How to Communicate a Workplace Tragedy

Frontcover_April29As we approach International Day of Mourning on April 28, I recall a quick lesson in PR school on how to manage an employee’s death on the work site and how I hoped it was something I never had to do. So far, I haven’t.

A couple of years ago however, I learned much more about how best to deal with tragedy in the workplace,  from Shirley Hickman, a woman (and former client), who exemplifies the “integrity2impact” theme of this blog — out of a tragic loss.

In 1996, Shirley and her family’s lives changed forever when their son Tim perished after a traumatic workplace explosion. After the initial shock, the family looked for answers about what occurred and why. Beyond their own needs, they wanted to find out so they could help prevent a similar incident from happening to someone else. Sadly, they learned the explosion was predictable and preventable, if everyone had followed a series of safety rules.

Since then, Shirley has focused on making a difference in workplace health and safety through her own initiatives and Threads of Life – Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support, a national registered charity, which she co-founded in 2003.

I met Shirley when I managed the PR launch of Forget Me Not, a book this charity produced to promote safer work environments through true stories of Canadian workplace tragedies. While doing background research, I found a noteworthy article entitled “Dealing with Affected Families,”  which appeared in Accident Prevention magazine. It outlines Shirley’s recommendations for communicating with this audience after a workplace tragedy/critical injury, as told to an interviewer.  Initially targeted at occupational health experts, I think these recommendations are also particularly pertinent to internal communicators and HR folks:

  1. Establish a communications link with the family as soon as possible – Contact the family as soon as the crisis communications team has assessed the situation and devised an action plan. Ideally assign one person to liaise with the family and keep them updated. The worst thing  Shirley said “is to leave the family to others, such as the Ministry of Labour….when that happens, the family becomes bitter towards the employer before they even know the facts.”
  2. Build compassion into crisis communications – Check what support services are available for employees and their families in advance and include these details in your corporate communications and crisis planning. Then, if a tragedy occurs, you can ask the family what they need, describe available services, such as grief counselling, employee assistance programs or media interview support, and connect them with the needed help.  In some scenarios, staff might also help with practical needs, such as arranging childcare or transportation, immediately after an incident.
  3. Manage the information flow – Screen new information, as it becomes available but maintain a sense of openness and transparency by not withholding critical information, including answers to tough questions. If however information can’t be released for legal reasons, then tell the family this.
  4. Establish a legacy, after the crisis passes – “Talk about who the person was, the loss to the family and the loss to the community, and how valued the person was as a worker,” Shirley recommends.  Positive gestures can range from a phone call to say “we’re thinking of your family right now” or a card to establishing a scholarship or post-secondary occupational or public health and safety program.

Shirley believes good crisis communications helps the company and those left behind by “reducing the psychological problems and absenteeism rates that go with extreme emotional stress.” She suggests a critical incident or fatality is not just about one family but the families of all their coworkers too.  “They’re watching how the company is responding to the family of the worker because it could have been them, and their families,” she cautions.

Granted each organization has its own challenges and limitations but these points provide a good starting place for how to enhance internal crisis communications, from the unique perspective of those directly affected for the long-term.

Inspiring Comfort from Boston Bombing Heroes – Round-up

A small voice interrupted our horrified silence with “Daddy, change the channel, I don’t want to watch this movie.”  How we wished it was a movie. How could we tell our four-year-old it wasn’t? How could we believe the carnage of 9/11 was deliberate?

From my childhood, I remember the morning they found Pierre Laporte’s slain body —a day after my parents assured me the FLQ were merely trying to make a political point but wouldn’t hurt anyone.

How do you explain evil to a child and reassure them of their safety? How do we recover from these events that erode our basic sense of security?

Even though we’ve all aged since 9/11 and perhaps grown more jaded, the past week’s Boston bombings and destroyed lives are no less jarring.

Gandi QuoteA recent post from Sesame Street recommends reassuring children that parents, teachers, law enforcers, and members of their community are doing everything possible to keep them safe from harm.  Likewise, Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.’” 

After the shock and prayers for those affected, I think many adults took a similar route and searched for stories of incredible goodness rising from horrific acts.BananaQuote

I searched for comforting quotes from Gandhi and others. A “When Life Makes You Think” post from Digital Strategist Hessie Jones took a similar approach.

RedCrossTweetJust as I thought nothing quite fit the moment, the news feed began to fill with on-the-scene accounts of selfless kindness, often at great risk.  Here are links to a few of these stories:

Thank-you to all those who showed us the very best we can be, amid the very worst.

Reverse Spin: When PR Steers Ethical Practices

Amid the news of RBC swapping a handful of its Canadian IT staff for foreign workers, I zeroed in on a post about the bank trying to use crafty “PR-speak” to recover.  The challenge is, few are buying it. Quotes from one of the soon-to-be-replaced employees and resulting news stories had carried the story too far by the time RBC’s CEO spoke of the bank’s “very high priority on Canadian jobs” a couple of days later.

SpinningEdReality is a company’s brand is determined by what others say about it, not the image it attempts to create for itself.  The most brilliant communication is futile when the message is not reflected in the company’s actions.

What may come as a surprise to some is corporate communicators know you’re only as a good as the organization you represent. Simply “spinning” with minimal action to support your message is exhausting and soul-sucking.

Fortunately, those in corporate communication roles have a wide-angle view across the organization to foresee issues and a trained sixth sense to identify and appeal to their stakeholders’ self-interests. This often presents a huge opportunity for communicators to build a business case and steer the company to the “ethical right.”

One way is focusing on this “brand” ideal that marketers and communicators strive to nurture and sustain and how it actually translates into the tangible “goodwill” line in a merger or acquisition. Another way is to re-frame the scenario to highlight long-term threats, as Toby Heaps, CEO and Publisher, Corporate Knights did in a CBC interview when he cited the economic drain of chronic unemployment.

Many astute communicators and PR professionals serve as the company’s conscience by using these and other angles to push for ethical actions based on good business sense, which resonates with decision-makers. In doing so, they also strengthen the corporate message and its impact.

I’ve seen this approach used to persuade decision-makers to take ethical steps, such as restoring socially conscious programs, firing dishonest vendors and treating exiting employees as fairly as possible. Mark Schumann, a former IABC Chair, once referred to this role as being the “organization’s conscience and protector of the corporate soul.” When performed effectively, it’s likely averted many so-called “PR disasters.”

Unfortunately, this approach often fails in the first attempt or the PR team is alerted too late. Still, I suspect there are communicators, possibly in a bank somewhere, who continue to tenaciously pursue ethical practices that really “walk the talk.”

Although it’s usually below the radar, this too is PR and the polar opposite of soulless spinning.

What do you think? Have you seen evidence of this in your work?

8 DIY Tools for Visual Content Creation and Infographics

Since about 65 per cent of us are visual learners, it’s no wonder high quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles (according to customermagnetism). Visual content is also noted for boosting SEO performance and consistently appears as a “must have” on content strategy checklists.

If you have the budget or an in-house resource, it’s best to have a data visualization specialist create top-of-the-line visual content but this isn’t always possible. Fortunately, there is also a growing list of free or nominally priced online tools you can access to visually depict data and tell your story.  Here are some I’ve discovered for creating infographics, as well as word clouds and graphic timelines.

DIY Infographic Creation Tools:

  1. EasellyEasel.ly – Provides drop-and-drag templates called “Vhemes,” which  give you a framework for creating infographics that feature Venn diagrams and traditional graphs, as well as maps and pathways. You can easily customize them further by changing backgrounds/colours and inserting shapes, lines or icons from a range of categories (including people of varied demographics) or uploading your own images.
  2. piktochartPiktochart – Offers a choice of six free templates (with more available for an upgrade fee). You can customize your graphic by changing colors, themes, fonts or inserting/uploading icons/images. You can also create charts manually or by uploading CSV files.
  3. InfogramChartsInfogr.am – Still in beta, this easy-to-use tool comes with six templates for creating your own infographic or standalone graphs. You can enhance it by editing data and text and uploading images. I find it stands apart with its incredible range of 14 adaptable graph formats, which include progress gauges, tree maps, and word clouds, as well as bar and other standard charts and tables.  However, unlike some of the other tools, it lacks pre-fab icons.
  4. VisuallyEgVisually – Offers a range of templates that enable you to create infographics but they must be based on Twitter or Facebook data. According to econsultancy.com,  you can also order Visually infographics, which start from $1,495 and take at least 18 days to produce.
  5. GraphicDriverGraphicriver – This tool is not free but offers a variety of intricately designed templates that you can purchase for a licence fee as low as $6.00 and then customize to meet your needs.

Word Cloud Tools:wordle-tree

  1. Wordle – Generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The words are sized according to how frequently they appear in the selected chunk of text, with the largest point size used for words that appear more frequently in a selected chunk of text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.
  2. Tagxedo – Similar to Wordle, this tool gives you more control on what specific shape your text forms, as well as its colour scheme, orientation or font style.

Timeline Tools:

  1. Dipity – This tool enables you to easily create, share, embed and collaborate on developing a static or interactive timeline that can be integrated with video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and time stamps. (An alternative, more sophisticated  tool for creating multimedia timelines is Timeline JS)

Some Cautions

The work however starts long before you open the tool, when you….

  1. Decide the purpose of the infographic and what you want it to inspire the viewer to do.
  2. Identify an angle that speaks to people beyond your organization or client. Ideally, it should tell a story and try to answer a question (or questions) that someone, somewhere has likely asked or wants answered. (News hooks like human interest, novelty, drama, proximity or conflict might be a good place to start.)
  3. “Google” the web to source ideas and check for infographics with similar themes to ensure you create an original.
  4. Gather and validate stats, which may show: a sequence/process, relationships, before & after, comparisons, map…
  5. Clean, refine and cull the most compelling data points.
  6. Storyboard, sketch ideas and try out formats for graphs or images offline that you can bring to life online.

I know many designers cringe at the thought of  over zealous “suits” and others creating abominable results (like early websites with mismatched “ransom note” text that blinked on and off). Fortunately, many of these tools have built-in features to keep you on the right design track but to play it safe:

  • Keep text to a minimum by making your graphs and illustrations tell the story.
  • Restrict your colour scheme to a maximum of three core colours, plus black but avoid white backgrounds.
  • Keep it simple, by sticking to a core message and using a conservative number of elements that leaves the viewer with some blank spaces to rest their eyes.
  • Limit yourself to two font types, if possible and use a type’s weight (bold or light), italics or colour to emphasize a point, instead of  all capitals or underlined text.
  • Draw the viewer in by setting illustrations/icons to move from left to right (or the direction your audience reads), versus featuring a graphic of a person/animal running or looking to the left side of the screen.

What tools have you used? How did you apply them to your business needs?

Note: In researching this post, the following sources were particularly useful and worth checking for more relevant insights:

Breaking Barriers to Get Your Message Online

YourHealthYourWagEx3Your organization’s website is likely its lobby to the world, with gateways to pages that convey its historical rise to its current value proposition. For brand consistency and streamlined access, the best practice is to have a single website but sometimes I don’t find this viable.

If you’ve  ever tried to “renovate” or add an item/page to your website for a valid purpose, only to be halted by a rigid platform, a tight budget, limited resources or a backlog of other priorities — you know what I mean.

Blogs are noted for their flexibility and capacity to go into overtime when a crisis occurs, while your website or traditional channels may be too slow or inaccessible. The same premise applies to using a blogging platform to create a “pop-up” micro site, for a short-term need or a “workaround” to the main website.

TrilliumHallEgWhen do you need a pop-up microsite?  What about when…

  1. You need to promote an event in a tight time frame (such as a first-time public information event targeted at local residents)
  2. You need to launch an unconventional application or brand extension for your product or service (such as a multimedia venue a hospital wants to market to “healthy” people)
  3. You anticipate multiple updates for a quick pace build or a tiered campaign roll-out (such as a conference assembled in an insane time frame with fluctuating abstracts and speakers joining at a staggered pace)

For mavericks who “dare to challenge” convention, a pop-up site can also serve as a workaround for the above or other scenarios when your main website is:

  • Governed by an umbrella organization and your initiative is sure to exceed the pages, resources or customizations allocated to your division, department or franchise.
  • Hopelessly hard-coded and long overdue an upgrade
  • Managed by limited resources, with many requests ahead in the queue.

SustainPlantExI’ve turned to WordPress to quickly and efficiently build a micro site as a central communications conduit for some of the above scenarios and more.   [Here are the steps I’ve followed to create a pop-up site in WordPress but you can likely do the same in other blogging platforms.] Be sure however to check WordPress.com policies before you start to ensure you conform and there’s no surprises.

Have you created a microsite to meet a short-term or other need? Have you had success in other platforms? What challenges did you face? When do you think a pop-up site can prove invaluable and when should it be avoided?

Sixty-five Can’t be the New Forty-five — Until Respect for Time Aligns

ClockMix2From our mother’s first contraction and throughout our working lives, time is sacrosanct. Weekdays are a series of tightly coiled con calls and meetings with minimal buffers for overage or bio breaks. We even send our spouse outlook invites to book date nights, as we may never see them without the electronic reminder.

But when we cross the abyss at 65, we’re supposed to drop all these conventions. You see, time shouldn’t matter to seniors. At least I think that’s what service providers and our culture leads us to believe.

For example, when my active 88-year-old mother had a tumble, I learned:

  • The physiotherapist assigned to her senior’s complex would “show up” randomly for her  appointments with no advance notice. (Aside from the inconvenience, this could be privately disruptive should she feel under the weather or have company.)
  • The personal support worker might show up a half hour late for her scheduled home visit and expect mom to wait without being advised of the delay. (Mom waited 25 minutes once and then, thinking she’d been forgotten, left for her scheduled art class.)

I’ve also seen a wheel trans service show up and cart a devoted gentleman off midway through his Sunday church service. This happened on several occasions even though service times were carefully communicated at the time of booking, which was days in advance.

With scenarios like these, how can a fit 65-year-old live a 45-year-old lifestyle? How can they plan ahead or commit to any set time with confidence?

Certainly I’m grateful for the tightly stretched, high quality of care available in Ontario (and elsewhere) for an aging population and others with healthcare challenges. Asking for seniors and their time to also be given the same respect as others may be a luxury — or is it?

If we want to strive for fulfilling and productive lives well into our golden years, we need more than good health and marketing. Likely it will take more funding, resources and innovation to bring timing for seniors more in line with the rest of the world.

For those of us at the end of the baby boom, now may be the time to change perceptions and address challenges because arriving late for your performance, plane or sky diving class just won’t work in a 24/7 world.

How Do You Measure the Days in a Year?

Time to reflect back on 525,600 minutes, assess and plan for the year ahead.  We know it’s important to examine our own personal growth strides and professional results but what about the world beyond?

Increasingly companies are measuring and being measured for more than their financial output and stakeholders are asking: “Success at what cost?”  Should we use a similar scale to take stock of our own results? If we do, what would it look like?

Taking a page from triple-bottom line reporting, it might look something like the graphic below, with the core spheres and their guiding principles, with of course some cross-over between them. As with traditional corporate social responsibility, we’re not legally mandated to adhere to these principles but when we do, we contribute to sustainable well-being of our society and world for today and future generations.

PersonalCSR2

To assess 2012 against this model and set goals for the year ahead, here are some possible questions to ask or examples to identify:

Societal:

  • What specific networking actions helped others? When did you tap into your network for support? (Did you “take” more than “give”?)
  • Did you mentor or provide support to someone at an earlier stage in their career?
  • How did you connect with and nurture relationships with your family and close friends?
  • How did you volunteer or “give back” locally, professionally or even globally? How much time, in-kind support or resources did you provide?
  • Did you treat co-workers, staff and management fairly and ethically? When you had to make hard business decisions, did you take the most humane and respectful route? What could you have done better?

Personal:

  • Did you take steps to optimize your health through diet, exercise, sleep, medical check-ups and other recommended practices? Did you meet (or approach) your fitness goals for the year?
  • Did you feel like you made a viable contribution at work and home this year? Did your efforts make a difference beyond your organization or could they?
  • Did you challenge yourself to learn new skills and what level of mastery did you reach?
  • Did you take a course or tap other resources to expand your knowledge? What were the 3 most important things you learned?
  • How engaged were you within and outside your workplace? At what points did you feel particularly valued, respected or part of a community?
  • What did you do that was particularly innovative or creative this year (at work or elsewhere)?
  • What were your 3 most noted achievements? What goals are carrying over to next year?

To dig deeper in this sphere, you may want to check Eileen Chadnick’s 12 questions to get the jump on the year ahead, which appeared in the Globe and Mail or  Finding Meaning at Work Even if your Job is Dull , a recent HBR post.

Financial:

  • Did you meet your personal compensation goals for the year (in terms of salary, bonus and other perks)?
  • Did you maximize your investment opportunities and take full advantage of RSPs, tax-free savings accounts, RESPs and other financial savings options? Where could you improve?
  • If you had a budget, did you stick to it or where did you go astray?
  • Did you research, compare costs to make sensible purchasing decisions? (Did you pay $100 or more on anything you quickly regretted?)
  • Did you make ethical financial choices personally and at work (where applicable)? If relevant, did you practice good governance at work?

Environmental:

  • Did you reduce, recycle and reuse items within your home this year and if so, how much?
  • Do you know your personal or family’s carbon footprint and what did you do to reduce it in your daily lifestyle? (If not, you may want to measure it through zerofootprint and set a reduction plan for 2013. Alternatively, you can calculate your footprint and amount to offset it at BC’s Lifestyle Carbon Calculator.)
  • Did you support any community efforts to improve the environment? (If not, what is your community doing to reduce its environmental impact and what role might you play in the coming year?)

Put this into a carefully crafted instrument and we could have a personal scorecard to measure our year, as well as identify imbalances and growth opportunities for the coming year.

Caveat: Please note, I’m not a professional coach and don’t profess to be one. I’m posing these questions simply to scratch the surface on how we might want to consider integrating CSR practices and sustainable thinking into our own lives.

Should Curbing Violence Start with Words?

This summer, we’ve been horrified by tragic mass shootings in Wisconsin and Colorado.  Closer to home, several senseless gunfire incidents have jolted Toronto. We shake our heads, grieve for the victims and then move back to business.

The problem is business, particularly marketing, often means talking about the new killer app, killer collection or even killer strategies, which if executed well, will generate multiple hits and create die-hard fans. Sometimes we reduce the impact to just assault with a genteel alternative, such as “kick-ass,” as in kick-ass campaign but it’s still hostile. And as the scope widens, we talk about “ad wars” and “annihilating the competition.”  Similarly when a firm’s reputation is on the line, we set-up a “war room.”

I don’t think this practice is exclusive to English.  I once discovered “blood bath” and other violent terms peppered throughout business copy I was editing for an Asian client.  As blood bath didn’t suit North American business conventions, I substituted with more precise terms to describe the urgency and high stakes. (The client described my editing as “making it more polite.”)

Sure business is competitive and a successful approach stands out and is often extreme but must it be aligned with murder or violence?

More importantly: what’s the fallout of violent rhetoric?  In the wake of the 2011 Tuscan shootings, Rev. Barbara Kaufmann covered this practice in a Huffington Post article and how it is often subtly or subliminally used in marketing to prompt action or even aggression.  She also cited Deborah Schaffer, a Montana State University professor who has studied inflammatory and prejudicial speech since the nineties and states that “language can be used to stir up and manipulate emotions…sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.”

Am I reading more into the marketing language we frequently use with no ill intentions? Maybe. But in a world where we are starting to recognize how bullying scars a child for life (or worse) and unprovoked shootings appear to be rising, maybe it’s time we took violence out of the marketing vernacular.

An IABC colleague once pondered different ways say awesome. Maybe it’s time to take this further and seek alternatives to “the killer approach.” What about scratching the surface with….

  • the Ultimate, Ideal, Exemplary or Definitive or ….versus the killer app, collection or strategy?
  • Opportunities, References, Exposure points or …. versus earned media hits?
  • Extreme, Lifelong, Enduring, Resolute or …. versus die-hard fans?
  • Insight hub, Pulse Room, Information Centre or …. versus war room?

What alternatives can you suggest? Where else can we address violence in marketing lingo?

Did “Thank You” Get Archived?

 In recent years, I’ve noticed a growing scarcity of the phrase “thank you,” particularly between internal stakeholders and peers.  Sure we thank our customers/clients and external influencers  but when it comes to employees or volunteers, there seems to be a top-down belief that verbal gratitude for “doing your job” is irrelevant.This may, in part, be reflected in Ceridian Canada’s recent Pulse of Talent survey which found 44 per cent of respondents are either not satisfied (22 per cent) or indifferent (22 per cent) with the level of recognition they currently receive at work.

In some cases, I think this tendency stems from litigation-weary executives, who cynically lump “thank-you” in the same group as “sorry” — that is, a cause for suspicion or softening of their authority.  Case in point was an executive who forced me to justify why I wanted a “thank you” line at the end a letter asking franchisees to take extra steps to manage a vendor challenge (and protect the corporate brand). Similarly, I heard of a hospital VP forbidden by her CEO to thank staff for investing extensive effort to prepare for a stringent accreditation process.

Sadly, thanks is often replaced by citing tiny shortfalls of a job that’s generally well done and may even exceed objectives. Alternatively, there are those who grill employees (or even volunteers) in meetings but quietly thank them behind closed doors.

I’m not sure when this started. Maybe a time crunched world with many people agitated by email acknowledgments filling their in boxes prompted “thank you’s” dismissal? For some, I think there’s a tendency just to cut to the chase with “no time for pleasantries.”

But is that all “thank you” is? Hardly.

For one, isn’t it just common courtesy and good manners? Oddly enough though, a quick Google search for articles linking business etiquette with “thank you” came up blank.

There is however evidence that it makes good business sense.

O. C. Tanner built its organization around “The Carrot Principle” and data demonstrating that the most successful managers provide their employees with frequent and effective recognition.  They also use it to engage people, retain talent and accelerate performance.

Companies like this demonstrate the value of appreciation in a formal format but what about in casual exchanges?

2010 study (by Grant and Gino) published in the Journal of  Personality and Social Psychology found that people who received thank you emails after helping a stranger with a cover letter, were 66 per cent more likely to help this person again with a similar task because “they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.”  This sentiment had a lingering effect as 55 per cent of the same individuals responded to a similar call for help, from a different person, the next day.

Is it not then in an organization’s best interest to boost morale and ongoing engagement with a sincere “thank you” in meetings and correspondence?

Is my experience isolated or did “thank you” get archived? If so, here is one study to counter the skeptics and back up the value of gratitude. (Please tell me if you know of more.) With them, maybe we can help reverse this potential trend and in doing so, maintain and build support among our internal teams and our most vital ambassadors. What do you think?

Why Reactive Letters to the Editor Often Get Derailed

Among life’s certainties, negative news follows closely on the heels of death and taxes.  This certainty keeps communicators on their toes, as they strive to continuously mitigate the risks for their organization or at least hope to net out with a balance toward the positive.

But what about stinging, factually erroneous coverage that comes out of the blue? This is particularly disheartening for obscure organizations or sectors that rarely hit the news media radar. I’d suggest it’s also an opportune time for these types of organizations to “step into” an existing news cycle, with potentially a receptive platform to tell their story.

The caveat is not all scenarios warrant a response or are likely to create a beneficial result; so carefully assess your options. (Our IABC chapter faced such a decision a few years ago and decided not to respond. We noted the negativity centered on subjective opinions and we believed most readers would dismiss it because the writer was known for consistent bitterness.)

When a response is the best action, a seasoned tactic is a Letter to the Editor.  I’ve seen and written such responses that made it to print with positive outcomes. Essentially, you need to straddle three hurdles to keep the letter on track:

1. Keep it positive & objective – What I’ve found works is to position it as providing helpful and factual information to augment the offending article (i.e., delicately sprinkle the commentary with sugar). Even if the writer is blatantly wrong or overtly malicious (sometimes due to a hidden agenda), it’s probably not safe to publicly tell them so.

2. Keep it short – A Google search reveals recommended word counts for a letter to the editor range from 150 to 300 words, with the average about 200 – 250 words.

3. Keep it prompt – Strike while the interest is there by sending the letter as soon as possible, ideally within two days of the article’s appearance or less.

To communicators, this is rote knowledge but best practices run amuck when the CEO/President/Executive Director weighs in. Although most leaders accept their association with each message their organization issues, it can hit hard when their name is clearly printed out. And here’s how their response often plays out against these best practices…

1. Positive? – “We must correct them.” – It’s hard for a leader not to be ignited when their organization is unfairly beaten up. They may react by peppering your copy with emotions and possibly direct accusations.

2. Short? – “We need to explain things to them so they get it right this time.” – And so the flood gates open with exhaustive detail as they attempt to edit your copy to cover every angle.  Given their passion for the topic, they might find it tough to imagine the letter being rejected due to length. You can gently suggest it may survive but the paper’s editor may cut it down by amputating key sections to leave diluted messages or fragments with skewed meanings, possibly pulled out of context. (Of course, the mere mention of this possibility may re-start issue one, with a few more heated phrases.)

3. Timely? – “I need to run it by the executive just to be sure…” – This means navigating tight schedules to cycle the letter (and edits) through several hands. By the time the letter is perfect, the story may be history (or these days, the paper may have closed).

Alternatively, the leader may get cold feet after looking at the edited letter (which is now long and maybe slightly explosive) — and simply cancel it. I’m not sure how many of these letters are abandoned midway but I’d suggest the number is high.

Surely writing one of these letters challenges the greatest rapport and trust between an executive and their chief communicator or agency. But without a response, the fallout may unfold with the initial inaccuracies fueling more rumors, more negative coverage and a damaged reputation, leading to sales declines, market price drops, disenchanted employees…. With so much at stake, what can we do to keep these letters on track and with them, an organization’s reputation?  I welcome comments and ideas ….