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PR Lessons Learned In 1H 2015: Part One


With the end of the first half of the year approaching, MSLGROUP decided to take a look back at the PR lessons learned thus far in 2015 and what they mean for our industry and our clients. Without further ado:

1. In times of crisis, early, frequent, honest communication that provides next steps is best.

While not a completely new idea, 2015 has shown us a few different examples of brand crises done right and those deserve to be recognized. Let’s start with the recent breach at Penn State University. When alerted of the breach – which included compromised usernames and passwords from its College of Engineering- Penn State officials quickly notified students, faculty and media of the news and sent out an email to all parties outlining what they knew, what they were hoping to learn and what its constituents needed to do next.

Taking the opposite approach, Amtrak came under fire in May when one of its trains derailed in Philadelphia, injuring 140 passengers and killing six, and the company did not utilize social media to keep the public effectively updated. The transportation company acknowledged the accident via a tweet the night it happened and said it would have more details, but no further posts were made until the morning news conference. It was evident that Amtrak’s crisis communications plan did not include a Twitter strategy, which all such plans should.

2. In today’s 24/7 world, your brand is always on – personal or otherwise

We can all use a reminder of this lesson at times and this April, ESPN Reporter Britt McHenry provided just that. In a video that quickly went viral, McHenry could be seen verbally abusing and cursing at a towing company employee. Online commenters and news media alike quickly chastised McHenry and ESPN followed with its own punishment –a week-long suspension.

Even though McHenry was not on “company time,” her personal brand reflected on the ESPN brand, so her outburst had negative implications for her career. All employees – from entry level staff to C-level executives – should be reminded that they are speaking for the company whether they are at an industry conference or the local coffee shop and that being a brand ambassador is a 24/7 expectation. (I’ll pause, while you update your Facebook photo.)

3. Trust is the hardest thing to gain and easiest thing to break

One of the biggest examples of this adage came during the AFC Championship when the New England Patriots were accused of purposely deflating game balls to ensure they were easier for quarterback Tom Brady to handle. I’m not here to comment on what did or didn’t happen – I’ll leave that up to the experts – but regardless of what really happened, the outcome was that the Patriots were once again labeled cheaters. Fans, competitors and sports influencers alike voiced their disappointment and the backlash continues.

More recently, the wide-spread recall of Takata Corp. airbags has taken national headlines. The recall affects one in four cars on U.S. roads right now from 11 different auto manufacturers, causing major concern about products from Takata. This kind of brand damage is not easily undone, even as the company cooperates with investigators to ensure cars on the road receive new airbags.

What can these two situations teach us? From a crisis communications point of we view, we learn perception is everything – a perceived cheat or perceived threat is all that is needed for customers to turn away. It also reminds us to tell the truth – sharing any potentially negative information that affects customer safety as soon as it is available. To hold back is to not only lie by omission, but to break the promise brands everywhere give their customers – that their safety and happiness are the first priority.

More PR lessons learned to come. Stay tuned.

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Kiley Nichols

Kiley Nichols

Account Supervisor at MSLGROUP

Kiley Nichols is an account supervisor in MSLGROUP’s San Francisco office, where she concentrates on enteprise technology accounts. Her focus areas include fintech, big data and security.

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