Caroline Sapriel and a masterclass in crisis communications

While I’ve been in the communications industry for a while (read the lines on my face!), every now and then I have the opportunity to meet someone who wows me. I had that feeling two weeks back when I met with Caroline Sapriel. Caroline, who is an expert in crisis management and communications, was invited along by the International Association of Business Communicators to talk about her insights on crises. What with all that is happening globally, it seemed apt to talk about how we can communicate better on issues that have an adverse impact, both on reputations and operations.

First of all, Caroline defined a crisis by three points:

1) Surprise

2) Brevity or shortness of time

3) Threat

What is fascinating is Caroline’s assertion that two-third of crises are smoldering, in other words they’re issues which aren’t tackled properly or which are ignored. However, as Caroline also adds, “most organizations don’t properly understand what a crisis is.”

Now, to the good news. Organizations rarely face true crises, issues which can substantially damage or stop operations and ultimately destroy reputations. However, most crises are still handled incorrectly. Many leaders look to manage a crisis in the same way as they manage through normal times, by forming a consensus and aligning others. However, Caroline states that a crisis needs a different type of behaviour, one that follows a command and control model where one person takes charge and acts decisively, with or without the approval of others. She spelled out five key competencies that leaders need to navigate a crisis.

1) Situational awareness and analysis

2) Sense-making

3) Stakeholder mapping

4) Scenario planning

5) Decision-making in a crisis

Now, let’s come to our role as communicators. Caroline was very kind to share her company’s integrated business contingency framework as well as spell out her 10 commandments of crisis management, which are based on decades of hands-on experience as well as research.

CS&A's integrated business contingency framework seeks to explain how communications and stakeholder management can support organizations in a crisis, through every stage of a crisis.

CS&A’s integrated business contingency framework seeks to explain how communications and stakeholder management can support organizations in a crisis, through every stage of a crisis.

The 10 commandments is also a fantastic read:

#1 Own up to and communicate the problem early on

#2 Recognize that you cannot make what is bad look good

#3 Be prepared for the worst. In a crisis, things get worse before they get better

#4 Prioritize and remember people’s safety is always first

#5 Focus on protecting your credibility and not winning brownie points

#6 Set the course, have a Mission Statement and stick to it

#7 Map and remap issues and stakeholders as the situation develops

#8 Use every available channel to communicate with your stakeholders

#9 If the crisis drags, don’t retreat into a siege. Stay out there!

#10 Manage the aftermath of the crisis. Remember, it’s not over until it’s really over

Caroline adds that in a crisis we can’t control the events, but we can control our credibility.

If you’re wondering how your organization is doing, have a look at the below image which has been developed by Caroline and her organization. The crisis management culture ladder will help you to understand where you are in terms of preparing your organization for a crisis.

CS&A's crisis management culture ladder maps out where organizations are in terms of their ability to manage and learn from a crisis. At the bottom are organizations who essentially don't care as long as they're not caught; at the top are organizations who thrive on and grow with every crisis they encounter. Where are you at?

CS&A’s crisis management culture ladder maps out where organizations are in terms of their ability to manage and learn from a crisis. At the bottom are organizations who essentially don’t care as long as they’re not caught; at the top are organizations who thrive on and grow with every crisis they encounter. Where are you at?

As an additional plus, Caroline has shared a reading list that will help guide you on improving your understanding of crises and what you should do to prepare as a communicator and leader.

On a final note, I’d like to thank Caroline for her time. And if you’re interested in knowing more about Caroline Sapriel, she’s the managing partner and founder of CS&A International, a pioneer and a recognised leader in the field of risk, crisis and business continuity management. For additional information please visit her company’s website.

Snapchat and what it offers communicators

I’ll be the first to admit, that Snapchat is still a mystery to me. And, judging by my conversations with others, I’m not the only one. However, Snapchat is the social network for young millennials, with 60% of users in the US aged between 13 and 24 years. The service has over 150 million daily users (these numbers are higher than Twitter’s own daily usage). The service reaches 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar numbers over here in the Gulf.

As communicators, we have to embrace Snapchat (whether we understand it or not). While much has been written on Snapchat, on how to use it, as well as how Snapchat compares to other products such as Instagram, I wanted to share different ideas on how to reach an audience via the hottest social media channel for youth in the Middle East region.

Several of the most effective options that we communicators have to reach out via Snapchat are paid-for. Snapchat’s advertising solutions are very different to what you’ll be used to on other social media platforms. Here’s three of their top solutions.

Your Traditional Video Ads

Let’s start with the basic Snapchat ad. Called Snap Ads, these products begin with an up to 10-second vertical, full screen video ad that appears in the context of other Snaps. Brands can give Snapchatters the choice to swipe up and see more, just like they do elsewhere on Snapchat. Snap Ads give brands the opportunity to embed further content as well; by swiping up on the video, the Snapchatter will be able to access extended content including long form videos, articles, app install ads, or a mobile website. Snapchat claims that the swipe-up rate for Snap Ads is 5x higher than the average click-through rate on comparable platforms.

Sponsored Lenses

And now we get to the fun stuff. Sponsored Lenses offer a different take on brand activation, offering not just an impression, but what Snapchat calls “play time” — the time Snapchatters spend playing with the interactive ad you’ve created for your brand.

It couldn’t be easier for Snapchatters to use the Sponsored Lens product. To activate Lenses, Snapchatters press and hold on their faces. The product is designed to promote engagement; lenses can include prompts like “raise your eyebrows” to trigger an animation. Snapchatters can send Lenses to a friend or post a Lens to their Story. On average, Snapchatters play with a Sponsored Lens for 20 seconds.

Sponsored Lenses can prove extremely popular – take the example of Taco Bell and its Cinco de Mayo Snapchat Lens which was viewed 224 million times.

taco-bell-filter

The Taco Bell Sponsored Lens was the most popular in the app’s history, and was used by millions of Snapchatters.

Sponsored Geofilters

The third option for creating paid-for engagement on Snapchat is sponsored geofilters. This product does what it says; when Snapchatters in a specific location(s) take a Snap, they’ll be able to see the Geofilter and use it to explain where, when, and why they took the Snap. The campaign can cover a country, a city, or even a location such as a mall, an airport, a monument or a hotel. In the US, a single National Sponsored Geofilter typically reaches 40% to 60% of daily Snapchatters. A good, simple example of a Geofilter is shown below from Yankee Stadium, and was created by 6S Marketing.

6s-snapchat-sponsored-geofilter

Snapchat Geofilters give Snapchatters the option of branding their Snap with your location-specific messaging. Check this out this filter from Yankee Stadium courtesy of 6S Marketing

The Drawbacks

These options aren’t available as of today in the MENA region. However, my hope is (well, it’s more than a hope) that Snapchat will be opening up soon in Dubai and provide these products to brands locally. The other caveat is cost. Snapchat advertising products don’t come cheap. The Fast Company reported that Snapchat was asking US-based advertisers to cough up hefty sums of cash for a Sponsored Lens: $450,000 per day for Sunday to Thursday, $500,000 for Fridays and Saturdays, and $700,000 for holidays. There are cheaper options, but you’ll have to have a decent budget to play on Snapchat.

However, if budgets allow and once Snapchat expands into the Middle East, be prepared to go Snapchat crazy!

#CIPRElection – What do the CIPR’s international members want?

The CIPR can do much to promote public relations overseas, and, most importantly, support its international membership.

The CIPR can do much to promote public relations overseas, and, most importantly, support its international membership.

As part of my bid to stand for the CIPR Council this year, I’ve written about what I want to bring to the table on behalf my fellow CIPR members who are not based in the United Kingdom.

I’d like to turn the tables slightly and talk about what the CIPR needs to do when it comes to its members abroad, many of whom (including myself) look to the CIPR for leadership and guidance when it comes to the industry. Let’s start with the obvious.

1) Ethics – While the industry has come a long way in terms of ethics since the days of Edward Bernays, ethics is still an issue for communicators. For people who are tasked with managing reputations, professionalism must be at the top of the list when it comes to engagement with all CIPR members. To its credit, the organization has one of the strongest and most robust codes of conducts I’ve ever read. In addition, the recent launch of a compulsory ethics CPD module is also a step in the right direction.

I’d like the CIPR to build on these steps, and launch ethics campaigns outside of the UK throughout ethics month (which is normally held in September), as well as all-year round. This can take a number of forms, such as social media dialogues and webinars. It could also include working with other public relations bodies, to share best practices. For those of use who care about the reputation of our industry, I’m sure this would be more than welcome.

2) Training and Development – The CIPR has the best development program in the industry, full stop. Its Continuing Professional Development program is exceptional, and covers everything any communicator needs to develop (I’m even talking Chief Communication Officers here). Likewise, the range of academic qualifications offered by the CIPR is outstanding. I have the utmost respect for anyone who has undertaken and completed a CIPR qualification.

This positive attitude needs to spread. We need more communicators outside of the UK to understand the importance of ongoing training and development. We also need more employers to understand that when they look to hire, they should look for CIPR qualifications. We have far too many communicators who haven’t studied communications, either because they don’t understand the importance of doing so (I hope these are far and few between), or because there are no institutions that offer courses in subjects such as internal comms, public affairs or public relations. The CIPR needs to step into this gap, and bring its know-how to bear, to promote a respect for training and development and to offer the tools needed for CIPR members outside the UK to enhance their own abilities.

3) Networking – We’re part of the family, but sometimes out-of-sight can be out-of-mind. One aspect of my membership that I enjoy the most is networking with my fellow CIPR members. I’ve had the good fortune to visit the CIPR offices in London and meet with the organization’s leadership. But many others who are abroad haven’t. We can use technology to bridge that gap (the CIPR International has done great work, with webinars on countries outside of the UK for its home-based members), as well as promoting the development of local chapters outside of the UK where numbers allow. The more we feel that we’re one family, the more we’ll benefit from what the CIPR has to offer.

These are but a few ideas that the CIPR can use to engage with members abroad. I hope to be able to provide a voice for those members, and bridge that gap. The CIPR is an incredible organization, and I have benefited enormously from all that is has to offer. I want others who live outside of the UK to have the same experience that I have had with the CIPR. I hope you agree, and will support me during the #CIPRElection.

CIPR and why I want to speak up for International Members

I'm standing to bring a voice to CIPR's members outside the UK, and support CIPR's growth in markets where we could benefit from CIPR's leadership

I’m standing to bring a voice to CIPR’s members outside the UK, and support CIPR’s growth in markets where we could benefit from CIPR’s leadership

I’ve been a proud member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for a number of years, and it’s an honour and a privilege to be part of an organization that puts the industry and its professionals first, that promotes what we do, and pushes for change for the better.

I was asked several weeks back by Jason MacKenzie a number of weeks ago if I’d stand for the Council. His thinking was clear; he wants to broaden CIPR’s scope, to reach out to the hundreds of CIPR members who live and practise their trade outside of the United Kingdom.

CIPR and the Need to Cross Borders

Both Jason and I share the same sentiments. While I am a member of the CIPR and have benefited from its world-class training and its ability to bring the industry together to tackle challenging issues, I want the CIPR to do more for all of us who aren’t in the United Kingdom.

Take my region, for example. Dubai and the wider Gulf are home to thousands of UK nationals who are public relations and communications professionals. Many of us here know the CIPR, we respect the work done by the CIPR, and we’d love to see the CIPR bring that gravitas to bear for issues that matter to us.

Representation for CIPR Members Abroad

As an organization that represents many in the communications industry, the CIPR has a strong membership base outside of the United Kingdom. Many of my own associates, colleagues and friends in the United Arab Emirates are members of the CIPR. While the CIPR International has done stellar work, it is time to step up representation on the Council for CIPR’s members abroad, for them to voice their needs. More international voices on the Council will also help promote to CIPR’s members the industry outside of the UK.

The Bridge Between the CIPR and the Global Industry

I’d also bring my experience to bear, as a board member of both the Middle East Public Relations Association and the International Association of Business Communicators, to promote mutual interests across a wider region for the benefit of all (an example of this is bringing the Chartered Status to the Middle East through the agreement with MEPRA). As an industry we are much stronger when we work together to engage on what we do and its value. I want to bring my board experience and the work I’ve done in emerging markets on behalf of the industry to bear for others in the CIPR.

I’m happy to field any questions from any CIPR member. I’m all for transparency and engagement, and I’m always keen to talk about the industry and how we move forward.

On a final note, I’d like to thank my nominators: Eva Maclaine; Jason MacKenzie; Donald Steel; Sarah Pinch, and Julio Romo. They’re all communicators who I admire for their abilities, their passion and their commitment to giving back to the industry. I hope I’ll do you all proud.

The need to move comms past window-dressing: Adopting a standard certification for comms

For many companies, it feels as if communications is simply window-dressing. We have to change perceptions about our profession (image source: http://www.hansboodtmannequins.com)

There are times when I have no other reaction but to laugh. I was sat with an acquaintance and we were talking about a company which was hiring for a senior comms role. Me being me, I wanted to help out and recommend someone, and I asked the obvious question.

“What are they looking for?” I said.

“A pretty Lebanese girl,” was the response.

My friend was part joking, but also part serious. And here’s why. For far too long, communications has been seen as a nice-to-have, a function that isn’t really strategic. Unfortunately, what has often happened is that communications has become the department where either someone senior is left to ‘retire’, or it’s the place where an inexperienced but attractive character is brought in.

This Has To Change

We need to stop treating communications as a window dressing. Reputation matters, in both good and bad times (ask anyone who works at Volkswagen about the importance of reputation and its cost to the business). Today, thanks to social media, any one consumer or stakeholder can call out your company, for both good reasons and bad. And yet, few companies in the MENA region have people who can effectively steward and build reputations.

So, how do we do it?

Firstly, the industry needs to talk more about what communications truly is and what it can do for organizations and their publics. Many of us will work tirelessly for our brands, but we’re awful at doing public relations for ourselves. There’s not enough people out there, particularly among the C-level crowd and within human resources who actually know what communications is about. As an industry we have to spend more time educating our peers, so that they know what we do and the value of our work.

Secondly, we need a universally accepted certification. Would you go to a lawyer who doesn’t have a degree. Or how about a doctor who didn’t attend medical school? And yet, most of us in the communications industry have never studied public relations and understood the theory underpinning our work. If we’re to evolve, and become better at what we do, then we need to go forward as an industry and adopt a standard certification, be it that advocated by the CIPR or IABC. We need people who are accredited, who have invested time in their development, and who can say, “I know my communications theory and this is how I can prove it.”

I’m used to the status quo. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t want change. I want our profession to be respected, to have a seat at the table, and to be strategic. I hope you’ll join me, so that together we can push for change.