The importance of Crisis Communication and staying prepared for the worst

Every year my college, Harding University, conducts a disaster drill that simulates various crises and allows the university to develop strategies to use in the event of an actual disaster.

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This year’s disaster simulated a multi-vehicle accident. Many students and staff participated in the event as well as emergency personnel within the local community. Theatre students portrayed injured students, nursing students were present to bandage them while local EMT’s loaded students into ambulances. Firemen and police officers were onsite along with Harding’s public safety officers. There was even a helicopter onsite for practice with life-flights.

Public Relations students, like myself, attended to get a better understanding of crisis communications. We were able to get an idea of how Harding University’s Public Relations office were to respond in the event of an actual crisis.

For starters in the event that a serious injury or death occurs communications professionals are not to be the first to release that information. Law enforcement must inform family members before the university can. However, this doesn’t mean the communications team simply cuts off all communication with the public. It’s vital that the communications team create a way for the public to access all information regarding these types of events. This can be done by:

  • Creating a website that is frequently updated with factual information regarding the event. This can be shared across various platforms to allow the public to have easy access to information as it comes.
  • By holding a press release where media personnel can come to access information and ask questions. This allows the communications team to develop the message and allows that specific message to be released rather than information that may be misleading or untrue.

It’s important that the information is accurate before posting. It is better to wait and post accurate information than it is to rush and post false information. Developing strategies internally can help to prevent miscommunication that may cause false information to surface. A good example of this is that Harding University must ensure that every staff member knows who direct calls to and aren’t attempting to answer questions they may not have the answers to. Having good internal communication is just as important as external when managing a crisis.

Overall, I believe staying prepared for these types of scenarios are important for everyone working in communications.

 

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United Airlines; The greatest example of what NOT to do during a PR Crisis

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By now I am sure the majority of you have heard the news about United Airlines and the unfortunate incident involving one of their passengers being forcibly removed from one of their planes.  The entire scandal is awful but what is worse is the way it was handled by United Airlines.

When dealing with a PR crisis to this degree, the initial response is crucial in successfully remedying the situation. In this case United Airlines escalated the issue by first blaming the incident on an “overbooking issue” which was later found to be untrue. Later, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement that only apologized for “having to re-accommodate” customers. In my opinion both of these responses neglected to show concern for the passenger and only further ruined their reputation as an airline.

In circumstances like this I believe it’s easy to forget basic problem-solving skills. I believe United Airlines was too caught up in not wanting to be blamed for the incident that it failed to remember these skills. The communicators involved with this issue should have taken a step back to first recognize how any of them would feel as a customer in this situation and then speak to the public as if each of them were a potential customer.

Beginning with a sincere apology, moving onto addressing internal issues truthfully and resolving the issue with that particular passenger and then reassuring the public that the issue was resolved might have been a better approach. It’s a simple strategy, just address and resolve the issue honestly and with integrity. If the airline would have approached the issue with immediate concern for the passenger and steps to improve and prevent internal issues that may have caused the incident, they may have been able to flip the situation to something that could have actually benefited their company.

I hope that this situation can be a learning lesson for all professional communicators of how crucial it is to have a well-thought out plan for handling issues like these in the future.

I saw my Civil Rights Icon: Ruby Bridges

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Growing up black and southern I heard a lot of stories of the difficulties many of my ancestors and family members faced 50 or so years ago. Ruby Bridges’ story was one of those stories I always grew up hearing. My family owned the film created in honor of her and I watched it all throughout my childhood. I was not able to understand what she faced and how significant it was until I was much older and now I can fully appreciate everything she experienced.

On Feb. 2, 2017 I was able to see my childhood icon share her story in person in the auditorium of my very own campus at Harding University. It was a historic moment as I, an African American woman at a historically white university, was witnessing a woman who helped break the boundaries to allow that to happen. Needless to say, I was extremely excited.

The event began with a formal introduction of Ruby Bridges along with a video that shared a bit of her story. We were then introduced to her and were able to hear her story in detail. Afterwards, the President of Harding University was able to sit with her and ask her a few questions. This was the only part I didn’t quite enjoy because I was unable to see her from where I was seated. After that she stayed on stage to sign copies of her book, which were available for purchase prior to and after her speech. I unfortunately was not able to get a photo with her but being able to hear her speak was incredibly rewarding. I really loved that even with the amount of people who showed up, everyone was incredibly respectful and courteous. She had several standing ovations and just had a way of speaking about a difficult experience with such grace.

Several of the things she said have been engrained in my mind. One of my favorite quotes from her that night was: “Evil doesn’t care what you look like. If you open yourself up to it, it will use you to do the work that it wants done. And if evil doesn’t care what we look like, why should we if we consider ourselves good?”

I hope these are words we all take to heart. All in all it was an event that I and many others will remember for a lifetime.

How to get the perfect summer internship!

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So It’s been a while but I promise I have a good excuse. I was accepted as a summer intern for my dream public relations company for the summer! It was an extremely competitive process and I spent a lot of time preparing for every stage of that process so I thought I’d share some of the things I did to help secure my internship. Hopefully it will help some of you.

1) Prepare a killer resume!

Your resume is the first thing they will see so you want to make sure it represents you and your skills adequately. You want to make sure your resume fits within the field you’re going into. My field is public relations therefore I need to show that I have basic software media tool skills. So for more creative fields choose more creative designs, other fields may just want a standard resume (you can check out mine in the portfolio tab of my website).

On your resume make sure you include your education, relevant work experience, skills, extracurricular activities if you have them, contact info and any awards you may have received. I wrote RELEVANT work experience because you want to include jobs that fit within the field you’re going into, or at least find a way to show that the skills you’ve learned or utilized will fit with the skills needed for the internship you’re applying.

*Tip: Double check the job duties of your internship to tailor your work experience to it. I’m not saying to lie… you should have some experience whether that be school, volunteer or previous jobs/internships.*

2) Have a well thought out cover letter

Do not rush through your cover letter, this is your first impression. Introduce yourself and tell how you are best fitted for the internship. Highlight some of your skills and experiences, this is a good time to sell yourself. Make sure you are sincere, if this is an internship you really want express that. They want to know you are serious about the opportunity and that you have what it takes to be there.

I tend to use the first paragraph as an introduction, the second one to pitch myself and my skills, and I conclude in the third paragraph by expressing why I’d love to intern with that specific company.

3) Prep for your interview

I over-prepare for everything so I took notes of possible questions they could ask *thanks google* and prepared answers in advance. Common questions include:

“How has your experience helped prepared you for this internship?”

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

“Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?”

A good strategy is to practice with a friend or out-loud to yourself, that way it feels more natural once you have the actual interview. Remember to ALWAYS have questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview. They will almost always ask “Do you have any questions for me?” It’s awkward to just answer no, if you are truly interested you will have questions.

Some questions I asked were:

“What do you expect from an intern?”

“What does a typical work day look like for you?”

“Who would I report to for daily tasks?”

“What is the company dress code?”

If you are truly interested in the internship it will be easy to come up with questions because you will be curious.

4) Always write a thank you note/email.

I had several interviews throughout my process but I tried to remember to always send a formal thank you email to the interviewers thanking them for taking the time to interview me. Remember, the interviewers are busy employees and it’s a big deal for them to take time out to speak to you so make sure you show them you are thankful. It’s not only polite but it makes you look that much more professional.

5) Be yourself

As overwhelming as the entire process may be, try to always be sincere. Others can tell when someone is trying too hard so don’t. The best way to find the opportunity that’s right for you is to be yourself. Remember you will get rejected, I was rejected several times before I was finally accepted and I now appreciate those rejections. If you are being yourself do not be discouraged if you don’t get an opportunity because the right one will come along.

I hope this post will help some of you and good luck to all you future interns!

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Understanding SEO; Basic Tips and Tricks

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So for my PR-Tactics class we had a brilliant speaker named Haley Burkhead, owner of marketbeautifully.com, who came to speak with us about SEO and I thought I’d share what I learned.

The term SEO is short for search engine optimization which means optimizing your website, or business so that it can be easily found through search engines. This is allows you to maximize the number of visitors you receive.

A few key-points that she mentioned were:

  • Site Speed: Site speed is how fast your website loads. She mentioned that it’s important that your site loads quickly. According to her a great tool to monitor this is Google analytics site speed tool. It monitors page-load time, how quickly images load, and how quickly the browser analyzes documents and allows for interaction.
  • Keyword Optimization: These are the words you use that make finding your content through search engines easier. She mentioned Google’s keyword planner which helps you find these keywords and even predicts the amount of clicks you may receive using these words.
  • Quality: She stressed the importance of quality content and I couldn’t agree more. I definitely believe gaining visitors has a lot to do with what you’re bringing to the table. One thing she said that stuck out was “work on solving problems.” If you offer a solution people will come.
  • Permalinks: This is the URL on the site for particular content. For example if you’re a blogger you can click on a post and see a unique URL in the search bar. She say’s you should edit these to be short and searchable.
  • Image File Name: The images on your pages should be uploaded with keywords included in the file to make it more searchable. So instead of just uploading images as 001.jpg for example, use keywords.
  • Mobile Responsiveness: Make sure your website works just as well on mobile devices as it does on desktop computers. We live in a world where many consumers and potential clients use their cell phones to make a search and if they are to come across your site you want to make sure it’s user friendly regardless of which device they used to get there.

So those are some of the basics she mentioned and I’m sure glad she did. I’m excited to continue to grow my knowledge of SEO and put these tips to good use.

 

Die! Press release! Die… or maybe not

So Tom Foremski posted an article entitled “Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! 11 years ago detailing his strategy for changing how news releases would function at the time.

His opinion was that “press releases are nearly useless” and typically just result in wasted time and effort. He proposed a new strategy for organizing press releases that involved deconstructing it into various sections and tagging the information so that the publisher could pre-assemble it.

While I appreciate the idea of organizing the information in a way that makes it easier for journalists to pull information, his strategy involved using various pages of quotes and information. I’m not sure a strategy of this nature would have a chance in this era.

Journalists are oversaturated with press releases and as busy as their profession is, I think we live in an era of short and sweet. The idea of having several pages of quotes seems unthinkable and I can’t imagine anyone would be willing to read through all of that information.

Modern press releases are formatted to be concise, and are organized to only include the most relevant information. I’m not sure where his idea of including a lot of links would fit within this structure.

I also think press releases still play an important role and wouldn’t quite agree that they are useless. In our culture today we are typically only getting a few snippets of a story and not the entire thing. Despite popular belief, many people still look to major outlets for the full story so I think sending news releases can still play a major role if done properly.

While I may have disagreed with Foremski in terms of formatting, I did agree that those writing press releases should leave the direction of the story to the journalist and not try to put their own spin on it. It only makes sense to allow the journalists to do it since that is their job and it saves wasted energy.

I’m interested to see how press releases will continue to develop and change overtime and what new strategies will be put into place to help them avoid the trash.

 

 

AP Stylebook and the importance of keeping up with modern communication

By: Raneisha Stassin

Anybody who studied public relations will most likely come into contact with the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook for short) and learn to get accustomed to annual updates. I’ve learned to develop an appreciate for their annual updates as they clearly work hard to keep up with how communication continuously changes and as communications professionals, what could be more relevant?

In the the 2016 edition one update that stuck out to me was the global warming section. The updates included an explanation of how the phrases ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ can be used interchangeably. They also stated that writers should not describe those who do not accept climate science as skeptics or deniers but rather ‘climate change doubters’ or  those who reject mainstream climate science.

For example, when writing about someone who rejects this science instead of using a sentence stating “Global warming deniers argue this information is inaccurate,” you would instead write “Those who reject mainstream climate science argue this information is inaccurate.”

What I found particularly interesting about this section was the amount of understanding they had about the topic itself and the detailed explanations they were able to give about the topic. Then I realized they are not only required to understand how communication changes and have excellent grammar skills but they are also required to be well-informed about every topic mentioned in their style guide. Fascinating right?

The topic of global warming in particular is an often discussed controversial topic and the editors of the AP Stylebook recognizes this. Typically writers for mass media strive to be objective, I could tell that this revision was created with that in mind. Saying “skeptics” rather than ‘doubters’ may have implications that were not intended in the original writing. So I admire revisions that honor objectivity.

It’s interesting to focus in on the updates made to each new stylebook because it helps us get an understanding of how communication is changing while also pushing us to stay knowledgable about current social issues and trends.