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  • Why Acknowledging Hot Topics Or Crises Is Good For Business
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    President & CEO, Visit California.

    getty

    Over the past few years, I've learned that the management of any crisis must be rooted in the truth. In leading Visit California, I've experienced firsthand how important crisis communication and recovery marketing efforts can be in educating the public. Nonprofits are in a unique position to provide service and education based on this truth.

    With fires now a perennial challenge in California, my organization has had to embrace the uncomfortable phrase “fire season” with the ultimate objective of educating and normalizing fire season for the traveling public. This was not an easy decision. We are tasked with inspiring travel and tourism, not warning about the perils of climate change. To acknowledge California’s fire danger was to acknowledge yet one more crisis facing California’s thousands of tourism industry partners, most already struggling to stay open amid an ongoing pandemic.

    Crises — whether pandemics or wildfires — pose a huge challenge for nonprofits. Based on my experience tackling the issue of informing and educating the public about wildfires, I've learned a few practices and crucial steps when communicating about hot topics with your audience and building — or rebuilding — their trust.

    Clearing The Smoke

    Recently, at our annual tourism industry conference, crisis management expert Lori Pennington-Gray, the director of tourism crisis management at the University of Florida, identified the following four key challenges of managing public perception of crisis:

    • Public distrust of institutions.

    • Selective reporting by the media.

    • Personal bias on decisions about risk.

    • People's desire for certainty.

    Tackling the above challenges surrounding public perception should be at the forefront of your crisis communication strategy. All four challenges are rooted in trust — or the lack thereof.

    Over the past decade, we have had to overcome these challenges in public communications. There is widespread mistrust of institutions, with considerable news and social media coverage of fires causing people to potentially cancel trips when fire danger is imminent. Our immediate aim in providing basic fire information and education is to help visitors feel comfortable booking a trip. But it turns out that establishing credibility as a trusted safety resource and positively influencing consumer sentiment can be mutual goals.

    To educate the public about wildfires, we partnered with Oregon and Washington in 2018 to form the West Coast Tourism Recovery Coalition. The coalition announcement alone resulted in 151 placements across print, broadcast and radio. The primary informational resource hosts official fire information and live cams that show in real time whether a destination is affected. Where local hazards have been normalized — as is the case with hurricane season — local authorities can engage visitors in actionable, fact-based safety conversations. These initiatives can prevent negative word of mouth from vacationers and generate positive media covera,ge. On-the-ground footage is a proven strategy for combatting misperceptions, as in Visit Florida’s campaign to show their clean beaches after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    Broadly, the following actions can help your organization “clear the smoke” around its next crisis:

    • Prepare a communications plan with messaging strategies for before, during and after a crisis that identifies communications channels and prepares holding statements and other tactics to avoid being caught flat-footed.

    • Conduct research before you communicate. For example, we evaluate factors such as on-the-ground harm, media coverage and public sentiment to determine a proportionate response — which may be no response at all.

    • Forge and maintain partnerships, first to solicit feedback and second to amplify the facts and drown out the noise. My executive team and I regularly participate in industry conferences and webinars to reinforce our messaging and credibility. A joint press release or multipartner resource hub generally gains more traction with the public.

    Appealing To The New Conscious Consumer

    The rapidly growing number of “conscious consumers” who weigh the environmental and social impact of their purchases is increasingly relevant to the tourism industry. A Booking.Com study showed that Gen Zers consider travel’s environmental impact an important factor when making travel plans, with millennials and baby boomers likely to choose sustainable options.

    Using this knowledge, we recently released a responsible travel code. This code helps tourists understand and manage their impact — including around activities that contribute to wildfires — and feel that California is a destination that takes its role as a local and global steward seriously. This initial engagement creates a trickle-down effect that reinforces the organization’s fire and Covid-19 safety platforms, with handoffs to our partners for local information and bookings, as well as official information on our travel alerts and local resource hubs.

    Of course, you need to rethink your marketing approach to reach conscious consumers and communicate effectively around a crisis. Here are a few of the tactics we rely on:

    • Conduct research. Consumer sentiment isn’t intuitive. Consider conducting surveys to gauge how your audience is feeling regarding the crisis. This information can help you determine if you need to rescript or modify your campaign.

    • Engage on social media. Even if your team lacks the resources to respond to every comment, social platforms are ideal for gauging sentiment and launching messaging trial balloons before you invest in more expensive marketing initiatives.

    • Create content with pickup in mind. Consider developing a catchy phrase or tagline that represents your crisis communication campaign and is easy for media and businesses to share.

    • Don’t lose sight of your brand. Even though you're communicating about a crisis, the goal isn’t just to raise awareness about an issue. It's to show audiences all elements of your organization and ways they can safely engage with your core product or service.

    Final Thoughts

    No destination or organization wants to be associated with a crisis or danger. However, the story others will tell about your crisis is unlikely to serve your customers and likely to be damaging to your brand. Most importantly, owning a crisis is the antecedent to taking action, not to mention enlisting help — in particular from the very public you’re worried about scaring off.

    Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?

    The Rise Of Remote Working: Is It Losing Touch With Your Office Or Just Good Business

    Among digital workers, remote working is fast becoming an industry standard, even though many companies (understandably) feel that moving away from traditional working practices might result in less control. This holds true even more during the pandemic today. But the increased convenience and ‘hands-off’ approach has really benefited many organizations and its easy to see why.

    Remote worker busy

    What is Remote Working?

    The general idea of remote working is allowing employees to do their jobs wherever they are without the struggles you’d have expected in the past. The rise in popularity and speed of cloud computing means that remote work is a more viable option now than it ever has been and with the ubiquity of internet enabled electronics.

    There are numerous ways in which workers can stay connected to the office, even if they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.

    So Does it Work?

    It sounds ideal but of course there are drawbacks to remote working practices. Indeed, several years ago the CEO of internet giants ‘Yahoo’ ended the companies long-standing remote work policy completely, which came as a massive shock to the community. As a result, many employees left in outrage but if you look at it logically it’s easy to see her point of view even if one might not necessarily agree with it.

    Below we’ll be examining both sides of the argument.

    The Upsides

    Remote working using online

    tools

    The sheer convenience of being able to delegate work to an ‘off-site’ team can be incredibly liberating.

    Advances in cloud computing have meant that workers can essentially take their offices on the road with them. So if there’s a meeting that needs to be conducted away from the office, the employees conducting the meeting can take with them all of the information they need and all of the functionality they would enjoy at their own desks. This also means they can be updated on the fly if anything happens ‘back at the office’.

    Many workers simply work better when they are ‘let off the lease’ so to speak and without the higher-ups breathing down their necks, they could get some of their best and most productive work done. If employees are given the option of remote working, they are also more likely to stick around, especially if they have children at home that they need to look after during the day.

    Workers own devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops etc.) can be used for remote work, which not only means lower overhead costs, but that employees will feel more ‘in control’ of their schedules and more comfortable due to the familiarity they will already have with their own devices.

    By completely circumventing the need for a ‘commute’, you’re giving your workers more time to do their jobs, time (and money lest we forget that travel isn’t free) that would otherwise be spent idly fiddling with their phones on the train or shouting at traffic in the midst of the morning rat race.

    Allowing your employees to work remotely establishes a great deal of trust, trust that works both ways.

    The Downsides

    Lazy remote worker

    photo credit: Tony Delgrosso / Flickr

    Whilst it could be argued that there are more potential distractions in the average office than there are at an employees home and that working from home is generally quieter and more peaceful, the allure of television or even household chores can often prove tempting for remote workers.

    If workers don’t spend much time in the office, socializing with their fellow workers then they could lose touch. Also, whilst cloud computing has made communication between conventional workers and remote workers less difficult, it still doesn’t compare to a good old fashioned face-to-face.

    Whilst the employees might see this as a positive side-effect of remote working, the fact that managers and team leaders will have less direct control over their employees could lead to certain, less focused workers feeling less engaged and less inclined to do their jobs well and with conviction.

    As you can see, the upsides significantly outweigh the downsides, but whether or not remote working is good business for your businesses depends very much on the kind of business you run and the kind of workers you employ. It’s certainly an option to consider though because cloud computing is getting faster by the year and as a result, remote working will more than likely continue to flourish as a legitimate alternative business practice throughout 2021 and beyond.

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