We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Melinda Goodman, founder of FullTilt Marketing, a boutique marketing agency she founded eight years ago. A self-proclaimed foodie, ag advocate and a storyteller, all which come by naturally and are deeply rooted in her history and her own personal story. Melinda grew up on a family ranch outside a “no stoplight” kind of small town where her mom owned the local grocery store and everybody knew you by first name. Fast food meant eating on the run in the tractor and good food started at home with Mom’s scratch cooking, three square meals and an abundance of fresh chocolate chip cookies straight out the oven, along with a few scoops of cookie dough for good measure. It was a place where doing the right thing mattered most and serving your community was always a priority.
Melinda didn’t realize at the time how small towns, gardens, plucked chickens, a rouge pig and the show steers of her history would become her direct connection to food and her future, but today it’s all part of her work at FullTilt Marketing.
Throughout her career, Melinda has worked in diverse roles including sales, marketing and new business development at commodity boards, private companies and marketing agencies. Melinda has also leveraged her creativity to conceptualize and expand brand concepts and retail promotions, overseeing the development and implementation of more than 350 new packages, dozens of trade promotions and brand awareness campaigns for a variety of clients, including national brands like Disney, Paula Deen Enterprises, The Biggest Loser and the Sneaky Chef.
Her love of people, food and agriculture is what allows her to get her hands dirty in any business, meet new people and become instant friends and busy herself with learning what makes the business of anything tick. It’s the deep appreciation for people, food and places that helps Melinda find the story for every brand.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Reputation management in its simplest form is the managed public persona of a person, brand or company. This relates to public relations as it is the managed or controlled construction of everything from press releases, media interviews, social media and all public-facing interaction with the brand, company or person.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
I think the biggest mistakes many companies make is the lack of authenticity. They work so hard to control every detail of their public image that they fail to say anything or build a relationship with their audience. Then when an issue does occur and they need to make a public statement that audience doesn’t have any reason to connect, feel compassion, believe the information or even care to be a peer support system because they have no connection to the brand at an emotional level.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Today so much of the public facing image of a company is through social media either directly or indirectly. Seventy nine percent of U.S. consumers have at least one social media profile. Consumers use social media to get news, make reviews, ask questions and research new products. In many cases social media may be the first place a consumer finds out about a brand – either good or bad. Companies should be cultivating an authentic social strategy that creates brand engagement and tells stories that have an emotional connection to the people and the products.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
Of course the first thing is always to assess the damage. It’s easy to get into response mode before thinking, especially because social media happens in real-time and is immediate. But assessing the damage and level of crisis is about having information. Basic questions should be asked, for example, is it true, how widespread is the reach, what platform is it on, who posted it, what is the likelihood of viral pickup, what is the cause and effect of this content crisis and how can we manage it? Each question and its corresponding answer provide a roadmap for next steps. Not every piece of social content needs to be responded to instantaneously. Taking even a short breather to ask yourself a few questions can help you draft an appropriate response and necessary steps for proceeding, especially if the crisis is likely to grow over the course of several days or weeks before it is controlled.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
If you want your employees to help during and after a PR crisis (and do so effectively) you should already have a culture of transparency where your employees feel they are valued and trusted members of your team. If they are truly on Team Company they can be important consumer advocates in dispelling negative information, but most importantly misinformation that spreads rapidly on social media. However, employees should never be asked to speak about anything they are uncomfortable with and they should always understand how and when they should provide company information. Even best intentions can go awry if team members are not properly informed in a situation.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Senior executives should build companies based on transparent cultural values and consistently share authentic stories about their people and their brand. They should worry less about saying the “perfect” thing and spend more time saying meaningful things that people care about. If they are a company that has invested in doing the right thing from day one they will generally be better equipped to manage a PR crisis because the language will be closer at hand and from the heart rather than trying to fabricate the reputation management story that best suits the necessary narrative of the day.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
Reputation management is clearly getting harder because of social media. Today more than ever before, misinformation can spread on social media like wildfire. Trolls love creating internet controversy and there is little concern to fact check information before sharing. Photoshop can make a quote, news story or tweet that never happened looked real and today’s Google will give you an answer for just about anything that verifies your own echo chamber. Lack of trust in everyone from doctors, news media and politicians makes it difficult for consumers to discern what information they should trust and often times they turn to the latest internet influencer to give them the information they are hungry for…even if that person is pedaling the same snake oil in a different package.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
Out of respect for our clients we opt not to share specific issues and outcomes but we’ve covered issues that include food safety, workforce safety issues, corporate social responsibility, and even organizational trust issues related to mismanagement of funds. The level of success we were able to achieve for each organization was completely dependent on the level of transparency that their management was willing to provide. There is a time to fight and there is a time to say I’m sorry and I made a mistake, but there is never a time to put your head in the sand.
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