Interview with Frank Buscemi – MBE Group

Frank BuscemiWe are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Frank Buscemi, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, MBE Group. 

During his 24-year career, Frank has worked in the global automotive and heavy-duty truck markets, on both the OE and the aftermarket sides, as well as in the motorsports and retail sectors – all at the agency and corporate level. Likewise, being born and raised in Detroit, Frank grew up in and around the automotive industry. Frank’s passion for the industry and communications is contagious, mobilizing people intuitively. He brings global experience in all aspects of marketing communications strategy and actions to our clients including branding, public relations, creative, social media and corporate event planning.

Before joining MBE Group in 2016, Frank was global communications director of TI Automotive, where he facilitated and executed all of the company’s worldwide marketing and communications initiatives, including the opening of new facilities in North America, Asia, Europe and India. Prior to his work with TI Automotive, he handled day-to-day communications activities at the agency level for global automotive suppliers including Continental, Eagle Ottawa Leather, Nexteer, Takata, Tower International and ZF.

Frank is a graduate of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. He is a member of the Automotive Press Association and has served on several automotive-industry councils, including the Board of Governors of the OESA Communications Executives Council, the Automotive Public Relations Council and MICHAuto Steering Committee.

What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations? 

For a brand or a company, reputation management is ensuring that your target audience trusts and respects you and largely provides positive comments and posts about you online. Additionally, it means that your company consistently works at having a positive online reputation through good customer service, positive interactions, your general actions and a quality product or service. It takes work to establish a positive reputation and even more work to maintain it. It differs from public relations in that PR is based on what you put out to your audience (outbound) and how it gets covered in the press, while reputation management is based on what they say about you (inbound).

What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?

The biggest mistake we often see is companies who think they should “do social” just because everyone else does. Social media is – or should be – an integral part of your PR program. You cannot just “do” social. You must have a platform strategy, consistent output and the ability to read the room and respond quickly to both opportunities and issues. You can avoid mistakes by:

1) having a social media strategy and execution plan,

2) having people committed to your social media program (do not hand this off to “your son’s friend who’s ‘on social all the time’ and seems pretty good at it…”)

3) studying the analytics to know when to post, which posts gain the most engagement and which platforms fit your brand/company, and

4) addressing issues quickly and directly as they arise.

The bottom line with online reputation is to avoid letting others set it for you. You have to be the one to set it. Establish your position and continually push it outward.

How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?

In most cases today, social media is your reputation. There are no filters and people can say whatever they want about you, with limited repercussions. This is why it is so important to have a strategy for each platform. Understand what you’re getting in to. Twitter is wildly different from LinkedIn, for example and you have to treat it as such and understand the audience on each. You must make social a key part – and, in some cases, the most important piece – of your reputation management strategy.

What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?

The first thing to do is to have a Crisis Management Plan that contains a social media “playbook.” Establish a chain of communications and empower your team to handle the lower-level crises (mad customer, broken part, etc.). Second, find out what caused it and determine if it is legitimate crisis or problem. If it is, address it immediately. You can do this by responding directly to comments online with a dedicated statement about the issue or putting out a clarifying statement across all platforms. If it’s one specific person with one specific problem, address them directly and tell them you’re going to do so by placing a comment on the post or page itself. Most importantly, with regard to online crises, it’s not an “if”, but a “when” situation. Despite all of your best efforts, you will have problems online. If you can keep those problems to fewer than 10 percent of all of your online interactions, you’re in great shape.

What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?

Preparation is key. Simply knowing and accepting that there will be some sort of crisis, at some point, helps. Having said that, no two crises are the same. During the crisis use common sense, act quickly and responsibly and – depending on the crisis – empathetically. Afterwards, learn from it. Keep those lessons in mind for the next one.

What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?

Have a readily accessible Crisis Management Plan in place. Know that a crisis will happen. Ensure that your team is ready to act when it does.

Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?

Much, much harder. Nearly everyone on the planet has a device in their pocket or purse that can instantly connect them to the rest of the world. They can say whatever they want about you and your company and someone, somewhere, will believe it. Being first has become more important than being accurate or factual and the negative becomes amplified far beyond the positive. This is why you cannot simply let your online presence “just happen.” It is absolutely critical that you play an active, ongoing role in positioning your online reputation.

What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?

During my career, I’ve handled many crises, including 9/11, the Japan tsunami and accompanying Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the shipyard explosion in Tianjin, China, the Indonesian tsunami, other natural disasters in multiple countries, manufacturing plant explosions, fires and fatalities, corporate litigation, corporate embezzlement, supply chain and labor disruptions, product recalls, plant closures and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each one carries a different weight and requires a different level of attention and action. Some become widely public and further reaching, like 9/11, Fukushima, COVID-19 and the natural disasters, while some never see the light of day.

While 9/11 changed the global landscape, there was no social media at that time. We used traditional news outlets for information and communicated with our global organization through email at varying intervals. Essentially, we communicated regularly, but did so on a daily basis for about 10-14 days.

The still-ongoing COVID-19 crisis was like nothing we’ve ever seen. In the early days of the U.S. shutdowns, we were working in 30-minute increments. We have more than 25 clients, most of which are multi-national and involved in manufacturing, meaning there was no set of rules to cover all of them. We found ourselves writing statements for our clients at 11:00 am, and by 11:30 am, they were obsolete. We had to communicate on behalf of our clients with their customers, employees, government officials, suppliers and shareholders and had to do so via email, general press releases, positioning statements and social media.

This frenetic 30-minute pace of COVID-19 communications kept up for about five days, then moved to half-days, to full days, then slowed to every couple of days. This covered about six weeks as the virus moved throughout North America.

While this was happening, MBE Group had to keep its own house in order. With offices in Detroit and San Francisco, we had to reset some of our own policies to ensure we could work effectively. Additionally, the many events we handle for clients were getting cancelled or postponed on a near-daily level, which changed our long-term planning.

During recent weeks, we’ve supported clients with product launches related to social distancing, provided statements for reopening and directed consumer-facing e-commerce programs.

For the past three months, the COVID-19 crisis has dominated our workload and workplace and it may continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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