Crisis communications: Plan for the unexpected

As CEOs, it is our responsibility to manage the unexpected. My industry labels this as crisis communications or reputation management.

Organizations can successfully plan how to respond to worst-case scenarios, and — in doing so — make us CEOs less reactive to situations where personal emotions and immediate response don’t allow us to think as clearly and rationally as we normally might.

I have counseled numerous companies through crisis situations — everything from illegal immigrants and negativity around organized labor contract negotiations to unfavorable actions of key executives to job-related deaths and injuries, including suicides. With the advent of social media and 24/7 news reporting, we’ve all witnessed stories about companies who have done a poor job (or a good job as in the case of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) of handling communications during a crisis.

Most of us know we are not immune to a crisis, but few of us are prepared should an unexpected event happen.

When minutes turn into seconds

Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” This couldn’t be more relevant today. With access to social media, those five minutes are more like seconds.

Be prepared and have a plan

A good plan considers all possible crisis situations the company could encounter — anything from a disgruntled employee who uses social media as a platform to air complaints to a tragic occurrence — and everything in between.

Establish a company policy to guide employees on what to do should any of the potential situations arise. With easy access to a checklist or plan of action, employees can react and respond quickly.

Consider a company code of ethics as an additional guide in the event an employee should have to step in due to unforeseen circumstances.

A company’s first response is to attend to the safety and health of any employee, or any persons involved. Your plan and checklist should identify emergency response issues such as injury, death and how and when to contact family members.

A company’s second response is to dig into the cause of the problem or situation. Get the facts. This should be done with the company’s leadership and its legal and communications counsel.

A third response is to develop a communications strategy and to provide a statement to its public audiences — employees, customers, vendors, the media and whoever else needs to be informed.

Depending on the situation, this may all need to come together in a matter of a few hours — sometimes less. Having a plan will help you get the job done. It will also help if you maintain an updated company fact sheet and have good media relationships already in place.

In all cases, a company should determine at least two senior company representatives and arm them with facts about the situation and comments of how the company is responding to the situation. This doesn’t mean that they have to have all the answers, but it does mean they are available, responsive and working openly and honestly with everyone.

It is important to approach a crisis situation with genuine concern and the facts. Remember: The world is watching.


Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

Six ways to lead with strategy

Strategy is a game changer. It’s what separates the players from the industry leaders. If you want to change the game and take the lead, here are six keys to success.

Brand is your competitive strategy. Brand is a statement of why the business matters and the gaping hole that would emerge if your company didn’t exist. It’s the passion that drives the organization.

Is your business making the world a better place or transforming your industry? Make sure your company matters in order to achieve or sustain a position as market-share leader.

Company culture is your people strategy. Culture is a part of your brand. If your people aren’t delivering your brand promise to the marketplace at every presale, sale and post-sale touch point, then your brand doesn’t have a leg to stand on. You don’t want customers to experience less than what they expect or inconsistency.

A strong culture values people and provides support, training and management structure so employees can succeed in delivering the company’s promise.

Marketing strategy paves the way for you to grow, build a reputation, become known and understood. A solid marketing strategy starts with a clear vision of company goals and what needs to happen to make those numbers a reality.

By looking longer term with a three- to five-year vision, it addresses the necessary posturing and planning needed to lead the company to its next level of growth.

A marketing strategy isn’t developed in a vacuum; it takes the entire leadership team to chart the enterprise in the right direction.

With a clear marketing vision, the sales strategy can kick into high gear. Start with understanding how many new relationships will drive growth and what industries or product segments are targets.

Establishing a strategy for targeting prospects and driving leads is complex in today’s online, voice mail and mobile world, yet we know that products and services are being consumed at unprecedented levels. Are you getting your share?

If you have a strong company brand and culture, you probably already focus on customer service. If you knew that 80 percent of your customers were at risk, would that motivate you to develop a stronger customer-retention strategy?

Most companies’ customers are merely satisfied with the service they receive. That means they’re willing to look at other options. Only when you exceed expectations do they become loyal customers.

Having a strong marketing strategy to grow the business is meaningless if your customer attrition is too high. You work hard and spend a lot to attract new business. Strategize to keep them by exceeding expectations.

Good planning and strategy deserves to be implemented — with gusto! Any other implementation strategy will affect results.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t walk before you run, but too often companies handicap their organizations by underfunding implementation (you know who you are). It’s like having a shiny new Ferrari in your garage but you never gas it up to drive it. Be committed and focused to stay on track and hit the established milestones.


Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

New year: new goals, behaviors, tasks

This time of year business owners are busy establishing goals for the New Year. Most can look at historical data to determine what sales goal is possible for their companies to achieve, as they want to grow at a pace equal to or better than the previous year. Some ask their sales team for input. Others just communicate the goal the team needs to achieve. Some will get lucky, while others will be disappointed when their sales team trends behind goal.

So, how do you get your sales team to be accountable? It starts with leadership understanding exactly where growth will come from.

Reaching a goal takes clear vision and a plan for how to get there.

Define where new growth comes from

Most businesses sell products and services across multiple industries. Not all product lines are growing or profitable. Not all industries are emerging — some may be stagnant or shrinking. Sometimes there is market saturation that prevents a company from growing a particular product or in a specific geographic region. An aggressive competitor may be eroding market share.

A sales and marketing strategy for winning market share from competitors is different than acquiring untapped market share.

Will new business come from your current customers or new relationships? It’s also important to look at your historical customer attrition rate and factor that into the equation.

Armed with this information, an organization can begin to lay the foundation of a plan of action.

Establish the plan

My experience has been that most companies need to develop new customer relationships to realize the majority of their growth goal. Let’s focus there.

Look at the average annual sales volume by customer type so you know how many new customers the company needs to reach its sales goal. When you understand, for example, that $1 million in new business equates to 10 new customers, it’s easier to understand what activity it will take to secure those relationships. Knowing this provides a key piece in the planning puzzle.

Next, determine what has to be accomplished in order to win these new clients. How many prospects? How many calls? How many leads? How many new prospect meetings? How many proposals?

Establish milestones and metrics to track how accomplishments are trending compared to goal.

Managing behaviors, tasks

With the exception of February, there are about 22 workdays in a month. What your sales team needs to do every day should be planned, understood and measured — but not necessarily micro-managed.

At the end of the day, you need to know that the right level of activity occurred to assure the sales goal is on track for the day, week, month, quarter and year. We assume our sales people know this, but the majority don’t.

If you have a sales manager, this is his or her role. If you don’t, assign it to someone who can ensure your sales team is moving toward the company’s growth goal.


Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.

Which social media networks should my company use?

Social media can be a great tool to help drive traffic to a company website, engage and develop relationships, and offer an online experience that helps communicate a brand.

Many business owners believe they need a presence on every social media network, while others don’t see the value in any. The truth is, not every social media network will benefit every business.
Typically, it’s best to focus on maintaining two to five social networks. The tricky part, however, is knowing which social networks are most beneficial for your business.

What is your social media goal?

Some companies want to engage employees on social media to help foster a culture. Some may wish to engage with customers and potential customers to increase brand recognition and drive website traffic. Defining a social media goal and audience will help determine which social networks to use.

For example, Facebook is typically great for engaging with employees and some vendors. LinkedIn can also be ideal for vendors and possibly potential customers.

Many reporters and journalists are on Twitter, so it is a perfect channel to build rapport with the media.

If you are targeting customers and potential customers, some businesses have had success with Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Google+ is almost necessary for search engine optimization.

What do you sell?

If you sell a product or service that is very visual, focus on a social media network that is also visual such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

If your company is more B2B, LinkedIn is typically the most strategic, as many decision-makers are active on LinkedIn. It is also a great tool for sales people to use for networking and HR to use for employee recruitment.

Is your product or service slightly complicated? Host a YouTube channel with videos that show how it works. Share the videos on other social networks and on your website.

What types of content do you already have?

Has your company already developed case studies or white papers? Share them on LinkedIn and receive a large amount of clicks. Do you have a number of photos that capture your employees working or having fun? Behind-the-scenes photos perform well on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Do you have captivating images of your work or products? Share them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Also, include an engaging caption and use relevant hashtags.

Articles perform well on LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s a best practice to share your blog articles on all of your social networks to help increase blog traffic. Company press releases also perform well on these channels.

Does your industry use niche social platforms?

Many industries have their own dedicated social media channels. If yours is one of them, seriously consider becoming active on it.


There are hundreds of social media networks that can help a business’s online marketing efforts. When choosing which one to use, keep your goal, audience, content and industry in mind. Strategic choices reap the most rewards.


Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and offers a Build Your Brand DIY Workshop® in Central Ohio for executives who want to learn how to better brand their businesses.

Visualize where your brand stands

The Brand Value Pyramid™ is a tool for CEOs to visualize their company brand value. It illustrates some of the most common brand assets.

To assess your company’s brand, you start at the bottom of the pyramid and continue upward, going from lowest to highest value.

Low value: brand features/attributes

Most brands offer a suitable price point. This value is in the worth a customer places on it. Product offering is essential in most cases, but not all; it depends on your competitors. You may present hundreds of SKUs or a limited number. Stellar customer service, friendly return policies and Internet sales make doing business with your company easy in the eyes of the customer.

High value: brand visuals

Visual elements are the first opportunity to distinguish your brand. Your logo, collateral materials, website, etc., are mandatory for increased value. But, don’t think for a minute that this is brand development. Until your brand’s unique distinction has been discovered, don’t start the visual identity process.

Higher value: brand esteem

To grow the value of your brand, define a sales experience that is second-to-none. What will make doing business with your company memorable? Most people will put price aside if the experience is enjoyable.

Reputation can be the vanguard of a good, highly valued brand.

Every company has a culture — a personality. A grumpy old mechanic’s behavior may be acceptable because you know under that crusty facade is a good heart, but that’s not a terrific brand asset. A brand that is quirky, brash or even savoir-faire can have strength, but only if its audience is attracted to or relates with its ways.

Highest value: brand merit

What does the relationship with your brand and its customers have to do with brand value? Everything. When customers enjoy or find value in your brand, they tell others. They wear your logo as a badge of loyalty, which results in repeat and referral sales.

Almost everything a company does that is unique can be trademarked — proprietary processes, unique approaches, specialized tools and so on. When these trademarked processes and procedures (brand points) are added to other proprietary practices, you create a brand bundle — a collection of assets or portfolio of services competitors cannot provide.

Anywhere an audience encounters your brand in a place other than the point of sale is a connection. So how does your brand connect? Where are customers and prospects encountering your business beyond paid marketing efforts? There is great value in this connection.

A company’s purpose, cause and belief are as important as its brand offerings. Toms® shoes has a lot of competitors but it’s distinguished by its purpose. Why does your company exist? How are you changing your industry, your customers’ businesses and/or the world in which we live?


Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST is a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders

Get in the online media game with these tools

Over the past decade, three significant things have redefined what CEOs need to achieve marketing success. Online and smartphone technology has evolved, and the millennial generation has moved into influential roles within business. This has caused a shift from traditional media to online media.

Here is what you need to do to be part of the online game. Don’t, however, toss traditional media aside — marketing success will come to companies that balance both.


You don’t need to start over, but your site needs to be up to date with Web standards from a usability, search optimization and mobile responsive perspective. Since the objective of online marketing is to drive all traffic to the website and engage users once they are there, investing in a top-notch website is foundational for businesses to compete.

Organic and paid search

A link to your company website needs to display on page one or two when someone searches for products and services you offer. Otherwise, your website is not being found. Organic search engine optimization is complex and driven by keywords and phrases placed within the code of your website and optimized content marketing.

Paid search is Google or Bing/Yahoo AdWords campaigns that can put your company website on page one of a search based on keywords typed into the search bar and a bidding strategy that displays your ad based on criteria you can determine when setting up a campaign.

A best practice is to do both organic and paid search.

Online advertising

If you have not considered digital display or social media advertising, you need to. The fact that 57 percent of the time a buyer has already conducted online research and short-listed potential vendors means your company needs to be visible online.

Email campaigns

Email campaigns are used to nurture relationships your company already has with prospective buyers and current customers. Email marketing rules require opt-in email relationships with your company.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a lead nurturing process that keeps an interested buyer engaged. It is a strategic campaign that combines email, content and website marketing to provide the best opportunity to generate a marketing lead.

Sales automation

Sales automation is an online version of telemarketing that is similar but not the same as marketing automation. It automates the prospect qualification process and necessary follow-up to engage a prospect.

Mobile marketing

Website analytics are proving that more people are getting to company websites via their mobile device than desktop or tablets. The use of smartphones has reached market saturation.

Social media

If you have a social media strategy, it can make a huge difference to the success you have driving traffic to your website from your social media posts. So do it with purpose.


Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.

Think of social media as an online newsletter

I still run across companies that struggle with understanding the value of social media and the strategy needed to make it an effective communications channel.

They lack an understanding of what type of content is meaningful and the discipline to post, monitor and measure frequently enough to build a loyal following and produce solid results.

In attempting to help CEOs better understand the role social media plays in the overall communications mix, I have found myself describing it as the new-age newsletter. This analogy seems to have cleared the haze for most and provided a better understanding of how to tackle this untamed frontier.

Defined themes for content

Smart businesses need to understand this medium and learn how to do it effectively.

Some of us early adopters have been using social media for more than eight years now — but while most business owners have social media pages, they openly admit they don’t have a clue how to leverage social media for commerce.

Ten years ago, my company helped businesses break down the “blank paper phobia” by defining a content strategy for printed newsletters. We would break the content into themes, usually something like:

  • From the Top — president’s message.
  • Team Talk — focus on a staff member profile, staff achievements or authored column.
  • Success Story — focus on a customer profile, solution.
  • Industry Update — sharing and educating customers, showcasing specialized knowledge and expertise.
  • Project Gallery — photos of completed jobs, statistics of results.
  • Making a Difference — company community or industry service.

Each time we put together the next newsletter we knew exactly what stories were needed to fit within the defined themes. As a result, creating copy and getting the newsletter produced and in the mail was easier and more efficient.

Social media is no different.

Plan your strategy

Think about your social media content strategy as an online newsletter. Consider the audience and determine what information would be of interest. Don’t bombard them with a monotonous message. Create bite-size themes.

Just like newsletters, social media is a visual medium. Provide graphics and pictures that help communicate the company’s message. Keep your messaging short and to the point, and include links or embed videos that provide more information.

If you remember the newsletters of yesterday you might also recall that the headlines were catchy and the copy was engaging and interesting. The same techniques are effective today in engaging viewers with your social media posts.

And by all means, let your company’s personality shine through. Viewers will pause and read your material if it is interesting or entertaining.


Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.

Kelly Borth: Smart SEO — How to optimize your website for search engines

If being online is a part of your business strategy, you need more than a quality, user-friendly website. You need smart SEO.

When a person conducts an online search using words related to your business, SEO increases the likelihood that your website is listed at the top of the results. It allows you to reach a greater audience online — but only if it’s done correctly. Start by understanding some key strategies insiders use to ensure both humans and search engines like your website.

Use strategic website organization

Create a list of relevant keywords and use them strategically throughout the website. This is a good strategy, as long as you play by the rules.

Search engines seek to match the most useful and relevant information. To maintain integrity, search engines change algorithms frequently to outsmart “schemers” who find loopholes.

When changes occur, websites can be penalized with lower result rankings.

Incorporate relevant keywords in page titles, body copy and metadata. Titles and meta descriptions typically appear in the search results. When searches include keywords that match your page title and description, those words appear in bold, helping your page stand out.

Dedicate each Web page to one topic, product type or service. This ensures when a keyword is searched the most relevant Web page within your site pops up. It increases the likelihood users will click the link and find what they need.

It also helps decrease bounces — when a visitor immediately leaves a Web page — which search engines use to consider how long visitors stay engaged on your website.

Label images

Images should include relevant keywords in image titles, descriptions and alternative text. Proper alternate text helps with SEO and even provides sight-impaired Internet users an understanding of images, enabling them to more easily navigate your website.

Start a company blog

A company blog provides a platform to consistently post high-interest, industry-related content. This attracts audiences who search on a topic that may not otherwise be represented. It is a good practice to focus on one topic for a single post and include relevant keywords within the title, body copy and meta description.

Link your website to other sites

A well linked website shows search engines that a site is trustworthy. Claim your listings in reputable online directories, referral sites, review sites (Yelp, Google+), and reputable trade and news organizations and associations. Add a website link in company social media profiles, and include keywords in profile copy and content.

Invest in search engine marketing

If your website is new or you want to add to your SEO, consider advertising on search engines. Search engine marketing helps your website appear above or on the side of search results as an advertisement, so your company has exposure, even if your website isn’t in the organic search results.

SEM has a unique set of best practices, so use a certified associate or agency to handle an online advertising campaign.

These steps will increase relevant website traffic. Being diligent in reviewing website analytics and maintaining optimization best practices assures your website is being found.

Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer at GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S.

How to reach: (614) 885-7921, [email protected] or

Learn more about GREENCREST at:

Twitter: @GreenCrest

Kelly Borth: Best foot forward — Make social media work for your business by using this guide

Although social media has become mainstream practice for businesses, many executives are still uncertain how to put their best foot forward with social media strategy.

If done right, social media is the perfect platform to give your brand a personality, and build brand affinity and awareness. It requires clear objectives and a smart strategy in order to engage the right audience with the right messages.

As a marketing professional, I’ve witnessed the success in building online relationships, increasing social media website referrals, receiving valuable feedback from customers and generating leads. By instilling social media best practices, you, too, can reap the benefits — no matter your industry.

Create a social media-marketing plan

To begin, perform an audit and run a competitive analysis of your social media profiles and activity.

Next, develop a plan. Having a strategic social media-marketing plan is what sets great social media campaigns apart from campaigns that waste time and dollars.

Know your audience so you can post content they will find interesting, helpful or entertaining. What are your social media goals and objectives? Are you looking to increase your brand awareness or website traffic? Do you want to increase social media conversions and sales leads?

Brand your profiles

It’s important that you stay professional and on-brand — even on social media.

Take advantage of all the opportunities each platform offers businesses to brand themselves. Design an attractive and professional Facebook cover photo, Twitter background or LinkedIn banner consistent with your website and off-line marketing materials.

Develop content

When it’s time to develop content, there are a few social media best practices to remember:

1. Create a content schedule. When you create a schedule that designates when to post different types of content, you can develop content more quickly. Your audience will begin to expect certain posts on specific days. So, you might post a special offer on Mondays, a helpful tip on Tuesdays and behind-the-scenes pictures on Fridays.

2. Post daily. Many companies believe that posting once or twice a week is sufficient, but it dramatically reduces the people you’re reaching. Not everyone is online at the same time or when your post is made — a typical post has a lifespan of 30 minutes.

Some B2B businesses can get away with posting once per day, but most should post three to five times per day. Also know which hours your audience is online. Generally, business professionals are on social media before the workday, during lunchtime and after the workday.

However, LinkedIn may garner some relevant traffic during the workday, and Pinterest usually sees the best engagement late morning and mid-afternoon.

3. Don’t oversell or undersell. Apply the 80/20 rule when posting content and sales messages. Make sure 80 percent of posts focus on engaging your audience, such as asking questions and including a call-to-action. Your sales and promotional messages should make up about 20 percent of content.

4. Make it fun. After all, you’re on a “social” network. People are looking for content that is entertaining, informative or interesting. And most importantly, they’re looking for content that’s relevant to your business!

Adhering to these best practices will lay a good foundation for your social networking and engagement efforts — and lead to the results you want.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, [email protected] or on Twitter @brandpro. For more information, visit


Learn more about GREENCREST at:

Twitter: @GreenCrest

Kelly Borth: First impressions matter — Strengthen your brand with a credible, quality website

As anyone in business or sales will tell you, first impressions are everything. Initial judgments are made within four seconds, and finalized within 30.

As business owners, we’re concerned with the image we’re sending our target markets, how employees represent our companies and how potential customers perceive our offices or stores. Studies have shown that first impressions are hard to shake — even if a person’s later experiences with a company contradict it.

Have you thought of your website as a first impression of your business? It’s increasingly becoming the first interaction potential customers have with your business. In fact, 75 percent of Web users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on website design alone.

There are many ways to improve your company’s website and deliver a credible first impression online:

Create visually appealing design

Design matters. The visual appeal of a website has a major influence on a company’s credibility and a person’s first impression. Ensure that the design is consistent with off-line branded materials. Use your brand’s color pallet and typography.

Be sure that the font is appealing and easy to read, and support your message with photos and images. Your website should have a recognizable, organized layout that remains consistent.

Utilize user-friendly navigation

A user needs to be able to easily understand where to find the specific information he or she is looking for. Your website’s navigation should be clear, visible and consistent throughout. You also should incorporate a visual cue that tells users what page they are on.

But, don’t offer too many choices in the navigation bar — this overwhelms users, who will quickly leave. Try to keep it under 10 choices.

Develop quality content

The information on your website should make both search engines and your target audience happy. You have about 20 to 30 seconds to capture users’ attention before they leave the page. Your content should be thorough, concise, current and organized efficiently. It also should be grammatically correct.

To drive more traffic through search engines, use your company’s keywords when they make sense and properly label all images. Remember that search engines typically can’t read text in images or dynamic programming like JavaScript, so avoid placing critical information in those items.

Improve design functionality

About 40 percent of people will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. A slow loading time is often because of oversized images. Reducing the file size and compressing the images can fix this.

You also should ensure the website experience is virtually the same on any browser. Today, it’s necessary to have a mobile website compatible on phones and tablets. Mobile searches increased 400 percent over last year, and mobile Web usage is expected to exceed desktop by the end of this year.

Responsive design will arrange your content so it displays nicely — no matter the size of the screen.

Your website establishes a strong and lasting first impression on potential customers. When you incorporate appealing aesthetics, user-friendly navigation, quality content and design functionality, you create a better first impression.

Having a well-designed and well-built website can grow your business. So, make a great first impression and enjoy increased traffic and potential customer leads.


Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, [email protected] or on Twitter @brandpro. For more information, visit

Twitter (company): @GreenCrest
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