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  • July 2016 Client Newsletter banner

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Greetings and a Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for continuing to choose Kenyon as your crisis management partner. Your business is important and we value that business and the relationship we have with you and your companies.

I very much enjoy the times I have getting to talk to you, listening to you and discussing what Kenyon has been up to and the direction we are headed. While I get to see many of you, I don’t get to see all of you. To combat this, I am working to host more workshops, speak at more conferences, host new webinars and reach out more through our blog.

I realize that you have chosen Kenyon not just because of our resources but also because of our experience and the knowledge we have in using said resources at the time of incident. It is that experience I want to make sure gets shared. Last year alone we responded to 9 incidents and had another 5 that were still ongoing from 2015. As I am involved in all of these incidents and I attend 95% of them, I see some key points I would like to pass on. These are areas that have caused problems for some during incidents and I fear they are not as understood as they need to be.

The first involves the role of the Special Assistance Team members (SATs) after an incident. For some, SAT members are seen as people who simply provide “tissues and hugs;” not collect information, or help provide information. In other cases, they are seen strictly as a gatekeeper, a person who gives what information they think a survivor or family member needs based on what they “think” that survivor or family member wants to know. Neither of these scenarios are accurate. This does not work and leads to numerous problems in the response. SAT members should be people who come from a variety of backgrounds whose primary role is to help the survivor or family member understand what to expect following an incident. They understand what the coming weeks will bring and what is expected of them as they navigate their way through the response to a crisis.

Compassion and empathy are critical skills, but those are behaviors. The job of the SAT member is to help the survivor or family member process the information they are getting from multiple sources and to help them understand what that information means to them: the information’s context and its consequences.

The second problem area I witnessed in 2016 addresses how crisis communications works as part of the overall response strategy. Some companies see crisis communications as an extension of public relations. This results in a response that is defensive and one that focuses on what has happened (the incident) and not on the consequences following the incident. Oftentimes, operating in this defensive manner will not address the actual concerns of key people such as the families. Instead, you should focus on managing the consequences and having actions match words.

Crisis communications should address three key areas:

Communication to various groups: the media, family members, partners, employees, government officials, and other stakeholders.

The media includes social media, print and broadcast media. When communicating to survivors and families, the CEO and technical staff should be properly prepared to conduct family briefings, recommend and review specific correspondence, e.g. letters of sympathy and letters of compensation. Family websites and regular updates are included in this area.

You will have to work with the various partners who may be impacted by this event to coordinate media updates and communications. If you are not planning to work together with the partners then protecting your reputation without getting into the blame game should be your goal. Keep in mind that you also need to ensure that the information being provided to the public and families is also getting to the employees. This may include conducting town hall style meetings. Government officials should also be included. Review the political situation to determine which elected or appointed official may become involved and then work with their communication staff to, again, coordinate a response or when appropriate, address their concerns. Finally, think about the other stakeholders. These could be parent companies, alliances, particular consumer groups or trade groups.

Media monitoring

While this should be very straight forward, it is often done with limits and for the wrong reasons. You monitor the media so that the crisis communications team can quickly identify stories and trends, as well as to ensure that the communications issued are both reaching their audience and received as intended. Media monitoring includes not only the typical print and broadcast outlets but also the many social media platforms.

Developing the post incident strategies around marketing, addressing problems raised by the incident and returning the business to the new normal.

This is another area that is often overlooked. It is an important part of the process and if not done, can completely overshadow an otherwise good response to an incident. You should take marketing and communications plans into consideration during a crisis. These should include: planned advertisements, public events, executive attendance at events, planned product launches, acquisitions, corporate or product anniversaries and business expansions. All of these areas should be considered and reviewed with a critical eye to see what links could be drawn between the crisis and a marketing campaign. Particular attention should be given to campaigns that may have already been planned and scheduled to launch within days of the incident but may have been forgotten about due to the incident.

While some of these things may seem like small details, they make a large difference. In a recent interview of the former head of the US Department of Transportation Inspector General, she stated, “But sometimes, when they don’t have the experience they don’t deliver the level of attention to detail that the [National Transportation Safety Board] and professional groups like Kenyon do. I mean Kenyon is the group. Kenyon is the difference between a smooth response and decade long lawsuits.” While I certainly appreciate the unsolicited testimony, the point here is that attention to detail is what matters in the response and this difference is measured after the fact.

I am very much looking forward to 2017. As always, we are continuously looking to improve our company and that, of course, means change. To me that is good. The worst words I could hear are, “that is the way we have always done it,” or “it is good enough.” Change means updating processes, using technology, making sure the right people are in the right job, training and then more training based on experience. There is no second chance for response, so it has to be the best response the first time. If the response is only “good enough,” well, that is for the other guys.

As always, know that I will be involved in the incidents and that I am available at any time. I can be reached via email at or through any of our offices. I look forward to our partnership this year.

My warmest personal regards,

Robert A. Jensen