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Crisis Communications And The Erosion Of Trust

We talk about how companies can best respond in the event of a crisis with Kate Hartley, PR Expert, Author and Co-Founder of Polpeo a Crisis Simulation Company

Hosted by: Jim Preen - Crisis Management Director at YUDU Sentinel
Expert guest(s): Kate Hartley - Co-founder of Polpeo

Date: 15 January, 2020

Host profiles


Jim Preen

YUDU Sentinel

Crisis Management Director

Jim Preen is Crisis Management Director at YUDU Sentinel. He designs and delivers crisis simulations for clients using the Sentinel platform. Along with providing expert guidance on all aspects of crisis communications.

Formerly, he was a journalist working at ABC News (US), covering stories including the Gulf War, the Bosnian conflict and the Concorde crash. He won two Emmys for his work.


Kate Hartley



Kate is a PR and communications consultant, specialising in crisis communications training and simulations, and the author of 'Communicate in a Crisis,' a book on crisis communications in a social media world.

Kate is the co-founder of Polpeo, a crisis simulation and training company that prepares global brands across all sectors to deal with a crisis.

Video Transcript

Jim Preen: Today, we're talking about Crisis Comms and the Erosion of Trust. I'm really delighted to welcome my guest today who is Kate Hartley. She's a PR guru who's helped set up Polpeo and is the author of Communicate in a Crisis, a book as the name suggests, which is on crisis communication in a social media world.

Kate, I hope you're there. I hope you can hear us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and also tell us what Polpeo is too, please.

Kate Hartley: Hi, Jim. Yes, I am here and I can hear you. Actually, to answer one of the questions on the Q&A, I don't hear any duplication they are hearing, so.

Jim Preen: Okay, good. There must be a feedback loop I guess.

Kate Hartley: Yes.

Jim Preen: Who is it? Who called in with that? Yes, Joanna. Joanna, you might need to, I don't know, maybe turn your own mic. No, you're not using a mic. I don't know. Hopefully, you've sorted it anyway.

Kate Hartley: Hi, I'm Kate Hartley. I'm the co-founder of Polpeo and that is a crisis simulation company. We use simulation technology to help brands and agencies prepare for a crisis breaking so they can see what it might be like to go through a crisis as it breaks on social and digital media. We like to think it's the closest thing to going through a crisis for real so it gets you to test your crisis response and your responses.

As you said, I've just written a book called Communicate in a Crisis. That looks really how people respond in a crisis and how, therefore, organisations can put together a response that's really effective in a crisis situation. My background is, I will say 25years. It's probably nearer 30 now but I think I'm sticking to 25-

Jim Preen: Okay.

Kate Hartley: -of agency side, PR specializing in crisis communications.

Jim Preen: Excellent, Kate. Well, thanks very much, indeed. In fact, I've just finished reading your book. I'm good. I think we're going to use your book as a bit of a template for some of the things that we're going to talk about today, so listen out for that.

Now, before I pose my first question to Kate, I'm going to launch a poll. This has a double pan, really, just to get you using the keyboard and so forth, and to take the temperature of our audience.

A very simple poll here which hopefully you can see. Which is and the question posed is, "Do you have a crisis comms plan?" We would like you to vote on this if you will, please. All right, I see our votes are coming. We've got 42% of people who have voted. Let's see if we can get a little bit higher than that. Do you have a crisis comms plan? Yes, no or working on it. 76%. Are we going to get any high? We have up to 80% of the participants who have voted. A few people still voting.

Okay, this is last dibs, now, I'm going to close the polls. Yes, the poll is ended. I'm going to share the results with you. Hopefully, you can see those poll results. In case you can't, yes, they do have a plan, 44%. No, they don't, 17% and I'm working on it, 39%, so nearly as much says yes.

My opinion is, and I welcome Kate's thoughts on this, that any plan is better than no plan. You see, the best plan in the world would probably have to be changed during a crisis. Kate, have you got any thoughts on that particularly?

Kate Hartley: I couldn't agree more. I think that's absolutely right. Sometimes, the shorter the plan, the best too as well. I've seen so many crisis plans that are so complicated to you use that actually never get used. Sometimes, the best place to start is with an escalation process and a list of contacts.

Jim Preen: Yes, indeed. I totally agree. When I first joined this industry a number of years ago shall we say, you used to see this huge, massive business continuity plans, very brain-bending folders which as you say, Kate, people just didn't turn to look at. It's not really what I want to get into today but what we're seeing a lot of these days are playbooks. Not a generic business continuity plan but a playbook that might deal with a cyber-attack or a terror attack. I'm sure you've seen some of those, Kate.

Kate Hartley: Absolutely, yes. That is exactly what we're seeing as well.

Jim Preen: Okay, excellent stuff. Good, all right. Well, look, let's move on here and ask you a question, Kate. I've said that. I should have put that up before. I do apologise.

Kate Hartley: [laughs]

Jim Preen: That's Kate. You're looking at Kate everybody. There she is. That's her over there. That's the information. We've done the poll. My first question as you can see up there is, you once said that communicating with empathy will get you through a crisis, but empathy doesn't always go with leadership. I was quite intrigued by that. What did you mean by that?

Kate Hartley: I think this comment is going to haunt me actually for the rest of my life. [laughs] Yes, I think it can be. Empathy is actually very difficult to get right. I think it's incredibly important in a crisis situation. Very often people confuse empathy with just saying sorry or having sympathy for what somebody is going through. Of course, it's not the same. Empathy is broadly the ability to understand what somebody else is feeling from their point of view and not from your point of view.

Actually, if you're a leader and your job in part at least is to defend the reputation of your company, that can be quite hard to do. It can be quite hard to shift from what should my company say in this crisis situation, to what do people actually need to hear from me. That's tough for a leader I think to do very often because their primary concern is the reputation, the evaluation, the share price, whatever of the company. They are inclined to come at the crisis from their own point of view.

Jim Preen: You're right. Why do you consider empathy so important? We've got so many forms of apologizing for this, apologizing for that. What you want to actually see is people doing something to overcome a problem.

Kate Hartley: Actually, I think empathy leads to action or it should do, real empathy because if you're really understanding the crisis that somebody else is going to feel, you'll understand that what they want is not a legalise half-apology, but what they want really is to see action. There are some really good examples of this. The most obvious one I think is the United Airlines example in 2017 when a Dr. Jim Dao-- I'm sure everybody on this call will know this example but I'll just very quickly talk through what happened.

It was a Dr. Jim Dao who was a 69-year-old doctor, he was flying on the United flight from Chicago to Louisville. The airline as very often happens needed some volunteers to give up their seats because some airline staff needed those seats. When nobody volunteered, I think they were offering about $400 for people to change, but actually, nobody volunteered. The airline said we're going to forcibly remove somebody from the flight, which they did.

They really did remove him forcibly. Dr. Jim Dao refused to leave initially. He was dragged off that flight. His head hit the armrest. He ended up with a broken nose, two broken teeth I think and a concussion. Of course, that was filmed and put on the internet as it was happening live. The very first statement from the CEO of United Airlines sort of gave an apology but it t said, "This is an upsetting event to all of here at United," not poor old Dr. Jim Dao who's been dragged off the plane, and then the really brilliant line was, he said, "I apologise for having to re-accommodate these passengers."

Jim Preen: [laughs] I know that.

Kate Hartley: Of course, that led to all sorts of outrage and hilarity.

Jim Preen: Yes.

Kate Hartley: It was really interesting because that whole thing actually cost United, I think it was about $700 million in share damage. That recovered pretty quickly so it wasn't lasting damage to the firm but still, it's not something you want to go through. He did listen to opinion on it, to be fair to him, he did listen to many and his next statement was much, much better and actually talked about how other people had seen that incident and what the impact might have been on Dao himself. I think that's a good example of where empathy did not, [laughs] was not and perhaps should be been.

Jim Preen: I, sometimes put it, don't do or say anything out of touch with the public mood. If you do that, you're going to get, you're either going to make crisis worse or actually create a crisis which of course-

Kate Hartley: Absolutely.

Jim Preen: -is exactly what the airline did. Okay, brilliant. Well, I'm going to keep the pace up here and move on. This is my particular favorite in your book, it's in one of the earlier chapters. You talked about a kind of psychological contract between consumers and the brands they love. The way you talk about it, it's almost like it's a love affair.

Kate Hartley: [laughs]

Jim Preen: Well, it's true, isn't it? The way you talked about it, and when the love affair is over, the love turns to hate. In fact, I've got another slide here which I'm going to put out because this is from the book. My question is, what can cause this break and indeed, how can the break be fixed? Those are some points that I've just thrown up onto the PowerPoint slide. I don't know if you want to talk through it and respond. Those are the things that trigger a negative response in your opinion.

Kate Hartley: Yes. It's a really interesting idea the psychological contract, isn't it? It came from Jill Green who's a clinical psychologist. She's absolutely an amazing woman and works with all sorts of corporates. She says that we believe that we have a deal with brands, whether that's inferred rather than actually specifically stated. We think that the brand stands for something. Facebook might be an example, for example.

Its decency is fairly, clearly say that they can do whatever they like with our data, but actually, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened, people felt that their trust had been broken with Facebook even though actually, technically, our data is owned by Facebook because it seems we put it into Facebook.

It's a trust issue I think. Particularly, in the case of Facebook, this is a place where we share personal stories, big events in our lives, pictures of our kids, so we have to have that kind of trust and as soon as that trust is broken that did feel like a contract had been broken. I think the thing that's interesting about this contract is this, these days a brand, and I don't just mean a clothing brand that we wear, it's very obviously part of our identity, but the brands that we buy and the things that we do, are part of our social identity, or for social currency.

The car we drive, for example, says something about how we feel about the environment, or whether we choose to fly, or the organisations that we support, and of course, we do all these things very publicly now, so they're part of our social identity, and I think that's where the contract is so important.

Jim Preen: Kate, presumably these are just a few-- most of us don't think about brands that much, maybe it's just me, I don't know. I suppose there are a few that I really identify with, I guess that's what you're talking about really.

Kate Hartley: Yes, it is, and I teach at a US University occasionally, and always ask the youngsters there about the brands that they really identify with, and particularly, the ones they'd boycott because I think that's really-- that's the ultimate negative response to a brand is to boycott it, and these are really the five things that come up again and again for them. I'm not being rude here, but we're probably slightly older perhaps than-

Jim Preen: You can keep that to yourself Kate


Kate Hartley: -than these youngsters, and actually they do care passionately about how brands behave, not just the products that they buy from them.

Jim Preen: Or if they seem to be doing something unethical.

Kate Hartley: Yes, exactly. For example, there was a girl in one of the classes that I was teaching who said that she wants to boycott Chick-fil-A because of its stance on gay marriage, and her mother is gay, so that hurts her, so that's a typical example of hurting something she relates to.

Facebook might be an example of a brand that took away our control, it took away control of our data, but there are a couple of interesting things I think. If somebody goes against his own ethics, Boohoo, for example, is the UK retailer and it was found to be selling real fur instead of fake fur, and it's an endorsed by Petter, the animal rights campaign group, I said, that hurt its reputation pretty badly, that's a pretty bad thing, it really went against its own ethics.

But when you look at something like Amazon, which is fairly resilient to boycotts, people boycott it for allegedly evading tax, or perhaps working conditions, but because it's never held itself up to be this ultra ethical company, it kind of gets away with it, it's really interesting.

Jim Preen: Well, and Boobhoo didn't because they did. [crosstalk]

Kate Hartley: They didn't, exactly.

Jim Preen: The one thing I was, sorry, I'm going slightly off-piece here, but when I talk to companies, I do think people need, companies need credibility in the bank if they're hit with a crisis--

Kate Hartley: They absolutely do, yes. Absolutely.

Jim Preen: Gosh, I hope I'm not going to get in trouble saying this but I have a suspicion we might talk about TalkTalk and their data breach a little bit later. I mean, fine company and all, but they didn't have huge amounts of public trust in the bank and I think that probably hit them a little bit more, but I don't know, maybe you disagree with that.

Kate Hartley: I always say that the reputation you have going into the crisis, is the one that will see you through the crisis, and you have to do a lot of the work upfront in order to manage the company's reputation if you're going to get through the crisis, you can't suddenly raise trust at the point at which a crisis hits.

Jim Preen: Excellent. Just looking at the five things there, when you say it takes away our control, what does that mean?

Kate Hartley: Well, I think if we have trusted the brand with information, it's particularly relevant in data breach actually, if we've trusted the brand with something and then something happens to it that we have no control over, that makes us really angry and that might trigger negative behavior.

Jim Preen: Okay, all right, great. Are we good on this or is there anything else you wanted to add on that?

Kate Hartley: No, I think we're good on that.

Jim Preen: Okay, excellent stuff. Well I'm going to hit our listeners now with-- we haven't had any questions yet, I think you need some questions from our listeners as well as, do pop in if you've got a question for Kate, but I've got another poll now, and let me see where is this one, here we go. I'm launching a poll now, and I'd like you to vote on it.

Would you consider using social media in a crisis? Well, obviously, some people won't mind, probably I think that Kate might, but there's a dark side to social media, it can really come back to bite you. Is it something you would fear doing in a crisis using social media?

We've got 72% of people voted, anybody else going to vote? Okay, let's keep this moving along quickly, I'm going to end the poll now, and I'm going to launch the results. It's quite interesting actually Kate, can you see this? Would you consider using social media in a crisis? Yes, 68% said they would, and maybe, was 32%.

Kate Hartley: Nobody's saying no, that's great.

Jim Preen: Yes, it's interesting, isn't it?

Kate Hartley: Yes, it is interesting.

Jim Preen: Any thoughts on that? What is your thoughts on that?

Kate Hartley: I think that you can't put the genie back in the bottle with social media. Whether you choose to engage on social media or not is not going to stop people having conversations. A very long time ago, when we first started doing these simulations, I worked with a law firm and we heard one of the lawyers advising their client to shut down Twitter in a crisis. Of course, you can't. [laughs] It doesn't stop people talking about you. It's like putting your fingers in your ears, so I think there are ways of using social media, different ways which I'm sure will come on and talk about it, but whether that's monitoring social media to hear what people are saying, or proactively talking on social media, I think you have to engage.

Jim Preen: Yes, indeed. I've got a question here from Rich, what useful social media tools would you use for a PR crisis? I suppose you're probably talking about Hoot Suite and stuff like that. Kate, what is your thoughts on that?

Kate Hartley: I think a good social listening tool is absolutely essential these days, and of course, how detailed it gets depends really on your budget, as ever, but the most important thing I think you can do is monitor what people are saying to you because then you can start to understand what the public mood is in the public response. I would say that's the most important thing.

Jim Preen: Know any particular tools that you would recommend?

Kate Hartley: To be honest, there are so many awesome these days. There are absolutely hundreds, and hundreds of them, so whatever you feel most comfortable using. Whether it's the sort of free Hoot Suite, or a full-on Brandwatch type tool, I think as long as you have a handle on what people are saying about your brand, it doesn't really necessarily matter which tool.

Jim Preen: I suppose a lot of people will use some external PR companies to do this kind of work as well. Yes?

Kate Hartley: I'm sorry I lost you there for a second.

Jim Preen: Oh, sorry. A lot of people will use external media monitoring agencies to do this kind of work, yes? Hello, Kate?

Kate Hartley: Sorry, Jim. The sound dipped and it looks as though it might have dipped for a couple of other people, as well. You're back now, though, so that's good.

Jim Preen: I don't know if it's my rubbish Internet. I do apologise if it is. Yes, I'm getting a lot of people, "I cannot hear Jim," says Abby much to her relief. [laughs] Do keep me posted if you can't hear me. A question from Gary, it's a good question here. When using social media in a crisis, do you respond to individuals, or keep it high level and generic?

Kate Hartley: It's a really interesting question. This is one we get asked all the time actually. I'm going to give you a very good PR answer which is, it depends. [laughs] I think when you're dealing with high volumes, it's going to be very difficult to deal with absolutely everybody in a crisis. If you're a big B2C company and you're dealing with thousands and thousands, of requests, you're probably not going to be able to respond to everybody. What we advise is to triage the questions and comments you get.

The first is to really prioritise the people who are most directly affected by the crisis, the people who have the biggest impact and respond and deal with them first. Then, deal with the people who've been indirectly affected, so that might be that their family or friends have been impacted, for example, or they're an interested party for whatever reason. Then thirdly and finally, everybody else if you have time. There will be lots of people who are just commenting and want their own voice to be heard against the crisis and you may not have time to deal with them and that's fine. You can group responses to those people but focus first of all on the people who are most directly affected.

Jim Preen: All right. We're getting quite a lot of questions here which are quite interesting, Kate, so I think I'm going to hit you with these. Jim asked the question, I'm sure you've dealt with this, do you encourage a social media policy within organisations, particularly to support employee behaviors and corporate culture? What your thoughts on that? Allowing people to tweet, are they allowed to use branding? All that kind of stuff.

Kate Hartley: It's, again, fascinating. T think thinking has really changed on this in recent years. Five years ago, people would be very much, shut down everybody talking on social media. Tell them they're not allowed to, but actually you can't do that. I think you have to assume that everything you say internally is going to get leaked these days. I wouldn't necessarily encourage your employees to comment on the crisis in social media, of course.

They can often do more damage than anything else, but if you're keeping them informed as a really important audience, in the same way, that you would keep media informed or your customers, then hopefully what they say about you won't actually damage you, so I think that's the best thing you can do. At that point, a policy is of course important. They have a duty to protect the reputation of the company but I don't think it's realistic anymore to expect people not to talk at all about it.

Jim Preen: All right, good. Abby's asking a question, I don't know the answer to this. I don't know if you do Kate, is asking about how Travelex UK are dealing with that data breach. Do you know about that at all?

Kate Hartley: A little bit, yes. Funny enough, I was reading a bit about it yesterday and I was fascinated that even some of the really reputable media outlets were saying that Travelex had refused to say, and that's a direct quote from the BBC, at what point normal operations would be restored, and that is never a good look, is it? You really want them to be open and honest and say exactly what they know, what they don't know.

People aren't always going to have all the answers in a crisis. They might say, we're not sure why this happened and we're finding out and we hope to have an answer for you, tomorrow or in two weeks' time, whatever it is. No, I don't think they've handled it brilliantly and I think it does come to proactively keeping people informed.

Jim Preen: All right, good. We got a couple of other questions here, but I think we need to move on with where we're going. We'll come back to questions from panelists in a moment. What more to say about how would you analyze the effects of social media on crisis response? It's been a game-changer, isn't it?

Kate Hartley: It really has. I will say that the principles of crisis communications haven't changed, but the environment in which we apply those principles has completely changed. That's really what social media has done. The biggest thing, as you've said here, Jim, is the speed. If you think that Facebook now gives you a first responder badge on its own platform if you're a brand if you respond to 90% of posts within 15 minutes, now that's setting an incredibly false expectation for consumers about what they want from an organisation and in a crisis, you're probably not going to be able to respond in 15 minutes.

We want information, we all binge shows on Netflix and buy with Amazon prime. We don't want to wait for anything and we all refresh our screens constantly on social media. We're used to getting things very, very quickly and if we don't, it makes us quite anxious and we tend to think of social media as being the problem here, but actually that's a very human instinct. It's from our cave-dwelling ancestors who wanted information quickly because they needed to make a quick decision and it could have been life or death in those days.

Jim Preen: I love the idea of our caveman ancestors using Tweets for information.

Kate Hartley: Yes, exactly. They would have been getting their information from the same sources, but it's a very human instinct. Social media is actually just enabling that human instinct to come out.

Jim Preen: The speed. The other side of it is, of course, the response, and Rich raises the question, would you use the same response across all media channels? I suppose we're back to the old classic of key messages and lines to take, but I guess you might tailor your response to individual audiences to some degree, right?

Kate Hartley: Yes, I think you should mostly. I think you need to start with your core messaging and it's quite common for companies just to put exactly the same message out to absolutely everybody on every channel. Your core messaging, of course, needs to say the same, but I do think there is an argument to socialise it, for want of a better word. It's a hard word actually, but to adapt it for social media a little bit. There may be different people wanting slightly different things on different platforms. You have to think about social media as being intrinsically personal spaces for people so actually very corporate statements may not work very well on Facebook.

You probably wouldn't want to put a corporate statement ever on YouTube for example, because you'll get a huge amount of abuse back. There's slightly, I think you should tailor it for different channels.

Jim Preen: One thing I've always thought as well, okay is if you're a multinational company, words are freighted, words have a lot of depths to them. A word that might be appropriate to use in London might not be appropriate to use in Sydney.

Kate Hartley: Absolutely.

Jim Preen: I'm always very keen that some, if you're a multinational company, that you would either a statement or a statement or whatever it might be is actually written locally or at least looked at locally to see that nothing jars.

Kate Hartley: Absolutely. Especially if you're using humor. There are some instances where humor is appropriate in a crisis. We always talk about the O2 network outage, but actually, as you say, if you're a multinational company, humor definitely doesn't travel in the same way so you need to be very, very cautious.

Jim Preen: Well, Mark's got a good point here. It's not really a question, it's a point, but I think it's quite a good one, that if suddenly an employee puts out something that's completely out of line with what the company is saying about a crisis, don't get in a spat with that employee online, just take that offline and deal with the employee.

Kate Hartley: Absolutely. I think generally, try not to get into a spat with anyone online in a crisis is good advice actually. That's an interesting point though, because sometimes if you can take the post down all together so that it's not seen, that's fine. Of course, with screenshots and so on, if you've got an employee who has said something that goes against what you want them to say, you might be better off addressing the issues publicly so that other people who see that comment can then see what the truth of the story is. There is an argument to say you should respond, but I think it depends on the seriousness of the issue.

Jim Preen: Yes, indeed. Brendan, I think he was calling from Australia. Yes. He makes the point, and this is something I've talked about in the past as well, is that the way he phrases it about reputation going into a crisis, we encourage our clients in a crisis to stand next to the problem and show leadership. The way I've put it in the past is to own a crisis and not run away from it. The example would use for that would be VW, Volkswagen who when they fitted their 'defeat devices' in the car, they didn't own the problem and they tried to distance themselves from it. I think would you go along with this, Kate?

Kate Hartley: Yes, Brendan, I couldn't agree more and I've got a story on this which was we were working for a big financial services company and we were running a simulation training course for about a hundred people. There was a big debate about how to respond and the legal advice actually was don't respond at all. I'd say there was a group of people within the simulation saying we've got our lawyers here, they're telling us not to do anything. Why is our crisis getting so much worse? That led to a huge debate between the legal team and the comms team about whether to own the crisis, whether to apologise, whether to accept it and, of course very different opinions.

The upshot of that was that we were asked to put all their lawyers through a simulation so they could see what it was like to take their own advice and as a result of that exercise, the lawyers have changed the advice they give into the business. That was a really interesting exercise for me because I thought actually if you bring those people into the process and get them to see what's going on on social media, very often, these are smart people. They're going to see why legal advice on his own isn't necessarily the right answer, it has to be taken into consideration with reputation advice as well.

Jim Preen: You must've been in the room with lawyers at some point, Kate, where they're telling you to say nothing.

Kate Hartley: A lot yes. I think it's changing actually to be fair. I do think that's changing. I think the Thomas Cook example changed that, the two children who died in Crete I think, the boiler that it's a faulty boiler and they didn't accept liability for it because technically, they weren't liable and the legal advice was you're not liable. The hotel's liable so I don't accept liability, but actually the cost of not accepting the liability was greater than the cost of accepting liability just in pure financial terms, which is really interesting.

Jim Preen: Another couple of questions have come in one from Electra and one from Rich and they're both basically dealing with internal comms, internal comms in sense of would you use social media for internal comms? Rich is saying how would you manage your internal comms in a crisis? Mass email, group meeting, management only. Talk to us a little bit about your experience of talking with staff and employees during a crisis.

Kate Hartley: Hi, Rich. I think we know each other from a previous life. That's the internal comms is a really good point and of course, and Jim, this is something that you'll know about is that if your system has gone down, like the NHS in the WannaCry example, for example, that actually communicating on email with your employees, you can't do it. You're not going to be able to do it. You need another system and that's I guess, Jim, where something like Sentinel comes in and so I think you really need to work out the best channels to reach people on so they will actually read it.

If you're like me and you have fairly regularly 1500 unread emails in your inbox, then probably email isn't the best way to get hold of somebody. There might be other methods to do that. I do think that you have to have an effective way of reaching all your employees because they are a really critical audience for you. They're the people that are going to defend your brand to their friends, their families, to each other, and they're going to be talking on social media probably about you as well.

Jim Preen: Yes, indeed. I'm very big on this as well that some people get very energised by talking with the media and talking with external audiences, but in a crisis, the first audience you need to address is indeed your staff because they're going to get you through this crisis. Now we're onto another big topic here. Fake news. Now, just from your book again, I didn't realise, and maybe our audience don't know this or maybe they do, is that actually fake news did come from a particular source and that was BuzzFeed. Can you just tell us about that, please?

Kate Hartley: Yes, absolutely. The term that we first think of, the term is as we know now fake news that we all know from Donald Trump, of course, was actually coined in 2016 by BuzzFeed. The editor then of BuzzFeed saw a number of interesting stories coming into his news feed from various friends about the presidential election, in 2016. He saw that most of these were clearly misinformation or just totally made up, and he decided to investigate.

His investigations took him to Macedonia to a small town called Veles, in Macedonia. He discovered that there was a man in Macedonia in Veles who wasn't desperately well off, was interested in making a bit of money, was quite good with computers and thought, "I must be able to put my skills to some use to make some money here. How do I do that?"

He looked around and thought, "Actually, the way to make money is on Facebook or Google advertising. How do I do that? I've not been able to create stories necessarily in Macedonia that can make me very rich."

He looked to the biggest market in the world, the US and he looked at the biggest story of the year, which of course was the US presidential election, the Trump versus Clinton election, and he created a new site that was satirical, this is probably a nice way of putting it fake news is another, and he started pumping out pro-Trump and pro-Clinton stories to measure and test. He did it very well, approached it in a very sensible way and measured and tested everything, and sensationalised his headlines to see which ones would get the most clicks and therefore generate him the most income.

He discovered that the pro-Trump stories were generating more income, they were doing better, they were being shared more than the pro-Clinton stories. You can make of that what you will, of course, but it was fascinating because a lot of his friends then thought, "He's making some quite good money on this." They saw that it was the pro-Trump stories that were doing better. When the editor of BuzzFeed visited Veles, I think there were a hundred or so different sites set up in that small town simply to promote pro-Trump election stories in order to generate advertising through YouTube, Google, Facebook, and so on.

That is really what we're contending with, that's what we're up against as communicators, there's people making money off misinformation, and that's quite frightening actually and although since then, a lot of the networks have done huge things to counteract fake news, it is still a really big problem for them.

Jim Preen: Well, what can you do Kate? It's just impossible.

Kate Hartley: Hard isn't it? Yes, and it's really hard as communicators because we're used to dealing more or less in facts and the truth. Of course, we have a redress if a journalist prints something that's clearly incorrect, we can get a statement corrected, we can get an apology into the publication. In the most extreme situations, we'll take legal action, of course, that's very difficult to do with social media. I think what you have to do is, you have to try and keep on top of it.

There are a number of things, trust is a big thing here too. We know that nobody trusts anybody anymore. I think the most important thing in reputation terms for a brand or an organisation is to build trust so that when you present the truth, people believe you. The issue at the moment I think is that, if you dodge facts in a crisis, people don't believe what you're saying. They think your obfuscating, they think you're hiding stuff and they're more likely to believe this misinformation. You have to set yourself up as the trusted voice of authority in a crisis, and that means staying on top of those rumors, refuting them publicly and stating your facts as you know them quickly and effectively.

It's very, very difficult to do because you have to be totally transparent.

Jim Preen: Absolutely, there was one real thing that really interested me in your book, well, in fact, there were several things. One thing that I haven't thought about before, as you've just said, we've lost trust in a lot of things, we've lost trust in newspapers, in journalists. Now that social media is thrown into the mix as well as being just part of the media mix, we lose trust in what we're being told. But a piece of research, and forgive me if I can't remember where it came from, but a piece of research in your book was that actually people don't trust brands or companies so much, but they still do trust individuals. I found that really interesting.

Kate Hartley: That was from the Edelman Trust Barometer, which is a great resource actually. Yes, it is really interesting and it's interesting when you think about your crisis response. We tend to think of your initial statement being from the company and then you will add the CEO at a point at which the crisis has reached a certain stage, but actually probably an individual responding to individuals is going to be better received. It is slightly changing the way we think about our responses I think, that in fact, we trust individuals.

We turn to our networks, don't we? We turn to our friends. We don't trust an organisation, you'll go to your friend for recommendations. You don't trust what a brand says, you say, "Has anybody--," we do it every day of our lives, we say, "Does anybody recommend a good carpenter, a good plumber?" and you trust what people say to you, but you don't necessarily trust what the firms are saying, and that's the bit we have to break.

Jim Preen: Zeroing in on this, that's why a chief executive or a spokesperson for a company is so unbelievably important because is if we don't have trust in them, then they're really lost, but if they do seem like a trustworthy character then I assume that can really help in terms of fake news and indeed other aspects of a crisis as well.

Kate Hartley: Exactly. Also, I think what an individual says, is going to be shared more on social media than a corporate statement. Again, as communicators, we tend to focus on our response to the media, but actually hardly anybody pays for their news anymore. I think it's less than 10% of people pay for their news now. Actually, we probably need to think in terms of humans talking to humans rather than just thinking about the media as a conduit.

Jim Preen: Okay, well, let's move on to something else about influencers and third-party advocates. I'm quite often asked about this. If in a crisis, does it work to use-- I'm not talking about social media influencers selling products, I'm talking about in a crisis, does it work to get somebody in to speak on behalf of your company or your brand? Quite often, people will use academics and people like that, but a lot of other people will say, "Well look, you're just paying them, they'll just say what you want them to say and it doesn't really get anywhere." Do you in a crisis would you advocate ever using a third party advocate?

Kate Hartley: Well, my background is not in influencer marketing, but for the book, I talked to a guy called Scott Guthrie. He lives and breathes influencers, there's nothing very much he doesn't know about them. He had a wonderful quote which he said, "Make friends when you don't need them, not just when you do," and he applies that to influencers. In a crisis, you need people who understand your brand, and influencers can be very useful in getting a message out quickly to people, but if you didn't already have a relationship with those influencers, that is not going to be appropriate.

The influencers that you're already working with on a long-term basis probably will be very good spokespeople for your brand, in fact, they'll probably be spokespeople for your brand whether you want them to be or not, so you should definitely remember them. But I think getting somebody in as a one-off paid mouthpiece is not effective, and I think that in some cases, that could actually make the situation worse.

Jim Preen: Yes, because you got to be careful of your influencers if they're caught doing something naughty as well.

Kate Hartley: Well that's absolutely, yes andwe see that quite a lot with sportspeople, don't we?

Jim Preen: Indeed or our press will – we’ll leave that one alone [laugher] . All right, I've got my third and final fascinating poll here for you. What am I asking you this time? Yes, data breach, we're going to get onto the data breaches and cyber-attacks and so forth. I'm going to launch a poll here, and it's a bit of a trick question in a way. My question is, if a hack has taken place and customer data is lost what do you do? Do you go public straight away or do you sit on the information until you have all the facts? If a hack or data breach has taken place and you've lost customer data what do you do? Do you go public straight away or do you sit on information until you have all the facts?

People are thinking about this one, we only got 40% of people have voted. If you wouldn't mind, it'd be really interesting to see what you have to say. Half of everybody's voted-- people are jumping in now. Last dibs on this, I'm going to end the poll now, oh, people are still voting. Anymore? 75%, I think we're going to go with 75%. Here Kate, are the results.

Kate Hartley: That is interesting, isn't it?

Jim Preen: It was a bit of a trick question because I was rather thinking about TalkTalk here with the Baroness, Dido Harding. She got it from both angles, poor lady. She was poorly briefed, was put out relatively early but was still criticised for not speaking early enough. Didn't have all the information and couldn't say whether the information, sorry, the data that was stolen was encrypted or not.

Kate Hartley: Apart from that, it went really well. [chuckles]

Jim Preen: I know you've got some thoughts on this as well, what was your thought on that issue there?

Kate Hartley: TalkTalk was just, I felt so sorry for her in some ways. We did some research actually. I work with a company called The Social Element, who's my co-founder company for Polpeo. They did some research into the TalkTalk cyber-attack along with a few other brands, actually, just to look at how negative social media mentions tracked against the big events in the company and looking at share price impact as well.

I think the social media mentions averaged 2000 an hour, the negative post that they were having to deal with at the height of that crisis, which is quite something, isn't it? But there was a huge amount of confusion. I think the first statement said, or certainly one of the early statements said that data had been breached as a result of a DDoS attack, which a few security experts are very quick to point out is actually technically impossible.

The DDoS attack could have taken out the website, but it wouldn't have actually breached the data. That didn't help them, that early statement because it didn't look as though they knew what they were doing in terms of security at all. Of course, then as you said, when Harding was interviewed, she couldn't give any details about the security systems that the company was using.

There was also a meme that started, which was Harding sitting in front of a really old looking VCR and a huge computer. One of those big old, I don't know what it was, but we know it was those box computers, and people saying, "If this is the technology they're using, no wonder their security's gone down." Of course, that was a picture that had been taken about 20 years ago. Apparently a completely different life. You have to deal with all those things as well. It was very difficult.

There were all these rumors. I think there were various rumors that ISIS was behind the attack or the mafia, and then it was the Russian Secret Services. All these things. It turned out, of course, to be a teenager in his bedroom in Ireland.

Jim Preen: Yes. It was an astonishing story. Sorry. Did you mention this already? Because she actually said there was loads more people affected than actually were.

Kate Hartley: Yes, she said four million originally and it turned out to be 150,000. I think they had, what we call, marketed their own crisis pretty effectively there. They'd made it seem much worse than it was. There were so many lessons I think from that and to answer your question about the advice, which is, you do have to get to the facts. Of course, you do, but to get to the facts, you have to get the right people in the room to answer the right questions and that takes really, really amazing leadership.

Every board member now needs to understand security, especially the CEO. It's not okay anymore just to say, "I don't really know about this, you need to talk to a specialist." People really need to understand security. This is our new normal now, data breach. Everybody's going to go through it at some point. We all have to understand it. I think that's a real shift in thinking for many boards, but I also think, again, looking at the poll, do you go immediately or do you wait until you've got all the facts?

If you waited until you had all the facts in a crisis, you'd never say anything. On the other hand, you don't want to do Dido Harding and go out and say, "Well, it could be four million people with all this information." You do need to communicate facts as you verify them. You don't have to have all of them, but you can drip-feed the facts as you can verify them, but you've got to get to the truth quickly.

Jim Preen: I remember she was interviewed on Newsnight by Kirsty Wark. Am I right? Yes. She was given both barrels by Kirsty for not speaking out soon enough. [laughs] I was thinking, for goodness sake, poor woman, it was only the day after, but that was still-- You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. On a cyber attack, what specific, I can't speak anymore, what specific advice would you have for communicators during a cyber attack?

Kate Hartley: I think it goes back to just telling the truth. Obviously, you have to follow legal advice and report to the ICO and all those things that you have to do, but I think generally if you just apply all the usual principles of crisis communications, tell the truth, be open, verify the facts, tell people the verified facts as you have them, as you discover them. Make sure that you have absolutely the right people briefing you as a leader so that you've got the facts to hand.

You probably can't learn all about security at the point at which the data breach breaks so you need to know that beforehand. We just have to assume that we're all going to go through a data breach so we need to be more clued-up on security generally, I think at that board level. Then finally, say what you're doing to prevent this happening again. There's a lovely guy called John Brown from an agency called Don't cry Wolf who says, "You have to open all the doors in a crisis." You have to let people in and to almost walk around your office and see what you're doing to put it right. Show people what you're doing to make sure this never happens again.

Jim Preen: From a slightly different perspective, with GDPR in place and so for the hope people from overseas, this is a new general data protection. It's all to do with protecting personal data, but if you do have a data breach, you have to let the Information Commissioner's Office know in 72 hours. I was sat in the room with some people from the Information Commissioner's Office the other day and they are quite scary by the way. [chuckles] They made it quite clear that 72 hours was the outer limit and that if you have a data breach, they would expect your call earlier.

To be fair to them, they were offering advice as well. It wasn't, they were just going to give you hell. They had advice too. Have you worked with them at all, have you talked with the ICO at all, Kate?

Kate Hartley: No. I tend not to get involved actually in that way. No, I'm probably not the right person to ask questions on the ICO response.

Jim Preen: All right, very good. Very good. Let's move on to-- Where are we? Because time is run away with this. Just ask you this question. It's really for smaller companies I suppose. It can be exhausting dealing with a crisis. When it comes to dealing with social media and so forth, for a small company-- Let me give you an example there. For example, when Tesco had the problem with horsemeat scandal, you remember? I'm sure everybody remembers the horsemeat scandal.

They had a lot of criticism online, and Tesco being a big, clever brand, pretty much answered, I don't know if every tweet, but they certainly had a team of people answering questions, answering tweets online, but how can an SME, how can a small company possibly manage to do that? What can they do if they're really on the receiving end of a battering in a social media crisis? Do you have any advice for smaller companies?

Kate Hartley: It's very difficult and I work with a lot of smaller organisations or charitable organisations, actually helping them on exactly this point. I think it goes back to what I said earlier about triaging your responses. Really making sure you prioritise who you're talking to, but also setting expectations of timeframes. If you're not going to respond in an hour, don't tell people you are going to.

Just make sure you use things like pinning posts to your social media channels so that you've got the latest information available and visible to everybody. Direct people perhaps to the best channel where you're updating your responses. Some people use, might be a dark site, or it might be a web page. It might be your Facebook page-

Jim Preen: Kate, let me stop you there.

Kate Hartley: Sorry.

Jim Preen: I think you need to explain perhaps to some people dark websites.

Kate Hartley: Sorry. A website that you have ready to show in the event of a crisis that is quick to update but that appears to be part of your ordinary website. Sometimes getting into your main website can be very clunky if you're a big corporate so people have a site that is dark, that's not showing until a crisis hits and then you've got a page ready to go that you can direct people to.

Jim Preen: I know this would differ from organisation to organisation and from crisis to crisis, but would you typically leave your normal website up there? I suppose you might remove some advertising from your normal website.

Kate Hartley: Yes. It would definitely removing advertising. That's absolutely- and all your social media marketing posts as well to pull them down. That's something that quite often we see gets forgotten.

Jim Preen: Because of social, it's very hard for firms to set the media agenda these days but that's an important thing for them to do if they can, right?

Kate Hartley: If they can is the big thing, isn't it? Again, it comes down to being trusted and transparent. If the media trusts you, then they'll come to you for your view. If they don't, they won't, they'll go somewhere else. It really depends on the reputation you have and the relationships you have with media and whether they believe what you're going to say and if they think you're going to add value.

When I do training with agencies, very often I set them an example. Actually, this goes back to the empathy thing as well, which is, I get them to read out their statements to each other and roleplay being victims of the crisis and then get them to read out their statements to see how it sounds. One of the scenarios that I have set in the past is that you're a smartphone manufacturer and you've had a fire at one of your factories, and a few people have gone missing in the fire and may be dead, what's your first response?

Inevitably, everybody says, "We're aware of an issue involving one of our factories or an incident at one of our factories." They never ever say, "We know there's a fire," and I say this, "There are flames coming out of the roof. Everyone can see that there's a fire. Why won't you call it a fire?" People are very reluctant to use real language. They talk in joggers. I think humanizing responses is part of building that trust.

Jim Preen: Definitely. Definitely. Just a quick question here about dark website. Would that be a separate website domain altogether or would it be a hidden page on the main website?

Kate Hartley: I think a hidden page on the main website because you don't want to be seen to be deflecting people from your website, so a hidden page on your website is sensible.

Jim Preen: Excellent. Well, we're coming towards the end folks, so if you have any questions you better get in quick because Kate is a busy lady and will be off. Get in any questions now. My final question Kate here is you need to look into the crystal ball. Where are we going with this? Is everything going to be quicker, louder, faster, even crazier? What trends do you see emerging?

Kate Hartley: Yes to all of those basically.


I think the lack of trust is the biggest thing that we're seeing and I think that's going to continue. I see, no, sadly I see no reason why that won't be the same in two or five years. I think the other thing that people are doing is they are generally, we're seeing this on social media, that people are moving off big broadcast platforms and moving towards talking together in groups and that makes it very, very difficult for brands to see what's going on in the conversations, which makes things like social listening even more important to hear the conversations where you can.

If things are being taken off public networks and going into messenger apps, for example, that's tough as a brand, so you need to look at different kinds of monitoring tools and combining perhaps different kinds of monitoring tools.

Jim Preen: If I can just jump in there, that's one thing we talk about at our firm a lot, that WhatsApp is a fantastic resource and I use it, my family uses it all the time. Using something like WhatApp in a crisis can be very tricky because you can't monitor what people have said, you don't know who was on the chat channels. People may have left the company and still be on the chat channels. If you want eyes on what is going on at the time and if you want a post-incident report, if you use something like WhatsApp, as good as it is, it's not good for a crisis situation.

Kate Hartley: No. You really can't, from an audit point of view as well, if you do get audited after the crisis, it's almost impossible to track where things have gone over WhatsApp. Yes, I totally agree with that.

Jim Preen: All right, great.

Kate Hartley: I also think that as we said earlier, that having to think about how you'll communicate when your systems are down. If we are going to be subject to things like the Travelex where they were effectively held to ransom, you need to think about how you're going to communicate if none of your systems are working and that's a very tough one for companies too. This is going to become our new normal.

Jim Preen: Okay. Do we want it to become our new normal?

Kate Hartley: No. [laughs]

Jim Preen: We're going to get it anyway.

Kate Hartley: Exactly.

Jim Preen: All right, Kate. Well, I think we're going to leave it there. This seems like, okay, Mark has just come in. WhatsApp uses the Facebook platform so never share sensitive company info. That's Mark in Canada saying that.

Kate Hartley: Yes. That's a good point.

Jim Preen: Well, I think Kate, unless you have anything to add, I think that's it. Thank you so much for a fascinating discussion and I would certainly recommend that you seek out Kate's book as well because it's a great read and I may say, Kate, really well written in a very convivial conversational way.

Kate Hartley: Thank you. I really appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Jim Preen: It's an easy read. That's great. All right, folks, that's it for now. We'll be running another webinar next month with the antisocial engineer, he's called. Oh, I wonder what that's all about. He's a very interesting chap, Richard De Vere, and he's going to be joining me next time, but in the meantime, Kate, thanks so much for this fascinating-

Kate Hartley: Thank you for having me.

Jim Preen: No problem. Bye-bye, everybody. Thanks so much.

Kate Hartley: Bye.