…we have a distracted, worried, busy, over-communicated public who are living in a constant state of siege.
…we have a distracted, worried, busy, over-communicated public who are living in a constant state of siege.
The Davies Method consists of candid, clear communication aimed at achieving calm through empathetically addressing issues and consistently communicating progress towards resolution.
Takeaways and Teachable Moments
CONSTANT MESSAGING IS BOMBARDING ALREADY OVERWHELMED PEOPLE, HEIGHTENING THEIR SENSE OF FEAR AND DANGER.
IMMEDIATE DANGER HAS DIMINISHED, BUT PROBABLE DANGER HAS INCREASED AND IT NEVER GOES AWAY.
NEGATIVE BIAS MUST BE CONSIDERED FOR EFFECTIVE CRISIS COMMUNICATION.
ALL THREE TYPES OF CRISIS REQUIRE A PLAN: IMMEDIATE & REAL, ROLLING THUNDER AND FLASH ATTACK.
THOROUGH CRISIS PLANS NEED SEVERAL REVISIONS.
Follow along as John Davies lays out the best path towards identifying and mitigating crises through his time-tested crisis communications method. This episode explores the idea that today’s public is bombarded with media messages and lives with an ever-present sense of fear and danger. It also highlights three different types of crises and how to apply the Davies method in various scenarios.
John has spent years managing crisis, both internal and external. His skill at guiding people and organizations through crisis situations has been developed through countless real-world scenarios. Every step in the Davies Method has been proven effective. The third episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a potential crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: Identifying the Crisis
Mark: Welcome to the third episode of Crisis Communications with John Davies. I’m Mark Sylvester, now let’s get started and talk with John.
John, as we said in the last show, we're going to continue through, what are we managing, looking a crisis identification, but we talked about this idea of living in a state of siege, and you kind of teased us, John. Come on, you did.
John: More news. More news after these announcements.
Mark: Right. Exactly.
John: So, could I do a couple ads right now, and then we could go to it?
Mark: Oh. I see, so that's the point, right?
John: Right. I mean, I did it somewhat on purpose with the idea that's what we get every day. So what we have, is we have a distracted, worried, busy, over-communicated public, and they're sitting in the center of the page, and they're getting bombarded. On one side, they're getting bombarded by the mainstream media with alarmist messages to keep us watching. They're getting hit on other sides when they get on their social with things happening—
Mark: And then push notifications through the phone.
John: Exactly. They're getting ... We can hear from our teenage and college-aged kids and we want to. There was an era where you talked to them when they got home at eleven o'clock. Now you're checking in on them. So, "Where are you?" "We'll I'm going here." We're worried. We have over-communications. So we're distracted, we're overwhelmed and then we have, we could call them citizen journalists, we can call the bloggers, we can call them activists, advocacy groups. We can call them people who have a vested interest in taking advantage of our distracted state, our overwhelmed state, and our state of fear, who push us into things.
Mark: So this is really about attention management as well.
John: It is. It is, but today we live in this state of siege because our brain is designed to deal—
Mark: That's what I want to understand. What's the science of this?
John: The science of this is our brain's architecture is designed to protect us. So we have this little almond-shaped size thing in our brain called the amygdala.
Mark: Okay. Sure.
John: And by the way, there's a conference I spoke at, in fact at the mining industry about how people get to fear about this, and a woman said I could never speak again, if I talked about amygdala, because she said it was way too deep. So, I apologize to anyone. Of course the next time I spoke there I said, I can't talk about the amygdala anymore, because so and so won't let me talk about the amygdala, but if I did, this is what it was.
So the amygdala little almond-size thing, and what it is, it's our early warning system.
Mark: If I'm not ... it's right in the front of your ... where is it, in the brain?
John: You're really asking me where it is in the brain?
John: So you're going to try to take me off what I really know. It's more in the center. It's not prefrontal cortex. It's in there, okay.
Mark: But it's a central piece.
John: It's a central piece-
Mark: That's where I'm getting to.
John: So, it's an early warning system.
Mark: Got it.
John: So, think about when we didn't live in urban centers and we lived in, more in the wilderness, and life was a little bit easier, and a little done. Or we're living in a log cabin, or we're out there. The amygdala gave us the immediate danger warning. So, you see a wild animal, and it's nearby, bing. It goes off. The immediate-
Mark: So you're saying fight, flight or freeze.
John: Freeze, right. So, hide, fight if you have some type of weapon take it, maybe it's dinner, or-
Mark: Stand still and maybe it won't recognize me.
John: Or, run like hell. But so that's an immediate danger. Well, when the immediate danger leaves, and goes to another neighborhood, the amygdala shuts down we're out of danger.
I mean, I just ask you, do you have any stress and any worry? Do you wake up sometimes at night?
Mark: I'm pretty chill in that regard, but I'm aware of that. I've had periods in my life.
John: Does your wife ever wake up in the middle of the night?
Mark: Yeah. Sure.
John: Yeah. You've had periods. I think most of society has that.
Mark: Yeah, we do.
John: So, this is where a lot of it is driven from. So, we used to have immediate danger. We don't have a lot of immediate dangers right now. Really. You live in a place where there's flooding. Places where there's fires. You have places with earthquakes.
Mark: The natural disasters
John: The natural disasters. That's immediate danger. If you go out in the wilderness to hike, you're going to see some things ... immediate danger, and you're going to be smart.
What we have today more of is we have probable danger.
Mark: Give me an example of that.
John: Probable danger is school shooting. You hear about it. You have young kids.
Mark: I think every parent is worried about that now.
John: Well, yeah.
Mark: I guess especially that it happens. It's like you hear these kids say, we hear about this on the news, but we never thought it would happen here. That's probable danger.
John: So, it’s probable danger. We have probable danger of financial danger. We have two or three cable networks dedicated to financial news. When did that ever ... More people talk about the stock market. More people talk about what's happening financially than any time in history. You think about 20 years ago, you ask half the people in town how'd the stock market do this week?
Mark: No clue. Right.
John: So, now it's up, it's down. It's a probable danger. Your financial life is going to collapse. We have health and safety. You think about some of the environmental catastrophe movies. Those drive you. The environmental catastrophe somewhere or the thing happening that's coming your way. Global warming. Climate change. All those things, it's like I'm going to die. As we talk, and we'll date this, we're debating that in Santa Barbara about plastic straws. That's a probable danger. We're going to fill the ocean so much with straws.
Mark: Is your point here that, you said earlier that the amygdala, it's job is to protect us ... it's an early warning ...
John: It's to protect us, it gets tweaked, so you walk away from the news show.
Mark: Then it calms down.
John: No. It doesn't.
Mark: Is that your point? Is it never-
John: The point is that the immediate danger goes away. So, the potential economic collapse. The potential of a school shooting. The potential of an environmental catastrophe, or the earth going to burn up, it never goes away.
Mark: Got it.
John: Is it top of mind? No.
Mark: So, that little valve is lit.
John: So you got a little ... yeah I like that. You got some little fears lit in your brain that just stay lit all the time. We all have them They're all lit. We're always worried about it. It's sort of ... I think about the family members that lived through the depression. My older aunts and uncles. They had a different world view. That fear never left them. That's all accented to us all now. So we live in that state of fear and we got to go in and have a communication with people about another crisis. They already have probable danger. We're coming in with an immediate danger. And the already heightened sense of fear.
There's a report out, a couple months ago that the level of anxiety of Americans, is people that are living out their anxiety increased again in 2017. One of the greatest stats is that high school students today have more anxiety than patients in mental institutions did in the 1960s.
Mark: No kidding.
John: Yeah. Our brain is able to deal with it, which is one good thing. We don't collapse, and we don't ... we adapt to it and we learn how to live with it, but that's pretty scary that high school kids are dealing with that level of anxiety in their life. And we have to deal with it.
But now we come in the room and say, "Hey, we got some bad news to tell you." So, alarms go off. So, we have to deal with it.
One of the things that I've been studying over the years, and I could take a program for all of this or I could take a program for each and get into it, so I'm going to get into it really quick.
John: Is that okay?
Mark: This is the important ... I think the more ... back to your understanding the environment ... so, understanding the human brain at this point-
John: Is part of the environment. Exactly. And, that's part of the deal. You can't just come out ... if you are a messaging a crisis, and all you're thinking about is yourself, and how you're receiving it, or what's going to happen, you got a problem. You got to think about, this is the public. This is how you got to treat them. This is how they do it. So-
Mark: So, I think you want to talk about cognitive bias, right?
John: So, cognitive bias, one of the big ones that we're talking about right now, is the negativity bias. And, there's a bunch of stats, and I'm not going to quote it because half of them will change tomorrow, but we are so bias towards negative news, and negative information. I can tell you dozens and dozens of good things and I tell you one negative thing and you cannot get off the negative thing. People do it to themselves every day. It's bad. If I go through a whole list of-
Mark: That's one of the conditions we're fighting against as a communicator.
John: That's a bias. That's a cognitive bias that we deal with. We have another one, called the band wagon bias. So, Robert Cialdini in his great book, Influence, talks about social proof. One of the things in social proof is that if others think something's good or bad, we will too. And, when there's a lot of others, we'll believe it more. It's not just that someone thinks it's bad. A bigger group of people thinks it's bad, and if they're similar to us, that creates a bias.
Mark: And what has changed now, to that exact point, is when I see how many comments or how many shares, or how many retweets there were, gives me this false sense of importance of that ... oh, that must be really important because it got shared so much.
John: Right. And it also, "Wow, that must be bad."
Mark: So is there anything else around the brain we need to understand? There's a few other things I want to talk about.
John: Yeah. Let's jump up. But what I want to say is, be aware of this. Be aware that people are living in a different state and number one, be aware that you are, so figure out how to turn it off, because it will bias how you write and respond to a crisis. You may over-respond.
Mark: We've had a few keywords that have come out over the shows that we've done. The one is, empathetic. The other one is being calm. I like the stories about being calm. Those are really good.
John: I guess the main thing when we're dealing with this is immediate danger. I always like to say it's like a tiger coming through. Next to you. So, it's like a tiger come through. And, the tiger comes through. You watch the tiger and the tiger wanders on to some other mesa and is going to deal with something else. So, with probable danger, we’ve got to learn how to make the tiger go away. That's part of our job. Make the tiger go away. So how do we make this one fear go away so it doesn't do it. That's all about a message, and that's something that we're going to have to dig into in one of these programs. I think we're going to talk about this someday.
Mark: We're absolutely going to talk about that.
John: That's a good idea.
Mark: We talked earlier about identifying the crisis and we get back to this ... the notion of the premortem, when we think about what we're facing. We had promised the audience a deeper dive into it. I want to talk about the ... you called them the three categories of crisis.
John: I'm trying ... I hate like 50 categories because how do you deal with it. So, I have three with a bunch of subsections.
Mark: Fair enough.
John: So how many things can you remember when Kymberlee sends you to the grocery store?
Mark: I don't, Alexa does.
John: Oh, okay. Does Alexa work for you?
Mark: Yeah. Absolutely. But three, three to five.
John: If they're all similar, you can go like five. But if I give you a list of like seven-
Mark: Not going to happen. I will forget something and I'll be in trouble. I don't want to be in trouble.
John: That's what iPhones are for. So the three unique crisis that you can face. One is immediate and real.
Mark: So, we were talking about that.
John: I'll look back in a minute. Something that's building slowly, and I’ll unpack three or four of those, and then a flash attack.
So let's look at immediate and real. So, that's one that we spend a lot of time with, which is the environmental disaster, an environmental incident of some type. A pipeline break. A fire at a plant. Something breaks down. Another one that is immediate and real is a financial threat. And a scandal of some kind.
Mark: Lot of scandals.
John: Yeah, well you know what it's like-
Mark: We could do a whole thing on scandal, but we ... yeah.
John: And it's one of the areas in crisis communications that we really don't work in. There are some guys that just specialize in dealing with movie stars and producers and political figures that do the wrong thing. Here's my problem. As soon as I find out they really did the wrong thing, I'd want to slap them on the wrist. And that probably isn't good client control. I mean, it's like, what the hell. It's hard to explain.
Mark: This show is really around organizations and businesses.
John: Scandal is ... so this is immediate and real. What could be more immediate and real. Look at what careers have totally bombed by what's gone out.
Then natural disasters, and some type of random violence.
Mark: The school shootings we talk about.
John: School shootings. Exactly. Random violence. So that's immediate and real, and you know you’ve got to jump on that quickly.
Mark: Where I want to help is, help the listener. So in this premortem planning that we're doing, would you make a list of all of those things and say, how will you-
John: It should spur you to do even more. Exactly.
Mark: Got it.
John: So immediate and real. We're sort of in that field. Well, what environmental incidents could we have?
Mark: So then you just kind of list them all out. These are all the things that could potentially happen.
John: And then drill them. Let's drill them. And, you can go through it. What financial threats? What can happen? So, how do you drill through these?
Then the next one. So, you have immediate and real, then we have building slowly.
Mark: For some reason, a communications person years ago called that rolling thunder.
John: Yeah. I like that. Rolling thunder. Maybe I should change that. Cross off building slowly and use Mark's term, rolling thunder.
So that's like a product danger or something with a product you're starting to hear, you're starting to have a problem. Think about autos. We could do a show on Volkswagen. A case study on Volkswagen, what happened. And since I had two cars that I had to turn in TDIs, the diesel cars, I sort of got into and around it. Sort of crazy.
Mark: So that building slowly, the way I like rolling thunder is like I can hear it far in the distance, and it's starting to come closer, and closer.
John: And the other, why that's a really good analogy, is you don't hear it continuously.
Mark: Right. It's like we learn. We live in an area where we don't have thunderstorms, but people that are listening probably do. You count and then it's how many seconds, we know how far it is away.
John: See, I was going to say that. I think that's just like, people that just wish that they could have thunderstorms, think back. It was so fun to lay in bed and count when I was terrorized as a child, on the East Coast, when the rolling thunder storm's coming through, because I was afraid of them at one point.
Rolling thunder is a good term because it's a product danger that you hear some of. It's a product quality issue that's out there. It's losing customer support. Customer's dropping away.
Mark: I'm thinking of Uber. Right? Uber had that deal where, I forget the specifics of it but, it got, they got lit up, it was a customer issue, pretty quickly.
John: I think better that we not get into it. It was a really serious customer issue. My son, who is one of my thermometers of watching society, because he responds pretty quickly, he's watching all this stuff, and gets ... he's not a guy that gets crazy outraged on things, but he just stops.
So he ... my favorite part of it is, he stopped using Uber then. He didn't like it. He didn't want to support them. So he's using Lyft, and even going back to taxis more. He goes to Africa to do a videographer project for a month ... they don't have Lyft. He had to download Uber, get everything loaded as he's waiting at airport to get to an Uber. I go, "How'd that go for you?" He goes, "Well when I was using Uber, I had a really good rating, and I had a lot. Then I had some just horrible rides with horrible people in Africa, and I had to make them turn around and go places, and they rated me really low, and now I have this ... I used to be four point and now I'm four point five and Uber doesn't like me anymore. So the deal is-
Mark: But that built over a period of several days. Right?
John: No. It built over months. So the deal is, Uber, and where I was going with that, Uber has set up a way to deal with that. They watch their people. So the corporation screwed up. So, they built in a safety net, to deal with the drivers, which is their greatest threat. Bad drivers. But they didn't build a safety net to deal with the CEO. There's no one judging the CEO. So when a driver gets to a lower level, the get called in. They get questioned. They get knocked off. They get suspended. The program's changed. Then the customers...
Mark: What do you do when the CEO goes off?
John: And customer's get ranked low. They don't get picked up. So, yeah, they had no program for the CEO. That's a rolling thunder.
Mark: Then the last one ...
John: Then the last one for me is, there's dozens of these but, employee discontent. That's sort of the Uber one in some ways too.
Mark: Well you know on that one specifically there's a website. Have you heard of Glassdoor?
Mark: That's one where potential employees are going to tell people-
John: It's awful. It's awful. At this point and over time we have really high ratings there, but it's really, really tough.
Mark: So let's just take that. How do you manage that? There's one. How do you do that?
John: This is interesting because we've had to do it ... We've had to do this, and we've had to do some things with Yelp for our clients, and they're hard, because they're a business. Especially Yelp. They're there to sell you a sponsorship, and there's a whole bunch of issues with that sponsorship, and what does it get you and how do the ratings come up. And, there's no one to talk to. In Glassdoor there's no one to talk to. So how do you deal with Glassdoor on that?
Mark: I'm just saying, here's a real world example.
John: You get in ... I've done it. Client had an employee; former employee write a horrible review. I help them write the response, because you can respond. I wrote the response, and the response was straightforward, transparent, then saying, listen, we know you're facing a lot of stress and a lot of issues. We all love you. We'd love you to come back, if we can help you in any way. That was the ending of our deal. She took hers down.
Mark: So, she removed it, because you can't remove, the company won't remove it, the person could.
Mark: Nice. Well played. Well played.
John: Well the deal is, you posted this and you said this, and we get that. However, you had these five opportunities and in your post you say that this doesn't happen, but then you say this happened. You're conflicting what you said here, and obviously you're very frustrated. Obviously, you're under great stress. Why don't you come by so we can ... we really miss you. We really love you, we don't want you to be in this type of pain.
Mark: I love it. That's, see that's black level stuff. Black belt.
John: That's sympathy, empathy. It was true. It was true. They did.
Mark: So I want to finish the third one.
John: So the last one. We have one last one. Yeah. That's a flash attack.
Mark: I don't understand this word.
John: Flash attack?
John: Well, you know ... I don't know, maybe it's inartful, but you know with the flash dance the ... it just happens out of nowhere.
Mark: Oh, like a flash mob kind of thing.
John: Flash mob, yeah.
Mark: Got it. Okay, Got it.
John: Environmental protest.
Mark: Oh sure, so I'm thinking where ...
John: You got a couple hundred people out protesting you in front of your ...
Mark: Well the government will do something and then bam, that Saturday there's protests all over the country.
John: Yeah, you don't even need ... there are groups that have a political goal, that will pay people to do these things, just to make things unstable, around the world.
So, environmental protest in front of your office, in front of your business and it gets on the news. You got a problem. You’ve got to deal with it.
A brand protest. What happens when people say don't buy this anymore because ... That's a serious problem.
Mark: We had talked about that earlier. Originally, when we talked about advocacy groups and competitors ready to exploit.
Mark: Okay John, this is a tough one because we're still talking about planning ahead. The premortem, right? So how do you plan a flash thing?
John: Let's do it right now. So, you're a mining company. You've been operating this mine for three or four decades. Everything's going well, and so what do you face usually on that, is you're going to face a rolling thunder, one which would be employees, labor, and they're going to create something. Or, a group that doesn't want another mine to be built, decides that they got to point out how horrible you are. Nothing to do with what you're doing. Nothing you've done. Everything's been operating for years. At the end of the day, mines are big, stinking holes in the ground. And, they're in areas ... in the old days they built cities around them. You go to some cities in America, and there are cities right around the mine, because that's where all the economic interest was. But, now they're in the middle of nowhere, but what comes out of those mines, is what makes the environmental movement work. Copper for wind turbines and solar. Silver for solar. So all this stuff-
Mark: We need all that.
John: We need it, but the deal is, people don't want the new one. They may come, the buildup that come after yours, so what do we say? What's our plan when there's a protest? What's the first thing? How are we operating? We have ... we know our environmental track record, because we're regulated. We need to make sure we know ... If we're going to have an environmental protest, let's get our documents done.
Mark: It makes me think that at the end of my premortem that I've planned out ... until we've exhausted all the incoming threats, I kind of want to send it to you to say, "What'd we miss?"
John: Yeah. Well it is. It's really funny because when then Olympics were in L.A.
Mark: Sure, 1984.
John: Yeah, I was ... my opening office, small office next to the man who was asked by Ueberroth to run the rowing-
Mark: Which was just an hour from here.
John: He brought me in like six times to brainstorm a premortem, and to help them come up with plans to deal with it. That was my role in it. It was complex because they were an hour away, where the dorms were for the athletes, and they had to take this little, narrow road to get to the lake, but the whole idea was, how do you brainstorm that out? What I learned from that is that you can't do it in one session. You’ve got to do it.
Mark: Let it sit.
John: Let it sit, and then that one little idea you had is actually five. One of that you had is ... if it did happen, it's not bad.
So you got to spend time on this.
Mark: Well, just like you said, we can't get it all in one session. We can't get everything about crisis communications done in one pod. It's going to take us some more. What I want to talk about next, we're going to have to leave our audience hanging for a second here.
John: You're going to do that to us again.
Mark: Well ... Who ... We talked about this in the beginning, who were the audiences in the crisis? Who do we need to talk to? Again, on this planning ... getting the plan. So next time we get together, let’s talk about that.
John: We’ll talk about that and also I think is, how do you define the real risk, also helps you decide what you're managing to. How do you define risk, because crisis is managing risk.
Mark: I love it. Let's leave it there.
Thank you for listening. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuances of John’s distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I’m Mark Sylvester, recording at the Pullstring Press studios in Santa Barbara, California.