Teri O'Neal

No one likes to think about the worst. Crisis communication planning remains a topic that many businesses and organizations would rather not think about when it is not needed. At its core, the perception of crisis communications screams negativity and causes people to think about catastrophic disasters. The response for most, albeit the wrong answer, typically is to bury one’s head in the sand.

However, crisis communications boils down to two basic principles: adequate planning and building relationships. Three mantras in a crisis all surround the plan and the people: prepare for the worst, hope for the best and expect the unexpected.

Prepare for the worst

  1. Know and understand your business and any possible threats against it.
  2. Develop relationships with those media and organizational allies, which could assist you in an emergency.
  3. Identify the spokespeople, who will control the message during a crisis.
  4. Prepare your virtual “go bag.” Gather all social media and website password and logins, as well as any standard operating procedures for efficiency in a crisis.

Hope for the best

  1. Develop the key messaging necessary to allow spokespeople and staff to speak with one voice about the company, accentuating the positive and allowing potentially negative questions to circle back to a key message.
  2. Train your staff on delivering exceptional interviews and teaching the concept of bridging and redirection. This can benefit your organization in good times and bad.
  3. Build trust by ensuring you circle the wagons immediately during a crisis to allow your internal audience, the staff, know they remain the priority.

Expect the unexpected

  1. Remain flexible in your plan to allow for quick-turn changes. A crisis rarely looks the same twice, so leave room in your plan to adjust, when needed.
  2. Anticipate a fluid situation, which often lasts longer than expected. Back up your plans to allow for a longer situation. Avoid burnout, if possible!
  3. During a crisis, communicate early and often. If you leave a void, expect your adversaries to fill it.

Post-event evaluation remains an essential main component of a solid crisis communications plan, though often is the component left undone. The evaluation plan is usually placed boldly at the end of the plan awaiting execution. Most practitioners and business owners, ready to put the negative event behind them, avoid it like the plague.

Ideally, conducting a hot wash of the event and the application of the plan immediately following the event leads to key adjustments to improve the execution. Take the time to assemble the team, even the external partners, if possible, to discuss the execution and brainstorm ideas to make it better for the future.

Our work with clients allows us to assist in planning for the unknown and developing key relationships with people and organizations, which ultimately leads to better responses during a negative event while managing crisis PR effectively.

What tools do you have in your crisis communications toolbox? Share with us by commenting below.

Anita Brightman

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” – Arthur Ashe

Since opening our doors 20 years ago, A. Bright Idea’s philosophy remains rooted in the idea that a group of people with boundless creativity and unwavering passion can change the world, or at least our own corner of it.

As communicators, we understand the power of telling the right story to the right people, in ways that create a positive impact. Often, our choice to work with organizations reflects our own desire to give back and create positive change in our community and our nation by supporting the great work of our clients. These organizations, both at the government and non-profit level, inspire us through the dedication to their mission and we quickly engage as an extension of their teams to reach a common goal.

Our team draws excitement and energy from causes improving the lives of others. We can think of no greater joy than the ability to effectively shine a light on an issue, service or idea to make the world a better place. This philosophy carried us through nearly two decades in an uncertain market. For me, proof that when you put your heart where you work, great things happen.

Whether it’s in the lives of children, the health of our nation’s communities or the richness of cultural fabric and preservation of history, we are passionate about supporting change and making a difference.

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On a local level, this means supporting future generations through initiatives to improve the lives of children. Working with the Boys & Girls Club of Harford County, as well as Teen Services Sonoma, Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the John Carroll School and United Way of Central Maryland, offers us the opportunity to help build awareness in their missions, highlight their commitment to the betterment of children and drive community support on their behalf and for increased services for youth.

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October Take Back Day commercial shoot in Chicago with Mike Ditka.

Our dedication to community health issues remains equally as strong, from both a local and national perspective. Whether increasing access to affordable health care, educating the public on how to safely dispose unused prescription drugs to help reduce addiction and overdoses or bringing awareness and calls for action to combat the scourge of heroin and opioid addiction in our country, we are proud to be an integral part of the fight. Our community health work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) showcases where we have long provided media buying and creative services for the successful National Prescription Drug Take-Back Initiative, which takes hundreds of tons of unused prescription medication off the streets each year – 6.5 million tons to date.

In addition, we currently provide the DEA with branding, strategic communication, advertising development and media buying services in support of the DEA 360 Strategy, a new initiative to combat the nation’s heroin and prescription opioid abuse crisis with a direct grassroots/community approach.

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Commercial shoot with Boomer Esiason in New York City for Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that an agency full of creative professionals would be passionate about preserving and promoting arts and culture. The work we do on behalf of numerous cultural institutions and organizations spans both coasts. We are proud to play a role in highlighting the amazing artifacts and innovations at the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History and Smithsonian Libraries. On the local level, we support history and the arts through sponsorship support of the Napa Valley Museum and the Aberdeen Proving Ground Centennial Celebration Association.

Even as we bring our passion for making a difference to our work each day, we live it out in our personal lives too. Many of our employees continue their involvement in meaningful causes outside of work. Whether it’s through a commitment to personal artistic and musical endeavors, through volunteer work with our local schools or through fundraising efforts to fight childhood cancer and other serious diseases, our passion for making a difference always shines through.

We all want to help – solving problems, being part of solutions, building awareness and creating change. Coming together to be part of something bigger is weaved into our cultural fabric. Looking at the 20th year of A. Bright Idea and moving forward, we continue to look for ways to promote the good, building on the foundational values of our firm. One person can make a difference, but a team of like-minded, creative professionals with an unwavering commitment to truly making an impact, can create change. I’m proud of our team, as this is not something that can be taught. It’s instilled. We make a living and we make a difference every day through our creative talents and our commitment to raising each other and our clients up in all we do.

If you have something to add to this story, share it in the comment section below!

Keeping Strategy in PR

abimaster | November 13, 2013

Nonprofit organizations provide great benefits through services and products to local communities, positively changing the lives of families and individuals – your loved ones, friends, neighbors and colleagues. In most cases, they’re providing support with limited funds and resources, running on the time of volunteers along, while for-profit businesses have the advantage of better resources and full-time staff to support their endeavors. Often times, these disadvantages mean nonprofit organizations are put on the back burner with the media because their stories may not have the “flash” and grander available to the media from for-profits.

Focusing on nonprofit organizations, it’s especially crucial to keep a strong strategy behind PR efforts in order to effectively garner the attention of the media even with limited resources and time. Public relations require careful strategy to demonstrate information relevant to the audience. Implementing this strategy in a tactful and meaningful manor comes in the form of the newest PR buzzword – PESO – paid, earned, shared and owned media.

  • Owned – content generated by the organization and thus messages controlled completely through their content
  • Paid – paid advertising or sponsorships via media partnerships or other events
  • Earned – information presented to the public via the media where the organization is a resource; or PSA/donated media via advertising
  • Shared – social media mentions and virtual/social media conversations (“buzz”) surrounding the organization that builds through a word-of-mouth, viral network

These four avenues implemented strategically by any organization can garner attention related to its cause. Below are examples for paid, earned, shared and owned media and how to execute tools and tactics related to each. It’s important to consider added value with each, including compelling content the media can incorporate with mentions, such as images/video, trends, expert references, social media polls/campaigns, pop culture references, etc. Including these types of compelling content provide relevance for the media’s audience making the story more important.

Paid

  • Media exposure and mentions via media sponsors/partnerships, including print, radio, television, digital outdoor, and online impressions
  • Public exposure and mentions via partnerships, including other business’/organizations websites, press releases, broadcast media mentions, on-site/stadium events/exposure

Earned (Media pitches)

  • How businesses are affected by the organization’s fundraising, including statistics and what that means for those employed by or benefiting from the products and services of those businesses; Relate it back to the end user
  • Research and technology advances in the local area that support the organization, including scientific sources and news articles
  • Profiles on each volunteers/donors and their connection to the organization and the community, including video interviews and photos so viewers can identify
  • Benchmarks and milestones in industry advancements related to the organization and how they can be applied by families and individuals locally, including expert tips and trends for easy application

Shared

  • Charts/graphics/statistics locally and what difference funds raised for the organization could mean to the community
  • Map of communities within the area served most effected by the problems the organization serves to help
  • Facebook poll quizzing social media users on statistics and facts
  • Links to research directly impacted by the organization
  • Hashtags to use on FourSquare and Facebook when you check in at locations related to the organization and its cause

Owned

  • Create a PSA to distribute to local media outlets and ask them to share the video in order to help your specific cause. The PSA will serve as a vehicle to control the message and can be repurposed for earned media.
  • Provide the media with statistics specific to the local community and how money raised by the organization can help to improve those statistics
  • Create information graphics to visually represent statistics, event information and key messages that can be provided to the media for easy inclusion in their stories/mentions
  • Video clips from organization events and locally-based families and individuals who have benefited from the organization

With all public relations efforts, it’s important to make the pitch newsworthy with an angle that allows the media and the media’s audience to relate without much thought. For example, correspondence and information provided to the media should be brief, in layperson terms, eliminating hype and sticking to fact and direct to what it means to the audience.

Meg O'Hara

By: Meg O’Hara, A. Bright Idea Marketing Intern

As a rising college senior and current A. Bright Idea intern studying communications and public relations, I have the opportunity to compare the information I have learned as a student with the firsthand experience I have gathered at A. Bright Idea. One interesting recent event had me comparing just that– the academic perspective of what I’ve learned about branding and the real-life importance of protecting a brand.

In the past several weeks, America has tuned into the Paula Deen controversy, a well-recognized and seemingly friendly TV personality, under fire for making derogatory comments in the past. Such events have put Deen’s brand at risk, causing many of her supporters, fans and sponsors to cut ties with Deen and her organization. While she certainly isn’t the first to face a brand crisis, as many athletes and political figures also endure such struggles, it is an important lesson to learn from and topic to address – what measures can be taken to prevent a brand crisis and protect a brands reputation? For certain, strong public relations tactics are necessary to maintain the image of the individual or company including developing a crisis management plan prior to incidents, enabling a proactive response and controlling an organizations message.

Here is a quick list of general do’s and don’ts:

1. Speak early and often. This does not necessarily mean that you have to take the blame for something you didn’t do just to settle the storm, but if you’re in the middle of a PR crisis it is important to remember there is a reason why the situation came about in the first place.  For example, if a brand is being threatened because of an offensive comment that a representative may have made and it wasn’t intended to be construed in that way, apologize for the way it was interpreted and for being unclear.

2. Be clear. Nothing is more important than strong communication. If a statement was misunderstood the first time, reword and explain the points. Preparing a statement prior to notifying the public is critical.

3. Control your message. While it is important to be sincerely apologetic, it is also crucial that a representative be poised, well spoken and have key messages rehearsed and ready. When an image is being repaired, consider that the public needs a reason to rebuild the trust that was lost. If the owner of a company or brand cannot keep their emotions intact on camera, viewers might wonder if they are truly professional and fit for representing a company.

4. Stay consistent. Along with sincerity, the public seeks honesty. When a representative changes a story to repair the image of the brand, it can generate more harm than good. Flip-flopping creates doubt and distrust, further tarnishing the relationship between the company and the public.

5. Keep points concise. Dragging an issue on longer than needed is detrimental to the brand. Every issue settles with time and continuing to harp on the mistake simply prolongs the matter.

Though many companies have faced extreme PR challenges, countless come out successfully. New stories arise diverting the media attention away from the issue, and by taking control of the situation wisely with a plan in place, it is more likely a brand or image can be repaired and rebuilt.

Media Training – the Do’s and Don’ts

abimaster | February 26, 2013

Many organizations welcome the opportunity to be highlighted with positive media attention, broadcasting their brand message among the target audiences. Conversely, there are also instances where organizations must face negative media attention, defend their brand, actions or operations tactfully in front of the court of public opinion. In both instances, when faced with media attention, its important for your organization’s leadership or spokesperson to be well versed and trained in media interviews.

At a recent event hosted by the Public Relations Society of America, Maryland Chapter (@PRSA_MD), our strategists exercised their media training skills, keeping abreast of the latest trends. We’ve shared a few of the basic points to keep in mind when preparing for media encounters. A good rule of thumb – consult your agency to develop a thorough media strategy, preparing you for positive or negative questions and appropriate responses.

Five steps to preparing for a media interview:

  1. Research the reporter/outlet prior to the interview
  2. Develop your core messages
  3. Prepare specifically for difficult questions
  4. Have your last question response ready – “I’d like to add…”
  5. Offer to provide additional information and have it on hand or readily available

The art of a good sound bite:

  • Make it locally relevant
  • Stay specific to your target audience
  • Offer something different – breaking news
  • Set up a visual
  • Provide an anecdote, analogy or third party endorsement

Do’s during an interview:

  • Be friendly
  • Translate technical terms
  • Build the relationship
  • Ask questions back
  • Provide follow up

Don’ts during an interview (and a few examples of an effective response):

  • Never say “no comment” (“I’m sorry I can’t respond to that question, but I can address..”)
  • Don’t go beyond your expertise (“I can’t speak to that but I can tell you…”)
  • Don’t speculate (“Here are the facts as I understand them…”)
  • Don’t bash the competition or complain (“Our company values dictate…”)
  • Avoid using or repeating negatives
  • Never go “off the record”
  • Avoid taking the bait (“Actually, contrary to that thought…”)
  • Don’t answer hypotheticals

If there is a media interview in your future or you’re looking to garner media attention, be sure your brand and your spokesperson are properly prepared. Need a little more training? Call one of our media experts for an in-depth media training session.

The discussion recently at a four-year old birthday party took a different turn when someone blurted out, “So I’m never eating at Chick-fil-A again.” Several guests joined in, either whole heartedly agreeing or some fervently opposing the view – and voices started to climb the decibel scale. Thank goodness it was time to blow out the candles.

In case you missed the recent coverage, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, whose father founded the business, recently reiterated the company’s belief in “the biblical definition of the family unit.” This led to an outcry from same-sex marriage advocates and the social media sphere blew up with boycott demands. Suddenly neighbors found themselves either pro-delicious chicken sandwich or opting to go to its competitors to satisfy their fast food craving.

When companies and organizations go off the key message cue card and make social or political statements, do consumers suffer? No matter your stance – does consuming a large waffle fry mean you’re expressing to the world your social and political views?

CNN asks this same question in the article “When a sandwich becomes a social statement.” Instead of communicating its appreciation for its consumer base, Chick-fil-A’s PR team has been working double time steer the discussion away from the political game.

Sadly, USA Today announced late week that Chick-fil-A’s chief spokesman for company “died early today amid the furor sparked by his boss’ biblical opposition to same-sex marriage.”  The article noted he had just recently issued a statement “expressing the company’s desire to ‘not proactively being engaged in the dialogue on gay marriage. ‘Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,’ his statement said.”

When an organization goes off-message – it’s important to get back to basics. Revisit your core business and communication goals for your target audience and move forward. Although Chick-fil-A is known for its religious ethos tied into its operations, surely its core goal is to make and serve quality food. As Alan Pearcy noted in PR Daily “Maybe the company—particularly its president—should let the chicken do the talking from now on.”

With all the constant “tips” on the absolute latest social media tactics that appear in our inbox on a daily basis, we recently happened upon an insightful article titled 5 lies about social media, by Samantha Collier in PR News. Among some of the myths Collier dispels, including “You’re guaranteed a new client within X amount of days,” one in particular stood out for us:

“Social media is free.”

Don’t get us wrong – social media is a fantastic way to even garner organic support from your customers. You remember – that support you didn’t have to pay for because someone actually likes your product or service, and is willing to give you honest feedback without a chance to “win a $500 gift card?”

Still, have you considered the amount of time you need to dedicate to a legitimate and fruitful social media presence? The old saying “time is money” rings true here as well.

As Collier points out:

“This is one of the biggest misconceptions of them all. Social media is not free. It takes time, and the last I checked, time equals money. Even if you decide to keep your social media marketing in-house, you will always be paying someone to monitor your accounts.”

When considering your social media strategy, ensure that your budget accounts for the several-plus hours per week it takes to sustain, thrive and measure. This means that those labor hours you’re applying towards your tweets, posts and pins should be viewed as an investment in your organization. Investing in your reputation and client relationships earns more than revenue – it earns trust – something money simply cannot buy.

Ensure that your leadership or client understands that including social media as part of your communication strategy is a budget line-item, but also assure them of all the meaningful aspects that a two-way communication relationship yields with your client base.

This may not be the latest and greatest “tip” on social media – but rather old school advice that you need to remain budget conscious when considering your communication tools and tactics.

How to Position Your Business for Success

BY CYNTHIA NUTWELL
December 2011

Expert Advice on Budgets, Marketing and More

In today’s uncertain economy, successful businesses are implementing strategies to ensure their long-term success. Whether it’s increasing budgets for growth or crafting effective marketing, I95 BUSINESS probed three business owners for ideas on how to position for success.

Positioning for Growth
Anita Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea Advertising & Public Relations, positions her 19-person firm for growth. With offices on both coasts, Brightman’s agency expansion is due to large federal contracts, small business brand development and environmental remediation projects. Brightman also deals with companies and clients who want to do more with shrinking budgets.

To read the full article, click here: http://i95business.com/2011/12/how-to-position-your-business-for-success/

The other social network: Twitter

abimaster | August 5, 2011

Last month, the social networking site Twitter celebrated its 5th year of public use. Twitter reached popularity as it helped track wildfire updates in California, free an American student from an Egyptian jail, find gas during a shortage in Atlanta, track Mumbai terrorist attacks, and even break the news of the US Airways plane crash on the Hudson.

David Wells, Jr. Marketing Specialist/ Photographer

If you don’t know what people are talking about when they use words like tweeting, following, hashtag (#), mentions (@) or trending in the same sentence, you may not know exactly what Twitter is. Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to send short status updates to their friends – called followers. Users can also choose to follow other people—consisting of their friends, celebrities, companies and brands they like, TV shows and more. The status updates are generally 140 characters or less in length, but many tweets provide links to longer posts, websites, videos or other related content.

Recently Twitter surpassed 200 million users. The Women’s World Cup soccer match featuring the United States against Japan broke the ‘Tweets per second’ (TPS) record; the total number of tweets sent out across the entire platform. A record of 7,196 tweets per second were sent out at the end of the exciting and nail-biting match. In comparison, at the end of the 2011 Superbowl, a mere 4,064 TPS were sent.

Twitter grew rapidly in the past five years. In 2007, 400,000 tweets were posted per quarter, growing to 100 million tweets per quarter in 2008, and in February 2010, over 50 million tweets were being sent per day. Today, twitter users send over 200 million tweets each day.

Who uses Twitter?

Since the end of 2010, total Twitter users nearly doubled. According to an infographic created by Digital Surgeons, 55% of Twitter users are female with 45% male. The 26 to 44 age group makes up 57% of users. Of those who follow a brand, 67 purchase that specific brand—showing action. Some of our favorite top Twitter-using brands include Chevrolet, Southwest, Old Spice, Carnival, Home Depot and Starbucks. These top-name brands have great twitter strategies that engage their audience including customer service responses, tips, deals and insights to their brand.

Social media is a multiplatform tool to engage an audience and could include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, Flickr, FourSquare and more, depending on the goals and objectives of the strategy. It is increasingly more important for brands and businesses to have a clear and consistent message for their target audience across all platforms. The good news is, tools and applications are making this easier by allowing integration of the same messages across multiple platforms. For example, TweetDeck is an application that allows you to post updates to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare all at the same time. This ensures consistent messaging across your platforms. Also, Facebook posts can automatically link to your twitter account allowing your followers to be directed to your other social media platforms. Social media icons and links are showing up in print ads, television ads and even radio.

Social media, even though it’s still a new medium, allows businesses and brands to reach a broader audience in new ways, and those who are implementing good strategies are really seeing the benefits pay off.