A Tennis Lesson in Crisis PR

A Tennis Lesson in Crisis PR


What we can learn about public relations in the latest blowup at the 2021 French Open

Tennis fanatics, like myself, have been excited to tune in to the early rounds of the French Open this week, the sport’s most prestigious tournament held on the slippery red clay surface. But even before the tournament started, dirt was being thrown off court when Naomi Osaka, the 2nd seed and arguably the most popular tennis player in the world, announced that she would not participate in the normally required post-match press conferences.

My interest was piqued with the combination of two of my life’s passions: tennis and media. I’m a big fan of Naomi and how she has used her epic platform to advocate for important issues despite being a self-described introvert. However, I also understood how post-match press conferences play a significant role in sharing the stories that come out of these tournaments to promote the sport. I quietly applauded Naomi for taking a stand for what she believed were outdated rules and went on scrolling my social media feed.

I cringed at what happened next. Criticism mounted from tennis media and tennis tournament directors alike. As the tournament began, all the leading professional tennis players were asked about Naomi’s decision in their own press conferences. The news transcended tennis media to reach general sports as well as PR/media outlets. Everyone was talking about how Naomi was selfish and entitled.

After Naomi won her first-round match and skipped her required press conference, she was fined $15,000. Then, the four major tennis tournaments all came together to threaten further action if Naomi continued to refuse to participate in the press conferences.

“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences. As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).”

At this point, Naomi’s goal to be able to focus solely on her tennis had blown up, and she surprised everyone by withdrawing from the tournament.

Revealing that she has been dealing with depression and mental illness for years, it seemed that everyone who had once criticized her was now offering their condolences, including the four major tennis tournaments who issued a new statement:

Ironically, the president of the French tennis federation read this statement at a press conference… and refused to answer any questions.

Collectively, while concerned for Naomi Osaka’s mental health, everyone seemed to agree that the events that had transpired were generally bad for tennis. The sport’s star player unable to play a major event citing debilitating mental illness. Tennis being branded as an “out of touch” sport that has too many rules. No one appeared to come out a winner.

As I was watching this all unfold, I couldn’t help myself from putting my crisis PR hat on. What could have been done to avoid this terrible situation? My response: a dose of empathy.

When a crisis is brewing, emotions are amplified and tensions mount. I could see this happening in real-time, especially when the four major tournaments came together to issue their original joint statement in an effort to protect the status quo. The whole thing came off incredibly defensive, and created a result that no one actually wanted.

Had the decision-makers for each of the major tournaments applied some empathy, they would have been able to answer the question of why they were dealing with this current situation and how their plan of attack was bound to backfire. Had they applied some empathy, they would have been able to determine a realistic roadmap to achievable goals that worked for everyone. Instead, what we saw was a public shaming of one of the sport’s most beloved players.

What I’m also saying here is that to avoid terrible crisis scenarios like this one, someone needs to be thinking about the big picture and needs to be able to think through all possible reactions to different scenarios. It’s easy to be reactive when dealing with a crisis, but if you spend the time to prepare for all scenarios when not facing a crisis, you will have a much clearer head and be able to consider all sides of an issue when developing a plan.

Next time you find yourself in a crisis, take a breath to apply some empathy. Ask why you are in this situation, put yourself in the other party’s shoes, and truly identify the root cause of the and go from there to find a reasonable solution. Or, plan ahead for a slew of crisis scenarios so that you will always be prepared to get the desired result.

As for Naomi, the ball’s no longer in her court. We’ll have to see what happens next, but tennis will not be the same without her. Get well soon, Naomi.

By Erica Fetherston, PR & Operations Manager at 10 to 1 Public Relations

750 news stories in four days, and I wish not one was necessary

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On April 28, 2020 my PR firm signed a new client, Ambulnz, a national ambulance services provider at the time with 1,000 employees in 8 U.S. States and operations in the United Kingdom (they’ve grown rapidly this year expanding their services and geography that ultimately led to them going public, but that’s a success story for another time). I’d been chatting with them for a while, and normally I’d be very excited to get the contract signed. Instead, their reason to sign when they did brought back emotions and memories of the toughest work week of my life back in 2004.  Here’s why.

Incoming Crisis

You may remember when COVID-19 was first becoming a reality in the U.S., New York City was particularly hard hit making it the pandemic focal point of the nation.  Ambulnz had deployed more than 70 employees to New York City to be part of the company’s FEMA COVID-19 response to help New York City’s overwhelmed EMS and healthcare system. Those deployed had volunteered from its operations across the U.S. such as Los Angeles, Tennessee, and Colorado.

One of their deployed Colorado paramedics, Paul Cary, was in the hospital with COVID-19 contracted after transporting New York patients. Doctors said the prognosis looked grim. Expecting the worst, they knew they needed experienced PR guidance. They also needed someone to become the sole primary point of contact for media on behalf of the company, as well as the family, throughout the crisis if Paul did in fact succumb.  

Some quick background for those who don’t know: before launching 10 to 1 Public Relations, I worked in-house leading PR efforts for statewide and national EMS (emergency medical services) companies for several years. The first time I led media relations efforts for a Line of Duty Death (LODD) was in 2004 in the Phoenix area. That experience literally changed my professional career, teaching me the importance of controlling the flow of information and giving me the confidence that I could handle any crisis and that PR was truly my career calling.

So here I was again, 16-years later.  My team quickly engaged, working with the Ambulnz team we began preparing for the worst. Unfortunately, two days later, paramedic Paul Cary died from COVID-19 in a New York City hospital.

Facing Unique Challenges

Any LODD is horrible, but logistically this one was unique. Usually the community outpouring and media interest is limited to a single media market. Living and working in Colorado for more than 30 years, Cary’s Denver community was mourning. With his death occurring in New York City while he came to the City’s aid, New York City was equally mourning. New York City being the largest media market in the U.S. alone can be overwhelming to a media relations department during a crisis but now we were focused on two locations 1750 miles from one another.

Add on top of that, this marked the first death of a volunteer federal responder to New York’s COVID response effort, which created national media interest. National media, New York City media, and Denver-area media. All at the same time, from different time zones. Three because it wasn’t only Denver and New York, but media was also being coordinated from Arizona where my team is located. 

Another challenge: We had never actually met any member of the Ambulnz team before, only a few phone calls with two or three people, so we needed help identifying the right contacts within the organization to get whatever we might need.

The final challenge was we had to do everything remotely because of social distancing. Flying our team into one of the cities to assist on the ground just was not doable.  

In the end, over a 4-day period of 15+ hour days, I think that week was one of the most professionally and personally gratifying work experiences I can recall. 

Enacting the Crisis Public Relations Plan

Ultimately there were more than 750 news stories in four days. We coordinated interviews and worked with reporters from some of the country’s most recognized national media outlets like CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. We coordinated interviews and worked with local print reporters and TV affiliates in New York City and Denver like the Denver Post, the New York Daily News, WABC, WNBC, Denver7 and KUSA. And we did so quickly and equally, regardless of the media outlet’s size so that every reporter felt like they got our full attention.

Developments that led to a lot of the media interest included public statements from the Governors of New York and Colorado, as well as the Mayors of Aurora, Denver, and New York City. The biggest surprise to me came from the Mayor of New York City when during a press conference surprised us all to say that a monument would be built in Paul’s honor recognizing his sacrifice and all the healthcare workers that came from out of state to help the city when it was needed most. 

The New York City Fire Department helped coordinate a massive funeral procession of emergency vehicles, only to have that effort matched in Denver with a 160-vehicle procession. Both the Newark and Denver Airports allowed bagpipes and full honors as the casket was loaded and unloaded from the plane, and both airports saluted the flight with water cannons as it taxied to and from the gate.

These efforts, and participation by other agencies and officials, made a huge impact on other first responders and healthcare workers as well. I’m proud that we had the opportunity to successfully help share it with the public through the media.  

Full Circle

My pride extends beyond our media efforts. We also coordinated all the public statements, employee outreach, coordinated with the family to generate and share their public statements, and also assisted with the planning of the public events as Paul’s body returned to Denver that Sunday night. 

To think of what was accomplished so quickly, I can’t help but think of how many people contributed to the efforts to share Paul’s story with so many. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude towards the many local PR pros that stepped up to help in Denver and New York since I couldn’t be there personally on the ground to do it myself. I cherish the kind notes from media folk and other agencies for how we performed, and for the quality of the communications we shared. 

Throughout this whole experience, there’s been one more emotional tie-in that has taken me back to my first LODD. The date Ambulnz called me to hire us and seek our help regarding the LODD was 16 years to the day of Tammy Mundell’s death, the first LODD I worked which solidified my career path. With that first experience in mind constantly through the week, I was able to lead my team with a solid plan and deliver the results our client was looking for.

Thank you to first responders

My team and I would like to thank our country’s first responders serving on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. We have immense gratitude for the work that you do every day to help those in need and keep our communities safe. Thanks to you and your families, from the bottom of our hearts.

Finally, I hope that my recap doesn’t come across as self-serving.  I actually wrote this nearly a year ago for myself, but never published it.  A year later, as we approach the last week of April and these solemn anniversaries, I keep thinking about how it impacted me personally so I thought it worthy of sharing, now.

Rest in peace, Paul Cary.  Rest in peace, Tammy Mundell. 

A Lesson for Business During March Madness

A Lesson for Business During March Madness


It’s that time of year- The March Madness college basketball tournament.  If you’re not a college basketball fan, keep reading. Don’t worry, what I’m going to share should still make sense.

Like a lot of people, every year I complete a bracket of the participating teams to predict a winner. But, in truth, I barely pay attention to college basketball during the season.  So how do I choose which team I think will win?

Sometimes I favor teams from my hometown simply because I want to see them win, or the team representing the mid-major conference that my alma mater plays in.

Like most people, I usually just go with the teams I’m most familiar with, or the teams with higher rankings. 

Duke Basketball is the perfect example.  For the first time in decades, Duke did not make the tournament, but had they squeaked into the field of 64 my assumption is that a lot of casual basketball fans would have chosen them to make the Sweet 16. Simply off of name recognition, awareness of their team history, and out of respect for their well-known coach.  Their legacy matters- and people are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt even during a tough season. 

A lot of people choose a product or business the same way. 

There’s comfort in familiarity.  There’s confidence in a track record of success, even if the current task is something new.  Belief in individuals transfers to trust in an organization.

How does a business achieve this?  By playing the long game and promoting their successes along the way.  It’s not by announcing one big new contract, it’s by announcing a steady stream of contract wins over time.  It’s not by creating one single event, it’s by promoting numerous events throughout the year.

One good season or one good story isn’t going to earn long-term loyalty. It’s repetition of actions, over long periods of time, which ultimately breeds public confidence. It’s that awareness and reputation which will sustain a company even during a rough patch.

Finally, allow me to share one last off-topic story simply because it makes me smile every year around this time.  Probably a good 15 years ago or so, a friend of mine had a vasectomy.  He had to book it far in advance because he wanted the timing to coincide with the start of the basketball tournament.  Turns out he had to book early because a lot of guys have the same idea. They figure if they had to sit at home with a bag of frozen peas in their lap for a couple of days, they might as well do it while there were constant basketball games on TV!  



Surviving the Election News Cycle

With fewer than 50 days to go until the 2020 General Election, PR pros and casual news consumers alike will have noticed the continued focus on the election during each news cycle. Election-related stories will continue to be a major part of our daily news diet, even amidst a continuing global pandemic, raging wildfires in the west, discussions about social justice, and other pressing issues.

Local and national media alike have been doing a great job to help voters get the information they need to participate in the electoral process. This is despite documented outside efforts to spread misinformation about the election.

At 10 to 1 Public Relations, we’ve been doing our part to build confidence in the electoral process by helping our client Runbeck Election Services, an elections services company focused on delivering election printing, equipment and software solutions, explain the technicalities of how the vote-by-mail process works. This year, Runbeck is planning to print 15 million vote-by-mail packets, four times more than they produced in 2016, as demand for vote-by-mail soars as a safe method of voting during the pandemic.

In the past few months, we’ve helped connect Runbeck to local and national media to explain how vote-by-mail is a safe and secure process which can be trusted by the voters to deliver legitimate results. Here are just a few recent stories featuring Runbeck:

As we have been working on these stories, we believe there is really one way to survive the oncoming onslaught of election news coverage as we get closer to November 3. Make sure you are paying attention to trusted and verified sources on the election.

Here in Arizona, according to the Arizona Secretary of State, you must register to vote or update your voter registration on or before Monday, October 5 to participate in the 2020 General Election. If you plan to vote by mail, you must request a ballot or join the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) on or before Friday, October 23. It is recommended that you mail back your ballot as soon as possible and not after Tuesday, October 27. If you still have your vote-by-mail ballot after October 27, you can drop it off at a voting location or drop box before 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 3.

All Arizona voting information can be found at Arizona.Vote, or visit Vote.org for other state-specific voting information, deadlines, and instructions.

Because one thing is for sure: You can’t complain if you don’t vote.

By Erica Fetherston, Sr. Account Exec. at 10 to 1 Public Relations

Video Series: Public Relations Tips To Get Through COVID-19

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, business as we have known it has been upended. While we work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, there are things companies can be doing to position themselves to withstand the pandemic, help the community, and ultimately come out of this crisis stronger.

Public relations can play a role in delivering on these goals. 10 to 1 President Josh Weiss has created a video series of brief videos to give you ideas on how you can best position your company utilizing basic public relations and crisis communications tactics.

You can check out our video series below or on our YouTube page.


PR & COVID-19: Share Your Expertise

https://youtube.com/watch?v=4rCj5Sf89oY%3Ffeature%3Doembed

PR & COVID-19: Find Opportunity for Every Story

https://youtube.com/watch?v=atS6Rv0KRDs%3Ffeature%3Doembed

PR & COVID-19: Walk Through Your Warehouse

https://youtube.com/watch?v=emdFN9dWdA0%3Ffeature%3Doembed

PR & COVID-19: Pivoting The Right Way

https://youtube.com/watch?v=pnpAuAJ82Dg%3Ffeature%3Doembed

PR & COVID-19: Follow The Leader

https://youtube.com/watch?v=3eroAMKpMNM%3Ffeature%3Doembed

PR & COVID-19: Be Honest With Your Customers

https://youtube.com/watch?v=E0drKp1XgoM%3Ffeature%3Doembed

More videos will be added on a regular basis – stay tuned!

The First 24 Hours of a Crisis: Offer Questions, NOT Answers

Boom.  Out of nowhere, a crisis hits your company or community. As the leader, everyone’s turning to you.  In part to see how you react, but mostly for instruction confirming how they’re supposed to respond. 

Everyone’s turning to you for answers- but that’s the last thing you should be doing during the first 24 hours of a crisis.  Your job the first 24 hours is to ask questions, and to avoid giving answers.

The first questions you ask should be directed to your employees.  What do they need to deal with the immediate problem? How can you help get them the help they need, quickly? These questions not only demonstrate your support to your team but instructs them to take action.

The next set of questions are to gather information.  How many people were initially, directly affected by the crisis issue?  Follow that with questions about how to prevent new victims from being negatively affected by the same crisis in the coming hours.

These questions upfront are necessary to gather the information you need to make strategic decisions and ultimately later, proclamations for the future.

Even when talking to reporters, customers or the public, you should still focus on asking questions during the first 24 hours, not giving answers.

During the first 24 hours avoid making declarative statements or accusations against others that commit you or your company to certain actions. Avoid giving definitive answers or suggesting long-term solutions that could be considered controversial as your statement will come across as opportunistic instead of as a genuine solution.

The only initial statements you should make are holding statements (see our earlier blog entitled Part 1 of what to do in a PR crisis). Otherwise, you essentially should be rephrasing and sharing the questions you asked your staff and the answers you were given.  Basically you’re going to say that your team is still investigating details of the incident to make sure it never happens again, but your immediate priority is to better understand the full impact to those effected and how best, and most quickly to help them.

It’s only on day two, after more facts are known and cooler heads prevail, that you can start delivering answers and rallying support for specific actions. 

If there’s a general uproar over the crisis, you can also ask rhetorical questions.  For example, if the crisis is a criminal act made against your company, ask aloud who would do such a heinous thing effecting so many. Share in the public outcry and frustration, but be careful in pointing blame outwards if you suspect a member of your team might be involved.

As the leader, your job when a crisis hits is to ask questions and support your teams in resolving the immediate threat.  After the immediate pressure of the crisis subsides, your job refocuses into identifying what caused the problem and initiating a long-term fix to avoid a repeat of the crisis and regain the confidence of your customers and the public.

A fantastic example and story of how to deploy the 24 hours of questions before providing answers strategy can be heard in a podcast called Without Fail where in an episode featuring Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley talks about the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting outside a Dayton entertainment area called the Oregon District. Here’s a link to the episode https://gimletmedia.com/shows/without-fail/v4h8ow including a transcript of the discussion.

Does Your Company Have a Media Emergency Playbook?

How your Company Can Win By Preparing for a Media Crisis Like It’s a Game.

Remember from childhood the game “Mad Libs”?  It’s the grammar game where there’s a one-page story with a bunch of missing words in the narrative.  The game leader asks the other kids to yell out what’s called for in the blank space- like a Verb, or a City name, a person’s occupation, an Adjective, etc.  After all the missing words are filled in, the game leader reads the now silly story to the enjoyment of the other kids who help contribute to the narrative. 

Games are fun, but some games are more important to win than others.  If you want to your company to win during a media emergency/PR crisis, you need to prepare in advance.  One way to win is by copying the Mad Libs game structure to creating a media emergency playbook your company can use when needed.

Let’s face it, it’s not IF a media emergency will occur, but WHEN.  A bad response can create a significant, lasting negative perception for a company, while a well-handled crisis can earn you long-term customer, employee and investor loyalty. The good news is that it’s possible to manage a crisis well, aided a little bit of planning.

Here are some tips to create a media emergency response plan.

Start by creating a list of the five most likely negative crisis scenarios that could happen to your company. 

For example, if you have employees driving company branded vehicles, a likely crisis could be a bad crash.  If you have employees performing manual, skilled labor, maybe there’s potential for a significant injury or loss of life. If you handle personal information or credit card information, there’s a significant risk of a hack or stolen data.

Create a one or two paragraph written statement for each scenario of how you would respond. 

The initial statement is simply to acknowledge the issue and demonstrate to the public and media that you’re taking the issue seriously and professionally and are investigating it to gather more facts.  It isn’t supposed to be detailed nor is it to explain how you’re fixing the problem.

This initial statement (often called a holding statement) will give you time to provide a more meaningful update (several hours or even a day) later, when you would share more details and examples of how you’re dealing with the situation.

Get sign-off from Executives, Legal team, etc. on your proposed statement.

Get approvals for your template statements now, before the crisis scenario actually occurs.  Examples would be Executives or the Legal team, who most normally would delay a response in the moment because they’d insist on reviewing and wordsmithing it first.  With your pre-approved response, all you’ll need to do is “fill in the blanks” and update some of the details like names, locations, other vital stats, etc.  With the initial media statement out of the way, you will save the entire team significant time allowing them to focus on the actual crisis and to help get it resolved.  Your fast response will also help protect your reputation and influence the public’s response when they learn about the crisis.

Start over and create another list of five potential scenarios which may be less likely to occur, but which scare you (or your CEO) the most. 

Maybe it’s a #MeToo scenario, or fear of an employee being arrested at work even though their crime has nothing to do with your business.  Go through the same process of preparing a short response and getting Executive and Legal approvals.

Strategically share the Media Emergency Playbook with key Executives and company spokespeople.

Not everyone should get a copy of your template responses.  Only share it with the handful of people most likely and authorized to share them with reporters on short notice.  These aren’t public documents for all to see in advance.  While the circle of people with copies should be small, it needs to be a large enough group where the people who ultimately need them can’t locate or find them. Especially in the event the most obvious people are on vacation and/or unreachable. 

While there’s a lot more to be done to properly prepare for, let alone handle, a crisis, having a “Mad Libs” style media emergency playbook is a great start for any company.

Part 4 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating with (and through) the Media

In some ways, talking to customers and the public through the media is the easiest part of a crisis.  It’s also one of the most risky as it relates to protecting your company.  The job of media outlets is to share the information of what’s happening with the public, but not necessarily to share that information in the way you want.

Assuming you’ve already read through Part 1 of this series and already have your simplified and clarified message finalized, let’s jump right in to some best practices for talking to media during an emergency.

Six best practices for talking to media during a crisis: 

  1. Designate One Spokesperson. Answers and statements to media are best when they funnel through one person to ensure consistency.  When it comes to the media quoting the company, you’ll be much happier in the end if the same person is quoted in every interview. That said, every media outlet will contact your company separately for a comment.  If you’re planning a press conference, let other communications team members answer calls and emails, and tell reporters to attend the media briefing for more information. The more time the spokesperson can spend doing interviews instead of scheduling interviews the better.
  2. Acknowledge Questions Quickly. You don’t need to know the answers, the public just needs to know you’re working on getting the answers.  Failure to respond to media quickly and acknowledge an issue implies the company doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or doesn’t know what to do.
  3. Respect Their Timeline, Not Your Own. Reporters have deadlines and they don’t work for you. During a crisis, think of it like you work for them. You can’t make a bad story go away, but you can make it less severe. If you make the reporter’s job harder, why would they give your company any breaks?  The easiest way to stay on a reporter’s good side is to ask them what time they need an answer by, and if at all possible get them an answer before the time they request. If you know you aren’t going to have an answer in time, tell them.  They will understand it takes time to get answers and it won’t always be possible by their deadline but they still have a story to write or tell regardless. If you tell them late it makes it harder for them to write or tell the story, and you run the risk they’ll take that extra stress out on you and your company in the story they tell.
  4. Don’t Let the CEO or Other Key Leaders Speak. This recommendation will be a surprise to many, but I believe that a company leader should never be the one to explain what went wrong immediately as a crisis is occurring.  Let your hired PR firm be on camera as the bad guy explaining the problem (that’s one of the services we offer for our clients to help protect them).  Only after we have an answer and a solution should the CEO or leadership talk to reporters, so they can take credit for fixing the problem instead of being seen AS the problem.
  5. Crow Tastes Better Warm Than Cold. Mistakes happen.  If you’re going to need to accept blame eventually, apologize for the mistake quickly. Why suffer extra news cycles of damage when you can shorten the window and focus on fixing the problem.
  6. Show how you fixed the problem. In the days and weeks after the crisis, share your story of how you’re fixing the problem and how you’re making sure a similar mistake never happens again.  If you have new technology or equipment to avoid a future problem, announce it and add it to your website so people know the issue has been resolved. Post “thank you” notes and comments from once unhappy customers demonstrating your commitment to making things right.  Highlight employees that went above and beyond to fix the problem and protect customers. Create a case study showing your commitment and ability to make changes that protect and help your customers and the public.  You won’t be able to erase the initial mistake, but you can celebrate your efforts to fix it.

Finally, I would argue that during a crisis you need the media a lot more than they need you.  They’re telling the story whether you help them or not.  If you want them telling the story in the least damaging way, you need to respect them, and use them to share the message you want accepted by your employees, the public and your customers.

-written by Josh Weiss

Part 3 of What Companies Should Do During a Media Crisis: Communicating to your Impacted Customers and Supporters

The hardest and most important communications you have to handle during a crisis is to set the right tone and be responsive when sharing information to your supporters and any impacted customers.

Your customers are the ones who ultimately hold your company’s destiny in their hands.  If you want to weather the storm, the easiest way is to protect and save what you already have secured.

Assuming you’ve already read through Part 1 of this series and already have your simplified and clarified message finalized, let’s discuss the next section of this four-part series.  How to communicate with impacted customers and your supporters during a crisis.  

Tips for talking to impacted customers:

Be Honest and Be Direct.  People will be upset- don’t ignore or belittle that anger.  Be humble and empathetic in your wording, but also tell customers what to do or what to expect.  Provide usable information in the first few sentences, don’t bury the detail halfway through your statement.  Someone who’s stressed by your company shouldn’t have to search a long document to find updates or answers.

Provide Expectations and Instructions, Even When You Don’t Know the Answer. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, acknowledge the issue and explain that you’re working on an answer. A simple statement on your website and SM channels can help, such as:  We are aware of the issue and are working on a solution.  We will provide an update with additional information at 3pm today, or earlier if possible.

Move the Issue Off Your Main Page.  If you’ll need to communicate lots of information over time, or will be giving lots of updates over several days, create a secondary website or social media page to separate angry customers from unknowing or unimpacted customers.

Respond to Social Media Posts.  Angry customers will make lots of posts on your social media pages. Create a series of short responses that can be used. One response may simply be that you’re working on a resolution to the issue and that the company will provide an update as soon as it can.  Another might be to direct impacted customers to another page for more information, updates and how the company plans to help impacted customers. Ultimately, people want to be acknowledged, and others will see you responded.

Accept that media is a conduit to talk to upset customers.  Upset customers during a crisis will be watching media to see how you respond to the crisis.  Therefore, your response needs to have them in mind.  If customers need to do something as a result of the crisis, tell the media what customers should do and use them to help give instructions.  I’ll get more in to talking to the media in Part 4 of this series.

For the most part, people can accept that mistakes occur, and that not everything is in our control.  Customers just want to know you’re genuine in your desire to fix the problem and truly do apologize and accept responsibility when it’s expected.  If you handle the crisis well, and your customers are content with how you handled everything, they may become even more loyal to you and your brand, knowing that they can count on you to do what’s right even when it’s not easy.

-written by Josh Weiss

Part 2 of What Companies Should do During a Media Crisis: Communicating Internally to Your Staff During a Crisis

A crisis doesn’t only effect customers, it directly effects your staff. It’s your staff that has to communicate with angry, scared customers – calming their fears and resolving their problems. It’s your staff that needs to keep their cool, show empathy and have crazy amounts of patience.

Like a sports coach, leaders need to give their team the strategy and direction to implement during a crisis.

In Part 1 of this four-part series we focused on simplifying and clarifying your goals as a formal statement that all parties can focus on during a crisis.  Now let’s focus on the audience that often gets ignored and forgotten during a crisis—your own employees.

But leadership often forgets that employees themselves are often scared during a crisis. They’re scared for their jobs, they’re scared of the extra work that will be required of them, and they’re afraid of not knowing what’s really going on.

There are some important steps company leadership must take (to keep employees on their side).

Leadership needs to be seen and heard, and employees need to be told what the company is committed to doing, and how they’ll be acting in the future (see part one of this series on simplifying and clarifying your goals during a crisis).

  • Hold small group meetings with team leaders. Very quickly (within hours) have a series of small group meetings with your senior team leaders.  Hold the meeting in-person if possible, but even a video streamed meeting or conference call will work.  Tell them what you’re doing, and what they should be telling their teams.  Their staff will be looking to their supervisors for instructions, and nothing is scarier to morale that managers not knowing what to do or if they themselves look scared.  A five minute meeting can make all the difference to your teams. Make the time.
  • Walk among the workers. Have leadership walk through the cubicles and offices thanking employees and portraying confidence- even if leadership doesn’t completely feel that confidence.  If you’re in multiple locations this may not be possible, but have local leaders do the walk-around instead.  When leadership smiles and displays confidence in employees it goes a long way for morale.
  • Have your talking points and be prepared to repeat them. The key points should all revolve around the simplified, clarified statement you set (again, see Part 1 of this series).  Stay on your talking points, even when asked lots of specific questions. Stick to the main points while acknowledging that the question is valid but that you’ll make an announcement to all employees about it soon to ensure everyone has the same information at the same time to avoid more rumors or confusion.
  • Host a town hall in person or live streaming. After the initial shock, and after you have time to digest the core issues, it’s time to hold a large team meeting (or series of meetings).  Your staff may be scared, but you need to show your confidence in them.  Tell them that you know that this isn’t easy for them, but that you appreciate them. Tell them that your leadership team will support them and do all they can to help resolve the problem. Answer what questions you can, but only share information you want media or the public to hear. Even if it’s only intended for employees, all it takes is one scared or angry employee to talk to someone they shouldn’t.
  • Demonstrate your appreciation. Maybe you can buy breakfast or lunch for your teams as a simple thank you.  Maybe you can hand-write a handful of letters to key team members at all levels telling them they are appreciated.  Maybe you can send a group email to a select team saying that you appreciate their efforts.  Simple acknowledgements and thank yous go a long way in keeping staff on your side.

Your staff is already going to have their hands full dealing with customers and the public, but if you lose the support and confidence in your own employees your task becomes nearly impossible. By investing the time to communicate and solidify support of your internal teams, your likelihood of quickly winning back customers and the public support goes up significantly.

-Written by Josh Weiss