UnNoticed Entrepreneur - public relations for business

How employees represent the biggest crisis management threat; with David Oates.

June 14, 2022 Jim James
UnNoticed Entrepreneur - public relations for business
How employees represent the biggest crisis management threat; with David Oates.
Show Notes Transcript

At this age of time, and with almost everything that can be quickly published and discussed online, yourself and your company's reputation are always on the verge of getting damaged. So according to David Oates, a Crisis PR expert and Principal at PR Security Service, a Crisis PR plan is also as important as a company crisis management plan, and it's something you should consider investing in today.

In this episode, Dave discusses with us in what ways your company's reputation can be damaged, why your employees are an important part of a Crisis PR plan and why, how Crisis PR can help you #getnoticed, and how Dave Oates gets himself and his business noticed one person at a time.

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Jim James:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur show. I've got David Oates joining me from Public Relations Security all the way in San Diego, California.

Dave Oates:

Thanks for having me.

Jim James:

It's my privilege because, you have a background of over 25 years in PR, both working in sort of the naval and defense area and in corporate. And you're going to help us to understand about Ransomware, which I believe happens almost every 11 seconds to accompany. So how do you help companies and entrepreneurs to not only get noticed but to safeguard their reputation with PR?

Dave Oates:

You brought up an excellent point. Yes. Every 11 seconds, according to latest statistics is when a Ransomware attack occurs on an organization, and it's projected to cost businesses around the world about 10 and a half trillion US dollars by 2025. So it's a big deal. You're right, that is just one area that I help out organizations communicate effectively during that type of crisis and others. And unfortunately, we're in a situation today with the way in which people communicate largely through their own devices and social media accounts, and not through a third-party intermediary trained journalist to find information, but also comment on information. And unfortunately that means any organization of any size from your local pub in Suffolk to the Global Fortune 1000 companies can find their reputations being called into question by a LinkedIn post, or a TikTok video, or an Instagram. Pick your poison, that's the way in which people find themselves dealing with crisis PRs. The big press conferences that occur when BBC One is at the front doorsteps of an organization and chief executive officer or the board present are very nervously trying to answer questions, those certainly do happen. But more often than not, for most organizations, it's going to be something online that calls into question that's disruptive to operations. And I've had the privilege of helping. In many cases, and I really do consider it an honor to do so.

Jim James:

Well, it's an honor, but also a necessity, because you've mentioned all, if you like the agents online, but also, of course, there are robots as well, as we've seen with your own elections in America, causing all sorts of trouble too. So it's not just humans that are causing mischief, it's some of these nasty bots. So take us through crisis management, and Dave, how does a company prepare for crisis in your view?

Dave Oates:

In the same way, organizations prepare for any other sort of disaster recovery scenario. Whether that means not necessarily Ransomware, but their network systems go down. Their supply chain gets disrupted, there's an employee miss out, they can't get into a physical office to do their work. Lot of businesses and organizations have, and should have, those types of disaster recovery plans. How do we keep operations going during that time? What gets lost in many cases is how they will communicate to those audiences when those occur. And I will certainly, if called upon, and I would like to do more of those, quite frankly, be able to interject the communications plan ahead of time. And that involves figuring out in those t ype of circumstances that may occur that are at least possible depending on the industry and the size and scale of an entity, go through and determine what is it you will say, t o whom will you say it, when, and by whom, and then train those designated spokespeople to be able to answer not only the, what I would call the basic questions, but we'll take them through scenarios that will answer what I call the gotcha questions. The questions that people will ask have some sort of inherent or unconscious bias, because when a crisis occurs, audiences, employees in particular, but also customers, partners, investors, and the general public, will look first and foremost to find out what went wrong and who was responsible. And so when there is a question that's raised, and usually with a bias, with the unconscious belief, if not the overt belief, that something was missed, something went awry and it's somebody to blame. And being able to answer those questions in an empathetic and action-oriented manner while staying on message and not necessarily admitting any culpability that isn't the organizations to make is where I come in. And yet, that requires training, not dissimilar to what you do for any other sort of disaster recovery training. I get that most organizations don't do that though, because it's usually a lower priority because, unless you've been through it, you really don't understand the likelihood of that occurring. But as I mentioned to you, in this day and age, even if the press don't show up, you have got somebody within that organization that will write a Glassdoor review, or post something on Facebook, and it has the potential to go viral and become something that wi ll draw a lot of questions, a lot of inquiries, will take the team, including the executive suite, away from doing the normal day-to-day operations, away from being able to service the customers and the partners in the manner with which they've expected. And that's what I would call the definition of a crisis. Anything that takes you away from operations and has your reputation being called into question is a crisis. It's how you prepare for those situations so you can get back to normal operations as quickly as possible is ultimately my goal. Is getting them to be able to get some distance between this scenario and the reputation, be able to get back to normal operations, and then work on repairing whatever damage there is to your brand in the process.

Jim James:

Well, so I see a lot of things that unpack as well then reject. Can we talk about technology for a moment? Because as you rightly say, used to be that there would be one media with one, maybe, camera person breaking a story, but now anybody could be releasing a video, as we had here, where there was a video from a person of Siquia Starmer in an office, you know, and that went viral. So how do you help organisations with the monitoring of where a crisis might bubble up next? Because it's a bit like that, what cha mole?

Dave Oates:

Whack-a-mole. Yes.

Jim James:

Looking around for where the problems go. Whack-a-mole, sorry. Whack-a-mole.

Dave Oates:

That's a wonderful analogy, Jim, because you're right. Every organization, every individual, I should say within an organization, has to be looked at as a broadcaster. In my pocket with this wonderful little device is a media outlet. I have a camera, a microphone, and with all of my social media apps, a distribution system. So I have to be looked upon the executive team and the corporate communicators within an organization as I don't have five major news outlets and maybe a few others. I have to look at that everybody that I engage, including your employees. Your employees are probably your most important audience, is its own broadcaster. And so to the question that you asked about monitoring, thankfully, there are free systems that you can put into place now that allow you to do that. Google has an alerts feature, it's just alerts.google.com. And you can put keywords into these systems and have any of those new content that involves your organization's name, or individuals that are important names. You get alerted within two hours, oftentimes, of something being posted, that there's new content. You don't want to be the last person to know that somebody has said something about you. That's a wonderful way to do so that doesn't cost a dime. You have to have an email address and be able to set up a Google account, then you're on your way. I also use p latforms like TweakDeck or Hootsuite or others that can monitor social media platforms. And again, the same system that's set up there, and you'll get alerted if somebody is talking about your organization or your individuals. And I think that it's important to know. The other thing, let's not forget about some of the offline capabilities. And particularly, as you talked about employees, I always tell organizations your first priority... I don't care what organization, I don't care the industry, whether you're not for-profit, whether you're for-profit, whether you're a government entity, you're a Politico... your first priority is your staff, and engaging them and understanding what they feel because they're the ones who will either promote what you're trying to espouse promotional, or certainly in times of a crisis. Or if they do not feel connected, if you have disenfranchised them because you have forgotten about them in all of your other communications, they'll be the first and loudest voice to disparage you and also counter anything you're trying to say in the public domain. And I think one of the things that management needs to get back to, is what I learned in the Navy, which was leadership or management by walking around. Get out of your cubicle, walk around the space, talk to people, see how they're doing, and see what makes them tick. And that is the point where I get, "Dave, well, we're in a day and age now, thanks to COVID, we're all working remotely fine. The phone, don't forget, has a voice app. Pick up there, talk to them, see how they're doing, get on Zoom, get something going on and do your one-on-ones, and do it with the idea of getting a temperature check for them. Not to use it as a one-on-one where you can direct tasks, there's a time and place for that. But get a feel for how people are thinking. And that's one of the best monitoring tools that I think is often not used to its greatest opportunity.

Jim James:

Yeah, I think you've called up a really interesting point about the need for engagement within the employment team. And I guess that's where Amazon have suffered, because if the employees are not in alignment, they can even just film the things that they don't like about the organisation and publish them, right? So, as you say, in a way, this is probably one of the most powerful times for employees that there's ever been beyond union.

Dave Oates:

Especially nowadays, with the global workforce shortage that we're seeing, right. Employees have very s trong leverage in many parts of the world, certainly in the UK, Europe, and here in the States, where there are just not enough people to be able to do all of the jobs that companies need to. And so, not only are they commanding higher salaries than they may have certainly two years ago, but they're also commanding more attention to make sure that they are understood, they are listened to, and their workplace satisfaction is high. We talked earlier, I did a LinkedIn learning course about how to communicate to recruit but also retain top employees in this age, and it has more to do with their feeling of value than the actual dollar amount you pay them. The salary has to be there for sure, and there's competition there, but employees don't leave companies for money more than they leave companies because they feel disconnected to their boss and to the organization as a whole. That's what will draw more people away from one entity to go to another.

Jim James:

Dave, I want to switch focus just slightly to assets next. Okay. So in crisis management, when you know I've worked on this in the past, we talk about the client having prepared some assets. You talk about getting back to where the business should be, or in the Ukrainian case, getting the country back to where it should be. Can you share with us your best practice, in terms of, if you like the armaments or the assets that a company or an organization should have in place and ready to distribute? Because there's one thing to just start communicating if you're on the cusp of an event, but what could people have ready in advance?

Dave Oates:

I find it important to have a robust social media presence and a working website that has, at the ready, a news page that you can call up and put information that is readily accessible to a wide audience. But the third, and I will tell you, which I think is equally as important, is an employee app. So if we look at social media as the dominant way to communicate with a wider range of c ustomers partners, investors, the general public, and your websites that way, I think an employee app. And if you don't have an employee app, at least some sort of Intranet Site to talk to employees and let them know what is equally as important. So whether that's Yammer, whether that's Slack or one of the other apps that you have on there, you should have those already in place so that you can communicate readily to your team, whether it's in one office or whether you've got a global workforce. I think those are important. And again, in the same manner we talked about prepping for that, you should already have systems in place, assets, and people who understand that at a time of crisis, who is going to be responsible for taking a certain message that is approved very quickly and disseminated to a certain audience segment, in a short period of time. I will tell you this because we haven't touched on this point. If things are starting to bubble in the public domain on a social media site or something like that, and you start to see it go viral, or you get an inquiry from a news organization. Organizations need to start thinking in terms of minutes, not hours and days, to make a response. You don't have a great deal of time, like you would have a generation ago. I could wait till the end of the day to submit a statement to a local news organization, knowing that it wasn't going to run in the paper until tomorrow morning. That's not the case anymore. You've got about an hour before something starts to take hold and starts to get ranked on Google, and that's your time to respond. So to the extent that you can be ready with those assets, as you've talked about, but also trained people who understand that, is going to be really important in order to get ahead of the narrative that will be set without you and will cost you far less in terms of damage to your brand and that length of time it'll take you to repair your brand in a long term.

Jim James:

Right. And we've seen, for example, with things like the Elon Musk tweets, that the market moves so quickly, doesn't it? So, and there's also another app called Mobibi, which I'm not sure whether you're familiar, where everyone within an organisation. Do you know Mobibi?

Dave Oates:

I do.

Jim James:

Right. Yeah, so they've been, Matt Stone has been on the show, actually talking about having one central platform for all of his employees, all of your employees to communicate through one central social media channel, which I think is taking it to the next level of iteration. Dave, what about a crisis in terms of the customers? What if in terms of you have one errand customer in China. For example, Tesla has had some customers that were even paid by the by the competition to cause trouble. Let's not talk about neutralising a customer. That would make it sound a little bit like a drone strike, but what could you do if you have a customer, for example, that is causing trouble from a crisis comms point of view, not a physical management point of view, obviously?

Dave Oates:

Yeah, it's a perfect question because a lot of organizations will look upon it as an opportunity to neutralize the threat, almost militaristic given my Navy background. So I appreciate that they will start to do one of two things to the customer that is complaining in a very vocal sense online about something. And whether they're paid or not by a rival is almost immaterial to the tech, to the strategy at hand. They will do one or two things. They will either ignore that person completely, or they will engage that individual directly in a very argumentative debate, what we've called a Point Counterpoint A rgument. And in those two cases, all the organization does is exacerbate the problem. Going unchecked, ignoring that, thinking that it will go away, only gives credence to that part of the narrative, to that person. And we'll have the organization looked upon by many others as either being uncaring or incompetent. There's a reason why they're not talking. The second is, if they decide to then engage in an argumentative standpoint point counterpoint trying to disparage that individual. Whether they have a right to, because that individual is absolutely making false accusations, they will wind up raising the level of anxiety and animosity. You don't solve an issue by just raising your voice. As much as sometimes I try to do it in arguments with my spouse, that doesn't seem to ever work for me. And I certainly doesn't work in the online forum where the customer can. So what needs to happen... and this is true for any crisis communications effort for any organizations at any size. I don't care what it is, two things that must be present in your responses, empathy, and action. Now let's take the customer standpoint. You have to at least acknowledge that somebody is not happy and saying, "We appreciate the fact that you're not happy, and we want to make this right. There are a few things that we'd love to talk about here. And here's the kind of thing that we'd like to at least engage with you. Can we do it offline?" If they're complaining on, let's say, an online review site, or some other popular blog or on Instagram, acknowledging them and offering a way in which you try to make it better is the way to go. That doesn't mean that the individual is going to take you up on that because, again, let's say that they're paid by a rival to make an argument, they're going to continue to complain. Or let's say they just want to complain for complaint sake. That's fine. But you're showing everyone else who's seen those posts that you have listened, that you are taking action, and you are supporting, what I believe, will have built up a brand to be one of integrity, one of quality, and one of caring. And if you show that even in not-so-good times or at least in a situation where somebody is calling you out because they believe that you have not realized their expectations, you're telling everybody else that this is the exception to the rule. And I've given that same advice to small mom and pop entities, you know, on Main Street USA, or large organizations. But to say nothing or to get into an argument online is not going to solve the problem, you only exacerbate it.

Jim James:

That's wonderful though. So to engage and take action - fantastic. And obviously, it's such a broad subject and you're obviously an amazing expert with your LinkedIn courses now, which people can go and view. And Dave, I've got to ask you the final question just briefly. How do you get your own business noticed?

Dave Oates:

I appreciate that. I do it one individual at a time. I believe personal connections is how most individuals, particularly in the services business, do so. And I spend a great deal of time, probably on order of twenty to twenty-five hours a week, meeting really cool people, hearing their stories, finding ways to connect with them. And so when they know of something that is a bubbling crisis, hopefully, before it becomes a full-blown one, they are kind enough to refer me to that. And I like to think I do good work, but it's when one individual at a time, over years in the making, and it does bring success, but you have to continually do that on a daily basis.

Jim James:

Dave Oates, Public Relations Security. If people want to find out more about you and work with you, how can they do that?

Dave Oates:

The best way is through my LinkedIn, as you talked about. If you just Google, LinkedIn, Dave Oates, Crisis PR, I'll come up there. My company website, PR Security Service, is publicrelationssecurity.com. I got links to those LinkedIn learning courses that you talked about and others, and there are blog videos on there that people can download for free. And anybody needs to reach out, there's a way to actually get 15 minutes of my time. Just to post a question, I love what I do. If I can be of help to any size organization, just offer a couple of tidbits. It truly is my pleasure to do so.

Jim James:

You're great. It really comes out, Dave. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom, from San Diego, and the best time to get in touch with a crisis management expert is, of course, before the crisis, isn't it? So that's all we're having on the show now. Thank you for sharing all your great wisdom.

Dave Oates:

Jim, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Jim James:

It's been mine. I've learned so much, and you've been listening to Dave Oates of Public Relations Security based in San Diego with me, Jim James, on The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast. Thank you so much for listening.