Thinking in Concentric Circles

By Tom Hirons, President & CEO

“Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the Indianapolis Education Association, said she was surprised to hear about the program for the first time Tuesday night. …”

Indianapolis Star reporter Eric Weddle covered the announcement of an Indianapolis Public Schools/ Mind Trust proposal to fix failing schools. His inclusion of Rhondalyn Cornett’s surprise illustrates the principle of thinking in concentric circles.

We have all had that experience of hearing or reading about something and being surprised that we didn’t already know it. And, we know the satisfaction of reading something in the morning paper or hearing something at a public meeting, having already been briefed on it. Quite simply, people want to feel that they are informed; they want to know something before they hear about it. Knowledge is power. Empower your stakeholders by making sure they are always the first to know.

There is an art to doing this. Think in terms of concentric circles. At the core are your most key stakeholders. These may be your board of directors and senior officers. Your next circle out may be senior staff because they would most certainly want to hear something before they are asked about it by a co-worker. And, employees always are somewhere in one of the inner circles. They, like it or not and in spite of your public relations policy, are voices of your organization. Nonprofit organizations will have large donors in an inner circle and smaller donors possibly a circle or two further out from the center. Often overlooked, customers and clients are stakeholders. Communicating directly and engaging them is powerful in building relationships.

Be inclusive. Build your list of stakeholders from every perspective, every angle and every audience. Tailor your messages to each of these audiences and determine for each audience and each individual the most appropriate means of communicating. Some require a personal visit. Others, a phone call. Most, an email. All deserve something personal. And, just as there is a hierarchy, there is an order and direction in which this information should flow.

In our connected world, news travels fast. Often a matter of moments makes the difference between being in the know and being taken by surprise. Rhondalyn Cornett probably didn’t like being surprised.

Common Communication Mistakes in a Crisis

By Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

In a large number of crises, there are as many mistakes made by management as Heinz has pickles.

To boil down the possible mistakes for a blog is a bit challenging. How about a posting about the size of “War and Peace” to cover all possible off-the-rails scenarios?  But, alas, I don’t have the writing skill to pen a tome the size of the Bible. However, there are some very obvious and often repeated mistakes that can be discussed in short order.

Here are a few:

  1. Going into the public communication phase of a crisis without all the facts. This happens regularly and can blow your credibility with the media and public in a split-fire second. You must first seek out a lot of data, but beware that much of it may be contradictory or downright wrong. Sort, analyze, confirm and ferret out the truth before you take to the airwaves.
  2. Waiting, and then waiting some more. Truth is, a crisis really never sits around like your teenage son, waiting for something to happen. Time is of the essence (heard that term before?)
  3. Not sticking to key messages. Please make sure everyone on the team, and in the organization, knows these simple but powerful story lines. Nothing like the boss going “off script” at the worst time. Have just three overarching messages to keep everyone on the same page.
  4. Avoiding the media. You should work with the media at the very first possible moment. You can be sure that someone has notified them of your situation, and it’s just a matter of time until they contact you. Better to be proactive than to be accused of dodging or hiding from the story.
  5. Forgetting about the social media and its never-ending and pervasive presence. Today, we have citizen journalists and camera phones, tweets, posts and blogs to ensure almost everything gets covered. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, you still have to deal with it, so get your message out fast.
  6. Finally, not working with your “internal stakeholders” to ensure a single point of entry for the media and public can be deadly. Remember, leaks do happen, and rogue employees may have access to a ton of insider information. Try to restrict all possible access points to information. You need a single conduit to the public and press.

Again, crises are going to happen. But coming out smelling like that red rose takes forethought, planning and lightning speed responses.

He Said, She Said: Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By Deana Haworth, Senior Vice President, Director of Account Services

It’s no secret that the most trusted form of advertising is word-of-mouth. Consumers tend to trust friends and family over an advertisement because of course an advertisement says their product is best, that’s what it’s there to do. In fact, word-of-mouth accounts for 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions (McKinsey Quarterly).

So how do we, as advertisers, make advertisements count while also providing word-of-mouth results? It today’s economy, it’s easy for business to hear that word-of-mouth sells and simply assume that advertising and public relations are an unnecessary expense, when in reality advertising and word-of-mouth can — and should — work hand-in-hand.

Public Relations Redefined

By Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

In March 2012, Gerard Corbett posted an article titled, “A Modern Definition of Public Relations” for the Public Relations Society of America. In this exciting piece, Corbett announced the winning “new” definition of public relations. About time. We were working off a definition from the early 1980s.

And here it is: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Ban the "New Normal"

By Tom Hirons,  President & CEO

January is typically a time of resolution and goal setting. For too many agencies, survival has been the goal and a “new normal” has been the excuse.

Malaise is not new. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter described a “crisis of confidence” among the American people. While he never used the term “malaise” he was widely maligned for what came to be known as his “malaise” speech.