All posts by joel hammond

COVID-19 DRIVES COMMUNICATION CHANGE. BE READY.

By Jan Gusich // akhia communications

Employees will fill information gaps with their own story–and it won’t be the right one. 

COVID-19 is bringing many challenges to businesses. One has been the need to communicate efficiently and effectively with multiple audiencesfrom employees and customers to suppliers and shareholders on topics that include everything from supply chains and operations to work-from-home policies, safety measures and, in many cases, about the pandemic reaching our own doors.

One thing is certain: For comms professionals, changes will continue to evolve. Each phase of America’s reopen plan will bring new challenges. Planning will be critical. Three areas worth considering now are internal communications, crisis communications and communications around mergers and acquisitions.

Internal Communications: Building Trust Amidst Uncertainty

Though we’ve been talking with employees almost daily, we’re moving into a new phase of employee communicationone that will require extra skill and sensitivity as we begin returning to work. Five minutes on Facebook gives a clear picture of how deeply divided people are about reopening. Some have been protesting for it; others are deeply anxious. Communicators will need to balance instructional communication with sensitivity to employees’ concerns; they will have to straddle fences and build bridges. It will be more important than ever to bring employees together toward common causes, potentially around an organizational rally cry. In all communication, put your organization’s values first.

Work on building a transparent workplace that fosters trust. Even when information is difficult, being honest will have long-term payoffs. Next, focus on employee relationships; they will need help talking about their differences and adapting to a new normal. Communications can play a critical role. Finally, keep your eye on culturefind new ways to cultivate a culture that binds people, bridges differences, and promotes healthy and frequent dialogue and camaraderie.

Crisis Communications: Being Prepared for Anything

Perhaps the most obvious area for attention from COVID-19 is crisis communications. Most organizations have crisis plans. Nearly all need to be dusted off and updated around pandemic communication. Does your organization have a team identified to work through the communications issues that will arise? A policy for employees who contract the virus? A set of procedures to manage such a situation? A trained spokesperson in case the media learns of health issues in your facility? A plan for handling criticism and/or misinformation on social media? A methodology in place to text employees around the world or to track illness at your multiple locations? The list of new things to be added to your crisis plan is extensive and should be given a fitness test by organizational leaders and outside professionals.

Mergers & Acquisitions: Setting up for Success

There’s no question that COVID-19 has impacted corporate bottom lines. As a result, we’re likely to see an uptick in mergers and acquisitions as companies try to save themselves, gobble up competitors or vertically integrate. If any of these could be a potential outcome for your organization, begin planning now. Mergers and acquisitions create angst for employees, customers and suppliers alike. For employees, will duplication of services lead to positions being eliminated? Will their pensions and benefits remain the same? Will future opportunities be erased? Employees will fill information gaps with their own storyand it won’t be the right one. So will customers. What does an acquisition mean for them? Will the customer service rep they’ve counted on for years be replaced? Will pricing change? Will contracts be honored? It’s never too early to create a communications matrix identifying all stakeholders, thinking through their specific concerns and developing messages for each. A merger or acquisition that looks like a financial success but is a communications disaster, can easily lead to failure.

What’s Next: Figuring it out Together

There’s no question that communicators will continue to be challenged over the next months and even years as the pandemic plays out. Planning that includes stakeholder identification, scenario development and messaging will always make us better.

That being said, I’m happy to help talk about these topics and more with you. Let’s dive in and see what specifically we can do to help your organization.

Jan Gusich is the founder of akhia communications and specializes in crisis preparedness and reputation management. She has decades of experience helping companies prepare, respond and prevent crisis situations from escalating. She can be contacted at jan@akhia.com.

SPECIAL PR GRADUATE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM NOW AVAILABLE

If you are a recent graduate with a major in public relations, communications, marketing or a related field of study, you are qualified for a free one-year association membership ($60 value) as part of a scholarship available from the PRSA Greater Cleveland Chapter.

Enjoy the networking, professional development, internship and membership benefits available to PRSA members.

The Chapter has 12 scholarships available thanks to the generosity of two firms—Sonnhalter and Falls Communications. An awards committee will review all applications.

Submit your application today to prsacle@gmail.com. Include your college, your major and home address. Be sure to tell us why you deserve a scholarship. Mention whether you were a PRSSA member—a sure fire tie-breaker. The deadline to apply is July 1, 2020. Act now! The decision of the awards committee is final.

For more information and an application kit, click here. If you have any questions, please email Beth Thomas at e.a.thomas88@csuohio.edu.

(Please note: While the national PRSA dues ($60) are being paid for, any winners would still be responsible for the $35 annual dues to the Greater Cleveland Chapter. )

–Ed Stevens, Stevens Strategic Communications

PRSA CLEVELAND PROGRAMMING STILL AVAILABLE DURING COVID-19

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our in-person PRSA programming  is obviously on hold for the near future.

But we wanted all our communications practicing members to remember through PRSA, there’s a boatload of content included in your membership.

In fact if you, like most of us in this profession are now working at home, you may actually find yourself with a little downtime to finally catch up on some of the professional development you’ve been saying to yourself , “I’d really like to learn more about …:”

Well, here’s your chance – We’ll regularly be sharing with our Greater Cleveland members “Best of PRSA Webinars”. Programs that you can download – free with your membership – from the PRSA Learning archives (and not really ‘Edward Bernays’  archives, but from the last 15 months or so. For this week, feel free to click below, review and catch up with:

We’re also looking to do a chapter virtual town hall in the next couple of weeks – more on that to come.

Stay safe all.

Chris Lynch, APR Fellow PRSA, PRSA Greater Cleveland chapter President

UPCOMING EVENTS: JOIN US FOR KENT STATE 50TH EVENT

 

A note from PRSA Greater Cleveland chapter President Chris Lynch: 

Greetings All – We have a lot going on and wanted to provide some quick links to ensure you, valued members of the Greater Cleveland PRSA chapter, have easy access to information and immediate availability to sign up and attend one of our great upcoming programs, and/or submit yourselves or others you’d like to nominate for our nonprofit prospective members and student scholarships.

Back in October of last year, I contacted Kent State’s PR Department and asked if someone would like to talk to the chapter about planning the 50th commemoration of the May 4, 1970 campus shootings. I figured it would be a pretty big media day, probably a lot of live feed news trucks on campus – how was their team going to handle all that? Might be a pretty good story for you, our members, to hear! 

Rod Flauhaus, who is the project manager for the entire weekend program(s) of remembrance, put together an exhaustive and detailed plan for the event. And now that it’s been announced that Jane Fonda will be giving the keynote address – Rod told me that back in October (and he said don’t tell anyone – and I didn’t!), I figured we might have some ‘you-know-what’ it the fan, like it did last week with the Ohio Secretary of State openly opposing the choice. So, now add, ‘What’s it like planning to host an event with a controversial’ keynote speaker to the presentation’s Q&A session!!

What’s the program entail? Well, to fully grasp what it was like to have our own government troops come onto an American campus, and ultimately kill four young people, and what it was like for the PR professionals to manage the events that took place – you truly have to understand the landscape of the country at that time. So Rod, joined by Dr. Chic Canfora, will be telling their story – the planning, protesting, messaging, media, candlelight vigils, even coordinating the concerts (Joe Walsh, who was on campus that day, and David Crosby – yes they will be playing “Ohio”), and Jane Fonda, too; should make for a fascinating communications discussion.

EVENT PREVIEW: PRSA CLE KENT STATE 50-YEAR ANNIVERSARY DISCUSSION

 

To register for the March 25 event, please click here.

Americans deeply divided about the country’s direction.

The nation weary from an unending war.

A surge of activism across the country.

This describes present-day America, yet it also reflects the country’s mood in 1970. Americans were polarized by their views of the Vietnam war and violently disagreed about what it meant to be an American. The turmoil launched a new era of student activism.

These parallels provide a powerful backdrop for the 50th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. How will the university commemorate this solemn milestone in today’s environment of political discord and intense media interest?

You are invited to a unique opportunity to hear first-hand from Rod Flauhaus (Project Manager for the 50th Commemoration) and Roseann Canfora (May 4 Witness & Survivor). They will discuss the communications, PR and planning strategies involved in preparing for the remembrance of this national tragedy.

Their presentation will include how to manage educational initiatives along with messaging for internal & external audiences, political agendas, divisive social media, national and international media, and controversial viewpoints as Kent State University prepares for the historic event — all taking place during a contentious political season.

-Martha Belden

CAN’T WE JUST PLAY BALL? ASTROS THROW WILD PITCH IN PR STRATEGY

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in this case, hiding out in the dugout), the most recent PR snafu has involved the major league baseball club Houston Astros and their getting caught for electronic-stealing of “signs” (they were able to decipher and transmit signals the opposing teams’ catchers relayed to the opposing pitcher. Ergo, their batters knew what pitch was coming). Huge, and illegal, advantage in the playing of America’s Pastime.

As such, the Astros baseball club was fined $5 million by baseball’s commissioner, docked draft choices for the next two years and the team’s manager and general manager were suspended for the season (they were subsequently discharged by the club as well.)

There were no penalties for the team’s players, and the Astros did not have to vacate their 2017 World Series championship and all the spoils that go along with it. Turns out, the team had been stealing signs for almost two (or three?) years until it had the conscience to suddenly ‘stop’ late 2018 (just before they played and swept our Cleveland Indians in the first divisional playoff round. Hmm.).

Anyway, why the diatribe in our February PR e-newsletter? Well, it’s one thing to be caught. Another to apologize (and really mean it BTW!), and another whereas an organization you screw up so proficiently the entire US sporting press screams for you to hire a good PR practitioner:

The Houston Astros had PR companies across the globe pointing and laughing at them.

Andy Nesbitt, columnist in USA TODAY Sports, is attributed the above pull-quote taken from his recent article “I was wrong for calling the Houston Astros cowards, turns out they’re just idiots”

The best writeup of the bunch was last week’s by Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri, Breaking Down the Astros’ Latest Public Relations Meltdown Subtitle: A public relations expert analyzes the Astros’ poor effort to apologize for their sign-stealing scheme.

Well, that expert is Tony D‘Angelo, our past PRSA National Chair, and director of Syracuse University’s Master’s program in communications management (note of transparency here, I served with Tony on the National Board back in 2007–09).

His advice is so right on folks when it comes to handling a crisis – and eventually, we’re all going to find ourselves, our client or our organization in some type of predicament – that I urge you all to click and read through.

And then consider if the Astros were your client, or Jim Crane was your boss: What would you do? And taking an intentional pass is not an option.

And BTW, this is at least the third or fourth huge PR screw up for these guys – another good read, from October 2019, is Al Yellon’s feature The Houston Astros demonstrate how not to handle a PR Crisis!  Subtitle: The A.L. Champions are really bad at media and public relations.

Well duh.