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Being prepared is everything, and this is also true of companies in a crisis, which is why crisis communications begins long before an actual crisis. A company needs to systematically monitor public sentiment to detect a nascent crisis. So monitoring is the first thing in crisis communications. But what to monitor? Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Forums? If so, which ones? And who should be doing it? And how do we record whatever we monitor? Who is to have access to the findings? A company needs to answer this sort of questions, and the way to do this is to compile a social media governance, that is to say guidelines laying down how staff should work with media such as Facebook and Twitter.

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This is the first of a five-part series on crises. Let’s start by asking ourselves what makes crisis, more specifically, a corporate crisis. A crisis is a situation in which a company’s public reputation deteriorates dramatically so that there is the danger that the company may suffer permanent damage, up to and including ruin.

One of the most egregious examples of a corporate crisis was the proposed sinking of British Petroleum’s Brent Spar drilling platform twenty years ago, or McDonald’s ill-advised reaction to activist protests around the same time. Or consider Tepco, the utility that runs many of Japan’s nuclear reactors, and its mishandling of the destruction of the Fukushima power plant.

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An interviewer’s questions can sometimes put us off. It may be that we simply find the journalist obnoxious or perhaps a little aggressive. Perhaps he speaks with some sort of sneer, making you feel he is trying to make you look silly. It’s understandable if this sort of situation makes us feel upset or even angry. In an extreme, we might even be tempted to storm out of an interview. While you have the right to do that, it’s really your most extreme option. Better to seek ways to get the interview back on track, and that’s something your key messages can help you achieve.

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An effective speech is one that is clear. To be clear, create a basic structure around the relevant key messages. Once that’s in place, you can probably speak without notes, and that will leave a much deeper impression simply because it will enable you to look your audience in the eye. Don’t explain things in too much detail. People don’t need you to be their encyclopaedia. Instead, appeal to their passion, but be authentic in doing so. Don't try to imitate other people.

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You might call PowerPoint slides the Cinderellas of communication. Most of the time they hardly get noticed, but how they could shine if given a chance! It’s a pity we won’t let them. Instead, we overload them with text, squeezing in a pixelated graph and then never give the audience enough time for the content to sink in. Is there another way? Well, definitely. For a good start to a presentation, start early. When do you usually get your slides done? Honestly? Two days before the event, like most of us? Well, that’s way too late to achieve anything meaningful.

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