It’s not so often that a company actually gets rewarded for its ability to handle a crisis situation. But JetBlue has done just that and has nice article, JetBlue response praised, in today’s San Francisco Chronicle by David Lazarus. I found the following old notes on crisis communications from when I first started in PR. Most of the fundamentals are there but there’s a distinct difference that I would argue separates JetBlue’s success in dealing with this situation from the norm: the person driving the plan (at least according the article) is JetBlue’s CEO, David Neeleman, rather the PR department. PR can of course define and execute the plan, and make recommendations about business choices that would confront the situation, but deciding to give customer vouchers for delayed flights and taking out ads in newspapers around the country to apologize is something that needs buy-in from the top of an organization.
The point: similar to telling a green or sustainable business story, a bottom-up approach where things start and end in the communications department doesn’t go too far in a crisis. You need support from the top. Even better, you need the management to be the advocates. Even if you don’t make a perfect decision, your business will almost always be rewarded for sincerely confronting a situation from the top. My old notes…
Crisis Communication Plan
A. Discuss the facts. There is a quick and simple way to deliver a fix to all of the users that would be affected. Performance problems will be pre-empted.
B. Situation. Press and analysts are following product progress very carefully; any bug or problem will be identified by product followers extremely quickly.
C. Strategy. Confront the situation openly, honestly and quickly with key audiences. Do not attempt to keep the “problem” quiet.
- Appoint key executives to crisis communication team; appoint one member of the team as primary contact between team and public; appoint a secondary contact for issues where primary spokesperson is not available.
- Ensure all employees are educated about crisis procedures.
- Create press materials and messaging to communicate situation to all key audiences: employees, customers, vendors, and media and analysts.
- Appoint agency team to continually monitor the media for signs of escalation; if the situation escalates, be prepared to quickly make adjustments.
- Make the situation a management priority; every key decision maker must be available to act and meet quickly if needed.
D. Message. The situation will be fixed before any customers are impacted. Use this as an opportunity, not a threat. Showcase great company leadership, and call attention to the ability to act quickly and honestly, thus increasing corporate visibility in a positive way and strengthening the brand image. Technology companies often hide problems and lose customer loyalty; confronting the problem and showing integrity and honesty to the customers will be a key message and way to garner respect among the audience.
E. The situation has been resolved. Put together a post-crisis summary report, including the crisis cause, extent and tone of media coverage, suggested improvements to the crisis response process, ways to implement those changes, and possible alterations to company policy and procedures.
I recently sat down with veteran Silicon Valley journalist Eric Auchard for his observations on the intersection of technology and energy industry reporting. Eric is the chief technology correspondent at Reuters. When he’s not covering industry giants like Google, eBay, Yahoo! and Apple, he’s following the venture capital industry and covering disruptive and emerging technologies and companies. How does clean tech fit in? It’s disruptive, emerging and flowing with new venture dollars.
Eric’s observations reinforced the reason behind starting this blog. Whatever you want to call clean tech, it is, as he puts it, “a category that blurs the boundaries between industries and is hard for the media to define exactly.” The industry needs to be covered from all corners: regulatory, energy and tech. The same way that many clean tech industry executives and PR people don’t have expertise in all of these areas, neither do many reporters. And that’s what makes this exciting.
Swain: What’s caught your attention with clean tech?
Auchard: Traditional computer and tech investors are embracing energy as a subject; they’re applying the same business logic and application of ideas that they used to build the tech industry. So many people have a play in this and they are coming at it from all sides – energy, environment, tech, etc. “Clean tech” to many reporters is euphemistic sounding. It should be called energy and environmental technologies, or renewable energy for short.
What’s your first experience to clean tech and sustainability issues?
Twenty-five years ago the one science course I took at college at Berkeley was with Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld, who is now a guru for many in the ‘clean-tech’ movement. Even then he was talking about the intersection of science, economics and conservation.
That’s interesting; is clean tech becoming more like computer tech?
Silicon Valley could be seen as shoehorning clean tech into Silicon Valley business models rather than following the more science-based route. This begs the questions of which is the right way.
What are you hearing in the field?
One of the biggest challenges for clean tech startups is finding top management teams. People from the computer field are finding their way into industry. In the past there were a lot of scientists and ideas but the energy industry needed the startup culture and constant innovation inherent in tech. This is what’s changing under the radar: veteran tech managers and a startup culture are coming together.
What are some of the more promising things you’re seeing?
I’m hearing more about the prospect of increased alternative energy IPOs in 2008. VCs are actually starting to talk about getting their money back. A lot of portfolio companies that we’ve yet to hear about are more like science projects. Ambitious things are happening. And there’s a lot of energy and a crazy willingness to try things that have been missing from the industry previously. This is a good sign that there is more to come. It’s a good old fashioned brawl involving lots of industries, lots of powerful people, and some big problems. This isn’t a place just for do-gooders. For a reporter, it’s hard not to love such stories.
How does this compare with the coverage of the computer industry?
There are different challenges bringing tech into the energy industry, such as a bureaucratic vs. entrepreneurial mindset. Also, there are no anti-trust degrees barring oil companies and oil producing countries from driving prices down to undermine alternative technologies. Big oil could be compared to how telecom used to be viewed in Silicon Valley. I remember how disparaging Intel’s Andy Grove used to be about the telecom industry. The tension with oil companies feels similar.
As a PR person, it’s hard to find the right contact for a clean tech story; any suggestions?
Energy reporters are used to covering things in certain ways and they’re still adjusting to the way Silicon Valley companies use PR. Bringing tech ideas to market is still uncomfortable for a lot of people who have been covering the energy industry. PR needs to help journalists find analysts and independent experts to put a clean tech story in perspective. Environmental and energy issues are highly local, regulated and concentrated. At the same time that tech reporters aren’t used to this, energy reporters aren’t used to the level of invention that have characterized the computer industry.
You meet with a lot of VCs; what are you hearing?
Almost all VCs are talking about this space. But a few are taking a more integrated approach. Some are conceiving the whole industrial food chain and are solving specific problems within the chain.
What should the clean tech community know about Reuters?
A big enough story has the potential to reach more than one billion people around the world. Reuters’ content is picked up on TV by the likes of CNN, CNBC, ABC and NBC, and by almost all major newspapers and radio stations. Reuters has a variety of energy reporters around the country. We have also developed an Environment reporting team that is staffed with journalists around the world. If your story is somewhere in between energy and tech and you don’t know who to go to, I can help direct you to the most logical reporter.
Suggestions on how to best work with you?
The best times to reach me are during non-peak hours, 10am-noon and after 3pm PT. Pitch stories that have an international element or some major challenge to the industry when possible; “me too” stories don’t work – need to have real news; and measure change, show importance and find disagreements/conflict. An interesting clean tech story is a disruptive solution that has potential to scale – it can work in Africa and North America at the same time. Show the mainstream implication of what you’re pitching. Extra credit for pronouncing Reuters and my last name correctly.
I’ve read similar stories before but yesterday’s piece, The real cost of bottled water, in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jared Blumenfeld and Susan Leal makes a strong and concise case why we should put away the bottles and keep our taps flowing. A few highlights:
San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents enjoy some of the nation’s highest quality drinking water, with pristine Sierra snowmelt from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as our primary source.
Bottled water costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. Forty percent of bottled water should be labeled bottled tap water because that is exactly what it is. But even that doesn’t dampen the demand.
The global consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent in just five years. Even in areas where tap water is clean and safe to drink, such as in San Francisco, demand for bottled water is increasing — producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy.
Most of the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. More than 5 trillion gallons of bottled water is shipped internationally each year.
Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to the Container Recycling Institute. In contrast, San Francisco tap water is distributed through an existing zero-carbon infrastructure: plumbing and gravity. Our water generates clean energy on its way to our tap — powering our streetcars, fire stations, the airport and schools.
Luckily, there are better, less expensive alternatives: In the office, use a water dispenser that taps into tap water. The only difference your company will notice is that you’re saving a lot of money. At home and in your car, switch to a stainless steel water bottle and use it for the rest of your life knowing that you are drinking some of the nation’s best water and making the planet a better place.
The one question I still have is how can you be sure that the water actually coming out of your tap is safe? It’s clear that the water running into the Bay Area is fantastic quality, but I’ve heard (from unreliable sources) that there are old asbestos pipes running through the city, and what about the old pipes running into my 1907 home? How much impact can those things have on the H2O coming out of my tap?
I’m going to do more research in the coming weeks but was curious to see how much momentum sustainable and green topics have gained via consumer generated media in the last six months so here’s a few charts to get us thinking. At first glance, it does appear that the lines are trending upwards but not by quite as high of a margin as I would have expected. Although of course global warming is buzzing from the latest reports.
These charts were created using Nielsen BuzzMetrics’s BrandPulse tool which analyzes all forms of consumer-generated media, including newsgroups, message boards and discussion forums. I used a host of search terms under each general category (Clean Tech, Sustainable Business, etc.).
The articles aren’t up on Fast Company’s website yet but I received the March issue yesterday and it has a nearly 20 page coverage package covering the businesses, people and ideas that they think could be poised to save the world while turning a profit. A few of the 50 things that made the list:
– Arnold Schwarzenegger for a host of different initiatives meant to fight global warming, our dependence on foreign oil and unaffordable health care
– Phoenix Motorcars’ electric car
– Nike’s new Soaker shoe featuring a more enviro-friendly design
– NativeEnergy’s clean energy financing projects
– SunEdison’s distributed solar power
– Greenfit, a video-centric Internet channel that features stories on green life
– Zelfo’s biodegradable plastic substitute
– GreenFuel Technologies reactors that claim to cut emissions from a coal-fired plant by 45% while turning the CO2 waste into reusable biofuel
It also includes banks, strategy firms, eco-friendly building designs, cities taking a sustainable approach, and big companies like Honda, Ikea, GE and Home Depot. There’s no question that some of these companies might just be chasing the dollar. But if chasing the dollar brings change for the good, well, keep on chasing. The creme will rise to the top. In some cases, it already has. And I think that’s the point of the article.
We’re getting closer to an exciting point where the media and influencer community are developing a deep enough understanding of the products and services available to be able to educate consumers on what to do next. It’s great that the small community of people in the clean/green bubble know the ins and outs of what’s available; I’m looking forward to more in-depth case studies and success stories in the vertical (home building, construction, banking, lifestyle) and national media that give consumers and businesses examples and best practices to follow. 2007 is shaping up to be the year.
I just finished watching the movie Jesus Camp and found it unfortunate that there are people connecting issues like global warming to religion, teaching kids that are way too young to come to conclusions on their own that things like climate change that can affect future generations are here-say. I’ve heard that there has been a shift in thinking as of late in these religious groups which is a good sign. I won’t comment on the movie aside from the global warming bit, but one of my favorite artists, David Byrne, wrote a review that you can check out.
Long before the words clean technology and sustainable business entered my vocabulary, I was a follower of all things health, nutrition and wellness. That must be part of where my interest in clean tech and social responsibility started. If we’re going to ask ourselves as business people and consumers to lead a more responsible existence, shouldn’t it start with how we treat our own bodies?
My childhood best friend, Peter Fleming, was always my partner in crime in exercise, sports and healthy foods. Although in the early ’90s, what we thought we were eating to be healthy was the complete opposite. We were part of the masses, following marketing schemes and gimmicks that had us chomping on processed crap, mostly full of what we now know are awful trans fats, among other things. Pete just forwarded me a good article by Michael Pollan discussing the reality of what we should be eating. It’s all common sense when you think about it.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants…And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Pete and I were always planning to start a business doing corporate wellness programs. Maybe we still should. Healthy people = happy people = less sickness = more productivity = happy people. Good equation. And pure food probably = less packaging, less shipping and less waste. Good equation. Now I need to get myself to throw out that candy bar. And we all need to make sure we stop spreading our bad habits around to the less developed countries of the world. Cigarettes, bad pharma and processed foods should stay on our turf. No need to continue spreading our mess.
For those of you in the Bay Area, I get my fruits and veggies from a local farm called Capay Organic and have been happy with them so far.
What a week. After five days of excitement, I’m sitting here on a Friday night with a new addition to the family watching me type. My wife and I welcomed in our first child, Oliver Swain, on Wednesday afternoon. He’s the coolest little guy. And he has a full head of hair that he has already promised to share with me when mine falls out.
My latest Google News search shows a whopping 1,736 new articles discussing the results of a new report which reaffirms that human activities are causing global warming that may bring more droughts, heatwaves and rising seas.
The world’s leading climate scientists, in their most powerful language ever used on the issue, said global warming is “very likely” man-made, according to a new report obtained Friday by The Associated Press. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a group of hundreds of scientists and representatives of 113 governments – represents the most authoritative science on the issue.
The report should put pressure on governments and companies to do more to curb greenhouse gases mainly from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.
The pressure is already there and it appears that it will be sustained. Those folks that want to drive oil prices down when things get moving to stifle progress may have their hands full. Hype is hype, but when you catch enough mainstream attention with some solid evidence and calls for action, hopefully it will be enough for international, local and regional communities to sustain progress and drive home some real change.