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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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Assuming You Have a Compass…

"But you know what they say..."

We all have a moral compass…it’s just that some work better than others. Unfortunately ethics, morals, and integrity are not something that can be taught in the classroom or even from a book as good as “Adventures in Public Relations.” It takes years of life experiences and wrong turns to get the damned thing working properly. It’s assumed that we will figure it out by the time we reach the professional world. But as they say, “if you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”

An ethical dilemma in the communications field is both on the individual practitioner and the business as a whole. Sure, your communications person may have a defective moral compass, but it’s up to the entire organization to make sure everyone produces work they can stand behind. Conversely, it is the individual’s responsibility to step down if she feels a campaign is unethical.

Photoshopped diversity is a new classic in my opinion. It’s that thing where a company edits marketing material to include a minority in an attempt to appear diverse. You know?  The Society Pages wrote an interesting post about an incident  of “Photoshopped Diversity” at the University of Wisconsin. Apparently there was only one black student in the whole school. The University decided to take the

one picture they had of him and superimpose it into different school events. They just assumed (there’s that word again) he wouldn’t notice or care. Well, he did notice and he sued them for their actions.

So who is at fault here? The administration for sucking at including minorities, the marketing director who said “more diversity,” or the graphic designer who did the Photoshopping? They all had a hand in the situation, so do you fire them all? I don’t know man, but my motto is you shouldn’t do it if you don’t want your name on it. While you are trying to answer my hard hitting questions, check out these photos of Photoshopped diversity (it’s a real term I swear…kinda).

The Huffington Post was involved in an ethical controversy of a different nature back in August. The internet newspaper held a design competition inviting readers to submit a new logo for them. AKA “Hey you design professionals should create work for free!” The Post assumed (ahem) everyone would be okay with it. They were wrong. There was major backlash from the design community who accused the paper of unfairly treating designers.

This dilemma is a little less black and white than the University of Wisconsin ethics crisis. If the designers willingly submit work–even without compensation–then what’s the problem? There are plenty of jingle writing or logo designing contests out there. Do they all offer some form of compensation or is the recognition and publication of your work enough? Regardless, it would have helped smooth things over if the Post gave the winner some kind of prize.

Some ethical dilemmas are more obvious then others. I can’t speak for entire organizations, but as an individual, it’s important to go with your gut. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yeah, that’s your moral compass trying to steer you in the right direction. If something doesn’t feel right to you, there is a good chance someone else will feel the same way. And for Pete’s sake, don’t assume!

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