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On April 21, 2022, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia participated in the inaugural Global Brand Convergence, a free online experience for higher education students, faculty, and professionals around the world in public relations and marketing. Garcia participated in a panel discussion on “Crisis in an Enduring Pandemic,” alongside renowned communicator and crisis advisor Dr. Guanpeng (Steven) Dong.

Conceived by Jacqueline Strayer, the Global Brand Convergence was designed to connect and create a community to share ideas, innovations, and concepts to advance them in the classroom and in the profession. The inaugural event boasted more than 500 registered attendees from 50 countries and 54 colleges and universities.

In their session, Garcia and Dr. Dong discussed lessons learned from of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled by the US and by China and several core principles and best practices in crisis response. Garcia and Dr. Dong have worked together in several capacities over the past 10 years, and in 2019 Dr. Dong was awarded the Logos Institute Outstanding Leader Award.

Watch the full panel discussion, moderated by Iliana Axiotiades here:

In addition to Garcia’s participation in the event, Logos Consulting Group was proud to be one of the sponsors for this annual event. To learn more about the Global Brand Convergence, visit https://www.globalbrandconvergence.com/.

The following is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia published in the May 2022 issue of PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics

Effective crisis communication can help organizations maintain trust, inspire confidence, and build competitive advantage.

The pandemic, the Great Resignation, political polarization in the United States and war in Europe have made the need for effective crisis communication even greater.

Increasingly PR professionals are being seen not only as communicators, but also as business problem-solvers, who can help their clients navigate the challenges of maintaining the trust of stakeholders in rapidly-changing times where the stakes are increasingly high.

But PR people don’t deserve a seat at the leadership table simply because of our function. We need to earn that seat. And that means we need to elevate our game and become a respected voice when CEOs and other leaders are under stress and worried about their enterprise and their legacy. Take, for example, the common struggle PR people have with lawyers. And how easy it is for CEOs to take lawyers’ well-intentioned advice.

Making the business case

Over more than 40 years I have advised lawyers and been hired through lawyers to advise our mutual clients. I have taught lawyers through bar associations and have trained individual lawyers in crisis management. And I have fought with lawyers; sometimes I have won those fights. And I have learned from lawyers.

A typical interaction is this: In the CEO’s office the lawyer will give all the legal reasons to say as little as possible – ideally nothing – in the early phases of a crisis. The CEO will then look at me.

My reply is not to make the PR case, but to make the business case:

“I believe you have received excellent legal advice. And you should take it seriously. But please recognize that you don’t have a legal problem, at least not yet. You have a business problem. And you need to make a business decision. You need to consider the risk of legal liability seriously. But not exclusively.

You should also consider the consequences of losing the trust of those who matter to you: your employees, customers, investors, regulators, and others. Silence now will be interpreted as indifference, or worse, and will lead to loss of trust of those who matter most to the company. You can protect yourself from legal liability that will play out years from now, but lose the company in the process. Or you can attend to the immediate needs and concerns of your stakeholders now, in ways that manage future legal liability.”

It’s very hard for the lawyers to object to that. But the key is that we need to be in the room in the first place, to make the case directly to the CEO in the lawyer’s presence. Otherwise, the CEO could reflexively take the lawyer’s advice, without considering the short-term implications. And we’d then be tasked with implementing a suboptimal response.

The CEO then typically asks me to advise on what we could say that would pass legal muster. I ask the lawyer about categories of possible communication:

  • Acknowledge: Can we acknowledge awareness of what has happened? The answer is usually Yes, but very carefully. My reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we express empathy toward those who are affected? The lawyer usually says, Yes, but we need to be careful to not admit blame. Same reply by me:  Great. Let’s do it carefully, in a way that doesn’t admit blame.
  • Can we declare our values? When the lawyers object, I point out that we typically have them published on our website.
  • Can we describe the overall approach we will take to address the crisis and resolve it? The lawyers usually say we need to be very careful. I again reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we make some kind of commitment? How about a procedural commitment: We’ll update you when we know more. Or a substantive commitment: We’ll get to the bottom of this and fix it.

In essence, when the lawyers say we should say as little as possible or say nothing, they are channeling an unspoken fear that the company’s leaders will say something dumb; something that will not only increase risks in future litigation but also energize adversaries, regulators, and others to come after the company.

I don’t want the company to say something dumb either. But between self-defeating silence and self-destructive blabbering, there’s lots of room to maneuver. This recognition often leads to the lawyers and communicators collaborating early in the crisis to find the balance. It doesn’t need to be adversarial or either-or.

Managing the choices

At a high level of practice, crisis communication is a rigorous process of managing the choices we make with a view on the desired outcome. The discipline is that leaders should never make choices based on personal preference; they usually do so in ways that make them feel less vulnerable that that can infuriate stakeholders.

Rather, we need to have clear criteria on the choices leaders make – of what to do and say, of when to do and say it; of whom to say it to; of who should do the talking. The more rigorous the approach, the more likely we’ll be seen to be business problem-solvers, and to be in the room before decisions are made.

 

Read the full article and more here.

On January 21, 2022, Helio Fred Garcia was featured in an article on Communication Intelligence about a recent webinar Garcia led for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The webinar, titled “Maintaining and Restoring Trust in Times of Great Change,” focused on the drivers of trust and techniques to maintain and restore trust in times of crisis.

In this interview, Garcia shared some of the core ideas and key takeaways from his webinar on January 20.

“Trust is the natural consequence of three related but distinct factors,” Garcia explained. He then described each of these factors in detail: promises kept, expectations met, and values lived. When you take these drivers of trust seriously, you are more likely to ask the right questions and make smart decisions in a crisis.

Garcia also explained one of the key reasons why organizations and leaders struggle to respond to crises effectively.

“Most failed crises arise when leaders fail to think of the crisis from the perspective of stakeholder expectations, but rather start from their own personal preferences, fears, anxieties, etc. This is the case in celebrated failed crisis response, from Volkswagen to BP to United Airlines to Trump COVID,” Garcia explained. “Making decisions in a crisis from personal preference is a mark of poor leadership and nearly always makes the crisis worse.”

Click here to read the full article.

On September 30, 2021, Logos advisor Katie Garcia was quoted in Platform Magazine on crisis communication in the age of social media. Platform Magazine is a student-run online public relations magazine based at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Garcia was interviewed by the magazine after she participated in a panel discussion at the university about what a career in crisis communication looks like on September 20.

In the article, Garcia defines what a crisis is and what is at stake in a crisis: “A crisis is a turning point where you can no longer operate as usual, and depending on how you respond, you can either gain competitive advantage or suffer meaningful harm.”

She also noted that in the age of social media, the core principles of crisis communication remained the same, even as the execution of crisis communication has somewhat changed. “Now there is an expectation that we are going to engage on those platforms, engage quickly and at times engage in particular ways,” she explained. “The expectation always is that the organization [involved] in the crisis cares. The way you demonstrate that you care has changed, and that is where social media comes in. It means that you need to reach out further and demonstrate care on different platforms than before.”

Read the full article here.

On September 3, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in Loss Prevention Magazine on how 7-Eleven has invested in technology to better execute crisis communication.

 

7-Eleven has heavily invested in both crisis communication processes and software to ensure both company leadership and franchisees can share information with each other and report on specific needs and issues.

 

Garcia noted the importance of having multiple communication channels available for times of crisis to lessen any communication gaps in times of crisis. “You also need to plan for redundancy in the manner of delivering messages. If phone lines are down if the email is down, you still need to communicate,” he explained.

 

Read the full article here.

On July 21, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was mentioned in NeoMarketing Podcast on civility and decency in crisis communication.

In the podcast, hosts Pritch Pritchard and Kyle Golding of The Golding Group, discussed how communication professionals like Helio Fred Garcia and Jim Lukaszewski highlight the importance of civility and decency in crisis communication.

Click here to listen to the podcast here.

On July 6, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was featured in NYU School of Professional Studies Divisional Highlights for his teaching engagement at the 200th Military Police Command Hosts Detainee Operations Training Event (DOTE) in June.

Garcia is an adjunct associate professor in the MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication (PRCC) program within the NYU SPS Division of Programs in Business.

Garcia, one of two civilian speakers at the three day event, was invited by Senior Military Officers to share lessons learned on crisis communications with over 350 high-ranking military leaders and US Department of Defense (DoD) officials.

“I was asked to provide guidance on how not to repeat the mistakes that were made from a public relations perspective at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo Bay, which ultimately hurt the reputation of the US around the world,” he explained. “I gave lessons from my basic crisis communication course, including the Abu Ghraib case study that I teach in the NYU SPS (PRCC) program, and it was extremely well received.”

Garcia, who has been a guest lecturer for several different branches of the military, reflected on his experience at the event.

“What is fascinating about members of the military is how open they are to a civilian perspective on how to do things better,” he noted. “The senior officers have deep life experiences, but I have yet to find one who was not eager to learn more. They are more than warriors; they are leaders.”

Read the full article here.

On July 1, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was featured in Reputation America on crisis management strategies and steps for leaders to mitigate crises effectively.

The article excerpts a speech given by Garcia on crisis management. The article includes excerpts on how to define a crisis, types of crisis readiness, common crisis missteps, how to manage social media in a crisis, and how to ask the right questions in the right order to get through a crisis well.

“The biggest mistake is to attempt to improvise in the crisis and ask the wrong questions in the wrong order. Concern about how to deflect blame or protect one’s own job is not the best strategy in crisis communication management. Companies need to resolve the stress and be rigorous in managing crises,” said Garcia.

Read the full article here.

This is an excerpt of a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published in the May issue of PRSA’s Strategy & Tactics.

A foundational principle of any organization’s crisis response is that indifference to the situation is toxic. Leaders must show they care. This was true before COVID-19 and it will become even more essential as we recover from the pandemic, which has been the most disruptive crisis most of us have ever faced.

To be clear, the need for leaders to care during times of crisis is neither sentimental nor soft. Rather, caring is a necessary discipline for leaders — a fact made clear when we analyze the factors that build trust and reputation.

For all organizations, a common goal in every crisis is to maintain or restore the trust of stakeholders — which include investors, employees, customers, suppliers and increasingly, communities. And it’s much harder to restore trust after it’s been lost than to maintain that trust in the first place.

Trust is the natural result of promises fulfilled, expectations met and values lived. When people experience a company fulfilling its promises — whether those promises are explicit or merely implied by a brand’s identity — their trust in the organization remains or increases. When people see a brand break its promises, on the other hand, their trust in the organization falls.

Similarly, when customer expectations for a company are met, trust in the brand remains or increases. But when leaders or companies fail to meet those expectations, trust erodes.

Such expectations can be set by the company itself, through explicit or implicit promises and/or through precedents set by the organization’s past behavior. Consumer expectations also derive from laws and social mores, which change over time. Company leaders should always stay abreast of social expectations.

When it comes to the trust that rises or falls according to the values lived by a business, the company’s stated values set an expectation. When people experience a company living up to its stated values, their trust remains; conversely, when they see a company failing to live up to its stated values, their trust diminishes.

One of the disciplines of effective crisis response is to get the decision criterion — the basis of choice — right. A poorly handled crisis often results from leaders making decisions based on what scares them least. In times of crisis, leaders need to make decisions based on the tested criteria that determine trust.

 

Caring builds trust

When deciding how to respond in a crisis, leaders do well by first identifying their most important constituents and then asking themselves: What would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do in this circumstance?

Reasonable people don’t take their cues from internet trolls or bots, from critics or adversaries or even from the news media or social media. Instead, reasonable people respond to those they trust and to those whose trust they need for themselves. Reasonable people have expectations that are appropriate to the crisis, to the harm that people have experienced and to the kind of organization that is experiencing the crisis.

A responsible company asks what reasonable people would expect it to do, which leads to the company having a fuller array of predictably helpful options.

Consider, for example, the scenario that an explosion has occurred at a factory. Reasonable people won’t expect a responsible company to immediately know what has caused the blast. Reporters will ask for an explanation and people on social media will speculate, but stakeholder trust won’t dissolve simply because the company doesn’t know the cause at the time of the explosion.

Reasonable people will expect the company to acknowledge what has happened, to work with first responders to rescue those inside the factory and to provide for the families of employees who were injured or killed.

We can inventory the specific expectations of different stakeholders — including employees and more particularly, those workers directly affected by the disaster; customers and more precisely, those who have used a certain product from a certain retailer on a certain date.

Regardless of the nature of crisis an organization faces, every interested party shares a common expectation: that the organization and its leaders will care. Customers, employees, investors and others expect leaders to care that the organization’s processes, systems or judgment have failed; that as a consequence people have been placed at risk and need to be protected; and that the company may need to make changes to prevent similar crises from occurring again.

In any crisis, what it means for leaders to care can vary according to the circumstances, but the need to care is universal. At a basic level, caring means that leaders mitigate any ongoing risk to people and help them out of the crisis.

 

Building for the future 

In the past year, half a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and 30 million others have been infected by the virus. The pandemic crashed the economy, forcing hardships on many people. Collectively, our mental health has suffered from the stress of the coronavirus outbreak, including the strain of being confined in our homes. How we work has changed, perhaps forever. At the same time, social and political divisions seem to be growing, not shrinking.

Having suffered these hardships, people are fragile, exhausted and vulnerable, even as they try to feel hopeful for the future.

Leaders should know that people need them to care, now more than ever. Some leaders might feel tempted to assume (or to hope) that everything has already returned to normal, so they can step on the accelerator for their businesses. And in non-crisis environments, that may be the case. But for leaders of organizations still recovering from the pandemic, the need for caring has only increased.

Caring requires empathy; and empathy requires humility. Leaders who have successfully guided their organizations through the pandemic have demonstrated humility within themselves and expressed empathy for others. As we move into recovery, we can follow their example.

Read full article here.

On April 28, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was interviewed in The American Coin-Op Podcast about Coming Back from A Crisis.

Garcia discusses how crises follow predictable patterns, how much harm within a crisis is self-inflicted, and how to win back the trust and confidence of those who matter in a crisis.

Listen to full the podcast here: