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Archive for Crisis Communication’ Category



Breaking News: Ed Stevens, APR+M Assumes Three Industry Leadership Roles

Ed Stevens

Ed Stevens, APR +M, has just been named President-Elect of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), the fourth largest group of independent PR firms in the world. He has served PRGN as Marketing Officer for the past four years. “I am honored to be selected by the people who have helped my clients grow their businesses both internationally and domestically. We have some of the world’s best PR minds as members.”

In addition, Ed also holds two high-visibility positions with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). As a member of the executive committee for the PRSA Health Academy, Ed will be heavily involved on the committee charged with bringing the academy’s annual conference to Cleveland in the spring of 2015. “It is estimated that this event will bring over 300 professionals to the city as we place a spotlight on Cleveland as the center of excellence for healthcare in America,” said Ed.

Finally, Ed will be the next president of the PRSA Northwest Pennsylvania Chapter. “I am excited to be a PRSA president. It is my third stint as a president, having served as president twice with Greater Cleveland Chapter.” Stevens Strategic Communications believes it is great to give back to our community, our industry and PR professional people in Erie and Cleveland.

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Comments Off on Fixing Data Breach PR- Guest Post by David Fuscus of Xenophon Strategies, Washington, DC

Fixing Data Breach PR- Guest Post by David Fuscus of Xenophon Strategies, Washington, DC

“Year of the Retailer Breach” was how Verizon recently described 2013 in their annual Data Breach Report, saying that it “was a year of transition… to large scale attacks on payment card systems”. The report documented 1,367 confirmed data breaches, the largest and most infamous of which was the massive amount of customer information stolen from Target during the busy Christmas shopping season.

Target’s initial handling of the breach was so poor that the iconic bull’s-eye logo had rested squarely on their corporate forehead for months and the Board of Directors finally pulled the trigger and fired CEO Gregg Steinhafel and Chief Information Officer Beth Jacob.  Target’s struggles and executive replacements can only lead one to speculate that their next financial results will be ugly.

Target’s initial communications response was particularly bad because they acted so slowly; media reports started on December 12, but the breach wasn’t publically acknowledged for seven days. Target finally instituted a comprehensive response program (including free credit reports) and a PR campaign to repair the damage, but it was too little, too late — the data breach steamroller was already in motion and crushing customer trust.

And it wasn’t just Target; Neiman Marcus stands out as another retailer who bungled public communications about a massive data breach.  Rumblings of multi-breaches at Neiman’s first appeared in mid-December and a forensic firm discovered evidence of the breach on January 1st, but it wasn’t until January 10ththat they were forced to acknowledge the crisis after security blogger Brian Krebs broke the story  and they didn’t officially announce the crisis until January 23rd.  Their initial media communication efforts were pitiful, mainly an on-demand only statement for journalists.  A key rule of crisis communications is to define yourself rather than be defined and Neiman-Marcus took few and inadequate actions to communicate on a broad level to the public and their customers.

Data breaches are the worst type of modern corporate crisis because they directly impact masses of individual customers on a financial and emotional level. When people are personally hurt or threatened, they can become powerful influencers when those stories are amplified across social networks; when millions are individually threatened, their reaction can severely damage an entire business, regardless of size.

So how could sophisticated, well-managed, companies like Target and Neiman-Marcus bungle their data breach communications so badly?  It’s not like the basics of crisis communications are mystical:  define rather than be defined, fast self-disclosure, respond directly to customers and undertake public facing actions to ensure it never happens again.

While the reasons for Target’s and Neiman-Marcus’s communications decisions are only known within the company, there are some likely candidates:

  • Legal vs Communications.  In a crisis, the first priority of competent communicators is to publically define the situation and exert some influence with the media and customers.  The first priority of legal professionals is generally to put the company in the best possible position for litigation, especially when litigation will be massive.  If a company hasn’t addressed the balance of brand damage vs. litigation before a crisis, it inevitably leads to delay as senior executives tend to defer to their legal teams.
  • Speed vs Full Information.  In any data breach, having a full understanding of what happened can take days, weeks or months. Target’s internal investigation and report on their breach still isn’t done five months after the event.  Waiting for full or robust information can waste precious time and allow the story to break from another source.  Arts and crafts giant Michael’s suffered a data breach shortly after Neiman’s and Target, but they announced a potential breach as soon as they discovered it, engaged with the media and opened a CEO-level dialogue with their customers.  By jumping out ahead of the story, Michael’s was viewed as competently managing the crisis and working to protect their customers.
  • Communications Infrastructure.  When a crisis explodes, public attention is almost instantaneous and can be massive both in the news media and on social channels.  The level of attention and potential ferocity is outside the experience of most business executives and, with no base of experience, ill-informed decisions can reign.  Corporations need to plan for crisis communications, build infrastructure and have the proper outside resources on tap so that they can instantly ramp up and engage with both the media and their customers.

Public communications after a data breach needs to be comprehensive — a company needs to understand its ability to respond to the media and customers, whether it is through the press, social channels, call centers or stores.  And the execution of fast, meaningful, communications depends on the advance identification of issues that can slow down a public response — be it lack of preparation, communications infrastructure or insufficient planning between a company’s communications, legal and technical functions.

David Fuscus is the president and CEO of Xenophon Strategies, a leading U.S. PR firm specializing in crisis & reputation communications and brand management which is headquartered in Washington, DC.  Follow him on Twitter at @DavidFuscus or @XenophonPR.

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Comments Off on The State of Crisis Communications

The State of Crisis Communications

A Rope Fraying in the Middle

In a world where the economy continues to sputter, the opportunity for crisis communications has increased five-fold.  Today, the advent of social media has made the crisis you face smack you right between the eyes.  The words you see are personal, laced with inaccuracies and seem incessant.  You want to lash out and attack.

Labor issues are dotting the landscape.  Employees are finding that changes in healthcare, wages and bonuses reconstruct their world.  It is not the same as it was.  It will never be the same.  Yet, many see this as the last chance to get the salary and benefits packages that previous generations enjoyed.

There needs to be an increased vigilance for safety, security and health.  How many food recalls have you seen?  They appear to be rampant.  Is your company doing all that it can to avoid problems before they threaten your reputation or even shut you down?

When was the last time you conducted a crisis audit?  When did you last test your crisis plan?  Are your spokespersons ready to carry the message?

There is truth in Murphy’s law. “If something bad is going to happen, it will happen at the worst possible time.”  Today is a good day to start preparing for those worst case scenarios, which may be just around the corner.

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Comments Off on Running a Public Relations Firm

Running a Public Relations Firm

Stevens Strategic Communications, Inc.

The debate rages on.  Just what is a public relations firm?  Over the years technology and our economy have caused the definition to change.  In many ways, when I think of the words public relations, the word Catholic or universal comes to mind.

In essence the public relations firm is one that deals with our relationships with all of our publics.  That means our customers.  Our employees.  Our communities.  Our world.

We create messages for audiences and determine the best ways to reach that audience.  Is it advertising?  Social media?  Videos?  Media relations?

Yes, we used to have advertising agencies, public relations firms, and specialty shops.  We even had agencies of record.  Now we provide the best we have to our clients.  Timing, messaging, quality and cost are critical.  Now that we have an understanding of what a public relations firm does—just about everything in terms of communications—then how do you staff?

In the military, I was always impressed with our Special Forces.  These were teams of soldiers with more than one refined skill.  They are linguists, mechanics, snipers, medics, demolition experts.  They are people who accomplish their mission.  In fact, in the military we learned the value of being resourceful even when we weren’t green berets.   So many of us were crossed-trained to do more than our primary military specialty.  That’s how I see the public relations firm of today.

We have social media people who are great account executives.  Crisis specialists who know advertising.  Video producers who know how to write.  Engineers who can create speeches.  Art directors with audio engineering expertise.  Research executives who can handle direct marketing.  Wow.  Our guys are talented.

Survival in the business world today requires that we have many skills, stay up to date on trends, and work hard to stay ahead of the pack.  We want to do all of this while we are having a good time helping our clients succeed.

(FLASH) That is my snapshot of running a PR firm today.  It’s providing the right climate for great, talented people—so they can do great things for great clients!

— Ed Stevens, APR
President, Stevens Strategic Communications

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Comments Off on What to Look Out for on Social Media During a Crisis

What to Look Out for on Social Media During a Crisis

A Screaming Bird

When you’re handling a crisis for a client, it’s important to keep the media informed and up to date at all times. Crisis management is essentially a 24/7 service. So, knowing that, have you started checking social media platforms for comments and news about your crisis?

You would be surprised to see how fast a crisis can spread across social media. On day one, maybe only a few people are talking about your predicament on Facebook and Twitter. But, by day two a hashtag has been created, thousands of people are talking about it and the word is spreading to corners of the world you never dreamed of reaching.

After checking for articles, editorials and rants written about your crisis, go on Facebook and look for pages created by both parties involved in the situation. See if others connected to the crisis indirectly have created Facebook pages. Check on these pages frequently, but do not LIKE them. If the page is private, see if you can find another page that is public. Liking these pages will simply add fuel to the fire.

Think of the possible hashtags that could be created around your crisis and search for them on Twitter. See if the parties involved have created specific Twitter handles to spread the word. And, think of keywords associated with your crisis and search for those without a hashtag. Depending on how long your crisis has been going on, you could find that there are just a few tweets about what’s going on—or maybe there is a large quantity.

Don’t forget about YouTube. If you think people aren’t going to take the time during a crisis to get their point across by setting up a webcam and videotaping their comments, you are wrong.  There may not be a lot of people doing this, but don’t be surprised if you come across one or two channels dedicated strictly to your crisis.

Remember, though, you are going to find comments with derogatory remarks, slander, bashing, etc. Use your best judgment in filtering the useful information from the trash talk.

Check social media accounts daily to see what updates have occurred. It is an essential tool for crisis management.

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Comments Off on Crisis is Warfare in Action: Guidelines to Follow During Crises

Crisis is Warfare in Action: Guidelines to Follow During Crises

Tough Decisions Ahead Roadsign

When a crisis occurs, it resembles going to war. As a graduate of the Army War College, I learned how to handle crises simulate operations and win the battle at hand.

Much like the public relations profession, the military looks at the crisis at hand in terms of these specific guideposts:









We need to move from this crisis to a better place.


Define roles for your emergency response team.


Truth, integrity, responsiveness, empathy.


Where did the crisis occur? What is the safe area? Do we need a marshaling point for media?


Use time, numbers, metrics and analytics as much as you can.


These should have been established in advance in a crisis communications plan.


Safety, protection, acceptance, media coverage.


Better to be safe, not sorry. Err on the side of doing what is right no matter what it costs.


Can we do it ourselves? Do we need help? What will it cost to protect or save my reputation/business?

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Comments Off on Content Marketing: Keep Your In-bound Marketing Message Positive at All Times

Content Marketing: Keep Your In-bound Marketing Message Positive at All Times


More and more bloggers and content marketers are relying on negative posts, articles and website content. Using negative content may attract attention in the short-term, but long-term, it builds up resentment, erodes trust and can create a crisis situation. Don’t sacrifice your hard-earned online reputation by succumbing to negativity.

The first time you see a headline that contains a negative phrase, such as “five reasons why you aren’t fulfilling your potential”, it may make you curious enough to read on. As you receive more and more negative-style content, you start to resent the senders. This sort of content is designed to prey on insecurities, and make readers feel inadequate. It may grab attention in the short term, but leads to resentment over time. It is highly unlikely to make anyone feel positive about the content provider.

A further concern with in-bound marketing content is that bloggers need to post content frequently, and time constraints or other reasons are contributing to the presentation of re-hashed information, or tired ideas as genuine solutions. Content that makes you feel bad about a problem you didn’t know you had, but fails to solve it, is the worst possible kind. It is almost guaranteed to have your whole audience reaching simultaneously for the unsubscribe link.

Avoid negative headlines completely and your social media audience will thank you for it. Instead of negative phrases such as “five reasons why you aren’t making enough money”, rewrite your headlines in a positive way. Use feel-good titles, such as “five ways to make more money”, instead.

Back up your positive headlines with original content containing genuine insights, fresh ideas, and memorable tips. Successful inbound marketing is all about building goodwill and trust. If your content makes a positive impact on your audience, and actually helps to improve their work, you are in a much more favorable position to engage them. Positive content that provides your social media followers with genuine value inspires trust, and trust leads to conversions and sales.

In sum, in-bound marketing is powerful because your potential customers give you consent to interact regularly with them. Negative content is a breach of that trust and associates your product, service or brand with negativity. The last thing any marketer wants to do is to make an audience feel inadequate or prey on insecurities. Avoid the potential backlash and image crisis by keeping your content helpful and positive.

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Comments Off on What You Can Learn from Social Media Experts

What You Can Learn from Social Media Experts

2012 Midwest Social Media Summit in Mayfield Heights, Ohio

2012 Midwest Social Media Summit in
Mayfield Heights, Ohio

The 2012 MidWest Social Media Summit held at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights, Ohio was a fantastic event sponsored by Smart Business and Blue Technologies.

Experts gathered to share knowledge and useful tips on how social media can help businesses prosper and potentially bring in additional revenues. Representatives from organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic, the American Red Cross, the Cleveland Cavaliers and General Electric were great panelists for this event. A plethora of helpful information was shared amongst the panelists and the 400 summit attendees.

Here are some quotes from the panelists:

From Jim Kukral, best-selling author and professional speaker for University of San Francisco – discussing “social media is business” –

            “Create amazing content and get it shared. Win. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”

From Amy Neumann, CEO of Good Plus Tech and contributing writer to Forbes magazine – discussing “strategy and branding” –

            “Social media does a great job of making the pie bigger. How can we reach a larger number of people? By showing a little personality, solving a problem and entertaining people, you can reach a whole new audience.”

From Matt Smith, senior talent acquisition leader for JCPenney – discussing “researching candidates through social media” –

            “LinkedIn is the place to be in social media during a hiring process. We use it every day…Social media helps you point out key people in companies and can help with your job search.”

From Thom Fladung, managing editor for the Plain Dealer – discussing “social media and the media” –

            “Social media is not a threat – it’s an opportunity!”

From Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital – discussing “management and measuring” –

            “Remember to look at quantitative information. Not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can be measured counts. Get a feel for the results you’re getting.”

From Roger Lowe, senior vice president of communications for the American Red Cross – discussing how the Red Cross uses social media –

            “Social media is having something to say when people are listening… it’s not just about having the tools or technology; it’s having the right thing to say when people are in need.”

From Mike Maleski, vice president of digital sales, marketing and operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers – discussing “big data and social media” –

            “We do engage our fans during events. We have a team dedicated to monitor the social channels, specifically Twitter, during events. We want to be able to respond quickly. We take real-time questions and comments very seriously. We have a social media response team. If there is a seat broken in a specific section, we need to fix that.”

From Jon Hyman, partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz P.L.L. – discussing “legal ramifications of social media policy and use” –

            “Employees need to understand what is private and what is public, but that divide is no longer there…The issues aren’t new. The method of communication is.”

And, lastly, a quote from Kelly Waite, marketing and database manager from one of the summit’s sponsors, Blue Technologies – discussing “strategy 201: what do I do now?” –

            “Encourage your sales force to share your company’s social media initiatives with their networks to increase reach.”


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Comments Off on The TV Battle: Social Media Impact on Television Shows vs. Service Providers

The TV Battle: Social Media Impact on Television Shows vs. Service Providers

TV with Snow

Watching the battle between Dish Network and AMC was interesting. Commercials started popping up with an ominous voice telling viewers that Mad Men and Breaking Bad are not available on Dish. While those spots still run to this day, Dish is coming out with commercials about how “The Switch to Dish is back!” That could be, but partially due to the war that was happening between DirecTV and Viacom.

Though this is somewhat old news, DirecTV and Viacom’s use of social media during the time when customers were not receiving their favorite channels such as MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and BET is still relevant. One of the best articles I found on this topic was, “DirecTV Removes Viacom Channels Amid Battle on Social Media” by mashable.com. It got everyone up to speed on the situation between the two entities, while also showcasing the reactions emitted through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

In this instance, social media was used as a way to get the upper hand. Special hashtags against DirecTV and Viacom spread like wildfire: #WhenDirecTVDrops. #DirectvHasMyBack. It reached the customers, but DirecTV and Viacom were still at war. Therefore, everyone lost—including the customers.

Then, the fight started to affect those Viacom viewers who didn’t even have DirecTV. Since some channels, such as Comedy Central, have full episodes available on their websites, some customers were simply going there to get their television fix. That caught on, again in part through social media, and those episodes were taken down. Now those who didn’t purchase cable seemed to be punished for viewing, essentially, free television.

Interaction through social media platforms has been added to the list of ways to give customers the best customer service around, and it’s great that it’s a helpful tool in that respect. Facebook and Twitter are excellent methods to send out breaking news updates, conduct crisis communications and to keep the population informed. But, is this really where the cable wars should happen? If you make a mistake or say the wrong thing, you can delete the post, but how many people are going to see it before you delete it? The damage that could be done by a poorly worded Twitter post could be astronomical.

Would you rather have had DirecTV and Viacom –or even Dish and AMC– not update you through social media on the progress of getting your channels back? Was it overkill? Was it better than visiting their sites for news? Are cable/satellite service providers not worth the money spent or the show viewing lost with options such as Netflix and Hulu that cost less and can be, at times, more reliable?

Luckily, DirecTV and Viacom reached an agreement in July and 20 million customers were able to get back to their schedules of watching The Daily Show and Single Ladies. But, keep your eyes peeled. You never know when a new hashtag, viral video or rapidly shared post will make its way to your news feed urging you to find a better solution to watching your favorite shows.

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Comments Off on E-Crisis Thinking Starts with Social Media Policy–But There’s More

E-Crisis Thinking Starts with Social Media Policy–But There’s More

Highlighting Policy in the Dictionary

Not every organization has a social media policy for their employees, but they should.  And in today’s world, you can use a chapter on social media in your crisis plan.  Not every organization has one of these either.

So if you don’t have an employee social media policy or a crisis plan with a section on social media, why should I be even mentioning our ONLINE WAR ROOM™? The simple answer: Because it is so cool.

How do companies respond to negative, detrimental or even false information on social media platforms?  Thanks to our membership in the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), we now offer a proprietary tool that simulates sensitive, often emotional social conversations that can potentially affect your organization’s brand and reputation in a matter of seconds.  The Online War Room is a secure tool that allows our team to simulate online crises and issues management situations in real time.

The tool works on a closed network, so clients can be assured that the information used in the simulations will never be LIVE or PUBLIC.  Once several scenarios are identified, our team works behind the scenes to develop a variety of posts, comments and content (photos, video, news, etc.) that could possibly be generated about your organization or leadership during each of the scenarios.  Once the training session is complete, our team provides a recap report outlining lessons learned, recommended updates to the current processes and plans, and an executive summary that can be shared throughout our organization.

When you leave our Online War Room, you will know just how ready you are to face your next social media generated crisis.  Pretty cool stuff.

For more information on the Online War Room, contact SSC president Ed Stevens at estevens@stevensstrategic.com.

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