crisis communication

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EA Sports made an error

I’d like to share with you a public relations nightmare I’m witnessing first hand.

When I have a bit of free time, I like to play online games.  My game of choice is Tiger Woods Online by EA Sports.  I like it because I can just fire it up on my browser without having to worry about any additional hardware.   The problem is, I can’t just reset it when there’s a glitch.

Like today.

See, with online games, the developers feel that if the game isn’t constantly updated, people will get bored and they’ll lose their jobs.  For EA Sports this means an update every week or so.

Now it’s a good thought to keep the game fresh, but in reality more updates means more glitches that need fixin’.  In this case the glitch is that no one can play any of the tournaments, which is why we play in the first place.

To fully understand the issue I’ve posted a bit of the timeline for the announcement of the update.  It starts with…

11/15/2010 15:06:14            Subject:Weekly Update – 11/16/10
Excellent right?  But shortly after comes this message from a player.
11/16/2010 05:37:02          Subject:Re:Weekly Update – 11/16/10
URGENT – Since update, cannot load tournaments. Load stopping at confirming log in. Please check this out.
Now that’s a problem, but I’m sure that a huge company will be all over this issue, letting us know what’s happening. 

Ummmmm.  Let’s fast forward MORE THAN 24 HOURS LATER.

11/17/2010 06:37:12              Subject:Re:Weekly Update – 11/16/10
I cant play in Full screen now either. Longest drive missing from Friends’ contest, no EXP from making the cut, cant play tourneys, etc…. How is this an update? Maybe the reason we havent heard from EA is because they are working on a fix
Well yes, I’m sure they are working on a fix.  But I’m afraid the damage has been done. 


Simply put, a company must never, ever, neglect their customers.  This means you need to keep them updated.  Always.

I know.  I can hear it now.  “But they’re in the middle of a crisis.”

Doesn’t matter.  In fact, it is critical that you utilize your public relations during a crisis in order to keep your customers informed.

Let me explain.

What makes a crisis so bad for a company?  It’s the uncertainty.  How bad is the problem?  Is there anything that can be done?  Who’s working on this?  When will things get back to normal?  People need reassurance that a company is working to fix whatever problem they’re having or else they panic.  Or get angry.

When people don’t hear from a company like EA Sports about a problem for more than 24 hours, uncertainty creeps in and people start coming to their own conclusions about what’s happening.  And that’s always bad news for the company.

How do you stop it?  You keep people updated.  Frequently.  You let them know what the issues are.  What problems you’re having, and most importantly, what you’re doing to fix it.

You control the message.  EA Sports didn’t do this and it’s killing them.

Is EA Sports working to try and fix this?  I’m sure they are.  But how do we know?  We don’t and now people are posting things like this….

The lack of a fix in 24 hours is bad enough, but what is losing me as a supporter of EA is the total lack of response in 24 hours.  Not a word… NOTHING. As many have said before this post, this failure to communicate is totally UNACCEPTABLE. 

I don’t post here often because I’ve felt some progress has been being made but this incident shows that I’ve been a fool. What EA has failed to realize is that if you take the heroin away, a crack dealer will soon fill the void. And right now I’m Jones-in for a game and will be checking out the other new golf options. Thanks, EA, for cutting me off….

And come renewal time, my one subscription won’t make them pay attention…. but if we get 1,000 of us organized and ready to boycott come April, well I guarantee you $50,000 worth of subscriptions will make someone start paying attention….

I’m done enabling EA’s crap behavior and poor decisions..gonna see some tough love from now on until they kick their bad habits with TWO members.

The goal is 1,000. Count off.



If only they had kept their customers informed.  A simple lesson, so expensively learned.

So a lesson for all you businesses that may face a crisis in the future (that’s pretty much all of you).  Don’t neglect your public relations in a crisis.  Customers understand mistakes.  All they want is some reassurances that you care and that you’re trying to make things better.

If you don’t give them that, well they’ll go to someone who will.

*(If you’re interested in my services you can go here for more information.)

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Self-Inflicted mistakes hurt the worst

As a public relations person, I like to think of myself as an “image advocate.”  Essentially, that means I work to publicize anything you do well and try to minimize any bad press.  What a lot of PR and business people don’t understand, however, is that an “image advocate” also needs to protect a business from itself.  Many times this means letting a client know, in no uncertain terms, that they are responsible for their own bad press and that they need to change the way they do things on every level.

The problem is that businesses don’t seem to like getting that type of advice.  They don’t understand that public relations isn’t just about media relations.  It’s about customer relations, employee relations, and community relations.  Heck, any relations you have as a business falls under PR, and when a business is screwing it up they need to fix it.  Or face the repercussions.

Think I’m blowing smoke?  Ask Pinnacol Assurance.

You see, Pinnacol Assurance has had some public relations trouble in its past.  All of it self-inflicted.  You would have thought, after all that nonsense, that Pinnacol would have made sure to fix some things to try and stay out of the media’s cross-hairs.

You’d be wrong.  From 7News in Denver.

DENVER — The state’s largest worker’s compensation insurance company denied a Denver man’s claim, celebrating the denial in e-mails, a CALL7 Investigation found.

Workers comp provider Pinnacol Assurance lost a lawsuit by Michael Schuessler claiming the company improperly denied his claim.


What is most egregious is not that the workers were celebrating the denials, but that there was no one inside the company with the public relations sense to try and stop this kind of stuff in the first place.  Now, Pinnacol Assurance will be, justly, raked over the coals for the second time in roughly six months.

And it could have been prevented.

Don’t make the same error Pinnacol Assurance made.  Here are six things that a company can do to recover from a self-inflicted crisis.


A company that has been through a self inflicted crisis will never truly get over it.  Nor should they.  Ten years from now, Pinnacol will still be hearing from people about this mess.  They must continue to apologize to people, and thank them for remembering.  Why?  Because each time  Pinnacol’s mistakes are brought up, it creates an opportunity to explain how they have changed.  If a business has changed and has embraced their past, there is an opportunity to regain some of that lost trust.


If a company like Pinnacol is so tone deaf in one area of their company, chances are they’re tone deaf in lots of areas.  You need to look at every part of your company to see what can be done better.  Not only will you see where your problems are, but you’ll quickly see your strengths as well.  Once you have that, you can understand the true scope of your problems and get to work fixing them.


One of the main issues all industries have is the dreaded “echo chamber.”  There are things we do that seem normal to us, but to someone from the outside it may seem offensive.  I’m quite sure that many insurance companies, who must deal with, and deny, millions of claims a year can act quite callous about it.  It’s a tool for coping.

You must bring in someone from the outside to give you a fresh look at your procedures.  They can show you areas where you need repairs that you didn’t even think of.  Plus it will give you credibility by showing that you are serious about fixing your problems.


This seems silly but you’d be surprised how many businesses think that because the spotlight is no longer shining on them they can go back to business as usual.  This will only turn that one day story into a six month story (Read more about that here).  You must understand that once you are involved in a self-inflicted crisis, you are on the media’s radar.  Anything other problems will send the press back to you in a heart beat.  You don’t want that.

Any problems you find have to be fixed, and fixed properly.


A key thing to understand about Pinnacol Assurance’s latest gaffe is that the employees didn’t understand they were connected to the earlier problems.  That disconnect caused the current screw-up.  When you have a crisis, you must let your employees know that they are affected, but they are also part of the solution.  When employees have ownership of a company’s solution, they will be much more likely to act proactively to fix problems they might encounter.  The more people looking for problems to fix, the better.


If you’ve been involved in a self-inflicted crisis, you know.  The lack of sleep, the heartburn, the worry, and the shame.  No one likes to go through that.   So remember, every day, about how bad that was and you will be much more likely NOT to repeat your mistakes.

Pinnacol Assurance is going through a terrible time right now, and they have no one to blame but themselves.  They will be hurt from this.  But if they take this advice and move forward, they will survive and come out a much better company.

And that, really, is what “image advocacy” is all about.  Making companies better so that there is more good news to celebrate.

*(If you’re interested in my services you can go here for more information.)

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Mitch Reed in a happier moment

Before I was a P.R. pro for hire (go here if you’re interested), I spent a lot of years working as a reporter.  Back then, it felt like winning the lottery when a story like this one from the Aspen Daily News fell into our laps.

A local man has confessed to stealing hundreds of copies of the Aspen Daily News and The Aspen Times from newspaper boxes throughout the valley last Friday morning.

Mitch Reed, 23, said he drove around to various newspaper boxes about 7:30 a.m. Friday, removing copies of both newspapers in an attempt to spare embarrassment to a buddy who was in that day’s police blotter in both publications.

You see, anytime I could take a one day story and turn it into a two day story, well, that was just awesome.  Now I think  the opposite.  How can I keep that one day story from spilling over to tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Well, thanks to Mr. Reed, and his honorable stupidity, anyone can learn the secret to crisis communications success. Here are four things Mr. Reed didn’t do that you should to minimize a crisis.


I  know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to stay rational in a crisis.  Take a minute to gather yourself and think about what the worst possible outcome could be.

Take Mitch here (may I call you Mitch?).  It’s obvious that he saw the looming problem that was his friend showing up in the Aspen Daily News police blotter, and freaked out.  If he had chilled out for a sec, he might have seen that, while showing up in the blotter is bad, there are worse places for your name to show up in a paper.  Like the front page.

Giving yourself a second to breathe and think will give you a chance to see the crisis in its proper perspective.  Mitch didn’t do this.


Once you have a grasp of the problem you face, you can now start figuring out the best ways to fix it.  Come up with as many solutions as possible and follow them to their probable conclusion.  Choose the one that gives you the best chance to minimize the damage.

Had Mitch done this, he might have seen that, yes, stealing all the newspapers in Aspen is a possible solution.  Is it the best option to try and keep a buddy’s name out of the spotlight?  I’m thinking NO.  Perhaps helping his buddy work on explaining himself and apologizing to people that actually brought it up might have been a better choice, but that’s just me.


There is one hard and fast rule about crisis communications that no one ever seems to learn.

Never, Never, Never try to cover up bad news.

Ask Nixon.  If a reporter thinks that you’re hiding something they are gonna investigate.  They will find the truth, do a story on the cover up then do more research into what else are you possibly hiding.  Maybe they ask ex-employees about you.  You know, the one you fired who said you’d regret it one day?

In Mitch’s case, he didn’t understand the when folks don’t get their papers, they complain to that paper.  When hundreds of people complain, they investigate.  Then they write another article talking about Mitch while mentioning his friend’s name in the blotter.  I bet more people read that blotter now.


It’s never fun when bad stuff happens, but the one thing you need to remember is this.  Hit it Annie


You will get passed this crisis.  And how you handle it will tell everyone as much about your company as any problem you might have had.

So thank you Mitch.  You’ve done all of us an invaluable service.  You have illustrated that turning a small problem into a bigger one is exactly the wrong way to deal with a crisis.

Instead, take a breath, assess your options, never cover up, and weather the storm.  You do this and that bad story they wrote about you today will be forgotten tomorrow.

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The player at the center of it all, Cam Newton

Cam Newton, for the non-sports enthusiast, is the starting quarterback for the Auburn Tigers football team.  He is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as the best football player of the year.  He is also facing allegations that he received money to attend Auburn University, a big no-no.  If it is proved he took money, any game he plays in will have to be forfeited.


Wednesday, a tweet went out quoting ESPN’s Ian Fitzsimmons saying that Newton would not be playing this week against Georgia.  Here’s what happened next, from Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

There was story and multiple messages on Twitter earlier Wednesday that referenced an ESPN Dallas report that Newton was on the verge of being suspended, possibly within “three to four hours.”

So what happens?  Legal sports books in Las Vegas, unsure about the validity of the information and seeing millions of dollars suddenly being bet on the underdog Georgia, were forced to stop taking bets on the game.  Costing those sports books even more millions.

One problem though,

In fact, the ESPN reporter, Ian Fitzsimmons, says he was misquoted, that all he said was a story like this can change in three or four hours.


Here are three lessons you must learn from “The Cam Newton Effect.”


Social media is a powerful tool, but just a tool


Social media is a tool that can be used to help or hurt your company.  Using social media effectively can help you spread good news about your company very quickly.  It can also spread bad or false news about your company very quickly. There was no fact checking on the Cam Newton allegations, but that didn’t matter.  Social media doesn’t know what’s true, or what you meant to say.  You, and you alone must take responsibility for making sure the right messages get publicized with social media.


If you have a plan, you won't need this



If something comes out on social media about your company that’s incorrect, or reflects poorly on you, there will be no time to figure out how to deal with it.  You literally have minutes. You must have a plan that you can implement right away to minimize any damage.  The elapsed time from the first Twitter about Cam Newton until Las Vegas was forced to stop taking bets was about four hours.  Four hours.  You have to be prepared with a social media crisis plan.


If you are not monitoring social media right now to find out what is being said about you and your company, you could be letting bad information fester and grow like a cancer.   You wouldn’t let false information about your company be circulated at a dinner party you were attending, why would you ignore it online?  The damage that can happen to a company in just one day from bad online information could be titanic.  The best part is it’s really not that hard to monitor.  Here’s how.

Listen media's talking about you


Additionally, I use Yoono on my browser.  It gives me a side browser that lets me see all my social media accounts in one stream.  It’s constantly running and updating while I’m online.  A pretty handy tool if you ask me.

“The Cam Newton Effect” illustrated how powerful social media has become.  But as Spider-man’s uncle said “with great power comes great responsibility.”   I hope these tips help you to understand just how important that responsibility is to your company.

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The rescue of the 33 miners from the Chilean mine has captivated the world.  Everyone I’ve talked to, every Twitter post I’ve read, and every news update I’ve heard has the same reaction.

“This is amazing.  Incredible.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s a miracle.”

I echo all these sentiments, and what’s even more exciting to me is how Chile was able to turn this possible disaster into a resounding success story using excellent crisis management.

Here are some lessons that your business can learn from the handling of the Chilean Mine Saga.


Obviously, a small business in Denver will never have to deal with trapped workers.  Or will it?  No one can foresee every possible bad scenario that might affect their business, but you can prepare for the most likely.  Obviously, one issue that a mine might have to deal with is a cave-in that might trap workers.  They don’t want it to happen, but better to be prepared.  With that in mind, the San Jose Mine was equipped with emergency shelters that were reinforced and stocked with emergency provisions.  The miners were in one of these areas when the collapse happened and were able to keep themselves alive with the emergency provisions until they could be found and other provisions could be sent to them.

You should take a look around and see what issues might affect your business.  Are you in a high rise?  Do you have employees that stay late?  Are children regularly in your business?  Recognizing where you business might be susceptible to a crisis and taking steps to prepare will help you deal, not only with the crisis for which you planned, but also for the one you may not have.


One of the amazing aspects of the Chilean Mine Saga is how the miners were able to keep calm and collected while going through this ordeal.  Because the miners knew that there were  plans in place in the event of a collapse, they were much more likely to stay calm and work to stay alive.

Your employees should be aware of what you are doing to address crisis issues.  Knowing that you have a plan for a crisis reassures your employees that you have thought about crisis issues and gives them confidence to act when a crisis occurs.


One thing, perhaps above all others, helped to save the lives of the Chilean miners and that was that the Chilean government asked for help.  Companies from all over the world were asked for help and they were able to come up with a rescue plan that saved the miners months sooner than originally thought.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.  If you run a restaurant, we expect you to know food not hazardous material clean up.  Thinking that if you keep things in house will only make things worse.  You might be able to keep on top of things in the short term, but chances are you’ll make a mistake.  Reaching out to others who have experience with the crisis you’re facing lets people know you’re interested in the public good, not just your public image.


When a crisis happens, people are going to want to know what’s going on.  In Chile, the families, the press, the Chilean President all needed to be updated on what was happening.   All parties were kept abreast of the efforts to find the miners right after the collapse.  When they were found alive, a camera was among the supplies sent down so that everyone could see the miners and be reassured that they were o.k.  This feed was also given to the media so they would have information as well.   Finally, the miners were kept up to date to ensure they knew they weren’t forgotten.

If you don’t let people know what’s happening, then people are forced to go to other sources to get information, and that’s never good.   You want to speaking for you.  When you don’t, people want to know what your covering up, and in most scandals the cover up is always worse (see Watergate).  If you don’t have an answer, say you don’t but when you get it you will let people know.  Then follow through.  People want information and honesty.  Give it to them.


The greatest part of the Chilean Miner rescue is that Chile understood that they couldn’t have done it alone and praised everyone else instead of themselves.  They praised the miners, the other countries that helped, and the citizens of Chile and around the world for their support.  By deflecting the praise, they spread the goodwill of the world to others and it was, in turn, given back to them.

A crisis comes with hard lessons and the main one is that there is always, always something you could have done to prevent the problem.  Fair or unfair you need to understand this.  You must take a hard look at yourself.  What could you have done differently?  What things need to be changed?  If you pat your own back, others will think “if your so great, why did the issue happen in the first place?”


One of the issues that has been buried in the wake of the Chilean miner rescues is that the San Jose mine didn’t have a great safety record.  There had been other accidents and even deaths.  What the government of Chile did was to step in and work to fix the problems.  First they jailed the owners of the mine and ordered an inquisition into the mine’s safety procedures.  Additionally, the government said that the mine would be closed indefinitely until the safety issues are completely solved.

This bears repeating…there is always something you could have done to prevent a crisis.  If a client has a fatal heart attack in your business you will be asked why you didn’t take CPR.  Figure out anything you could have done better and fix the problem.  Give your staff CPR classes.  Put a portable external defibrillator in your office.  You don’t want to have the same crisis happen again because you didn’t take steps to remedy the situation.  Also, fixing the issue makes you better prepared for any type of crisis.


The silver lining for the Chileans is that they are now the world experts on saving miners.  When another country has a mine collapse and miners need to be rescued, the miners, the rescuers, and anyone else associated with this rescue will be contacted for their “expertise.”

Face it, by having to deal with a certain crisis you are now an expert on it.  You have an obligation to pass on your knowledge to others so that when a similar issue arises they can handle it better than you.  One way to help your business is to embrace the expert title.  You can bet that when 9 miners were rescued from the Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania eight years ago none of them, or their rescuers thought they would be thought of as experts.  Yet here they are in 2010 on every news station being asked to comment on the rescue in Chile.

It is a rare opportunity that we can learn lessons from good news stories, but the rescue of the Chilean miners lets us do just that.  Without great crisis management, this story could have been told very differently.

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I wouldn’t call this article a lesson in Crisis Communications, or Media Relations, but I would call it awesome.  The name?

Don’t want to spoil the surprise, but here’s the first sentence…

Let’s say, for whatever reason, your the first person to…

Read the rest here.   You’ll thank me afterwords, and for more than one reason.  I guarantee it.

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As a P.R. person and social media adviser, it’s important to me to keep a presence on social media sites like  Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, but recently I found that I had to tell a number of my Facebook friends goodbye because they couldn’t keep their political views to themselves.  Seriously, it was really annoying.  I use my Facebook to keep up with old friends and find out about their kids, or to know who’s moving where, with whom.  I, like many people out there, don’t want to log on to Facebook to hear about how smart/stupid President Obama/Clinton/Bush/Reagan is about some random policy.

Am I political?  You betcha, but like the Byrds once said, or maybe it was the Bible, “To every thing there is a season.”   There is a time and place to express your political views(setting up a personal blog is a fantastic outlet), however your business social media shouldn’t be used to spout off about politics.  Ever.

Why?  Consider this.  In the United States, the old bromide goes, you have about 40% of the people that are Republican, 40% of the people that are Democrat, and about 40% who think both parties are stupid.

Chances are that many of the people who you rely on for business, may disagree with you, but choose not to say so because it’s not important, polite, or comfortable.  But they’re listening.

Keeping that in mind, is it good business sense to tell everyone not in your 40% that your business thinks they’re stupid?  If you’re hesitating on an answer, it’s not.

You want your business to have as many customers as possible, cutting out the majority of the population before they even have a chance to try you out is foolish.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people who feel slighted by a business tend to not use that business and try to get as many people as possible to join them.   Believe me, you really would rather be spending your days focused on your business instead of on a bunch of angry ex-customers.

You should even take a look at the charities your company to which your company gives.  Realize that if you give money to a political organization, you’re telling 60% of your potential customers to go somewhere else.

Am I suggesting you stay out of politics?  Heck no!  Get involved!  Make a difference!

Just make sure you do it individually.  Your business will thank you for it.

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I was asked a few weeks ago what my favorite word was.  After several minutes of thinking, I decided that “d’oh” is by far my favorite.  It’s not just because I’m a huge “Simpsons” fan, but because of what the word conveys.  I call it the “D’oh Moment.”

The “D’oh Moment”  is the exact point where you realize that 1. a mistake has been made, and 2. you made it.  We’ve all been there at one time in our lives and its embarrassing, but what you do about it afterward says more about you than anything you did prior.

This goes for your social media efforts as well.  The great thing about social media is that we now have several new streams of communications at our disposal.  The bad thing?  The more opportunities to communicate, the more likely we are to make some sort of faux pas.

So how do you fix it?

Simply put, when you make a mistake, fix it, apologize, promise not to do it again, and DON”T DO IT AGAIN!

It sounds easy, but putting it in to practice can be a bit more difficult.  So here is a step-by-step plan to fix your social media gaffes.

So that after work rant on Twitter about that stupid jerk customer who just wouldn’t stop bugging you about the problems they were having with your product just went viral.

What do you do?

1.  Delete the tweet.  This will not hide what you’ve said, nor should it.  All your doing is cleaning up your mess and making sure that new people can’t see what you’ve wrote.

2.  Apologize.  Make a sincere apology to the customer specifically, on twitter, and anywhere else you may find reaction to your action.  You can talk about how you had a tough day, or that you weren’t feeling well if you choose, but it really doesn’t matter.  You goofed, own up to it.  This also means that you must promise to look into the problem the customer had and fix it.

3.  Find the problem.  No matter what you think of that “jerk customer” he was obviously having a problem with your business for some reason.  Others could be having the same issue.  Look into every possibility.  Is there an issue with your product?  Are your directions for use unclear?  Is your customer support up to par?  Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.  You may just find that that “jerk” had some valid reasons for being that way.  Once you’ve figure out the issue, let people know on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and on your blog what you found and promise to address the issue.

4.  Fix the problem.   We all laugh sometimes at ridiculous directions seen on products, but there is a really good reason for it.  The business who sells toxic chemicals would much rather print “Do not swallow”  than have to deal with lawsuits and bad publicity from folks who got sick because the packaging “didn’t say you couldn’t swallow.”   The point is, you want your customers to be happy with your product so they use it again.  If they’re unhappy, you’re unhappy.  Don’t leave anything to chance.  Once you’ve fixed the issue, tell people on your social media sites what improvements you’ve made.

5.  Ask for feedback.  Are you sure that you’ve fixed the problem?  The best way to find out is to ask customers to tell you about it.  One of the greatest assets of social media is how interactive it is.  If you ask for help from your social media contacts, believe me, you’ll get it.  Thank them for taking the time to help you.

6.  Publish your experiences.  After the dust has cleared and you’ve had a chance to reflect on the situation.  Write a blog post about the experience.  Your painful experience will help others who may be in a similar situation.  You are now an expert!

7.  Don’t twitter angry anymore! We all have bad days, and have to deal with ornery people.  Keeping it to yourself will save you a lots of headaches in the future.

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