PR Insider: Will You Be Ready When the Ball Drops?

Ringing in 2015 means one thing for sure: the only thing that remains the same is change. Is your organization ready? Maybe it’s a company downsizing, like The New York Times and other major media organizations are experiencing. Are you offering buyouts or managing a lay-off? How will this change be perceived by the public, the employees who remain, your investors or donors?

Christine Reimert
Christine Reimert

On the other hand, perhaps an acquisition is on the horizon. The impending merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, for example, has millions of consumers wondering how this change will impact them.  How do you ensure that your customers or other stakeholders make the change with you in a way that solidifies brand affinity?

Will there be a leadership shift or a transfer of power? Are you divesting a business relationship, launching a new product, making a significant policy change? Regardless of the situation, your communications readiness will help ensure that the only ball that drops on your watch this year is the one in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Here are a few ideas to get your change communications process started:

Who do you need to tell?

Customers or clients? Employees? Vendors? Donors and volunteers? Your board? Public officials? The press? The best way to figure this list out is to ask yourself whether there’s a downside to any of your constituents learning about your organization’s change from someone other than you. If there is, you need to talk to them first.

Chart the course.

You’ve identified your audiences, now chart out an efficient schedule, and include specific tools, for reaching them on announcement day and beyond. Will you use a town hall with leadership? Personal calls to key stakeholders and influencers? Media briefings? Weekly updates throughout the course of the conversion? Audit the communications delivery options at your disposal, manage your content consistently across them and assess the need for tactics like a press conference or special board meeting.

Content is king.

A core set of key messages on the change is crucial to a well orchestrated roll-out. Make sure your leadership or other spokespeople are on board (media train them, if necessary) and leverage the messaging across all content platforms – in-person meetings, written emails and letters, phone calls, media materials, social media posts and tweets, advertising and web.

When the change is less than desirable, make it a 1-day story, not a 7-day series.

When you let other people tell your story, instead of telling it yourself, you’re left to react. That’s not an easy place to be when information starts leaking out bit by bit. Or when the information is wrong or misinterpreted. When you’re reacting, you’re not likely to provide the big picture all at once, which means you end up trying to correct or reshape the information over a longer period of time. Instead of reacting to information again and again, present your messages yourself, and be the first to do it. Even in a situation that is negative or potentially damaging, it’s better to own up, up front, on your terms, instead of letting the information take on a life of its own. Plus, you can better manage the issue by providing context and a framework proactively so that the story can be reported and received fully and accurately – all at once.

It’s all social.

Twitter and other social media platforms are incredible tools. Leverage them. Monitor what people are saying about your business on social media. Engage with them online – and move the conversation offline when necessary. Post content that engages and informs and empowers your followers and advocates to become your biggest allies. Consider investing in a social media monitoring platform, or hashtag tracker, to keep your finger on the pulse of what people are saying about you, and your brand.

Don’t wing it – ever.

If you don’t know the answer or don’t have the complete solution figured out when change occurs – or a crisis hits, don’t wing it by speculating about what might happen. It’s better to let people know what your path to the solution is, rather than guessing at what the outcome might be. Falsehoods, whether accidental or otherwise, never help you manage an issue. So follow your mom’s advice: make sure you and others just tell the truth.

Create an issues management plan.

Create a turn-key protocol so that all of the preliminary logistics can be established. Who should be part of your Issues Management Team? Do you know, specifically, how to get in touch with all of your important audiences? Are there people or other organizations of influence that you should know about and have relationships with in case you need their support? What is the current perception of your organization in the marketplace and how would that factor into change communications and an issues management process?

Be proactive. Be prepared. Plan for the change the New Year is likely to bring, and you’ll be passing the bubbly – not the buck – when the ball drops.

Christine Reimert is a Senior Vice President specializing in crisis communications at Devine + Partners, LLC, a public relations and communications firm in Philadelphia, PA. Throughout her career, she has worked with Bell Atlantic and Bell Atlantic Mobile (now Verizon), Meridian Bancorp, Starbucks, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, to name a few. Email Christine at creimert@devineandpartners.com.