations than monologues. Leaders of companies are taking more of an interest in the narrative too, which leads to more engagement across all platforms. As stories evolve, so do their formats.

Thanks for these words of wisdom, Barbara!

As you prepare your company’s 2017 annual report, rather than looking at it as just another federally mandated hoop to jump through, why not seize the opportunity to turn your annual report into a valuable messaging tool?

Audacia Strategies can guide you through creating a comprehensive communications strategy… including annual report messaging! Let’s talk!

*NOTE: This is not a sponsored post. I just happen to think that Barbara has great perspective on this topic!

 

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corporate communications

In Corporate Communications, Timing is Everything

You might be surprised to hear that corporate communications and standup comedy have something in common—timing is key. Whether you are announcing a corporate merger or delivering a killer punchline, if your timing is off, your message will fall flat.

When corporations have a big announcement to make, a lot of time and energy goes into figuring out precisely how to state the message. What should the press release say or what language should the CEO use when discussing changes with investors?

While it’s certainly important to get the messaging right, keep in mind too that good corporate communication has less to do with what you say, than how you say it.

Let’s consider some important questions to ask when dropping big announcements.

 1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?

First, you must consider the federal regulatory rules of your industry. There are most likely rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and corporate communications law relevant to your industry.

Example: Material Announcements

Speaking of regulatory restrictions, Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) requires all publicly traded companies to release material information to all investors at the same time.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the 1990’s, financial services companies routinely held conference calls with market analysts and some institutional investors giving them in-depth information about the company. Recognizing that this gave institutional investors an unfair advantage over individual investors, the SEC ratified Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) in 1999.

As a result, companies are required to simultaneously make material announcements to all shareholders. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or town hall meeting.

However, if word of a material event or material information is inadvertently leaked to some investors or analysts (i.e., an “unintentional selective disclosure”), as soon as a senior company official learns of the disclosure, she is required to disclose the information publicly. Companies must make the announcement either (a) within 24 hours or (b) by the start of the next day’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

2. What are your competitors doing?

How much of a splash your announcement makes, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. If you have good news to share, you want to capture as much attention as possible. With bad news, you want to be as transparent and complete as possible in your initial communications to avoid continually referencing the issue and detracting from your broader corporate strategy.

Example: Product Launch

Let’s say you are ready to roll out a new product that will take your industry by storm. Sure, you are excited about the product. But if you rush to make the announcement without a strategy, you risk being overshadowed.

For example, if you know your competition always releases new products on the Tuesday before Christmas, it might seem that you could steal their thunder by announcing on the same day. But you also risk having to share the spotlight with a close competitor. And unless you are confident that your corporate communications team can outshine your competitor, it’s probably best to steer clear of this kind of shouting match.

While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit before releasing big news can pay off.

3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?

Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. For instance, corporate reorganization could mean layoffs for staff members, while individual shareholders see a moderate increase in their returns.

Example: Corporate Restructuring

When making an announcement like a corporate restructuring, it’s important not to take your staff for granted. Relationships internal to your company are as important, or even more important, than external partnerships.

So, put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. Just as you wouldn’t want investors to hear through the grapevine about a planned restructuring, you wouldn’t want your staff to hear about potential layoffs on the news.

As with any external message, be mindful of how your internal announcement will affect your audience. Don’t let emotions get in the way. If you are the head of a division, the corporate restructuring might be bad news for you as well. But when you make the announcement to your team, be considerate of their feelings in hearing the news for the first time.

Having the right overall strategy for timing corporate communications takes a blend of planning, finding the right words, and practicing authentic human engagement. At Audacia Strategies, we don’t do standup comedy, but we have helped many companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a Free consultation to discuss your specific needs.

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authentic voice

Drop the Buzzwords. 3 Ways to Find Your Authentic Voice.

If there’s one big lesson to learn from last week’s Presidential election, it’s never underestimate the power of an authentic voice. For months, political pundits called the 2016 Presidential election the “authenticity election.” And the Trump team can largely attribute their win to developing an (at least perceived) authentic communications strategy that resonated with millions of Americans.

Candidate Trump never missed an opportunity to remind voters that he was “from outside the Beltway.” Additionally, he used social media to speak directly to his constituency without the media’s filter. In other words, the Trump campaign successfully managed to capture their candidate’s authentic voice.

In corporate communications, just as in politics, the power of authenticity can go a long way. So what is a good strategy for capturing your organization’s authentic voice?

Skip the Buzzwords

While it’s tempting to get caught up in business jargon when talking to other experts in your industry, just consider how stale industry buzzwords sound when you hear them used constantly in messaging. How many times have you heard someone refer to a budget item as “mission critical” or an industry leader as a “change agent” or a “thought leader?”

While insider industry buzzwords might make sense to us, they are rarely informative for investors or customers. Imagine how frustrating it must be to make financial decisions based on such empty, generic talk.

To differentiate yourself from your peers, as well as persuade both customers and investors to give you more of their hard-earned dollars, it is crucial that you eliminate buzzwords from your communications. But this is the easy part.

How to Capture your Company’s Authentic Voice

Once you have eliminated the buzzwords, it’s time to get proactive in finding your company’s authentic voice and incorporating it into your messaging. Here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Pay attention to the voice of your leadership team.

The key to developing an authentic voice when communicating is for the talking points to align with the actual language and tone of the speaker. This is Communications 101: If the voice of the message is completely foreign to the one presenting it, the message will sound artificial and insincere.

This means if you are the CEO or CFO of a business developing messaging to present to investors, make sure the voice you use is your own. Don’t get bogged down in trying to sound like someone you think investors want you to be. Speak to the values that motivate you and be genuine.

Alternatively, if you are charged with the task of developing messaging for your leadership to present, remember that tone is important. A similar message presented in a cautiously optimistic tone can achieve radically different results from one presented using a cautiously pessimistic tone. So consider what tone best represents your leadership.

2. Find a voice that accurately represents the culture of your company.

Beyond making sure that your communications reflect the authentic voice of leadership, it’s also important to consider the unique voice of the company. For example, even though Coke and Pepsi offer similar products, their public personas are very different.

Don’t think of your branding and voice as simply a matter for the marketing department. If you want your customers and investors to immediately connect your company with a perceived culture (for example, innovative engineering with a global reach) that message needs to be consistent in communications across all departments.

3. When responding to questions, take a step back and consider the big picture.

Often the scariest part of communicating with investors are the off-the-cuff remarks. It’s one thing to develop precise language and practice with your team before a presentation. But when it comes time to answer questions, do you revert to vague jargon or hide behind your quantitative models?

During these times it’s especially useful to take a step back and simply talk. Don’t be afraid to “get real” with your audience. Yes, being honest requires you to be vulnerable and potentially face tough questions, but avoid the mindset that these circumstances are necessarily bad. No matter who your audience is -Investors, customers, employees- they want to hear your real thoughts on your business otherwise why would they listen? To take the pressure off, learn to approach these conversations from a position of collaboration, rather than confrontation. It’s an opportunity to share and educate.

At Audacia Strategies, we’ve seen it all and we can help you sort out your authentic voice. We know which questions to ask and how to help you zero-in on what matters most. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you develop a corporate communications strategy to address your needs.

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