Trigger Systems

Taking steps to ensure the words “Public Relations” and “Nightmare” never come together

April 4, 2017

Stay ahead of the message. Ever hear that one before? How about this one: Time is money.

Watch just about any political drama, and you’re likely to hear that first line delivered at least once by some fast-walking, cell phone-wielding spin doctor. Watch any corporate business drama, and you’ll probably hear the second spouted off at least 50 times by some unnaturally tan executive on the ninth hole as he dresses down the latest in a string of incompetent yes men.

These statements are so well known that they long ago crossed over from the kingdom of sound business advice to the camp of overused, worn-out truisms. And yet, at least once a quarter, we see some enormous, multi-national, multi-million dollar corporation caught up in a PR nightmare, which they likely knew was coming but for which they failed to prepare. This lack of preparation makes for hastily written public statements based on rushed crisis management decisions, which very often end up taking the problem from bad to worse. Because of this, even more time (and money) need to be invested in cleaning up the cleanup.

Mangling the Message

Just in recent memory, we’ve seen botched PR take problems from really terrible to total disaster for companies, including Wells Fargo (fake bank accounts), Chipotle (E. coli), and Volkswagen (emissions). And that’s just business. Head on over to the public sector (ahem, White House, ahem), and one sloppy mop job after another is causing epic-level PR fails – no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. That’s a true fact. The bottom line is that it pays to be prepared, and public opinion is important – especially as your brand grows. A bad rap can tank sales, get you fired, bankrupt your business, and/or make you look really, really less than smart.

I’m not saying that these companies didn’t deserve the truckload of criticism poured all over them—there was some allegedly very shady stuff going on. But let’s be real here: Who puts in that kind of sustained Machiavellian effort and never plans for the possibility of having to do some explaining when the whistleblower comes a callin’? Sorry, but a real super villain would be better prepared.

But lack of solid preparation in the PR and marketing departments isn’t just an issue for companies dealing with worst-case scenarios or scandals. In fact, many businesses getting an A+ in the ethics department get a rock-solid F when it comes to promoting a new listing, bragging about a new star hire or celebrating a mega sale. This is because every time something (predictably) great happens, the marketing and PR departments treat the event like a one-off. This leads to a cycle of chasing the message and wasting untold amounts of time and money reinventing the wheel (over and over again).

Knowing the Triggers

We’ve seen it, we’ve studied it and we think it’s high time we do something about it. How, you ask? With the implementation of a little something I like to call Trigger Systems. Trigger Systems are plans that prepare your company for both best- and worst-case scenarios, as well as the regular occurrences that could and likely will happen either once or on a regular basis.

“The bottom line is that it pays to be prepared, and public opinion is important – especially as your brand grows. A bad rap can tank sales, get you fired, bankrupt your business, and/or make you look really, really less than smart.”

When something important happens in your business, a Trigger System supports that thing with a group of marketing activities. These systems take on two forms—proactive and reactive. Trigger Systems are pre-strategized plans and timelines that the marketing department can reference for guidance over and over again (or just once, and hopefully never, in the event of a crisis). These Trigger Systems are written out and saved to a general folder where any new marketing hire can access them and use them to take the necessary steps of promoting a message—an instruction manual, if you will, for how to deal with common and potential PR events.

For example, you are a major real estate property management company who has just taken on the “greening” of your major assets. You have seven properties undergoing sustainability improvements, including high-efficiency lighting retrofits in all offices, electric vehicle charging stations in the parking garages, and low-flow water features in the bathrooms. It’s going to save your company money, and it’s going to make you look really good in the press. If everything goes to plan, each month for the next seven months will mark a completion date for one of your seven buildings. That’s seven months of killer PR—if you don’t blow it by being unprepared and missing your window.

A Trigger System is the plan of action for making sure each new sustainable building gets its day in the sun and for ensuring that each piece of marketing supports and builds upon all other marketing. The system would include timelines for the publication of press releases, blog posts, social media promotions, e-blasts, website updates and featured project one sheets. A Trigger System puts your monthly announcements on a repeatable schedule that you plan once and then implement time and again. But the Trigger System does not stop there. Let’s say your corporation has a lengthy press release approval process—and so does the business partner you mentioned in said release. A Trigger System accounts for expected delays and countless rounds of revisions to ensure all the necessary marketing materials are created and approved before the announcement date.

Sounds really basic, you say? It is. But take a look at your own business and at the businesses around you. How many actually have a solid PR plan, and how many are winging it? We’d venture to guess winging it beats out planning all day long. Which means that developing some solid Trigger Systems could give you the major competitive advantage of staying ahead of the message and controlling the narrative. And you heard it here first: Doing it right the first time typically saves time, and, if we all know one thing for certain by now, time is money.

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