5 Tips for Effective Crisis Communication

March 25th, 2014

By Al Upchurch
Senior Vice President, Marx Layne & Co.

Nearly every company is going to face a crisis that attracts media attention. And the media scrutiny demands that you communicate effectively in these situations. If you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you. That’s the last thing you want during a crisis.

The goal of crisis communications is to lessen damage to your company’s reputation during a crisis. As with anything in life, preparation is the key. Here are five steps you must take to prepare for a crisis:

  1. Identify a crisis team and two spokespersons: one main spokesperson and a backup. Make sure everyone in the company knows who the members of the team are, and that any interaction with the media will only come from the team and spokespersons.
  2. Create a crisis communications plan; keep it updated. The crisis team should meet on a regular basis, to make revisions as necessary.
  3. Compose a comprehensive media list; make sure the names of key reporters are highlighted. The director of communications and other spokespersons should meet with and get to know the reporters before any crisis occurs.
  4. Develop key messages in advance of a crisis. The team and spokespersons should understand the company brand and be prepared to talk about it.
  5. Consider professional media training to improve presence and confidence if you don’t have experience dealing with the media.

Al Upchurch is senior vice president of Marx Layne & Company. He has 24 years of experience as a television news producer and manager, and 10 years of experience working on media relations and crisis communication initiatives for a variety of organizations.

For more information on crisis communication and media relations, visit MarxLayne.com.

These are exciting times: For those who want to work for something better.

December 17th, 2013

By Michael A. Layne
President, Marx Layne & Co.

Incredible technologies and powerful, near-instant communications are enriching our lives with the added potential of bringing people together as never before.

Just pick up any magazine or browse the Internet. I recently read about Korean automaker Hyundai showing off a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at the LA auto show as electric vehicle technology continues to advance. Elsewhere, we are working to more responsibly harness more-developed energy sources like nuclear and natural gas, while finding better ways to add solar, wind or geothermal to the mix. We can chart a path to a nation less dependent on imported energy sources, as well as cleaner air and water for this generation and the ones that succeed us.

Move over Tom Cruise from Minority Report. Take a peek at soon to launch Google Glasses, a wearable computer with optical head-mounted display. A transparent, high-resolution display equivalent to a 25-inch screen at 8 feet away. Camera and video recorder, personal assistant, direction-finder, schedule-maker all controlled by touch or voice command. We will be able to “see” better, faster and farther.

Yes, we are still subject to horrendous natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan that devastated so much property and took so many lives in the Philippines. However, with modern communications—from CNN to social media, news of the disaster spread across the globe instantly and so did the response of generous and concerned governments, corporations and individuals.

Another great example of technology and communications bringing talented, creative, positive people together was featured in a recent issue of Time magazine. The issue: each year, Americans waste about $165 billion in food that goes uneaten, representing almost 40 percent of the food purchased in the United States. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million Americans live in households identified as food-insecure. The solution: entrepreneurs and nonprofits teaming up to identify and re-distribute excess or unsold food, especially perishable, but highly nutritious items like milk, fruits and vegetables.

These groups are using today’s most advanced systems for inventory management, shipping and distribution, pricing, consumer behavior and marketing. As they do, they are steering this otherwise wasted food to food banks, as well as selling it to individuals who love a bargain and are not scared off by a slightly bruised apple or overly crooked carrot.

We are clearly at a tipping point in human history. With more powerful technology, greater access to knowledge and new ways of collaboration. Instead of consuming us, these new modes can liberate us. They can help us find and work with like-minded and like-motivated individuals who are interested in a safer, saner and mutually enriching world. It’s our call.

Tesla Motors: When A Crisis Requires Going on the Offensive

May 14th, 2013

by Michael Layne

As Tesla Motors stock climbed to its all time high today, from a public relations and crisis communications perspective, we ask the question, “When does it make sense for the CEO to go on the offensive when there is a crisis resulting from negative news coverage?”

It was just last February that the nightmare of nightmares occurred for Tesla CEO and product architect, Elon Musk. After putting his heart and soul into building a new kind of electric car company, he was slammed with a scathing review in the New York Times.

Musk is no shrinking violet. When the review was published stating that the car’s 300 mile promised range was bogus, Musk took an aggressive strategy in what we would clearly call a crisis communications situation. He publicly took the New York Times to task on the accuracy of the article, which had caused Tesla’s stock to drop precipitously wiping out millions of dollars in value not to mention the tremendous damage that a negative article in the New York Times can do to a company’s brand equity.

Nowadays, it is most common in a crisis situation for a PR agency to advise their clients on a defensive position, rather than launching an aggressive offensive campaign. At Marx Layne, we ask our Fortune 500 clients who are not facing a crisis, and clients referred to us by their attorneys who are in a crisis the following questions:

  • How are you prepared for these situations?
  • Is your messaging prepared for a negative eventuality?
  • Do you have product video that speaks to the quality of your brand?
  • Who is your spokesperson and has she been properly trained?

As with Tesla Motors, at Marx Layne we believe first and foremost that the product has to be top notch; whether it is a health care service, manufacturing product, food product, or other. A crisis communications event can happen at anytime to any private, publicly held company, or nonprofit.

Elon Musk clearly believes in the product he painstakingly helped to design, manufacture and market. He took the rare approach to aggressively go on the offensive against the New York Times.

At Marx Layne, we acknowledge Elon Musk and so did the stock market as Tesla’s shares have raced to an all time high.

A Thank You to Those Who Serve

November 12th, 2012

As an annual tradition on Veteran’s day, ceremonies and celebrations take place across the country recognizing and thanking Veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifices.  This weekend members of the Marx Layne team joined our nation in a show of admiration and respect for the brave and dedicated Veterans of the United States of America armed forces.

Fighting for freedom, protecting our nation and responding to disaster are only three of the many tasks within the job description of those who unselfishly serve in the military. Because of these courageous men and women, Americans are privileged with the rights to vote, voice their opinion and work to achieve the ‘American dream’.

We at Marx Layne are thankful to our nation’s Veterans for providing us the ability to come to work, raise our families and contribute to our communities. As we approach the holiday season and the new year we will continue to keep the Veterans and their families in our hearts.

In Defense of Facebook Advertising

May 16th, 2012

Jennifer L. Cherry
Patrick Sullivan

From the Wall Street Journal to WWJ-AM in Detroit, the entire world knows that GM doesn’t think Facebook advertising is worthwhile. And, for GM’s needs, the company’s strategy is correct.

However, it’s important to note that for millions of other small-to mid-sized companies Facebook advertising is a tool that can make a significant impact when properly leveraged.

But how can that be? Facebook ads allow one line of text and a small image. Not exactly compelling stuff. It takes more than that to convince me to spend $20,000+ on a new vehicle. I might, however, be convinced to buy an inexpensive widget that’s a low risk purchase where I have little to lose.

If I’m looking for a new vehicle, I’ll likely seek them out in the research phase of my search. In fact, it’s impossible to avoid them. It’s easier to tune out an ad for a brand I know and ignore the message.

When crafting a Facebook ad, the organization has the ability to hone in on a particular demographic, including age, location and event-specific characteristics such as “wine connoisseur” and a desire to “travel.”

The ad exposes an audience to a brand to which they have no familiarity. The viewer may be attracted to the ad by the catchy one line slogan, eye-popping image, or because their “friend” likes it already and with one simple click, they’ve agreed to receive updates from a new company, or In short, they’ve become a “fan” of the businesses page.

The truth of the matter is that there are two Facebooks waiting for organizations on the social media site. The first Facebook is populated with well-established companies and everyday household brands. These pages have tens of thousands of fans and a buzzing stream of content. If you don’t know who these companies are, you probably don’t have a computer. As a century-old global automaker, GM clearly falls into this category.

Then there’s the other Facebook, comprised of the vast majority of company pages in existence. Many of these pages struggle to break the ceiling of 10,000 (or even fewer) “fans.” Their content stream often stagnates due to a lack of user engagement and new “likes” eventually cease all together. These are the pages that can benefit the most from Facebook advertising.

For unknown and smaller businesses, this control and subsequent exposure enabled by Facebook goes beyond what they could achieve from traditional advertising. The demographics are much narrower allowing businesses to reach their key audiences and minimizing wasted impressions. THERE ARE ACTUAL METRICS, offering the ability to adjust ads to meet the needs of their audience and optimize traffic, while providing the C-Suite an understanding of the consumers the ads are reaching.

When a “new” potential consumer “likes” a Facebook page as a result of the ad, it is then up to its parent organization to provide compelling content to engage them adequately with the brand and convert them into a paying customer. No one sentence and a photo ad can do that. It’s totally unreasonable to think it could convert an individual into a buyer or brand advocate.

As I’ve said GM is a recognizable entity. If you don’t know them, you probably also don’t own a computer. The needs of this global company are very different from the needs of millions of others. People will seek GM out. They know the brand and want to be / or don’t want to be associated with them already. As such, the automaker doesn’t need Facebook to help them and traditional advertising channels still offer a wide breadth of opportunity to share one-way compelling content and hit home the company’s key messages that resonate with those in the automotive market.

So while Facebook ads may not be right for GM, they help millions of brands/organizations get their start and build their visibility without expensive campaigns. Don’t count Facebook ads out just yet.

Employees Save $1,000 for Simply Passing a Health Screening

July 26th, 2011

If someone offered you $1,000 a year to take better care of yourself, would you accept the proposal? That’s the question we asked our employees in a recent meeting with our health insurance provider and, not surprisingly, they said yes.

Our new Health by Choice PPO plan goes into effect Aug. 1 and calls for everyone at the agency to have some skin in the game. Submitting to a comprehensive health assessment with a physician and taking steps to improve body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and other general health indicators reduces the deductible for the employee-only plan from $1,500 to $500. (The family plan offers even more savings.)

And the move helps reduce the risk of preventable diseases, which means fewer sick days and lower health care costs when employees exercise, eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

At Marx Layne, we’re focused on overall wellness, so we’ve created workplace opportunities for our employees to get fit. Many of our people sit on inflatable fitness balls at their desks, eat fresh organic fruit and drink purified water provided by the agency every morning, and find ways to weave exercise into their day like biking to work. Some even avoid the microwave at lunchtime, warming their food in a toaster oven instead.

But we thought an additional incentive – saving money – would help manage waistlines and escalating insurance costs. Since we launched our firm in 1987, we’ve absorbed annual increases in insurance premiums for our employees. But as costs rise and employees’ medical needs grow, we decided everyone should take responsibility for their own health. We’re pleased our employees are willing to get involved, playing an active role to make things better for all of us.

We know the journey to wellness won’t be easy. The road is littered with temptation. But now, we’re working together to keep one another on track.

Join us online at www.marxlayne.com/blog as we trot along to physical and financial wellness.

Healthy Choices at Work; Join Us on Our Wellness Journey

June 22nd, 2011

By Michael Layne

We’re taking positive steps at Marx Layne to encourage our employees to make healthy choices throughout the workday. We know healthy team members are happy and productive.

We admit we’re a little self-serving, however, since our agency reaps countless benefits such as fewer sick days and lower health care costs when employees exercise, eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Still, like all employers, we’re grappling with skyrocketing costs for medical, dental and vision coverage and looking for affordable, but comprehensive, options that serve the needs of our people.

Since our inception, we’ve absorbed health care cost increases for our employees or identified alternative solutions to circumvent spikes in pricing. But it’s getting tough.

Two years ago, our insurance provider raised our premium by 20 percent. To avoid this unnecessary hike, we switched providers. Now, our current carrier is demanding a 21 percent increase for the new contract year, beginning Aug. 1. We didn’t take the news lying down, or sitting down. We chose a new plan that emphasizes wellness and maintains costs. Our new insurance program will require everyone to get a complete physical during the initial transition phase and make lifestyle changes based on their doctor’s recommendation to reduce the risk of preventable diseases.

In the meantime, we’re doing our part at Marx Layne by creating workplace opportunities for our employees to get up, get fit and take responsibility for their own health.

Earlier this year, David Stoyka, PR practitioner extraordinaire and budding fitness guru, suggested that we replace desk chairs with inflatable fitness balls to improve spinal health and minimize the damage caused by prolonged sitting. It took a minute to get accustomed to the bouncy seats, but everyone appears to be walking taller.

Last week, Pat Stoll, head of all things necessary to run the place, installed a toaster oven and single-burner hot plate in the kitchen. The new equipment is expected to save energy and spare soups and pastas from electromagnetic-radiation in the microwave. Plus, we traded bagels for organic fruit and purified water, available every morning for breakfast or a midday snack.

And some of our amateur cyclists bring their bikes to work for lunchtime rides – an encouraging sign, but they’ve established fitness goals that would make Jack LaLanne quake with anxiety.

Yet, none of these changes would amount to much if we didn’t recognize our employees’ need for a calm and welcoming environment, so we’ve assigned temperament control to our four-legged workers. Grand, a cool and collected golden retriever, and Rosie, a bichon frisé puppy with a curious nose, show up daily for work and keep the mood light. Our employees may appreciate their 401(k), but they love our K-9s.

Finally, we’ve launched this blog to chronicle these new experiences. Join us online at www.marxlayne.com/blog as we embark on our journey to wellness, managing our waistlines and our health care costs.

The place has gone to the dogs, but we’re on the ball.

We don’t need a time machine to drive the conversation

June 3rd, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

If you want to reach out and drive the conversation, there are four pillars of interactive marketing according to Ryan Warren, the Senior Director of Studio Orange at ExactTarget.

You can reach your targeted audiences on a broad range of platforms, but if you connect on email, mobile, social and sites, you’re doing really well.  How we communicate with subscribers, fans and followers is fundamentally changing.  There will be a crossover between the groups as your email subscribers will fan you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, visit your website and vice versa.

How do we differentiate ourselves from the crowd?  Warren compared our growing digital world to the changing stock on the shelves of supermarkets.  Where supermarkets once carried 20,000 items, now they’re stocking more than 50,000.

“It’s becoming more and more challenging for marketers to reach the right people at the right time,” Warren said.  There will be 3,000 messages delivered in various forms throughout a person’s day and at most they can only recognize 100.

So how do you fit inside that small scope of remembrance? You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right message.  One of the main things ExactTarget does is email marketing. Warren cited statistics about the first place people turn to in the morning to start catching up. The destination? People turn to email.  This is personally relevant for me, because it’s what I do. I wake up and check in on any messages that were sent overnight.

After that, it’s social media time. I turn to Facebook and Twitter. Was there anything that happened that needs my attention?  Do I need to read up on anything?  After that I head to the web. I turn to news aggregators like Techmeme and gather in as many headlines as I can. It’s almost like panning for gold and I’m looking for nuggets.  If you want to drive the conversation, you have to know what people are talking about and plan where it’s headed.

Coordinating the message across channels is important, because it will allow people to connect messages together. If they see something in their email, an update on social media, a link on a news site or another message, it has a good chance of being recognized.

“Real-time data is the new black,” Warren said.  Right now, we’re only on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interaction management.  We can implement better operations, technology and strategy to manage the conversations more effectively.

“Data is the key. How do you have more real-time conversations with your customers?” Warren asked. It comes back to monitoring.  Do we have the right tools to do the job? They’re out there; we just need to use them.

We don’t need a time machine to drive the conversation—we just need the right tools and we need to use them.

This is the last of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine to bridge the digital divide

June 2nd, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

“Your mom does Facebook better than you do.” And with that, John Meyer and Scott Meyer of 9 Clouds started their Future Midwest discussion.

Can you remember the last time you pulled out a yellow book and flipped through its pages?  It must have been 1989 the last time I looked through one. The Meyers made a fantastic point about the digital divide, saying your mom is already equipped to do the right things on Facebook because your mom has been doing it forever

I need a reminder to remember my friends’ birthdays, but how many mothers had a card system sorted by months and days to remember to send a card out to a loved one.  The older generation already has the offline skills of being social, but it’s important to translate those into digital capabilities.  “They’re not going to use all of the toys on the playground,” the Meyers said.  “They’re going to focus on one thing.

When you look at the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, lately it hasn’t been teens, it’s been baby boomers.  Parents and grandparents are getting on Facebook because they want to be connected with you and see your pictures

There’s a huge difference between social networks, both in terms of numbers and in types of conversations.  The Meyers compared Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  For interactions, you have to “know your voice and the playgrounds you’re in.  Do what you do best.

The type of listening that your mother is good at is the type of listening a business should be good at online.  The internet is a gigantic place and we can reach more people than we realize.  “We are no longer hindered by our geography,” the Meyers said.  Online we can reward the trust people place in us, and build it just like we would offline.  There needs to be reciprocity if people are going to cross the digital divide.

One of the things 9 Clouds did is something a lot of businesses are hesitant to do.  They created a tutorial on how to create an iFrame page for Facebook business pages and gave it away.  People used it, and the Meyers said they would often come back because that trust was there.

To bridge the digital divide, time is a large component.  You have to inch people in to things and prepare them, especially if they’re a public business, to take criticism.  The Meyers advised that it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment, but it should be a consistent one.  You can set up notifications to know when people responded or mentioned you.  By responding appropriately to negativity you can change people from complainers to evangelists for your company.

One important point the Meyers made was about services with comparatively lower number of users.  “Instead of seeing low numbers and saying no one uses the service, use it as an opportunity to say hey I can stand out here,” they said.  There’s a lot of work that can be done in a space that has a smaller subset of users.

And a final word of warning for people who aren’t embracing social media, “five years from now people are going to wish they were on social media.”

We don’t need a time machine to bridge the digital divide—we just need our moms.

This is the sixth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine to live in the clouds

June 1st, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

When I think of living in the clouds, several different movies come to mind.  Of course, there’s the skyway in Back to the Future Part II, then there’s the Cloud City in Star Wars, and the freaky planet in Avatar.

Of course, you could also say that everyone is living in their personal cloud right now.  That was part of David Leider’s message about The Evolution of Digital Media.  Leider is the CEO of Gas Station TV.  Everybody is using digital devices and each of them have a different cache of inputs.

“We are wired to be wired,” Leider said. Think about all of the different ways that we gather information.  Leider listed several of things for himself, but his inputs are different than mine and ours are different from yours.  If you’re in the content industry though, you have to compete with a growing field of competitors for a shrinking audience of viewers. Leider cited statistics that in the distant past you could run one ad on one of the TV networks and reach 80 percent of the population.  To achieve that same feat now, you’d have to advertise on 100 channels.

Because everyone has so many options at their disposal it’s important to reach people where they’re at.  You have to seek out and find an audience and make them love you. That’s a very important distinction too, because people will find a reason to be offended. Leider said, “you have to be bold and you have to push and really focus to get people to love you.”

We don’t need a time machine to live in the clouds, people already are.  We need to focus on avoiding the traps, and being bold and aggressive to reach our targeted audience.

This is the fifth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.