Your Next Crisis May Have Already Happened

November 7, 2017

by Dan Ward

Professional communicators realize the importance of a crisis communications plan, guiding companies and clients on how to maintain the timely and accurate flow of information in a crisis situation.

We plan for the things that might occur in the future that could affect our clients’ business … weather-related events, workplace accidents, etc.  But the allegations that have made for breaking news since the first Harvey Weinstein story was published point out the need for companies to plan for emerging crises that may have been smoldering for years.

Perhaps the best thing to have happened as a result of the Weinstein scandal (aside from putting a stop to his alleged predatory actions) is the creation of an environment in which many women (and some men) feel for the first time that they are safe to call attention to their own stories of harassment.  And though media stories have focused primarily on the entertainment realm because of the celebrity status of both the accused and the accusers, we should expect more allegations to be made public in the corporate world.

Those in charge of corporate communications for their companies and clients should be doing two things immediately:  1) connecting with HR to ensure that corporate policies for preventing and reporting harassment are up-to-date and that proper training is taking place; and, 2) updating crisis communications plans to account for potential harassment claims.

This can be a difficult discussion to have with the CEO, but it’s a critical discussion to lead.  As with any crisis, our job is to prepare for the worst even if we believe the chances are slim that the plan will ever be put into action.  Preparing a response to a potential harassment claim is not an admittance of guilt or a suggestion of impropriety.  It is simply proper planning.

I listed the conversation with HR first, because a company’s actions in a crisis are much more important than its message.  The lack of a harassment policy can itself lead to a crisis of reputation for your company, so it’s critical that you ensure a policy is indeed in place.  Is the policy clear in defining harassment and prescribing penalties?  Does your company provide training for both supervisors and employees?  Is the process for filing complaints clear, and are complaints taken seriously?

Don’t let your discomfort with an issue that has long been taboo keep you from making the right decisions for your company and clients.

The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?

On Managing a Crisis: Chipotle

February 8, 2016

by Vianka McConville

Is my Chipotle burrito safe to eat?

After many months, I’ve decided that, for me, the answer is yes.

Since August 2015, Chipotle has battled food safety concerns from outbreaks of norovirus, Salmonella and E. coli in numerous states.  I will admit I was one of those people who stayed away from the chain for the past six months due to a fear of getting sick.  However, I’ve changed my tune and can’t wait to devour a burrito in the near future.

Here’s why I’ve decided to give Chipotle another try:

Communication about the incidents has been transparent and readily available, information is thorough, and apologies feel heartfelt and honest.

The level of effort that Chipotle has put into communicating to me that the chain has taken every possible step to ensure my safety earned back my trust.

That’s good public relations.

The battle is far from over for the Mexican chain.  The good fight continues today with a company-wide meeting on food safety that shuts all restaurant doors until 3 p.m., but invites everyone in on the conversation by live-tweeting the event.  As a competing Mexican grill, Moe’s ran a full-page ad in USA Today touting its restaurants would be open all day.

There’s a long road ahead, but Chipotle has a great compass in hand.

Don’t Sweep Your Crisis Under the Rug

August 14, 2015

by Heather Keroes

One of my favorite makeup brands is Lime Crime.  Their products are cruelty free and highly pigmented in a rainbow of unique colors.  I’m also a sucker for unicorns on packaging.  But when a friend told me Lime Crime received a warning from the FDA, I immediately stopped using all of their products.  This was no Internet rumor set for debunking on Snopes.  She sent me a link to an FDA letter warning Lime Crime about unsafe ingredients in one of their most popular lipsticks.

Lime Crime claims that the ingredients in question were incorrectly printed on their boxes.  But in any case, until the issue is resolved with the FDA, how can their loyal customers feel comfortable?

Lime Crime has taken a reactive approach to the crisis.  A very active brand on social media, Lime Crime continued to post promos for their makeup for several weeks, as if nothing had happened.  But when you have a vocal fan community of 1.6 million followers on Instagram, nearly 700k on Facebook, and more elsewhere, your strategy can’t be to hide and hope it all blows over.

I’ll give Lime Crime credit.  Earlier this week, they started responding to some of the concerned customer comments on social.  Here’s just a small peek at one of those conversations.


Lime Crime


The brand’s response hasn’t been enough to quell concerns.  And now, Lime Crime has gone silent on social.  The company prepared a statement on the safety issue, but it can only be accessed through a direct link, which was only shared in reply to several comments on social.

I doubt Lime Crime had a crisis communications plan in place before the FDA incident.  Product safety is an issue that should definitely be on the list for any company in their industry.  Unfortunately, they haven’t addressed the issue in a way that makes consumers think they are taking it seriously instead of, as the brand said, sweeping it under the rug.  In the meantime, my lipsticks will be swept under the rug too.

There is a Crisis Among Us

April 25, 2012

by Vianka McConville

In the last few days, Facebook has been targeted as a sexist company.  Ultraviolet, an online group with a mission to combat “sexism everywhere,” feels it is wrong that a woman does not sit on Facebook’s board and encourages the company to invite women to do so before it goes public in a few months.

As I write these words, Facebook may have already been presented with a petition of 58,000 people in support of Ultraviolet’s view.  There is a planned protest outside of Facebook’s headquarters in New York City Wednesday afternoon.  Facebook has not issued a response on their company website.

Mashable notes Facebook’s COO is Sheryl Sandberg, and she has some clout.  To me, Ultraviolet’s logical leap in accusations seems a bit stretched.  Their reasoning for Facebook to add women to the board is even less sound.  Comments on this article are few and mostly in question of the group’s intentions.  I’m sure Facebook (a large company that should know better) has a crisis plan for times like these (I hope).  Fifty-eight thousand people cannot go ignored.  Facebook has a unique opportunity to extinguish a flame before it goes viral. Addressing an issue is always easier than reigning in a backlash.

Mid-life Crisis

February 28, 2012

by Roger Pynn


I’ve bought a lot of new cars in my time, but I’ve never seen a brand work so hard at post-purchase marketing as MINI.  For sure this isn’t my first, Cooper.  I go way back to the late 60s with Britain’s favorite economy car, which just happened to be one of the winningest race cars in history, and in its rebirth by BMW in 2001 one of the hottest brands worldwide.

So it didn’t take a lot on MINI’s part to get me to return to my roots when my Lexus SUV (a phenomenal vehicle that served me nearly 290,000 miles) was ready for a new garage.  I’m sure I’m wearing a fixed grin these days driving my little MINI Clubman (a racing machine disguised as station wagon), although I’m sure some of my friends think I’ve lost a couple of lug nuts upstairs.

Despite the fact that I’m already in love with the little thing – as most MINI owners are, according to all the auto rating books – what arrived in the mail this week not only reinforced how pleased I am with the decision to buy it … it reminded me that the sale is not over until you’ve got either a brand ambassador or a repeat customer, or both.


MINI has created a voice for its vehicles far larger than the little boxes that are just 4’ 8” tall and less than two inches wider.  They work tirelessly to make you part of a word-of-mouth army of recruiters with a quirky message and marketing communications tools not only designed to make you a loyalist, but to loosen your wallet for literally millions of after-sale add-ons that make their cash registers ring and your MINI a four-wheeled reflection of your personal brand.

Of all the things that arrived in Saturday’s package (including the envelope that turned into a tiny logoed backpack, a set of cards to give your closest friends telling them all the MINI gifts you’d like at holiday time [cha ching] and a mini fuzzy die to stick on top of your MINI’s mini antenna), the book 101 Fundamentals of Good Motoring tops the list.

Fundamental #11:  Be a Good-for-Something:  Motorers (what MINI calls drivers) are more than just good drivers.  They’re good citizens, too.  That’s why we created Motoring Hearts, a program that makes it easy to find and participate in volunteer opportunities that are unique to your interests.  Handy with power tools?  Help build a home.  Good with kids?  Be a mentor.  Like the roof on a MINI convertible, a motorer’s heart is always open.  To learn more, visit MINIMOTORINGHEARTS.COM.”

That’s brilliant.  Just imagine all those products gathered around doing good.  What a billboard!

More than an hour after opening the package, I was still reading, laughing and saying to myself “I love my MINI” … which has to be making some marketer at MINI USA very happy.

The Mid-Year Crisis

July 1, 2011

by Kerry Martin

Whenever the first of July rolls around, I always have this sudden realization that the year is halfway over and I’m nowhere near accomplishing my resolutions (it actually came earlier this year when someone wished me a “Merry Half-Christmas” on the 25th).  While I could bemoan those skipped gym trips and the fact that I’m not yet speaking conversational Spanish, I’d rather put that energy into addressing professional goals I had set for myself (::cough:: blogging more) and for my clients and their communications plan.

As every good PR professional knows, taking a step back to assess your performance against a strategic plan isn’t just that end step at annual review time … it’s important to periodically review metrics and evaluate what is or isn’t working – and mid-year is just the time to do it.  Perhaps the tactics outlined at the start of your communications program need a little tweaking to help you achieve your main objectives.  If social media isn’t converting followers into leads for your client, try another approach like direct email messaging.  Or if your media outreach isn’t generating interest, switch up your contacts with other journalists from different outlets to see whether a new angle might do the trick.

But in the case of those procrastinators out there, maybe this turn of the calendar page will simply serve as a wake-up call to get moving and put your carefully laid plans in motion.

Taking Aim at Florida’s Budget Crisis

August 25, 2008

by Dan Ward

An excellent editorial in today’s St. Petersburg Times, and other editorials printed around the state in the past couple of weeks, take aim at Florida’s growing budget crisis and call upon the state Legislature to take bold action.

Highlighted in these editorials is a unique coalition of agencies that represent children and families, seniors and all taxpayers in between … Florida’s People – Florida’s Promise.

FPFP logo

In the interest of full disclosure, our firm represents one of the group’s founders and has been involved in planning and promoting the initiative, which seeks to protect Florida’s most vulnerable citizens from additional across-the-board budget cuts.

Though the group’s mission and message are important, I think the lesson to be drawn for communicators lies in the decision-making process behind the group’s formation.

We often think in terms of identifying the target and taking aim with the right message (our weapon of choice). Hence the name of our blog. But when tracking truly big game — and Legislators overseeing a more than $60 billion budget certainly apply — we also need to remember that the most successful big game hunters work as a team.

That’s what the Florida’s People group is doing. After competing for years for dwindling budget dollars, the founding organizations – including Children’s Home Society of Florida, AARP and others – decided to stand and fight together. Since that time, more than 50 additional organizations have joined the team.

As the cacophony of another Legislative session draws near, their message has a much greater chance of being heard above the din. For the sake of Florida’s future, we should all hope that it is.

Tide: A Swift and Clean Response to the #TidePodChallenge

February 9, 2018

by Bailey Morris

You know you have a PR crisis on your hands when the CEO of your organization has to talk about teenagers eating laundry pods on the weekly earnings call.

Nowadays when a brand faces a PR crisis, it’s regular procedure to take to their social media channels and address the issue head-on.  And before Tide tackled all of their competition in their quirky, bait-and-switch Super Bowl ads, they were keeping plenty busy tackling conversations about the “Tide Pod Challenge” on social media.

Like other daft internet challenges before its time, (“The Cinnamon Challenge,” “The Bath Salt Challenge,” etc.) the “Tide Pod Challenge” took the internet by storm, as teens began filming themselves biting into the brand’s laundry detergent pods and spewing soap everywhere – or worse, ingesting it.

We’re all about innovative solutions here at Curley & Pynn, and when we saw Tide’s creative response to the situation at hand, we had to write a blog post about it.

Instead of just posting a tweet that read, “Tide Pods are not meant for consumption.  If consumed please call poison control immediately,” Tide created a brief, funny PSA with New England Patriots’ tight-end Rob Gronkowski and posted it on their Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Right now, the tweet has about 98,000 re-tweets and boasts about 10 million views – and that doesn’t even take into account the 286,000 views on YouTube and 164,000 views on Facebook!  They found a way to get their message across that it’s absurd to eat Tide Pods, but doing it in a comical way.

But why the larger amount of views on Twitter?  My theory is that it could be due to the Tide Pod Challenge originating on Twitter, and that’s where Tide knew most of their teen audience was posting about the challenge … but that’s another blog post for another time.

At the end of the day, it’s about remembering that public relations is “people relations.”  Tide can’t control what able-minded individuals do with their product – all they can do is tell them that it’s ludicrous, and that they shouldn’t do it.

So why not have a little fun with it?  After all, 10 million video views is nothing to sneeze at.  Unless you have laundry soap in your nose – then you might need to sneeze.

Zika, the Oil Spill and Help for Communicators

August 19, 2016

by Kim Stangle

One of the most important client success stories we’ve told in the last decade has been about our work for South Walton (the Tourist Development Council) on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  With tourism as its main economic driver, the destination faced a crisis of epic proportions when news of the spill hit and visitors feared the pristine white-sand beaches they loved would be covered in tar balls.


Our team worked alongside the TDC’s communication staff to develop a crisis communication plan that would ensure visitors would continue booking trips as they’d done for so many years before.  The plan included scenario-based messaging; a blog that was updated daily to show real-time images of beach conditions; and, a variety of other communication tools.

Ultimately, the drop in bookings was a fraction of what initial research indicated was possible and they rebounded dramatically in the years to follow.

It’s hard not to immediately draw comparisons to the latest news coming out of South Florida—Miami Beach, specifically—where the latest Zika outbreaks are crippling an otherwise bustling tourism spot.

While an oil spill is hardly the same as a mosquito-transmitted virus, the communication challenges are similar.  Perception is a powerful motivator of fear and communicators must work to provide a constant flow of accurate information if they seek to separate fact from fiction.

For help with crisis communications and other public relations issues, check out our case studies and white papers.

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