Attention Fiction Agents

Not all bystanders are innocent!

Introducing: The Bystander, a contemporary mystery/thriller by debut author John David

The Pitch: A reporter fortuitously films an armed bystander killing an active shooter, but while the world thinks they found a new hero, the reporter learns they got it all wrong.

Longlisted for 2023 BPA First Novel Award

Selected for Pitching Roundtable at Gotham Writers Genre Fiction Conference 2023

Agents: contact John David at 305-724-3903 or for detailed query, synopsis, and sample pages.

Are You Prepared for the Social Justice Wave?

Social Justice Wa

Time after time in recent weeks, we have witnessed individuals and companies that have made in-person and online statements that have cost them dearly. Businesses are damaging their reputations, individuals are losing jobs and companies are left scrambling to properly communicate with a wide variety of audiences. The movement for social justice feels overdue and appropriate at this point, and companies need to be aware and prepared to react. Is your business prepared? We are seeing a lot of strain on human resources personnel as of late.

This is a tricky post to write. Pitfalls always exist when discussing sensitive subjects like race, but I believe we can help those that are struggling to communicate regarding these issues. One thing is undeniable: The social justice wave in America is having a major impact on individuals and corporations. Much of the justice is well-deserved and served quickly. Other situations are more complex and nuanced. All of it is sensitive.

For companies, it has become critical that employees understand that they are representing their employers all the time – not just during work hours. Smart phones, capable of taking photos and video, are ubiquitous. Whether you are walking in the park, posting on social media or having a conversation around the water cooler, it’s incredibly easy for your actions or words to be digitally documented.

Many people have asked me about some of the more high-profile incidents, wondering how I would counsel these individuals and their companies. The first answer is: It’s complicated. I have always said that every communications crisis or online problem is a little bit different. This certainly holds true today.

In general, you want to respond quickly and in a genuine way. Running away from or ignoring such problems typically makes them worse. More than anything, preparation is key. Because you never know when a crisis might arise, here are a few ways to prepare:

Do you have a social media policy in place?

Every company should have policies that explain an employee’s responsibility regarding social media. Not all policies are the same, as different companies have differing vulnerabilities. Your employees should understand how they are expected to behave online.  (I published a sample policy in my book.)

Have you trained your top executives about the ramifications of social media mismanagement?

Not only should your top executives understand your company’s social media policy, but they should be trained in how to stay out of hot water – and to know what to do if they have a problem. Speed is critical and having a clear line of communication within an organization can make the difference between success and failure. Train-up your top people, so they can avoid issues and be prepared if a crisis hits.

Are you monitoring?

Do you have a program in place to monitor online activity? A Google alert might work for traditional media, but it’s best to have a plan in place to monitor online mentions for both frequency and tone. In some cases, you can nip a problem early. In other cases, it makes sense to watch an online situation while you prepare for a response – which may or may not be necessary.

Do you know what to do when the media calls?

Some people get starstruck and decide to speak to reporters on their own. During a crisis, this is usually a bad idea. Your initial message is critical, so it is best to be methodical and make a smart statement the first time. Not all media outlets are equal. Some are more sensational, while others have reporters who have reputations for being fair. And just to make things more complicated: Sometimes it does make sense to just stay quiet.

Let me know if you would like to discuss these issues or if your business should conduct an audit of online vulnerabilities. We would like to help.

The social justice movement is complicated, and no one should pretend to have all the answers. Yet organizations that aren’t prepared are at risk of being swept away.




Paycheck Protection Loans Bring Reputational Risk

PPP Loans and Reputational RiskIf you took out a paycheck protection loan from the government, be prepared to defend your reputation.

The Paycheck Protection Program, known as PPP, is a major part of the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy. It slates hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans for small businesses around the country and provides valuable financial relief for many desperate and struggling companies. The first round of these loans was completed last week by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the second round will start soon. Some companies that are not in distress have received these loans, and the court of public opinion might soon rule against them.

Last week, major news outlets discovered that several public companies, most famously the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse chain and the Shake Shack restaurants, had received millions of dollars in forgivable loans. The backlash was swift as many voiced their displeasure with “big companies” getting money that was meant for “small businesses.”

I’m not debating the technical aspects of PPP, and I do not begrudge any small business owner from taking out the loan. Uncertainty in the business world is palpable, so even if your business is OK now, it might crater next week. So if you qualify, you qualify (and figuring out the forgiveness part is between you and your accountant.) It’s most likely a prudent move to get the loan if you can, but others might vocally disagree with you.

Last week Shake Shack announced that it would give back its loan. And yesterday, Ruth’s Chris relented and announced that it would be returning its loan as well.

I watched the uproar on social media with great interest. Personally, I think that these companies got a bit of a bad rap, mainly because for most of us, a job is a job. The loans are supposed to be used for payroll and to keep people employed. So if you are a line cook who was laid off, it doesn’t matter if your parent company is publicly traded or owned by “mom and pop.” To me, we should be in favor of all ways to get relief to the line cooks of the world.

But as the treasury secretary pointed out, public companies have access to capital that mom and pop do not. So, while the affiliates of public companies technically qualified for PPP loans, the marketplace of public opinion said loudly that they were taking money that “belonged” to small businesses.

So far, the only big companies we have heard about that took-out the loans are publicly traded, but that’s not for lack of effort from journalists. I saw social media traffic before the loan program was even gaining steam, and journalists were saying things like: “If your business is not really hurt by the coronavirus, you better not take these loans because we will find out.” Prepare to be shamed.Read More

Communications During Restructuring

communications during restructuringWith so much uncertainty and many businesses suffering, it’s time to have a candid conversation about how to communicate as you restructure. This is trickier communications than the messages everyone has been sending out about COVID-19. We are not just adjusting hours or changing business practices in light of the virus. We have to maintain confidence, tamp down fear, and show leadership that we will persevere.

This is a time for leadership. Once you have your plan, communicate it to your employees and stakeholders confidently. Convey that you as the business owner believe in your company’s ability to weather this crisis.

It’s not going to be a surprise, so don’t make it one. No employee wants to hear that they are losing their job or facing a reduction in hours, but it will not be a surprise to your employees given what’s going on. If your company’s doors are currently shut or no customers are coming in, it won’t be a shock. We all know what COVID-19 has done to the economy.  So, give it to your employees straight and as soon as it makes sense.

Know what the scary terms mean. If you “furlough” an employee, you are asking them to work fewer hours or take a certain amount of unpaid time off. Though furloughs suck, they are usually meant to be temporary. A “layoff” is a temporary separation from payroll, usually when there is not enough work to perform. Laid-off employees should be able to collect unemployment benefits, during what is hoped to be a temporary situation. A “reduction in force” means that a position is being permanently eliminated. A temporary layoff may lead to a permanent reduction in force. (Note that you should consult with a human resources or legal professional when making these types of decisions.)

Develop a strategy and implement a plan. Aside from the financial calculations, you need to create and distribute effective communications which might include news releases, social media posts, websites, fact sheets and training materials. You have to coach-up managers to communicate with employees and be prepared to handle media inquiries.

If you are considering or are currently restructuring your business, let me know, and we can discuss a plan to help you best communicate with your stakeholders. We are currently developing an online toolkit to assist business owners quickly and efficiently. You can call me anytime to discuss at 305-724-3903.



What’s the New Demand? (Pandemic and Your Brand)

What's the New Demand?We know that we’re looking at a new normal for business, at least in the short term. Once the economy “turns back on,” some businesses will not survive while a few lucky companies will be able to quickly begin doing the same work they have always done. Eventually, restaurants will reopen. Same thing with hotels. Services will be offered again (and hopefully I will be able to get a haircut.) Realistically, most of us will be operating at some reduced capacity.

Right now, many business owners wished they diversified their book of business or expanded the offerings that they sell. Now, while things are in flux, it is a good time to look at demand in your industry. What will it be in the future? What will consumers and business owners need? As we pull through this crisis, what can you offer to help them? Where’s the opportunity?

Can your company assist with the new demand? Can you reach more customers by embracing new platforms? Can you expand e-commerce? Can you help folks refinance debt? Restructure their business? Get money so they can scale up? Liquidate stuff?

If you are in a service business or professional services, you are likely operating on an amended schedule. Lots of things are stalled. What I’m saying is: You’ve got time. Use it to figure out how you can be less dependent on a few sectors or worse, any one part of the economy. Look for ways to meet the newly identified demand.

Once you have some ideas, take action. Revamp your marketing plan, update your website copy, think about launching a new entity. When the new normal arrives, hopefully sooner than later, be prepared to kick ass and meet the new demand.

Like many of you, I’m working from home. There are only so many carpool karaoke videos that I can watch in my downtime. So, I too have time and am working on meeting the new demand in the communications world. And believe me, I would enjoy a chance to discuss your plans as well. Consider me a sounding board while my next video buffers. Call me at 305-724-3903 and let’s figure out the new demand in your business.


Need to Know (Pandemic and Your Brand)

Need to KnowAn article in today’s Wall Street Journal said that some people are already ignoring corporate COVID-19 emails. Since last week, there’s been an onslaught of them from businesses both large and small. Some are a bit tone-deaf, and some companies are taking corporate responsibility too far – so their customers are starting to ignore them.

As you might imagine, I don’t necessarily agree with the WSJ’s assessment as I think most businesses need to do a better job of communicating, and many are fighting for survival. To me, distributing a meaningful update is a good practice, even if it causes a little backlash – at least you know some people are paying attention. But it leads me to an important point: Are you telling customers what they need to know?

By now we all know what most businesses are doing: people are working from home, hand-washing, drive-through/pickup, adjusted hours, social distancing, etc. At this point, we have to rely on our fellow business owners to do the right thing, and we are essentially giving everyone a checkmark for corporate responsibility. This crisis is moving so fast that we need to communicate the next thing, not last week’s thing, so you should only be focusing on what people need to know about your business.

What do they need to know?

  • If you see customers at your place of business, they need to know your hours and how you are “delivering” your product or service. This goes for essential and non-essential businesses, alike.
  • That you are a phone call or email away and that you will talk to them anytime, day or night. (By the way, please publish your phone number and your email address. This is not time to rely on a website form. Give out your phone number.)
  • They really need to know how you can help them. Are you offering a product or service they need right now? Can you help them get a small business loan? How to restructure their business? Can you offer a great deal on a product or service? (Gas prices and interest rates will likely never be lower, for example.)
  • How you can help them be ready to re-launch once the COVID-19 crisis ends.

What don’t they need to know?

  • That you’re observing the crisis and making decisions on a day-to-day basis. Guess what, that’s everybody.
  • Things unrelated to your business that have become givens in the past week. For example, we are all deeply in praise of healthcare workers and first responders. We all know we are indebted.
  • Overly optimistic projections about when things will turn around.

This crisis has changed how we do business, and it seems like it is evolving by the minute. Last week, I was practically begging folks to communicate, but this week, I’m saying that you better do it smarter. Start by telling your customers what they need to know.

Let me know if I can help you turn this crisis into a marketing opportunity. If you have questions or just need a sounding board, give me a call at 305-724-3903.


Danger / Opportunity (Pandemic and Your Brand)

Pandemic and Your BrandMy sources tell me that the Chinese symbol for danger also means opportunity – or something like that. Frankly, I don’t have time to run down the provenance because right now, I believe it.

In this crisis, we must find opportunity.

Yesterday, a few members of my networking group had a conference call to check-up on one another and share insight from the past week. The conversation among like-mind professionals in different industries quickly turned to creating opportunities. Frank the web designer should be offering e-commerce and virtual tour updates to his clients who need to be moving their business online. Carmen, who specializes in creating efficiencies, is dealing with large-scale change management and can be helping companies transform their models and operations quickly. Leo, who does sales training, sees opportunity in helping clients maximize sales productivity during “social distancing.”

Can you find the opportunity in this crisis for your business? It’s a big question.

For me, I think it’s more important than ever that we communicate with our customers and our prospects. We should dust-off some old tactics and also look at some new ones.

For example, people are stuck behind their computers right now, so email becomes a better marketing tool. Do you have an email marketing program in place for your company? Are you showcasing your business more visually online through regular communication?

Are you making it easy for customers and prospects to communicate with you? Phone, chat, Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp?

Are you honing your messaging to the needs of the moment? Do your clients know you are still up and running? Are you offering new services, in light of COVID-19, that they don’t know about?

If you’re a lawyer or an accountant, this is a critical time because you have business experience that your clients need. In the past, they never needed a one-on-one consultation with your big brain, but they might today. Are you communicating your availability to a broader audience?

We need to realign our communications to this business challenge and get our message out.  Remember, frequency is your friend. Again, frequency is your friend. You may have noticed this is my third blog in a week: Frequency is your friend.

Are you taking advantage of special programs rolling out to help small businesses? Facebook has a $100 million grant program that is well worth exploring.

Let me know if I can help you turn this crisis into a marketing opportunity. If you have questions or just need a sounding board, give me a call at 305-724-3903.

(If you need assistance with web/e-commerce, efficiencies or sales training, please reach out to my friends named above – hyperlinks go to their websites.)

Stay safe and be well.  (I said “frequency,” right?)




Can You Deliver? (Pandemic and Your Brand)

Can You Deliver?When I was a kid growing up in western New York, we had an egg man. Once a week, he delivered eggs to our house, carrying them in a charming little basket. My best guess is the eggs came out of a chicken that morning. Talk about “farm to table!” Some folks older than me might remember when milk was delivered daily, and my grandparents told tales of icemen delivering blocks of ice to pre-refrigeration iceboxes.

Such items were delivered out of necessity. During this outbreak, we need to talk about delivery on a couple of different levels.

The first one is literal. Can you deliver your product or service in this current environment? The answer is probably yes, but with virtual tools, some savvy and albeit limited personal contact. For at least the next few weeks, we need to start delivering our goods and services in new ways.

Restaurants and bars are feeling the big pinch, but many have already started to mobilize ways to offer take out or drive-through services.  Chick-fil-A, the kings of drive-through, have already shifted their stores to 100% drive-through. Banks and credit unions are doing the same.

Can you physically deliver your product? Perhaps your margins are too thin, but what if you offered free delivery with larger orders?

Can you virtually deliver your product? Two weeks ago, which now seems like months ago, I gave four presentations by webinar that I would have preferred to do in person. (Once you get a taste of an audience as a professional speaker, it’s hard to go back.) But I learned that some of my material can be delivered virtually with equal effectiveness.

The second type of delivery is more metaphorical. Commerce must continue, even as the damn virus seems debilitating to those of us who have had nary a symptom. We all must step up. We all have to work harder and smarter.  I will say it again: Commerce must continue.

(Believe me, I know it’s tough. The virus is scary and fear can grip you in previously unseen ways.)

We have to keep on pushing and within the bounds of social distancing, potential quarantines and lockdowns.

This means that you have to deliver motivation to your people. You have to deliver opportunity for workers. You have to deliver results for your customers.

Over the past few days, I’ve been working with many of my clients on messaging regarding COVID-19.  And I’m observing some amazing stories of “delivery” that I will be sharing in the coming days. If you need help with your messaging or just want to talk about how you can deliver your product or service. Let me know.



Pandemic and Your Brand: Time to Communicate

Aside from its medical consequences, COVID-19 has the potential to hurt or even destroy your brand. The big victims so far are the cruise lines and many areas of the hospitality industry, but even ancillary industries are at risk.

Example: Over the weekend, I began efforts to cancel a spring break trip that I booked on vacation rental platform VRBO. According to the website, canceling on short notice would mean forfeiting the entire cost of the trip. To me, this was unreasonable given the COVID-19 pandemic. (Anything less than complete immersion in Clorox would not convince my wife that the place would be clean enough.) A day earlier, Airbnb announced that it would issue 100% refunds for bookings impacted by the pandemic. I looked for similar news from VRBO. And found nothing.

Upon reaching VRBO on the phone, the customer service representative reminded me that I would normally have forfeited the entire cost of my trip, but the platform was encouraging its property owners to give full refunds for rentals impacted by COVID-19. It took a little work, but I’m getting my money back.

As I was sitting on the phone waiting for VRBO, the reputation manager in me was running scenarios. The main one: If VRBO, which is owned by Expedia, doesn’t fully refund travelers impacted by COVID-19, the brand will likely not survive this crisis. Being unreasonable during a time of national emergency is not soon forgotten. Thankfully, VRBO and the property owner are doing the right thing for me, but the company still hasn’t made its policy known to the public. Recent news on this very subject proves my point: Airbnb further expands its coronavirus response, hosts complain, Vrbo makes no change

Right now, most businesses are up to their antibodies in operational and human resources issues, but you also need to remember to communicate with your customers.

  • If you are assisting people or businesses impacted by the virus, how are you communicating it? I would recommend an old school news release but using internet distribution channels.
  • If you are delivering products or services differently than usual (which we all are, right?) then you need to actively let your customers and prospects know this. Many people are at home and spending their days on social media, so now might be the time to deploy a Facebook or Instagram campaign, for example.
  • We also need to walk the line between informing and selling. It’s not business as usual, so don’t pretend it is. Be sure your business and your employees are following the advice of the CDC and your local government – otherwise, you risk brand damage if you appear callous.

We are in uncharted waters, but some sensible communications strategies can help us steer through it. If you need assistance with your messaging, let me know.


Storm tips from a veteran PR guy

Storm tips from a veteran PR guy

From the Miami Herald.

Hurricane Dorian is an incredibly frustrating storm that currently has the entire state of Florida in the “cone of uncertainty.” Residents and business owners from the Keys to Jacksonville are in “wait and see” mode. It’s almost humorous to me that the weather service, which is in the prediction business, can have forecasts that are off by 500 miles and still be “accurate,” but I digress. I have been through many hurricanes, including the big dog Andrew in 1992, and I have a few thoughts and communications tips as we wait for the next advisory.

  • Do what you can to help your customers and clients. This morning I noticed a restaurant in my neighborhood left its outdoor flat-screen TVs on and tuned to the Weather Channel. Somebody at Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ realized that even though they aren’t open for breakfast, why not leave the TVs on overnight so people who pass by can get the latest info. The Miami Herald lowered its paywall for the duration of the storm. I think they view it as a public service, and the publishing company has a long history of supplying information during hurricanes. If there’s something you can do to help your clients, even if it’s a little thing, give it a try as you can build goodwill over time.

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