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Small Business Crisis Communications, Part 4

In this final part of our series on small business crisis communications, we'll take a look at how best to handle a bad situation while you are in the midst of it...

PR pros agree that less is better when dealing with the media. As mentioned in the last installment, if you can’t verify it, then don’t say it. Wait until you have all the facts before responding.

Check out this YouTube video on the right way to apologize:



At the same time, it’s important to be open and honest in the midst of a fire, a slip and fall, a financial issue or some other PR black eye. Don’t say anything that is not true because it could come back to haunt you. It’s an easy rule, but too many people try to say the right thing and get into trouble.

“Take the lead and take control,” says Vince McMorrow, vice president of public relations for RMD Advertising in New Albany, Ohio. “Too many of the media’s talking heads are ready to comment, take the lead and establish the correct information. Speak with one voice. Using one company spokesperson will keep statements consistent. Finally, get outside the box. Don’t adopt a bunker mentality.  Understand the crisis from every vantage point.”

Denyse Dabrowski, vice president of The Marcus Group, Inc. a Secaucus, N.J.-based public relations firm., says you retain control of the story by announcing both positive and negative information while demonstrating care, concern and empathy for all parties involved. Regardless of the severity of the issue, experts stress avoiding responses born out of stress. Staying calm will help you make better decisions and present a better case to the media.

“Obtain information from the people closest to the incident--beware of information filtering,” Dabrowski says. “Accept that you will not have all the information that you want when you want it. Make decisions and stick to them, but be flexible if the situation changes. And accept the responsibility for the outcome--but not the blame. Then address the issue of reform.”

McMorrow says crisis management requires leadership and teamwork to ride out a difficult storm. The communications to varied audiences requires an objective vision, patience and decisions your team can stand behind. Depending on the situation, McMorrow offers the following “message points” to help explain what happened and the status of the current situation. This, he says, will help you avoid those knee-jerk reactions that Schoff warned against. Here are some talking points:

“When we became aware of the issue, we came forward.”

“We are cooperating fully with authorities.”

“Precautions were in place, but no precaution can stop nature or someone who violates trust.”

“We are working to correct the issues that led to the crisis.”

McMorrow says the spokesperson needs to know the message, package the message, deliver the message with conviction and apologize to anyone affected by this action. If you know what you’re talking about, then the media sound bites take care of themselves. Responding and responding in a timely manner is a point that PR pros emphasize as an absolute must in any situation.
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Are You Managing Your Small Business' Online Reputation?

Do you know what's being said about your small business online? Sure, you could use Google Alerts, which I would highly recommend, to get mentions of your small business' name and associated e-mail addresses sent to your inbox as they happen. But you can also do a little more--without breaking the bank.

Although there are plenty of online reputation management tools you can pay for out there, Google is offering a free options. Google on Wednesday launched an online reputation management tool for the masses. Dubbed “Me on the Web, the tool is part of the Google dashboard amid analytics and account information.

"In recent years, it’s become easier and easier to publish information about yourself online, through powerful new platforms like social networking sites and photo sharing services,” explains Andreas Tuerk, a product manager at Google.

Tuerk acknowledges that way to manage your privacy on these sites is to decide who specifically can see this information, determining whether it is visible to just a few friends, family members or everyone on the web. But Google is taking a different approach. “Me on the Web” is not a privacy tool at all.

As Tuerk sees it, another important decision when publishing information on the web is choosing how you are identified when you post that information. That’s where Google is focusing its efforts.

“We have worked hard to build various identity options into Google products. For example, while you may want to identify yourself by name when you post an answer to a question in a forum so that readers know the response is reputable, if you upload videos about a controversial cause you may prefer to post under a pseudonym,” Tuerk says.

Tuerk went on to explain that your online identity is determined not only by what you post, but also by what others post about you -- whether a mention in a blog post, a photo tag or a reply to a public status update. When someone searches for your name on a search engine like Google, Tuerk said, the results that appear are a combination of information you’ve posted and information published by others.

Google’s new tool aims to make it easier to monitor your identity on the web and to provide easy access to resources describing ways to control what information is on the web.

“Me on the Web also provides links to resources offering information on how to control what third-party information is posted about you on the web,” Tuerk says. “These include common tips like reaching out to the webmaster of a site to ask for the content to be taken down, or publishing additional information on your own to help make less relevant websites appear farther down in search results.”

So if you haven't checked into your small business' online reputation, check out these tools right away. You might be pleasantly surprised or mortified by what you find. Either way, you need to know.
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Small Business Crisis Communications, Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at why crisis communications is important and how to prepare before the storm. In part 3, we'll take a closer look at how to respond to a crisis through your public relations efforts.

With a plan in place, you are prepared to quickly respond to the storm. PR pros say your immediate response should include the following: gathering facts, alerting and deploying the crisis response team, acknowledging the situation with 24 hours, cooperating with the media, assessing legal liability, reaching out to target audiences, and monitoring media coverage.

You will have several potential audiences to consider, including the victim, if any, the media, your employees and their families, clients, and other stakeholders.

It is very important to communicate with both your employees and your customers during a crisis. Not responding to a media inquiry during a crisis is almost an admission of guilt. About 30 minutes before new information was released to the media during the bankruptcy proceeding we gave all personnel directions on how to handle phone calls, who to transfer media questions to, and how to respond appropriately if they were caught off-guard with a question.

At the same tie, you want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis situation. Stop to take a couple of deep breaths, gather your thoughts, and refer to that crisis communications plan that you should have drafted six months ago. The goal is to prevent employees from being forced to deal with the media.

Indeed, many times employees are not equipped to deal with those kinds of pressures from the media. Employees should tell the media that comments have to come from their supervisors or someone from the home office. Unfortunately that doesn’t always cut it. It is real important that you’re careful with what you say to news reporters, and most importantly to be honest and if you don’t know, you don’t know.
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Should Small Business Owners Go it Alone?

Are you sweating the small stuff when you should be focusing on the big picture on how to grow your small business? If you are like many small business owners in Canada, the answer is yes.

According to the quarterly American Express Small Business Monitor, entrepreneurs recognize planning, hiring, and marketing as key business functions but admit to spending a big part of their day on tasks such as office administration, cleaning and repairs. The thing is, 59 percent of these small businesses admit their company would be in a much better position if they could spend more time doing what they're good at.

"We know small business owners put their heart and soul into everything they do, so a reluctance to rely on others is only natural," says Eric Nielsen, vice president and general manager for Small Business Services Canada division of American Express Canada. "But looking for outside help for even a few tasks can allow owners to focus on the work they love and the reason for starting their own business in the first place."

So, what non-core tasks are small business owners taking on themselves?

  • 49% are doing secretarial work

  • 48% are tackling technical support

  • 40% are doing office/property repairs and cleaning

  • 30% are doing their own construction

  • 56% are doing it because they don’t want to give up control

  • 38% admit they waste time doing things other people are more qualified to do

  • 24% do it themselves anyway to maintain quality

  • 24% don’t want to spend the time it takes to hire/manage outsourced contractors

  • 52% see outsourcing as too expensive


"We may see owners become more willing to outsource some tasks as they move towards a goal of business expansion rather than maintaining the status quo," Nielsen says. "Hiring a third-party is not only low risk but can fill a temporary need for business-critical skills."

Need some tips for delegating? Check out this YouTube video:

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Why Your Small Business Should Tap Local Online Ads

Is your small business advertising online? And, if so, are you tapping into local search? That could be the missing ingredient to a more successful Internet marketing campaign.

A new study from the Local Search Association found that consumers use Yellow Pages and search engines most to find local businesses, outpacing other local media including social networks, magazines, newspapers, and promotional circulars and e-mails.

"Local media trends give small businesses a good sense of where they should invest their limited advertising budgets," says Neg Norton, president of the Local Search Association. "We recommend an integrated approach that incorporates print and Internet solutions to reach local consumers."

Eighty-four percent of survey respondents used either print or Internet Yellow Pages to find a local business in the last year and 76 percent used a search engine. What does that mean for your small business? You may need to explore new marketing strategies that reach consumers where they search, whether it’s in the print Yellow Pages, search engines or other local media.

"Consumers are using multiple media across print, digital, and mobile platforms for locating small businesses," says Norton. "Businesses should regularly review and update their websites and Internet Yellow Pages listings, as well as their Google Places pages, Bing Business Portal listings and other sources of information online to maximize search engine optimization and online integration. That's how you stay competitive."

Consumers say Yellow Pages are the most trusted, most accurate source they choose first when searching for local business information. Consumers also rate Yellow Pages as the first chosen, easiest and most convenient to access, and the source they find "best in class" for finding information on local businesses.

"Even as reach of search engines, Internet Yellow Pages and social networks continues to expand, print Yellow Pages continue to be strong in their ability to delivery quality sales leads," Norton says.  "Many believe that social networks have a built-in trust factor because they generate referrals from people they know, but consumers by wide margins say that they trust most the local information provided by Yellow Pages and search engines.  We'll continue to monitor for trends in this space as media further blur the lines between social and business listings."
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