The (almost) first half of 2017 has yielded no shortage of cringe-worthy communications missteps. Pepsi, United Airlines, American Airlines, Uber and, most recently, Fox News, have topped more news cycles than they’d care to, and most certainly not for the right reasons.
We’ve sucked in our breath more than a few times since the ball dropped on 2016, and with that in mind we’ve rounded up some of the best tips from our agency’s communications pros on how companies can work towards a better end to 2017. Read them, learn them, hope you never need them, but please – keep them top of mind. May the Fourth be with you.
Vehr’s tips for a less cringe-worthy end to 2017:
Companies must be better today than they were yesterday. Smartphones capture everything 24/7. Social media gives every citizen journalist more juice than a byline at the New York Times (a good, albeit scary, reality). Make sure that each associate understands and lives by your mission and values. Even your newest, entry-level associate is a representative of your brand. (Laura Phillips, President and Counselor)
Stop the corporate speak and be human. And see others as human, too. Afterall, all businesses are in the people business. (Stacy Stufft, Counselor)
For today’s CEO, accept that social media places a premium on truth. United Airlines’ and Uber’s CEOs have learned this the hard way. A CEO’s job is to foster and nurture a culture that enables, empowers and rewards employees to think and act rationally and to put the customer first. (Nick Vehr, CEO)
Always focus on your customers – internal and external – and you will be fine. (Michael Perry, Vice President and Counselor)
Get out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to look at your brand in a way that doesn’t limit creativity or resources. (Dan Guttridge, Account Executive)
Have a plan in the event of a crisis. Know who your spokespeople are and make sure any statement you make is genuine. (Mikayla Williams, Account Coordinator)
Where Pepsi dropped the ball, Heineken picked it up and ran with it for a touchdown. In 2017, there are more metrics at our disposal than we could ever hope to use or understand, but brands can’t forget about genuine human connection. Data doesn’t always tell the whole story. (Molly Ryan, Account Manager)
Slow down and actually think through things before you act. If you would be okay with something that you said or did being a headline in the morning paper, then, fine, go ahead and act. Maybe take a vacation and do nothing but read books by people different from you (self-improvement books a plus). We owe it to each other (and ourselves) to just be better. (Suzanne Buzek, Account Manager)
A crisis is usually not the time to be defensive. Take a step back and listen to those who are criticizing your organization. You might learn a thing or two. (Jackie Koopman, Account Manager)
Be prepared and practice. Implement a spokesperson training session (that includes mock interviews and professional critiques) for those who speak to the media, public, employees, board or any mission-critical audience about any issues that may arise. (Pepper Peale, Counselor)
Remember that your marketing/communications team isn’t solely responsible for positive PR. Everyone in your company is – especially customer-facing associates. What they say and do can and will be remembered for years (decades?) to come. Make sure they’re consistently trained on how to interact with customers and to be good stewards of your brand. (Darcy Schwass, Sr. Account Executive)
Actually get to know your target demographic – don’t just assume that you do. Do the research. And, it’s probably safe to say you shouldn’t hire a Kardashian to be your spokesperson. (Lindsay Horan, Marketing Manager)
We live in anxious times. Unsettled political events, threats of terrorism, stifled economic growth, job insecurity, global and regional health crises are but a few examples. Avoid unnecessary stress for your workforce and be sensitive to what your customers are experiencing. Being perceived as “tone deaf” in your company’s outreach, advocacy and operations will receive a quick and painful rebuke from today’s consumer. Just ask Pepsi. (Nick Vehr, CEO)
So, there are things you can do to avoid those cringe-worthy moments we see all too often from companies that should know better.
Bottom line: the best defense to protect your brand is to have a good offense – develop a plan in advance, stay true to your brand values, respect your customers and think before you act or react.