“An Ounce of Prevention…”

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There is frequent discussion about effective “crisis PR” – which companies and individuals responded well to a media or reputation crisis and which didn’t (think: BP, Anthony Weiner, etc.).  The timing, tone and message of crisis response is examined and critiqued continuously. You need only do a quick Google search to find endless opinions and debates on crisis response “do’s and don’ts.”

Where the discipline of crisis communications gets far less buzz is crisis prevention. The typical focus is so much on reacting effectively to a media crisis that business leaders (including a surprising number of PR counselors) often short change, if not entirely neglect, the all-important steps that should be taken to prevent an issue from escalating into a PR crisis in the first place. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Several of my colleagues and I presented on this very topic earlier this year at a series of seminars hosted by risk management leader Chartis Inc. (formerly AIG).  We spoke to hundreds of in-house risk managers and insurance brokers about the importance of reputation risk management and how it’s an essential component of enterprise risk management (ERM). It was a terrific invitation by Chartis, particularly because it signaled that the world’s leading risk management experts understand the important role reputation management and PR risk mitigation play in the risk management mix. In other words, the experts at Chartis “get it” and see real value in helping their clients get it too.

So, how should organizations mitigate reputational risk? What can be done to head off seemingly unpredictable threats?

An obvious yet too often overlooked first step is investing in building a positive reputation. This means companies and executives need to (continuously) make deposits of “goodwill,” by proactively engaging media, in addition to employees, communities, customers, advocacy groups well before any issue arises. The absolute worst time to try to make friends is in the midst of a crisis.

Another critical and often neglected step it to track and act on early warning signs, such as spikes in employee turnover, increases in complaints from customers, investors, community groups, etc., unusual or negative activity percolating on social networks/blogs, more aggressive activist attention, etc. In most of the crisis scenarios our team has encountered over the years, we eventually learn that there was indeed a warning sign (if not several) that went ignored.

Savvy organizations also regularly and officially audit reputation risk, looking inside and outside the company to assess and prioritize potential threats, similar to how they examine operational and financial risks. This work, while too seldom completed, is at the heart of truly effective reputation management. Knowing your vulnerabilities is more than half the battle.

So, while there’s no doubt it’s important to hone crisis response skills, it’s equally, if not more important, to commit to mitigating reputational issues before they snowball. An “ounce of prevention” really can make the difference between a manageable issue that’s resolved without incident and a full-blown reputational crisis that can cripple a business.

Public Relations Measurement and Ad Value Equivalents

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The Wall Street Journal’s recent piece on the “value of buzz” addressed public relations measurement and the long-standing issue of Ad Value Equivalents, or valuing earned media by comparing it to the cost of an equivalent advertising spot.

Many clients lean on ad equivalencies for public relations campaign measurement. The client may have a very metric-driven culture or simply a desire to quantify the results of their investment in public relations. The problem with this approach is the assumption that the value of an article and the value of ads are equivalent, and that calculating the value in this way gives you an accurate measure of ROI.

Courtesy of Louise Docker

As an advertiser, you have complete control of the ad’s message and its placement. And it’s fair to assume that you’d publicize your company’s positive attributes. In public relations, we publicize our mostly B2B clients’ positive attributes, and we consider placement as well, weighing the sophistication of our clients’ customers, which publications are most likely to influence customer decisions and what type of story would deliver our client’s message in a decision-influencing context.

The message in an article and an ad may wind up being the same, but there are fundamental differences in who is delivering the message and how it is received. The major difference is that a successful PR placement is delivered through a story that carries the implicit, independent endorsement of an outlet, editor and author trusted by the reader. Reducing ROI to an ad value equivalent fails to capture this difference and thus the true value of earned media. What is the alternative then?

Effective measurement of public relations requires clear program objectives as well as research and customer engagement before, during and after an initiative. What are your communications objectives? How aware are customers and potential customers of your messages around these objectives? How well do they understand what you are trying to say? How does their awareness, attitude and understanding change between the start and end of an initiative? It is also important to link PR back to business outcomes. What impact has the initiative had on sales, subscriptions, client engagements and/or enrollment compared to pre-campaign benchmarks?

Are answering these questions and providing a broader view of a campaign’s effectiveness as easy as scratching out some ad equivalency calculations? Certainly not. Companies often cite a lack of time and resources necessary to research and mine data to gauge the effectiveness of a campaign. Also, the results do not yield that desirable apples-to-apples comparison of ad, marketing and PR spend.

However, what this approach lacks in simplicity it makes up for in a truer understanding of program effectiveness and insight into how campaign’s can be improved moving forward.

Social Media for Commercial Real Estate

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to present at the BOMA 2011 International Conference & The Every Building Show at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The topic? Devising and Executing a Social Media Program: A BOMA/Chicago Case Study.

Over the course of two sessions, Edward M. Bury, APR, BOMA/Chicago’s director of marketing and communications, and I shared strategic and tactical advice to commercial real estate executives mulling over the now seemingly “age old” question: can social media work for me and my building/organization/company?

While social media isn’t necessarily appropriate for all industries and companies, it’s at least worth investigating. The following is a step-by-step to getting started. Reputation Partners deployed a similar social media strategy as we helped BOMA/Chicago launch their social networking presence (including the organization’s new blog, The Elevator Speech).

Step 1. Listen
If someone in the marketplace was talking about your company or brand, wouldn’t you want to listen to their conversation? Actively monitoring social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube gives you an opportunity to gauge how your industry, competitors and key stakeholders are utilizing these channels. It’s also key to determining how your company can differentiate its voice amid all the social media chatter.

Step 2. Assess Vehicles
There’s a common misconception that you need to be on every social networking channel to be successful. This is far from accurate. For example, if your target audiences aren’t actively using Twitter, it’s probably not the right vehicle for your company. Consider your overarching communications objectives and how these different vehicles can help you meet these goals. Also consider the staff allocation and support needed to manage these vehicles on a daily basis.

Step 3. Launch and Market
Before you formally launch your social network presence, it’s important to populate the vehicles with content (pictures, video, status updates, etc.) before you officially “go-live.”  This will give new followers an immediate opportunity to view and react to content. Once you’ve launched, it’s equally important to market your social networking presence. Emails, newsletters, website and email signatures, as example, are all effective ways you can spread the word.

Step 4. Engage, Monitor & Track Value
This is the final – and most important – step in the process. There’s one catch: this step never ends.

Engage with your followers and create a dialogue about important developments in your industry. Ask questions. Share opinions.  Interact with people/companies that are both familiar and unfamiliar to you. Build goodwill by congratulating/commending others. Hint: if you’re constantly talking about yourself and your company, you’re probably not engaging enough.

Monitor these sites consistently. They are like small children; never leave them alone unattended for an extended period of time.  Effective monitoring will also aid in both reactive and proactive engagement with others.

As you manage and grow your company’s social networking presence, continually track the value it’s bringing. While quantitative measurement is important, we also make sure to evaluate key items such as: are we engaging with the right influencers? Has this increased awareness about the brand? Is this supporting our overarching communications strategy and goals?

While social media isn’t the solution to all of your corporate communications and marketing needs, it’s an effective tool when used thoughtfully. Based on the turnout at BOMA 2011, we’re encouraged to see that the commercial real estate industry is beginning to embrace the power of social media.

 

 

 
 
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