September 29, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

FIR #49 – Crisis and Internal Comms; Paying for Winning

FIR #49 – Crisis and Internal Comms; Paying for Winning

I was thrilled to be asked back as a panelist on the August 22 episode of the FIR podcast, a show that CustomScoop by CARMA has long sponsored. Host Shel Holtz guides the program, and for this episode the other two panelists were Katie Delahaye Paine of Paine Publishing and Rachel Miller of All Things IC.

We covered a wide range of topics during the discussion including crisis management surrounding Ryan Lochte’s multi-version story of what happened at a gas station in Rio, crisis management of a different kind involving the St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire, and a variety of internal communications challenges, including UK companies post-Brexit, front-line employees with improvement ideas that are never addressed, and communicating CEO pay ratios.

Crisis management

Two of the items were about crisis management, and a few themes in the commentary on both stories stood out.

  • One, the need to quickly address the issue and not have it drag out over days, weeks, or months. This was done a little bit better in the Lochte case than the St. Paul’s case, but as I pointed out on the show the St. Paul’s case is being litigated which extends an issue simply by the nature of how long the legal process can take. The fact that the school is involved in a lawsuit also limits how much the school can say or do to move past the crisis. This conflict between PR and legal is neither new nor easy to resolve, and I believe this will continue to be a point of contention for organizations large and small when facing a crisis.
  • Two, the language used in addressing a crisis matters. In the Lochte case, the first publicly issued statement sounded very much like damage control rather than an apology. In the St. Paul’s case, a statement issued by the school sounded like it had gone through multiple layers of approval by committee—rendering it very wordy without saying much.

Internal communications

Three of the items related to internal communications issues:  the need for companies in the UK to communicate with employees on potential Brexit impacts to business, front-line employees who don’t feel as though their ideas receive attention, and preparing communications to address any potential fallout from the upcoming mandate that CEO to employee pay ratios be disclosed. Again, key threads emerged common to all three stories:

  • Internal communications doesn’t really receive the attention and focus that it should. Whether it is determining what about the Brexit vote is most concerning to employees, listening to them when they have suggestions on improving customer service, or planning (or really the lack thereof) to talk to employees about CEO pay, companies seem to be operating with blinders on a little bit.
  • Employees are the most immediate and connected informal spokespeople for a company. Making sure that communications lines are open and are being used is important.

One additional topic that was discussed was an opinion piece recently posted on The Hill that made the argument that PR firms should be paid based on “winning” rather than on billable hours or open-ended retainers. Without defining what winning is, this seems like an idea that is fraught with the potential to create unintended consequences. The author places a great deal of emphasis on the ethics of billing, yet doesn’t examine how “paying firms to win” might itself incentivize unethical behaviors.

It was a fun and interesting discussion, and FIR continues to be a “must listen” for those in the communications field.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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