We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Samantha Jacobs, President/Founder of Hemsworth Communications.
Samantha is a corporate communications and public relations strategist who has represented clients in a variety of industries including travel and tourism, destination marketing, cruise, travel distribution/travel agency, technology, wellness and more. Samantha’s career spans nearly 20 years in public relations, marketing and communications, including working as a senior-level executive for top-ranked PR agencies and corporations.
Prior to launching Hemsworth Communications in 2014, Samantha served as associate partner for Finn Partners, VP for M. Silver Associates and before that, was the first-ever director of PR for World Travel Holdings. Prior to joining WTH, Samantha worked in management positions for several top-rated New York City- and Baltimore-based public relations agencies. She began her career in the New York City headquarters of ABC News/Good Morning America. Samantha graduated from Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, with a dual degree in Communications and Sociology.
A dynamic, full-service agency, Hemsworth Communications is one of the fastest-growing, top-ranked agencies in the United States according to O’Dwyer’s PR Report and one of PR News’ Top Places to Work, recognized for its unique, forward-thinking company culture. With three distinctive divisions – Travel/Tourism, Food/Wine/Spirits, and Franchising/Business Services – Hemsworth represents fresh, up-and-coming businesses as well as leading, renowned global brands. Services include brand communications strategy, media relations, promotions, guerrilla marketing, social media, thought leadership and event planning. Unlike traditional PR agencies, Hemsworth is dedicated to crafting customized communications programs that are infused with personal, passionate client service and positively contribute to each client’s bottom line.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Reputation management is working to control how the public thinks of an individual or brand, in many cases, helping craft corporate messaging and both proactive and reactive strategies to drive perception. Reputation management and PR go hand-in-hand. Our job as PR practitioners is to maintain goodwill for our clients amongst their target audiences and the greater public.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is thinking they can do their own PR, without tapping into an expert or agency. You hire an accountant for your taxes and an attorney for legal matters. Having a PR expert on hand, who knows the ins and outs of corporate communications and has the right relationships to support you, is key. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge across every industry. Understandably, many companies without PR representation are finding themselves at a loss on how to handle effectively engaging with their customers. With that, in the early stages of the pandemic, we unfortunately saw some companies continue with pushing sales and special promotions, which came across as out of touch and tone deaf. We also have seen companies sit back and simply do nothing, which will leave them unprepared with a limited sales funnel when things do bounce back…which they will. During a crisis such as COVID-19, companies don’t need to disappear completely, but they should adapt communication strategies to be sensitive to the situation and put their customers’ well-being at the forefront of their efforts.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
Social media is a critical piece of the reputation management puzzle. Social media provides brands with the opportunity to showcase their unique personality and if done properly, it can strengthen their credibility in the eye of their target consumer. When handling social media for our clients, we take an all-encompassing, in-depth approach to ensure we’re tracking every company mention, customer comment, review, keyword, trend and everything in between. We also ensure social media and PR messaging, and strategies, are complimenting one another. Now more than ever, it’s critical to have one comprehensive and consistent approach.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
The first thing a company should do is pause any pre-scheduled external communications. The last thing a company wants to happen is to have a social media post or e-blast going out and seeming like they’re ignoring, or oblivious, to the issue at hand. We encourage companies to freeze communications, take a step back and share the full details of what is happening with us, so that we can move swiftly – but carefully – through the crisis.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
It’s extremely important for employees to remain connected during a PR crisis and make themselves available to assist their company as needed. Internal communication is paramount during times of crisis. In many cases, reactive messaging is provided to employees to help them comfortably and appropriately address questions about the issue at hand. After a PR crisis, employees should help their company assess the outcome and determine what they can learn from it to better handle future crisis situations.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Advanced preparedness is the key to successful crisis management. Every company should have a PR crisis team and a full plan in place. That plan should include sample scenarios, reactive messaging, points of action, scripted posts and press statements and more. If a company does not have this in place, they will be behind when a crisis occurs. Once a crisis unfolds, your team needs to have the right resources available at their fingertips to swiftly lead to action. That’s why it’s essential for companies to have a dedicated PR team in place to handle responsibilities such as monitoring the media landscape to catch potential crisis early and respond quickly before things escalate. It’s also beneficial for trained PR professionals to have a seat at the table when making important decisions that will affect the public’s perception of the company. The more information we know (and we’re NDA’d, always), the better.
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
There’s a range of tools out there that can make reputation management efforts easier, such as media monitoring software and social listening tools that pull and analyze data. On the contrary though, reputation management is in some ways getting harder due to the seemingly never-ending stream of new social technologies, apps and platforms rolling out on a regular basis. For this reason, as an agency in the trenches on these things, we have dedicated team members who are responsible for keeping their finger on the pulse of trends in order to help our clients stay ahead of the curve.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest crisis that I, like many others, have ever faced. Like all challenges, I try to put the focus on the positive rather than the negative. With that, myself and my team found opportunities where we could elevate our clients in the media, attaching them to stories of leadership during this challenging and unfamiliar landscape. As one example, we crafted key messaging on behalf of our private aviation client to educate consumers on the benefits of how flying privately mitigates some of the risks that would be associated with flying commercially during a global health crisis. As a result of our efforts, we were able to garner a steady stream of top-tier media coverage and create positive brand association for the company.
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