Well Played

Crisis Communications planning

Johnson didn’t hide behind a statement, a lawyer, or a “no comment”. He delivered an apology and owned every word.

Did you see it? Did you see Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO, apologize again and again and again on live TV?

What Johnson did is probably one of the best damage-control efforts by a company-in-crisis’ leader in many years, and he had the network anchors praising him for it.

In a nutshell he:

  • Moved swiftly to contain the crisis;
  • Immediately went to Philadelphia, the site of the crisis;
  • Spoke to every major network immediately after the crisis broke;
  • Apologized with sincerity and took full responsibility;
  • Privately met with the two black men who were arrested to deliver his apology personally;
  • Met with Philadelphia political and community leaders to discuss what happened and commit to fixing the problem;
  • Acted the way a CEO should act.

In case you missed it, last Thursday, two black men went to Starbucks in Philadelphia for a meeting. While waiting for their colleague to join them in the meeting, they asked to use the bathroom. The store’s manager told them they couldn’t because they hadn’t bought anything. Then, she asked them to leave. When they didn’t, Starbucks’ manager called the police. The men were handcuffed, removed from the restaurant and arrested.

Now, that’s odd because Starbucks markets itself as being a place people can go to to work and meet, without being obligated to buy anything. What’s outrageous, to use Johnson’s words, is that two black men were accused by the store manager of trespassing and were arrested for doing exactly what Starbucks invites people to do.

Where other corporations and their leaders have failed, Starbucks succeeded. Their crisis communications plan worked. They were armed and ready. How do we know? Because they were in front of this horrendous story before it got out of control. They issued a statement of apology on Sunday and immediately framed the narrative, so that no one else had the opportunity to deliver a different message about Starbucks.

 “It takes a lifetime to build reputation and only a few seconds to destroy one.” ~ Unknown

That was no coincidence. Johnson and his Public Relations team may not have known the specifics about what was about to unfold, but they had planned for some type of crisis like this. They had fill-in-the-blank talking points ready to go. Johnson was trained to speak to the media and deliver compelling messaging from the heart and with sincerity. They developed a theme – I am sorry and I take full responsibility – and Johnson delivered it.

Johnson didn’t hide behind a statement, a lawyer, or a “no comment”. He delivered an apology and owned every word. Then, he put his words into action with a commitment to close their stores in order to educate staff about conscious and unconscious biases so that it doesn’t happen again. He reached out and personally delivered his apology publicly and privately to the two people who deserved it most.

This was textbook crisis communications management at its best.

Now, take a look at your company. Would you be ready to roll before things got out of control in a crisis? If the answer is no – or even I don’t know – it’s time to put your plan together, because a crisis isn’t going to wait for you to be ready.

Sign It!

“I have finally perfected my signature. It took hours of practicing… I decided early on just to write Pippa, not Middleton.” ~ Pippa Middleton

 

There is a free and effective marketing tool that requires almost no effort, and you use it every day. In fact, it’s right there at your fingertips.

Imagine this:

email signature

Include contact information on all emails.

You’ve sent out an important follow-up email to a potential customer who you’ve been courting for months. The recipient is on vacation, but has been awaiting the email from you, so she assured you she would regularly check her smartphone. When she gets your message, she wants to talk with you directly to approve moving ahead.

She scrolls to the bottom of the message, and there’s no contact information. None! It’s likely she’s not going to go to the trouble of tracking your phone number down while sitting on the beach watching her kids play in the water. So, now she will wait, and probably get caught up in her vacation plans, and the green light you’ve been waiting for is stuck on red.

Easy Tool

Never underestimate the importance of an email signature. It’s essential for contact purposes, and it’s one of the easiest tools you have to market your company and yourself.

Email signatures are easily set up and can to be automatically added to every email you create. A signature should contain your name, phone numbers (office and cell), and website at a minimum. But, they also can include things like your logo, social media channels (personal and business), certifications, and your blog. Whatever online tools you have to market yourself are options for inclusion, too.

If you’re going to include social media, and professional accreditations, don’t forget to utilize the badges and icons they make available for your use. They’re easily added to signatures and can link directly to your pages.

Make It Memorable

Personalize your signature! Don’t be afraid to include something that makes your email signature memorable.

Every email you send, even your replies, is an opportunity to market your company. Not only does the intended recipient read your emails, but some are forwarded to others, who also have exposure to your thoughts, ideas, and – you’ve got it – your email signature!

You never know what will prompt someone to have a sudden interest in learning more about you and your company. Why not make it effortless for them?

Your Enemy to Being Understood? Jargon!

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and not understanding a word that’s being said? Acronyms, technical terms and trendy phrases are thrown around as if everyone should know what they mean. It’s jargon, and it’s getting out of hand.

Jargon Causes Confusion

Jargon

Years ago, I watched as a doctor used the term “palliative care” (another term for end-of-life care), while discussing a patient with her family. Now, unfortunately, the family thought this was a treatment that would lead to a cure for the patient’s cancer. You can imagine their devastation when they discovered what the doctor was saying.

This week, I was forwarded an email that contained information from a sales professional explaining a proposal for a new website. The email’s author talked about a “firewall that blocks FTP traffic”, “blacklisting IPs that fail authentication”, “responsiveness”, and “SEO”. Overwhelmed, the recipient forwarded the email to me for my “thoughts”.

Jargon is an enemy of everyone, and I mean everyone! Witnessing my teenager’s explanation of how Snapchat works when his dad inquired about the recent cover story in Time Magazine had me giggling. Facial algorithms, graphic overlays and a bunch of other terms that came from my son’s mouth, when “It’s an app on your phone, Dad, and it’s pretty fun,” would have sufficed.

Jargon Causes Confusion and Alienation

At best, jargon confuses people and at worst it makes them feel stupid, uneducated and inferior. And, when you use it, you run the risk of alienating your audience.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 14 percent of the United States’ population can’t read, and 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, while 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. Those are important statistics to understand as you consider the terms you use.

Here are tips:

  • Never assume that people understand your technical terms until they show you their understanding. And, remember that some folks will acknowledge understanding so that they don’t look ignorant. Err on the side of over-explaining, rather than under-explaining.
  • The key to ensuring understanding is to know your audience. If you’re addressing an audience of people in your field, or who share your passion, you can assume a level of understanding that allows for complex or technical terms. If the audience is broad, jargon will be your undoing.

Remember, your message is completely lost when you aren’t understood.

How We Socialize

I’ve been watching the news every day with anticipation for the latest Tweets from our President-Elect Trump. I know I’m not alone!

Communicate through social media

Social Media is our form of communication today

Whether you’re cheering his words, or shaking your head in dismay, there’s one thing for certain; Donald Trump is addicted to Twitter and we better get used to it, because this is how he’s going to speak to us.

Twitter has been around long enough now that people have gotten comfortable with communicating in 140 characters. These little written “sound bites” have forced us to get to the point quickly.

We have discovered that pictures and videos can say what words never could, so we post them to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube, with no hesitation. Heck, now you can even speak to a full audience – hundreds and thousands of people – live whenever you like! Our political leaders have jumped on the opportunity to speak directly to us – minus the press’ filter – through Facebook Live. This is how we socialize!

When I train executives on how to speak to reporters, I tell them to put their most salient points into short, easily digested phrases. Give the reporter a heads up that the phrase is coming with something like “And, what I want people to really understand…” and then let the phrase rip.

What I don’t encourage them to do is speak in a stream of thought – to say whatever flashes through their heads. I teach them to take a breath and consider their words, to put up a yield sign in their brains before speaking.

Social media is a profoundly effective communicating tool. I would argue in several cases that we have never had a tool that has worked as successfully as social media.

But, there is the other side of social media that presents a challenge. Too often, people are lulled into the comfort of a quick way to communicate and forget that their words are on the Internet for the world to see. Once out there, they can’t be taken back. Far too many celebrities, business leaders and politicians have learned that lesson the hard way.

So, here’s my advice, and it’s the same advice I give my teen-aged son. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t post it on Twitter!