"Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind ..." Shakespeare, King Lear, IV 47.
13 Golden Rules Of PR Crisis Management
Forbes Agency Council
Successful PR, media strategy, creative and advertising executives from Forbes Agency Council share trends and tips.
Any business, at one point, will face some sort of a public relations crisis and the way you respond can either give you a much-needed image boost or significantly damage your brand, ultimately alienating your customer base and business partners. Especially in this day and age, when news goes viral almost instantly, organizations need to be ready to respond to any PR crisis quickly and efficiently, using all available platforms.
So if you don’t want to end up on a list of worst PR nightmaresor risk losing business over a crisis that can easily be averted, here are 13 golden rules of PR crisis management any company should stick to, as recommended by members of Forbes Agency Council.
All photos courtesy of Forbes Agency Council members.
Don't stay silent during a public relations crisis.
1. Take Responsibility
First off, don’t try to cover up the PR crisis, it will only worsen the damage. Instead, manage the situation by taking responsibility, reacting immediately, and responding to feedback. Instead of arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations. Write a press release and post on social media to control the situation and get the message visible. - Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
2. Be Proactive, Be Transparent, Be Accountable
In today’s real-time world of social media, and with critics everywhere, reputation management matters more than ever and it can be lost in an instant. The tenets of any crisis communication are to be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. When put into action it looks like this: acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize. - Lisa Allocca,
3. Get Ahead Of The Story
If I were the CEO of United Airlines, I would have been tweeting, texting and sending smoke signals the minute after I heard the story about the guy taken off the flight. I wouldn't wait until I had a strategy. Getting ahead of the story is the strategy. Figuring out the fine points of the strategy -- do that over the weekend. But start communicating, apologizing, refunding, or whatever-ing now! - Michael Levin, BusinessGhost, Inc.
4. Be Ready For Social Media Backlash
The worst thing companies can do is ignore the possibility that a firestorm could ignite on social media. Smaller organizations can be more guilty of this, and especially those that are not active on social media. Just because a company is not marketing on social does not mean their customers won't put them in check on those platforms when something goes wrong. Have a plan and review it often. - Chris Dreyer,
5. Remember To Be Human
Saying “you’ll look into it” doesn’t make anyone feel better. Saying you’re deeply saddened by what went down and will work on making things better is important. Then, immediately share how policies will be put in place so it doesn’t happen again. Act fast before people lose faith in your brand. - Nicole Rodrigues,
6. First Apologize, Then Take Action
Extending a heartfelt apology is key to moving forward. Not doing so adds fuel to the fire and delays changing the narrative. Following a public apology, the company must offer a call to action. They must do something substantial to show that they are changing their ways moving forward. - Leila Lewis,
7. Monitor, Plan And Communicate
Have your social team on high alert, with monitoring at the forefront. If they start noticing spikes of negativity or increased activity, utilize an already well-versed crisis plan to proactively respond on social with prepared materials. Never let executives go rogue and potentially fuel the flames, but do encourage them to apologize immediately with predetermined and approved key messages. - Matthew Jonas, TopFire Media
8. Seek First To Understand The Situation
Communicate all relevant details to key stakeholders. When asked to comment never reply with “no comment.” Even if you’re still assessing a situation, simply say that. If you don’t have a voice in the matter, people immediately assume guilt or make their own suppositions. Also, recognize when operational improvements are necessary and be transparent about how you're solving the situation. - Ashley Walters,
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
9. Listen To Your Team First
It's too easy to be reactive, especially when your company's brand and reputation are at stake. Don't comment, post or tweet before you've conferred with your PR team on what the best, most reasoned approach will be. If you have a great team (and you should!), they will be on top of this and will have crafted language you can use immediately. - Diana Wolff,
10. Develop Strong Organizational Brand Culture
Prevent the crisis. It's easy to blame frontline employees for recurring viral nightmares, but they’re not responsible for the toxic brand culture that breeds them. An organizational brand culture that treats customers badly likely treats its employees poorly too. Dig deep into organizational culture and service delivery and you’ll find that new lows in brand experience always start at the top. - Stephen Rosa,
11. Turn Off The Fan
When the you-know-what hits the fan, the first rule of crisis management is to turn off the fan. Don't fuel the fire. Step back, put yourself in the consumers' shoes and ask, "How would I feel if this happened to me?" Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing. And right beats spin every time. - Kim Miller,
12. Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions
Companies, brand representatives or influencers often provide emotional, frenzied responses. Going silent on social is not a bad thing when you are monitoring a crisis. Freeze all external communication until you can assess what’s going on. Be sure that the first external communication following the crisis is a well-thought-out response that resonates with your consumers. - Coltrane Curtis,
13. Be Prepared
No one wants to be at the center of a scandal, but scrambling around because you're not prepared to handle it takes things from bad to worse. Anticipate potentials crisis scenarios and establish internal protocols for handling them. Before a crisis hits, outline who needs to be notified, your internal review process and the individuals who are authorized to speak publicly on your behalf. - Lindsay Mullen,
The Holmes Report
Global PR Industry Now Worth $15bn As Growth Rebounds To 7% In 2016
The Holmes Report unveils its ranking of the world's top 250 PR firms, revealing that growth rebounded in 2016, led by independent PR firms.
Global PR industry growth rebounded to 7.4% in 2016, based on the Holmes Report's definitive annual ranking of the world's top 250 PR firms, which is now live.
The Global Top 250, which provides the clearest picture available of global PR industry size and growth, is based on submissions from more than 400 PR firms across the world.
The research reveals that the Top 250 PR firms reported fee income of around $11bn in 2016, compared to $10.7bn for last year's Top 250 ranking. The world's Top 10 PR firms account for $5.1bn, a 3.3% increase on 2015, led by strong performances from BlueFocus (up 17.2% in constant currency terms), Weber Shandwick, Golin and Ketchum.
Accounting for the numerous firms that reported outside of the Top 250, along with the vast number of smaller firms that do not provide revenue figures, the Holmes Report now estimates the size of the global PR agency industry at $15bn, up from $14.2bn in 2015.
Meanwhile, the 'floor' for the Top 250 rises substantially, from $3.8m last year to $4.5m this year, reflecting both growth and the popularity of the ranking with firms from across the globe.
Currency volatility, in a particular the plunge in the value of pound sterling, played havoc with overall growth, as the Global 250 is calculated in US$. So, while US firms are unaffected, the many firms reporting in GBP drag the overall USD growth rate down to 4%. Constant currency growth, however, increased to 7.4% compared to 5% in 2015, based on a like-for-like comparison of those firms reporting fee income for 2016 and 2015.
The Global 250 also reveals the following:
For US PR firms ($7.3bn), growth was 4.6%, down from 5.2% one year ago.
For all PR firms reporting in USD ($9.3bn), growth was 5.3%
UK PR firms reporting in GBP (accounting for around $769m, or £624m) declined by 9.1% in reported (USD) terms thanks to the weak pound. However, they grew 9.3% in constant currency terms, reflecting impressive performance.
PR firms reporting in Euros ($870m), grew 5% in reported (USD) terms, but +9% in constant currency terms.
"After last year’s disappointing growth numbers, the public relations industry bounced back in 2016 to turn in its best performance globally since 2013 and its second highest growth number since our first report in 2011," said Holmes Report chair Paul Holmes. "That’s encouraging news at a time when the industry is still trying to define its role in a rapidly changing marketing and communications environment. It suggests that PR firms are doing a better job of proving their relevance to the marketing executives who increasingly—as our Global Communications Report research shows—control the purse strings."
Public vs Independent
Much of the rebound in growth can be attributed to a considerably improved performance by independent PR firms, who increased fee income by 9% on a constant currency basis to around $5bn.
Unlike last year, when all firms grew at around 5%, that means that independent PR firm growth comfortably outstripped their publicly-held peers, a trend that has dominated recent PR industry history. All publicly-owned firms reported fee income of $6.1bn, growing 5.1% and accounting for 40% of the overall market.
The divide between independent and public PR agencies is even more clearly seen when analysing the performance of the Big 4 holding groups, whose PR operations grew by 3.8% to $4.7bn, led by the performance of Interpublic Group PR firms.
The Big 4 (Omnicom, IPG, WPP, Publicis) account for around 31% of the overall global PR market, at $4.7bn (+3.8%). Independent PR firms reported fee income of $5bn, again outstripping the PR operations of the Big 4 holding groups.
“The fact that midsize independent firms continue to outperform the giant holding company agencies is clear evidence that the much-ballyhooed ‘consolidation’ of our industry is a chimera," said Holmes. "The fact is that clients are increasingly looking for best-in-breed agencies in individual markets and for individual audience segments. I would suggest that as PR comes to be seen as more and more mission critical, this trend will continue and expand."
Revenue per capita
Concerns about revenue per capita persist. This year's Rankings reveals that revenue per capita for those firms reporting both fee income and headcount remains stable at $151,000, the same as last year but down from $158,000 two years ago.
There world's Top 10 PR firms which reported fee income of $5.1bn, up 3.3% compared to 2015. While this represents slower growth from the Top 10, there were solid performances from BlueFocus, Weber Shandwick, Golin and Ketchum. More analysis here.
Omnicom's PR operations overtook WPP in 2016, regaining the effective top spot among holding group PR operations in USD terms. However, WPP's PR fee income was impacted by the decline in the value of pound sterling, in which it reports. On a constant currency basis its growth (+5%) outstrips Omnicom.
Further analysis of the world's fastest-growing PR firms, along with specific regional rankings, will follow over the coming weeks.
The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations
“The most interesting man in the world.” “Reach out and touch someone.” “Finger-lickin’ good.” Such advertising slogans have become fixtures of American culture, and each year millions now tune into the Super Bowl as much for the ads as for the football.
While no single person can claim exclusive credit for the ascendancy of advertising in American life, no one deserves credit more than a man most of us have never heard of: Edward Bernays.
I first encountered Bernays through an article I was writing on propaganda, and it quickly became clear that he was one of the 20th century’s foremost salesmen of ideas. The fact that 20 years have elapsed since his death provides a fitting opportunity to reexamine his legacy.
Bernays pioneered public relations
Often referred to as “the father of public relations,” Bernays in 1928 published his seminal work, Propaganda, in which he argued that public relations is not a gimmick but a necessity:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.
Bernays came by his beliefs honestly. Born in Austria in 1891, the year Sigmund Freud published one of his earliest papers, Bernays was also Freud’s nephew twice over. His mother was Freud’s sister Anna, and his father, Ely Bernays, was the brother of Freud’s wife Martha.
The year after his birth, the Bernays family moved to New York, and Bernays later graduated from Cornell with a degree in agriculture. But instead of farming, he chose a career in journalism, eventually helping the
Woodrow Wilson Administration promote the idea that US efforts in World War I were intended to bring democracy to Europe.
Bernays rebrands ‘propaganda’
Having seen how effective propaganda could be during war, Bernays wondered whether it might prove equally useful during peacetime.
Yet propaganda had acquired a somewhat pejorative connotation (which would be further magnified during World War II), so Bernays promoted the term “public relations.”
Drawing on the insights of his Uncle Sigmund – a relationship Bernays was always quick to mention – he developed an approach he dubbed “the engineering of consent.” He provided leaders the means to “control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it.” To do so, it was necessary to appeal not to the rational part of the mind, but the unconscious.
Bernays acquired an impressive list of clients, ranging from manufacturers such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and the American Tobacco Company, to media outlets like CBS and even politicians such as Calvin Coolidge. To counteract President Coolidge’s stiff image, Bernays organized “pancake breakfasts” and White House concerts with Al Jolson and other Broadway performers. With Bernays’ help, Coolidge won the 1924 election.
Bernays’ publicity campaigns were the stuff of legend. To overcome “sales resistance” to cigarette smoking among women, Bernays staged a demonstration at the 1929 Easter parade, having fashionable young women flaunt their “torches of freedom.”
He promoted Lucky Strikes by convincing women that the forest green hue of the cigarette pack was among the most fashionable of colors. The success of this effort was manifested in innumerable window displays and fashion shows.
In the 1930s, he promoted cigarettes as both soothing to the throat and slimming to the waistline. But at home, Bernays was attempting to persuade his wife to kick the habit. When would find a pack of her Parliaments in their home, he would snap every one of them in half and throw them in the toilet. While promoting cigarettes as soothing and slimming, Bernays, it seems, was aware of some of the early studies linking smoking to cancer.
Bernays used the same techniques on children. To convince kids that bathing could be fun, he sponsored soap sculpture competitions and floating contests. These were designed to prove that Ivory bars were more buoyant than competing products.
Bernays also used fear to sell products. For Dixie cups, Bernays launched a campaign to scare people into thinking that only disposable cups were sanitary. As part of this campaign, he founded the Committee for the Study and Promotion of the Sanitary Dispensing of Food and Drink.
Bernays’ ideas sold a lot more than cigarettes and Dixie cups
Even though Bernays saw the power of propaganda during war and used it to sell products during peacetime, he couldn’t have imagined that his writings on public relations would become a tool of the Third Reich.
In the 1920s, Joseph Goebbels became an avid admirer of Bernays and his writings – despite the fact that Bernays was a Jew. When Goebbels became the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich, he sought to exploit Bernays’ ideas to the fullest extent possible. For example, he created a “Fuhrer cult” around Adolph Hitler.
Bernays learned that the Nazis were using his work in 1933, from a foreign correspondent for Hearst newspapers. He later recounted in his 1965 autobiography:
They were using my books as the basis for a destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me, but I knew any human activity can be used for social purposes or misused for antisocial ones.
What Bernays’ writings furnish is not a principle or tradition by which to evaluate the appropriateness of propaganda, but simply a means for shaping public opinion for any purpose whatsoever, whether beneficial to human beings or not.
This observation led Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter to warn President Franklin Roosevelt against allowing Bernays to play a leadership role in World War II, describing him and his colleagues as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.”
Today we might call what Bernays pioneered a form of branding, but at its core it represents little more than a particularly brazen set of techniques to manipulate people to get them to do your bidding.
Its underlying purpose, in large part, is to make money. By convincing people that they want something they do not need, Bernays sought to turn citizens and neighbors into consumers who use their purchasing power to propel themselves down the road to happiness.
Without a moral compass, however, such a transformation promotes a patronizing and ultimately cynical view of human nature and human possibilities, one as likely to destroy lives as to build them up.
The Century of the Self
The Cook Report
2018 Campaign Ad Spend Will be in the Billions
Most money raised in politics is spent on advertising, and believe it or not, even in this digital age, most of those advertising dollars still go to the long-time king of political advertising: television. Even though the last two years have seen lots of bungled predictions, in the realm of TV ad spending, we are undeterred, and predict that TV will win out in 2018 as well. Forecasting the amount and distribution of political ad dollars is not just another sign that the election season is starting, but also very big business: The large media companies that own most local television stations and the Wall Street investors who hold their stock have come to rely on the bi-annual infusion of political cash that floods stations fortunate enough to be in the "right" markets.
In 2014, the most recent midterm election, the total TV ad spend was $2.8 billion. It’s tempting to add a few percent to that to account for inflation and call it a day. But that’s far too blunt an instrument; the number and location of competitive contests influences the amount of money campaigns spend in any given year. And there also have been changes in the last couple cycles in the ways campaigns allocate their television advertising dollars.
To get the full picture, CMAG asks the following questions:
How much money is likely to be raised overall? How much might be spent on advertising in general?
What proportion of that money might go to TV? And what proportion of TV money to local broadcast, local cable and satellite, national cable, and national broadcast, respectively?
And, most importantly, where will it be spent?
There is lots of fundraising energy and enthusiasm on the Democratic side—but how many seats could actually be in play?
House and Senate Outlook
Currently, The Cook Political Report says there are 42 House seats in play, 12 of them toss-ups, and nine Senate seats in play, four of them toss-ups. This is similar to Cook ratings at this point in the 2014 and 2016 cycles, but fewer races than were considered competitive at this point in the 2012 cycle.
A look back at the last four electoral cycles shows that television advertising spending in House contests attracts about 20 percent of all TV ad dollars. We expect this proportion to stay about the same, but keep a close eye on The Cook Political Report to see if the number of competitive House races creeps up, or even spikes—in 2012, for example, there were more than 50 competitive races in the days before the election. In 2014 and 2016, however, there were about 20 percent fewer competitive House contests than in 2012, and ad spending in House races was down by about 20 percent. Exactly when races become competitive also matters: contests that heat up in late October often come too late for significant ad spending.
In contrast, the Senate was heavily targeted in 2016, and we saw a huge jump over 2014 ad spending. There were only 11 competitive Senate races (five fewer in play than in 2014) and the races were not in big expensive markets, but we still saw a 50-percent spike in ad spending. And the Trump effect, for example, sent a good deal of outside GOP money into Senate races that otherwise would have flowed to the presidential race.
Watch the Governors’ Races Closely
At CMAG, we're paying particular attention to governors’ races. Currently, The Cook Political Report rates 17 states in play, and 12 as toss-ups or worse. That’s four more than at a comparable point in 2014 cycle. Furthermore, many of these competitive races are in big states with expensive media markets: Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In 2014, governors’ races composed nearly 25 percent of all political ad spending; that could grow to up to 30 percent this cycle, and not just because of the unpredictable national and state-level political landscape.
Focus on the primaries: If candidates whom most handicappers consider to be weaker general-election contenders are able to win low-turnout primaries, those races will likely be less competitive, and therefore ad spending, and media company profits, could suffer. In short, there is both risk and potential reward for TV ad sellers in this cycle’s gubernatorial contests.
Don’t Forget Down Ballot—and Hot-Button Issues
While the Congressional and Governors’ races will likely represent up to 70 percent of political ad dollars spent on television, we will also see TV advertising in down-ballot races. For example, in the states, and among national committees, there is energetic fundraising going toward state legislative races. Why? The clock is ticking, and the stakes are high: State legislators elected in 2018 will be the ones drawing new districts in 2021, which will shape the trajectory of politics for the next decade and beyond.
DACA, tax reform, and health care could also draw national and locally targeted ad dollars. For example, in 2015, TV ad revenue got an unexpected infusion of cash from the controversy surrounding – the potential Senate vote on – the Iran nuclear deal.
Back to the state level, referendum and initiative spending are wild cards. When folks in California are gathering signatures, look for the dollars to follow. In 2012 and 2016, more money was spent nationwide on ballot measures than on U.S. House races. This cycle, this spend could be up to to 15 percent of the total.
So, What’s Your Share?
What share of these dollars will different types of TV—national and local, broadcast and cable—attract?
In the presidential race, 2016 was notable for the increase in national network spending on both broadcast and cable TV. Because local ad spending got so expensive in battleground markets, both campaigns apparently calculated that national buys were actually more economical. Obviously, the presidential race is not on the ballot in 2018, so we will not see as much national spending. However, as mentioned above, legislation-driven, issues-related spending is possible, and may go down the same way, with enough markets in play that national buys just might make sense. Health care, of course, continues to merit careful attention.
And now to the always-delicate question of local broadcast versus local cable spending. The share spent on local cable (ads seen on cable stations only on particular systems or in particular markets) has steadily increased over the last few cycles. While estimates vary, and depend on the race, local cable probably captured about 25 percent of local ad spending in 2016. We expect that number to continue to creep up. In the current Virginia governor’s race, for example, nearly 30 percent of TV ad spending has been on local cable. The cable share could be even higher than that in House and down-ballot races, as was the case in the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, where cable-system targeting allowed more efficient spend in the pricey Atlanta media market.
So, what’s our projection? $2.4 billion for local broadcast and $850 million for local cable. Whether that number is higher or lower will depend in large part on the number of competitive House races (and when they become competitive), the outcome of gubernatorial primaries, how many initiatives wind up on ballots across the country, and the issues Congress chooses to take up. And, of course, those pesky unforeseen circumstances.
For the first time, CMAG will also forecast digital ad spending. The estimated total for digital in 2016 was between $600-$700 million. For 2018, we project a spend total of $600 million driven mostly by advertising done on Facebook, despite recent headlines.
The Internet’s allure that allows political advertisers to create customized messages to groups of persuadable voters is becoming increasingly hard to resist. The video format that has worked so well on television has found a new home and a new mission on the web. To this end, the political and commercial advertising sectors are on the same path. Plus, the web companies have done a consistent and excellent job of stressing their capabilities and efficiencies across the political world and that message keeps resonating with campaigns and their media buyers.