Shields up

When Klingons or other enemies threatened the Enterprise, Captain Kirk had a good solution. He gave the “shields up” order and Enterprise and her crew were protected. If only life were like Star Trek.

If an enemy emerged that was bent on disrupting your event, embarrassing your executives, or otherwise damaging your reputation, what would you do? Panic? React defensively? Wet your pants?

From a strategic public relations perspective, it would be wise to engage them in a reasonable conversation and ask them to consider your point of view. You could agree to respectfully disagree and propose to civilly air out your differences.

Unfortunately, that approach is futile if the opposition is bent on creating a media opportunity to make their point. A determined group of true believers does not really care about facts or discussion or respect. They just want a big splash and they get excited seeing it all on YouTube. They don’t care about understanding, they need noise and chaos to survive.

So what can you do if confronted by such a group? How can you manage the situation and minimize the damage to your reputation? These five steps should help.

Love is all you need.
Sometimes a smile goes a long way. It can diffuse an angry situation and make it harder for the opponent to hate you. Of course, it is hard to smile at someone who is spitting in your face but it is always good to treat people with respect even if they are obnoxious.

Tell it like it is.
The opposition already has its mind made up, but people seeing the news reports or videos may not. Make sure that your side of the story is getting through.  Use traditional media, social media and blogs to deliver positive messages about the important work you do. Give people the opportunity to give you the benefit of the doubt.

See me. Touch me.
Be transparent. People become suspicious of your motives when they think you have something to hide. Be open about your organization, your mission, your work and your positions. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but you should be open and honest and authentic in your communication.

Carry on.
Don’t get sucked into someone else’s agenda. Your audience is on your side, not your enemy’s. Get their support. Steve Goodman was a great solo performer. I once saw him stop an obnoxious member of in the audience by improvising the lyrics to the song he was singing to ask the person to please shut up or leave. The audience went wild because that was exactly what they were thinking. He didn’t miss a beat and an uncomfortable situation was resolved.

Know when to fold them.
If the situation threatens the physical safety of you or your staff or the people attending your event, it is time to call in the cavalry. Don’t be afraid to ask the police or security to step in if the situation calls for it. That’s what they are trained for.

Nobody likes confrontations except for groups that thrive on confrontation. We don’t have a force field to protect us but if we keep our wits about us we can protect our ship and our crew. We can enter a hostile or alien situation and cause no harm. And as Captain Kirk would remind us, that’s our prime directive. 

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You don’t have to move the mountain

Rural Colorado nonprofits are suffering. Always challenged by the need to raise funds, the economy is forcing donors and volunteers to make tough choices about where to spend their money or time. Resources are down and the competition is stiff.

I recently met with a group of nonprofit directors in Steamboat Springs, nestled in the beautiful Yampa Valley in Routt County. You would think with all the million dollar vacation homes and seasonal money flowing into Steamboat during ski season that nonprofits there would be golden. Not so fast.

Most of these directors are one-person or small shops, running an organization while also responsible for fundraising and marketing. Each of them is concerned about competition for donations from larger, better branded nonprofits that attract the well-healed seasonal crowd. They worry about being well-kept secrets. The idea of begging their friends for help keeps them up at night. They are not sure how to connect with potential volunteers.

We discussed a lot of ideas, starting with understanding what their brand promise is and how to communicate it in the right way to the right audience. Our discussion was focused on basic PR strategy. What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What is the best way to reach them?

Based on that very energizing conversation, here are five steps small nonprofits can take to raise brand awareness:

Crystallize your brand. Take some time and go through a branding exercise with your board. If you don’t know how to do that, enlist a PR pro to conduct a branding session. Get at the heart of who you are and what you do. Create a brand foundation, or elevator statement. Try on a few ideas for a tagline or positioning statement to help people understand why they should connect with you.

Develop a plan. Start with some goals and objectives. Then outline a few strategies and tactics to help you achieve them. Take a look at where you are now and where you want to be a year from now, and then use your plan to take you there.

Paint a picture of your audience. What do they look like? Where do they live? How do they like to get their information? What motivates them to contribute to their community? What is important to them?  If you don’t know the answers, ask them. Find a few people who represent your audience, take them out for coffee and get some feedback. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.

If they won’t come to you, go to them. If your events are not well attended, try meeting your audience where they hang out. Get them information at their church, community center, library, school or workplace. Deliver information to their desktop electronically. Use social media to build your network and spread the news by word of mouth. 

Find an intern. Lose the burden of shouldering the load all by yourself all the time. Enlist an intern to help you develop a social media program, distribute flyers, send press releases, coordinate events, respond to emails and come up with great ideas you never even thought of. Take advantage of their energy and talent. In return, teach and mentor them.

As the gospel song says, “you don’t have to move the mountain, just show me the way around it.” The challenge is formidable but you have the ability to meet it. You are the answer to your prayers.

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