Saturday, June 11, 2011

Disaster plans essential to business survival!

Like a good Boy or Girl Scout, it pays to be prepared. Being prepared to deal with a crisis can make or break a business. That's why it is important to formulate a disaster plan.

A disaster plan identifies the most likely crisis scenarios for a company or business, and outlines appropriate responses.

For example, a typical crisis may be weather-related. The degree of response will depend on how your business is affected. The impact can range from the loss of electricity to the destruction of a key operational facility or the death of employees. All potential levels of damage must be identified, and methods of ensuring continued business operations explored.

Another potential crisis is workplace violence. Suppose the estranged husband of an employee shows up in your lobby, waving a gun, demanding to speak to his wife. A disaster plan would identify the appropriate responses, including methods of retaking control in the reception area, preventing the gunman from entering offices and injuring employees, addressing potential hostage situations, evacuating or relocating staff, continuing or suspending operations, and dealing with the media.

Disaster plans should be created by brainstorming with members of key operating divisions, including human resources, information technology, communications and marketing, customer service and employee relations.

During this process, a crisis response team is formed. The team will be responsible for implementing the disaster plan should a crisis occur.

The plan should address the following issues:

. The role of the response team during a crisis. What will be the responsibility of each crisis team member during the crisis and subsequently, damage assessment? What will be the role of officers and executives? Do certain crises warrant a reduced level of team or executive involvement?

. Communication. How will team members be notified of the crisis and called into action? Who will serve as the company spokesperson? What communications vehicles will be used with staff, customers, the media, vendors and other key business contacts? In what order of priority will each group be contacted? (Note that the selection of spokesperson is extremely important. The spokesperson must remain calm and focused throughout the crisis. Not every CEO has the ability to respond appropriately and effectively, so choose wisely.)

. Facilities. If offices or facilities are damaged during a crisis, can workers be relocated? Can workers access office equipment, such as computers and copiers? If computers or computer data are damaged or inaccessible, what alternatives are available? Are backup records stored off site to ensure the protection and availability of key customer and financial records? Will staff, customers and others continue to have access to communications technology, such as phones and faxes?

. Business operations. What level of operations can or will be maintained during a crisis and its aftermath? Can normal operations continue, or will only essential activities be maintained?

Once potential crises have been identified and responses developed, it is important to categorize each crisis by level of impact. Some crises may require a more intensive and extensive response than others.

These protocols should be put in writing, and distributed to every employee. In addition to the procedures set forth in the disaster plan, the following rules apply:

. Make the crisis a priority. Usually, the crisis will not go away. The sooner it is resolved, the better--for the company, employees, customers, investors and others.

. Respond quickly. Speed is of the essence in a crisis. Twenty-four hours can dramatically change the outcome. Put systems in place that will ensure prompt notification and response. Some companies establish a “must call” phone number for notification of a crisis. (Some companies distribute key chains or bookmarks with the tagline, “In a crisis, call Ext. XXX.) The person picking up those calls should be trained in evaluating and initiating a corporate response. Most often they are a member of the crisis response team.

. Focus on the facts. Do not engage in speculation. Focus only what you know.

. Communicate! A crisis is not the time to bury your head in the sand. You must speak to all of your publics: employees, customers, vendors, investors and the media. Even when you don’t have all of the facts, it is important to communicate. (Don’t be afraid to admit to a lack of information.) You must respond to concerns, provide reassurance and report on new developments.

. Place the interests of your employees, customers, and investors above your own. When a business is threatened, these groups will want to know how they will be affected.

. Talk to the media. If you refuse, they will speculate and probably, make the situation appear worse than it is. The media controls public perception, and many times, perception is more important than reality.

. Take a long-term view. Resolving the crisis in important. But the actions you take while seeking a resolution could have an impact beyond the crisis. For example, it may be necessary to pay employees while a new facility is being located. Otherwise, those employees may not be available when you are ready to resume operations. To ensure the continued viability of your business, react strategically, with an eye on the future.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

In times of crisis, silence is not golden!

You’ve just settled in for a well-deserved rest when the phone rings. It’s your plant foreman, who screams into the phone, “The valves on the pollution control equipment are stuck and we’re dumping hazardous waste into the Milwaukee River!”

11 p.m. You arrive at the plant. All is quiet. At the back of the plant, you find three night shift employees trying to close the valve. You ask, “Has anyone called the city yet?”

11:05 p.m. Frustrated, you try to manually close the valve with a hammer.

11:10 p.m. Still hammering away, you are startled to see the guard from the front gate approaching. He says excitedly, “There’s a reporter at the gate. She wants to know about a spill! Do we have a spill?” You groan and say, “How did they find out so quickly?” The guard’s response is cut short by the sound of an approaching siren. The city’s hazardous waste containment unit has arrived.

11:20 p.m. The arrival of emergency vehicles has brought more reporters and some area residents to the plant gate, all demanding to know what is going on. Looking out at the media circus, you mutter, “Leeches!” and close the door to your office, hoping they will just go away.

In times of a crisis, silence is not golden. Whether the crisis is weather or finance-related, involves criminal activity, or potential harm to the public, the key to effectively handling a crisis is open and honest communication.

Organizations that fail to communicate create a negative impression, making victims, employees, the media, and the public angry. As history has shown, that can result in a loss of business or worse, business failure.

Ideally, an organization will have a crisis communications plan in place. Among the steps that should be included:

. Appoint a spokesperson. Only one person should be authorized to speak to the media and the public. This ensures that the company is speaking with one voice and providing consistent information to the public and the media. It is important that everyone within a company be told who is handling media inquiries and to refer all media inquiries to that person. In addition, it might be wise for inexperienced spokespeople to receive training in public speaking and conducting interviews with the media. The more polished the spokesperson, the better the impression made with the public.

. Make an immediate disclosure of the facts. If a matter is still under investigation, say so. Update and correct information as the investigation proceeds. If dates, statistics, and other information are pertinent, make them available. While an organization is not required to reveal confidential information, it is in a company’s best interest to put their “spin” on facts likely to come to light before someone else does. Taking the offensive makes it easier to get a company’s position before the media. When a company operates on the defensive, they often lose the media war. Above all, avoid “no comment.” In a crisis, that implies guilt.

. Bring in outside experts if necessary. Organizational spokespeople will not have the time to become medical or environmental experts in times of crisis, and should avoid technical questions they cannot answer. Sometimes, experts are available from within the organization. Other times, it might be wise to bring in a health or safety expert to discuss possible short and long-term outcomes, procedures that should be followed, treatment options if symptoms or illness occur, etc.

. Tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts. Once an organization is caught in a lie, it loses all credibility. It colors every statement made thereafter.

. Develop a communications network. Make sure key groups—executives, the media, victims, the public and employees—have access to accurate information. Do not overlook the importance of keeping employees informed--friends and neighbors will be asking them for “the real story.” Depending on the nature of a crisis, press conferences, press releases, blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, websites, hotlines, town meetings, direct mail brochures, or special employee alerts may be appropriate. It may be necessary to bring in a public relations consultant to coordinate communications.

. Be accessible to the media. The spokesperson, or spokespeople, should be accessible to the media 24 hours-a-day until the crisis is over. In addition, receptionists and other key staff should be told how to handle media calls, so that all inquires are responded to promptly. “The company did not return telephone calls” or “The company spokesperson was unavailable” leaves a negative impression, even if the reporter did call at 2 a.m.

. Humanize the company’s response to a crisis. Where there are victims, the company should always make it clear that they are the first priority. Offer immediate assistance, whether that involves temporary housing, medical assistance, or replacement of a defective product. If assistance is offered immediately, the company is likely to minimize the public relations and legal fallout from the crisis. Downplay financial repercussions, unless they are central to the crisis.

. Keep cool. Crises create emotional situations. Lack of sleep and stress only serve to intensify those emotions. Getting argumentative or angry in public generates the wrong type of media coverage. When the heat starts to rise, terminate the situation as quickly as possible.

. Follow up. When the crisis is over, report on the steps taken to resolve the crisis and what steps will be taken to avoid similar situations in the future. Internally, document procedures followed during the crisis, and note which were successful. Put those strategies in writing, so the next time, the organization is prepared.

Next week: Developing a disaster plan!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public speaking doesn't have to be a nightmare! (Part 2 of two parts)

Once you have finalized your speech, it’s time to practice your delivery.

Read the speech out loud several times to become familiar with content. This ensures that you will not be bound to the written page.

Do not memorize the speech. This can result in wooden delivery, especially when you are concentrating on remembering what you memorized.

Other important factors:

. Eye contact: Your eyes should sweep the room, occasionally focusing on members of the audience. This gives your audience the impression that you are relating to them personally. They are more likely to pay attention.

. Proper attire: If you are not dressed in the same manner as your audience, you will be uncomfortable. Find out in advance what attire is appropriate for the event.

. Enthusiastic delivery: A successful orator is confident and enthusiastic about his subject. His delivery is energetic, fast-paced, and to the point. He does not launch into tangential discussions—he leads the audience in one direction. He challenges the audience, forcing them into a silent debate. He uses short sentences and words that everyone understands. He does not talk down to the audience, he converses with them.

. Positive body language: It’s all right to be nervous, but don’t let it dictate your physical movement throughout the speech. Nothing unsettles an audience more than a speaker who paces back and forth, or shifts from foot to foot, or just will not stand still. Purposeful movement and gestures, however, keep the audience involved. Some speakers act out parts of their speeches, or use gestures when making a point. An example: In a speech about myths in education, the dean of a well-known university mockingly genuflected every time he used a cliche’ or referred to a popular fallacy. It added humor to his remarks, but also provided a creative outlet for his nervous energy.

. Visuals: Visuals should enhance a presentation, not detract from it. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law applies here: What could go wrong will, unless you have everything in order. Slides should be marked, overheads should be numbered, and videotapes and software programs should be cued up properly. Equipment should be thoroughly checked out in advance to make sure everything is operating properly. If you are not familiar with a particular piece of equipment, avoid it.

. Encourage questions: Sometimes an audience is initially shy about asking questions. If this happens, start off the question and answer period by saying, “I am often asked —,” or “Just this morning, I was reminded about —.”

. Repeat questions: Repeat questions from the audience so everyone can hear them. This also gives you few seconds to ponder your answer. Bridge back to your messages as often as you can. This keeps you focused.

. End on a timely basis: You should decide when the Q & A session is over (unless there is a moderator). If it feels like things are winding down, just say, “We have time for one final question” and wrap up.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Public speaking doesn't have to be a nightmare!

I had been asked to join a panel discussion on mediation and arbitration in the public sector before a state school board association. I worked on my part of the presentation for a week, and the morning before the scheduled panel, I rehearsed in my hotel room. Confident that I was sufficiently prepared, I joined some friends for lunch, and planned on picking up my notes in my room well before the panel discussion. But when I returned to my room, my speech was gone.

I quickly called Housekeeping, and about 30 minutes prior to my appearance, it was found on its way to the incinerator. Clutching the now rumpled, stained papers, I rushed to the room where I was speaking. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I slid into my seat—until the first speaker got up, and instead of speaking on the topic previously agreed upon, covered my part of the panel discussion. Frantically, I scribbled notes, hoping to shape another approach.

When my turn came, I got up and told my story about the disappearing speech. I jokingly concluded with, “And now I know what happened to it. Chuck just gave it.” With smiles on their faces, my audience forgave me in advance for a less-than-perfect presentation.

A recent survey revealed that speaking is one of the five worst human fears. Delivering a good speech is an art. Some people are born with the skills and instincts necessary to give an effective speech, others must learn those skills.

An effective orator can turn even the dullest subject into a magical expedition through fact or fiction. An ineffective speaker often finds himself addressing a rapidly diminishing audience.

For an effective presentation, follow these tips:

. Consider the event: You wouldn’t deliver a humorous monologue at a funeral (except in unusual circumstances), and the same rule holds true for speaking appearances. Serious topics are appropriate for business meetings. Reserve lighter remarks for more social occasions, for example, a banquet where everyone has been through a cocktail hour and dinner. A word about jokes: These days, someone will be offended by almost any joke. It is best to poke fun at yourself, rather than others.

. Know your audience: How familiar will your audience be with the subject of your remarks? How much background or explanation will they require? Are they interested only in certain issues falling within your realm of expertise? Talk to the concerns of the audience. Give them a good reason to listen to you.

. Know your role: Are you the keynote speaker or one of many? As a keynote speaker, you will have much greater latitude in selecting the content of your remarks. If you are one of several speakers, you will want to avoid repeating the comments of others, and find a way to distinguish yourself. This may require some additional investigation and preparation.

. Know your subject: Your remarks should address a subject you know. Lack of knowledge is often revealed through excessive nervousness. Do not risk destroying your credibility: Speak on your area of expertise.

. Organize content: After selecting your subject, think about the key points you want to make. Select no more than four. Organize your remarks around those points. Use examples, statistics and quotes from third-party experts to support your arguments. Stress solutions, or paths to finding solutions.

. Pay attention to word choice: Once you have prepared your remarks, read them out loud. Are there any words or phrases that do not ring true? What words did you stumble over? Did you use passive verbs rather than active ones? Adjust your speech accordingly.

Next week: Practicing your delivery!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Obituaries: Write your own, before it’s too late!

“If he hadn’t died, the obituary the newspaper ran would have killed him!”

I have reached the age where the obituaries have become mandatory reading. Last week, the obituaries ran more than two whole pages in my local newspaper. Obviously, more and more people are no longer leaving the writing of their passing to newspaper interns! And while most of us don’t like to think about dying, the last impression you leave may be your obituary!

I started my career in journalism writing obituaries. It is truly the lowliest task on the journalism totem pole. Often, I relied on the information provided by the funeral home, never bothering to check whether the information was accurate or complete. Sometimes, I was instructed to call a survivor of the deceased and interview them—-a task I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It is difficult at best to get useful information out of a grieving widow or widower. Many times, adult children just don’t have all the facts. Resorting to news files never provides a complete picture of the person who died.

How many times have you read an obituary and thought, “They must be talking about someone else. The guy I knew was interesting!”

If you want the media to get it right, write it yourself! You may not die for 50 years, but it never hurts to keep a draft obituary or biography on file. Once you are gone, it is really too late to ensure that what you think is important appears in your obituary. Some tips:

. Focus on what is important to you. Your obituary is your last opportunity to leave an impression on the world. It is your final opportunity to tell people what impact you had on people, your profession, and your community. Tell it as you see it. This is the one time your opinion is the only one that counts! Ask yourself, “What one thing do I want people to remember about me?” and feature it prominently.

. Make it interesting. Include little known facts about your life. For example, it is much more interesting to say, “Born and raised by Slovak immigrants in Carollville, Wisconsin, Judska attended a one-room school house for the first five years of his education. After his father, Joseph, got a job at American Motors, the family moved to Kenosha. There, Judska, worked from age 10 sweeping out a neighborhood bakery after school until he graduated from Bradford High School in 1940.”

. Reveal important lessons. Everyone learns important lessons during their life, and an obituary is an opportunity to share them. If you founded and built a multimillion dollar corporation, for instance, you might talk about what motivated you. An example, “Johnson was a mediocre student in high school, and was advised by his high school counselor to go into a trade. He refused to accept this advice and told the counselor that he intended to run his own company some day. He enrolled at a local community college, and two years later, transferred to Harvard, where he ultimately earned his MBA. Ten years later, he returned to his high school to show the counselor a story about his successful company in the Wall Street Journal. His parting words: ‘If I had listened to you, I would be repairing cars at a gas station. Instead, I am making more money a week than you will ever make in a lifetime. Your job should have been to encourage, not discourage!’”

. Focus on achievements that mattered to you. No newspaper is going to print the 100 awards you earned over a lifetime. Select the few that really mattered to you, and list them. The same holds true for articles and books published, speeches delivered, and positions held. In addition, if you served in a public position, talk about your most significant achievements. If you served in the military, mention any notable battles you fought in or any medals of honor you received. These are the facts you want remembered!

. Tell the truth. While this is an opportunity to provide opinions, it is not the time to misrepresent the truth. Blatant mistruths are bound to raise the ire of the media, and some will be motivated to counter with the truth from other sources, especially if your claims create legal liability for the media publishing them. Keep your obituary positive and truthful, or it might be subject to rigorous editing.

. Provide key photos. Include with your obituary black and white photographs that accurately reflect your life and career. Note that simply providing a high school photo when your death occurs at age 80 probably won’t be used. Instead, the media will use a more current file photograph!

. Review and update your obituary on a regular basis. Once you’ve prepared your obituary, review it and make any necessary changes at least annually. It might also be wise have someone else review it occasionally for content.

There is no guarantee that every word written will be published or reported by the media. Many times, what is published will depend on available space, or what your family is willing to pay. (Yes, some newspapers now charge for death notices!) That’s why it is important to concentrate only on the most important facts and information. Then you will have a say in the final impression you leave behind.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More ways to waste those marketing dollars!

Every day, some company throws its marketing dollars out of the window. Whatever the reason, these businesses provide some good examples of what not to do when marketing. My final five of the “top 10” money wasting techniques:

. Ignoring existing customers as a source of additional business. Marketing experts say it costs 10 times more to develop a new customer than to generate additional business from an existing one. Therefore, it is more cost-effective to focus marketing dollars on building strong, positive customer relationships. Call them on a regular basis, even if you aren’t working with them at the moment. Take them to dinner or a ball game. Find out what their favorite activity is and share it with them. Adhere to the multiple relationship theory: the more relationships a customer develops within a company, the less likely they are to take their business elsewhere.

. Failing to focus on target markets. Marketing strategies should target specific audiences. If your business is trying to increase its base of health care clients, investing significant advertising dollars in real estate publications would be inappropriate. A more effective strategy might be to create relationships with health care executives, through trade groups, social activities or a direct mail program. Every marketing dollar spent should have a designated purpose and further business development goals. Activities that fail to support those goals should not be pursued.

. Indulging in design excess. Some businesses spend a lot of money on a wide variety of marketing materials. They are slick. They are four-color. They look expensive. Unfortunately, when the materials are put side by side, there is no indication that they come from the same company. A consistent graphic design on all marketing materials creates an image. It provides a recognition factor. Consistency builds awareness. Inconsistency creates confusion.. All factors in a corporate identity—typeface, type size, color(s), placement and graphic elements—need to be monitored to ensure the integrity and consistent application of the design.

. Putting all marketing dollars into “one basket.” There is a basic concept in education: Every child learns in a different way. Some children learn best by reading, others are more inclined to learn through role playing or video presentations. Still others learn through one-on-one tutoring. Those learning patterns continue into adulthood. That means companies must employ a variety of strategies and tactics to reach a targeted audience. Reliance on only one tactic, such as advertising, will reach only a small portion of a target market. A variety of tactics not only reaches a greater proportion of a market, it tends to reinforce key messages on multiple occasions.

. Failing to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing activities. If a marketing activity isn’t working, it’s time to try something else. Unfortunately, some businesses repeat the same activity year after year, without bothering to determine whether the activity is achieving the desired results. After an activity has concluded, or has been underway for a period of time, two types of measurement should be undertaken. The first is a determination of whether stated objectives have been accomplished. Since objectives are designed to be measurable, i.e. “To increase the company’s base of health care clients from five to 15 by the end of the Year 2000,” it is quite simple to determine whether they have been accomplished. Secondly, return on investment should be evaluated. This is both a tangible and an intangible cost-benefit analysis. For example, if an activity costs $20,000 to execute, but it has resulted in only $2,000 in business, there has been little tangible benefit. That might be an indication that a change in strategies and tactics is necessary. However, if the same activity has resulted in significant goodwill among prospects, positive media attention and introductions to a number of potentially lucrative referral sources, the intangible or unmeasureable aspects of the activity might significantly outweigh the costs.

When funds are tight, the marketing budget tends to be the first victim. That’s why it is more important than ever to find ways to maximize, not waste, those marketing dollars!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Top 10 ways to waste those marketing dollars!

Everyday, some company throws its marketing dollars out of the window. Not intentionally, surely. But it is wasting those dollars nonetheless.

Perhaps the company doesn’t understand marketing. Maybe it has no coordinated marketing effort, resulting in a laissez faire attitude (whomever grabs the marketing cash first gets to spend it). Sometimes, a business is poorly managed and the marketing department is simply out of control.

Whatever the reason, these businesses provide some good examples of what not to do when marketing. How do they waste marketing dollars? The first five of my list of the “top 10” money wasting techniques appears below.

. Operating without a marketing plan. If your company does not have a strategic business development plan, chances are, it is wasting marketing dollars. An effective marketing plan flows from one activity to the next, building momentum toward an ultimate goal. It focuses on the target and is not distracted by the millions of opportunities available to waste marketing dollars (charity events, golf outings, sponsorship ads, etc.). Yet, it is flexible enough to incorporate new tactics or take advantage of new opportunities that will enhance the overall marketing effort.

. Creating a marketing plan or implementing a marketing program without conducting research. If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there? At the foundation of any effective strategic marketing plan is research. For example, a business may want to enhance its image and create a stronger identity in a certain marketplace. That requires a full understanding of the current image in that marketplace. A market study will reveal what factors affect the decision to use a business in a targeted market and answer questions such as what competitors are doing better or more poorly, and what marketing strategies will be most effective.

. Ignoring a marketing plan. Some companies have great marketing plans. They simply don’t follow them. Activities are not evaluated in terms of how they fit into the plan, but rather whether they are fun or will provide access to celebrities. Exceptions and exemptions will limit the effectiveness of a marketing plan: suddenly, the company is no longer moving forward proactively. They are reacting. Knee-jerk marketing has no lasting, cumulative effect. Only a focused effort will accomplish your business development goals.

. Failing to seek buy-in from the people the plan affects. The purpose of a marketing plan is to ensure that everyone is singing from the same songbook. Once a written plan is created, it must be communicated to all staff to gain their cooperation and support.

. Ignoring customer retention. A significant focus of any marketing program should be customer retention. Not only is it important that customers feel appreciated, it is also crucial that they are satisfied with your services or products. Vehicles such as surveys and follow-up interviews are essential to gauging customer attitudes. Even if negative information is elicited from an interview, wouldn’t you rather have a chance to correct the problem before you lose the customer?

Next week: The other five ways to waste your marketing dollars!