A. N. C. – It Matters Now More than Ever

ANC - Aviate Navigate Communicate

By Grant Wright, CEO

When I learned to fly, my instructor beat into my head a simple phrase: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” The idea is simple, but powerful – fly the airplane, figure out where you’re going, then tell someone. It speaks to priorities.

There’s little sense in figuring out how you’ll get from A to B if you haven’t first corrected your nosedive that’s about to render your flight obsolete. And once the plane is stable, there’s little point chewing up valuable mic time until you know where you’ll next point the plane to conclude the flight safely. Pilots have unfortunately been so distracted with their heads deep in a map or talking with controllers that they failed to notice the fuel gauge or mismatched engine readings at the root of their problem.

In the years since my training, I’ve realized this lesson applies to so many other areas of our lives. In this unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about the drama without realizing we’re not yet actually taking the priority actions. Case in point, our President bungling his communications while not yet role modeling the avoidance of handshakes let alone practicing social distancing. Or our Vice President prioritizing the lavishing of praise on our President versus using all of his precious communication time with an audience of millions to relay information people actually need.

In times of crisis, there can be a tendency to subordinate communications in favor of less important things. But other than remembering to actually fly the plane and figure out where you’re going, what’s important to remember is that among many other things communication is the third most important thing to do!

In business, this means quickly stabilizing things to a new but temporary operational norm and planning next steps to emerge as strongly as possible once things play out. By definition, both need solid communications to achieve. And solid communication also means, for example, adapting marketing messages now to avoid tone deaf messages because they were programmed three months ago; acknowledging fears and anxiety; and contributing helpful information into the national discourse when possible. It also isn’t the time to attempt distracting news desks with an unrelated PR hook for brand mentions that don’t help. In other words, now is not the time for newsjacking the coronavirus.

With operations and planning in hand, communication itself then becomes the next most important focus. Those organizations that move more quickly than others through the grief stages will emerge stronger than those organizations that act like a deer in headlights.

While the current pandemic is an unprecedented threat, and events are playing out with startling speed to which we’re simply not accustomed, it isn’t hyperbole that we’ll get through this. Unprecedented action is being taken the world over and ‘this too shall pass’.

At (W)right On, we’re assisting our client partners with their temporary operational adjustments and plans development. Communication isn’t slowing, it’s being redirected to support the aviate and navigate priorities. But recognizing that as inevitably as the wave is coming it will recede, and that post-pandemic attention for marketing messages will be a scarce resource, some are already beginning to explore more creative communications to take advantage of competitive opportunities to emerge. With solid aviation and navigation in place, our client partners are already planning to increase marketing communication in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that, as the wave passes, they are poised to protect and increase their market position. Like those that wait to deal with operations and navigation, organizations that unduly subordinate or arbitrarily delay marketing communications won’t do as well.

Pundits are hoping for a slow smolder in the USA with a peak to come in the months ahead after which life will begin returning to a new normal. In the marketing communications world, this timing is relatively imminent. It heightens the importance of not only embracing communications now to effectively aviate and navigate, but embracing communications to, well, communicate.

At (W)right On, we’re solidly behind our client partners and team members to move through this together, and following the guidance of experts and community leaders to ensure we help remain part of the solution. Comment below and/or let us know how you’re adapting your communications to rise to the occasion called of all of us, and to rise to the opportunities that will inevitably emerge as the wave passes.

Communications Tips for Coping with the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model

We developed these communications tips for coping with COVID-19 crisis after recognizing the classic stages of grief in our clients’ and our own responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you’re a communicator, an executive in a decision-making role or a citizen trying to do your part, we all need to get from Denial to Acceptance in order to cope with the tough calls, and even tougher consequences, of this global pandemic.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model
Click to enlarge. Link to download PDF below.

These COVID-19 crisis communications tips in the graphic below will help you spot the stages and move your communities and stakeholders through that grieving process.  This includes employees, colleagues, neighbors, family, constituents, customers, clients or patients.

The tips will also help you spot some of the psychological traps that might impact your decision making or how your messages are received. If we’re going to flatten the curve in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, we need to impact people’s beliefs and attitudes so they accept and stick with the massive behavior changes needed to save lives.

Even as people come to Acceptance,  we recognize that fear and anxiety will be the predominant emotions in our communities. For these, here are some more conventional crisis communications principles to apply:

  • Err on the side of communicating too frequently—especially with employees who are working remotely or laid off.
  • Focus on fact-based messages and have one single point of truth and spokesperson so information is consistent.
  • Meet your audiences where they are: on social media, email and the web.
  • Stay in your lane: defer to the expertise of public health officials and policymakers.
  • Create feedback mechanisms for concerned stakeholders and be responsive to or, at minimum, show empathy even if you do not have answers.
  • Be clear in all communications that the situation may change abruptly.

All of us at (W)right On Communications are incredibly concerned for our clients, communities and friends and family. We are standing strong with our client partners and doing our part to help one another through these coming weeks and months, including social distancing through telecommuting.

Please stay home, shop local and give what you can to your neighborhood nonprofits. And if there is anything we can do to assist you or your organization during these unprecedented and unpredictable times, let us know at info@wrightoncomm.com. We will make it work. It’s what we all have to do.

Download a PDF of our tips: COVID-19 Crisis Communications Tips.pdf (113 downloads)

Social Media and Media Relations: Like PR’s Peanut Butter and Jelly

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How many times did you check your favorite social media channels today? I’m willing to bet it’s definitely more than one, and if you’re anything like the average person, it’s probably more around 14 – and that’s just Facebook. Even if you haven’t reached the point of constant connection, social media is a big part of everyday life.

In the professional world, social media is a great resource for info gathering. Most of us are on at least a network or two, and given the time we spend on said networks, we leave a trail of facts and tidbits about ourselves that can be useful for taking care of business. Competitors can suss each other out, business development pros can track and connect with leads, fashion influencers can gauge the style tendencies of the season – the list goes on. It’s stalking, really. I don’t mean this in the literal, creepy sense, of course; it’s a jargon-y terms that explains how we employ Twitter and the like to learn about the people around us.

In PR specifically, social media is an invaluable tool when it comes to connecting with members of the media and building strong relationships. While excellent for tracking down specific contacts, media databases like Vocus and Cision don’t always give us the robust and ongoing information on journalists their own social channels can. Social media is also a fantastic way to talk with consumers and efficiently manage communications – any good PR strategy should include social media presence, after all. Social Media Today reports that between 2012 and 2013, brands using social media to respond to customers increased by 143%, and 71% of consumers are likely to view a brand in a positive light and recommend it to peers when they receive satisfactory communication through social media. With that in mind, platforms like Twitter – definitely the holy grail of making media connections – are indispensable resources in a successful PR pro’s box of tricks. Here are a few key best practices to keep in mind:

  • Spot trends: Twitter has easy trends to follow on its sidebars, which can be tailored to your city, the location of key influencers– wherever you’d like. However, that’s just the beginning when it comes to your ability to track trends and current events on the network – plus, the “suggested” trends are often dominated by non sequitur topics. Follow news organizations from hyperlocal to international, sync up with journalists you’ve worked with or have collaborated with in the past, connect with fellow publicists and look to movers in shakers in industries relevant to your clients  – these people will be on their game when it comes to current events that matter to you.

Once armed with this information, think about how you can pull together a creative and impactful pitch that piggybacks on current events and will be all the more likely to catch a journalist’s eye. Is a writer at a big fitness publication talking about gluten-free foods that actually taste great? Did the health food brand you work with just roll out a new line of GF treats? Bingo.

  • Make friends: Journalists are people, and people are more likely to work with others they know and trust. So, use Twitter to “make friends” with media people you’d like to collaborate with. Understand who they are, what interests them both inside and outside of work, what they like to write about, and even their “voice.” Engage with their content and ask questions – genuinely, of course. Don’t pretend you’re an expert on nuclear fusion because you want a writer to cover something in Scientific America.
  • Do your research: Continuing on the trend spotting component of Twitter, it’s important for PR pros to have a handle on what’s going on in the world. However, PR being an extremely busy profession by nature, it can be hard to stay on top of news. Twitter is perfect for quick updates – its snackable content gets to the point, and if something piques your interest, you can choose to take additional time to read more.
  • “Listen” and learn: Targeted “social listening,” or monitoring social channels for topics that relate to your industry, is a great way to track sentiment. Social listening can help you out when:
  1. You’re dealing with a cool launch, a big announcement or a crisis comms situation. It’s a quick and direct path to connecting with the consumers talking about your brand or product. Simply type a search term, or better yet, a hashtag, in your Twitter search box and voila – hundreds of conversations at your fingertips. From there, you can plan responses and next steps, build a social sentiment report, or plan for a follow-up campaign.
  2. You’re running a social media campaign or contest with a special hashtag, this will give you an easy rundown of how quickly the Twitterverse is picking up on your content.
  3. You’re trying to build a quality follower base. Use social listening to find conversations that make sense to become engaged in – give opinions, retweet good points, and ask your community for their input. As like-minded users see you sharing their content, it’s likely they’ll return the favor somewhere down the line and earn you a new follower. For more advanced brands, this is a great way to find brand advocates – bloggers, industry leaders, and the like. If a conversation takes off or they tweet something that indicates they’re the perfect match for a brand or product, a publicist can take that cue and make a connection outside of social media.

PR pros, how else do you use Twitter and other social networks to enhance your skills and effectiveness?

How to Handle Crisis Communications

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If you’re at the center of a crisis when one hits, like it did April 15 when two bombs killed and maimed spectators and participants at the Boston Marathon, make this your mantra:

Communicate early. Communicate often. And communicate accurately.

Communicating early, when facts are still coming in and very little can be confirmed or validated, means at least letting stakeholders know that:

  1. You’re on it.
  2. You care.

Social media might be among the first places you let people know that your organization is working to fact find and planning to release more information as it becomes available and verified. If you’ve pre-planned your crisis communications, you will have some prepared responses to many potential crisis scenarios so that your posts are a keystroke away and do not need vetting or wordsmithing under high stress. If you have an important message that you need to get out, use social media and ask people to share your message. Many people will be glad to help.

It’s important to show people as early as possible that you are the best and most reliable source of information about your crisis and that you care. Do not assume that they realize you’re as upset, saddened, shocked or dismayed as they are. Tell them so. And if your attorneys tell you not to comment at all, just keep in mind that their primary goal is winning in the courtroom or negotiating table. They might win there, but if you don’t communicate early and empathetically, you lose in the court of public opinion and that may cost you more dearly than any court-mandated settlement. (Just sayin’. If the lawyers start driving the communications strategy, it’s game over. Think of BP in the Gulf of Mexico or Toyota with its faulty brakes.)

If people were harmed, you care deeply and are empathetic. If people have been inconvenienced, you’re sympathetic and are working furiously to ensure that everything is returned to business as usual.

The lawyers want to be sure that you’re not excessively admitting to responsibility for their inconvenience or injuries. This is valid, but it is a terrible and irreparable mistake to withhold any response and, as a result, project an image of callousness. You cannot be too compassionate. And compassion does not mean taking responsibility.

Think about this: What if the CEO of Carnival Cruises had gotten himself airlifted to the ship adrift and suffered alongside his customers? I would feel entirely differently about the problems Carnival and its passengers have suffered through if I knew its executives shared in the discomfort. And the headline would not be: “Boss of Carnival Adds Insult to Misery By Going to Basketball Game as 4,000 Suffer Aboard ‘Stinking Stricken Ship’…”.

Communicating often is essential because media coverage can be around the clock. If it’s an evolving situation, plan to hold media briefings every few hours. Listen closely on social media so you can correct misinformation that is getting passed around as it happens. Use your social media channels to release details in between media briefings. Establish a hashtag for your crisis communications on Twitter so that people can more closely follow the ‘official’ information source.

The frequency of your communications are a way of showing that you care about your stakeholders and are serving their needs and not just your own. Today, people make judgments based on your organization’s behavior and not just a carefully crafted message labored over by your attorneys, senior executives and others.

Inaccurate information can un-do all of your tremendous communications. To increase the likelihood that accurate information is presented on a timely basis, your crisis plan should have designated spokespeople, chains of command and reporting structures so that people in the field, on the scene or troubleshooting the issue know the protocol for providing updates. They should have the names and contact information of the crisis team, there should be a clear method of capturing and reporting out the information to the crisis team, and everyone in the field should know not to speak to but instead properly redirect the media and to limit internal speculation.

Stress degrades decision making, so successful communications in a crisis are typically based on a pre-existing communication plan that reasonably anticipates various crisis situations and develops responses so that they’re at the ready when a crisis hits.

Whether you have a plan or are planning on the fly, just repeat after me: communicate early, communicate often and communicate accurately.