Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing a presentation to our BAE Systems client about crisis communications. I wish I could have done it today for I’d have a really good story to tell – about my own personal crisis.
Earlier this week, the “oil low” warning light went off in my new car. That was a surprise since I had taken it in for an oil change less than two weeks ago. Turns out that when the dealership put in the new oil filter, they put it in wrong. It malfunctioned, started an oil leak in the car and may have ruined the engine or caused a fire.
My auto dealership made a huge mistake that was potentially damaging, physically to me and reputationally for them. It’s hardly a crisis of the magnitude of the Exxon Valdez, but it was a crisis in the moment. (And if I had told you at the outset this was about an oil filter, would you have kept reading?)
Anyway, my point isn’t about how to define a crisis but how to escape one with your reputation intact or maybe even enhanced.
Naturally, I was livid that the dealership couldn’t install a new oil filter properly. I called them up to register my displeasure. Here was their response:
Within 24 hours, they delivered a loaner car and took mine back to the shop to inspect the problem and repair any damage they may have caused. No cost or bother to me. They goofed and owned up to fixing it.
We tell our clients all the time that the essence of good crisis management is how you respond to the mistakes you make. In most cases, that’s how crises are resolved and reputations protected.
Now obviously many of the crises our clients face are more complicated and difficult. But the difference is often a matter of degree not kind. The essential issue is always the same: if you make a mistake, fix it, apologize (if the lawyers will let you) and take steps to make it right for those who were affected and prevent it from happening again.
Mark Twain famously said: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Earlier in the week, I told myself I’d never go back to the dealer. Now, I am a fan. They made a mistake, which will not be forgotten; neither will their response.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo by LucasTheExperience
All too many experts at organizations, whether corporate or non-profit, remain averse to pursuing the publication of bylined articles. That’s because in some cases they may have no idea how to go about doing one.
I’ve never written for a trade publication, they say. How do you even know if an editor might be interested?
Well, it’s actually easier than you may suspect. In my experience, trade magazine editors, often craving content, are generally amenable to guest columns, especially from those highly qualified. In recent months, just talking health, I’ve seen clients publish in The Harvard Business Review, Modern Healthcare and The Healthcare Blog, three highly reputable national media outlets.
Recently a non-health client invited me to deliver a webinar about bylined articles. The resident experts there had long expressed reluctance to try any or produced poor material that wound up rejected.
Some of the basic operating principles I put forward:
- Respect differences. A byliner is different from an op-ed – it’s advisory in nature, more of a how-to or news-you-can-use proposition. As in: Ten tips for strengthening your relationship with hospitals. You’re counseling your audience, attempting to be of practical service.
- Stick to the facts. Byliners are based largely on fact, drawn from empirical evidence, as opposed to mere opinion. For example, here are certain lessons about a topic or issue that you the experts have learned firsthand and now wish to teach others how to apply.
- Be important. Maybe you have something important to say; or better still, something important nobody else has said before; or best of all, something nobody else is even remotely as qualified as you to say. In short, you’ve earned the right to be the messenger.
- Go broad. The topic should mean enough to enough members of your target audience to count. Think big-picture. As in: “Why healthcare reform will ultimately succeed.” Avoid niche issues, too narrow a focus or saying something of only marginal interest.
- Deliver the goods. Case studies are always a plus, complete with lessons learned. Citing an industry trend comes in handy, too. So does leveraging a regulatory issue or pending legislation. Original research – a study or survey, or even anecdotes that spell an emerging a pattern – is often the holy grail.
- Package it all as an action plan with, say, your top 10 tips. Editors love top-10 lists – or, as here, top-6 ones. A longtime friend who is a corporate writer recently posted a piece on his blog with 10 reasons to avoid top-10 lists. I wrote back with 10 reasons why I disagreed.
By the way, the webinar with our client turned out well. More than a dozen senior managers dialed in for the half-hour session. In the months since, they’ve volunteered more frequently to take on byliners, and submitted pieces of a higher quality, than ever before. Indeed, a few are to be published any day now.
So give it a shot. After all, you’re the expert.
More than any other city in the world, Washington, D.C. is infamous for its “networking.” This is town where even the most sincere of friendships are often colored with ulterior motives.
After all, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is a concept that extends well beyond the backrooms of Congress.
In our case, media and public affairs go hand-in-hand. Journalists, or “hacks,” rely on us “flacks” as much as we rely on them. For every hack that hangs up the phone on your pitch or immediately funnels all press releases into her junk folder, there are many more counting on us for good stories, angles and interviews.
But what happens, in a town like D.C., when hacks and flacks inevitably mingle outside of work and develop earnest friendships? Some might think this sounds ideal but, trust me, it has a high potential for awkwardness if you get too overzealous.
No one ever wants to feel used. Just because you’re good friends with a journalist doesn’t give you, as flack, the right to call them up and pull the dreaded Friend Card.
Flack: “Please, do me this favor, as a friend, and pick up my press release.”
Hack: “… But it’s not a good story.”
A good flack’s reputation is on the line every time they make a contact trying to “sell” a story. Begging a friend to write a piece for friendship’s sake is a good way to compromise a friendship or, at the very least, relegate your pitches to the junk email folder. The long-term trust and credibility of the relationship is infinitely more important than the short-term benefit of any one-time media hit you might have managed to wangle. Not to mention, if you have to call up a friend to beg for the favor, you clearly don’t have much faith in your story.
That is not to say, however, that you shouldn’t leverage your friendships, when appropriate.
I put the question to one of Washington’s esteemed political reporters who also happens to have been a good friend of mine since well before I became a flack. Our conversation went like this:
“I just feel weird pitching you or anything,” I admitted.
“Why?” He asked.
“Because I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m using you.”
“Please, that’s how the game is played. And you’re not using me. We need you as much as you need us.”
Let’s suppose the chief marketing officer of your organization came to you and declared, “Our CEO wants to get out there in the media. Here’s his bio and some talking points. Now let's go schedule that close-up with Maria Bartiromo.”
What to do (even allowing for that slightly exaggerated scenario)?
As it happens, I took a crack at that very question in a recent talk about how to generate executive visibility that I gave at the annual conference of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the leading trade association representing dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers. Senior communications executives from a wide range of members, including Bayer and Procter and Gamble, attended the event.
First, a quick caveat. Contrary to popular belief, executive visibility is about more than getting public attention for an individual. Or at least should be. In its purest form, it means leveraging said individual to represent something bigger. A concept. A cause. A brand. Or maybe all three.
At its best, then, executive visibility has the opportunity to create value that extends well beyond mere media impressions. Ultimately, it’s all about personifying your organization and amplifying its messages. Your C-suite spokesperson has the potential to establish an identity for your brand and, most important, build a favorable reputation that will last.
Toward that end, Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at our parent company, Weber Shandwick, recently conducted a survey on C-suite visibility via social media. Bottom line: CEOs should use social media – among other available options – for the purposes of communication, reputation and achieving business results.
As for my own basic guidelines for executive visibility campaigns, here you go:
- Ask if you should do this in the first place. Seriously. Some CEOs would rather stay behind the scenes, and operate better there. Or prefer to deputize others to step into the spotlight. So be it. Just because executive visibility is on your checklist may turn out to be the least of reasons to pursue it.
- Be strategic. Define, in specific terms, your intent and anticipated results. What’s in this for your products and services? Determine your target audience. Are you catering to Wall Street or The Hill or going B2B with a particular private-sector community?
- Secure cooperation up front. You need to win the executive in question over to your mission. Hold a face-to-face briefing rather than a conference call. Only if you enlist support and create trust do you have a prayer of success.
- Collaborate like crazy. You may have all kinds of good ideas about the right approach to take, but no doubt others will, too. Seek feedback from all quarters about your mission and likely positioning, then cherry-pick the smartest tactics.
- Get personal. Any media profile of a CEO, for example, is going to get into what makes that person tick. So play reporter and ask a lot of questions, perhaps even enough for the CEO to wonder why you’re asking so damn many.
- Get the story. What matters most to your CEO? Besides, how exactly did he or she transform your organization last year? Only then will your key messages rise above and beyond corporate boilerplate.
- Be provocative, or dramatic, or newsworthy, or at least a little interesting. Please. Maybe your CEO has a surprising point of view to share, or a secret strategy or insight that no one has ever expressed before. It could happen. And once in a while it does.
(Photo Credit: Paris on Ponce & Le Maison Rouge)
ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams recently stated it well: “The media has a bias toward conflict, right? I mean in general, when there is a conflict, the media likes it.”
Media today is motivated to frame stories as the presentation of opposing views and opinions to stimulate conversations and engagements amongst audiences. Although facts get reported, they are a lesser priority to content that produces and provokes passionate responses and discussion.
In a thoughtful and concise recent article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, explains that under Florida law George Zimmerman could not have been convicted for killing Trayvon Martin.
The article was remarkable in how clear the facts of Florida statute are and how absent these facts were from the majority of media coverage of the case and the trial. It was a sobering reminder for anyone involved in a high profile issue that receives significant media coverage: Emotion and debate are what drive media coverage, not the presentation of fact.
Corporations should take a lesson: no matter how compelling the evidence, plain facts alone will not help to tell the story in the media or online and rarely move the needle of public opinion.
To make an impact, messaging must resonate emotionally. Effective engagement happens when allies and supporters are motivated and compelled to act — to share personal stories, to fight for a cause or to become a brand advocate.
The key lies in presenting the facts of your case while engaging the emotions of your supporters, advocates and audiences.
Powell Tate is excited to share that Joel Daly, senior vice president of experience design, was profiled in today’s Washington Post Express for leading the Creative Mornings lecture series in Washington, D.C. As head of the D.C. chapter of the monthly breakfast series, Joel invites members of the creative community for a conversation about their work and industry perspectives. Joel helped launch the D.C. chapter in January 2013, joining the legion of more than 50 chapters worldwide. The next Creative Mornings lecture will take place on July 26 at the local Beltway restaurant 1776, and will feature a NASA astrophysicist.
Read more about Creative Mornings and Joel’s role as host in Washington Post Express interview here.
Malala Yousafzai address the UN General Assembly on Malala Day, July 12th.
"On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices."
These are the words of Malala Yousafzai, the courageous 16 year-old girl from a rural village in Pakistan, as she addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this past Friday, July 12th. It was her birthday, declared Malala Day by the UN to honor her courage and her mission, and she celebrated the occasion by addressing the UNGA and calling upon world leaders to fight for free compulsory education for every child. It was this very mission that labeled her a threat to Taliban leaders, who have terrorized her country, and who last fall attempted to silence her. Nonetheless, this brave girl persevered, and after an arduous recovery, refuses to be silenced ever again, for with hers, thousands of other voices have risen in her plight for universal education.
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said, “But nothing changed in my life, expect this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died; strength, power, and courage were born.”
In her address, she urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and UNGA President, Vuk Jeremic, to call upon world leaders to urge for peace and prosperity, to find opportunities to include safeguards for women and girls, those most often disadvantaged by lack of access to education. She pleaded for the world to recognize that “one child, one teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
Selfless as ever, this remarkable young girl declared: “Malala Day is not my day; it is for every woman, every boy, and every girl who has raised their voice for their rights.” She highlighted her tenants of tolerance, freedom, and equality, underscoring that she does not wish revenge over her Taliban attacker, but wishes for “education for all the sons and daughters of the Taliban, and all terrorists and extremists.”
Through our Impact Project, we are thrilled to be supporting the work of Malala through the newly established Malala Fund, an organization set up to help girls go to school and raise their voices for the right to education. Working together with global and local partners, The Malala Fund will focus on three key objectives:
- Investing in Girls Education through innovative solutions to deliver high quality education to disadvantaged communities around the world.
- Amplifying Voices of Educational Advocates to tell the stories of those who are fighting for their right to education
- Channeling Collective Action to make girls education and true priority.
On Malala Day and every day, we share Malala’s resolve. “We will bring change to our world,” she resounds, “We are all together, united for the cause of education. Our greatest weapon: knowledge; our shield: unity and togetherness.” With that, she presented the Secretary General and the UNGA President with an hourglass, a reminder that time is precious and that there’s no better time than the present to take action on such an important issue.
David Ignatius wrote a must-read story about elected officials meddling in the U.S. Air Force’s attempt to retire “unneeded warplanes.”
It’s a must read because of the valuable lesson it offers for companies fighting to keep a defense-related program alive: Get Congress, Governors, and elected officials involved early and often.
While Ignatius is critical of “parochial politics” overwhelming the defense decision process, it is a wonderful case study in how regional coalitions can impact and reverse the decisions of the military.
The article underscores why defense contractors should proactively and consistently create educational campaigns for elected officials that illustrate the value of their program to national defense, the industrial base, regional economies and jobs. In a time of increased competition for limited defense funding, having the support of elected officials is essential.
For more recommendations on what defense companies should be doing to engage elected officials, check out one of my previous pieces: http://www.powelltate.com/insights/engaging_congress_before_it_is_too_late
One year ago, the trial of former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky awoke the nation to the terrible realities of child abuse. The tragic revelations provided an unexpected opportunity for one small non-profit to educate the public about its mission to end child sexual abuse. For organizations to succeed in injecting themselves into sudden, inherently unpredictable breaking news, it’s key to have a well-honed message, be nimble enough to take advantage of fast-moving media opportunities and willingly jump in to controversial territory.
On the evening that the Penn State jury reached its verdict, our pro-bono client, Darkness to Light (D2L), seized the moment to steer the conversation toward what people can do to combat predators like Sandusky. Darkness to Light President Jolie Logan was quoted at length in The New York Times’ Motherlode blog , USA Today and elsewhere about the importance of adult action on child sexual abuse. “Every adult needs to know the facts and know the signs, so they are more confident and empowered to speak up,” urged Logan. “Perpetrators are drawn to places where they have access to kids and they are very talented at building trust in other adults, which is another reason education is critical.”
Another unexpected event that the organization was able to capitalize on was the release of That’s My Boy, a film which made light of statutory rape. Through a partnership with Change.org, Darkness to Light issued a petition urging the film’s distributor, Sony Pictures, to acknowledge the film’s glamorization of child sexual abuse. The petition quickly garnered 6,000 signatures and 3,000 e-mail acquisitions, and was featured in The Washington Post’s On Parenting blog.
Today, a year after the media deluge surrounding the Sandusky trial, Darkness to Light is sustaining the public’s consciousness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse – and adults’ critical role in prevention – because they were prepared to act quickly when news broke.
When it comes to trade policy, most media attention focuses on expanding U.S. ties with China, India and other large emerging markets. But what’s lost in this conversation is the importance of the economic ties between the United States and Europe —ties that are significantly larger, deeper and have far greater impact on growth, jobs and consumers.
This week, the United States and European Union begin negotiating the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) to establish a free trade zone across the Atlantic. The parameters of TTIP are ambitious and comprehensive. In short, TTIP will address the entire value chain of trade and investment issues that impact the bilateral commercial relationship between the European Union and United States — a relationship that today accounts for nearly 50% of the global economy, 30% of global trade and an estimated $3.7 trillion in cross-border investment.
If successful, TTIP will modernize the E.U.-U.S. commercial relationship and deliver sustained growth and job creation in both markets. Tariffs that make goods more expensive would be reduced. Regulations would be more consistent and aligned.
Of course, there are many difficult issues to work out, including the stark differences between Europe and the U.S. in agricultural trade, competition policies, and data and privacy issues, among others. This means it may take at least two years — and possibly longer — of negotiations, followed by a ratification process in the U.S. Congress and the European Council, before an agreement is officially implemented.
The outcome of what is starting this week will impact every U.S. and European company that operates or trades in each other’s market.
While it may seem a distant concern, companies must pay attention to these talks now. Doing so will enable companies to determine how their businesses may be impacted and will allow companies to engage with both Washington and Brussels throughout the negotiation process.
TEDxWomen speaker Emily Peal. November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. Photo: Ryan Lash
Girl Rising, a groundbreaking film following the stories of nine girls in nine countries and highlighting the power of education to transform lives, aired last week on CNN—drawing praise and attention for shining light on the powerful role of women and girls in communities around the world. The success of Girl Rising and other story-based initiatives like MAKERS, underscores the critical role of storytelling in empathetic understanding, perspective, creating community and, ultimately, change.
Just last fall, TEDxWomen, curated and produced by The Paley Center for Media, took place in Washington, D.C. where women and girls around the world told their surprising, moving, funny and devastating stories of triumph and innovation to the TED global community.
We partnered with The Paley Center for Media to amplify these powerful stories across social media. Using quotes, pictures and storytelling tools, like Storify, these women’s inspiring stories reached audiences worldwide.
TEDxWomen saw unprecedented engagement online, speaking to what we’re learning about issue education and empathetic learning: personal stories resonate and inspire action in ways that statistics and long format research cannot. Issues like female genital mutilation, women’s representation in the media and the changing role of gender are too big and too complicated to be told with flat platforms. Storytelling captures more than statistics and problems, it captures the strength, struggles and visceral human emotion that inspires action, conversation and change.
We are proud and humbled to have partnered with the TED community and the Paley Center to elevate the voices of women from around the world and drive visibility to this unique platform for outstanding women to share their stories and inspire others.
This month, Powell Tate attended National Journal’s Health Reform Summit, hosted jointly with our client, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst).
Among other things, the summit focused on patient-physician engagement and communication as an integral component of healthcare delivery and cost reduction. The concept is pretty intuitive: the more physicians are engaging their patients, the more aware they are of their patients’ conditions and, thus, the more able to provide appropriate and effective care.
In 2013, communication inherently implies email.
When discussing the importance of patient-physician communication, panelist Chet Burrell, President and CEO, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, put a question to the audience:
“You all send hundreds of emails a day. How many of you email your doctors?”
Of all the hands holding smart phones from which they were live tweeting, making Facebook updates, or sending emails, not one was raised.
We are living at a time in which virtually everyone is immediately accessible via a handful of social media platforms. Everyone, that is, except for medical professionals.
According to data collected by Manhattan Research, a health-care market-research firm, under one-third of doctors reported emailing with patients in 2012, up from 27 percent five years earlier.
The failure of the medical community to jump on the modernizing bandwagon has implications beyond convenience, as the comparative lack of accessibility often threatens patient access to care, all while increasing costs.
"As a doctor,” advised Burrell, “make it so when patients call your office, it's not a matter of negotiating a visit but rather, helping them.”
But why is it that doctors are so reticent to engage in a reform as seemingly quotidian and banal as using email? Some doctors worry that electronic communications risk the privacy and security of patient information. The Manhattan Research data suggests a reluctance stemming from the billing process, given that “the time spent emailing with patients is time unpaid. Few doctors charge for the service.”
Panelist Kavita Patel, M.D., MSHS suggested as much. “Doctors,” admitted Patel, a practicing physician, “are worried that if we talk honestly about skill-task realignment, we won't have enough business.”
If doctors can get you into the office for even the most routine of visits, they can bill the hours. Responding to emails, on the other hand, is much more ad hoc and difficult to track, given the rate at which patients would presumably email.
But despite the myriad complications posed by email, ranging from privacy to billing concerns, the fact remains that physician accessibility and communication are two big hurdles that must be jumped in order to truly reform healthcare.
Last week we kicked off our new series of PTDefense Tweet Chats in which each Friday we invite a defense or national security influencer to engage with our network on current issues. Our inaugural guest, PJ Crowley, former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and State Department spokesman, answered an array of questions ranging from the Iranian presidential elections to Hillary Clinton’s recent entrance into the Twitter world.
Check out highlights of the conversation below or click here to view the whole conversation with PJ Crowley.
We are looking forward to this week’s chat with Kate Brannen, a defense reporter for Politico PRO, on Friday, June 21. If you would like to ask Kate a question or participate in future chats, please tweet your questions to @PTDefense using #PTDefense.
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This week, a revolutionary solar-powered airplane will take off from Lambert Field on a trip from St. Louis to Washington, D.C. – a distance of 834 miles – and will complete its journey without expending an ounce of conventional fuel.
With the wingspan of a 747 and the weight of a mid-sized car, the plane will soar up to 30,000 feet, fly day and night, and achieve what seemed impossible only a few years ago.
We know that human innovation and ingenuity are limitless. After all, we’ve traveled more than a quarter million miles to the moon and into the depths of the Earth. But we have not yet harnessed our intellectual capital to cultivate a more sustainable world.
And that’s where Solar Impulse comes in.
Inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs, pioneers, and world leaders, Solar Impulse proves that we can use today’s technologies to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. The project demonstrates that we can be more efficient about how we live, how we work, how we travel, and how we construct our homes and businesses. Because if we can fly a plane on purely solar energy at 30,000 feet, what’s to stop us from adapting those technologies to improve the way we use energy here on the ground?
Powell Tate is proud to work with Solar Impulse on its historic flight across America. And we’re excited to welcome the plane to Washington this week!
If you’re in town, come on by and check out the Solar Impulse airplane at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport on June 15, 2013.
Powell Tate staff enjoy a limo ride to Washington Business Journal's Best Places to Work awards ceremony at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner.
Powell Tate is proud to be named one of D.C.’s Best Places to Work by the Washington Business Journal. The list is based on an anonymous survey of employees, and if the online profile is any indication, analysts were convinced that our monthly staff lunch, beer on Friday evenings and an annual summer event are just a few of the reasons “Powell Taters” love to work here.
In fact, the survey examines much more than the availability of free food (though we do love food!). Insurance and other benefits, office space and a variety of other factors were included in the survey, which was filled out by employees at all levels.
Last week at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, members of the Powell Tate team joined employees from across the D.C. area for the Best Places to Work luncheon. According to the Washington Business Journal, the event represents “the excellent spirit and diverse characteristics of the many top companies across our region.” Our staff certainly experienced the energetic atmosphere.
Leaders from each of the companies being honored in each of three categories – small, medium and large companies – were invited to the stage to share what animal best represented their company and why. After much discussion at the Powell Tate table – where we were loath to choose any animal that might already have been selected by the time our turn came – Pam Jenkins told the crowd that our animal was the Arctic Tern, “because it migrates over 44,000 miles a year, and we go the extra mile for our clients.”
We thank the Washington Business Journal for the honor of making the list, and for hosting us at this fun lunch event. And here’s to all our employees, who are the reason Powell Tate really is one of D.C.’s best places to work!
Executive Vice President
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