All posts by Ray Martino

Ray Martino is a partner at Martino Flynn, where he heads the administrative and public relations groups. He has 35 years’ experience as a public relations teacher, administrator, and consultant. He holds a master’s degree in public relations from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Crisis Communications

Are you ready to communicate during a crisis?

 Natural disasters, scandals, product recalls, work stoppages; there are a multitude of crises occurring constantly. A crisis is simply defined as a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome.

In a crisis, emotions run on overdrive, minds race, and events happen so quickly that writing a plan amid this situation is impossible–just following one is hard enough.

Crisis management is a process of strategic planning for a crisis–one that removes some of the risk and uncertainty from the negative occurrence and allows an organization to be in greater control of the outcome.

Crisis communications is defined as the dialogue between an organization and its publics prior to, during, and after the negative occurrence. The dialogue created is intended to minimize damage to the organization’s reputation.

Effective crisis management includes crisis communications, which not only can alleviate or eliminate the crisis, but also can sometimes bring an organization a more positive reputation than it may have had before the crisis.

There are various public relations programs that can be utilized during a crisis. They include media, community, employee (internal), consumer, government, and investor relations.

Research indicates that companies with ongoing two-way communications often avoid crises or endure crises of shorter duration or of lesser magnitude. Research also shows that companies with a crisis management or crisis communications plan generally come out of a crisis with a more positive image than companies without a plan.

Crises typically go through distinct phases. The first is detection. The detection phase—or prodromal phase—may begin with the appearance of warning signs. Some crises have no noticeable prodromes, but many do.

When an organization in the same or similar industry suffers a crisis, that can serve as a warning sign. The Tylenol tampering case was a prodrome to other over-the-counter drug manufacturers. Most heeded the warning and converted to tamper-proof containers.

An organization should watch for prodromes and make attempts to stop a crisis at this initial stage, before it develops into a full-blown crisis. A corporate culture conducive to the positive and open interaction of stakeholders can minimize the effects of crises, as can the inclusion of crisis management in the strategic planning process.

Depending on the type of organization, crisis prevention tactics can involve many actions, such as safety training, a whistleblowing policy, and ongoing community engagement.

Crisis preparation is necessary for dealing with crises that cannot be prevented. For example, Pepsi had no way of anticipating the scare in which hypodermic syringes were being found in some cans of Diet Pepsi. The crisis communications plan is the primary tool of preparedness. The plan tells all key people on the crisis team what their roles are.

Containment, the second phase, refers to the effort to limit the duration of the crisis and keep it from spreading to other areas of the organization.

The third phase is recovery, which involves efforts to return an organization to “business as usual.” In addition to restoring normalcy, recovery can involve restoring public confidence.

The fourth and final stage, learning, is the post-mortem phase; this is where procedures are analyzed in order to make the event a lesson for the future.

One way to look at crisis communications is to dissect it into three stages: prevention—preparing before a crisis occurs; management—communicating during the crisis; and recovery—communicating post-crisis.

Prevention involves planning and preparing communications procedures before a crisis occurs. Research and preparation in this first stage are key. An organization’s main goals are to anticipate and prepare for potential crises, and attempt to prevent them before they occur.

The second stage of crisis management is managing the response and communicating it to all interested parties. Time is of the essence in responding to a crisis effectively. A delayed response can be devastating to an organization’s reputation.

The third and final stage of crisis communications is recovery—communicating post-crisis. This look-back stage begins immediately at the end of a crisis.

Post-crisis communication is what an organization says and does after a crisis. In this stage, an organization will attempt to salvage its reputation, while gathering key learnings and undergoing the healing process.

Today’s instant communications environment places a higher premium on crisis management; unprepared organizations have more to lose than ever before. The factors that increase the need for effective crisis management are an increased value of reputation, stakeholder activism through communication technologies, negligent failure to plan, and broader views of crises.

Martino Flynn can help your organization prepare a crisis communications plan. Contact Ray Martino, rmartino@martinoflynn.com, or call 585-641-4540.

Five Traits Of Great Business Leaders

The topic of leadership has been thoroughly dissected by historians, social scientists, authors, and trainers. While very little has been left unsaid, I offer here my accumulated observations over four decades in the business world.

Make no mistake; great business leaders are exceptional people. The best business leaders I have observed over the years get good to excellent marks from me on all of the following traits.

  1. Integrity. Without honesty and high moral principles, you cannot lead a business effectively. Employees’ trust and loyalty must be earned. They can’t be taken for granted.
  2. Vision. People need goals and a roadmap in order to achieve. Your vision has to be articulated and reinforced, or else your employees will feel that they are on a rudderless ship.
  3. Passion. Leaders have to have a contagious enthusiasm for their work. If a leader isn’t passionate about the organization’s mission and vision, how can we expect employees to be committed?
  4. Collaboration. The most successful teams have a motivator for a leader. Great leaders work side by side with their teams. Team players need support and encouragement, not someone breathing down their necks.
  5. Accountability. President Harry S. Truman’s sign on his desk read “The Buck Stops Here.” Leaders who shift blame to others and refuse to admit fault do not foster loyalty.

In the book, Lessons from the Top: The Search for America’s Best Business Leaders, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, made the observation:

“I think it’s very difficult to lead today when people are not really truly participating in the decisions. You won’t be able to attract and retain great people if they don’t feel like they are part of the authorship of the strategy and the authorship of the really critical issues. If you don’t give people the opportunity to really be engaged, they won’t stay.”

Schultz obviously has credibility on the subject. If we were evaluating great military or church leaders, the criteria would be different. Disloyal soldiers get court martialed. Disloyal church members get excommunicated. Unhappy employees find another job.

Great business leaders are not autocrats. They use their powers of persuasion to achieve consensus and support. Fear and intimidation are not in their vocabularies. Once great leaders have everyone on board, they make their expectations clear and then get out of the way.

Sandy reminds us that crisis communications plans are a necessity

In the days before Hurricane Sandy battered New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the entire Northeast was preparing for the worst.  People flocked to stores for flashlights, batteries, generators, water, and nonperishables, and businesses called emergency meetings to review their crisis communications plans, if they had one.  But so many businesses remain largely unprepared to handle a crisis situation, armed only with informal crisis plans—or worse, with none at all.

Hurricane Sandy wreaked complete devastation on the Jersey Shore, and flooded lower Manhattan in a way that hadn’t been seen in several decades, if ever. In times like these, the last thing an organization wants to do is scramble. As Sandy showed us, no company is safe—from the world’s largest banks to the small sub shop on the corner—and no business is crisis or disaster free. The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to have a crisis communications plan ready to go.

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Ethics in business are key to long-term success

When I was asked to submit an entry for the Rochester Business Ethics Award, I hesitated at first.  Why would anyone get an award for simply doing the right thing?  But as I read the rules and list of questions, I became engaged in a self-audit.  Is Martino Flynn an ethical business?

We went through the process of submitting the entry, and met with an evaluator who toured our agency and interviewed staff.  The result: Martino Flynn was recognized as a finalist for an Ethie from the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation. This award is given annually to companies that exemplify high standards of ethical behavior in their everyday business practices and in response to crises or challenges.
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Reflections on the Ever-Changing Public Relations Landscape

I can still remember the sound of typewriters clicking on my first day of working in public relations. I joined this industry 40 years ago and never could have imagined the changes that would occur in the years to come.

Technology has been the catalyst that has sparked innovation for most industries, and public relations is no exception. I joke that when I first started as a practitioner, my tools of the trade were a typewriter, a roll of stamps, and a Rolodex. Today’s young PR professionals probably don’t even know what those things are. I never could have imagined Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; if I did, I would be a billionaire and Zuckerberg would be working for me. And when social media did come on the scene, who knew that it would one day fall under the umbrella of responsibility for the public relations team? Continue reading