Volume 2 | October/November 2018
Welcome to GroundFloor Media’s Crisis Communicator, a regular e-newsletter from GFM’s Crisis & Issues Management practice. In this issue, we discuss:
  • Five truths about crisis communications
  • Off the record? Anonymous source? Explaining current journalism practices
  • Media coverage of crisis and issues management stories we’re following
  • When PR Disasters Aren’t Really Disasters and other recent GFM Crisis & Issues Management blog posts
 
For more than 17 years, leading companies and organizations in Colorado and across the country have relied on GFM to help prepare for, manage and recover from crisis situations. Today, our crisis and issues management practice is led by  Jeremy Story and  Gil Rudawsky , two journalism and public relations veterans who, over the courses of their careers, have worked with some of the world’s most recognizable companies.
 
If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit  our website or contact us at  crisis@groundfloormedia.com .
Five Truths About Crisis Communications 
By Jeremy Story
 
There are few things as frightening, potentially damaging and misunderstood as a crisis. Here are five things about crisis communications that may be counterintuitive, but are absolutely true:
 
  1. You probably don’t have a working crisis communications plan. In my experience, only about 25 percent of businesses have a legitimate crisis communications plan, and about half of those plans are out of date. They don’t reflect current business operations, haven’t been tested via tabletop drills and likely reference key personnel who have already left the company. That means that only about 12 to 13 percent of companies are truly prepared for a crisis.
  2. No one is following the crisis as closely as you are. Executives seek out every media article to get a sense of how a crisis is playing out publicly. Unfortunately, a side effect is that these executives often assume that customers, partners and even the general public are equally aware of what is going on. That absolutely is not the case. Demand for people’s attention is high and attention spans are short.
  3. When it comes to media, it’s just business – it’s not personal. Executives of companies going through a crisis almost always feel the media coverage is excessive and unfair, and assume that reporters have it out for them. The truth is that members of the media chase stories that they think are interesting or important. It is very rarely personal with the media. Want to get reporters to change their coverage? Find a better, more interesting angle to share with them.
  4. The crisis isn’t over when it is over. At the most basic level, there are three stages to crisis communications: preparing for a crisis, dealing with a crisis and recovering from a crisis. Too many companies forget about the final stage – they are just happy it is resolved and fail to follow through on the critical final component. This is a mistake. Demonstrating remorse and making things right with key audiences should also be a long-term priority.
  5. Having lawyers and PR practitioners working hand in hand will result in the best response to a crisis. The role of lawyers is to keep a client from being sued out of business, and the role of PR is to make sure the client doesn’t go out of business because customers abandon it. If either side doesn’t do its job, the company fails. Unfortunately, too often lawyers and PR experts do their jobs in isolation. My best experiences have been when I collaborated with the attorneys ahead of time on strategy, tactics and language, and then presented a unified messaging recommendation to the CEO.
Off the Record? Anonymous Source? Explaining Current Journalism Practices
By Gil Rudawsky
 
To shed some light on how journalism works,  The New York Times has launched  a series of short posts that explains some of its practices. This includes how the paper  uses anonymous sources and what “off the record”   really means .
 
Here are some highlights:
 
  • “Off the record,” “on background,” “not for attribution,” “embargoed,” “for planning purposes only”: There is no universally agreed-upon meaning for many of these terms, making it difficult to sketch out even working definitions. Because of this, you have to work it out with your sources about how you want to proceed, and do so in clear language so there’s no misunderstanding. At GFM, we’ve explained this issue in the past and, as a rule of thumb, we recommend never going “off the record” with reporters.
  • Anonymous sources: Under the Times’ guidelines, “anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way. When the anonymous sourcing is central to the story, it generally must be approved by an even higher-ranking editor like a deputy managing editor.”
  • Corrections: “The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper.”
What We're Reading
The New York Times
“When Mark Zuckerberg introduced an online tool called Facebook Connect in 2008, he hailed it as a kind of digital passport to the rest of the internet. In just a few clicks, users would be able to log in to other apps and sites with their Facebook passwords. … Now those outfits could have been exposed to the consequences of an attack on Facebook’s computer systems. On Friday, the company said the account entry keys of  at least 50 million Facebook users had been stolen in the largest hack in the company’s 14-year history. But the impact could be significantly bigger since those stolen credentials could have been used to gain access to so many other sites.”

Bloomberg
“The crippled industrial giant dropped a shocking  press release just after 7 a.m. Monday in Boston announcing that Chief Executive Officer John Flannery was being replaced by board member Larry Culp. And, profit this year will miss forecasts. After that, nothing. No press conference or briefing to give the new boss a chance to lay out his vision to analysts. No television interviews. … This isn’t how crisis communications are usually handled, especially at GE, which long has had a well-regarded communications and investor-relations team.”

The New York Times
“Elon Musk, under pressure from his lawyers and investors of Tesla, the company he co-founded, reached a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Saturday to resolve securities fraud charges. The settlement will force Mr. Musk to step aside as chairman for three years and pay a $20 million fine. The S.E.C. announced the deal two days after it sued Mr. Musk in federal court for misleading investors over his post on Twitter last month that he had “funding secured” for a buyout of the electric-car company at $420 a share.”
Recent GFM Crisis & Issues Management Blog Posts
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