Blog : Public Relations

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Despite the fact we are in the middle of a huge crisis, from a comms point of view things have been relatively straight forward. The Government has led the way and businesses have followed.  No one is alone, we’re all in it together, which in many ways has made it easier to message and deal with.

But as we start to see things transition into ‘next normal’, businesses have to be prepared for managing their own news and reputations. The media are going to switch their attention away from the Government and will be looking for stories about the fallout. So, everything – from financial struggles to redundancies, closure of offices, pulling back from investment, employees not being supported or treated appropriately, to additional spikes in infection – will prove challenging to manage. Whilst much of this is unavoidable, brands and businesses will be held accountable for their actions during this time, and even the mighty can fall with one wrong move.

Last week, myself and Scotland MD, Morna McLelland, sat on a Marketing Society Inspiring Minds panel to discuss managing comms during a crisis; here’s a summary of some things for brands and businesses to think about.

1. Be Prepared (and know when an issue becomes a crisis).

None of us ever saw ‘global pandemic’ on the risk register of any business we worked with, but every business should be thinking about the potential risks and challenges facing them.  These could be financial, operational, people, product or customer related.  Prepare your own risk register, work through the scenarios, and ideally, plan how you would respond.  If you know something significant is going to happen, take as much time as you can to prepare.  Think about who in your organisation will need to be involved, what are the key stages or dates you need to work around, how will you make decisions, and how will you communicate with each other?

2. Understand your audiences

Who are the people you need to influence and communicate with?  These could include investors, stakeholders, politicians, customers, and employees.  Map out your audiences in relation to your issue.  Who is most important, what do they need, what do they want to hear, and how will you reach them?

3. Make your message relevant

Ideally you should boil your comms down to four key messages. When you write them, remember your voice, keep them short, and ideally work with a PR professional to ensure that the words you use can’t be edited down by a journalist or taken out of context in any way.  Revisit your audiences and then make sure you tweak messages depending on who you’re talking to – tailored comms will go down much better than one size fits all.  Be consistent.  Admit mistakes, be clear, and show empathy.

 

4. Don’t believe your own hype

Of course you believe in the business you work in but that can sometimes cloud your judgement on how people externally will interpret your message. Use someone external to stress test your messaging and approach, and get a real-world view on things.

5. Be clear on your voice and who is representing you

When you speak, how do you sound?  If a brand is talking, make sure you don’t ignore your brand personality but be flexible.  Even the most irreverent brands need to know when to play it straight. Be real, be authentic, and above all else be honest.  The brands who fare best in a crisis are those that are relatable and real – hiding behind corporate masks will do very little to engender any kind of empathy. Get clear on who is going to be your voice. There is of course a role for the CEO but it’s important to consider different people for different roles and to ensure the most effective communicators are used at key moments.

6. Join things up

Make sure that your communications response looks at all the comms channels at your disposal, from PR, internal channels, customer newsletters, social media, stakeholder comms, third party networks and direct communications (picking up the phone or sending someone an email).  Timing and the sequence of this is especially critical and will be dictated by your audience mapping.

 

7. Use third parties to provide a different voice

Is there a third party that could support your story? Can you signpost existing help and information resources?  Or similarly, if you know someone is going to be especially negative then you might want to brief them directly in advance.

8. Understand the mood, and how it changes over time

How your story lands will have as much to do with what you say as the context in which it is landing.  Make sure you have a good read on the external environment and are sensitive to what’s going on around you. At the moment we are ‘all in this together’ with a collective goal, but that’s unusual. Be aware of wider economic factors that are influencing opinion – both good and bad – and how your messaging might need to change.

9. Communicate often and think ahead

Keep people updated (even when you have nothing to say).  Never stick your head in the sand or ignore questions. Review your social content and frequency of communications as people hunger for information, reassurance or guidance. And while you’re in this now, and will undoubtedly be focused on getting out of it as quickly and painlessly as possible, think ahead…what could be the future implications; unemployment, shareholder unrest, staff well-being and mental health, and are you equipped for that too?

 

10. Get specialist help

Managing reputations in a crisis is something that can’t be taught in a book or by reading a blog. The process and nuances come from years of experience so get someone in that knows what they are doing and absolutely have them at the top table throughout.  If you manage something badly then it’s going to take five times longer to clear up and by then your reputation could be severely damaged. Surround yourself with experienced experts that can help you and provide calm and confident support.

As a final thought, while no-one loves a crisis, if handled correctly they can define a business and the leadership team within it. Even when delivering the toughest of messages, if you are relatable and act with integrity and compassion then things might not end up quite as bad as you think.

 

Make a Date with Data Protection

Make a Date with Data Protection

So what can I say about GDPR? Sadly for the Stripe team the term doesn’t stand for God Damn Public Relations, if it did we’d ace that.

What I’m talking about is the General Data Protection Regulation, not the most exhilarating topic perhaps, but please don’t stop reading, let me explain…

The regulation is a new law that will come into force across the EU (including the UK, we’re still in it for now) this May. The law makes it incumbent for businesses to safeguard all their staff, client and supplier private information; meaning that they have to be a lot more sensible about the personal information that they collect and store.

The UK’s existing data protection law was created back in 1998, the same year Geri left the Spice Girls, Titanic was top of the Box Office and two PhD students from California created a little-known search engine named Google. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then and the law relating to data badly needed updating for a new generation, one that communicates, shops, banks and does business online.

Almost every week the media reports on yet another company that has either fallen prey to hackers or has inadvertently shared customer information with a third party. This dissemination of personal information leads to an array of problems, ranging from nuisance phone calls (“Have you been mis-sold PPI?”) through to fraud and identity theft.

Last month the user database for popular app My Fitness Pal was hacked. I’ve intermittently used the app to chronicle my various failed attempts to shape up. As a result of the hack, I now know that my contact details and (even more terrifyingly) my weight could be in the hands of anyone. And this is small fry compared to other headlines – the patients whose NHS medical records were hacked; or the Grindr users whose HIV status was sold to a third-party marketing firm…Life is getting a little too Black Mirror, and that is exactly why we need GDPR.

Like most professions, in the comms industry we do, by trade, collect some personal data. In preparation for the upcoming law change, we’re implementing new and secure processes for managing data, emails and encouraging our clients to do the same. Our goal is to ensure all the data we keep on file is up-to-date, relevant to our business, and above all, stored safely.

The law sets a new standard for data protection and makes businesses accountable for how they control and process data. It will require changes in mind set and processes, but ultimately, the outcomes are positive; the law will help us ensure our privacy and reclaim a degree of autonomy in the digital age.

Three cheers for data protection.

Stripe back on campus to talk PR at Northumbria University

Stripe back on campus to talk PR at Northumbria University

Ten years ago I graduated from Northumbria University a bit of a crossroads. With a degree in English Literature and Film Studies, an empty wallet and a C.V. which included a variety of trades, from meat-packing to tea-towel printing, you could say I was a little confused about what to do next.

However, rather than selling my soul to become a prodigious blues guitarist, instead I decided to train as a broadcast journalist – before swapping a career as a hack for PR and marketing. The rest as they say, is history.

So when I was invited to deliver a presentation to MSc International Sport Management students at my old university stomping ground, it felt like I had come full circle. Having been asked to share my insight and experience of what industry best practice looks like, I jumped at the chance to hop on a train to Newcastle.

Inspiring future industry talent

The private sector has an important role to play in sharing advice with young people on the key attributes and skills they need to enter the workplace. While I get the sense there is still more work to be done in this area, positive strides are already underway.

Stripe is an agency committed to developing the next generation of communication professionals. As well as regular visits to present to students at Edinburgh University and Queen Margaret University, we continue to hire young and dynamic talent through our graduate recruitment programme, Stars and Stripes.

Each year we take on bright and enthusiastic grads to join our ranks and be part of Stripe Academy, our training and development programme. Now in its eighth year, the programme has kick-started the career of 25 outstanding graduates.

My presentation was focused on providing students with a better understanding of the value of PR, and its effectiveness for delivering impact as part of a brand’s integrated marketing strategy. As well as demystifying the industry, we discussed strategic thinking, campaign planning, media relations, community management, measurement and evaluation, agency life and what brilliant work looks like.

Andrew presenting to Northumbria Uni studentsPR presentation

Of course a sport-themed lecture wouldn’t be complete without some career highlights, and a few sporting anecdotes from a portfolio that has included sponsorship activations and event management, from football to mountain biking. I was delighted to wax lyrical about some of the projects I’ve enjoyed working on recently, such as the IRN-BRU Cup activation with A.G. Barr and the SPFL, Strathmore water’s Do More campaign and the UCI Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup.

But the key takeaway I wanted to share with students was that while the rules of engagement may have shifted over the last decade, the fundamental principles of communication are as relevant today as they always will be.

For me building strong relationships, no matter what industry you work in, will always open new doors and spark fresh opportunities. While creating deep and meaningful stories will always be the difference between a good campaign and a memorable one.

But if you’re thinking about a career in PR, here’s some of my top advice to get you started:

  • Writing wizardry: From drafting media releases to crafting sticky social content, excellent writing skills are an essential tool for PRs. Starting a blog, writing for your local newspaper or simply keeping a diary can help improve your tone of voice, spelling and grammar.
  • Confident communicator: While sending and replying to emails is a daily job, PRs are not keyboard warriors. Starting conversations is what we do best – so make sure you have great set of social skills and enjoy talking to real human beings!
  • Stay informed and be curious: As a PR it’s important to stay on top of current affairs and the wider news agenda. We work closely with the media and speak to reporters every day. With the rise of fake news, it’s best to go straight for quality journalism and pick up a newspaper.
  • Organise work experience: There really is no better way to learn about PR than gaining first hand industry experience. Why not apply for a week placement with an agency, or in a brand’s marketing department. I’d also encourage getting in touch with your local paper, TV or radio station.
  • Make a good impression: Showing interest in the job is a no brainer, but don’t forget to be passionate and enthusiastic about what you’re doing. If you get the chance of work experience, it’s your opportunity to make your mark.
Double win at the CIPR Scotland PRide Awards

Double win at the CIPR Scotland PRide Awards

It was a double win at the CIPR Scotland PRide Awards for the team here at Stripe – as well as picking up Outstanding Public Relations Consultancy, our Account Manager Shaun Bell scooped Young Communicator of the Year.

Shaun was praised for being ‘head and shoulders’ above the other candidates with his passion for what he does shining through. After joining Stripe in 2011 through the Stars and Stripes graduate programme, Shaun has worked his way up to Account Manager and delivered campaigns for clients such as John Lewis, the Scottish Government and Young Scot.

Our MD, Juliet Simpson, said: “I’m extremely proud of the whole team who all play their part in helping us to achieve amazing results for our clients, and I’m especially pleased for Shaun who fully deserves this award for the dedication and passion he brings to his job every day.”

We also won Silver awards for the Public Sector and Consumer Relations categories for The Scottish Government Country Roads campaign and VELUX Lovers of Light campaign respectively.