On this episode of Manufacturing Leadership: An Oil and Gas Podcast, Energy Weldfab's Michael Clements sits down with Jenny Wells, senior PR specialist with the City of Tyler to discuss crisis management.
Jenny, a certified crisis communication trainer, provides suggestions small businesses without trained professionals on staff might overlook, as well as strategies for those getting started far too late.
Show Episode Transcript
Crisis Management for Small Businesses, Entrepreneurs with Jenny Wells
Welcome to Manufacturing Leadership, a podcast for young professionals in and out of the oil and gas industry. And now here's your host Energy Weldfab's, Michael Clements.
Michael C.: What's up listeners, welcome to another episode of manufacturing leadership, I'm your host Michael Clements and we are coming to you today from City Hall in Tyler Texas. Our guest Jenny Wells is a senior public relations specialist for the city of Tyler, and has a passion for assisting others, working with people and organizations to better themselves as well as the citizens of Tyler, welcome to the show Jenny.
Jenny Wells: Thank you.
Michael C.: So how are you doing today?
Jenny Wells:I am great, I am glad that it's not a hundred and fourteen degrees anymore, but it's still in the 90.
Michael C.: Yes, it's nice when it cools off and it's 95 outside.
Jenny Wells: Feels like a break.
Michael C.: Well I thank you for inviting us over and having us here at City Hall today in Tyler, it's a very nice building, this is a historical building of some sort.
Jenny Wells: It is it was built in the 1930s so it's been through a lot of changes over the years, but the shell of it is still from the 30s.
Michael C.: I bet when they were building this they were saying I bet one day they're going to have podcast in this room.
Jenny Wells: 100% that's what they planned in mind. It's really cool our multimedia specialist and I found a box of old photos when he came on in like a year and a half ago, and we started going through it and we saw a photo that's of the building being built, and it is so cool we've been working on trying to get some of those photos that are originals of things being built in Tyler downtown, so that we can eventually do something with them.
But it's so cool to have those old photos and negatives and see what it used to look like, and they've got the old cars out front and everything, it's really neat.
Michael C.: That's really neat. And the city of Tyler has a lot of wonderful buildings, a lot of wonderful things about it which I'm sure you'll love to share. So Jenny just tell us a little bit about yourself, your hometown?
Jenny Wells: I grew up in Tyler; I have been in Tyler the majority of my life. I went to grace community for all of my elementary high school career and then I took a leap and moved to Florida, I went to the University of Miami and spent four and a half-five years there getting a degree in broadcast journalism and sports administration. And said I would never move back to Tyler, lo and behold not only did I move here and now I work for the city and gets promoted every day, so it's funny don't say never sometimes.
Michael C.: So grew up in Tyler, move to Florida, went to college at Miami, and moved back to Tyler, have you been here at City Hall since you've moved back?
Jenny Wells: So when I originally moved back I took a job at grace my alma mater and I was a sports information director there for a year, and then I took break and was working in the automotive industry for about a year and that was before I ended up in public government.
Michael C.: How's it been so far in public government?
Jenny Wells: It's something different and new every day, I love what I do I think it's unique this situation that I'm in, being in the communications department I get to deal with citizens and people who are traveling through Tyler, but also I get to deal with all the 30 different departments that the city has. So I get to have my hands in a lot of different places and get to know both sides of the story, and I love getting to do that and getting to be a part of that puzzle.
Michael C.: Sounds like you get to be a part of a lot of unique experiences and probably projects?
Jenny Wells: Lots of projects, we always have projects going on, getting to tell that story and getting to tell what those projects are as well as being a part of that planning process it's very cool, it's very fun.
Michael C.: So I do have to ask, what led to you wanting to do this?
Jenny Wells: So when I was in the automotive industry I loved what I did there, but I was traveling five days a week, I was recently married and that was just too much. And I missed being home and I wanted something that was here, but I didn't know what that was yet. So my husband and I love the show Parks and Rec and I love Leslie Knope she's one of my favorite people and favorite characters and I'm sitting there watching and one day I just kind of clicked like, you know what I love what she does and I think that I would be good at that and that's something that I'd want to do.
And not knowing what kind of crazy I would get into I started looking for a job and ended up with a job with the city of Tyler in the Parks and Recreation Department, and I spent nine months there over the Senior Center doing work for them before I moved over here a little over three years ago in the communications department. So 100% Leslie Knope is the reason why I have a job in public service.
Michael C.: So were those first nine months everything you expected they would be?
Jenny Wells: And more, I mean you're at the senior center so you're dealing with a lot of different personalities, you never know what you're going to get. I love working over the Senior Center, it was a really great introduction into doing what I do every day, because not only are you dealing with citizens and phone calls they're in your facility all the time and it's people from all over Tyler and it's people from outside of Tyler who are coming to see what you have to offer and so you get a good taste of what it is to be in public service very quickly.
Michael C.: So give us some insight into what a day looks like for you currently.
Jenny Wells: Currently, it can be anything from getting some desk time which has been today, which is a very rare day to days where my phone is ringing before I even get to work and I'm called in to a meeting. So what I do for the communications department is I get to be a media liaison between my organization and media organizations, say the paper or a local television channel wants to do a story about X Y and Z they'll give me a call and I'll connect them with the right people in the organization to do those interviews.
It helps the reporter and the television station, but also my staff because it streamlines that process; nobody's chasing each other that's what I get to do. I get to determine who's the right person for this, that way the reporter who may not know oh well it's really better to talk to this person at this spot and get a better fuller picture of that information, and they may have been going a different direction that may have like sent them on a rabbit trail and this would have been a better option for them, so I get to put pieces together for everybody.
Michael C.: So you don't mind being put on the spot?
Jenny Wells: No, I can't mind being put on the spot; I have to be able to think on my feet it. I can spend a day going from interview to interview or it can end up being a City Council meeting, like Wednesday we're going to have a City Council meeting and what that's going to look like I'm going to come in in the morning and I'm going to spend the whole time sitting in council.
Probably live tweeting and taking photos and letting people know and making sure that the Facebook live is running and working with people behind the scenes to make sure that we're getting the message out as best as possible so citizens and media can listen to that.
Michael C.: Have you all seen good feedback from the community by doing things, being active on social media and giving some insight into the government here?
Jenny Wells: Yes, and I really started doing the Twitter thing because I'm a Twitter fan it's my favorite out of all those social media platforms, it's my favorite one. Because it's really quick, short snippets of information, but you also have the ability to like follow that person and get like more of a stronger picture of it. So it's really great for meetings like that because you can snap a photo and it's not a hundred and forty characters anymore, it's two hundred and eighty but you have a little bit of time, so it does force you to be concise and get to the point whereas Facebook it's great and I love it, but people can write so much and people just don't have the attention span of that.
So if you're looking for quick snippet news that's where you should go, is Twitter and so I found that was the best way for us to put counsel out there and it's been very successful and it's really neat because I can automatically and instantly interact with people who want questions. Because what I'll do is I'll tweet it and someone will say hey, does that tie to this and this and if I have that answer right then and there they don't have to wait for any answer, they can get it from me because I'm sitting there on the information getting it out. When Facebook started doing live and we've started doing it recently it's been over the last couple of months, it's been great for those people who can't be at the council meetings or don't want to wait until later when it's uploaded online they can catch it they're there and they couldn't have been at the meeting, but they can still watch it from the comfort of their home.
And I think that social media is definitely been a great tool to engage our citizens, and we have council meetings at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesdays, we understand it's not going to be the easiest for everybody to get there and be there at that certain time, but they can watch it live from their desk or they can watch it later on in the day because it's going to be on our Facebook page.
Michael C.: So it sounds like there's a lot of transparency with the government here in Tyler and its citizens through social media?
Jenny Wells: Yes.
Michael C.: Is that something that it took a little bit of time to warm up, say the council or other members around here to doing it live on social media?
Jenny Wells: I would say that it didn't take time for them to warm up to it, we've always valued transparency at this organization, that was one of our core values is we want to be transparent, there's nothing that we do that should be secret. We're here to take care of the citizens, I mean everything you could probably walk outside or walk to your car and go to your house and if you live in the city you have every minute you've been influenced by something that we've done.
Whether it's you've driven by a park, whether you're driving on our streets, whether you passed a police officer or a fireman those are paid for by our tax dollars and that's something that we take pride in, but you also like again taxpayers pay for that you need to know where that money's going and you need to know what services are being provided. So I think that it's been very exciting as we've gotten better and we've added those features, because it just helps that transparency and helps bring those people to be engaged.
Michael C.: That's going to really lead me into my next point here and what I'd like to discuss is for leaders out there and for organizations in the private arena, businesses, whether they're small or large, everybody's looking for more transparency whether it's for marketing purposes or unfortunately for businesses sometimes to go through unfortunate events and that's what we want to talk about a little bit today is just crisis management.
And so I guess just a really good question here, what would you say is a crisis, what's a good definition for that?
Jenny Wells: So I've always defined crisis as something that's going to affect your reputation and/or your revenue, so if you put it into that kind of mindset, sure we're a public government necessarily revenue is not our main focus, but is it going to affect the reputation of the organization and the trust of your customers or your citizens. So I know in private it's going to be that focus on your customers and everything, and our citizens are our customers as well, but when I think of it in public government is how is that situation, that occurrence is it going to affect the trust that the public puts in your reputation and that the public puts in your responsibilities. So if you really like broad scope it that way, there's a lot of things that could be considered a crisis.
Michael C.: And really in today's world with as fast as news moves, what maybe used to not be a crisis today could become a crisis very quick.
Jenny Wells: Social media has changed everything about crisis management, and to say that you have to be prepared for small crisis, potential crisis and large crisis everything has to be treated the same way, but social media has definitely driven that 24/7 news cycle and that dissemination of information which makes people feel that urgency of crisis. So you could have something that maybe we flagged, hey there's this video going around could this potentially become an issue for our organization and does it need to be addressed, because it can take an hour before something ''goes viral''.
And then sometimes you are dealing with it was only a small clip and the reality has skewed it to now it's a crisis that we have to handle, because there's misinformation that we have to fill in the rest of it. So social media has changed it for everybody not just government, it's changed it for businesses. Going back to Twitter, anybody can be sitting in an airport and say hey I'm not getting Wi-Fi at this Airport and though that's not a crisis, but then someone else chimes in and someone else chimes in and all of a sudden for that organization their reputation has become don't go to this Airport if you're a business traveler because we can't get Wi-Fi and we can't do our work in between flights.
Michael C.: As far as crisis go, what are some of the different types of crisis an organization could possibly deal with?
Jenny Wells: So I guess that you can deal with that potential crisis which is maybe your staff members see something on social media or receives a telephone call, and it could potentially become a larger issue that's widespread and well-known, when maybe it just that's something that you can head off pretty quickly but there's also preparation steps that you can take for that. So I'll use the example of something seen on social media, video, maybe doesn't show the whole story if that circulates around and it's not the full story and it's not addressed it can become a potential crisis.
An example I had is we had a gentleman at one of our bus stops had ant bites that happened there, he called us and they let us know but he also put it on social media, that's his right we're fine with that, but it gave us the opportunity to say thank you for addressing that with us and letting us know, we have dispatched people to handle that and by making that response public and people can see it they know we're responding to it, we're paying attention to you, we're listening to you, so those potential crises you need to have a plan for those especially if they are social media.
For me there's really no difference in a small or a large crisis, because all of them need to be handled with your organization leadership in the same manner, granted there might be larger scale things and steps that you take, but it all needs to be taken seriously because every crisis is serious if it's going to affect your reputation or your revenue. So if you come back to that definition every time, no matter if it seems small or if it seems large, how you handle something affects the way that your customers trust you. And if they don't trust you then your brand is mute to them, it's not effective.
Michael C.: What I've seen a lot of times with reviews or if someone puts something negative on Facebook, a lot of the times now it seems companies are trying to actually use that as a positive way to maybe reinforce that, oh well that's something we're working on or this is something we're trying to get better at. That's kind of what you just spoke on; do you think that is a great way to approach social media from a crisis standpoint?
Jenny Wells: I think it is as long as it's consistent and sincere. There are sometimes there are people on online that we call trolls, who they are trying to generate crisis or trying to generate panic and that happens, there's people out there everywhere and once your brand, if you're being consistent and you're responding to those people and you're responding to their needs and you're hearing them whether they're trolls or whether there's some like sincerely needing help, you're building your brand to have trust and eventually you're not going to have to be responding as much and those crises will become less because your followers are going to chime in and say.
Hey actually we talked about this last time and there's this, this and this, you'll see people start coming to defend your brand and that will help mitigate your crisis, but in order to have it you have to have built that trust and that consistency ahead of time.
Michael C.: So what are some of the first steps that a leader should take when they find themselves in a crisis situation?
Jenny Wells: So whoever identifies the crisis or potential crisis they need to elevate that to their superiors or their leadership, and then from there leadership typically calls upper city management or they call us and we can help kind of determine alright where do we need to go with this, where's your next step. So it's important to have a chain of command in place, because the people who work for your organization they're your eyes and ears in the community and they can hear stuff that maybe you would never hear because you're not out in the field, you don't see the things and interact with the people like they do.
So if they are hearing something or they're seeing something they need to be able to recognize all right this is something that probably needs to be elevated to my supervisor, and it needs to go up that chain. And so once that potential crisis is identified, it's something that everybody needs to know, in our crisis plan this is the way it needs to be fed up and that information gets sent all the way up and then we can mitigate it from there. Because your organization needs to have a plan in place, and it needs to have that plan in place before a crisis happens, it's always important to prepare ahead of time.
If you're getting into a crisis and you say we need a plan you're too late, because the way that you handle that crisis is the way that your organization is seen. For example the BP oil spill, so I'm sure everybody is very familiar with that and Tony Hayward was the CEO at that time, he did not necessarily listen to his advisors and he didn't have a clear-cut plan to discuss that in open forum and in open media and it really hurt the organization as a whole. I mean the oil spill, I think people even environmental people are forgiving when you say we've made a mistake, we're working to fix it and here's the steps we're taking, that didn't happen in that situation.
And I will say BP has come a long way and they've learned from their mistakes, but they're a great example of what not to do. Now I would say they're a great example of after the crisis is handled poorly what you should do and what you implement is really important, because their brand is coming back and they're doing a great job.
But they allowed their CEO to cause problems for them that just further damaged the trust of their organization, and I just used that example because it's something that most of us all dealt with and heard about and there was a lot of different information. But without a clear-cut plan and without being able to say we made a mistake and this is the steps we're moving forward, that hurt them. And so like I said if you are in a crisis and you don't have a plan you're too late, because then you're running around and that's when mistakes are made.
Michael C.: Yes, because kind of what comes to mind for me is really even small businesses or businesses with leaders that maybe aren't keen on social media or keen with I guess the impact that social media can have on a customer base or even your own employees.
One thing, at what point does the leadership or someone in the organization need to explain to the leader of the organization that hey, this is something we really have to start looking at, you know we have Facebook things are being said about our business on Facebook, things are being said about us in the media. At what time should a leader address that if they haven't been addressed it and there is no plan in place, do you just put them in front of a microphone, kind of how do you deal with that?
Jenny Wells: Oh never put somebody on microphone or camera if they are not prepared. Like I said, if you're not prepared for a crisis ahead of time and you don't know what you're going to do, it's not ideal to just go ahead and be out there and start talking to the media, trying to start mitigating that immediately, but you do need to go ahead and sit down and look at the potential questions and look at the potential okay if this then this, because there's got to be a lot of scenarios. I will say an emergency preparedness, there are a lot of things that we go ahead of time to prepare for, for example we had FEMA here in March and we ran a whole disaster simulation.
Did an E4 tornado tear through Midtown and the hospitals in real life nope, but we've already walked through those steps and we've already walked through if there's casualties when do we do a press conference, at what time do we address this online, do we have people, there's a whole action list that we've prepared for and I know that's a large-scale crisis because that's going to affect the whole city. But for small businesses, be prepared for the people who are online because that's where your crisis are probably going to come from. People listen to social media as truth, I can't say that's the best thing in the world, I can't say that it's ideal, but people listen to what others have to say and word-of-mouth is so essential.
An example, I work with the police department regularly and the city of Tyler right now is leading the nation in taking action against gas card skimming cases. As a police department and local agencies there's a task force that put together a class for gas station owners, because gas station owners they're not affected if necessarily, they're not affected if your card number gets stolen in there because they're still getting payment for the gas. But we had some gas station owners say you know what we haven't had as much gas needed to be order; our orders are slowing down why is that? Well it turns out somebody thinks there's a skimmer at their station, they're putting it on Facebook and it's affecting the way their business is run because people are all of a sudden like oh my card got hit there, well I think my card got hit there so they're not going anymore.
So that affected their business locally even though it wasn't in their mind, it wasn't an immediate crisis, because well I still got paid and it's really the banks that are losing the money. Well you're losing money too just second hand and now you're seeing a long term effect from that, and so that's an example of are there resources to educate and prepare yourself to protect your customers. So in this case law enforcement agencies put together a class for gas station owners and we brought them in and we said hey, here's some of the things you need to recognize, here's some of the steps you need to take to be prepared to protect your customers and to protect your equipment, because if you're protecting that and they see that you're doing that, their loyalty is coming back and they don't feel unsafe coming to your gas station to get fuel. So that's an actual local example of we had business owners approached us because their crisis they didn't recognize it in time.
Michael C.: Yes, and that's a wonderful example too, you don't even know that a conversation about your business is going on on social media in a negative light and you have to find out through your balance sheet, income statement that things aren't going as good as we thought, where's our problem.
And that's a really good example of finding how that affected a business, as well as how the city helped them assist with it. The unfortunate part though is every business it's not going to get assistance from somebody in those situations or figuring out how to dig out, and so kind of another area I'd like to touch on is how can businesses be preparing themselves for these types of situations?
Jenny Wells: I think that it needs to be something where maybe if they have no crisis plan at all or they have not even thought about it, pulling some people into their office like their top management and even bringing the people who are working on the floor or out in the trenches and doing stuff with face-to-face or a phone to face interaction with their customers. Bring them in and say okay what is something that could potentially affect our reputation or a revenue stream and let's look at those and start listing those, and how then are we going to react as a crisis.
Do we have a plan in place or have we even talked about it, I think it's important to just go ahead and talk about all the potential crises that you could have and I know that sounds like doom and gloom and everything. And part of my job is to think for the worst, when I'm preparing people to have an interview even if it's a great interview topic, okay we're talking about your event that's happening here today, but it's on a really hot weekend. Are you ready for the reporter to ask you, what happens if someone falls out from the heat, do you have people put in place to remedy that? And I mean see that's how you have to think sometimes and I know that's like why do we want to look for the worst and things, but it's not that it's being prepared because that may not happen, that question may never come up, that situation may never happen.
But if it does are you ready and are you able to handle that in a timely, professional manner that's going to restore your reputation because if a crisis is handled correctly and well, it helps people trust and love your organization. And that's so important because if a crisis is handled poorly, not only did you lose the trust from the initial crisis, you lost the trust and you're going to have to build it back fivefold and you may never get those people back.
Michael C.: As you're trying to prepare your organization for crisis management, what point in your planning process should you have in there that now we're going to address this with our staff here?
Jenny Wells: I think your staff needs to know before anything public goes out, I think that it's important, it's really hard and that is a piece that every organization is guilty of not letting their staff with a notice or an email or a phone call, not letting them know ahead of time and then them finding out on the news or then them finding out from another coworker.
If at all possible before you address it with the media, if you have the chance send a quick email or send the same update that you're sending out to your media partners, send it internally, let people know, let it come from you and this is the steps that we're taking to handle it that way employee trusts is as important as your customer trust and they need to know that they're a part of taking care of the customers, and that they're also being taken care of and we want to know what's going on, that's only fair.
Michael C.: So as you're preparing a media policy for your organization, what type of things should the policy include in it?
Jenny Wells: So you should always know like who's allowed to speak to media or not, and I know that seems crazy but everybody in your organization needs to know that there are designated people. Even on just regular stories like event coverage and everything, every single person that the city right now is putting on camera has gone through a media training class with myself and my supervisor. They sit in a four hour class and they become camera certified, so we actually walk through all of these training mechanisms and talk about all of this and this is how you approach this and this is how you should speak to this, and then we put them on camera at the end of the class and we say all right now put it to work.
And then we give them the opportunity to come in and train those people, but that means that there are designated people to speak to media and those people are lined up. If you have it at all by the right person, have a media person or someone like communications staff on your who can identify, well it would be best that this person speak to that because they have the institutional knowledge. A lot of organizations will just put their PIO or their public information officer on camera, that's okay but it's sometimes best to come from a media trained professional who does that work every day, because then they're the subject expert. If they don't have the ability to do it, all right put your PIO on there, have them, feed them information, get them prepared because those are the people you're going to put on there.
But if you can have people prepared and trained, who are subject experts in that, that's who you want on camera. It's essential in crisis when you're coming to media, remember that your audience is not the reporter in front of you; your audience are the people that are sending it out to. So there's no reason to be intimidated by a reporter, there's no reason to be intimidated by a camera because you're talking to your customers, and then you just need to be able to view that relationship with that media partner, it's a partnership. That's why I say partner, because I see my media they are my partners, I like working with them, they like working with me.
Do we butt heads sometimes yes that's okay, I butt heads with my coworkers, that's just how it is. But remember in the wide scope of things when you're doing media training and you're setting up your media policy, the importance of having those partners there is that they're partners and they're there to get the story and be accurate. And so remember when you're speaking to them and you're putting that media policy in place that you're speaking to your audience, and it's not one person it's a whole that you're affecting.
Michael C.: That's a great piece of advice for someone who possibly could be speaking on across this for the first time. You have any other little tidbits like that that could be helpful to our listeners or leaders out there?
Jenny Wells: So I think that it's really important to remember that in crisis you need to respond effectively and in a timely manner, so they call it the golden hour. If there's a major crisis that happens, so we'll just go with like a major disaster or hurricane or a tornado comes through and it affects a lot of your organization and your city and your area, we have on our time lines in the first hour we're going to make some kind of statement whether it's written or on camera that we send out to the media to let people know this is what we know, we will continue to update you as we get more information. Let people know that you know something's happening, let people know that you're not just ignoring it.
Silence is not golden, I know that's what they've always said silence is golden, sit back and wait, do not. In a situation that's crisis, because social media has affected everything silence isn't golden anymore, your golden hour needs to have something that addresses that crisis because that is how people know action is being taken. If people know action is being taken and something is being drawn out and being handled, they're more likely to wait and be patient and be more understanding because you need to let them know what's going, it's the nature of how it is. The society today we have to have that information so quick, that's why I said Twitter is great for crisis management because it is so quick, you can put something out that's immediate.
Snap a photo of what's going on say this is being handled, we've identified this issue here and then let your followers retweet it and send it out, let your media partners retweet it and put it out because that means your reach is getting out there. So you have to make sure that you're following up them every couple of hours after that initial statement, but don't sit back and wait. This is the struggle you'll find especially if you have a legal department, we need to wait before we have all of the information, not necessarily. Even if it's just acknowledgement of we know the situation is happening and we're gathering more information, if you're acknowledging it then people are going okay, they're not ignoring it its being handled. I think that's very vital and I think that's a way that social media has changed everything, because they want the information right now.
Michael C.: So in that policy, if we're preparing a media policy for a business, it sounds like you've got to have your designated person or your designated people who you want speaking to the media, as well as the things that they're going to be trained in what to say or not to say on camera. I guess that's probably not word for word, but it's probably going to be this is the range we want you to stay in, acknowledge the situation as well as some other avenues could be going on through your social media Twitter, Facebook and just letting the public or letting your employees know that we understand there is a crisis right now and...
Jenny Wells: This is how it's being handled.
Michael C.: This is how it's being handled.
Jenny Wells: And like you said don't forget, that piece that we all get so quick in going, don't forget to let your employees know what's going on, because their trust is as important if not more important than your public's because if you don't have employees you don't have a business. How many people do you all encourage to be prepared in that situation, two or three, four how many people do you all like to be able to have trained in that?
Jenny Wells: If you have a large organization you need to have like an organizational chart that from the top down who can speak on something. We'll go back to natural disaster, what if the mayor's out of town on his vacation and tornado comes through and he would be the person that would address that at a press conference, well then is it going to be the head of your EOC, our head of EOC is Steven Harvey our fire chief. What if he can't get to the building, what if he stuck out in the field working, what if your city manager can't be there, do you have people lined up who can communicate your organization's message in an effective way that's going to let people know.
And I think having that organizational chart that right these people are trained, I trust them to talk about this because it's not just what you say it's how you say it that's very important in all of your media training and knowing who you can put on camera, can you trust them to keep their emotions in check? Because in crisis situations you have to be calm, you have to be prepared for anything, but it's not always easy. So do you have those people in your organization that you 100% know if something happens can I trust them to know what to say, how to say it and how to be on camera or how to be on a microphone.
Michael C.: Adding on to that a little bit, what type of crisis would you encourage organizations to possibly even bring in a professional to assist them with the crisis management and working with the media and media partners?
Jenny Wells: So I think if your organization is large enough to be able to bring in a professional, do it or send one of your staff members two or three of your staff members, send somebody to get trained in crisis communication and putting a crisis plan together. So in December I went through a six-week course and got my crisis communication certification through public relations Society of America, and that was a great tool and I've also attended other seminars about crisis communications, so that for this organization I can be an asset and when we're building out our crisis plan which by the way should never be something that you write and you leave alone, it has to be a living breathing document that is practiced.
Because like I said we that FEMA exercise in March where we brought that in and we practiced all right this works, this works, this works if this happens are we ready. So if a tornado comes through we just recently went through this exercise, we know who to deploy, we know where our resources are, we know where it is. So your crisis plan there's options if you can't afford to bring a professional in, send somebody or do yourself a favor and get crisis communications certified or take classes and go to seminars about it, it's so vital to protecting the reputation of your organization.
Michael C.: So it sounds like companies that even if you're just a little bit bigger than a small company or you may even want to look at the type of operation you're running too, you may only have 10 people. But if it's a high-risk operation or you have the risk of crisis in your operation it may be wise to send somebody to training or multiple individuals.
Jenny Wells: Well it's an investment and I think that's important, if we go back to the definition of crisis does it affect your reputation or your revenue, can you afford now to send those people and get that plan put together and get that training put together or can you afford to have a crisis and it be poorly managed and be unprepared and you never get those revenue streams back, you never get that reputation back, can you afford that? And I think that's important to have the foresight in that business.
Michael C.: Sounds like we all really all of us leaders should be encouraged about what we're hearing today, but also encouraged to go out and build our media plan for our businesses.
Jenny Wells: Yes, there's lots of great resources out there, if you have communications professionals in your organization or you have a designated media or communications department, public relations Society of America has great training opportunities for crisis communications. There are different organizations that offer them as well; there are just a lot of different places where you can learn how to best handle a crisis. There's a lot of books out there, I think just being aware and identifying what your going to do, where you're going to go in a situation it's very important.
Michael C.: So a decade ago, if we were sitting here having this conversation, well I'm going to go ahead and say a decade and a half ago.
Jenny Wells: Yes, I'll say social media was still around, it wasn't as prevalent as it is now.
Michael C.: Say a decade and a half ago 15 years, probably a completely different set of looking at a crisis or how you manage it or things that are crisis to now probably weren't even a crisis a decade and a half ago, just in the last 15 years how much and how far we've changed and it was a progressive change over time, it wasn't like just a light switch and all this change.
But really in the last five to seven years we've seen a big change and shift in social media and how things are put out there, how do you encourage and what are you seeing is going to be kind of the next wave as we go into the 2020s?
Jenny Wells: And I think it's already here but video, everything live these days you and I are reporters on the street, we can pull out our phone and start a live stream with something we see and now we're the reporter on that, whether we're subject experts or not and I think that's what social media has changed for organizations and identifying crisis. Because you can get somebody who may not understand a situation or what's happening or only walk up on a crisis in the middle of something and not know what's happening, but then they report it and there's only half information but that half information is what's out there now and that's what people are looking to.
And I think that the video aspect and that live reporting aspect of it has changed the way even news channels do their media, like I said I have a broadcast degree and even gosh I graduated college 6-7 years ago and it's changed since I was in it. Even the equipment has changed it just keeps getting smaller, now everything we can do is on our phone, I see reporters are like do you have your camera with you, oh yes I've got the iPhone 10, like oh you can do it from there now. So it's so cool that everything is evolving, but it has made that crisis mitigation and planning harder because there's more potential for it out there.
Michael C.: Yes, and as far as organizations companies go, how important do you think it is for business these days to have a cellphone policy in place as well, because it's like you're saying everybody becomes a reporter. And so should we encourage businesses now to almost have no snapchat, no Facebook live, no video on the premises so these things that we're going to be seeing coming to light for businesses in the next decade?
Jenny Wells: I don't think you could be able to stop that kind of thing in court, because people are going to feel like it's a First Amendment right oppression there. So I feel like you need to focus not necessarily on the outside people, I think you need to focus on your employees and make sure that they are representing your organization the way you want to be spoken about, the way you want to be represented. Because I'm in public service so it's a little different, I have a work cell phone and I have a personal cell phone and everything that's on my work cell phone is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and I think it's important for people to realize that especially depending just what sector you work in, keep in mind that public records can be requested and that's very important.
I think that we're never going to be able, Target is never going to be able to tell us like you can't record while you're in here because it's not a reality. People are going to go live from Target, people are going to go live from the parking lot, they're going to go live from the fair, they're going to go live wherever they want and that's not going to be something that we're going to be able to stop, so it's important to make sure that you're taking care of your employees and that they know how to represent the organization.
Your employees are your brand ambassadors, so they're your biggest asset, they're more important than the equipment and the cars that you drive. If you are taking care of your employees and they are informed and they know what's going on, they're driving that brand image for you and they can really help in a crisis.
Michael C.: Well that's very helpful information and it definitely helps especially on the employee end and people that can be working in your organization that this conversation it sounds like needs to be had with your employees and your folks. I work in a couple of different industries and there's things that I'll see on a daily basis that to me aren't very alarming because I've been around it, but some things for trucking for example you see 40-something thousand pounds being loaded on a trailer a certain way, someone may say wow that's not right, why are they doing that.
But if they have no clue what they're looking at they may go alive and call this a situation, when in all reality it's in the line of business. Could we be seeing things like that starting to occur, people may be jumping the gun thinking that something negative is happening, but in all reality they're misleading themselves?
Jenny Wells: Yes, 100 percent I think that happens regularly. I've spent time preparing for potential crisis because somebody has posted something on Facebook or Twitter, oh I see this and I think that this is the wrong way to do it and the media partner picks that up or if it gets spread around it is a crisis, because it's our responsibility to put the correct information out there.
Michael C.: That was my next question, is how should a company deal with a crisis that's not even the crisis, but someone who's made it a crisis and all of a sudden you have a situation that as a business leader you shouldn't even have to be dealing with, but now you are.
Jenny Wells: I think that you have to be prepared to educate your customer base and your public, because it means more when it's coming from you. And then like I said I mentioned earlier, as long as you're staying consistent with replying to those trolls or applying to those people who think that there's something going on, but they just may have the wrong information. And that's okay, but that's a learning opportunity for them and I think if handled in the right way and given the correct information through the right channels publicly, I think that that can help really build that reputation back to where it needs to be and it's important.
So yes for us it may not be, it's just not a big deal maybe, we don't think it's a big deal it's not a problem. But to that person think how it is, if it's really affecting them and how they feel that's very important for us to address and then that peace of mind, because that builds brand loyalty, it builds responsibility and trust and it's so important to be able to respond to that.
Michael C.: Well, probably my key takeaway from this podcast today and what I think our listeners can take away from this the most is just like in any crisis situation, being prepared is number one. But also on top of being prepared, if you're unprepared but you have listened to this podcast note don't just go get on a mic, but do know that soon someone needs to let the public or let your employees know that the situation is being handled in the correct manner.
Jenny Wells: Yes, please never wing an interview.
Michael C.: Don't wing an interview.
Jenny Wells: It's never ever wing an interview, even if you just spent five minutes writing out or thinking out potential questions and potential answers, please never walk into an interview until you feel prepared and you've thought through things.
Because as soon as a camera or a recording device is in front of you, you may not be prepared for how things change, I mean it just changes the dynamic and you can lose your train of thought. So never ever wing an interview, ever.
Michael C.: Don't ever wing an interview. So just finishing out here, do you have maybe a story in closing or something you can share with our listeners that will motivate them to want to put together a plan, maybe a positive or even a negative story that you've seen?
Jenny Wells: There was a crisis situation to us in May of last year, and we had an area of town that was hitting lower chlorine residual, so that meant we were going to have to issue a blow water notice for a certain area of town. It's in an older part of town, so the water isn't being looped in that area, so the water is sitting in the pipes which allows that, if it's not being moved and it's not moving around that can have that chloramine that's in the water, it can dissipate quicker and so if it's not being moved regularly that chlorine residual can drop that's what happened in that area, it was hitting a bunch of dead end.
And what happened is we were able to identify the area of town and then within an hour we pushed out a press release about it, and said hey we've done this. And not only that, when we sent out the press release we also had our guys taking paper, taking paper to every home and every business that was affected in that area. We printed them off in English and Spanish, English on one side Spanish on the other, and we disseminated this paper to everybody and letting them know hey, you're on durable water notice right now, we're expecting it in a couple of days to clear out, but this is what's going on we gave a clear explanation, nothing to panic about and we also delivered a case of water to everybody in that area.
Because it was a small area, we were able to do that but I feel like we were able to act quickly, we were able to get those people water for the weekend and hey, we've got this case of water if you need more you need to call us and let us know, we're going to take care of you. And we also instead of relying on just social media or the news, we went to those houses and we put a face and a name and a handshake to those people and said hey here's a piece of paper that explains what's going on, it's in English, it's in Spanish so even if I can't speak to you because we don't speak the same language, there's an explanation about what's happening, and we were able to act very quickly and within a couple of hours let everybody in that area know what was going on and how they were being affected.
And I really was very proud of how our organization handled that, because water notices can be scary to people, it is and you know what some people will say that's is an industry-standard because it fell and the water is still safe but it's a precaution, that doesn't matter to people you tell me how to blow my water, I need to know why. So having that why and having that human interaction we really were able to help people in that situation, and I was very proud of how our city manager and our public works director at the time handled that situation because we were able to help people know and put a face to it.
If you can put someone's face behind it and have a human interaction, it is so much better than just a static Facebook post, than a static news story. Interaction is something that I think we lose all the time because we rely on our phones, we rely on our text messages, and we rely on our social media. But don't forget that a handshake or a hug or a simple knock on your door here, this is what we're doing to help, this is the action we're taking that goes a long way with people.
Michael C.: Well Jenny that's wonderful advice and thank you for sharing this with our listeners and myself, this is something that organizations businesses we really don't want to have to deal with, we would rather never have crisis or anything for that matter negative on social media, but the fact is it's just the world we live in today and it's going to happen and most likely it's only a matter of time before you deal with the situation in your business or organization if you haven't already. Is there any way our listeners can get in touch with you?
Jenny Wells: Yes, you can find me on Twitter @JHAMWells and I'm on Instagram the same way there, so that's the best way to reach me.
Michael C.: Okay, wonderful, if you have any crisis management questions you can just shoot those over to the professional here and she may give you a response back and help you out on those, and also if you'd like to reach out at us we could also feed those questions over to Jenny and get back with you. So I'd like to thank Jenny Wells for being on the show with us today, as well as our wonderful producer Gabby Simms and you the listener.
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