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Archive for August, 2013

Crisis Communications in the age of social media

The Communications business is witnessing it all – the best and worst of times. Best in terms of emergence of technology that has led to easy access to information coupled with diverse platforms for outreach. However, positives give birth to the negatives too– brand clutter, information overload, crisis – that is also a click away – to name a few. In the age of social media, it is a matter of a few clicks, RTs and shares that a slip-up, typo or goof up will lead to more negative visibility; effectively negating the positive impact created by strategic brand announcements over a period of time.

Crisis communication cell
Gone are the days, when brands had the luxury of responding to issues, crisis situations in a few hours or days. Newspapers would only go for print by night, TV channels had more pressing issues to cover in limited slots, internet was a bunch of codes. Today, rumours and bad news travel faster than the bullet train, all thanks to the onslaught of online and social media. Once upon a time, there used to be crisis communication cells/experts in PR firms and corporates. The current scenario demands every communications consultant to be adept in handling crisis situations since you never know when you are caught unaware.

Are you ready?
However, most brands and consultants still live in a time warp, where protocols precede prompt action/reaction. Let’s consider a situation which has become commonplace nowadays – customer cribs, rants and blogs against a brand’s product/service. In most of the cases, by the time the brand notices, takes action, responds and tries to make amends, the damage is done, some good reputation is eroded, brand gets rebuked and then in due course of time everything settles down. However, the damage caused lingers on in the minds of people and when something small also happens in the future it gets blown out of proportion as people remember the previous crisis.

In most cases, a prompt response from the brand would salvage the situation. But what most people/consumers do not understand is the reason behind the delay. The corporate hierarchy can be a little complex at times to manage such crisis issues. Approvals, protocols can act as tough barriers in such situations. However, today’s quick fix generation is not ready to give you the extra time to prep. So, is your brand ready to face the unrest?

And the perfect approach is…
Well, there is no perfect solution. Every issue is different from the other in terms of complexities and gravity but there can be a few common ground rules.

  • First and foremost, as a brand manager, communications consultant, it is your responsibility to keep a track of any triggers on social and online media. A number of tracking tools can help you do the same.
  • Elevate, delegate and do everything possible to check on the facts versus the claims. In the meanwhile, do get in touch with the aggrieved party, pacify and assure about corrective action.
  • Fault finding can be a tedious and lengthy job but at this moment that’s not really the requirement. The need of the hour is to make amends to a dissatisfied, disgruntled customer. Understand this and look for solutions rather than faults.
  • After the dust settles down and you have got the situation under control, look for the rest of the answers. How? Why? A system or human slip up or a misunderstanding – all need to be acknowledged and explained. That is how you can win back the lost trust.
  • In case, it was a hoax and an attempt to blackmail using social media muscle, handle it maturely. Mudslinging has never elevated any one party’s position. There are mature ways of handling issues. Take a high ground and avoid prolonging the situation.
  • At the end, it is all about open and transparent communication. That is all it takes to salvage any situation and win back the respect. The standard ‘No comments’ approach may be passé in today’s age.

We often hear about cases where people tried to play nasty using their social media muscle but a lot of genuine cases get labeled the same way due to lack of open communication. In all of this, the brand loses its reputation along with some loyal and potential customers. It is a two way process – customers need to understand that mistakes, slip-ups happen and brands need to understand they have to be on top of such situations, accept and take prompt actions. More importantly, everyone else needs to get a bit less judgemental. Most of the times, we don’t know the true story and even if we do, it just might be a one-sided perspective. Tomorrow it could be you or your brand. A little sensitivity and patience can go a long way.

Most of us would recall that one of the most buzz-worthy ads of this year was a tweet from Oreo during the blackout at Super Bowl. Oreo seized on the opportunity, and tweeted a simple, relevant and brilliant message during the thirty-four minute hiatus. Apparently, the graphic released during the blackout was designed, captioned and approved within minutes. The power of real time marketing enabled the brand to gain more eyeballs and conversations than its TV ad could ever generate. Now, imagine what happens if we can apply even a fraction of this effort in real time crisis management. The possibilities are endless.

The author of this post, Liza Saha works at a leading Public Relations firm in Delhi, India. The views expressed here are the author’s independent views and do not reflect her organisation’s viewpoint.

The ideal internship in a PR Firm (what to learn)

Have you had an opportunity to look through a telescope sometime? The memory of the first view of the outer space stays with us forever, doesn’t it? Suddenly a vast universe comes within your grasp…well almost. An internship at a PR firm is like reliving that moment when a distant world suddenly opens up to you. You have read and passionately tracked famous brands and marvelled at what made them the stars that they are, their dynamic CEOs, the stories of their rise and fall, stuff that legends are made of. An internship at a PR firm gives you the opportunity to see some such brands up close. It represents a wonderful opportunity to begin your journey towards becoming a trusted communications advisor to businesses, governments and individuals in the future.

We all know how critical that first building block in our professional life is, so what can we do to leverage this experience effectively and make it a wonderful learning for ourselves? Here are a few guidelines which I hope will stand you in good stead.

Finding out which aspect of PR gets your blood rushing!
In the first few days during your internship you will hear words like social media, crisis, public affairs, internal communication, investor relations etc. floating around. It is a good idea to see how much you could know about some of these. It will help you decide what aspects of PR you may like to eventually cultivate as your forte. You will begin as a generalist but developing certain strength areas will differentiate you and set you apart in the future!

Content, content and some more content
We have all laboured over school and college essays, hated some, liked some and managed the rest. When you plan to take on the role of a communications advisor in your future you need to sharpen your skills of articulating certain kind of crisp and relevant business communication, sometimes even quasi legal stuff! Tough life, did I hear you say? Well not really if you begin to learn the basic tenets of business and professional writing and communication during your internship. Reach out to the Bonds among your seniors who churn out immaculate documents…get some tricks of their magic from them.

Client? What about them?
A client stands at the center of all the work that a PR firm does-as an intern you may get an opportunity to support one mandate or perhaps two. Make it your business to know all you can about the client; what gets them going? What they expect out of the PR function? How tough is the industry they are operating in? What is their worst nightmare and more. It is the beginning of a learning which you will need to make a constant in your life. There is nothing like predictable businesses out there. Businesses are dynamic given the uniquely challenging world we live in. Get your antenna’s up, push your perceptive quotient to its highest and consign your blinkers to the nearest dust bin-you will need to become a whiz at sometimes understanding the unspoken word! Try and be part of one or two client facing sessions during your internship, take on the role of taking minutes if that’s possible and when you get back try and get feedback from your manager on what the implications of the meeting were.

The circus is not the only place where you can learn the art of juggling!
Your manager will have regular cadence meetings with you to help you prioritise your work for the day and week-make the most of this exercise. Try and understand why some issues are more important than the others. This discipline will last you a lifetime in a profession where you will be regularly called upon to juggle various requirements of several clients. You will be called upon to do so without losing your shirt or dropping a ball.

You love the entertainment industry!
Great! You are not alone; most of us have preferences when it comes to industries. Some industries make us feel like we are aligned to the key responsibilities of our nation-healthcare, education etc. some like entertainment and media could be fun and challenging too and the list can go on. The internship is a good time to familiarise yourself with various industry verticals which your firm may be handling. Explore what really resonates with you, for your unique reasons. Look at strengthening that as a core industry of competency in the future.

The hygiene factors
Reporting on coverage generated on client, news updates, key industry developments, media movements, feature tracking and several more make the basic structure on which the rest of the engagement with a client is based. Make sure you learn about the basics of most of these during your internship. Once done treat them as a sacrosanct paradigm against which you will measure your work every day, in the future.

There is still a significant world which I haven’t covered here. It includes an understanding of the media and knowledge of the journalist fraternity with whom you will be working closely, also the art of storytelling, which lies at the heart of a great PR campaign. We shall pick these up sometime in the future. For now make peace with the knowledge that PR is not a quiet, gentle ride on a gondola, it is more like stepping onto a roller coaster which threatens never to stop but rest assured, once on board, it is a journey you will enjoy!

Seema Siddiqui, the author of this post, is Manager, Public Relations and Communications-India, Dassault Systemes. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect her organisation’s viewpoint.

Nice to meet you…

You’re invited to a party where you don’t know anyone except the host. So, what do you do?

  • Think of a seemingly genuine reason to skip, like you have to finish that dossier you’ve been sitting on since last week or you have to clip your Pomeranian’s  nails
  • Drag along a friend (who doesn’t even know the host) to give you company… everyone has a friend who is always interested in free booze!
  • Attend the party but spend most of the time looking into your phone (BBM, Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds, Pinterest, Fruit Ninja, Whatsapp, Match.com… the possibilities are endless)
  • Stand near the bar or on the side nursing a drink, never in the middle of the room; act as if you’re enjoying the music (head nod – check, foot tapping – check)
  • Introduce yourself to new people and strike a conversation

If you chose the last option then you may not relate to what I have to say. But if you chose any of the others, you my friend are in the same boat of “awkwardness” like many of us.

In 2006, I met Harold Burson, whom PRWeek described as “the century’s most influential PR figure”, for the first time.  I asked him a question about the most important skill for a Public Relations professional. His answer was, “networking”. In 2012, I had the good fortune of meeting the man again in New York and at 92-years young, I saw him living by what he said earlier. In a short span of three-months I worked there, I got to attend four industry networking events and he was part of two.  At these events, I got to meet new people, create new connections and even bag a client assignment back home in India! As I observed people and how they used these events to mingle and proactively “sell” themselves, I realised how little attention we pay to this important skill. Our colleagues in the western world seem a lot more comfortable and willing to network. So, why are we so shy? I don’t know the answer but I am trying to change. Partly, because I see a lot more value in making an effort and partly because I have no choice as I work in a different country now.

It is not that easy for me to walk up to strangers, exchange cards and get talking. While Myers Briggs test tells me that I am an extrovert, this doesn’t fit in! More than a personality issue, I think it’s in our culture. We spend way too much time and effort on the people we know, and don’t see the need to get out of our comfort zone. Even in a profession like Public Relations, how many times do we find ourselves attending any networking events or activities involving complete strangers (let’s not count press conferences here)? Not much, as there is always something important to close at work or attend to at home. We’d rather have lunch with our team or friends than make the effort to go out of office and eat with a new person we have a chance to know.

We think of a hundred and one “thought-leadership” and “bridge-building” ideas for our company/client spokespeople but when it comes to our own networking, it’s limited to media and other people we meet in the natural course of our lives.  There has been a start with events like PRAXIS and the PRONTO nights that received great response and overwhelming participation across cities. Events like the Indian SABRE Awards, organised by The Holmes Report are also providing an opportunity.  I attended two PRONTO events in the NCR and it was great to meet new and old people in the profession. However, I still saw groups of people from the same company hanging out together and I am not sure how many took the conversations forward after the event. I can only see benefits from paying more attention to building our connections and a wider professional network. From landing a new client or finding/offering a job to just getting to know new and interesting people, a little more effort to network should help us and the profession.

This post was not meant to be gyan on the benefits of networking but an observation that I wanted to share. If you agree or disagree, please feel free to share your views. Maybe, we’ll network here 😉

You can find me on LinkedIn here and my Twitter handle is @shreykhetarpal

The author of this post, Shrey Khetarpal has worked in the Indian Public Relations domain for over a decade and is now based in Shanghai, China. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect his organisation’s viewpoint.