issue management

Oddsmaking and Crisis Planning Have Lots in Common

Oddsmakers do their homework to manage risk and make money on betting. Organizations should follow their example and understand their odds of facing various crisis scenarios and how to minimize their reputational risk.

Oddsmakers do their homework to manage risk and make money on betting. Organizations should follow their example and understand their odds of facing various crisis scenarios and how to minimize their reputational risk.

Savvy bettors don’t plunk down money without checking the odds. So why do CEOs risk their company reputations without considering the odds of facing a serious crisis?

Oddsmakers weigh the probabilities of just about everything from sporting events to reality TV winners. Crisis communications specialists are the oddsmakers of crisis scenarios for corporations, brands, nonprofits, individuals and public agencies. They help identify what can go wrong and the probability of it going wrong.

Unlike oddsmakers who earn money when people place bets, crisis counselors earn their money by showing how to reduce the odds of catastrophic or reputation-damaging crisis. 

Oddsmaking and crisis counseling have a lot in common. Oddsmakers simulate games, contests and anything people wager on to determine the ‘spread’. They talk to people and apply sophisticated algorithms. Crisis counselors employ issue audits to discover the ways an organization could become entwined in a crisis, even through no fault of their own. Part of that issue audit is to assess the likelihood of a specific crisis scenario and the consequence if it occurs.

A fast food restaurant could have a shooting in its parking lot or cause people to get sick from eating tainted or spoiled food. Both events would be serious, but not equally likely. It would be impractical for a fast food restaurant to employ an armed guard, but it would be prudent to install state-of-the-art food security systems because the odds and consequences of making customers sick are greater.

Back when, oddsmakers relied on ‘horse sense’ and ‘gut feelings’ to set odds. Now oddsmakers rely on computers and statistics. Setting accurate odds is critical for oddsmakers to manage risk and make money. 

Once upon time, organizational leaders may have relied on horse sense and gut feelings to assess risk and make money. Now they have access to risk insurance experts, marketing metrics and crisis counselors who can help identify risk, opportunity and smart management actions. 

Oddsmakers and organizations have notable differences. While oddsmakers have outsourced their statistical analysis, organizational leaders would be wise to in-source their risk assessment efforts. Oddsmakers spread their risk. Organizations bear the full weight of their risks.

Oddsmakers can make up for an upset loss in the Super Bowl with “wins” from other bets. Organizations immersed in a serious crisis can’t shift the cost or blame for the crisis somewhere else.

Getting the odds wrong is a business problem for oddsmakers. Getting the odds wrong in a crisis can be a business and reputational disaster for organizations. 

Whether or not you are a betting man or woman, be like oddsmakers and know your spread. For most organizations that means knowing what crisis scenarios they could face and how they can prepare in advance to reduce their odds of experiencing a crisis or dealing with a crisis if it occurs.

CFM Strategic Communications is a leading crisis counselor in the Pacific Northwest. We assist clients to anticipate and prepare for potential crisis scenarios. We help clients caught in a crisis situation deal with external and internal communications with an eye toward protecting an organization’s reputation. We provide media training for spokespeople. We have experience convincing higher-ups they need to understand their odds of facing a crisis. The  CFM Crisis Ebook  shares some of what we have learned and have to offer in addressing a reputational threat.

CFM Strategic Communications is a leading crisis counselor in the Pacific Northwest. We assist clients to anticipate and prepare for potential crisis scenarios. We help clients caught in a crisis situation deal with external and internal communications with an eye toward protecting an organization’s reputation. We provide media training for spokespeople. We have experience convincing higher-ups they need to understand their odds of facing a crisis. The CFM Crisis Ebook shares some of what we have learned and have to offer in addressing a reputational threat.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

Getting to the Point by Scrapping Padded Prose

Padded prose clogs up the message you want to deliver to your audience. Choose words wisely and make each one count. Lean language is more audience-friendly and likely to inform, impress and persuade people.

Padded prose clogs up the message you want to deliver to your audience. Choose words wisely and make each one count. Lean language is more audience-friendly and likely to inform, impress and persuade people.

Padded prose is a good way to bore, confuse or frustrate readers. So why do writers keep wasting keystrokes and tempting the patience of their audiences?

It’s not ignorance. Any book about effective writing encourages lean language. Writing instructors are blunter in their advice – “say what you mean, and no more.”

“In old baseball films, pitchers would execute an absurd, double-rocking windup before throwing the ball. The extra histrionics did nothing but bore the crowd and sap their own energy,” writes Ron Reinalda. “Similarly, today’s writers toss in superfluous phrases before making a point. Readers have no use for them, and they waste everyone’s time.”

In his blog for ragan.com, Reinalda provides a list of verbal “culprits.” It’s a long list, but it would have to be even longer to cover the entire wasteland of superfluity. Here’s a few of his most wince-inducing bugaboos: 

  • Not surprisingly – “If it’s not surprising, why mention it?”

  • Never forget that – Readers will decide whether it’s forgettable or not.

  • The truth is – “Is revealed truth or just a truism?” Or just a lazy transition?

  • The fact of the matter is – Ugh. Just spit out the “fact.”

  • I want to start off by saying – “Too late. You started off by clearing your throat.

There are other page-wasters that add no meaning while exasperating the reader. My short list includes:

  • The fact that – The fact is you should rewrite your sentence and leave out this useless and clunky phrase.

  • In order to – The infinitive form of a verb can do this job without any help. (“To support” rather than “In order to support”)

  • Literally – This has become the new “like” and “you know” in speech and writing. When used correctly, this is helpful adverb. Most of the time, it is used as a crutch or exclamation mark.

Dead wood in sentences is just part of the problem. As Reinalda points out, “Many writers don’t get to the damn point.” At times, it seems writers don’t know what point they are trying to make, which can make superfluous phrasing all the more irritating.

If you rationalize flabby prose by pointing to your “conversational style” or “old habits,” you are off base. Flabby speech is as cringe-worthy as flabby prose. You can drop old habits, pretty much like you have with rotary phones and DVDs.

Your writing should matter, so write like it matters. Spend time thinking about what you want to say, master your topic so you know what’s important and then commit your thoughts to words – words that tell your story, explain your point of view or share valuable information and no more.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

 

Some Serious Thoughts about Thought Leadership

The debate still rages over whether leaders are born or made. A more useful debate is over what makes someone a leader, especially a thought leader. We say it takes a powerful idea, the conviction and skill to convey it and the opportunity to express it.

The debate still rages over whether leaders are born or made. A more useful debate is over what makes someone a leader, especially a thought leader. We say it takes a powerful idea, the conviction and skill to convey it and the opportunity to express it.

Thought leadership requires a powerful idea, the conviction and communication skills to convey it convincingly and the opportunity to express it.

Clear thinking and leadership are too often examined separately. However, powerful ideas without effective messengers are wasted energy. Effective messengers without powerful ideas are wasted vessels. Effective messengers of powerful ideas without platforms are wasted opportunities.

In her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” Doris Kearns Goodwin traces the paths to greatness of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. All four yearned deeply for greatness and displayed strong leadership traits at an early age. However, they didn’t become great until they found their issue and pursued it with conviction, skill and resolve. For Lincoln, that issue was the extension of slavery.

Almost everybody is familiar with Lincoln’s story, but it is often forgotten that he spent the decade before his election in 1860 as president in a political wilderness. Lincoln devoted himself to his law practice by day and to deepening his knowledge about philosophy, science and math by night. It was the equivalent of a self-taught graduate course on everything.

Sensing the nation was lurching toward a crisis on the issue of extending slavery into newly minted western states, Lincoln plunged into the subject, including reading every commentary on slavery written by the men who framed the US Constitution. While riding circuit in central Illinois, Lincoln quietly became the leading US expert on the subject of the legal footing of slavery in America.

Lincoln’s views on slavery changed markedly from when he served one largely undistinguished term in Congress. The change came after a “long period of work, creative introspection, research and grinding thought,” according to Goodwin. 

Mastery of a subject, as Goodwin points out, is critical to leadership. “What is well-spoken must be well-thought,” she writes. Clear thinking is the product of hard work. “Without that labor, without that drudgery, the most eloquent words lack gravity and power.” His late-night homework enabled him to formulate a policy that would prevent the extension of slavery, while allowing it to remain in the Old South. Articulating that view from essentially the point of view of the Founding Fathers was striking for its originality and authenticity.

A key to Lincoln’s success in advancing this point of view was “his uncanny ability to break down the most complex case or issue into its simplest elements,” Goodwin explains. He honed this skill as a trial lawyer who reduced complicated legal matters to language and concepts that could be conveyed in an intimate conversation with jurors. Lincoln made jurors feel as if they were trying a case, not him.

Another Lincoln trait was simplicity of expression. “His language was composed of plain Anglo-Saxon words and almost always without adornment,” Goodwin says. Lincoln also was an unequaled storyteller, whose captivating tales established rapport with listeners while delivering profound messages in easy-to-grasp punchlines.

Lincoln’s creativity, knowledge, conviction and ability to communicate would have gone for naught without a platform. He found one in debates with his Illinois arch-nemesis, Stephen Douglas. Public debates were the social media and cable news shows of Lincoln’s day. 

Even though Lincoln didn’t win a seat in the US Senate, his taking points altered the national debate on the extension of slavery – and arguably the course of US history.

Goodwin’s book traces leadership and crisis through American history – a Civil War, stifling monopolies and corruption, the Great Recession and civil rights. But her implied intent in the book is to force a deeper evaluation of where leaders come from and the traits that leaders share.

Thought leaders don’t have to be point persons on events of historical proportion. They can be people who foster greater understanding of perplexing social, economic or technological problems – and the people who provide potential solutions. Through subject mastery and elegant, authentic expression, thought leaders can communicate complicated subjects and move the needle on public awareness and support for a point of view. 

Thought leaders must have the conviction of their views, the ambitious drive to share their views and the resiliency to withstand criticism for their views. Thought leaders are the people in the public arena described by Teddy Roosevelt. They are out there, willing to endure wounds for what they believe in the service of bringing clarity or fresh perspective to a serious subject.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Let Your Ghost Website Prep for a Scary Crisis

Ghost websites don’t have to hide in the closet. They can be catalysts to update your crisis plan, test your crisis readiness and double-check your third-party validation. Ghost content might even turn out to be clever, shareable marketing material.

Ghost websites don’t have to hide in the closet. They can be catalysts to update your crisis plan, test your crisis readiness and double-check your third-party validation. Ghost content might even turn out to be clever, shareable marketing material.

Ghost websites are essential hardware for your crisis communication plan. They contain content you store away for a scary crisis.

Ghost content can be as basic as B-roll that you can feed TV reporters for use as “wild footage” in their crisis coverage. Content can be more advanced such as videos that show processes or safety features. There can be backgrounders, animations, frequently asked questions and answers, media clips and infographics.

Good crisis plans call for creation of ghost websites as a cupboard of content to draw upon when crisis hits. But ghost websites also can play valuable roles in crisis preparation itself.

The best crisis plans contain sound advice for how to respond to a crisis, not just what to say. Brainstorming for content to place on a ghost website should center on what you may need to describe, explain or demonstrate – and how best to show it. What you may need to describe, explain or demonstrate should lead you to go-to people and resources that can provide answers. Reaching out to go-to resources for ghost website content is like a dress rehearsal for a crisis, when getting and verifying information in real time is at a premium.

Restocking ghost website content presents a perfect opportunity for reviewing the overall crisis plan. Looking to see if you are missing useful B-roll footage or whether you should update an infographic are cues to make the same assessment of a crisis plan’s call-down phone list or the crisis scenarios that anchor your plan.

Ghost website content doesn’t need to be stored away in the closet. Its creation can be a catalyst for sharper thinking, improved validation and even clever marketing tools

Ghost website content doesn’t need to be stored away in the closet. Its creation can be a catalyst for sharper thinking, improved validation and even clever marketing tools

Some of the most important ghost content you can develop is third-party validation of your products, product claims or safety processes. This validation should be checked routinely and updated as necessary. The review should trigger a wider reflection on additional ways to validate claims or emerging best practices, which in turn can alter approaches to a crisis or point to smart management actions.

Crisis scenarios can be very different and require significantly different kinds of crisis content. Ghost website content is a simple way to hammer home that point to a crisis team, as well as prepare for a crisis. Ghost content to deal with an environmental spill (showing your environmental stewardship) is not the same as what is needed to deal with financial fraud (showing your financial safeguards).

Reviewing ghost website content scenario by scenario can reveal pockets of knowledge you need to fill in or expose actions you should take to prevent or reduce the likelihood of a crisis.

In a crisis test drill, activating and pushing out appropriate ghost content can measure how well your social media platforms are positioned for crisis response.

A crisis manager could recruit a group of print and electronic editors to discuss the kind of validated content they would value in a crisis situation. The discussion could include a show-and-tell of ghost content. Their comments and insights could be useful in grooming or adding to a crisis plan’s ghost content.

Since a goal for effective crisis response is to preserve and even enhance a reputation, invite marketing staff to riff on ghost content ideas, which might double as marketing content. There is nothing wrong with repurposing ghost content for current usage, making it familiar when it returns as part of a crisis response.

Employing ghost website content as a catalyst in the crisis preparation process can sharpen the resulting crisis plan. It also will strengthen the ghost content you have created for that scary day.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Addressing the Onset of Online Defamation

Internet defamation is on the rise and corporations, nonprofits and individuals should be on alert that if it occurs there are steps to take to remove offensive material and ways to suppress the residue of negative coverage that can tarnish a reputation.

Internet defamation is on the rise and corporations, nonprofits and individuals should be on alert that if it occurs there are steps to take to remove offensive material and ways to suppress the residue of negative coverage that can tarnish a reputation.

 

Online defamation involving false and malicious claims is a growing concern for companies, nonprofits and individuals. It is a good time to learn some karate moves to fight back.

“In the age of digital Darwinism, we are now guilty until proven innocent,” warns Sameer Somal of Blue Ocean Global Technology, who offers online reputation management advice to attorneys and corporate clients. “Internet defamation lawsuits are on the rise.  Even if someone is innocent, they still may appear guilty online. If negative results appear for an attorney or client, their online reputation can quickly damage their offline reputation – and affect their life.”

Social media is a breeding ground for inflammatory statements, often made in the heat of the moment. Some of those statements could equate to online defamation, regardless how the claim is couched. For example, saying “I believe” in front of a statement that someone embezzled money from a company or a man abused a coworker is not a defense if the claim is unfounded.

Media outlets or channels could be on the hook if they fail to remove defamatory statements in the comment threads of their stories. You may intentionally or unintentionally defame someone or some organization in comments you make on social media.

Somal advises that everyone needs to be alert to online defamation, whether it is directed at you or comes from you.

Sameer Somal  is the Chief Financial Officer at  Blue Ocean Global Technology  and  Blue Ocean Global Wealth . He is a CFA Charterholder, a CFP® professional, a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst and an internet defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors and delivers CLE programs on reputation management, search engine optimization and ethics across legal communities nationally.

Sameer Somal is the Chief Financial Officer at Blue Ocean Global Technology and Blue Ocean Global Wealth. He is a CFA Charterholder, a CFP® professional, a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst and an internet defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors and delivers CLE programs on reputation management, search engine optimization and ethics across legal communities nationally.

Online reputation management is a process involving monitoringbuilding and repairing digital content, Somal explains. “The most agile firms are listening closer, making better resource allocations and investing in stronger relationships with strategic partners and clients.”

Businesses, nonprofits and public agencies should routinely monitor what’s being said about them online – in social media, consumer reviews and news stories. Material inaccuracies, false claims, offensive images and fake reviews should be addressed. The best approach, Somal says, is a direct approach – contact the source of the material and ask to correct or to remove the offending content. Be prepared to show why the content is inaccurate, false or defamatory.

Not everything bad said about you online constitutes defamation. Each case is fact-specific. Failing to respond to negative comments, especially if the comments are erroneous, misleading or defamatory, encourages others to further support or confirm the negative reputation, Somal says. Search engine algorithms, he adds, tend to favor negative reviews and unflattering commentary. Increasingly, snarky articles are promoted by their publishers on social media platforms and aimed at target audiences.

Before declaring content defamatory, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney familiar with libel and slander statutes, which can vary from state to state. If content rises to the level of defamation, you – or your attorney – can threaten to sue, which can be powerful motivation to withdraw online material.

Legal coverage can involve inflammatory statements in filings and courtroom testimony. News reporters are likely to include them in their stories. In this situation, you need to make sure reporters provide balanced coverage and include your side of the story, which requires talking to them to reinforce your own story.

On legal matters that attract continuous news coverage or attention on social media, you should consider a strategy of suppressing negative coverage in Google searches by publishing other, more reputation-friendly stories. Fluff won’t do the trick, but stories about philanthropy, new investments or innovations can earn positive coverage that can fill up the first page or two of Google searches. The content that you hoped would disappear remains buried on subsequent Google search results pages. Critics can still find it and persistent trolls can continue to take their shots, but you are proactively improving your reputation.

Changing the narrative isn’t the same as erasing all memory of an embarrassing incident or awkward legal case. One powerful way to change the narrative is to address head-on the source of controversy and protracted negative commentary. Change the headline by changing the story. Admit wrongdoing. Settle a legal matter. Take responsibility for an incident, even if it isn’t your fault. This form of reputation repair is not always comfortable, but it can yield longer-term relief from the constant headache of criticism.

 

What Super Bowl Ads Can Teach about Managing Issues

Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of  Deadpool 2  during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Instead of spending millions to air the movie trailer of Deadpool 2 during the Super Bowl, the film’s producers launched a clever, in-character Twitterstorm mocking itself for being too cheap to run an ad during the big game. The use of Twitter is just one of the lessons that can be drawn for issue managers from this year’s Super Bowl.

Issue managers are often late to the party on how to use social media to explain a complex issue or contend with a contentious opponent. Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel has some tips based on this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

Self-acclaimed social media nerd Beki Winchel shared her communication insights on Super Bowl ads, which also apply to issue management.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, listening and viewing habits have changed, especially among younger adults. Just as important, tactics have evolved to capture people’s wayward attention. In a recent blog for PR Daily, Winchel cites four clever tactics that brands used to capture eyeballs during the Super Bowl. They offer insight into how issue managers might spruce up their communications.

  1. Winchel’s first suggestion is to use Twitter. Unlike other film and TV show producers, 20th Century Fox chose to sit out the Super Bowl commercial game and instead promoted Deadpool 2 with tweets by the franchise’s main character that portrayed the studio as too cheap to buy an ad. It was basically newsjacking on steroids or, in this case, “wrist-deep in cocoa butter.”

    Most issue managers don’t have budgets for ad campaigns, but they can think creatively about filling a niche through social media, and particularly via Twitter through the use of hashtags. Depending on the audience you need to reach, Twitter or Instagram can be perfect channel choices to squeeze out a message in keeping with your brand personality or the context of an issue.

    Humor can be an effective, albeit sometimes dangerous weapon. But audiences like to be entertained, so don’t overlook how humor and wit can play a role in your narrative.
     
  2. Citing Diet Coke’s ad featuring actress Hayley Magnus, Winchel encourages the use of spontaneity. Magnus shot what was intended to be a six-second video, but her infectious dance and narration after taking a sip convinced the soda’s brand managers to convert it into a full-fledged ad. It was captured in one take with mostly impromptu comments.

    Unscripted moments aren’t always the best moments to dramatize an issue, but straight-laced, dull commentaries may not grab anyone’s attention. It never hurts to be spontaneous – or allow yourself to recognize a meaningful, useful impromptu moment. Impromptu is hard to stage, but don’t be blind when you see such a moment that can convey your story.
     
  3. Winchel says early promotion can result in a big payoff. Doritos and Amazon set up audiences for their Super Bowl commercials by providing sneak peaks on social media and even on traditional news media before the game’s first kickoff. Winchel says the “Doritos Blaze vs. Mtn Dew Ice” ad accumulated almost 29 million views before game time.

    Teasing out commercials is akin to leaking tidbits of information. The idea is to generate buzz. The default position for many issue managers is to wait as long as possible to announce a potential project or initiative. That is sound thinking, but there can be exceptions when a slow drip announcement can create interest and enthusiasm, without spilling the beans too soon.
     
  4. Winchel’s last piece of advice should be music to the ears of issue managers. Quoting Mad Men’s Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” Winchel says that’s what the Tide commercial accomplished by spoofing other brand commercials. In four spots that ran in each quarter, Tide ad narrator David Harbour basically says if you saw people in other ads, they were really Tide ads because everyone’s clothes were clean.

    The Tide ads have a humorous tone and reference familiar ad memes. They naturally pulled conversation in their direction. Switching the narrative on a serious issue isn’t easy, but Winchel’s advice is a good reminder that it can be done. If issue managers don’t explore this option, they may be overlooking an avenue to pursue for proactive, positive conversation.

Super Bowl ads produced another valuable lesson – think twice before you step across a cultural boundary. Dodge and Ram trucks faced a fury of feedback from their well-intentioned, but short-sighted ad about the benefits of service. The ad is graced with a Martin Luther King voice-over excerpted, with permission, from one of his speeches. Critics questioned the appropriateness of using King’s voice, especially since in another part of his speech he condemned commercial exploitation in advertising.

This is just the latest example of stumbling into a culture war. The use of King’s voice probably was sold by an ad agency as a masterstroke. In reality, it was an unforced error. For example, there are many country music artists who have established foundations to provide disaster relief, care for foster children and housing for families with children battling cancer. Any one of them would have been inspirational and a better match for the occasion – and the demographic of who buys Ram trucks.

 

Curiosity Can Turbocharge Your Personal Search Engine

Curiosity stimulates the brain, strengthens relationships and unlocks otherwise overlooked insights. Do yourself a favor and reclaim your childhood curiosity. Don’t worry about the cat.

Curiosity stimulates the brain, strengthens relationships and unlocks otherwise overlooked insights. Do yourself a favor and reclaim your childhood curiosity. Don’t worry about the cat.

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Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for everyone else it can do wonders. Curiosity is the strategy to uncover less-than-obvious information and discover overlooked insight.

The practical benefits of curiosity are both personal and professional.

Curiously, curiosity is often in short supply. We are too busy or forget to ask questions. We are too timid to ask. We think we have enough information. We rely on Google for what we need to know. The result: People don’t know what they don’t know.

The knowledge gap from a lack of curiosity may run deeper than you imagine. Curious people tend to attract other curious people. The uncurious are left with their own thoughts – and, of course, their Google results.

Being inquisitive is something we exhibit in childhood, but can leave behind as adults. We shouldn’t. Curiosity is an essential element of engagement, which is increasingly a critical component of effective communications.

A curious person engages people in empathetic conversations, pulling out information or perspectives that people may not otherwise be willing to share. Those nuggets can illuminate a toxic force in a workplace, a viewpoint on a controversial issue or an unmet expectation. Just as important, asking questions can forge a caring relationship.

Research has shown curiosity is a sign of brain health. Engaging with other people stimulates the brain, builds healthier relationships and can be an antidote for anxiety.

All that, plus curiosity can unlock valuable data points. Curiosity is like putting a turbocharger on your Google search engine.

To rediscover your childhood curiosity, stow away your “I already know the answer” attitude. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Ask and find out.

You can rekindle curiosity by intentionally getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new – from what you eat to a useful app. Look for new experiences. Talk to people who aren’t in your tribe. When you hear an unfamiliar word, look it up. If something on the news piques your interest, track down details. Dare to be creative. Let yourself be amazed.

In client situations, be politely relentless in asking questions. Don’t settle for superficial answers. Keep asking so you discover the reasons behind answers. Dig to understand the nuances surrounding a complex issue or to find a fresh angle to explain what’s going on. 

If a client is uncomfortable with your professional curiosity, you should be curious about why. An issue manager or crisis counselor is not an errand boy. When you craft communications, your credibility is on the line as much as the client’s.

Curiosity will make your brain sharper, your relationships stronger and your career more rewarding. Quit worrying about the cat. Regain your enthusiasm.

 

The Power of 'Deep Canvassing' to Change Minds

A new study confirms a serious conversation on a doorstep can change minds, even on controversial issues such as transgender rights, which should be a message for issue managers who face entrenched opponents.

A new study confirms a serious conversation on a doorstep can change minds, even on controversial issues such as transgender rights, which should be a message for issue managers who face entrenched opponents.

A big part of an issue manager’s job is to change people’s minds. Recent studies by political science researchers indicate face-to-face contact, preferably initiated by people most impacted by a policy decision, can change minds.

The studies examined political attitudes before and after political canvassers went door-to-door to talk about same-sex marriage and transgender rights. The most recent study concluded that gay and transgender canvassers were the most effective in personalizing the issue and persuading people.

Called “deep canvassing,” this intense form of political campaigning has broader applications. It is commonly acknowledged that state legislative candidates who devote a lot of time to knocking on doors, introducing themselves and engaging in front-porch politics are usually the victors. As one campaign consultant preaches, “Voters like to see and touch the flesh of the candidates they support.”

The concept of deep canvassing goes beyond retail politicking. It involves sharing your story and experiences, not just explaining an issue and asking for political support. The shared personal experience is what cultivates a political attachment.

If canvassers go door-to-door in favor of a bond measure to renovate or build a school in a neighborhood, they may get polite support. If parents or children canvass, the bond measure seems more personal because you see people who are impacted.

However, talking about a school bond measure is a cake walk compared to trying to convince someone to switch their views on unisex bathrooms or anti-discrimination measures for transgender people. The study, which tracked transgender canvassers in Dade County, Florida, showed deep canvassing techniques had a durable effect on voter attitudes. 

The county had passed an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect transgender people and opponents promised a challenge to repeal the ordinance. The Los Angeles LGBT Center dispatched more than 50 canvassers to employ deep canvassing, as researchers tracked results using a series of surveys sent to people three days, three weeks, six weeks and three months after the canvass. Survey results showed that one in 10 people canvassed showed a marked shift in favor of equal rights.

Arthur Lupia, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times a 10 percent shift in opinion may not seem like a big change. “Any presidential candidate would welcome that kind of effect from a doorstep conversation.” Small shifts in attitude change the pivot point of other conversations conducted over the back fence, at a community center or in a book club. There is an ongoing ripple effect.

The shifts noted in Dade County parallel how views began to change on same-sex marriage after its advocates launched an effort to remind people they had gay family members, coworkers and friends. Personalizing the issue made it easier to sell policy that says the government shouldn’t decide “who you should love.”

Most contentious policies don’t involve culture wars. They more typically center on a housing development, shopping mall or road improvement near a neighborhood. The issues are disruption, safety and change. Attitudes can be just as entrenched as someone’s views on gay rights. 

The scope of some projects may seem too large to allow for deep canvassing, but that may not be the case. Communications options exist to expand the reach of actual canvassing, such as capturing doorstep exchanges on video (with permission, of course) and sharing them on a website and through social media. Live streaming a small-group interaction in someone’s front room could be another way to share the process beyond the doorstep.

The biggest takeaway is that personal contact is a must to change attitudes or roll back opposition. This isn’t easy or quick. There is no absolute guarantee it will work. But the personal touch has a much higher chance of success than slick, superficial presentations or just plunging ahead and hoping for the best.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Manage Issues from the Front, Not Rear

Detective Danny Reagan chases down bad guys on  Blue Bloods , but you may not be able to catch up to a bad problem that you should have anticipated and might have avoided.

Detective Danny Reagan chases down bad guys on Blue Bloods, but you may not be able to catch up to a bad problem that you should have anticipated and might have avoided.

The best position in which to manage an issue is from the front, not the rear. If you are chasing an issue, chances are you won’t catch up before you go over the cliff.

This is a painful lesson that some organizations learn the hard way. For some, it takes more than one mistake to learn that it is smart to anticipate problems and take steps before problems become crises.

Easier said than done, to be sure. But it can be done.

Chipotle is a poster child for the point. The company ballyhooed fresh food from local sources. You don’t have to be rocket scientist to anticipate potential problems in food safety that could – and apparently did – lead to serious health outbreaks at more than one of the burrito chain’s outlets.

Jack in the Box learned its lesson from a 1993 E. coli outbreak that killed four children, infected 732 people and left 178 victims permanently injured with kidney and brain damage. The fast food chain, which owns the Qdoba Mexican Eats franchise that is a Chipotle competitor, installed food safety measures up and down its supply chain. Jack in the Box hasn’t experienced a major problem with food safety since then.

Qdoba promises “food for people who love food,” which isn’t as enticing as food made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Company execs decided a weaker tagline was better than sicker customers.

Issue management is not reserved just for customer-facing problems. It applies equally to issues with neighbors, constituents, stakeholders and employees.

The Southeast Portland glassmakers that used cadmium and arsenic in their processes could easily have anticipated air contamination, regardless of whether they were operating within the boundaries of their air permits. While the businesses showed good judgment by suspending the use of those chemicals once data emerged that there was a problem, they would have displayed greater judgment by insisting on regular independent testing so they could detect the problem earlier.

Some problems are obvious; some are not. That’s why we advise organizations to undertake issue audits. An issue audit is a no-holds-barred process to identify and vet all kinds of potential problems – legal, financial, technical, operational, environmental and competitive. The list of problems then should undergo an evaluation to determine the most probable risks and the ones with the most serious potential consequences.

That is invaluable, if sometimes inconvenient information.

The matrix of problems should be assessed by a risk/benefit test. The risk with the highest likelihood of serious consequence is where you start. If you determine, the cost to remediate the problem is far cheaper than the outfall of a crisis involving the problem, then it is a no-brainer decision to fix it. That’s a great way to get ahead of a problem.

Some problems may be too expensive or technically challenging to fix. You have to employ different tactics to stay ahead of their curve toward crisis. That might involve an open house or creation of an advisory committee. It could require meeting with affected people one-on-one. Such tactics take time, but it could be time better spent than facing a battery of TV cameras and angry questions.

In an era when everyone with a smartphone is the equivalent of an investigative reporter and social media moves at light speed, getting in front of an issue is more important than ever. Detective Danny Reagan may catch the bad guy on every episode of Blue Bloods, but don’t count on the same script when you are chasing a really bad problem that you should have anticipated and might have avoided.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.