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IABC Atlanta members win Gold Quill international communication awards

Winners previously earned local communication award of excellence

FOR RELEASE: July 19, 2018

The Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) today announced that several of its member companies earned top honors in the 2018 IABC Gold Quill Awards program, which recognizes excellence globally in business communications.

Entrants from 13 different countries participated in this year’s Gold Quill Awards competition. Atlanta-area winners include the American Cancer Society, Realm Inc., SunTrust Bank and UPS. Considered the “Pulitzer Prize” of the communications field, the Gold Quill Award recognizes excellence in communication and honors the dedication, innovation and passion of communicators on a global scale.

“We’re excited to see so many of our Atlanta companies honored,” said Julie Greenwell, president, IABC Atlanta. “Atlanta has always been a hotbed of business communication given the number of large corporations headquartered here, and these awards underscore the excellence of our chapter and city.”
The awards were presented in June at the annual Excellence Gala, held in conjunction with the IABC World Conference in Montreal. All of these projects had previously earned the IABC Atlanta Award of Excellence as part of the local chapter’s Golden Flame Awards competition. See the full list of international winners here.

IABC Atlanta is gearing up for its 2018 Golden Flame Awards program, which offers communicators the opportunity to gain local recognition for exceptional work through a peer-based panel of independent, international judges. The deadline for entries is July 27. Learn more or enter at http://atlanta.iabc.com/

About IABC Gold Quill Awards: For more than 40 years, IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program has recognized and awarded excellence in strategic communication worldwide. The Gold Quill competition is the only awards program that honors the dedication, innovation and passion of communicators on a global scale. Since 2008, more than 4,451 projects have been entered in the Gold Quill Awards program.

About IABC Atlanta: IABC Atlanta is the premier professional communications association that provides professional development, networking and best practices for a broad range of communication professionals at all career levels. With membership across internal and external communications, as well as executive, marketing and PR sectors, the association provides unique networking events and learning opportunities for communication professionals to advance their careers and build meaningful connections within the Atlanta community. More information about the organization is available at http://atlanta.iabc.com/.

Contact: JoEllen Saeli-Lane
IABC Atlanta Media Relations
404.417.5828
joellen.saeli-lane@cancer.org

To Secure a Mentor, First Meet One

In Case You Missed It… An Overview of our April Networking Luncheon!

We always hear that mentors are integral to moving in a positive direction along a career path. There’s less chatter about HOW to meet a mentor. At April’s luncheon, IABC Atlanta’s members engaged in small group discussions with five of Atlanta’s leaders in business communications. Each walked us down their path to the corner office and shared advice about how we can do it too.

My table’s discussion began with Terry Cerisoles, SVP, Corporate Communications at American Cancer Society. Terry referenced IABC’s Global Standard of the Communication Profession to share her best advice for building a communications career. She emphasized the power of choice in a career – from choosing between being well-rounded or an expert in a specific area, to the type of environment in which you want to spend your time and the companies with which you work.

Choice also extends to our relationships with industry peers. Terry encouraged us to network widely, even in times when we don’t need its benefits. “Actively build your network – don’t wait until you need it. Support people in their job search mode, and it will come back to you later.”

Our next visitor was Todd Wandtke, VP of Customer Communications and Digital Marketing at UPS. Todd’s role at UPS covers a wide swath: marketing, communications, events, and more. He regularly thinks about what’s next for UPS: digital marketing, storytelling, newer technologies and platforms. Todd related this to committing time to think about what’s next in our career. “How do the changes in the market influence your craft? Find and grow your place within industry changes,” he said.

Todd shared four themes that he’s currently seeing in marketing. First, understand the power of storytelling. This is such a theme in marketing communications right now – because storytelling is interesting, and it works! Second, Todd touted the ability to understand and leverage analytics. UPS is investing in analytics as an integral part of determining where to invest and how well investments work: “We must answer the question of what a dollar of investment is worth.” Next, learn – keep on training, learning new things, growing your mind, every day! Finally, Todd told us to continue honing our basic skills: speaking well, writing to connect with others, and growing our emotional and interpersonal maturity.

We next spoke with Joanna Irwin, Global CMO at Randstad, a staffing and recruiting firm headquartered in Netherlands. Johanna recently joined Randstad as one of its first U.S.-based senior leaders. After she left her previous role, she chose (is there an echo in here?) to be very intentional with her next career step. A career coach, networking, and taking time to reflect enabled that decision. The information she gathered drove her job search and led her to Randstad.

As a recent executive-level job seeker, Johanna’s believes that the ability to connect personally with other company leaders is key to success. “At the executive level, everyone assumes that you have the skills. Making personal connections – building trust and understanding, and throwing in a little humor – are most important,” she said.

Our last table visitor was Shirley Powell, Senior VP, Communications at Cox Automotive. Prior to Cox, Shirley worked for many years in the television and entertainment industries. She shared a key insight on attempting to change industries as a job seeker: “If an interviewer challenges your lack of industry knowledge, ask what they’re really looking for,” she said. “Nine times out of ten, you can solve the problem without deep industry knowledge.”

Shirley echoed early mentors’ thoughts about the value of “basic” skills such as communications. She sees employee communication as one of companies’ biggest challenges right now. People who can devise ways to help employees assimilate information effectively will become more and more valuable.

The small group format of April’s luncheon allowed members to engage in real, unhurried conversation with potential mentors. We’d love to hear about connections you made at the event – comment below, or message me to share your story!

Shout out and thanks to our luncheon sponsors: Leland on Location, Poppulo, and Swift Branded Apparel and Products.

Photos by the multitalented JoEllen Saeli-Lane.

Author’s Note: Suzanne O’Brien works with businesses and organizations to design and execute informational, inspirational and educational initiatives that promote stakeholder experience and satisfaction. Her work is grounded in the conviction that collaborative and creative design yields effective and sustainable solutions.

Share Your Company’s Untold Story

In Case You Missed It… An Overview of our March Networking Luncheon!

A C-level exec I used to work under recently posted this question here on LinkedIn:

WHY? What are some reasons you go to a cybersecurity company? My marketing team asked me that question. I said “to get better at being secure.” Apparently that is not the right answer – so I am asking you – why do you go?

The responses were logical: Because they don’t know what they don’t know. Because of fear. To compensate for weaknesses in their business model. To mitigate risk.

My response was a little different – because my professional focus is communications and engagement, and because I had just attended Doug Busk’s presentation at IABC Atlanta’s March luncheon.

I sketched a story about scary people who work every day to get the information an organization holds about its amazing customers. And how the awesome people at the cybersecurity company do cool, innovative things to protect that information from the bad guys so that the organization’s customers are happy and can read stories to their kids at night.

I hope that Doug, who’s Managing Director at MSLGROUP in Atlanta, would approve.

“Discover your company’s untold story.”

Doug explained to attendees that every company, no matter how big, boring, simple or predictable, has an interesting brand story. Today’s successful communicators and marketers draw out and broadcast the story, making the audience want to be part of it. That relationship is what converts marketing metrics (impressions and likes) into executive metrics (engagement and corporate reputation) that drive the company’s mission.

“Move the ball of corporate reputation by telling stories.”

Real, true stories that reflect a company’s priorities also humanize it. They make it likable. And people want to buy from companies that they like.

Doug encouraged us to experiment with fun and new ways of sharing the stories. Document “the story behind the story.” Try out an emerging social platform. Go into the company’s team to source ideas. While some strategies may prove ineffective, Doug [who is clearly king of the marketing quips] reminded us that we must “test and fail to learn and scale.” A useful method for testing is to couple a small, strong team with smart freelancers who know the tool or process being tested. This enables quick iteration without commitment.

Companies also must bravely partner with the outside world to share the story. Create a web page with timely, ready to use content and images. Give journalists ideas, content, breaking news. Encourage employees to brag about your company. Document your process for quickly responding to breaking news about your company or industry.

Remember the C-level who asked the question at the beginning of this article? The reasons a customer might turn to a cyber-security are multi-fold, but, in the end, not nearly as interesting as the story that draws them there. As Doug pointed out, what matters is the journey there. With that in mind, a smart marketer on my colleague’s team might have responded with: “Because I lost my last job when 1,000 employees’ personal data files were hacked.” That is a story.

Author’s Note: Suzanne O’Brien works with businesses and organizations to design and execute informational, inspirational and educational initiatives that promote stakeholder experience and satisfaction. Her work is grounded in the conviction that collaborative and creative design yields effective and sustainable solutions.

It’s Membership Month at IABC!

It’s a big world out there for professional communicators – but you don’t have to go it alone. Why be a lone wolf when you can be a part of the tribe?

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is unequaled as a resource for community, networking, and professional development. Current members know it, and new members don’t take long to realize the benefits of IABC membership, or to wonder how they ever got along without it. Being a part of the IABC tribe brings you access to the Association’s full range of benefits and opportunities, including conferences, seminars, job postings, and our library of materials for perfecting and furthering the work you do. Above all, membership puts you in contact with a constellation of amazing professional communicators like you, all around the world, in every sector of business, ready to learn from you and help you to grow. Sometimes it takes a village… and sometimes it takes a tribe!

March is Member Month, and while there’s still time, there’s no better time to join the IABC.

Until the end of the month, we’re offering a slew of cool perks and benefits, including:

  • For new and renewing members: a 10% discount on your dues, and a chance to win the drawing for the Grand Prize VIP World Conference Package (details below)
  • For current members who refer new/renewing members: for every new or renewing member who lists you as a referral source, a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card; a year of free membership for five or more successful referrals; and more
  • For chapter leaders: a $200 Visa gift card for small, medium, and large chapters with the greatest net growth

What’s in the Grand Prize VIP World Conference Package? One full conference registration to the 2018 IABC World Conference in Montreal, including three nights of luxury hotel accommodation, shuttle service, conference VIP seating, and more!

There’s no time like the present – start or renew membership with your IABC chapter today, and make 2018 the year you join the tribe!
Join Today

IABC Atlanta Golden Flame Award Winners Share How to Win!

In Case You Missed It… An Overview of our February Networking Luncheon!

There’s a simple recipe for winning a communications project award:

An award-winning communications project entry describes a complete strategy with defined objectives that were measured early and often and then achieved or exceeded.

While simple to define, naturally, the execution is the challenge. And that’s where IABC Atlanta’s February luncheon attendees received not just a few tips, but a wealth of great information. Eric Berrios, VP of Professional Recognition for IABC Atlanta and Director of Strategic Planning at Realm, facilitated a panel of 2017 IABC Atlanta Golden Flames Awards winners as they briefed us on their companies’ award-winning projects and shared entry creation tips.

Andrea Dempsey from Newell Brands presented the strategy for her team’s social media management of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, a three-day fishing tournament.

The team’s success was rooted in extensive planning (and contingency planning). They prepared video, image, and written content based on anticipated scenarios. During the event, the content was deployed and recycled according to real-time changes.

“Just because your event will be unpredictable doesn’t mean you should plan less,” said Dempsey. “If anything, you should plan more.”

Newell Brands also found high value in leveraging platform tools such as geo-targeted Facebook and Twitter ads to personalize communication with interested audiences.

Lee Birdsong presented Southern Company’s creation of an updated corporate brand. Their objective was to develop a contemporary brand that is tied closely to company strategy and recognizes the company’s recent and future growth along with its energy sector leadership.

The team interviewed and surveyed stakeholders, evaluated and questioned the answers, summarized what they had learned, and shared it with the design team. Birdsong emphasized revisiting project and company objectives as each project decision is encountered so that the project remains on target.

After many iterations, the Southern Company team landed on a brand and logo that, even to a layperson, clearly met the objectives defined at the beginning of the project.

A comprehensive internal and external rollout solidified the project. Their primary focus was on internal audiences, though. “When you get employees to be ambassadors of your brand, they will be ambassadors to your community,” said Birdsong.

Swati Joshi of GE Power and Thom Gonyeau of Mountain View Group partnered to create the Golden Flames Best in Show award winner, an anthem video for GE’s Power Services.

“Our goal was to capture the hearts and minds of our customers and employees,” said Joshi. That meant creating a video that appealed to and reflected the company’s global presence. So the team traveled across the world for footage and included all types of stakeholders in the video – employees, customers, and end users of their services.

Joshi and Gonyeau emphasized the value of high production quality and creating an emotional connection with the audience. They agreed with the rest of the panel that a clear strategy, message, and measurable objectives are key to success.

For more about the luncheon panelists and 2017 IABC Atlanta Golden Flame winners, visit the IABC event page.

Photos by Leland Holder of Leland on Location.

Author’s Note: Suzanne O’Brien works with businesses and organizations to design and execute informational, inspirational and educational initiatives that promote stakeholder experience and satisfaction. Her work is grounded in the conviction that collaborative and creative design yields effective and sustainable solutions.

Kick Off the Year with a Plan for Better Balance

In Case You Missed It… An Overview of our January Networking Luncheon!

IABC Atlanta launched its 2018 monthly luncheon series with a seasonally-appropriate discussion on work-life balance and optimization.

Corporate leadership speaker, coach and author Tricia Molloy facilitated an inspirational exercise in identifying our motivations, values and natural gifts to help us prioritize the pursuit of our professional and personal goals.

To identify which aspirations are most important (and why), we began by creating our personal “balance lists” – quickly documenting our lives from such perspectives as work, family, home, relationships, health, finances and spirituality. Rating our level of satisfaction in each area helped us decide which we will focus on improving this year. “There’s no such thing as perfect balance,” coached Molloy. “We’re not looking for a 10 in all areas of life. We’re looking for satisfaction.”

Motivation + Values + Natural Gifts = My Purpose

The second half of the session focused on strategies for success in pursuing change in the areas we prioritized. Purpose is the foundation of everything we do and the decisions we make. “Each decision brings you closer or further away from your purpose,” said Molloy.

Other important strategies include managing our energy and creating the space by clearing out clutter. Citing her 2006 (updated 2012) book Working with Wisdom: 10 Universal Principles for Enlightened Entrepreneurs, she recommended the use of positive affirmations, along with mindfulness and authenticity.

Finally, Molloy armed us with a tool for documenting our balance commitments. “When you know why you want more balance—what you would do if you had more time, energy and other resources—then it’s easier to make changes, learn new skills and develop better habits,” she assured us. “Your ‘Why,’ like more time with your family, becoming healthier or advancing in your career, will keep you focused and motivated.” She sent us off with a final compelling story about the modern-day treasure hunter Mel Fisher and this question: “What treasure are you searching for?”

About the Speaker

Tricia Molloy is a corporate leadership speaker on work-life balance and achieving goals. She presents keynote talks and vision board workshops at conferences and for organizations like Marriott, the CDC and Kellogg. She also owns Molloy Communications, a public relations firm. For more information on her speaking and coaching programs, visit triciamolloy.com. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Author’s Note: Suzanne O’Brien works with businesses and organizations to design and execute informational, inspirational and educational initiatives that promote stakeholder experience and satisfaction. Her work is grounded in the conviction that collaborative and creative design yields effective and sustainable solutions.

New Year, New Face for IABC Atlanta

In January, IABC Atlanta launched our new and improved website. The clean design, slick integration with IABC Atlanta’s social media channels and easy user interface were the vision of incoming Co-VP of Communications, Cassidy Herrold. After the January luncheon, I sat down with Cassidy to learn more about her creative vision for the new face of IABC Atlanta.

What was your vision for the new IABC website?
Our website is a driving force in promoting our mission, which is to increase awareness that clear communications drive businesses. IABC Atlanta is the premier community for communications professionals, so our website needs to empower our site users to find event/networking information quickly and intuitively. The new site demonstrates our global impact by integrating the latest IABC brand guidelines to create a cohesive brand image. The new site provides robust communication resources and focuses on creating an engaging experience that connects individuals, organizations and influencers. We are really confident that the new IABC Atlanta website will position our chapter well as we work to extend our reach, support our community, and grow membership.

Tell us about some of the new features that you are most excited about on the new site?
Many of the changes were made with our end users in mind, to make the event registration process easier and more interactive. Below are some of the key new features:

  • EVENT CALENDAR – The new website features a detailed calendar with email integration for iCal and Google calendars. Each calendar event lists general information regarding date, location and time, as well as a map and social sharing icons to promote the event on all social channels.
  • LATEST NEWS/PRESS SECTION – The Latest News/Press section is an area to post photos/videos from past luncheons and highlight any notable press for IABC Atlanta.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA FEEDS – With the increased focus on social media, the new site also streams IABC Atlanta’s tweets, posts and YouTube videos through a new social footer on the site. We also focused on integrating share icons on all blog posts, articles and event pages.

Those of us who have done website redesigns in our professional jobs know how much work is involved in a project like this. Was there any part of the design and build that was really challenging? Really fun?
The website redesign, development, and launch went very smoothly! When I started as a committee member, the website redesign was one of the first projects I wanted to tackle and it proved to be the best way to dive into IABC. We are the premiere communications association in Atlanta, and we wanted a website that really reflected the excellence we strive for as a chapter. From redefining the user flow to editing site content, the redesign was a great way to get to know the organization, our mission and our capabilities.

What has your involvement with IABC Atlanta as a committee member meant to you?
I joined because IABC’s mission really resonates with me. IABC empowers a global network of communicators working in diverse disciplines to identify, share, and apply the best communication practices. As a committee member, I value learning from experienced communicators and the vast professional growth opportunities that IABC Atlanta provides.

When you aren’t designing amazing websites, tell us what you do in your day job?
I’m an award-winning, multidisciplinary art director & designer at Mountain View Group with a love of smart ideas and an eye for pixel perfection. I have worked with a variety of clients (from Fortune 100 companies to small startups) with my core strengths in brand identity, interaction design, UI/UX, environmental design, film/photography, content creation and digital analytics. I design brand logos and identities for nationally recognized clients, and I have extensive experience creating brand guidelines/visual identity systems to ensure a consistent corporate identity. I develop, design, and launch interactive experiences, including multiple websites and mobile apps. Certified in both Google AdWords and Analytics, I also create strategic social media campaigns that exceed online traffic goals.

At IABC Atlanta, we know many of our members and volunteers have the support of their employers for their participation in our chapter’s work. Smart employers know that good communication drives business in the Atlanta community. Can you tell us more about Mountain View Group?
Mountain View Group is a creative agency specializing in corporate marketing, strategic communications, and culture transformation through storytelling, digital content, and design. For 30 years, Mountain View has worked with a diverse set of clients including GE, Raytheon, The Coca-Cola Company, Alcon, UPS, and CSM Bakery Solutions, among others. They help to build exceptional brand experiences and to bring clarity to communications that are crisp, compelling and authentic.

Special Thanks! IABC Atlanta would like to thank Whitney Parks of Parks Evolution Marketing, for her critical role in this project and and the members of the IABC Board who helped review and create content for the new website.

Written by: JoEllen Saeli-Lane, Co-VP of Communications, IABC Atlanta

7 Tips for Creating an Internal Communication Plan that Effectively Engages Employees

Communication planning season is upon us! Throw the confetti and bring out the glasses of wine.

Communication teams are brainstorming, planning, and putting the finishing touches on their 2018 plans, or so I hope. Effective communication is the result of intentional planning and identification of specific tactics that will achieve organizational goals.

While most communication plans are created with external audiences in mind, it is imperative that internal audiences remain at the forefront of all communication planning.

An organization’s success begins with its ability to engage and inform its employees. They are the gatekeepers to an organization’s overall performance and profitability, so it is vital that they understand how their daily tasks align and contribute to the organization’s goals and strategies.

If you have completed your 2018 internal communication plans, hats off to you. If you have not, do not fear.

Here are seven tips to consider when creating your internal communication plan.

1. Use Polls or Surveys to Identify Areas of Improvement

Create a poll or survey to identify improvement areas for your current plan. If you have time, create a survey that focuses on specific areas you suspect need improvement. Use open-ended questions to solicit feedback.

If you are short on time or work in an environment in which the employees are pressed for time, consider using a poll. Select one or two questions that you think would really help with updating the communication plan.

For example, ask employees if they are satisfied with the current communication vehicles used to distribute information. Do they feel the information distributed is useful? What would they change about the current internal communications?
These questions are quick and to the point. Employees are more likely to participate and provide feedback.

2. Interview Current Employees

Employees are a valuable resource to use when attempting to gauge the organization’s culture and climate. Interview a few to get their opinion of what the company is doing well in regards to employee engagement, as well as what the company could improve on. Use their responses to come up with topics or themes for the company newsletter, blog post, event planning, or even providing feedback to senior managers and executives.

3. Listen … No, Really Listen

You have conducted surveys, polls, and interviews, now make sure you take those responses and really listen to the needs, desires, and feelings of your internal audience. They trusted you enough to share their thoughts and opinions, use that information to make a better strategy to communicate and engage them in 2018.

Effective listening is one of the most crucial skills to have. It is also one of the hardest to apply. We all have a lot going on and it is easy to “zone-out” when you should be listening. It takes a conscious effort to remain in the present and not drift away.

But you must do it. If you are serious about improving your organization’s internal communications, listen to the needs of your internal audience and try to address those needs in the upcoming year.

You will not be able to address them all, but pick a few and be intentional about bringing those issues to the forefront throughout the year. The employees will be appreciative and more likely to participate in future surveys, interview, and polls.

There is nothing more frustrating as an employee than taking the time to respond to a survey or poll only to find out your concerns have fallen on deaf ears. If for some reason you are unable to address a concern, be transparent and give a reason why it may not be addressed in the upcoming year.

Transparency and honesty go a long way in gaining the trust and respect of the employees.

4. Keep Up with Technology

This is a difficult task, no doubt, but very necessary. Technology continues to change how we communicate with one another and it shows no signs of slowing down. As a communicator, you must stay informed of these changes because they could affect your communication goals or the decisions you make about distributing information.

You can stay abreast with the help of social media, your IT personnel, articles, and professional associations.

Being informed about upcoming technologies can help with planning your communication needs in the future. Does your company need to upgrade? Can the system be used by all departments? Is it a system used by communicators only? Will it enhance your current system and increase productivity?

These are all questions that need to be asked when deciding if the latest technology will be beneficial in communicating with internal stakeholders.

5. Use Multiple Communication Channels, If Necessary

Different communication channels are needed depending on the complexity of the message being delivered. Many times, you need to use multiple channels to ensure the message is received efficiently and in a format, that provides clarity.

Decide if the message is complicated or will elicit strong feelings. If so, a face-to-face meeting or broadcast media may be appropriate. Allowing the audience to interact with the speaker can absolve doubt and fear. The audience also has the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the speaker.

Mobile channels can be used to deliver private, complex messages to individuals or small groups. The audience is able to interpret the speaker’s tone and message. Mobile channels can save on time and difficulty it may take to coordinate a face-to-face meeting.

If the message is less personal, consider using email, websites, intranet, or social media. However, make sure the message is clear and to the point.
Messages that need little to no interaction can be delivered in the written form: policies, letters, announcement, etc.

Use a combination of these channels to make sure the message is being delivered in the most efficient manner.

6. Be Transparent

Consult with senior management and executives to determine a policy for sharing information. Lack of information in a timely manner leads to rumors and anxiety. Employees feel distrust and detachment from the organization when they are kept in the dark.

Of course, you cannot share everything, but senior leadership should make every effort to share information about what is going on in the organization and how it will affect its employees. If change is coming down the pipeline, address the changes to expect.

Frequently sharing information on a consistent basis will help strengthen the employee’s commitment to the organization. Remember they are adults and would rather hear bad news than no news.

7. Determine Your Metrics

Last, but certainly not least, identify the metrics you will use to define success. Decide if your definition of a successful internal communications campaign is defined by social shares, employee engagement metrics, or the number of employees logging onto the intranet.

Will you use surveys and polls throughout the year? If so, at what intervals? What are you looking for in your analysis of the data collected? Are you measuring likes, comments, and shares on an article? Did a topic really get employees talking? Was the company picnic and holiday party a success because of information gathered from employees?

Whatever you decide to use should measure results that move the organization towards its goals for 2018.

Conclusion

Communications planning can be overwhelming and stressful, but the tips above should help you in identifying factors you should consider when developing your plan.

I hope 2018 is your best year of communicating internally!

Author’s Note: Lisa Maxime is founder of Zemy Enterprises, a communications consulting firm providing sustainable, forward-thinking communications strategies and solutions to businesses looking to increase organizational performance and profitability. For more information on how Zemy can help your company engage, empower, and execute visit us at www.lisamaxime.com

Crisis Communications: Are You Prepared?

Strategies to help your company craft messages that manage crises

The expansion of the internet has made it easier than ever for consumers to engage with brands. Consumer engagement can come in the form of praises over a new product, service, or outstanding customer service. It can also be negative in nature — the wrong product or a bad customer experience. The latter usually receives the most attention.

Social media is usually the preferred choice of engagement and companies should be prepared to respond to engagement that could do damage to their brand’s reputation.

A timely response is essential. Long gone are the days brands are able to ignore negative comments and conduct business as usual. Consumers are paying close attention to how brands respond to negative chatter, particularly if that chatter relates to political, racial, or social issues.

The audience your brand serves doesn’t matter, your targeted audience expects you to respond in a manner consistent with your brand’s values.

The Institute for Public Relations defines a crisis as an event that poses significant threat to operations and can have negative consequences if not handled properly.

Is your company prepared to respond to a crisis? Do you have a crisis communication plan and team established?

If not, now is the time to assemble a crisis communication plan for your company. The question is not, if a crisis will occur … but when it will occur. A timely response is paramount. The longer it takes your brand to respond to a crisis event, the more damage your brand’s reputation endures.

Creating a crisis communication plan is not difficult, but it requires strategic planning and thought. To help you better manage the creation of the plan, let’s separate it into three phases: pre-crisis, mid-crisis, and post-crisis.

Each phase provides a few strategies to help you create and implement a crisis communication plan specific to your company’s mission and needs.

Pre-Crisis

  1. Identify Team Members: Meet with senior executives and identify members to serve on your company’s Crisis Communication Team (CCT). This team should consist of the company’s CEO and representatives from: public relations (PR), legal, and major divisions within the organization. This team should also include subject matter experts in the event that the response requires technical language. A crisis manager should also be identified, someone who will lead and organize events related to response from start to finish.Your legal representative should understand that “no comment” is not an acceptable answer during a crisis. It conveys guilt and suspicion to the public. They should work closely with the PR representative to approve language that adequately addresses the situation without compromising possible legal issues.
  2. Create Crises Scenarios: Plan brainstorming sessions with your CCT. Think of all the potential crises that could threat your brand’s reputation. Consider all the issues in society that could cause your consumer to engage with your brand outside of the products and services you provide to the market. These issues could be political, racial, societal, environmental, etc.Look at the current issues circulating and study how other brands have responded. Create a response to those issues based on your brands values and mission. Think of how the crisis event could affect other areas of your company and prepare a plan to mitigate damage to areas such as operations and personnel.An assessment checklist can serve as a framework for an efficient and effective response.
  3. Identify & Train Authorized Spokespersons: One or more persons should be identified and authorized to speak on the company’s behalf. This person should ideally be the CEO or a senior level executive. They should be pre-screened and trained to convey a clear and consistent message using multiple channels of communications.Identifying a spokesperson while in the line of fire could be a poor and costly decision.Ensure the spokespersons are professionally trained to speak to the media. You want to avoid your organization’s message being misconstrued or misinterpreted. Proper training will prepare your spokesperson to optimally deliver the message to all stakeholders.

Mid-Crisis

  1. Define Your Stakeholders: It is important to define those affected by the crises. It will help you craft a message that resonates with them and their concerns about the event. Your stakeholders are internal and external, don’t forget to address your internal stakeholder. They may have questions and concerns about how the event affects them on a professional level.
  2. Develop Talking Points: It will take time to develop a strategic response applicable to the crisis event. Talking points can be prepared in advance based on the scenarios developed during the pre-crisis phase.Your organization will save time and be able to respond quickly while a more in-depth message is developed. Remember time is a critical factor when responding to a crisis.Review your talking points often and determine if they require revision and/or creation of additional talking points for different scenarios.
  3. Prepare a Transparent and Thoughtful Response: Consumers are not expecting you to be perfect, however, they are expecting you to address their concerns and/or negative comments about your organization. Don’t ignore or cover up the issue, it makes the organization look like they don’t care about the customers.If you are not informed about the issue, be honest and ask for time to look into the issue and become informed. If you made a mistake, apologize, and outline a corrective action plan.Put thought and effort into your response. It shows that you care about the consumers’ concerns and you’re willing to go above and beyond to address the problem.A carefully constructed and thoughtful response builds trust and allows you to foster a nurturing relationship with your customers. Your customers will appreciate it and become champions for your brand.Word-of-mouth referrals are more powerful than your own brand messaging.

Post-Crisis

  1. Finalize Crisis-Specific Messaging: After disseminating your talking points, finalize messaging specific to crises for any given situation. By now, your team knows what type of information stakeholders require and what messaging your company wants to convey to the public. Be brief and simple, identify a few main messages for all stakeholders and more targeted messaging for individual groups of stakeholders.Don’t forget to plan for your social media platforms.
  2. Conduct an After-Crisis Analysis: What went wrong? What went right? What did we learn? How can we improve?Those are all questions that need to be asked and analyzed. Decide who will be a part of the after-crisis analysis and who will work on the items identified for improvement.

Final Thoughts

Crisis Communication planning is an on-going process of analyzing and improving.

Today’s consumer is progressively aware of the issues affecting the many areas of our lives. It is imperative that your organization identify issues that may possibly threaten your brand’s reputation.

The steps outlined above will help you begin to create a framework to mitigate any threats your brand could sustain to its reputation during a crisis.

There’s power in preparedness.

Author’s Note: Lisa Maxime is founder of Zemy Enterprises, a business consulting firm providing sustainable, forward-thinking marketing & communications strategies and solutions to small and mid-size businesses. For more information on how Zemy can help your company envision, execute, and engage visit us at www.lisamaxime.com

Meet Our Members: Uli Dendy

What’s your name, job, Twitter handle, etc.?
Ulrike Dendy, Uli for short, CEO of TrueLanguage LLC. @ulidendy

How long have you been an IABC Atlanta member?
TrueLanguage was invited to join IABC in 2012. I’ve gotten much more closely involved with the association in the last couple of years.

Why did you join and what has kept you with the association?
I joined because IABC’s vision and the vision of my company are in total alignment. IABC enables a global network of communicators working in diverse industries and disciplines to identify, share, and apply the world’s best communication practices. We facilitate communication across borders. As an active member, I value listening and learning from other communicators, and sharing our cultural and linguistic knowledge. We like to think we help emphasize the “I” in “IABC”!

What do you love most about communications?
Communication is never the same. The message is always different and every audience has different needs. How can we ensure that the message is understood? Should we use an eLearning environment, an infographic, a video component? What should it be for different cultures? Is it enough to offer the content in the local language or do we need to support the trainer with an interpreter? Every project is a dialogue – we communicate with the creator of the message, the linguist and the audience. Each new project that helps a client grow also lets us deepen our knowledge of various industries, and of how different cultures handle tricky language situations.

What do you see on the horizon for your line of work?
Technological solutions for collaboration and machine-assisted translation are enabling us to handle more content with faster turn-around times. However, the challenge of understanding the message and ensuring that it is localized without loss of meaning will remain the same. We’ll be able to think less about the logistics of translation, and give complete attention to perfecting the message in every language.

What is the strangest communication request you have ever received?
Atlanta’s growing status as a media/entertainment center has given us some cool projects with the video game and television fields. Our translators were really excited to work on material for tours of shooting locations for The Walking Dead! But the strangest? Once we were asked to verify that a certain word meant absolutely nothing… in every language. There are over 6000 living languages, so we had to scale it down quite a bit.

Tell us something your IABC colleagues might be surprised to learn about you?
They might be surprised to know that I was a dog obedience and agility trainer for 10 years and was very active in dog rescue. I don’t train dogs anymore, but I’m still supporting Georgia Jack Russell Rescue.

Books on your nightstand?
Right now, I’m re-reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I’ve got a cool personal connection with this book: it’s based on real people, and the doctor in the story is based on the brother of someone I know.

Favorite Atlanta spot?
Sope Creek Park in Marietta is one of my favorite places to go, for hiking and biking. I also love going to Actors Express whenever I can. My daughter is a professional actress, it’s a fun way to support the arts!