Saturday, 3 September 2016

Priceless Crisis Communication Lessons From 9/11 pt 2

Precious Lessons We Can Learn From Successful Crisis Communication Of Some Companies During The Disaster Of The World Trade Center Terrorist Attack From Paul Agenti.

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Stay Focused on the Business
“Everyone wanted to know what they could do in the wake of 9/11,” says Russell Lewis. “At the New York Times Company, no one had to even ask that question. Our mission is to put out the best newspaper we can so that readers can be as informed as possible. Just like a trauma surgeon, this is what we train for. There was no question that our employees felt that their job had meaning. And in the end, the Times received Pulitzer Prizes for its 9/11 reporting.”
A focus on work, in fact, can be enormously helpful to employees in a time of crisis. It provides an outlet for their desire to help, gets them back into a normal routine, fosters their pride in the company and what they do, and builds strong bonds between themselves and their customers, many of whom desperately need the company to keep their products and services flowing.
According to Elizabeth Heller Allen, vice president of corporate communications at Dell, “the key was finding an outlet for our employees’ desire to help.” The urgency of getting some 75 of Dell’s customers at Ground Zero and others in the DC area back in business pulled the staff together. At the same time, the senior leadership knew that only a revitalized staff would be able to deliver on Dell’s strong reputation for customer service. A Dell document stated that the objective of its response plan was “to increase employee understanding of how the September 11 terrorist attacks affected Dell’s customers and business and how Dell would respond.” But, other company documents showed, top management knew that Dell’s employees could assist affected customers only if they had a sense of security themselves.
Dell’s business model, which dispenses with the middleman, puts the firm directly in touch with its thousands of customers. Because of that direct contact, employees know exactly what these customers need and want. “We have complete records of what we’ve sold to every customer, so we knew what they had lost,” said Allen. “While it meant working around the clock to get the computers configured with the correct software, It was our way of giving back.”
Other employees worked those hours to pack and ship systems to the affected customers, who could place orders 24/7. Dell also established service and response teams that customers could reach through dedicated phone lines and the company’s Web site, which gave instructions for obtaining immediate assistance.
“Reaching out to employees struggling with shock, grief, and anger with a more family-like tone enabled us to focus those feelings on responding to our customers’ urgent needs. Maintaining that tone with regular updates more firmly than ever linked our customer-experience strategy to our teams’ everyday work,” says Rollins.
Months after 9/11, the company tried to measure how effective these strategies were. It determined that Dell Helping Rebuild America, an internal Web site, received 54,947 hits in its first two months. The site averaged 603 hits per day, and had 11,016 unique visitors during that period, almost a third of the workforce. In addition, the company asked for feedback from employees and found that 90% thought that Web casts from the CEO and COO during the crisis were helpful and relevant to their jobs and the organization.
Starbucks displayed a similar mixture of head and heart. The chain of coffee shops had a total of 250 branches in New York City’s five boroughs, four of them adjacent to Ground Zero. “A major part of what’s helped us through this was engaging in the relief effort,” Marty Annese, a senior vice president, told a trade publication. The initial “instinctive” response of the company’s crisis management team, according to Chairman Howard Schultz, was to close all company-owned stores in North America so that employees “could return home to be with family and friends,” according to a company statement. Headquarters conveyed this message by voice mail and e-mail to all the stores.
But with the exception of 15 or so stores at the southern end of Manhattan, the New York City branches reopened on September13. Several served food and coffee to rescue workers at Ground Zero, to people at blood donation centers, and to those at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the command center for volunteer operations during the crisis.
Have a Plan in Place
While many companies have crisis contingency plans and disaster recovery plans in place, few had been tested as rigorously as they were on September 11. As Gregor Bailar, then chief information officer of Nasdaq, commented, “People will have to look very carefully at their backup strategies and see whether they can communicate with everybody easily, whether [critical data] are stored in that same building that could experience [a] disaster.”
Having contingency plans means, among other things, establishing contingency work sites. Soon after a truck bomb exploded in the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993, the New York Board of Trade began planning them. By 1995, it had built two sites in the borough of Queens. For six years, they sat empty, costing NYBOT $300,000 annually in rent and utilities. After September 11, 2001, however, these remote trading pits proved to be one of the best investments NYBOT had ever made.
Web-based communications require their own version of contingency planning. When the destruction of Oppenheimer’s Trade Center offices knocked out its intranet Web server, staff moved quickly to post crisis communications on a newly created employee section of the company’s Web site. Many other companies also took that approach so that employees who had Internet access at home could stay connected.
Although operations during a crisis should be decentralized, decision making should not be. Airlines have some of the better-developed crisis command centers. At American, the strategic command center is a vast room featuring a large, horseshoe-shaped table with fully equipped workstations and a conference call line that can accommodate as many as 200 outside callers. Large-screen televisions set up to receive satellite broadcasts allow command center employees to monitor all news coverage of the crisis.
Messages should also be sent from a centralized source. At Oppenheimer Funds, Bob Neihoff, then manager of contingency planning, called a designated number within moments of the attack, punched in some information, and activated the company’s crisis plan. Employees already knew to call into the Denver operation, which assumed control of the technology running the Web sites and voice mail systems. However, the substance of all communications came from Densen, the corporate affairs director, and CEO Murphy in New York City.
A widely circulated toll-free number can help ensure that employees obtain information from a single authorized source. Because Verizon had such a number, its 250,000 employees nationwide were able to access recorded messages containing the latest information about the crisis. Morgan Stanley’s toll-free number was televised as early as 11:00 am on September 11, making it, according to President and COO Bob Scott, “the first national emergency number of any organization, including the federal government.” By 1:30
pm that day, the firm’s crisis center had received more than 2,500 calls.
Finally, many executives I spoke with emphasized how important it was to have experienced communications professionals on board. These people were panic proof, executives said. “The advantage of communications veterans,” adds American Airline’s Tim Doke, “is that they have done everything, so in a crisis you can easily pull them out of one job and put them in another.”

5) Improvise, but from a Strong Foundation

“All of the planning that you do for a crisis helps you get through the basics,” says the New York Stock Exchange’s Robert Zito, its executive vice president for communications. Still, “people need to think on their feet and make quick decisions. Until the crisis comes, in whatever form, you don’t really understand how valuable all the preparation was.”
There is more to preparation than training. As important is instilling in employees the firm’s values. Although Starbucks ordered its 2,900 North American stores closed within a few hours of the attacks, the managers of several undamaged stores near the disaster site decided on their own initiative to stay open, a few all night, to provide coffee and pastries to hospital staffs and rescue workers. Others served as triage centers for the injured. People who had been wandering the streets of lower Manhattan in a daze were grabbed by Starbucks employees and pulled inside—and in some cases, lives were saved when nearby buildings collapsed.
One of the eight precepts recited in Starbucks’ mission statement is, “Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.” Many of Starbucks’ outlets are, even in Manhattan, neighborhood-gathering places, full of comfortable chairs in which customers may linger for hours. Essentially, they had helped bring together the community they served.
Goldman Sachs’s neighborhood is, in the abstract, the global marketplace, but its employees’ dedication to this community couldn’t have been fiercer. In one of his regular voice mails, Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson saw something of the typical bond trader’s agility and coolness under fire in his employees’ ability to cope with a disabled transportation system. “Getting to work remains very difficult,” he said. “Many routes are sealed off or closed. But that hasn’t stopped you… The police stepped in and stopped the buses [you chartered]. So one of you had the clever idea to secure ferryboats. What you couldn’t do by land you did by sea. Today, the idea of special buses with police escorts was a winner. And every colleague who needed to be in the office was here.”
That may have been due, in part, to other remarks Paulson had made. “Our assets will always be our people, capital, and reputation, with our people being the most important of the three… And the lesson here is that our principles will never fail us as long as we do not fail to live up to them.”
Goldman Sachs employees weren’t the only ones using nautical approaches to get to the office. At the New York Times, Russell Lewis told us that one reporter kayaked across the Hudson River to get to work.
Many of the executives we spoke with emphasized that a company cannot start communicating its mission and vision during a crisis. Employees will know what to do only if they have been absorbing the company’s guiding principles all along. Two of Oppenheimer’s shared values, according to an internal document, are “dedication to caring” and “team spirit.” Thinking back to 9/11, CEO John Murphy says, “If you have a strong culture, you have the ability to maintain focus. On 9/11, we had a structure, a belief system, and a hierarchy all in place. That helped us to get through the crisis, and we haven’t skipped a beat since.”
The company had one more advantage: a communications strategy, which succeeded in reminding its employees and the world of those assets. When the markets reopened, Oppenheimer, the only mutual fund manager in the towers, had one of the largest net inflows of any broker-sold fund family in the United States.
The most forward-thinking leaders realize that managing a crisis communications program requires the same dedication and resources they typically give to other dimensions of their business. They also realize that a strong internal communications function allows them not only to weather a crisis but to strengthen their organization internally.
Just as a death in the family often brings people closer together, so did the catastrophe on 9/11. Many of the executives I interviewed talked about how their companies sustained that sense of community long after 9/11 by keeping the lines of communication open. At the New York Times, the strength of these bonds was tested soon after the terrorist attacks when a reporter received an envelope containing a white powder suspected to be anthrax. Once again, Russell Lewis and other senior executives went on the public address system. “For that time period,” he recalls, “we were a family, and that doesn’t wear off, as long as you are consistent in your concern for coworkers.”

Before any other constructive action can take place—whether it’s serving customers or reassuring investors—the morale of employees must be rebuilt.
Operations during a crisis should be decentralized, but decision making should not be.

"Employees will know what to do in a crisis only if they have been absorbing the company’s guiding principles all along" said, Paul Argenti a Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

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Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.

He offers the following services to Large Corporations, SMEs and Individuals.

Result Oriented Communication,
Effective Crisis Communication,
Effectual Political Communication,
Reputation and Image management,
And Impactful Presentation Coaching.
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