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Friday, March 29, 2013

When Silence Is Not Golden

For a public-facing retail business, silence in a crisis can only worsen things by creating a crisis of confidence with customers, the media, public safety officials and other stakeholders. St. Louis-based regional grocery chain Schnuks is finding out the hard way.
Two weeks ago, Schnuks discovered a breach of their debit and credit card information. Beyond one generic corporate statement they have said nothing to anyone…not their concerned customers, nor the media that has reported on the problem, including that police are advising customers to only use cash at Schnuks stores.

As of this posting, still nothing on their website two weeks after knowing about the breach; the "Latest Communication" section of their webpage promotes a job fair, and a potato chip product recall.

At CommCore we advise our clients that in a crisis, especially one involving the public, external communication and transparency are of utmost importance. Even if Schnuks was the victim of a hack, they will suddenly find themselves seen as the villain instead of victim if they continue to remain silent with their clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.

As one frustrated customer posted on a State of Missouri credit card fraud Facebook page: "[F]rom a corporate standpoint, an ethical standpoint... I wish that Schnucks would have been proactive and made a STRONG statement when they became aware of this issue more than 2 weeks ago. For example: 'We have become aware of a security breach. Please continue shopping at our store, but use the ATM located near the entry to withdraw cash. Because of your inconvenience, we will offer double coupons on Tuesdays AND Thursdays'...or something like that..... I am disappointed in their non-response."

Perhaps Schnuks should bring that customer in to run their communications department.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


One of the most difficult communications challenges is an institutional apology.

Often we are told not to say we're "sorry" on behalf of an organization if we can get around it, for example by expressing "regret" at an outcome from this problem or that. But sometimes there's no getting around it – lives have been seriously affected by an incident, and a sincere and heartfelt apology is not only in order, it is essential.

So, how do you handle an organizational apology? If it's pro forma because lawyers have combed over every word, it will read and sound like a legal brief and lack any conviction in the eyes and ears of the intended audience. If it's off-the-cuff, it may result in a misstep like BP CEO Anthony Heyward injecting "I'd like my life back" into his public apology for the massive Gulf Oil spill, a now-infamous remark that caused him and BP more harm than good.

Pure Performance Communications CEO Deirdre Breakenridge lays out three essential criteria for an effective mea culpa in her blog item Anatomy of An Apology: Tone and Intent, Delivery, and Actions. All three must be calibrated perfectly for an apology to ring true.

At CommCore, we concur. If you don't feel it, can't deliver it to your target audience quickly via multiple channels, and can't back an apology up with substantive remedial actions, you likely have an institutional problem that is larger than any specific  communication challenge. And we believe responsibility for that lies with the face of the organization – the CEO as Communicator-in-Chief.

If he or she can't step up to the plate convincingly and effectively, any apology will likely be seen as a sorry excuse for one.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Communications Gap in Leadership

A new global study of public attitudes by Ketchum Public Relations' Leadership Communications Monitor reinforces the existence of a gap between organizational leaders and a critical leadership skill – communication ability.

Among the survey's findings:

- Open communication is the public's #1 attribute of effective leadership
- Only 24% of people around the world believe leaders overall are providing effective leadership

- About 60% of people changed their buying habits because of a company’s perceived poor leadership

At CommCore we always remind our clients of two points raised by esteemed communicators -- that Communications is what Winston Churchill called The Language of Leadership, and that the writer George Bernard Shaw famously said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

In an article in PR News in February, "Media Training as Leadership Development," CommCore CEO Andrew Gilman asks, "Is media training a tactical skill to prepare for interviews or an aspect of leadership development?"

After examining several tactical and strategic variables, Gilman concludes, "Media training will prepare you tactically to plan, respond and get better quotes in almost any interview. And when framed in terms of grooming leadership skills, the outcomes are improved for all involved."


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Monday, March 18, 2013

L.A. Times Hacker Case: Will Cyber Attack Litigation Prompt Overhaul of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

IT security experts like to say: There are basically two types of organizations when it comes to hacking:  Those that have been hacked and know it, and those that have been hacked and don’t know it.

                More and more attention is being paid to all types of hacking -- foreign government sponsored, black hat and white hat.  The indictment of Matthew Keys (for assisting the hacking collective Anonymous on an attack against the LA Times) is a recent example of the US Department of Justice action. Keys faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count; an indication that the DOJ is taking this case seriously. Today, the New York Times  reported that many legal specialists and observers are upset by the severity of the consequences Mr. Keys faces and are petitioning for an overhaul of the fraud act.

                PR professionals need to work closely with IT and organization security professionals on what and when to discuss hacking. In addition, PR needs to help lead other crisis response and prevention efforts such as what to say or do following social media comments and attacks.  The speed at which bad news, rumors and allegations can go viral requires closer collaboration between physical, virtual and reputation protectors.

                Among the measures that can be taken to improve response time is a crisis simulation that combines a table top exercise with social media/hacking issues. CommCore’s Pressure Test is designed to help clients, spot issues, decide who needs to be part of a response team and then make better decisions.

                We’ll watch the Keys trial for both the verdict and any insights on how and why Anonymous executes its attacks.


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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Salary-Savvy Negotiation Skills Women Need

                 When people ask if women in the workforce can “have it all”, reactions will vary. This is definitely an interesting debate, but most wouldn’t consider it to be breaking news. While this is the case, the evolving dilemma of balancing family and career while maintaining a sense of fulfillment has taken the spotlight. From Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, just releasing her book "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" to Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer returning to work just a week after giving birth, there is a major buzz. So why is this issue becoming such a prevalent discussion?

                Women are climbing the corporate ladder and are rightfully demanding both the respect of their male peers and appropriate financial compensation from their employers. Due to this, women seeking to negotiate their salaries need to be prepared. “Having it all” still poses a challenge because many men (and some women who do not have to balance family and career), are reluctant to view women as equals and feel that they are not qualified for a raise because of their familial priorities. Those who incorrectly assume that women with families are incapable of performing to their best ability need a wake-up call. The best form of this being a meeting with a woman who possesses salary savvy negotiation skills.

                CommCore Consulting Group, a leader in effective communication skills, provides speaker and presentation tools which will enhance your confidence and provide structure to your argument. Here are a few basic skills women can rely on when negotiating their salary:

·         Know your audience and what is important to them

·         Trim the basis of your argument down to the essential points you need to make

·         Anticipate questions your employer may ask you

·         Memorize your opening statement

·         Cite specific examples of why you deserve this (i.e. a lead on a successful project)

·         Emphasize your key messages through repetition

·         Avoid making negative statements referring to past experiences, behavior of colleagues (this is about you and why you deserve this; it is not a contest with your co-workers)

·         Close with a positive statement



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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Interview with Jerry Doyle on Crisis Communications

CommCore Principal, Jerry Doyle, had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Bennett with Twist Mktg to discuss the current state of crisis communications. View the interview on Twist Mktg's blog.

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