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best communications practices

A New Look at “Chaos is Our Brand” in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

When Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, originally taped this interview with Dan Doran, CEO of Quantive, for his podcast The Deal—Unscripted, we had no idea just how relevant it would be now during the current crisis. A year later, we are living a case study in crisis communication and thought it was a good time to revisit some of the takeaways about best communications practices from that conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Strategy for Best Communications Practices

This recommendation applies as much to a wide-spread crisis situation like the Coronavirus pandemic as it does to a big company transition like a merger or acquisition. It never pays to procrastinate on creating a communications strategy.

If you find yourself without a clear strategy, you’re likely feeling the pain acutely in this moment. As far as we know, no one has invented a time machine, but there are some things you can do to develop a stop gap strategy:

  • Stay calm and present as you weigh your options.
  • Figure out who needs to hear from you, when.
  • Develop straightforward messaging that doesn’t promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make sure you have a designated team with assigned roles to streamline communications.

For more ideas, check out 5 Lessons from our Crisis Communications Playbook

Many of our clients contact us when they’re facing one of two situations: times of crisis or times of transformation—hence our unofficial tagline: “chaos is our brand.” This makes a lot of sense, but too often what we find is that if an organization hesitates to develop best communications practices and a communications strategy early enough, things can go off the rails quickly. 

At the risk of sounding too sales-y and mindful of the many hardships experienced during this time, here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm:

  • An outside set of eyes gives you transaction experience, critical perspective, and unbiased advice when communicating your message to the outside world.
  • An outside firm is in a good position to place your organization in a broader context (i.e., the competitive set, the market, and your financial stakeholders), while you focus on running day-to-day internal operations.
  • An outside firm isn’t influenced by the “groupthink” or silo-ed communications that can be an obstacle to projecting the strongest public image.

Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to enlist the help of a firm like Audacia Strategies during this crisis or the next one, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing ASAP.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are 

In this moment of uncertainty, you are right to worry about accidentally leaving stakeholders off of your list of communications. One of the first rules of communications is to control the narrative. But if you hesitate to reach out to stakeholders or skimp on the stakeholder analysis, this is precisely the risk you take.

Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. What is the best story you can tell to a particular set of stakeholders? Suppose the governor in your state has decided your industry is among those allowed to reopen, but you disagree with the reopen policy for your business. Your best bet is to be honest with your employees, customers, and investors. State your case and speak your truth.

Depending on whether you are a publicly or privately held company, stakeholders could include any or all of the following sets:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Financial stakeholders: 
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
    • Investors or shareholders
  • Community partners
  • Contributors (for non-profit organizations)
  • Business partners and service providers
  • Strategic partners
  • Government regulators and political community (local, state and federal) 
  • Media and industry influencers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

This is especially important now when best communications practices may require a very light touch. If you think you can “get by” using your internal marketing department to craft crisis communications, you may want to reconsider. 

Marketing and strategic communications are different tools. Whereas marketing primarily focuses on telling the story of how your product or service will help your target customers, strategic communications partners can knit together the entirety of the business story to give investors and other stakeholders a comprehensive picture. As the experts in helping clients weather chaos, we have developed best practices over many transactions, crises, and change events.

Now is the time to ask big picture questions about how your market may respond to this crisis, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how investors, customers and employees should be engaged throughout. This is a great time to consider what has changed for your customers and employees and what you can offer as we begin to feel our way through life post-lockdown.

4. M&A Tips and Tricks

As we hopefully begin to see COVID-19 infection rates peak over the next several weeks and markets start to stabilize, many predict that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) will start to pick up in certain industries. This is, of course, assuming lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t place a moratorium on big mergers—a conversation we’ll be monitoring closely.

There are still a lot of unknowns here, but if a merger is in your future, we work with corporate development teams, in-house financial teams, lawyers, and investment bankers helping them think through the market and storytelling from an M&A perspective. At its core, M&A is about risk, the ability to manage risk, and telling the story of how the acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

For example, if you’ve been working on a deal that has been in the preparation stages for months, should you call it off or push forward to completion? One thing is for sure: for companies that have built a healthy balance sheet during the economic boom of the past ten years, declining valuations create opportunities to pursue deals that create long-term value. While we can’t help you decide whether to hold or fold, we can help you communicate your decision.

Finally, we’ll leave you with some pitfalls and opportunities to consider when it comes to best communications practices during a merger or acquisition: 

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice it to say, if you overpay for an acquisition, it can create credibility issues with your investors, your Board of Directors, your employees…the list goes on. Negotiations can get emotional quickly but consider that the business strategy will have to support the valuation.
  • Cultural fit failure: We’ve seen it happen: a small start-up firm develops an amazing technology and gets bought by a huge firm looking to prove it’s innovative and “hip.” Then, within a year, all the original start up employees are gone. Avoid this kind of cultural disconnect by having an air-tight integration strategy from the beginning. Make sure you are walking your walk, so you can deliver on what you’re promising. (Pssst! Hot tip: Audacia Strategies has a new service rolling out to help avoid just this problem. Make sure you’re signed up to be among the first to get the details!)

M&A Opportunities:

  • Integration is key: The best M&A success stories are those where the merging leadership teams think about integration all the way along. When companies have a successful communications strategy that includes communicating the big vision well for both internal and external audiences, the proof is in the stakeholders’ response.
  • Customers see opportunities: Ideally, when two companies merge, customers say “this is exactly what I needed.” Rather than seeking out two solutions, for example, the customer gets one-stop-shopping from the new hybrid. It’s your job to help communicate this feeling across your stakeholder groups.
  • Employees see opportunities: And if you can also pull off a merger where employees in both companies see the transformation as good for their own careers, you’ve developed a winning communications strategy. Often employees of the smaller firm may feel anxious about being acquired. But if you can honestly demonstrate opportunities for career mobility, earnings potential, and other benefits of working for a larger company, it will go a long way toward easing transition tensions.

The above is only a sampling of the insights and best communications practices gained from Dan and Katy’s conversation. You can watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, here

As everyone keeps saying, this crisis is unprecedented. Still, there is something to be said for working with a team that faces down chaos and keeps walking through the fire. We are here to help you figure out your next step and keep you moving forward. If you want to talk, we’re ready to strategize about your best next steps. 

Photo credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_deagreez

crisis communications

COVID-19 and Your Response: 5 Lessons From Our Crisis Communications Playbook

I hope you are reading this post from a place of health and safety. In these uncertain times, we’re all feeling anxious and wondering how to communicate (or even whether to communicate) with stakeholders. By now, we’ve all heard the news about businesses around the world shutting their doors, volatile markets, social distancing, and flattening the curve

The threat from the new Coronavirus is really three threats in one: the threat of the disease spreading, the threat from a looming oil price war, and the threat of a global recession. While no one can claim to have all of the answers right now, it’s fair to say that investors, clients, and your team are expecting you to keep the lines of communication open.

In light of this crisis, it makes sense to revisit our previous blog articles about crisis communications and the lessons we learned when cooler heads prevailed. 

1. Stick to your crisis communications strategy.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know how often we discuss developing a crisis communications strategy for moments like these. Hopefully, you have a strategy in place. It may not be adequate, since no one predicted a crisis of this magnitude and we still don’t know how deeply it will cut. Nonetheless, use what you have, evolve as necessary (and it will be necessary), and note the weak points for future work.

Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be in crisis mode for weeks or months at a minimum. Prepare your team to continue to iterate your strategy as new information becomes available. When you need to keep on walking through the fire, here are some tips:

  1. Focus on transparency and the truth.
  2. Work closely with your team to identify solutions.
  3. Do NOT stop communicating both internally and externally.
  4. Share your 360-degree strategy as it evolves.

2. Make sure to communicate with your internal team.

In addition to falling back on your strategy, focus on communicating with your team. First, approach all internal communications with a sense of empathy. Keep in mind that as concerned as you are about your firm and what this crisis means for future operations, your team is as worried about the firm, their families, and their own livelihoods. They need your strong leadership now more than ever. 

Follow the 5 G’s of walking through fire without getting burned:

  • Get to ground truth: You don’t know all the relevant facts, but be transparent about what you do know. Your team will appreciate you leveling with them, even if the truth is painful to hear.
  • Gather your team: Huddle together (over Zoom, of course) and listen to what your team has to say. Remember, you’re all in this together.
  • Give employees the support they need: Your employees on the frontlines of dealing with customers, clients, or investors during this crisis need to know you have their backs. Answer their questions, give them some talking points, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people outside of the firm to hear.
  • Go on the offensive: Now is not the time to hide. Be accessible and proactive in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
  • Grant trust: You’ve trained your team well. Now, trust their instincts and work with them to come up with solutions one challenge at a time.

3. Assess the damage and keep the data close.

The ultimate goal of crisis communication is to control your narrative and provide honest, transparent updates about your organization. Work with those within the firm who can analyze the data and provide you with a clear(er) picture. This way, your communications will be informed by what you know. Once you have a clear picture of the damage, you can tell your story. 

Now is also the time to consider your extended community. Consider every resource you can think of that may help you get through this crisis:

  • Reach out to traditional media outlets: If you have contacts in the news media, and if appropriate, reach out to let them know you are available for a conversation or interview.
  • Talk to your PR team: PR teams are designed to offer language for crisis communications. It may be tempting to be reactive and fire off a tweet storm, but you must resist this urge.
  • Seek legal counsel: Make a point of engaging with those who know your industry and can offer an outside perspective.
  • Identify and speak to key stakeholders: Ensure that your message is consistent and cognizant of what your stakeholders are hearing from public outlets. Be ready to combat any misinformation in a prudent manner.

4. Get through this crisis, yes, but take note of the lessons along the way.

After the economic crisis of 2008, many companies in the financial sector, especially, were motivated to develop crisis communications strategies. Since then, however, many have become complacent and they’re paying the price now.

All we can do is take an honest look at where we are now, hunker down, and get through this crisis. But along the way, make sure you take note of big lessons learned. On the other side of this, you want to be able to take a long hard look at your crisis response and come up with a solid plan for dealing with the next one. Remember, if you don’t figure out how to control the crisis, the crisis will control you.

Consider the following tips for the future:

  • If you’re having supply chain issues, think about how to diversify your supply chain. 
  • If you’re scrambling to help your employees figure out how to work from home, make sure a training program is included in the employee onboarding process.
  • If clients are canceling contracts, consider whether you can add a postponement clause into those contracts.

5. Do NOT over-promise.

When we’re not in crisis mode, we understand one principle of successful business is to under-promise and over-deliver. But during a crisis, we can go into fight or flight mode and in this heightened state of anxiety, it’s all too easy to make promises we can’t keep. Again, you’ll want to avoid this mistake at all costs.

For example, the travel industry has been hit especially hard at this time. But over-promising would only increase anger and anxiety for customers. Here’s a quote from an email from Tucker Moodey, President of Expedia,

“For those traveling now and with upcoming travel bookings, our teams are working around the clock to provide everyone the support they need. We are rapidly increasing the availability of travel advisors, enhancing our self-service options, and developing new automated ways for travelers to better manage their reservations. Our focus is helping travelers with immediate trips, and these improvements will allow all our customers to travel more confidently in the future.”

Notice how this paragraph focuses on what actions Expedia is taking, their strategy, and where their focus is in trying to make things as right as possible for their customers. Were they instead to promise that everything will be fine by the busy summer travel season—a promise they certainly can’t guarantee now—they would likely do more damage to their brand in these already turbulent times.

Our team at Audacia Strategies wishes you, your family, and your firm all the best. We are with you in weathering this period, holding our loved ones close, and looking out for our community. These are tough times and we wish a crisis communications plan weren’t a necessity for so many U.S. businesses and firms. We are here to answer any of your questions about corporate communications and investor relations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo credit: langstrup

strategic planning

How to Crush Your 2020 Goals: The Lessons I Learned from a Chaotic 2019

If there’s one thing I learned about myself and my business in 2019, it’s that strategic planning saves lives. Really! 2019 might go down in history as being one of the most chaotic years for my family and my business. And yet, we’re all still here and thriving and business is better than ever.

Much of our success at Audacia Strategies is due to strategic planning. So as I look at the year ahead, I’m considering once again what investments I can double-down on and what needs to change. The challenge is how to build a plan that strikes the right balance between ambition and practicality. Read on for my 2020 insights!

Business Successes in 2019

  1. We added a certification for the state of Maryland as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE): In addition to receiving our CBE certification in D.C. in 2018, we filed for and received certification from the state of Maryland last year. Passing Maryland’s comprehensive and rigorous certification program makes us eligible to win state-funded contracts. We are also nationally certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  2. We supported our clients through big transformations: This past year, we saw many clients navigate executive transitions and corporate restructuring plans. While we tend to focus on how these transformations impact business, we often forget about the emotional impact of change. We witnessed both the vulnerability and the generosity of the human mind during the pivotal moments of 2019. Audacia was honored to be a part of ushering so many new clients into a bright future. 
  3. We saw the value of “radical candor” playing out: When it comes to client relationships and crisis management, what you say is often less important than how you say it. Okay, perhaps both are equally important. But my point is that communications is about more than the words you use. If a situation calls for you to speak truth to power, you’ve got to find the courage to speak your truth. Otherwise, you could be letting down your client or your team or yourself.

At Audacia, we pride ourselves on walking the fine line between diplomacy and radical candor.
This is one of our guiding values and I’m proud to look back and see how many times we chose this value over the “easier” path. 

Audacia’s Strategic Plan for 2020

  1. We will become certified as a women-owned enterprise (WBE) in Virginia: We have built a reputation for being a firm that supports our clients’ diversity initiatives and we are happy to qualify as a supplier for larger-scale projects with diversity thresholds. As we expand our reach and grow with our clients, we are excited to see what new opportunities arise. Our arsenal of certifications will continue to multiply in 2020.
  2. I will be scaling Audacia by continuing to invest in my team: I’ve been strategically growing my team throughout the years and I have awesome people backing me up. Now, as a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level and take on even bigger and bolder client challenges (I’ll talk more specifically about scaling my team in a future blog article). This means, among other things, investing in replicable processes and investing in the right systems to keep us in synch. This is not just the “Katy Show” anymore!
  3. I will be better at managing technology and its impact on my life: I bet we all could benefit from making this one of our New Year’s resolutions (here’s a resource to help you think about implementing your own “digital diet”). Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but it can be a distraction if we don’t use it to support our intentions. So, I’ll be looking for ways to be more focused at work and more focused during family time. As the twins grow, I know how important it is to set these boundaries. For starters, I’ll be creating defined “lights out” and “offline” times at home. What about you? Are you with me?
  4. More of the above: 2020 will bring more clients facing big shifts in need of Audacia’s special blend of tough love, enthusiasm for getting sh*t done, and honest, candid feedback. Stay tuned for all that we’ll be cooking up for you throughout the year!

Here are 3 tips for crushing your 2020 business goals:

Include your senior team in your strategic planning process by sitting down with your team to discuss the following three practical ideas.

1. Be ruthless about your successes and failures.

It’s tempting to leave Q4 2019 in the dust and let everything that happened in those last three months fall by the wayside in our excitement to look ahead. Don’t give yourself a pass, though. Instead, focus on the 3-5 biggest successes, so you can double-down on them in the next 90 days and capture the 3-5 biggest lessons learned, so you can strategize about fixing whatever went wrong.

2. Back up your 2020 vision with strategic initiatives.

All successful leaders have this in common: they have a strong vision that they can communicate with others. The second part is really key: no matter how clear your vision for your organization is in your own mind, if others don’t see what you see, that vision won’t come to fruition. Make sure others know how to implement your vision by tying it back to specific strategic initiatives. To do this, divide your team into groups and have them brainstorm 3-5 strategic initiatives (i.e., focused projects) that will bring you closer to each of your annual goals. If they execute on their initiatives, then you’ll likely achieve your goals.

3. Build your communications plan.

The final step in strategic planning is communicating the plan to everyone in your organization. Get your team together and agree on some communications ground rules. Agree together as a group on what needs to be communicated throughout the organization and when. It’s great to kickoff the year with a town-hall type meeting to discuss your strategic plan. But what happens after the dust settles? Do you have a plan for managers and leaders to meet with their smaller teams to talk about how their units fit into the bigger picture? Do employees understand how their work fits within the broader strategic plan?  

Looking at your year, what are the biggest shifts you anticipate making? Can you start planning for those shifts now? Would enlisting the help of Audacia’s team of experts help you attain any of those audacious goals

Schedule a consultation and let’s start brainstorming your transformation strategic plan today!

Photo credit: http://www.monkeybusinessimages.com/

crisis management strategy

Your Crisis Management Strategy When You Need to Walk Through the Fire…and Keep Walking

Your company can’t seem to make money, your executives are constantly in the news for the wrong reasons, and your plane still isn’t flying. Yeah. It’s been a rough few weeks/months/years. 

Recently, I talked about what to do at the onset of a crisis, but what happens if you can’t immediately get a handle on the crisis? What is your crisis management strategy for living through the day-to-day of a crisis that seems to go on forever? The initial response with employees and customers requires getting to the ground truth quickly and relaying as many of the facts as you can, while taking action. 

Some of these same elements continue to be relevant in dealing with the fallout of a long term crisis. But what’s crucial for an effective crisis management strategy is being perceived as a company that is moving forward and not one hoping that maybe after enough time passes, everyone will forgive or at least FORGET. When facing damage from a crisis that just will not die, you need a plan for resolution and rebuilding.

Putting Out the Fire vs. Leading Through the Fire

One of the most challenging tests of a great leader is how they deal with a crisis. To pass this test, it takes two skills: knowing how to put out fires and knowing how to lead through fire. 

Every executive has to deal with surprises and being in business likely means you’ll have to put out some fires eventually. Especially as your company expands, those fires will seem bigger, or at least the potential for fires gets bigger. When it comes to putting out the fire of a PR crisis, the name of the game is regaining control. 

For example, you may remember that back in 2016, after the shooting in San Bernardino, the FBI demanded that Apple build a “backdoor” giving the authorities the ability to circumvent Apple’s data encryption and unlock any iPhone. In response, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, effectively took control of the story writing this letter: ”A Message to Our Customers.” Tim Cook knows how to put out fires.

However, there are times when you cannot expect to turn things around so quickly or the fires you thought you put out actually continue to smolder. In these cases, leaders must develop a crisis management strategy for continuing to lead even through the crisis. 

Here are some tips for moving forward through the fire: 

1. Continue to focus on transparency and the truth.

While it can be tempting to say whatever you believe will finally put an end to this crisis, resist the urge to “whitewash” the truth. Keep in mind that following your gut and making quick, impulsive decisions is not a valid crisis management strategy and won’t likely get you through this crisis any faster. Impulsive decisions often result in a further loss of power.

Instead, you’ve got to slow down. It will be uncomfortable to tell the truth and only the truth. The media, your employees, your stakeholders, and your customers will likely push for more information. This is difficult to deal with, especially day in and day out. But if you haven’t worked out all the details, do not speculate. Remember that you are engaged in a game of chess here—not rock, paper, scissors. 

2. Work with your team to identify how the firm is preparing to resolve the crisis and (hopefully) prevent another in the future. 

One way to relieve the discomfort of having to stick to the facts, when you don’t have many facts to offer, is to take action so that you have more to talk about. Of course, I’m not suggesting you take any random action that comes to mind. Again, impulsive decisions are almost never the right move.

Instead, work closely with your team to come up with new policies and processes that help your company is ready to move forward. If new training would prevent a similar problem in the future, take steps to implement new training programs as part of your crisis management strategy, for instance. Also, consider what would improve both internal and external communications in the future.

For example, Stanford University recently changed their leave of absence policy for students facing a mental health crisis in the wake of a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination. In her message to students, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Susie Brubaker-Cole, said, “my colleagues and I have learned from our conversations with you, and our campus community is stronger because of your advocacy.” She went on to say, “together, we are making significant progress, and this new policy is a critical component.”

3. Do NOT stop communicating, either internally or externally. 

No matter what crisis management strategy you ultimately choose, remember to continue communicating as much as possible. Hiding away and hoping you can weather the storm without facing questions from your employees or the public will only cause more problems. 

Instead, keep your leadership visible and ready to answer questions. Have top leaders communicate internally through regular town hall meetings, Zoom meetings, pre-recorded videos, manager talking points, or even just walking through the cafeteria. 

By the way, communicating does not mean you have to take every accusation “on the chin,” but certainly continue to address the issue(s) with employees via your identified channels. Also, be sure to proactively offer appropriate updates to customers, regulators, investors, etc.

Communicate, both internally and externally:

  • What’s the latest 
  • What has changed 
  • What remains the same

Remind your leadership team not to say anything to employees that they wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s a reality. Memos leak. Video and audio can be shared. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Focus on sharing your strategy—value proposition. 

This final point is perhaps the most important aspect of any crisis management strategy: go back to the heart and soul of your company wherever possible. It’s a good idea to look at this crisis from a 360-degree angle. Remind your customers why you do what you do and emphasize that you are looking at this issue as only a blip on the radar. 

The point is not to dazzle or distract from the crisis, but to provide context about what your firm does, why, and how you remain committed to that strategy/mission. Ideally, any new processes, policies, actions are in support of continuing to advance the vision of your organization. With surgical precision, you are removing an imperfection and you will be stronger following this recovery. 

Keep this message close at hand, no matter how bleak things look. And always know that every crisis comes to an end eventually. I know that cliches sound so empty when you’re standing in the middle of the chaos and I know you’ve heard them all, but maybe you can take comfort in the words of one great American entrepreneur, Henry Ford, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” 

If you’re standing in the middle of a crisis right now, don’t go it alone. Find your tribe. Gather your advocates. And build your crisis management team. Fear might leave you feeling paralyzed at the moment, but you can trust the experts at Audacia Strategies. We’ll help you find the right crisis management strategy. Chaos is our brand, so you can bet we know how to walk through the fire. Contact us and let’s get to work!

photo by Authentic Images

crisis response strategy

The 5 G’s for Walking Through Fire Without Getting Burned–Your Internal Crisis Response Strategy

We’ve all had those days. You know, the days where you are forced to pull your IPO and your CEO gets fired, or Congress launches an official investigation into your safety procedures, or your company is the target of whistleblower claims

No? You’ve never experienced a business crisis like this? Then, you’re one of the lucky ones. But keep reading because even if it’s not to the scale of the situations above, you may someday find yourself in a sticky business credibility situation. 

We’ve talked before about preparing a crisis response strategy from a PR perspective. Now I’d like to take a look at what to do inside a business. How do you handle your response with employees and customers?

How to Respond to a Business Crisis

When a challenge to your firm’s reputation arises, it’s important that you meet the challenge with a crisis response strategy not only for rebuilding your brand’s outward facing reputation, but also for addressing the crisis internally. You can’t expect your team or customers to read between the lines of your external messaging. Plus, you owe it to them to communicate beyond the “party line.”

As always, I recommend creating your crisis response strategy well before you find yourself walking into the chaos of a crisis. Consider the following 5 G’s as you build your framework:

1. Get to ground truth.

When a crisis happens, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you need to respond promptly and you need to respond truthfully. Surviving the crisis is all about how you balance these two factors. There can be a tendency to sacrifice truth for the sake of speed and vice versa. Ideally, you will avoid both pitfalls.

DO NOT SPECULATE. Your internal crisis response strategy should be informed by what you know, but you cannot wait to respond until you have absolutely all of the facts in front of you. So what can you do? Be transparent about what you know, where you are in the process and what you are doing. It’s important to acknowledge the credibility challenges (all of them), allow any legal processes to proceed, and identify and explain the steps you are taking.

2. Gather your team.

Even if you are the only person in your particular department, you will need a team. Whether you’re in finance, legal, communications, HR—as the saying goes, “look for the helpers.” Remember, it takes time to gather your team. So plan ahead and notify the relevant parties that you may call on them and what roles they will play in the crisis response strategy.

Once you’ve gathered your team, listen to them. It can be tempting to be reactive, but try to get a well rounded perspective before making any big decisions. Otherwise, you run the risk of overpromising in the hopes that you can make the whole thing go away. 

Instead, get a baseline. Get perspective. And give context.

  • Did your numbers tank this quarter? Focus on the data, not drama. Look at firm-wide numbers, the market, and get a line on how competitors are faring. You need a clear baseline before you can respond realistically.
  • Is there a government investigation? Get to ground truth (see above). Work closely with your legal department, but also encourage as much transparency as possible. The appearance of concealing or stonewalling is not a good look either inside or outside the firm.
  • Is someone accused of misconduct? Again, get to ground truth (see above). Also, consider re-emphasizing policies, values, and company culture within the firm (assuming they are not the cause of the misconduct).

3. Give employees the support they need.

Employees are most likely to end up on the frontlines during a crisis. They will be communicating with customers, other employees, regulators, etc. Do not leave them “swinging in the wind” as they try to clean up the mess they didn’t create.

Arm them with the facts and engage them in an ongoing and transparent conversation about what the firm is doing to repair or recover its reputation. Use the channels appropriate for your organization—email, text, newsletter, video, Slack, person-to-person meetings, etc. 

Meet employees where they are—during a crisis they should not have to search for answers. Part of your crisis response strategy should include resources for employees on the frontlines. Communicate with employees early and often.

  • Whenever possible keep the touch personal. For example, answer questions during a town hall, Zoom meeting, or video conference.
  • Create manager talking points ahead of time and distribute them as soon as you’re ready after a crisis hits.
  • Don’t say anything to employees that you wouldn’t say outside the company. This can be controversial, but it’s reality. Memos leak. Video and audio recordings can be shared. Screenshots can end up in the wrong hands. Be transparent and be prepared for what that means inside and outside the company.

4. Go on the offensive with customers. 

If the crisis impacts customers directly or has been/will be in the press, go on the offensive and own the issue. Rather than trying to totally control the crisis, though, let your mindset be one of getting your version of the facts out first. Again, make sure you explain to employees what your crisis response strategy looks like with regard to customers. 

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean sugarcoating anything. Be transparent about next steps and honest about the potential impact (if any) on clients. Also, be sure that your customer communications are consistent with employee communications. As you consider these messages, your tone may differ, but the overall message should be consistent. The same goes for investors.

5. Grant trust. 

Follow the above 4 G’s and this last G should come naturally. When you create your crisis response strategy ahead of time, you’ll have the luxury of being able to fallback on your process. In the midst of a crisis situation, when it feels like everything is burning all around you, don’t underestimate the power of being able to trust in your people to execute on your process. 

How can you be so confident? Well, the confidence comes from having a strategy, knowing your audience, and believing in the human response to truth-telling. There’s a lot to be said for a company that owns up to mistakes and expertly pivots when crises arise. 

Whether you’re facing a small-scale crisis or a crisis of epic proportions like those recently faced by WeWork, Boeing, or GE, it’s helpful to remember other leaders have walked through the fire of chaos themselves. As Abraham Lincoln—no stranger to facing a crisis—once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

At Audacia Strategies, we’re no strangers to facing a crisis either. We’ve walked with our clients through the fire using the 5 G’s and we can help your firm develop the crisis response strategy that works for you as well. Schedule a consultation so we can talk about your needs.

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failure communications

How To Do Failure Communications Right—3 Communications Lessons Learned About What To Do When We Fall

We naturally spend a lot of time thinking about what a successful communications strategy looks like. This a good thing. Communicating your company’s message and values is crucial for standing out amongst your closest competitors. But have you also thought about a failure communications strategy?

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failureRight. Let’s get uncomfortable today. Let’s talk failure. If you’re rolling your eyes now because you think you know what’s coming, keep reading. This isn’t going to be the “Failure is an amazing teacher!” pablum that we’ve all grown so tired of hearing. No. This is real talk about what to do when the sh*t hits the fan, when we disappoint ourselves and others, or when we just fall flat on our faces.

Rothy’s and How to Do Failure Communications Right

I recently received an email from shoe startup, Rothy’s, that stopped me in my tracks (Yes, Rothy’s is a favorite brand of mine. But don’t worry, this is not an endorsement or a sales pitch. It’s just an example of an excellent communications strategy). 

For months, Rothy’s had been teasing its latest shoe, a summertime slide with a vegan leather sole. The day before the shoe was supposed to launch, Rothy’s told its customers that the shoe’s launch was off. Apparently, scaling from prototype to production resulted in quality issues that couldn’t be fixed in time for the summer season.

The email they sent wasn’t a sale announcement or a giveaway begging customers not to leave. The subject line was: “Ouch.” The first line included the words “truthful and transparent.” It was an apology. But not the kind of lackluster corporate apology you might expect from a CEO who is clearly following instructions provided by legal. It was the kind of apology that left me feeling a greater respect for Rothy’s and its leadership.

What Rothy’s apology got right:

  • They took responsibility both for the mistake and for the decision to cancel the launch of a new product
  • They explained why they made the decision to cancel the launch
  • The reason they gave was all about looking out for the customer
  • They referred to their company values (i.e., “we pride ourselves on making the right decision—even when it’s really hard”) and their quality standards (i.e., “we will only launch product when every piece is perfect”)
  • They acknowledged how disappointing this decision is, but reiterated their confidence in making this difficult decision

They sent this email the day before the launch. 

Think about that—consider the time and money invested in design, marketing, production. Consider the sales expectations already baked into the firm’s annual plans. Think about the discussions that were likely happening behind the scenes to make the decision to pull the launch just hours before it was scheduled. Yet, they went through with the apology because leadership believed it was right.

3 Lessons Learned From Rothy’s Apology

If you stay in business long enough, failure is inevitable. Every seasoned business leader has “war stories.” Failure hurts. It hurts to consider the financial impact. It hurts to consider the customer impact and the blow to your brand (or personal) credibility. And, let’s be honest. It’s an ego blow. 

What sets apart those who master the art of turning lemons into lemonade from those who just leave customers with a sour taste? Let’s look at 3 lessons we can learn from Rothy’s literal failure to launch.

1. Failure can humanize your brand.

Failure sucks—there’s no getting around that—and doing the right thing can be incredibly painful. But as you work through the failure, acknowledging the pain humanizes your brand and aligns your goals with your customers’ expectations. 

When you fail, make it right if you can. But when you can’t, acknowledge the human aspects of disappointment and talk openly about how you will do better going forward. Trust your customers enough to put it all out there.

2. Transparency works.

Whether you’re communicating with customers, investors, or media, prioritize simple honesty. We don’t have to martyr ourselves or get too far into the weeds of how and why we failed. But we should be honest about the situation and what we’re doing about it. At the end of the day, this is all anyone can expect after a crisis. You can’t turn back time as much as you might wish you could.

3. Live your values. 

Failure is the greatest test of your values as a company. This really is where the “rubber meets the road.” After Facebook admitted to selling our data, one of the biggest criticisms was really a question about the company’s values. The “apology” ad reminding us of how much we all love Facebook felt like a sham after everything that came out. 

Communicating about failure, when done right, gives us a chance to remind others about our values, why they are important, and how they provide a better experience. That’s what I liked the most about Rothy’s communication. They acknowledged the failure right up front and they explained their highly personal calculus behind pulling the launch: that the poor quality shoe would be a bigger hit to their brand credibility than not launching the shoe at all. 

It was a fantastic example of transparency, honesty about business decisions, and a real example of living your corporate values. I’m sure that behind the scenes at Rothy’s HQ there are some heavy discussions taking place to understand why they failed on this product launch. But, they lived to fight another day and made their customers feel prioritized. 

Rothy’s launch fail is an excellent example of making lemonade out of lemons. You can perfect your brand’s lemonade recipe with these other blog articles:

And you can always work with a pro like Audacia Strategies to establish your failure communications or crisis communications strategy. We can also help create a strategy for successful communications, of course! Contact us today to talk about your unique needs.

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