Category Archives: Employee Relations

Rinse and Repeat

"...or else the whole thing will come undone."

I’ve diverged from my usual corny metaphors these last few blog posts, but I’d like to return to my literary roots to discuss crisis communications.

WARNING: Extended Metaphor to Follow

So you have this wool sweater, right? And it’s like your favorite article of clothing, but the knit pattern poses a serious concern. At any given moment you could get caught on something and cause a snag. So what do you do? Obviously you aren’t going to put it on and sit in bed all day, surrounded by the safety of your blankets.

That would be a bit extreme, but chances are you are going to avoid mosh pits when wearing it. You plan to wear it on a nice calm day with lots of book reading, until—uh-oh! You’re friend’s zipper gets caught on the threads when you are hugging. Now you have a giant loop hanging from the sleeve.

You must act quickly and tend to the snag, or else the whole thing will unravel, leaving a gaping hole for all to see.

This, my friend, is crisis communication. It’s all about awareness, preparedness, and action. PR professionals, and all members of a company, must be vigilant before, during, and after a crisis to achieve effective communications.

All to often, a company does not have a crisis plan in place. A lack of crisis planning can have disastrous results. Preparation can greatly decrease the magnitude of a crisis and make it easier to handle. It’s not rocket science folks, but people make mistakes in crisis management every day.

I will admit, that not all crises can be avoided or even predicted. Skittles, for example, is in the early stages of a PR crisis of a very unique nature. Both the New York Times and the blog Spin Sucks have provided coverage on the issue. According to the New York Times, “Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was shot and killed by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., last month [was] carrying only a packet of the candy and a bottle of iced tea.”

Since the controversial murder, Skittles’ sales have skyrocketed and the candy has become a symbol for supporters of Trayvon. Some media outlets and consumers are calling Skittles out on the profits made from the tragedy. They feel the candy’s slogan “Taste the Rainbow,” gives the company a perfect opportunity to support racial equality.

Instead. Skittles has only released a broad statement offering their condolences to the Martin family. And in this situation, I think they have done the right thing—for now. If the pressure for a corporate donation continues to build, Skittles’ will be forced to address the public. I am not saying they should donate, but I do think they should at least make a statement.

I don’t think they should concede to the public’s pressure—they did not encourage purchase of their products for the cause—it happened organically. I do, however, think they could highlight other ways people can contribute to the Martin family.

It may not be possible to predict all tragedies, but organizations can still prepare on a broad level. An overall understanding of risk factors can help avoid crises or at the very least make them easier to manage. The lessons are right there in my sweater story:

  • Avoid Mosh Pits = Avoid Risky Situations
  • Plan = Uh…Plan
  • Uh-oh! = Recognize Crisis
  • Tend to Issue or Leave a Gaping Hole = Action
  • Rinse and Repeat = Apply in the Future

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the crisis, or else the whole thing will come undone!

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It Starts from Within

"People at all levels can inadvertently develop tunnel vision."

The communicative relationship between a business and its employees is not only important–it’s necessary! Like any structure, a company must have a strong foundation before it can start to build or expand. Unfortunately, it looks like there is a disconnect between how and what information is communicated from upper to lower level members of a business. According to Guth and Marsh of our handy blog guide, Issues in Public Relations, 71% of managers feel they are truthful with employees, yet only 53% of employees agree!

Yikes! So what is the issue here? I feel, especially in large corporations, there is a lack of understanding for how each department functions independently. People at all levels can inadvertently develop tunnel vision. They become so hyper-focused on their work and forget what is best for the other departments involved, and even the overall company.

Should employers offer full disclose to their employees? Or would excessive information become overwhelming?

It seems unfair to expect each individual in a company to understand every department inside and out, however I think companies should require employees to meet (at least once a year) to discuss what they are doing. Managers today need to keep all lines of communication open and strong.

The best businesses go above and beyond mere business communication and see the well being of each employee as a major concern. Dealer.com is a business in Burlington, Vt that exemplifies this philosophy; they hookup their employees with fitness centers, nutritionists, entertainment, and more. Talk about kickbacks! Just like little Johnny needs a gold star from the teacher, so does Steve in the IT department.

To what extent does a business spoil it’s employees? After all, aren’t consumers equally important?

Target was recently faced with a PR crisis of their own when employees at a Texas location shunned a breastfeeding customer to the fitting rooms. The customer was outraged and ordered the members of the Mom Squad to join her in a National demonstration. The poor Target Corporation was stuck between the lactating mom’s and their uneasy employees.

What should a company do in this situation? Stand by its employees or the customers?

Target remained neutral, but ultimately leaned toward the customer. They released the following statement, “We continually educate our team members in stores across the country on store policies to ensure all guests have a great experience. Target has been in touch with the store to ensure all team members are aware of our breastfeeding policy. Target is proud to support all mothers who breastfeed year-round, including today.”

While this didn’t turn into a PR catastrophe, I would say Target’s attention to employee relations is sob-worthy in this instance. Come on guys, don’t leave your employees high and dry!

Employee relations means taking care of a key public in good times and bad. It’s important for businesses to maintain communications across all departments and offer rewards when they are warranted. Poor employee relations can lead to a low morale and mediocre output. Public Relations practitioners must keep in mind, everything starts from within the company.

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