• Stephanie Gray

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

And building one will actually make your company stronger

What would you do if your company experienced a security breach right now? What would you tell your clients and employees? What if a board member created a storm with a questionable tweet or an executive was accused of harassment? How would you handle the media? What would you say to the public? Who would even make those decisions?

It’s hard to believe any company made it through 2020 without a crisis plan, but the truth is 2 out 5 companies don’t have one, and 95% of business leaders say their crisis management capabilities need improvement.

"There’s nothing quite like a crisis simulation to expose leaders to the existential threat of their own decision paralysis."

And while a good crisis plan includes both operational and communications responses, most companies that have a crisis plan ignore the communications part altogether.

In today’s digital world a crisis can go from 0 to “cancel” in just hours. Building a crisis plan without a communications strategy is not to build one at all.

The good news is that there are some real benefits for crisis planning, even if you are lucky enough to never have to deploy one.

For one thing, the exercise of crisis planning forces you (and your leaders) to address tough questions about real threats to your business. A thorough risk assessment will expose vulnerabilities early so you can protect yourself. Just knowing where you need extra support will help ensure you are making smarter business and investment decisions for the future.

Additionally, the planning process will encourage executive alignment on a company or firm’s position on critical issues. That’s especially important in partner-based organizations like a law firm, which lead by committee. There’s nothing quite like a crisis simulation to expose leaders to the existential threat of their own decision paralysis.

Of course, you can’t anticipate every possible scenario that could lead to a crisis. Trust us, we’ve tried. But knowing the scenarios that are most likely and most damaging to your business is important. And planning for them gives you the skills and understanding as a leadership team to handle disasters you didn’t anticipate. Even in a totally unexpected situation, once you’ve been through planning, you know what it takes to get the job done, and what’s at stake if you fail.

Odds are you’ll need a plan. So make it a priority and start today.

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  • Stephanie Gray

Woman sleeping at desk in modern workspace

Remember when sheltering-in-place meant a two-week experiment in remote work, sourdough starters and endless Carole Baskin references? Remember how quickly that changed?

As the pandemic evolved, so too did office mandates and many companies were quick to adopt clear and persistent remote schedules. Those who could, transitioned relatively seamlessly to Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. After all most of the work for professional service provider can – and regularly is - performed outside of the office.

Job well done, management! Across industries, 83 percent of office workers by June 2020 indicated that work-from-home plans were successful. Nearly half of all workers who can work from home said they prefer a hybrid of remote and office work, and just 1 in 4 said they prefer to be in the office 100 percent of the time. Lawyers, in particular, are loving the flexibility.

But the return-to-office conversation was inevitable, and now, 18 months after the onset of the pandemic, companies now face the important task of establishing back-to-office protocols that protect their work product, their employees and their bottom lines.

These new protocols are more complex than those that came before them, and so is communicating them to your workforce. So where do you start?

1. Ask for feedback

The best decisions are always guided by data and right now a critical data point are the opinions of your talent–your internal clients. Millions of workers are quitting their jobs this year in what some are calling the Great Resignation. If you haven’t polled your lawyers and staff about your back-to-office plans, especially in light of all the recent changes and equivocations around safety precautions and risks, that should be your first priority. Make sure the surveys are anonymous, that the results are transparent and, above all, that you honor what you hear.

2. Get your leaders on board

Global policies are notoriously difficult to institute at law firms, where more junior lawyers and staff are subject to the working styles and preferences of equity partners and practice group leaders. Meet with your firm’s top influencers early and be sure to ask if you have their buy-in. Address any concerns you hear head-on. If you make your leaders a part of your communications process from the beginning, you can set more consistent expectations across the firm.

3. Provide context

In the early days of the pandemic, company policies were vague because they had to be. “Stay home and stay safe,” signaled an employer’s commitment to protecting its workforce. Employees didn’t expect their leaders to have all the answers. Today, people want to know what lies ahead. When communicating your policy, provide details about how you came to your decision, what factors you considered in setting your policy and what people can expect in the future. If possible, share how and when you plan to reevaluate any policies.

4. Keep talking about it

Let people know your policy right away and remind them of it often. Include reminders about the policy in regular leadership communications and encourage open discussion among partners, associates and staff about how your policy is affecting their work. Keep a close pulse on the conversation to make sure there is no confusion or misinformation circulating and that you are addressing concerns about your policy quickly. Firms are often victims of poor internal communications. If that sounds familiar, now is a good time to firm up an internal communications strategy. And make sure to build in your ongoing response to the pandemic.

5. Stand behind your decision

Don’t bow to the pressure of the law firm herd mentality. Just because other leading firms have decided to take a different approach than you does not mean they are right and you are wrong. Law firms who make a first move on important issues often revel in the glory of positive media attention, and those who stay quiet or follow the pack often risk negative publicity. Be mindful as well to communicate your external policy to clients with confidence. Some might second-guess your decision. But ultimately, your policy is in service to their needs, too. That’s the message they should be hearing loud and clear.

No matter what your back-to-office policy is, a good communications plan can make or break it. As the COVID landscape changes, so too do the expectations of your workforce. More than ever they will look to you for clear, consistent guidance. If you aren’t providing it, you could be losing credibility and trust with key members of your firm, prospective talent and outside observers.

Contact us to learn more about how we can take some of the stress out of communicating your back-to-office plans.

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  • Stephanie Gray

Media relations is a wonderful tool for building exposure, especially for those who work in professional services, like accountants, lawyers and consultants. Getting your name and commentary in the press establishes credibility, because it comes with an implicit endorsement from the media outlet that you are a leading expert on the topic.

It also helps your company’s exposure through search rankings and, let’s be honest, it feels good to see your name in print (or online).

One of the most common excuses I hear from professional service firms not to engage with media is fear of alienating clients. The general concern is that someone from the firm will see something that diverges from their client’s position, and that client will angrily redirect all of their business elsewhere. It sounds a bit dramatic, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some have lost – or nearly lost – clients over less.

Even if that sounds totally plausible to you, the fact is, there are plenty of safe ways to engage with reporters without risking client relationships. Here are a few examples:

1. Provide context or explanation without taking a stance. Often laws and policies that cause controversy on the public stage can be hard for non-experts to follow. If you have expertise on an issue that is at the center of the news media’s attention, but has your client base divided, offer to help reporters better understand the nuances of the issue and their various implications on those affected without taking a decisive stance on the issue. Even if you don't end up quoted in an article, you can build goodwill with reporters that will lead to future opportunities.

2. Offer commentary about trends. Provide perspective on issues that are trending in your area of expertise, like new tax proposals, legal cases under review or growing market forces that are likely to affect client decisions. What’s on the horizon that your client base should be aware of or thinking about and what about it do they need to know? Even just raising a reporter's attention to these issues can lead to good media coverage for you and your company.

3. Contribute original content. Write articles about relevant topics and submit them for publication to industry magazines and newsletters. These outlets are often understaffed and appreciate contributed articles from authors who have credibility on issues that matter to their readers. Most will edit for style and length, but once you agree on a topic, they leave the content to the writer. That means you can exclude anything you wouldn’t want your clients to read.

Finally, however you choose to engage with media, don’t underestimate the value of media training, which teaches you how to maintain control of any conversation and give powerful interviews while adhering to a refined or limited set of messages.

Working with reporters can be intimidating for those who haven’t done it, especially when your business requires you to show discretion, but don't let fear get in the way of your success. If you want to learn more about how to implement a media relations program without alienating your clients, contact us. We can help you design effective PR strategies that make sense for you and your business.

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