Tag Archives: crisis communications

Proactive PR: Don’t Let Your Brand Get Hacked!

This week’s hacks of of the Burger King and Jeep Twitter accounts should make PR pros everywhere sweat a little bit.  The good news is that securing your brand’s social presences (and, for that matter your own) isn’t difficult.  And simply put, leaving your brand’s social media accounts vulnerable to hacking is not just poor practice, but it’s inviting unnecessary risk.

The most common passwords in use.  These are also the  very WORST passwords you could use on email and social media accounts.

Sometimes, the best PR strategy is preventing the bad stuff from happening, and practicing good account security definitely falls within that realm.  And by the way – the practices we advocate here for brand passwords also apply to your personal accounts, as well.   Here are some tried and true best practices for securing your social media accounts:

  1.  Don’t use the same password across all accounts.  Doing so may be convenient, but it compounds risk – hackers can exploit multiple accounts once they gain entry to one.  Pro tip: Create a good “base” password and then add a unique extension for each account.
  2. Change passwords frequently – at least once a quarter.
  3. Rigorously avoid using simplistic passwords, such as “password” and “123456.”  Instead, use multi-word clusters or phrases that include using a mix of capitalized letters, numerals and symbols.    Bad grammar makes for better passwords, too.

In addition to ensuring your accounts have strong passwords, it’s also important to remind your teams to be extra careful when it comes to clicking on links shared in emails, blog comments and on social networks.    If it’s too good to be true, don’t click.   No one’s giving away iPads or $1,000 shopping sprees via random messages.   Even if a message comes from a person you trust, you still need to be careful .  Their account could have been compromised, and the links they appear to have sent you could be a trap.

Changing passwords and then reauthorizing all of your computers, apps and mobile devices may be a nuisance, but I’d wager it’s far less aggravating than watching the social media presence you’ve worked so hard to build for your brand fall into the hands of a hacker.

Additional reading:  Password security advice from Microsoft

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

Tesla vs. the New York Times: New-School Crisis Communications on Display

A lot of discussion and PR thought leadership have been focused on managing crises in this age immediate communications and networked audiences.

However, a fascinating situation that’s unfolding right now between the New York Times and Tesla Motors highlights the important opportunity brands have to tell their side of the story immediately and convincingly when they have a dispute with the news coverage, and it sure beats the daylights out of having a correction or clarification printed three days after the fact.    Simply put, brands don’t have to take what they consider to be unfair or biased coverage lying down.

Here’s what’s happening, in the smallest of nutshells.

John Broder of the NYT test drove a Tesla Model S.  In his unfavorable review of the car published last weekend, he detailed a problem-riddled trip and ultimately had to have the car towed when he said it ran out of power.

Tesla Motors responded quickly, charging that the vehicle’s logs proved that Broder had ignored warnings, driving by charging stations, detouring from the prescribed route and driving at excessive speeds.   According to the company, despite Broder’s best efforts, the car never stopped running.

“ When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts,” concluded Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a blog post offering a rich rebuttal to the Times story, including electronic log data that specifically contradicts many of Broder’s claims.

Tesla published electronic logs documenting Broder’s speed during the test drive, and called out inconsistencies in his story. (The emphasis on the chart is Tesla’s.)

On Tuesday, Broder published a response in the Wheels section of the Times, refuting Tesla’s claims in detail.

“My account was not a fake,” he wrote. “It happened just the way I described it.”

This story is still developing and doesn’t yet have a conclusion, at least as far as the relationship between the Times and Tesla is concerned. However, in terms of online sentiment, Tesla appears to be winning.

“… Now that every smart company has a regularly updated blog, Elon Musk has 136,000 Twitter followers, etc., brands can speak for themselves very powerfully,”  noted Dan Frommer, in a post on LinkedIn titled “Tesla vs. The New York Times: Everyone’s A Media Company Now.”  “And if the tone is right, they don’t even look lame: Tesla actually looks pretty great right now. The balance of power has shifted.”

Whatever the outcome, this situation leaves in its wake a couple important lessons for PR pros and anyone charged with safeguarding brand reputation.

  • Your brand’s social connections can morph instantly into advocates during crises, especially if the brand is the victim of foul play.  This is one more reason why developing a strong social presence is a good idea.
  • Your publics are perfectly happy to listen to your side of the story, and facts are powerful fuel for your rebuttal.  Get to know your company’s logging and analytics systems, because that data can provide crucial proof for your side of the story.
  • Hone your company’s response clock speed.  Real-time communications require empowerment, fast multimedia support and the swiftest of approvals.

Whether you need to defend your brand against an angry Facebook fan or some wonky coverage in the New York Times, these two simple lessons can turn the tide of a story before it swamps your reputation.

Catch up with the story yourself:

Original NYT Story: Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway

Tesla blog post:  A Most Peculiar Test Drive

NYT “Wheels” response:  The Charges are Flying Over a Test of Tesla’s Charging Network

Updated since original publication:

NYT:  The Tesla Data: What it Says and What it Doesn’t

The NYT Public Editor’s take:  Problems With Precision and Judgment, but Not Integrity, in Tesla Test

The Atlantic Wire: Elon Musk’s Data Doesn’t Back His Claims

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

If your brand’s crisis communications operations aren’t up to snuff, PR Newswire’s Media Room suite can help you plan ahead for those days you hope you never have, enabling comprehensive preparation and rapid response.

A Standout in the Storm of Messages About Hurricane Sandy

The NWS map showing the approach of Hurricane Sandy leaves little room for interpretation – as do the crystal-clear communications being issued in advance of the storm.

The National Weather Service is a credible and trusted source of news and updates about the weather.  As Hurricane Sandy approaches the East Coast, the folks at the NWS have been working overtime.   They want people to be prepared and to be safe – and that requires surgically precise communications.

So how exactly do you create a message that will get people’s attention and generate its own momentum?  The NWS decided that brevity and blunt language were the way to get through to people and to make them take this storm seriously.  In update issued yesterday, the NWS pulled no punches. Here is the complete update (we added emphasis):

…AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STORM TO IMPACT THE AREA… SANDY IS EXPECTED TO SLAM INTO THE NEW JERSEY COAST LATER MONDAY NIGHT, BRINGING VERY HEAVY RAIN AND DAMAGING WINDS TO THE REGION. THE STORM IS A LARGE ONE, THEREFORE DO NOT FOCUS ON THE EXACT CENTER OF THE STORM AS ALL AREAS WILL HAVE SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS. THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE AN HISTORIC STORM, WITH WIDESPREAD WIND DAMAGE AND POWER OUTAGES, INLAND AND COASTAL FLOODING, AND MASSIVE BEACH EROSION. THE COMBINATION OF THE HEAVY RAIN AND PROLONGED WIND WILL CREATE THE POTENTIAL FOR LONG LASTING POWER OUTAGES AND SERIOUS FLOODING. PREPARATIONS SHOULD BE WRAPPING UP AS CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO WORSEN TONIGHT AND ESPECIALLY ON MONDAY.

SOME IMPORTANT NOTES…

1. IF YOU ARE BEING ASKED TO EVACUATE A COASTAL LOCATION BY STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS, PLEASE DO SO.

2. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT TO EVACUATE, AND YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO RODE OUT THE `62 STORM ON THE BARRIER ISLANDS, ASK THEM IF THEY COULD DO IT AGAIN.

3. IF YOU ARE RELUCTANT, THINK ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONES, THINK ABOUT THE EMERGENCY RESPONDERS WHO WILL BE UNABLE TO REACH YOU WHEN YOU MAKE THE PANICKED PHONE CALL TO BE RESCUED, THINK ABOUT THE RESCUE/RECOVERY TEAMS WHO WILL RESCUE YOU IF YOU ARE INJURED OR RECOVER YOUR REMAINS IF YOU DO NOT SURVIVE.

4. SANDY IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STORM. THERE WILL BE MAJOR PROPERTY DAMAGE, INJURIES ARE PROBABLY UNAVOIDABLE, BUT THE GOAL IS ZERO FATALITIES.

5. IF YOU THINK THE STORM IS OVER-HYPED AND EXAGGERATED, PLEASE ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION.

WE WISH EVERYONE IN HARMS WAY ALL THE BEST. STAY SAFE!

The dramatic language is working – as I write this, the message is generating viral chatter on social networks, and has generated considerable media coverage.  Both are noteworthy outcomes given the sheer volume of conversation and coverage the impending storm is generating.

So hats off to the communications team at the National Weather Service on a job well done.  They took a bit of a risk deviating from the language we expect.  However, their direct and human appeal arrested reader attention and has helped amplify their important message.  They’ve provided the PR community with an object lesson in effective crisis communications.

We hope they — and everyone else in the storm’s path, for that matter —  heed all the warnings to be prepared and to stay safe!

Our own important note:

The Red Cross is mobilizing a massive response across multiple states in advance of Sandy making landfall.   Details on where those affected can find help, and those who wish to offer help can give it,  can be found in the press release the Red Cross issued over the weekend: Red Cross Responding to Hurricane Sandy Across Multiple States.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

 

Bikes, Baseball & the Power of Goodwill in Preserving a Brand

The future of Lance Armstrong’s personal brand is blurry.

Yesterday was a sad one for me. A long-time cycling fan, and in particular, a fan of Lance Armstrong, the damning report issued yesterday by the USADA was a little heartbreaking.  Specifically, the testimony from eleven other cyclists has pretty much sealed it for me.  He doped, and worse, according to the report, he was the ringleader, pressuring other riders to get on board with the team doctor’s program of systematic blood doping.   The simple fact that he’s never tested positive doesn’t hold much water anymore.

https://twitter.com/jconvers/status/256369190078926848

Of course, as a fan of cycling, I knew doping was rampant.  Other favorites – Christian Vande Velde, Jan Ullrich, Alexei  Vinokourov, Tyler Hamilton to name just a few – have tested positive for a variety of sins against their bodies and the sport.  When the news of their positives broke, I was really angry.  No one likes a cheater.

But I’m not nearly as angry with Lance, a fact that has confounded (and disgusted) me.   Where is my outrage over this?

The answer is actually pretty simple.  Lance Armstrong’s story of beating cancer is one we all know, and it’s a heroic tale.  But what makes him such a sympathetic character – even in the face of the charges leveled against him by the USADA – is the fact that Lance is also a bona fide Good Guy.  He has effectively and relentlessly used the story of his survival to power the Livestrong movement.  Livestrong provides tens of millions of dollars annually to a variety of cancer-related advocacy and support programs.  The work this organization does, by all accounts, is impressive and immensely valuable.

From a PR standpoint, Lance Armstrong has provided us with a master class in the insulating power of goodwill and a good reputation.  Though his career as a professional cyclist has been permanently sullied, his work with Livestrong provides an important counterweight.  And the legions of people he’s helped are positive advocates for Lance and his brand.  Right now, they are buoying his brand in the rough surf of this current crisis.   They are buying him a little time in this current crisis.

Barry Bonds – a contrasting case

The polar opposite of Lance Armstrong is Barry Bonds, who was considered to be one of the best baseball players in the history of the game, until his use of steroids and implication in the Balco scandal.  A famously sullen player who  (unlike Armstrong) annoyed sports reporters by refusing to give interviews, Bonds curried no favor with fans, except through is play.  When the news of his steroid use broke, he was widely reviled by media and fans alike.  The teams he played for haven’t retired his number, and he’s fallen from grace, and into obscurity.    Bonds created no insulating layer of goodwill and as a result enjoyed little public support.

What’s next for Lance, and Livestrong?

From a PR standpoint, the question of what Lance should do next is interesting.  His former teammates, in their testimony to the USADA took responsibility for their actions, offered apologies and committed to riding clean (something many have been doing now for years.)  By and large, cycling has cleaned up its game significantly.

All this puts Lance in a tight spot.  He’s vociferously denied that he doped while racing.  An about-face now will be difficult.  But it’s probably the right thing for Lance to do, from the standpoint of his personal reputation, and the longevity of the Livestrong foundation.  The foundation brand is inextricably linked with Lance Armstrong.  One could argue that coming clean and doing all he can to repair his name is part of his fiduciary duty as Livestrong’s chairman of the board.

So, as both a fan of cycling and from the PR standpoint, my advice to Lance is simple.  Own up.  Be human.  Admit your failures, foibles and mistakes.   Transparency is strong medicine – it’s difficult to swallow, but it is a potent remedy.  hrow support behind the clean cycling and anti-bullying movements, and double down on your commitment to Livestrong.  Do these things quickly, and change the public narrative.  The opportunity to salvage reputation is fleeting, but it’s there.

That’s my advice to Lance.  If you were his PR counsel, what course would you chart?

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Image courtesy of Flickr user AngusKingston.

The cornerstone of managing a brand’s online reputation is active listening.   Our free white paper can help you get started: Active Listening: The Key to Relevance & PR Results.

The Power of Reputation

Every other Tuesday, ProfNet hosts #ConnectChat, a Twitter-based interview that covers topics of interest to media and communications professionals.  Recently, Chris Komisarjevsky, former worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Power of Reputation: Strengthen the Asset That Will Make or Break Your Career,” discussed why reputation is among our most powerful assets.

How do you define reputation?

Reputation is, in part, the way you are seen by others, and it is a critical part of your personal brand.

Is reputation equivalent to social credibility?

Yes, it is in many ways equivalent because reputation has a critical bearing on how you are viewed.

How does one build a good reputation?

There are three critical factors underlying a good reputation: character, communication and trust.

How do they work together?

Character is your values and how you live them, communication is how you relate to others, and trust is the underlying goal.

How can one display these three factors online?

Online or not, how you speak with others and share their concerns says much about character and values.

Is character something that can be learned?

Character can be learned if you think about what is important in the long run and watch how people react to your behavior.

Is it also that people tend to think of short-term gain instead of long-term reputation — especially in social media?

The key is to focus on the long-term. Think about short-term judgments and whether they endure. Take the author Jonah Lehrer, for example. His books were pulled off the shelves last night because he lied and exaggerated quotes from Bob Dylan. Short-term gain, long-term loss. He resigned from his reporter job at The New Yorker. What now for him? James Frey redux.

Isn’t social media a long-term investment? We can’t really expect any immediate gain from using social media.

Yes, it is, sort of the like the early days of radio. At first, who is really listening? It takes time. Speaking of social media and reputation, if you are criticized on social media, you have 12 hours to reply or else you are dead meat.

Why is such a quick response important?

Today’s news cycle is short. There is no luxury of a traditional 24-hour cycle. This is not broadcast rip-and-read, but immediate. And 12 hours is the outside chance for having a fair hearing. After that, your point of view or answer to what has been said is lost. It’s almost impossible to regain control of the message.

Plus, if you respond quickly, there’s also the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

Absolutely. Think about those who have failed to act quickly. Remember, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Look at the global banking business today: HSBC, Barclays, Peregrine. Short-term thinking, long-term reputation scandals. The humiliation — followed by resignations, apologies — hits hard. Reputation is both personal and institutional.

What about the importance of communication?

We are really talking about engagement. Engagement is the new mandate — an open dialog where ideas are shared, showing respect for other views.

Can these institutions ever recover their reputations?

Yes, but it will take a long time — and it means a change in corporate culture. Anything less will also be short-lived. Read Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay, “Civil Disobedience.” “Conscientious men” do make a “conscientious corporation.”

Is there a difference between personal and professional reputation, or are the two linked?

They’re one and the same. You can’t be two different people or you will not be seen as “authentic.” That’s an act.

And being authentic leads to trust, which you mentioned as the third factor in reputation…

People look for authenticity — you know how they will act and can trust their behavior.

The personal brand of employees is becoming more and more important, right?

Great question. When people look at companies they are looking to see the values of the employees. If the values of the employees and the corporation don’t mirror one another, credibility is lost. Those values at work and at play must be the same. In today’s social media world, everyone sees everything, and customers/clients will notice.

This clearly points out the importance of a company’s C-level presence on social media.

Social media is unfamiliar ground to many CEOs. They aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. Interestingly enough, Rupert Murdoch seems to have tweeted more regularly after facing criticism before Parliament. He seems to have seen social media as a way of providing a more human face in the midst of criticism.

In your book, you say that people and corporations are judged in a similar way. What do you mean?

People judge businesses using human terms. They look at the business and judge if the business will deliver as promised — just like you would shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye to see what they are made of. We look at businesses in much the same way. Based on our reaction, we trust or don’t trust. We buy or go elsewhere. We invest or walk away.

One of the things I often struggle with is guilt over work-life balance, but you say having balance can actually strengthen your reputation. How?

Giving employees an opportunity to have work-life balance is extraordinarily motivating. They prove themselves in a different way and, as the boss, you demonstrate that you understand the balance needed between home and work. In my experience, they become more productive, more loyal, and grow in ways you could not have anticipated. With that, the organization grows too.

You also mention that starting at the bottom and doing menial tasks can show you how important those roles are to the company’s success.

Starting at the bottom gives you a picture of the building blocks needed to make any organization thrive. One of my mentors started in the mailroom and retired as the No. 2 in a global insurance company. I pumped gas, drove a dump truck. These early jobs give you a picture that can’t be taught in a classroom or in your MBA class. They make you aware like nothing else.

Do you recommend that all executives take the time to learn about, or even spend time in, all the different departments in their company?

I was trained in the Army, where you learn from the bottom up. I tell a story in the book about peeling potatoes in basic training and the importance of doing a job well, regardless of how menial. In the PR business, if you don’t understand how social media and a newsroom works, it’s tough to be the best.

Can you share some more real-life examples of reputations that were tarnished, and what they did wrong?

Sadly enough, the banking business this summer has been full of debacles and scandal: MF Global, Nomura, JPMorgan Chase. Then there was News International, followed closely by the Secret Service and the GSA. The media are still talking about them. The result has been CEOs called on the carpet to testify before Congress in the U.S. and Parliament. Not fun — and hard to recover from.

Why do you think it keeps happening? Is it just that they don’t think they will get caught?

In some cases, greed and avarice took over, and those involved didn’t think they would get caught. But what we in the public relations and reputation business know is, it’s never if you will be caught but when. Eventually, the truth comes out. There’s an old Italian proverb that, loosely translated, goes like this: “Deceit has short legs.”

This is also a culture question. There needs to be some serious work to understand how to balance the driving financial goals with employee values. After all, without valued employees — working with valued clients — there is no business.

And then there is, of course, the Paterno/Penn State/NCAA case…

I wrote an op-ed about Paterno. Tragic and sad. If he were alive, I would hope that he would apologize. Looking the other way is unforgiveable. I would hope that his family would apologize. Removing the statue was the right decision. I think the NCAA missed the boat by not imposing the death penalty for one year. Like a time-out, it would have forced Penn State to sit back and think. The money was a drop in the bucket — one year’s revenue… But leadership was afraid and abdicated its responsibility to those children. That is tragic and unforgivable.

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps connect journalists with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

The Fine Line Between Your Professional Brand and Your Organization’s Reputation

The Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) last week brought with it some surprises, news coverage gaffes and high emotion in social networks, including some crude – and vulgar – tweets.

As I read the news coverage of and reaction to the bad social-media behavior, I mused on the connections between our personal social media brands, and the reputations of the organizations we represent. Many professionals – myself included – are active on social networks as de facto but not official representatives of the brand.  Sure, we can put “My tweets are my own,” in our twitter profiles, but in my mind, if you associate yourself with the organization you work for or represent, in my mind, you bear some extra responsibility. You may not be tweeting under the organizations’ official account but you are contributing to its reputation nonetheless.

The careless tweeters on Thursday did not benefit either their personal brands, or their employers’ causes.  The inflammatory tweets inflamed their opposition, supplying an opportunity for them draw additional attention to their point of view.    From a strategy standpoint, this tactic was a loser.

So here are my thoughts on guidelines anyone who associates themselves with a brand in social networks should consider adhering to when engaging in conversation online:

Keep it clean. Despite the fact that TV networks now regularly use language formerly considered vulgar in prime time, anyone associated with a brand should steer clear of doing the same in social media. And Defcon-five level vulgarities – i.e. the F-bomb, its derivatives and other phrases of its ilk – should be studiously avoided.

It will come back to you. Be sure you want to see it again. Sure, you can delete a tweet or a status update – but you can’t delete impressions, and if someone else grabs a screenshot of your message, your bad judgment may live on in perpetuity.

Would your boss/CEO/child/parents be horrified? If the message you’re planning to issue would cause people you care about – or people you want to respect you – to recoil if they saw your statement in the New York Times (or on Mashable’s home page), then don’t post it.  The same rule applies for petty insults and snarky commentary.  Don’t give in to temptation.

Take the high road. You will never go astray if you stick to the high road, and your statements will never come back to haunt you – or your boss. Be a good sport -a gracious winner and a good loser.  And never be a jerk.

Do some scenario planning.  What are the best- and (more importantly) the worst-case scenarios your message could generate? Do you want to have the conversations your missive could catalyze?   Before posting that Tweet, think through the scenarios.

Divide and conquer, or don’t mix work and play. It’s fine to have a space to let your hair down, and many people have “work” and “play” social presences. For me, my fun space is on Facebook. My presence there is decidedly non-professional – I yammer happily about sports, my garden and my pets – and my network is made up of people who I really do know and whom I consider friends. I manage my privacy settings carefully, so people I’m not connected with can only see what I want them to see. That said, I don’t run too far amok on Facebook, but I don’t avoid controversial subjects on that network.

It’s safe to assume that someone is always watching, and that messages you issue will never go away. Hewing to these simple guidelines will help you avoid tarnishing your personal brand – and the organization you represent professionally.

Have I left anything out? If so, leave your additions in the comments.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

PR Newswire Waives Distribution Fees for Colorado Fire Related News Releases

Organizations offering aid to the victims of the fires in Colorado can distribute their messages through PR Newswire in the U.S. at no charge

Hundreds of homes have burned this week in Colorado, and many more remain at risk as wildfires continue to rage out of control.  We are heartsick for those who’ve lost their homes (and in some cases, livelihoods).   As is our practice during major disasters, PR Newswire is waiving fees for all news releases from organizations offering aid to victims and those assisting in rescue and relief efforts surrounding the fires tearing through Colorado.

“With the reports of more than 300 homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire and more than 30,000 people evacuating Colorado Springs alone, there’s a great deal of information that needs to be communicated to the residents of Colorado Springs, its surrounding areas, and the broader country,” said Scott Mozarsky, chief commercial officer, PR Newswire.  “We want to make sure that the organizations that can offer assistance have a quick and easy way of getting their messages out.”

If you have a release that you’d like to distribute relating to the Colorado fires and you are a PR Newswire member, you can upload it via the Online Member Center (https://portal.prnewswire.com/Login.aspx) or email it to lahubs@prnewswire.com.  All non members can also email releases to lahubs@prnewswire.com.   Please include “Colorado Fires” in special instructions or the subject line of the release.

To view news releases issued by PR Newswire members offering aid, please see News About Colorado Fires on PR Newswire’s website (http://latest.prnewswire.com/page/colorado-wildfires)

To our friends, families, colleagues and clients in Colorado, you are in our thoughts this week, and we hope you and yours remain safe and sound.