We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Andrew Frank, Founder and President of KARV Communications. Andrew brings a wealth of experience in a number of areas, including crisis communications, public affairs, and media skills. An expert in creating communications strategies, Andrew has 25 years of experience overseeing and implementing crisis preparation; managing product recalls; financial and/or regulatory issues; and identifying and managing communications issues around complicated litigation.
Prior to founding KARV Communications, Andrew served for 15 years in various positions at Strategy XXI Partners and Kreab Gavin Anderson, including Managing Partner. From 1992-1997 he was a political appointee in the Clinton Administration, including Managing Director of the United States Information Agency’s New York Foreign Press Center, and Senior Advisor for Communications to the Director of U.S.I.A beginning in January 1993.
Andrew was the White House communications representative for coordination of media during the 1994 GATT signing in Morocco; Deputy Spokesman for the US Delegation to the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights; National Security Council media representative in Haiti; worked on more than two dozen overseas trips of the President and Vice President, including APEC and G-7 Summit Meetings; and worked with more than a dozen federal agencies and cabinet officials.
Andrew was a founder of Volunteers for Democracy and worked in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine during their transitions to democracy, from 1989-1991. He has written articles for several American and foreign newspapers, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Board Member of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in New York.
Andrew graduated from The George Washington University in Washington D.C., and studied at Syracuse University’s London Centre. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Crisis Communications at Fordham University Graduate School of Business, and has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University, American University and others. Andrew lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Everyone, whether a public or non-public figure, has a reputation. Naturally, we all want to make sure that it remains protected. Companies are no different. Public relations and reputation management need to be completely intertwined for those in the “public” arena. Particularly in today’s world of instant connection and content amplification through social media, one misstep in public communications (or even private communications that become public) can cause reputational damage that can take significant time and effort to recover from. Practitioners of PR need to understand that everything they do should be geared to reputation management.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
There are many. Companies often fail to take full advantage of press releases–a classic tool in public relations–that could be optimized with the correct headline; they also post things on various social media channels that are not aligned with each other or with other public-facing materials. It is critical that a company’s messaging be intentional and consistent across the board.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
As discussed above, it has to be consistent and in sync with all other messaging being communicated from the company. Depending on the client, we have used social media as a central element of a reputation management strategy or just on a targeted basis. When used correctly, social media can offer businesses opportunities to communicate quickly and directly with audiences who might otherwise be hard to reach.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online? (Is the question – what is the first thing a company should do online when there is a crisis?)
A crisis “online” can be the first early warning sign of a full-blown crisis that may impact other areas of the business – for example, we have seen instances where a customer complaining on social media about a product mishap has eventually turned into a class-action lawsuit against the company or a product recall situation. Companies should have clear and concise procedures in place for monitoring issues online and escalating them as appropriate. Of course, the specific response always depends on the crisis, but when a problem arises, companies should quickly reassure employees that there is a team in place to deal with the crisis, and then articulate consistent messaging externally.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
Employees can be a company’s biggest advocates. As a company posts information online during a crisis, employees who have their own social media accounts can re-tweet or re-post, further amplifying messaging from the company. To take advantage of this potential, employers should communicate with their employees in a direct and timely manner, so employees do not panic and clearly understand any policies about speaking with the media or handling aspects of the crisis as they develop.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
While every crisis is different in nature, the strategic communications mechanics of anticipating and mitigating impact are similar: prepare (a crisis plan), practice (a crisis drill) and understand the processes and policies that are put in place.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
Considerably harder, as there are more channels available where an accusation – whether authentic or fake – can be voiced and amplified. Further, small blogs, bots and others spread information and disinformation that gets picked up by more legitimate sources and then things grow online. And, of course, in the digital ecosphere all of this can happen very quickly and have a substantial impact upon an individual or brand’s reputation.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
Challenges are relative and each client faces a different issue that is unique to them. So, if we take the example of a tire recall on the heels of the Firestone fiasco, the particular company was concerned they would be dragged into the same mess, and they were already designated as one of the companies to supply the replacement tires. We worked closely with management, government agencies and dealers to send a consistent message to the local and national media in order for customers to feel confident that this company was doing the right thing and it was a small issue that was nothing like the Firestone problem.
How to Connect: