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Crisis comms and expecting the unexpected – or what to do when a multi-coloured monkey with a fake penis swings by

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

We advise clients on our emergency planning and crisis communications courses to gaze at the horizon and draw up a list of bad things that could happen. And then, in the name of preparedness, to map against that list the key messages their nominated spokespeople would deliver via the media should those things happen. Saves a lot of time and effort scrabbling around for what to say and who to say it mid-crisis.

Most come up with the obvious: floods; fires; financial irregularities. Many have now added pestilence (aka Covid-19) to their Four Horsemen of the Corporate Apocalypse risk registers. But I’d wager not one organisation anywhere has a plan for what to do when their reputation takes a hit from a six foot rainbow-coloured monkey with bare breasts, buttocks and a clip on willy. I mean why bother? It’s not going to happen is it? Too off the wall…

Except that’s exactly what happened to a local authority. Said primate turned up at a reading event for children. Yes, for children! And I don’t mean randomly or mischievously gate crashing proceedings uninvited, causing red faces out of the blue as it were. I mean actually booked to appear in all its semi-naked glory. So you can imagine it caused quite a heads-must-roll kerfuffle, quickly spilling over from social to print and broadcast media. Politics being what it is the affair even trended on Twitter for a time giving the council’s head of communications pink kittens (if you’ll excuse the mixed animal metaphor).

I won’t add to the council’s embarrassment by naming it here. My purpose is simply to ask: what’s the lesson – beyond the trite expect the unexpected?

Strikes me that although the specifics of the case are so bizarre as to be wholly unpredictable, it does fit into a category that one could loosely call offence caused but not intended. The mayor having a wardrobe malfunction at a civic function might also fit into this category along with a council flyer containing a double entendre that the sub editors missed. The idea is you work out in the planning phase what to say in these kinds of cases. Then at least you have a working set of generic key messages that can be tweaked to fit the specifics. Quicker than starting from scratch.

So here are my generic key messages for OCBNI (horrible acronym alert – offence caused but not intended) situations with suggested quotes for the specific situation in italics:

  1. Say sorry swiftly. Sorry may seem to be the hardest word but it costs nothing and could save a run on your reputational stock later. “It certainly wasn’t our intention to cause offence but clearly we have and for that, of course, we are truly sorry.”
  2. Explain what the intention was. People (and monkeys) often get hold of the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes deliberately so. The story then becomes all about the stick. So remind people what the real story is. In the above case you could say something like: “Our intention was to get young people interested in reading. It didn’t go quite to plan (smile) but reading is such an important life skill and we certainly make no apology for trying really hard to encourage it.”
  3. Concede that something went wrong or, at the very least, didn’t go right. Journalists, interviewers, the baying social media mob love to push back. If you step back voluntarily there’s nothing for them to push against. “This shouldn’t have happened. We need to understand how it happened. And when we understand how it happened – even if it was just basic human error, someone not engaging their brain before booking the monkey act – we need to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
  4. Steer the interview process so you can re-iterate and, therefore, reinforce the apology but be determined to end on a positive note. “So our apologies for any offence caused but remember reading is a vital skill – quite simply people who learn to read well in childhood tend to earn more, enjoy better health and live longer. (And that definitely isn’t monkey business.)”*

*I’d be inclined to omit the bit in brackets depending on the tone of the interview/interviewer and the nature of the audience.


This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile but with the word penis redacted because I didn’t want to cause offence! But, of course, if I have here I am truly sorry…

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How to prepare for a media interview when you have very little time

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

One of the downsides of self-guided online learning is that without the live interaction of face-to-face training you can’t ask your trainer questions as you go along. So we’ve launched a new service at ACM Training called “Ask the Owls” to complement our Thinkific courses. The idea is you ask questions about media, communication and professional development issues and our experts (the owls) do their very best to provide the answers.

Here our media trainer, Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a delegate on one of his courses who wants to know if it’s possible to be ready for an interview in under five minutes.

ACM Training’s communications expert, Richard Uridge, answers a question from a professor of civil engineering who wants to know if it’s possible to prepare for a media interview in under five minutes.
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Learn how to deal with difficult people – in your own time

dealing with difficult people online course imageApprox. reading time: < 1 minute

For years our best-selling workshop was dealing with difficult people. Then along came Covid-19. And something significant happened: working from home meant that the difficult colleagues you’d been encountering in the office Monday to Friday were suddenly no longer such a challenge. Why? Because they were in their homes and you were in yours. Put simply out of sight very often meant out of mind. Which was good for your mental health and well being. But bad for our business!

Now, however, as social distancing measures are eased and people are heading back to the office we’ve noticed that interest in our dealing with difficult people training is picking up. And we’re hearing that in some cases people’s behaviour is getting even more challenging than before – perhaps because of the stresses and strains of the last year or so.

So our dealing with difficult people guru, Sandy Keating, has been busy authoring a comprehensive, self-guided online course. At just £19.99 we reckon it’s great value for money. Just click the find out more button to look at the course content and to see a free preview of Sandy in action.

Prefer to sit an interactive, trainer-led session or want to book an in-house workshop for a group of colleagues? Then click here.

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Should you give a media interview on a subject that’s slightly off topic for you?

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Whether you’re sitting a self-guided course at your own pace or taking part in a live trainer-led session, asking questions during online training is (or at least seems to be) a whole heap harder than it was in the days of face-to-face learning. So our AskTheOwls service is designed to make asking questions simple and bridge the gap between old and new delivery methods.

In this short video our media and comms expert (owl), Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a university professor who’s often asked to comment on issues that aren’t quite her area of expertise and wants to know if giving an interview in these circumstances is a good or bad idea.

Our media and comms owl answers a question submitted by an academic.
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Wheely armed webinars? I hate them!

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A lot of presentation skills trainers are saying we need to be much more animated presenting online via Zoom and MSTeams than was the case when working face-to-face. In this short clip I argue against such an approach. I reckon the skills of an online presenter are more like those of a screen actor than a stage actor. Smaller, more suble movements and facial expressions are the key. Not grand gestures for the people in the cheap seats at the back of a theatre auditorium. Why? Because you are in their face. Or certainly no further than an arm’s length away.

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Don’t start with content when planning a presentation. It ain’t the first step!

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

Step away from the PowerPoint. Close the Keynote. When you’re preparing a presentation – online or face-to-face – resist the urge to start creating content too soon. It’s a receipe for failure. And a mistake too many of us make.

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Unputdownable books and unlookawayable from presentations

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Here I am murdering the English language and inventing at least two new words in my mission to help us all become better presenters. We should think of ourselves as storytellers and structure our presentations in the same way as a writer constructs and unputdownable book.

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Why you should never ignore your audience

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

“If your presentation doesn’t work for your audience it won’t work for you.”

Richard Uridge, ACM Training

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Coronavirus crisis communications

Approx. reading time: 3 minutes

Many companies (I’d hazard most) don’t have a crisis communications plan. A vague idea about what to do in an emergency? Yes. A carefully considered and well rehearsed business continuity plan? Maybe. A clear idea of what to say to stakeholders either internally via the usual channels or externally via the media including, where appropriate, social media? No.

But coronavirus has the potential to make us all wish we had. With the level of infection and disruption now being anticipated at the very highest levels of government, businesses large and small (my own included) face an existential threat. And effective communication with staff, clients, suppliers and others over the coming weeks and months could (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) make a life and death difference. Not just company life and death either.

How so? Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can, for example, make the difference between a pissed off workforce who think their bosses really don’t care and a highly motivated workforce who feel valued and are prepared to be flexible in the face of adversity by working from home, working odd hours, foregoing bonuses, taking unpaid leave…

Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can persuade suppliers to delay issuing that invoice even though they’re experiencing similar cash flow problems. Because effective communication can lower the expectation and heighten the appreciation of customers.

But while being truthful should come naturally 😂 being clear, consistent and timely needs planning and practice.

“The virus is on us. Isn’t it too late now?”

It’s never too late to make a plan which, in any case, doesn’t need to take long – especially in smaller, less complex organisations. The first planning step is to work out what you need/want to say and to who: in other words your key messages and your target audiences. The next step is to map the audiences to what become your target media and channels – internal email, the intranet, external media the internet. Make sure those key messages are clear and concise and can be readily understood by the audience. You might be inclined to say “we’re facing challenges on the supply side of our business so our customers may experience issues with their orders.” Your customers would prefer you to say: “We’re sorry but because of coronavirus it may take us a little bit longer to deliver your parcel. We know you’ll understand. And here, as a thank you for your patience, is a discount code for your next order.”

Being consistent means everybody is communicating the same message (not that the message can’t change – flexibility is key in a crisis). A lack of consistency can lead to confusion. If your line manager is saying staff can work from home but your boss says you’ve got to come to work unless you’re ill you’re likely to lose faith in both.

Being truthful is, I hope, self-explanatory. I may be naive, but honesty and integrity are rewarded. People want to work for and with organisations that genuinely embrace these things. Yes, price is important but value can be expressed in other ways. So what I mean here is more about being open. The truth will out (and with social media probably sooner rather than later) so why hold back. Imagine the furore restaurant chain would face if it didn’t reveal kitchen or wait staff had fallen ill with the virus until two weeks after the outbreak?

Being timely is tied into the above. When a situation is rapidly evolving there’s an inclination to keep quiet until the picture is clearer. But witness the backlash the government has experienced by only issuing virus updates weekly. A backlash so significant that it’s backed down. A “communications fumble” as the Chief Medical Officer admitted. That position was clearly untenable for UK plc and should be for all companies in these worrying times. I’m not suggesting you need to issue a running commentary to staff or in the media. But if the gaps between company bulletins are too long then all sorts of information can rush into the vacuum. Information over which you have no control. In a word or two: fake news.

To help you control the message and draw up and execute your own crisis comms plans we’ll be running a series of webinars for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. More details to follow. But if you’d like to sign up email me – richard@acmtraining.co.uk and I’ll be sure to send you a link and access code.


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Coronavirus

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

We understand why you might be reluctant to book a workshop with all the uncertainty surrounding Covid 19. Will I be well enough to attend? Might I have to take time off work to look after children or elderly relatives? Will public transport be running? Is gathering in even a smallish training group sensible in the circumstances? And, of course, because none of us is immune from the potential disruption, will ACM’s trainers be affected? So we give you our coronavirus guarantee: that if for public health reasons you can’t attend or your workshop is postponed then your place is transferrable free of charge to a future date. For many of our more popular courses there will be several dates to choose from up to six months or more ahead so you should be able to find a suitable alternative. And if you can’t? Your money back. Guaranteed.