How to save your reputation from the digital mob (review of Molly McPherson’s Indestructible)

You said or did something stupid.

And now you’re being called out on social media by the digital mob. Reporters, your employees and customers are watching from the sidelines.

What you do next will seal your fate. Do it wrong and you’ll get yourself cancelled. You may very well lose your job, your business and your reputation.

Now is not the time to throw yourself a pity party, run and hide or hope the mob gets bored and moves on to its next target.

“The online shunning is not random nor is it unfair,” says Molly McPherson, author of Indestructible and an expert in public relations and crisis response in the digital age.

“The people who are targeted for cancellation or the brands that find themselves in the public’s crosshairs are in that position for a reason.

“The outrage is typically not from the questionable act that took the notice of the public, but from an inadequate response to the questionable act. The blowback is caused by a collective repudiation of the response itself or the hubris behind it.”

Brace yourself for extinction-level blowback if you’re defiant, snarky, tone deaf or slow off the mark.

McPherson has a far better three-step response that can save your reputation.

Own it. Acknowledge and accept responsibility for what you’ve said or done. Be sincere, humble and show genuine remorse. “An apology is critical to rebuilding a reputation and shows respect to people impacted or victimized by an incident. Accepting responsibility may seem risky, but it’s far riskier from a reputational point of view to try and avoid it.”

Clarify it. Give background that puts what you said or did in context. Explain, but don’t try to excuse, yourself. Use your weekend words when explaining yourself. “Speak to your stakeholders in a language they understand. Speak clearly and as jargon-free as possible.”

Promise it. Put yourself on the path to redemption. Announce your plans, priorities and the changes to come. Take real steps to make amends. “It goes without saying that this is not the time for token efforts – you’ll need to show how serious you are about mending the situation if you expect your reputation to emerge intact without being cancelled.”

And if you do these three steps, you have a shot at winning it and not getting yourself cancelled.

McPherson sees the same mistake being repeated by leaders facing a digital revolt. “The most dangerous thing a leader can do the moment they hear of pushback from the public is dismissal. They dismiss the complaint. They dismiss the complainer. They dismiss the power of social media. I have never, ever worked on or have been aware of a situation in which such dismissal hasn’t hurt a business in the short or long term.”

So why are leaders so quick to dismiss and make things worse for themselves? The number one reason is fear, says McPherson. “Fear of consumers rising up against their leadership. Fear of social media. Fear of information taken out of context.”

There are also leaders who still believe everything is private unless and until they chose to release it. The game has changed, says McPherson. Not only do we want information, we expect it on demand. “Being told ‘no’ is an invitation to ask again and to ask even harder because the reluctance to share arouses suspicion.”

In a world where everything you say and do can and likely will be used against you on social media, McPherson says leaders now more than ever need to practice honesty, humility, genuineness, transparency, responsiveness, relevance and accountability “Leading with these core values will help you navigate the environment and digital landscape in ways that older, outdated paradigms will not.”

So if you find yourself being called out online, silence, denial, defiance and non-apologies are not winning strategies. McPherson will show you a far better way to avoid getting cancelled and come out of a crisis with your reputation intact.

This review ran in the July 17th edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

27 years in public relations turned into a 30-minute early morning walk & talk

If you’ve reached the end of Netflix, you can watch me talk about public relations while wandering through the woods for 30 minutes.

Prof Wayne Aubert asked if I’d offer up some wisdom for Advertising students in an upcoming class. So I turned 27 years of working in PR into a half-hour stream of consciousness (with just 15 minutes worth of filler & origin story).

Rather than record a lecture from the basement bunker / home office / spare bedroom, I went for an early morning walk & talk.

I made the case for why introverts can excel at PR, what I enjoy most & least about PR, the core foundational skill for PR pros plus some thoughts on crisis comms, media relations, social media, how to land a job, a couple shout-outs for Professor Aubert but no war stories.

Field notes from a marketing and communications conference (25 takeaways)

field notes

Here are my top 25 content marketing, social media, video, issues management and crisis comms takeaways from the 2nd annual Marketing & Communications for Post-Secondary Conference held May 7 – 9 in Toronto. The conference was produced by Summers Direct and Swansea Communications and presented by Academica Group.

Highly recommend this conference for anyone working in marketing or communications with colleges or universities and looking for some inspiration. You too will leave with a book full of notes and ideas.

1.     With content marketing, the sweet spot is the intersection of what your audience wants, what your organization is an expert in and where there’s untapped potential for marrying the two. – Graeme Owens, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

2.     The most engaging and shareable content is helpful, inspiring and entertaining. – Graeme Owens

3.     On social media, visuals are the new headlines. Don’t use stock photos. Shoot your own. Enlist the help of amateur photographers in your organization. – Graeme Owens

4.     68 per cent of Canadians are now on social media. We either use it a lot or not at all. Very few of us are still using social media passively. – Jane Antoniak, King’s University College and Dr. Alex Sevigny, Master of Communication Management Program, McMaster University

5.     Instagram is the fastest growing platform. Seniors are the fastest growing demographic. – Jane Antoniak and Alex Sevigny

6.     Facebook is our 21st century commons. Young people aren’t excited to be there but they’re not leaving in droves. – Jane Antoniak and Alex Sevigny

7.     In managing an issue, borrow from the Arthur W. Page Society playbook. Tell the truth and be patient. Show contrition through your actions. Listen to your stakeholders. Manage for tomorrow. Remain calm, patient and good-humoured. Conduct PR as if the fate of your organization depends on it. – Christine Szustaczek, Sheridan College

8.     Unions are doing a better job than your organization in communicating with your employees. And they’re going to get even better at it as they invest in new technology, including smartphone apps. – Priya Bates, Inner Strength Communications

9.     If what you’re communicating isn’t relevant to the day-to-day realities of your audience, you’re training them to ignore you. – Priya Bates

10. Communicate with the key influencers in your organization. These frontline, on-the-ground, respected and connected influencers are not your formal leaders. – Priya Bates

11. How do you know if employees are engaged? They SAY great things. They STAY with you. And they STRIVE to go above and beyond in their jobs. – Priya Bates

12. If others in your organization can do a better job of telling your story, let me. Harness the power of testimonials from real people. – Michelle Blackwell, UBC Library

13. Content marketing is about creating real value for your audience. Provide a solution. Stop selling and start helping. – Lauren Lord, EDge Interactive

14. Provide your audience with the answers they’re looking for and then supply the information you want to give. – Lauren Lord

15. Online content that will draw an audience to your organization includes how-to tutorials, human interest stories, lists, controversial posts where your organization takes a principled stand, guest articles and videos. – Lauren Lord

16. If content is king, distribution is queen. To get your content out to your audience, know who you’re trying to reach and then use a mix of paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO). Paid social is the best way to generate reliable traffic, to launch a new campaign, boost high-performing content and target specific groups for specific outcomes. – Lauren Lord

17. Instagram Stories is the new television for teens. – Dr. Philip Glennie, Academica Group and Kayla Lewis, Seneca College

18. Consider Takeover Tuesdays and Throwback Thursdays on your social media accounts. Seneca College hands over its Instagram account to students and even incoming students (with supervision from the comms team). The college also posts archival photos from the its 50-year history. – Dr. Philip Glennie and Kayla Lewis

19. Before you can tell your organization’s story, you need to get your audience’s attention. Video is the best way to do that. – Warren Weeks, Weeks Media

20. The most watchable and shareable videos are 30 seconds to 2 ½ minutes, tightly edited and tell a story with an emotional core. – Warren Weeks

21. If your organization has a teleprompter, throw it out or sell it on eBay. Use the money to invest in a light and a mic so your videos don’t have the look and feel of a hostage video. – Warren Weeks

22. In a crisis, it’s not what you want to say. It’s what we need to hear. Anchor your communications in shared, foundational values. Listening is key. – John Larsen, Edelman PR

23. You can’t communicate your way out of a problem. To regain our trust and restore your reputation, you need to take action and fix the problem. Tell us what you’re doing to make things right. This can include telling us you have a longer-term plan with a commitment to report back. – John Larsen

24. Don’t be afraid to pause. Be careful and deliberate. Figure out what’s known and unknown. Validate information. Mistakes can be made by moving too fast. – John Larsen

25. Have clear roles for spokespeople in a crisis. Your PR person POSITIONS the story and provides context. Your subject matter expert PERSUADES (for example, your Chief Information Officer explains what’s being done in the aftermath of a data breach). Your executive presents the PERSONALITY of your organization (this is what we fundamentally believe and stand for). – John Larsen

Recap and evaluation of the 2014 Media Relations Summer Camp at the Hamilton Spectator

UPDATE:

The pitch by Live Different was published in the Aug. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The pitch by the Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries was published in the July 9th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The pitch by the organizers of the BRIGHT Run cancer research fundraiser was published in the July 11th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

2014 Media Camp recap

A record number of more than 30 nonprofits and community groups took part in the 7th annual media relations summer camp (#mediacamp) at The Hamilton Spectator June 24 and 26. The camp aims to help groups make better story pitches and earn more media coverage. The camp is organized by Jane Allison, the Spectator’s manager of community relations, and Jay Robb, director of communications with Mohawk College. The camp is offered free of charge as a thank you to local community builders.

The camp kicked off with Jane  and Jay giving an overview of the four essential elements of a strong story pitch: answer why should I care and why tell the story now, highlight what’s new and find a poster child with a compelling story to tell.

Campers then got a crash course in social media by Chris Farias with kitestring. Chris showed campers how to make your audience  aware, make them care and make them do something. Chris also handed out hot-off-the-press preview copies of Start Spreading the News. All proceeds from the media relations handbook, to be sold as an ebook, will go to Spec Kids Unlimited.

During lunch, Spectator reporter Molly Hayes and photojournalist John Rennison talked with the campers about ways to make it easier for reporters and photographers to cover events and announcements.

In the afternoon, PR pros from the private, public and nonprofit sectors volunteered  to help campers polish and practice story pitches and write mock emails. Special thanks to camp counselors Trish Nelson, Jane George, Grace Diffey, Brent Kinnaird, Kurt Muller, Lise Diebel, Margaret Lintott, Alyssa Lai, Sherry Mousavi, Marie Verdun, Megan Bieksa and Maria Hayes.

The first day of camp ended with an optional tour of the Spectator newsroom and a workshop on how to use Twitter taught by Margaret and Alyssa .

On day two of the camp, Spectator editor Lee Prokaska-Curtis talked about how to submit letters to the editor and op-eds and request editorial board meetings. Lee advised campers to keep letters to around 100 words and op-eds to 750 words. The Spectator receives more than 20 letters a day and has space to publish five.

Campers then got an overview from Jane and Jay on how to work with the media, from pitching stories to giving interviews.

At noon, a Spectator panel from the newsroom reviewed a handout with 18 email pitches from campers.  The panel was asked to provide first impressions and suggestions on how to improve the pitches. Special thanks to reporters Joanna Frketich, columnist Susan Clairmont, photojournalist Barry Gray and editors Cheryl Stepan, Aviva Boxer, Carla Ammerata and Howard Elliott. The panel stressed that less is more in story ptiches. Quickly get to the point and highlight what’s new, why Spectator readers should care and who the reporter could talk with in covering the story.

The camp ended with a hands-on workshop on how to do on-camera interviews, along with how to shoot and edit video. Special thanks to Linda Rourke, Kurt Muller, David Smillie, Scott Summerhayes and Sean Coffey. Linda also gave an overview of how to pitch stories to Hamilton Life on Cable 14.

Presentations from the camp and a Hamilton media contact list were posted on Dropbox.

CAMP EVALUATION

Thirty  campers completed a survey at the end of the camp.

Did you learn anything new about media relations while at media camp

100% yes

Did you gain a better understanding of what reporters and editors are looking for when you pitch a story?

Yes – 100%

Was media camp a good use of your time?

Yes – 100%

Would you recommend media camp to other nonprofits and community groups?

Yes – 100%

What did you value most about media camp?

  • It was great to have the reporter panel go over the pitches. I also really appreciated the opinion piece overview – really useful. Learned a lot. Thanks
  • Up to date media approach instead of old school approach
  • The opportunity to learn how to pitch and who to pitch stories, and that the process isn’t as formal as I’d previously thought.
  • The interaction of reporters and professionals was invaluable. Their in-person delivery of expertise is something that would have been as impactful being delivered without them. It really makes a difference.
  • The information on how to properly pitch a news story and all of the info on how to get press. Having real editors and reporters was a huge plus.
  • Direct advice from media professionals.
  • I really enjoyed the panel of reporters and editors. Their insight was invaluable.
  • The panel with the reporters and editors.
  • Chris Farias was highly engaging and informative.
  • The most beneficial was the media training and panel sessions. Having no insight in the world of traditional media, I found it fascinating.
  • Wow! I have such a fuller understanding of the media.
  • Panel and on-air training
  • Completeness and deeper understanding of the needs of the journalists.
  • Access to reporters, editors, journalism professors. Most importantly, I am leaving with a better understanding of how media works and how much our media (the Spec) care about the community.
  • The booklet we got to take home, full of tips.
  • The upbeat feel of the camp.
  • It was structured to be of value, specifically to nonprofits so they took into account our perspective and resources. I liked how interactive it was and the constructive criticism.
  • The practical tips of what not to do, almost as important as what to do.
  • Being able to work on a real pitch.
  • Learning that we can send out our own media and don’t need to completely depend on mainstream media.
  • Direct access to the professionals who we need to contact.
  • All of the information. A lot of great tips. The media contacts were great.
  • All of the guests were enthusiastic and wanted to be there. It was a great two days.
  • The chance to learn how to pitch a better story.
  • The opportunity to meet other local nonprofit groups.
  • I learned a lot about strategy behind when you may pitch and story / media release and who you should send them to (ie not a mass send to all reporters). Build rapport.
  • The advice from the reporters, specifically, learning that they really care about our community and want to tell our stories.
  • I really appreciated the Q&A with reporters who gave honest feedback about pitches and what not to do.
  • It was also great to be able to put a face to a name to get a sense of how to pitch to them.
  • Hands on experience
  • Direct feedback from journalists and PR specialists.
  • Helps shift thinking.
  • Meeting with other nonprofits
  • Everything was valuable.
  • I like the booklet that was handed out the first day.
  • I valued hearing the perspective of journalists and photojournalists, having feedback from experts and the chance for revision before presenting to media.
  • Learning the ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ of interacting with the media
  • How to speak the news language
  • Developing a pitch for your story.
  • The feedback from the panel on the email / story
  • The workshop on interviewing and videotaping was great.

What’s the one thing you’d change about media camp:

  • I’d like some time at lunch for networking with other groups. there was a lot of content and panels (which was also great) but I would have liked the space at breaks to speak with other groups about their work. Instead of a five minute coffee break, maybe 10 minutes?
  • Nothing
  • Have one-on-one time to work on a pitch with a reporter or counselor. I had questions about our pitch but wasn’t comfortable asking in this forum.
  • A little more break time. Even lunch became a learning session.
  • Promote the different components not just media camp (ie. working with video media, what are print media looking for in a story)
  • Perhaps have more media relations experts. My group ran out of time before everyone had a chance to discuss their story.
  • I would add a hands-on how to create video with our smartphones. I would also linke to hear from previous alumni from the program on how they are currently engaging the media.
  • A little thing but have the tour of the newsroom and the Twitter 101 at separate times. I really wanted to see the newsroom but wanted insights into Twitter more.
  • More practice on how to focus on your message verbally.
  • Maybe practice interviews in small groups or with partners.
  • At the segment on the first day where we work with our counselors, having time to work one on one on our pitch would help. The group approach was helpful too – just having some one-on-one time would help.
  • More opportunity to connect with other organizations and the media.
  • More time to talk with the counselors about our pitch.
  • The groups at the end involved a lot of standing around which was tiring.
  • I thought I would hate on-camera time, but now that is done I think more hands-on time would be great. I would like to know more about framing / editing.
  • Start at 9 a.m.
  • Nothing
  • Would have been nice to have a longer period of time with camp counselors.
  • Nothing
  • Perhaps on Day 2 afternoon have options such as video / photography. There was some overlap at stations (maybe overlap was beneficial thought)
  • More time to get to know other organizations – I’d be happy to go till 4 or 5 p.m. and then have a lunch break to get to know other nonprofits attending
  • Longer, more, more, more, more

Other comments:

  • Thank you!!
  • Thank you
  • Thank you
  • Awesome event. It was a lot of fun.
  • Thank you!
  • Absolutely fascinating! Great job and thanks for having this opportunity.
  • I love it! I am like a kid in a candy store. So much info! Thanks so much.
  • Thank you so much Jane and Jay.
  • Great job. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you so much for doing this
  • Very cool
  • Great camp! Enjoyed learning about cost-effective technologies for nonprofits to be able to produce their own media
  • Really great camp, thank you! La Luna lunch was awesome.
  • Jane and Jay are the new Abbott and Costello
  • Thank you for this opportunity – amazing. Very valuable.
  • This was a great workshop. Very well organized, informative and definitely impacted our approach to PR. The most helpful and directly applicable that I’ve been to.
  • Excellent! Perfect! The only way to improve – more.
  • Thank you very much