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Preparing for a PR Nightmare

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Think associations can’t face PR problems? Think again. The mayor of the city hosting your association’s annual meeting is accused of a horrible crime and still wants to give the opening address at your conference. A program run by a member has put lives at risk and someone died. Your members openly ignore the best practices you recommend and now face a public drumming down, including a funding cut. How do you anticipate a public relations problem before it happens? What planning can you do in advance to make managing a PR crisis easier later? What materials should you have in a folder ready for use? How do you pivot when a real-life scenario surprises you? Review real-life case studies from associations and get tips on how to prepare for a crisis. Attendees for the Association Media & Publishing 2019 annual meeting walked out of this session knowing how to assess risk, put crisis plans in place, and be confident communicators.

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Preparing for a PR Nightmare

  1. 1. Preparing for a PR Nightmare Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR, MA Steppingstone LLC
  2. 2. What are we doing here? •What is a PR crisis? • How do you anticipate a public relations problem before it happens? •What planning can you do in advance to make managing a PR crisis easier later? • What materials should you have in a folder ready for use? • How do you pivot when a real-life scenario surprises you? • Case study examples
  3. 3. What is a crisis? •Anything that can damage the reputation of your organization. • Anything that can cause a loss of trust. •Any risk to the health, lives or safety of staff, clients, patients, providers, or other stakeholders.
  4. 4. How do you anticipate a PR problem before it happens? • Look for vulnerabilities. • Make a list. • Are policies for safety (for adults and children) up to date and well-socialized throughout the organization? • If your association owns property – have plans for a crisis. • If you hold events – have plans for a crisis. • Remember to include people behaving badly. • Consider the unexpected around a major event. E.g. protestors/dissidents/rogue members at a conference.
  5. 5. What planning can you do in advance? • Set up google alerts/media alerts for your association to deliver in real-time. • Establish a clear chain of command for a crisis (smaller is better than bigger). • Review crisis plans and determine staffing for a particular scenario. • Draft materials needed for responses. • Review crisis plans yearly at a minimum. • Build a culture that values speed. Streamline approval processes.
  6. 6. How do you stay calm? • Confirm the facts. • Follow the chain of command. • Alert the spokesperson. •Make a summary statement (use your template). • Notify key stakeholders (staff, members, media, affected parties). •Keep a log of callers and their questions. • Monitor your social media. Get them off your page and into your email.
  7. 7. How do you manage the tone of your response? •Never lie. • Be honest. • Never say “no comment.” •Don’t just ignore the problem. It will not go away. • Prioritize who to respond to first. •Be clear. • Say when you will update if you can’t update yet. • Ask for help when you need it.
  8. 8. What materials should you have in a folder ready to use? • Access codes/passwords for your website press area, home page, members only area. Plus the training to do the updates yourself. • Access to the association’s social media accounts. This is no time for single manager accounts. • Template press releases/statements for your scenarios. • Cell phone list for staff. • Access to the staff vacation schedule so you know who is in and out of town. • Access to your media lists/media distribution system.
  9. 9. What do you do when the crisis is unanticipated? Case study: Florida 4-H funding threat with loss of half of our camping facilities (internal threat). • Rallied support internally. •Took control and fought back through the media. • Appealed to alumni in the statehouse and influencers. • Children wrote hundreds of letters in crayons to the governor asking for funding to be saved. • Camps were spared the budget knife.
  10. 10. What do you do when you get criticized for crisis mgmt? Case study: Society for American Archaeology 2019 • A #MeToo crisis at the association’s annual meeting caught the attention of Inside Higher Ed, The Scientist and others, when the association allowed a known harasser to attend a conference where 3 of his accusers were present. Multiple Title IX complaints filed. Harasser banned from UAA campus. • The society also deleted tweets about the incident from its own account and blocked some of its own members. The media relations chair stepped down and the society even blocked her on twitter. A science journalist who tried to confront the harasser was kicked out of the conference and off a #MeToo panel. • 2,000 archaeologists/scholars sign a statement asking the society to revisit its sexual harassment policies, refund conference fees for some, and a formal apology. • Members quit and leave the association. They blog, post statements. An Alt twitter account crops up. • The Society issues hostile remarks in social media, then deletes them, and attacks UAA. • Lesson that should be learned: “while privacy and process concerns abound in harassment cases, sexual misconduct is a public issue requiring a transparent, coherent response” • #MeTooInArchaeology #MetooSTEM
  11. 11. What do you do when the crisis is during your conference? Case study: American Diabetes Association •They asked people not to share any photos on Twitter from their 77th annual scientific sessions in 2017. •A tweetstorm erupted and the policy was the story, not the research. “Media blackout” “strong arm tactic” •Photos still got out. Social media team contacted people. •What did they do? •They changed their policy. It’s now up to presenters.
  12. 12. Crisis Communications Toolkits American Camp Association https://www.acacamps.org/resource-library/crisis- communications-toolkit National Mining Association https://nma.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Crisis- Communications-Template.pdf Produce Marketing Association https://www.pma.com/-/media/pma-files/pma-member-crisis- communications-tool-kit--final-061615-(3).pdf?la=en
  13. 13. Ami Neiberger-Miller ami@steppingstoneLLC.com @AmazingPRMaven

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