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Interview with Crisis Communications Expert Jane Jordan-Meier

Expert Interviews

I’m excited to have Jane Jordan-Meier share her thoughts on crisis communications and public relations with our online reputation management blog. Jane Jordan-Meier is a high-stakes specialist, author and crisis media trainer and coach. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Four Highly Effective Stages of Crisis Management.” She is the CEO and owner of Jane Jordan & Associates, a global crisis communication training and advisory firm.

1. What is crisis communications?

Ultimately, the overall goal of crisis communication is to protect “assets,” those assets may be people, but equally property, products, and the brand.

2. What are the biggest mistakes you see people and companies make when dealing with the media?

Two BIG things:

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  1. Being media-centric and thinking that social media can be ignored or not treated as seriously as the mainstream traditional media. Ignore the social media and its huge inferential constituency at your peril.
  2. Most companies not taking crisis communication and crisis management seriously. A recent global survey of Investor Relations specialists showed that only 66% of companies have a crisis plan and less than half exercised their plans. As they say, fail to plan and plan to fail.

3. How important is social media to your reputation management strategy?

VERY! Ask Chick-fil-A or any other major organization (or person) that has been in trouble recently. A crisis jumps the fire line very quickly today.

Twitter is the breaking news service – the new police scanner. It is the go to place in a crisis – journalists can get stories first hand, real-time from “citizen journalists.”

Monitoring and listening is critical – social media can serve as an early warning system. It is a MUST to have very reliable, efficient monitoring and reporting systems.

4. What is the first thing a company should do when there is a PR disaster?

Get ahead of the story. The age-old principles apply – if it’s your disaster, then own it and take control or at least manage the message. Act fast and take responsibility applies today as much as it ever did – in fact more. Monitor, monitor, monitor – it is essential to ick the panic – know what people are saying, where and what information needs do they have. Today it is as much about managing expectations as it is anything. A recent Red Cross study showed that people, who post a plea for help on-line, say on Twitter or Facebook expect to hear back from emergency services within one hour of that post!

SPEED is everything in the first two hours.

5. How can CEOs help build and repair corporate reputation?

Yes and no! Think of Tony Hayward ( the former chief executive of oil and energy company BP) – the poster child for what not to do and say. Then there is Rudy Giuliani the former mayor of New York who was a triumph for that devastated city in the aftermath of 9/11. It is the role of the CEO to lead, but they may not make the best spokesperson. Sometimes the front-line who have more credibility and likeability need to appear first. They are closer to the action and have more knowledge and technical expertise than their CEO ever will. The US Coast Guard understand this and train all heir front-line in how to manage the media, and what to say and do in a crisis. Having said that it would be unthinkable for the CEO not to be highly visible if there are deaths, and/or an apology is required.

6. What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?

A LOT! They are after all the brand ambassadors and need guidance, training and support in a crisis. They are the ones who will be questioned and challenged in the supermarket, at the sports games, the water coolers, the barbecues and schools, not the CEO. One of worst things a company can do, today, is to gag their employees.

7. What can companies do to better prepare for a public relations crisis?

Be a good boy scout! Plan, exercise and exercise again. The art of listening and engagement has never been more important. Set-up an inter-disciplinary team (legal, marketing, PR, HR, IT) and brainstorm all the worst case scenarios that you can think of and then write a plan to cover the top 3 or 5. As crisis management guru and academic, Ian Mitroff, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, says to plan well today “one must think like a sociopath and act like a saint.”

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