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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: BETH MONAGHAN
DOUG: Beth, let’s get started by talking about the challenges of crisis communication in this environment.
BETH: Yeah, there’s a lot of challenges right now. I actually think we’re coming out of a period of intense crisis work. When the pandemic first hit in March, it just felt like the political climate, we had a pandemic. And then in June, we had the Black Lives Matter issue erupt with the murder of George Floyd. And we just saw in our work, it just had ripple effects. And we were managing crises all of the time for clients. And I’m happy to say that while all of the social issues have certainly not been solved and won’t be solved for a long time, we’re seeing it calm down a little bit.
DOUG: And crises can be imposed on organizations by external forces like the pandemic, obviously, or self-imposed. How do you help clients navigate those two very different circumstances?
BETH: Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, I guess I would first say that crisis communications is the work that most PR people… Actually, I will just speak for myself and say, it’s the work that I hate the most because it can be just soul sucking. So, when we do crisis work, we only take crisis work from companies and people who have good intentions, who are actually trying to solve the problem and not trying to cover it up. And so, maybe the cover up would be the self-inflicted, one of the self-inflicted types of crises. But when organizations have good intentions and they are transparent with us about the challenges that they face, it’s much easier to solve. We can look at the Burger King tweet for Women’s History Month, or International Women’s Day, where they tweeted, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen.” In some of their other social posts. They had some small type that said only 20% of chefs are female. So, their intentions were good. They actually had set up a scholarship for female chefs, and that’s a wonderful thing. I mean they were just trying to be funny. So, they had to face a day of backlash. I thought that they handled it fairly well. They apologized, they redirected to what they were actually trying to do, and that’s an easy crisis to solve, and it’s also going to go away after the news cycle is over.
DOUG: Sure. Do you think there’s any lessons learned from the intense crisis period that hopefully we’re moving away from that can really be applied to just more traditional communications council, advice and campaigns, and what might some of those things be?
BETH: Yeah. I think that your intentions matter a lot, and your execution of those intentions. And Burger King is one example, but we have a heightened sensitivity to issues of equality in all areas. And I think that’s appropriate. We are seeing that play out in more traditional public relations avenues. So, we work with lots of technology companies and we’re seeing organizations like TechCrunch, for example, ask, as a matter of course of business about your diversity metrics when they interview an organization. So, I think that that’s one of the positive outcomes. Certainly, if you’re a tech company and your record isn’t good, you don’t want to have those questions asked. But there is a way to navigate that by being honest and talking about the challenges in the industry, talking about how you’re trying to solve them and really having a commitment to change over time. And I think too often organizations get scared off when they hear those scary questions right now.
DOUG: And you also do a lot of work in the area of helping startups navigate their path forward. Shed some light, what are some of the best practices and what are some mistakes to avoid?
BETH: Yeah, I think the climate is so interesting right now where we have some tech companies, especially in the Silicon Valley, really thinking about, do I have to talk to the press, because big organizations like Tesla have stopped doing outbound public relations. And you know what? If you’re Tesla, and you’re Elon Musk, you can probably do whatever you want. You have an audience who already knows who you are, they’re passionate about your product, they believe in your vision. But when you are a startup, you don’t have those benefits. So, you need the press to establish awareness of what you’re doing and credibility for what you’re doing. And so, I think as we evolve from this period of time, I think we’ll see startups needing to do both of those things; to build up and an audience for their content that’s on their social platforms and through newsletters, through owned content, but also needing to get the word out there. Which means that we all have to kind of accept and embrace the fact that diversity matters, and we have to be ready to talk about it.
DOUG: And you referenced the Burger King snafu during International Women’s Day, and it’s Women’s History Month. Do you have advice for women who are aspiring to leadership roles, maybe from lessons you’ve learned to help shorten the path for them?
BETH: I grew up in the 80s, and I recently came across some manuals for women in the workplace in the 80s. And they had some advice that advised women to alter the tone of our voices because it could sound too shrill. We should moderate our behavior, not show our personality at work because it might be threatening. And for women today, it’s how are we ever going to succeed if we can’t do it as who we are? So, my advice for women today is to come as you are, to embrace your skills and your personality as assets rather than things that might hold you back in the workplace and know that what women offer, and certainly not all women are the same. I think we get tempted to lump, women are more empathetic, and maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But every person, every human being has their own set of skills. And if we can all come as we are to our workplaces, our workplaces will benefit from it, and we will be more whole human beings and be more fulfilled in life and in work.
DOUG: And that’s such great advice with authenticity being valued so highly. Thanks so much for spending time with us. We really appreciate you sharing your insights.
BETH: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.