Want to Encourage People to Get Vaccinated? Here are some tips.

If you’re like a lot of communicators right now, one of the challenges you may face is trying to encourage employees and others to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to them.

As the distribution of the vaccine continues and ramps up, your stakeholders will have the opportunity to get vaccinated, which can have a beneficial impact on them, their families and your organization.

Still, many are wary of vaccines, and this one in particular may give them pause due to the fears many may have over the COVID virus itself, the newness of the vaccine or other factors.

With this in mind, here are some tips to prepare the way for access to the vaccine.

Tap the power of modeling

Lead by example. If you want others to get the vaccine, if you meet the health requirements for getting one yourself, get it. Leaders need to be role models. It’s one of the most persuasive strategies for communication. When people see other people exhibiting model behavior, they are more prone to follow it.

Showcase peers and colleagues who are getting vaccinated

This is an extension of modeling, but it delves deeper into the organization. While you don’t need to make a show of someone actually receiving the vaccination, testimonials from across the organization from individuals who plan to get vaccinated, or who have been vaccinated can be very effective. This is not to say you should pressure employees to be vaccinated. Quite the opposite. Create a positive and encouraging environment, respectful of individual choices and factors, while at the same time showcasing those who are vaccinated.

Emphasize the benefits of vaccination

When you emphasize the benefits of vaccination, you provide real incentive for people to want to be vaccinated. When people get vaccinated, they can go to the workplace with more confidence, meet with others, spend time with friends and family they haven’t seen in a while, feel better about their own health, know they are protecting others, and know that they are doing their part to help your organization and society get back to a sense of normalcy.

Acknowledge specific concerns

Some may have health or religious concerns over being vaccinated. It’s important not to minimize these concerns. Recognize them and respect them. To be sure, many people have a history of a certain sensitivity to drugs or medical treatments and may not want to risk adverse health effects by taking the vaccine. Even if the organization has a vaccination mandate in place, the law in most states makes certain exceptions. It’s important to be sensitive to these exceptions.

Provide vaccine perks

You may be able to offer time off to be vaccinated or as a reward for being vaccinated. You may be able to conduct a raffle for anyone who has been vaccinated. Within the boundaries of good taste and ethics, you can incentivize people to get vaccinated in the same way you would promote any workplace safety program.

Of course, there are other ideas, but these are a few to get started. If you’re wondering how you can promote vaccination in your organization, I’d be happy to talk with you. Feel free to call me at 412.854.8845 or sent an email to timobrien@timobrienpr.com.

What was Said in 2020 Stays in 2020

Are you ready for 2021? I am. There is no small list of things that I won’t miss about 2020, including some words and terms that are cringey reminders of what we’ve all just been through.

So, in 2021 I vow not to waste time on a few of them. These are a few words and terms I intend to leave behind me in 2020:

The New Normal – Let’s face it, the “new normal” is abnormal and will always be abnormal. I prefer normal or even better-than-normal. I don’t like the new normal or the sub-normal. So it is that  I choose to leave “the new normal” here in 2020. Instead, I will pursue “normal” in 2021. Others may feel differently, and they are free to do so. But don’t expect me to join them.

Social Distancing – Yes, I know. We may have to keep a safe distance for a time after the New Year, but I’m done with the term. I’ll do what I need to do but I’m leaving this language in 2020. If you want to talk about “social distancing,” how to do it, who’s doing it, who’s not doing it, and who should do it in 2021, find someone else.

Lockdowns – They happened in 2020. As more data and analysis comes out, lockdowns seem to have worked, particularly in those first 15 days to slow the spread of a virus. After that, even experts are  divided on their effectiveness.  One thing we do know, lockdowns have had devastating effects on the economy, families and communities. With all that we continue to learn, combined with the new treatments, a new vaccine, and now the use of commonly understood mitigation efforts, you could say I’m done with discussing lockdowns.

Dr. Anthony Fauci – I never knew who Dr. Anthony Fauci was before 2020, and nothing against him personally, but I look forward to a time when I forget his name.

Reimagine – In my work, I’ve always been extremely sensitive to terms that are propagandist in nature and have worked really hard to avoid them. This is one of those terms. When an artist says he wants to reimagine impressionist theory, I’m cool with that. Or, when an architect says she wants to reimagine the family living space, I say, “Go for it.” But when the word “reimagine” is used to justify arbitrary budget cuts, unnecessary elimination of jobs, destruction of industries or organizations, then you’re not reimagining anything. You’re tearing it down or tearing it apart. Be honest.

Remote work/remote learning – Prior to 2020, I really liked these concepts. In fact, I’ve worked from a home office for many years and love it, and I have no intention of changing it. But the work-from-home craze that erupted out of the collective response to the pandemic is getting old. While I recognize that remote work and remote learning are going to effect larger change in the way organizations function, I look forward to seeing how it will work out for those who actually like it. And for those who don’t like it, I look forward to a time when they can go back to the office or the classroom wherever they are most happy. I have the sense that when everyone is where they want to be, we’ll all be a little bit happier.

Misinformation or disinformation – The words aren’t new but they took on new meaning in 2020. Ironically (but not coincidentally), they are terms more commonly associated with propaganda strategies, but the words themselves are now used to drive propagandist tactics. The words have been weaponized by those who want to discredit someone else’s opinion, facts, or thoughts.

In short, while misinformation is described as the unethical deceptive use of information, often as not in 2020, when someone accused someone else of spreading misinformation, it was they who armed the word to deceive.

In 2020, if someone didn’t like what they heard or who delivered the message, they may have resorted to calling the content “disinformation” or “misinformation.” In other words, if you agree with me that’s truth, that’s fact. If you disagree, well, that’s misinformation. In my work in public relations, these are fad words. As long as I’ve been in the PR business (and before that in the news media), I’ve seen how people have been coming up with words and terms to discredit those they oppose.

Because this is an issue that will likely demand more of my attention in 2021, I most likely will have more to say on this in other contexts, but one thing you can be sure of, you won’t catch me using these words in the normal course.

Curation – Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? Museum directors are curators. They catalog dinosaur bones and taxidermied wildlife or insects. Sometime in the last five years, someone discovered this word and dusted it off as a way to describe how the big social media platforms “should” take an active interest in our social media posts. When they “curate” they pass value judgements on content to determine who should or should not have a digital voice. Curation is editing at best, censorship at worst. I’m sure this word will gain traction in 2021, but for me, its life cycle ends on December 31st.

As I look ahead to 2021, I think I’m going to replace some of these terms with words like freedom, and faith,  and privacy, and a few others. When I think about this little plan, it already has me looking ahead in a way that reminds me that as hard as 2020 tried to defeat me, it lost.

Here’s to a Happy Holiday season and a really great New Year to you and yours!

∼ ∼ ∼

Tim O’Brien is a veteran corporate communications consultant and crisis communicator who operates O’Brien Communications in Pittsburgh. He’s worked with organizations from Fortune 500 companies, to start-ups and nonprofits. He is honest when others aren’t, he uses words that others won’t, all to help organizations connect in ways they haven’t. He’s also the creator and host of the Shaping Opinion podcast. Reach him at timobrien@timobrienpr.com or on Twitter @OBrienPR.

 

 

 

Tesla Eliminates Its PR Function: People are freaking out

There’s a good chance this is one controversy you haven’t heard about involving Elon Musk. It centers on reports that Musk’s automotive company Tesla has cut its public relations function.

As the New York Post reported, the company has decided it no longer wants to deal with the news media, so it has eliminated its global PR team. This, we are told, means that the media now “has no formal point of contact at the world’s most valuable automaker.”

According to that report and others, all of those who had worked in Tesla’s PR department have either moved elsewhere within the company or left it.

What has made this situation worse is that while Musk enjoys rock star status across a lot of demographics, but especially among Millennials and Gen Z, he’s become widely unpopular in traditional media circles for his criticism of the news media.

In May of 2018, he tweeted: “The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,”

As a result, Musk openly drew battle lines between the media and himself, and presumably the companies he runs.

This has put some journalists in an awkward position. The nature of Musk’s work is extremely appealing to the media. Electric cars, rejuvenated interest in space travel, private start-ups saving international space programs. That’s some pretty cool stuff.

Not to mention that Musk is also known to go counter-culture on occasion, like the time he smoked weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast. In a media climate consumed with celebrity culture, Elon Musk holds all of the ingredients of a media darling. So, the fact that he rejects the news media’s narrative is a slight many can’t accept.

But let’s go back to that tweet of Musk’s. He wasn’t the first to point out the media has lost some of its mojo.  Every year, the mega PR firm Edelman, releases its “Trust Barometer,” and through it we have been able to track the slide in trust between the public and the news media. While the Trust Barometer may say it more gently, it pretty much says the same thing that Musk said in his tweet. The news media is in a crisis of trust.

Communication is Still Happening

So, with regard to the current status of Tesla’s PR function.

The truth is, Tesla does continue to make public disclosures through its Investor Relations department but not a public relations function. To be sure, the disclosures are about as brief and terse as is legally possible, but there is still a function and a process for communication.

Tesla is hardly alone in this. Many companies operate with little to no formal public relations department. I’ve been the de facto PR department for more than a few clients. This is nothing new or unusual.

The key difference here is that Musk doesn’t seem to be masking his dislike of the media.

For their part, some in the PR profession have their noses out of joint over Tesla’s shift away from a formal PR department. The common refrain is that this sets a dangerous precedent, a blow to transparency, an attack on the free flow of information, and the devaluation of the public relations profession as a whole. These concerns hint at the notion that Tesla may be doing something unethical.

Relax

With all due respect to my fellow PR colleagues, relax.

Tesla is not a governmental agency subject to sunshine laws. It’s a private entity and can run itself any way it sees fit. There are no laws that say businesses must have public relations departments. I would agree that Tesla is making a bad business decision, but that’s all it is.

At the end of the day, Elon Musk can run his companies any way he likes, and if he makes a mistake, he will face the consequences, be it from a regulator, the marketplace or, of course, the media.

In my experience, enterprising reporters know how to get information about a company without going through a public relations function. In fact, some of my biggest challenges over the years have been in dealing with reporters who refuse to let a company tell its side of the story. Musk seems willing to take that risk.

Reporters will call analysts, competitors, vendor companies, investors, activist groups and others. They will pour through public reports and disclosures. They will attend trade shows and events and usually aren’t bashful about approaching company representatives or others on the spot. They will follow social media accounts.

While many in the PR field, myself included, can see the danger in letting the media drive the process and the narrative, that doesn’t mean a company like Tesla that is willing to take that risk is hurting anyone but itself.

So, Tesla may have gotten rid of its PR function. This isn’t the sign of a trend or the end of times for the PR business. It’s not the death of transparency. It’s Elon being Elon. It’s another reminder that the news media remains in a crisis of trust.  The world will go on.

The Reason Media Relations is Not Transactional, It’s a Process

For people who haven’t managed public relations programs much, one of the more common points of confusion is over how much control we have in the media relations process, and ultimately how some stories get into the news and some do not. It’s the age-old issue of newsworthiness.

In my experience, the root of the confusion often traces back to the notion that PR is a transactional process. We have an important story. We feel that it’s so unique and so relevant that any good reporter will want the story based on its merits. The assumption is, we’re giving them news for free, they should welcome it.

That’s not how it works. That’s how advertising works, only you pay for that. When you advertise on any platform, from old-fashioned newspapers to Google ads, you pay for the exposure, so you can control the message. It’s transactional. Quid pro quo. Money for visibility.

PR is different. One thing that hasn’t changed in public relations for the past several decades is that in order for something to be deemed newsworthy by a journalist is that you must answer two questions.

Why Do a Story? Why Do it Now?

Most everyone charged with managing a public relations program seems to have a ready understanding of the answer to that first question, why do a story. If someone wants PR exposure, they usually know what they’d like to see at the center of the story.

But many people, even PR veterans, can sometimes lose sight of the need to answer that second question. And if you can’t answer that, you really don’t have a story.

Think of it this way. A good news story is perishable. It has an expiration date, just like that gallon of milk you bought this morning. If you don’t consume the product before the expiration date, it goes bad. That expiration date creates a sense of urgency for the consumer.

So, when we pitch a news story to a journalist, we not only have to convince them that the story is meaningful to their readers, listeners or viewers, but if they don’t get to the story right now, they’ll miss an opportunity. It will be lost. For their part, journalists have to meet the same expectation for their audiences. They must demonstrate that the reader must read, the viewer must view, the listener must listen, all before the subject matter becomes old news.

If the Powerball jackpot today is now up to $500 million and the drawing is tonight, you have the answer to both questions. Do the story because the jackpot is huge and anyone in your audience can win. Do the story now because tomorrow may be too late. There is a narrow window of opportunity.

News Cycles are Short

We often hear terms like “news cycle” and that’s what this is all about. All media follows a news cycle. Journalists only want to spend time on stories their audiences care about now, this week. So, if a story is just as important today as it will be in a month, or it could have been done last month, and there no other defining characteristics that stamp an expiration date on it, it’s not newsworthy.

So, to make a business story newsworthy for the media, we have to put in the work up front. We have to make it newsworthy, and you don’t do that through words alone.

A few years ago, I helped a client launch its organization and its brand. The client was in the energy space and offered many constructive solutions to a range of environmental issues. We were able to tie the client to several hot-button issues that were also the subject of legislation in Washington, D.C.

By identifying pending legislation that was on its own timetable, we were able to position my client and its work in line with that timetable that had a life cycle of its own. This created a sense of timeliness and urgency for journalists to feature my client in their coverage.

At the end of the day, this illustrates that in order to generate media coverage, you have to earn it, you don’t buy it. Media relations is not transactional like advertising. It’s earned by having a full understanding of what news decision-makers need to do to build their own audiences. Then give them more than content. Give them a story to tell and an expiration date to create a sense of urgency.

Ethics Are Not Situational: They must be standard

One of the curiosities in society, from the business sector to government and nonprofits, is that while there is common appreciation for the need for ethical behavior, we see far too many instances of unethical behavior.

Through my work in crisis and issues management, ethical decision-making is the number-one driver, not only because doing the right thing is, well, the right thing, but also because it’s the smart thing. The enemy of effective crisis communications management is inconsistency.

If you deviate from principled behavior, you likely start down a path you’ll have difficulty explaining later. Once you do that, you open the floodgates to inconsistent behaviors and explanations. Such inconsistency kills credibility, and lost credibility kills trust.

No matter who is important to your organization, from customers and donors to investors or employees, you can’t accomplish anything meaningful without trust.

So, what do we mean by ethics?

The professional definition is that ethics involves a value system by which a person or organization determines right from wrong, and then uses that determination to dictate behavior.

At least that’s the common understanding. But leave it to the intellectuals to create confusion on the simple issue of right versus wrong.

I once had a lengthy discussion with someone who was paid by a large company to be the guardian of ethics in the company. He had the word “ethics” in his title.

As we talked, he described ethics as not being a simple matter and that ethical standards can vary from organization to organization, or culture to culture. Ultimately, he said it’s not for us to judge others based on their ethical codes, or to expect others to follow our own ethical standards.

What the literature says

There is academic literature to support this, though as you’ll see, it’s fundamentally flawed in its assumptions. It believes there are three types of approaches to ethics.

Deontological Ethics

Deontological Ethics are based on a standard moral code. Some behaviors are considered “good,” while others are considered “bad.” If this sounds familiar to you, it should. It’s probably the approach to ethics your parents took when raising you. Heck, it’s probably the same approach you use when training a pet. Good actions are rewarded. Bad actions are punished. Good behaviors are incentivized. Bad behaviors are discouraged.

The intellectuals say this does not take into consideration the consequence of the action, however good it may be.  Deontological ethics define something as ethical even if it generates negative outcomes because the both the intent and the behavior was deemed “good.”

An example of this might be when a cashier makes a mathematical mistake and inadvertently gives a customer too much change. The cashier owns up to the mistake and the employer decides to recover the lost money from the cashier’s next paycheck.

Teleological Ethics or Utilitarianism

The second school of thought on ethics is called Teleological Ethics or Utilitarianism. This school teaches that true ethics should be assessed based on the impact of the action, rather than on the action itself.

In other words, as Machiavelli might say, the end justifies the means. If you subscribe to this way of thinking, something will be ethical to you if the outcome is deemed good.

An example of this might be when a manager tells a struggling employee that he is a valued member of the team with a bright future, when in fact, the manager realizes the employee probably will never earn a promotion. But the justification for the “white lie” is that the manager does not want to demoralize a valued employee who is urgently needed right now to complete an important project for the entire organization and its people.

Situational Ethics or Ethical Relativism

The third type of ethical thinking is called Situational Ethics or Ethical Relativism.  This way of thinking says that ethics are determined on a case-by-case basis. There is no standard moral guide for all situations. For that reason, situations are deemed “ethical” based on how they reflect current social norms. Since social norms change from one year to the next, or one culture to the next, there are no ethical standards for all.

Advocates for Situational Ethics believe that they best respect cross-cultural differences and diverse value systems. Many recognize that this system of ethics is reliant on a dominant mainstream culture that changes and never clearly defines the essential rightness or wrongness of a behavior.

The 2020 dilemma

Chances are if you have spent any time thinking about ethics in your personal life, you’ve operated from the standpoint of Deontological Ethics, the system of thought your mother taught you.

Yet, we often see that the waters on when it comes to ethics can get muddied. But of the three schools of thoughts for ethics, the most problematic may be the third one – Situational Ethics. The reason being that it is a house over a sink hole of poor logic.

Situational Ethics advocates recognize cultures may have different value systems, yet for this theory to work it’s still reliant on a single, dominant culture. That’s a huge contradiction. Situational Ethics advocates believe you can’t have standards in principle but they expect standard behaviors.

How should we be graded?

I ran into this issue once when I spoke to a group of MBA students at an elite university.  I have spoken there many times and had come to expect that these students would not ask questions to learn from my words, but that they would ask questions to test me, and learn through the give-and-take.

So, one asked me, simply, “Is it ever OK to lie?”

To which, I responded, “No. It’s never OK to lie.”

I further elaborated that in the real world, matters of opinion, conjecture and debate are often a mix of truths, half-truths and total misrepresentations of the truth. But as a matter of policy, we need to start with the acceptance that it is not OK to lie and to adhere to that basic code as a basis for all communication.

The student then told me that in his home country, it is OK to lie, and that America is wrong to establish honesty as a universal ethical principle.

So, I posed this scenario to him and the rest of the class.  “If your professor tells you at mid-term you will definitely get an A as a final grade, and then when you get your final report card and see that you got a C grade, is that acceptable?”

One hundred percent of the hands in the group, including my interrogator, said, “No,” that is not OK. They laughed a little sheepishly, because they realized that this thing we’re calling Situational Ethics is only the right system if we ourselves are not negatively affected.

Standards should be standard

The lesson for the group and for anyone taking a hard look at ethics is that the code for behavior must be standard.  Yes, it may be uncomfortable for some who resent the sense that someone else’s standards are being applied to them, but the value of adhering to ethics is when standards are shared. Effectiveness is only realized when everyone has the same understanding or right from wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable.

∼ ∼ ∼

Tim O’Brien is the founder of O’Brien Communications, a Pittsburgh-based corporate communications consultancy. He’s an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and follows its Code of Ethics. He’s also a member of PRSA’s national Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.

 

 

Domino’s Shows What to Do When Someone Tries to Cancel You

Domino’s, the pizza chain, recently put on a tutorial on how to handle an attempt to cancel you in the current communications environment.

Political influencer Rick Wilson targeted Domino’s on Twitter, where he has over one million followers, with a tweet that criticized a positive response from the company to current White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Apparently, Wilson took issue with the fact the company’s tweet was positive in nature, and decided to frame the social media exchange as the pizza maker deciding to wade into the current political fray.

Wilson tweeted to Domino’s, “You just killed your brand,” in an obvious attempt to cancel Domino’s by creating guilt by association. Below his comment was an earlier tweet from the company to McEnany thanking her for complimenting them on their pizza.

Here’s the problem. The tweet exchange Wilson took issue with was from 2012, eight years before her current public role.

For its part, the Domino’s response was genius.

“Welp. It’s unfortunate that thanking a customer for a compliment back in 2012 would be viewed as political. Guess that’s 2020 for ya.”

Immediately, the Twitter tide turned against Wilson for his obvious attempt eight years after the fact to cancel a brand for an innocent exchange.

Domino’s is a Model for Effective Crisis and Issues Management

That Domino’s responded so effectively should not come as a surprise. The company ushered in the age of the social media crisis in 2009 when two of its employees posted video of themselves to YouTube tampering with food in one of the franchise chain’s kitchens. Quickly, Domino’s identified the employees and the store, and the company took swift and decisive action, while communicating candidly about the whole situation.

In 2017, animal rights groups tried to pressure Domino’s into adopting stringent restrictions on the company’s suppliers of meat and eggs that would have placed significant hardships on farmers.

At the time, company spokesperson Tim McIntyre summed up the company’s unapologetic refusal to cave in to activist demands. “Farmers know best,” he said.

And now this. Against the backdrop of  “cancel culture,” as it’s become known, Domino’s is showing other companies and organizations how not to be cancelled.

The strategy is simple, but simple is not always easy to do. It’s three-pronged:

1) Decide not to be bullied.

2) Push back in self-defense.

3) Slow things down.

In a conflict-averse culture, it’s almost a default position on the part of many organizations and their communications teams to avoid conflict at any cost. The thinking is you should accept the premise of the criticism, acknowledge the merits of your critics and their criticism and apologize.  You should make whatever changes your critics insist upon, even if the allegations have no basis, and that will make the situation go away.

That’s why on the basis of a single digital video with a few thousand views, a major company or brand can reactionarily change course quickly with no strategic decision-making involved. Corporate leaders make hasty decisions on an emotional basis out of fear of being cancelled. Anyone in the first year of business school would learn that this way of making decisions dramatically increases the risk of failure on several levels.

#1 – Stand up to bullies.

Basic human dynamics can be all you really need to know when someone tries to cancel you. In effect, when someone is out to cancel you, they use bully tactics. And the only way to deal bullies is to stand up for yourself without fear and with resolve. Domino’s has demonstrated time and again that this is an effective strategy.

#2 – Push-back is self-defense.

The second strategy is to push back. It’s one thing to stand up and not give your critics what they want, but that may not be enough. If someone tries to cancel you, you may need to act in a sort of communications self-defense.

When Domino’s responded to Wilson’s tweet, the company clearly surprised him with Domino’s lack of contrition, and by politely framing the issue in such a way as to expose Wilson’s cancellation attempt for what it was.

Domino’s knew that it couldn’t put out a bland statement about company values or policies in response. Otherwise, they would have accepted Wilson’s premise and legitimized his criticism, making matters worse for the company. And yet so many companies and organizations do this very thing when faced with cancellation attempts.  Domino’s may have known they wouldn’t have silenced Wilson. They would have emboldened him and others like him.

So, instead, they reframed the issue accurately.

One characteristic of the Domino’s-Wilson Twitter exchange that worked in the company’s favor was that an inconsequential eight-year-old Twitter exchange was the basis.

#3 – Slow things down.

There is a third strategy that I alluded to earlier.  Had the attempt to cancel Domino’s been based on something more current, even if it was as trivial as Wilson’s allegations, you can’t assume the public would see it for what it is. So, there is a third strategy to consider.

The worst thing you can do in any crisis situation where you are targeted for cancellation is to act too hastily and too emotionally. Chances are you have processes in place for when and how to make major decisions and major changes.

When someone attempts to cancel you, fall back on those processes. Time is built into the process for proper deliberation so that as an organization, you do the right things for the right reasons in the right time. This is not to say you should never change, or that  you should never listen to your critics.

It is to say that in order to effectively handle a cancellation attempt, your third strategy is to be patient. Let matters settle to the point where you and your management team can see things more clearly and that you are following a proven process for analysis, and if need be, change.

Companies and brands are less likely to fail if they exercise disciplined patience in the face of cancellation attempts than they would if they too hastily give their critics what they demand in the heat of the moment.

What do you think? Do you ever worry that your organization could be targeted for cancellation through no fault of its own like Domino’s was? Get in touch. I’d love to chat.

Having Trouble Sleeping These Nights? Same here. That’s why I’m trying 10 o’clock office hours

This is going to be a short blog post.

This is not for everyone, but it may be for you. Given all of the challenges of late, there is a good chance that something is keeping you up at night with regard to your business.

We know how you feel. The people I partner with and I have had numerous conversations about the current challenges our clients face and the ones we all face together. It’s more difficult than ever to put today’s events into perspective so that you can make tomorrow better.

That’s why I’m going to experiment with something as long as is practical – a non-video one-on-one initial teleconference, free of charge to people I think I can help. That may be you, it may not, but we won’t know unless we start the conversation. For now, let’s call this our “June Event” and it’s all about turning things around and getting them back on track.

So, here’s how it works.

  • Based on availability and whether I believe I can help, I will pre-schedule a free 10 p.m., consulting audio-only teleconference with you. Times are Eastern.
  • Each call would be a maximum of 30 minutes long. Please know I will need to give careful consideration beforehand as to whether I think I can help, and that depends on what you can tell me.
  • The subject matter must be of a business or professional nature with a communications element to it.

My core strengths are strategic communications planning, corporate communications, media relations and public relations, writing and content development, marketing communications, and crisis and issues management. I am not a personal counselor, a career coach or a therapist and cannot help in those areas.

If you have a business/communications matter keeping you up at night, just get in touch at 412.854.8845 or email timobrien@timobrienpr.com. Maybe we’ll both sleep better.

Is Now the Time for a Pandemic Impact Assessment?

The pandemic has changed things. States are reopening, businesses have already begun the process of returning to operation. It’s time to regroup and identify the challenges that lie ahead from a communications standpoint. There are questions:

  • How do our stakeholders feel right now? What are their plans? What’s their comfort level doing the things for which they rely on us? How can we best help them now?
  • How confident are our customers in buying from us right now?
  • Where so we stand? What are out plans? What’s our leadership’s comfort level looking ahead? What about our own people? What do they need to hear? What do they want to know?
  • What should our communications priorities be?
  • Where do we need to focus right now?
  • What resources do we have, which ones do we need?
  • Has the pandemic created any new opportunities to better connect with our stakeholders?
  • How can we rebuild in a communications sense?

These are just some of the questions that may be on your mind and those who come to you in your organization in need of communications guidance during this transitionary time where there as much we have yet to learn as we know already.

While there may not have been proven a process in place for what we’ve all just gone through before that happened, there is a process to get organized and manage the change that lies ahead.

Businesses and organizations are in varied states of disrepair right now. Some are looking at filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to the lengthy shutdown of the economy and the disruption to their businesses. Others have thrived in unexpected ways and may be looking at integrating these newfound strengths into their ongoing business models. And still others simply need to refocus, regroup, rebuild.

What’s a Pandemic Impact Assessment?

We’ve looked at some of our prior consulting work in this area of communications assessments and have modified it in light of current circumstances to create what is best termed a “Pandemic Impact Assessment (PIA).”

Working with you, we can help you regroup by first assessing how the pandemic changed your organization temporarily, what changes have more long-term impact and the role communications will play in helping your organization get back on solid footing.

If this is something that interests you and you’d like to know more, please call me at 412.854.8845 or email me at timobrien@timobrienpr.com.

Bankruptcy Communications: One Question, 31 Answers

If the entire country opened up for business tomorrow without any restrictions, the residual effects of the shutdown on local economies throughout the nation would last for months to come as no small number of businesses come to terms with the fact that this hole is far too big for them to dig out of simply by opening their doors again. More than a few firms will have to turn to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to give their businesses a fighting chance to survive.

In my work in bankruptcy communication, I’ve found that this type of crisis scenario is unique when compared to other crisis situations because the number-one question on the part of just about every stakeholder group is the same:

How will this affect me?

But what further makes it unique is that there are roughly 31 or more answers to that same question. The reason is that once you start addressing the self-interest of your company’s various stakeholder groups, the answer changes, even slightly, by each group and sub-group.

All employees are not the same. That goes without saying, right? Well consider the fact that your firm could have hourly and salaried employees, union and non-union, full-time and part-time, headquarters and field offices, R&D and operations, vested employees and non-vested, customer services employees and sales representatives. And then of course, you may have retiree groups to consider. And all of that may fall under just the “employee” umbrella.

Companies that enter the bankruptcy process have their share of concerns, but one of them need not be the possibility that they mishandled communications by taking a one-size-fits all approach to the communication process.

Another common mistake they make is that they can spend an inordinate amount of time preparing to announce a Chapter 11 filing without planning for the ongoing communications process during the reorganization and eventual emergence from bankruptcy protection.

Because I’ve gotten calls on this already, I’m going to offer a free initial consultation on this process. If you or someone you know have questions about communicating prior to and during a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, please feel free to call me at 412.854.8845 or email me at timobrien@timobrienpr.com.

The Missing Ingredient in Most Media Training Today

Let’s Change the Recipe

Over the years, I’ve done my share of media training, and in the course of that, I’ve gotten very familiar with how other media trainers operate and what we all have collectively accepted as conventional wisdom when it comes to media training.

For instance, find one media trainer who does not teach you to speak in sound bites, and I’ll … well … I don’t know what I’ll do, but whatever it is it will be unlikely, because media trainers teach you to speak in sound bites.

Further reinforcing this “wisdom” is the reason many clients come to us for training. More often than not, when someone has come to me for media training it has been because:

a) they were faced with an imminent crisis;

b) they were faced with a probable crisis; or

c) they were faced with a possible crisis.

Of course, there is a d) which is when some organizations keep a list of things they need to do periodically with new leaders, managers, or as part of annual workshops or meetings. But those tend to be proportionately fewer than the crisis-centric ones.

This is a reflection of the mindset that media training is a tool for damage control and not a potent marketing and branding weapon.

In that spirit, it would probably come as no surprise then that more often than not, the foremost goal of much media training is to make sure the spokesperson stays out of trouble. To make sure the spokesperson stays on message and does not deviate and does not blunder a media interviewing opportunity. In that sense, media training tends to be an insurance policy, not a marketing tool.

Some organizations I’ve known consider it a bonus if the spokesperson not only doesn’t screw it up, but actually sounds good and puts the organization’s best foot forward.

It’s Time for a Change

But this is 2020 and the media training we’ve come to know and love has not evolved with the times. It has to change and it hasn’t.

Here’s what it has to do. It has to teach you to be interesting. It can’t settle for helping you avoid trouble. It has to help you maximize whatever speaking gifts you have to bring out the interesting qualities in yourself, and in doing so, the interesting qualities of your organization and its message.

It’s not enough to simply stay on message and stay out of trouble. It’s imperative to craft and deliver interesting and compelling messages that make your viewers or listeners want to know more…about you…about your organization…about your message.

Good media training today has to emphasize how to create interesting messages and wrap those messages into interesting stories that can be told in a series of sound bites, or for longer form media like podcasts, in “story bites.”

But that’s the technical aspect of it. If you’re a media training participant, you need to hope that your media training session teaches you how to share more of yourself, your own personality, the things that make you … you. Since you are the messenger, you can’t separate yourself from the message. So, the best media training will help you tap your own personal strengths and bring those into the interview as assets, not potential liabilities.

Beyond Technique

Audiences can be surprisingly empathetic to someone who they like and relate to, so how do you get to that point? The first step is to be yourself and that means not trying to be perfect.

Acting directors and producers like to describe this as exposing your own vulnerabilities, but I have yet to meet a media trainee who wants to hear that. They naturally want to avoid anything even remotely tied to the “v” word.

But the truth is, the goal for a good media interview is to connect at an emotional level, and to that you must be relatable. To be relatable, you need to let your viewer or listener in to get to know the real you. The pathway to that, in a business sense, is your story and how your story intertwines with your organization’s story.

If this piques your interest, time-permitting, I’m willing to give you a free 10-minute preview of this type of media training on Zoom. Just get in touch.