KITH Wed, 11 Apr 2018 18:50:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pattern Recognition and Crisis Management Wed, 11 Apr 2018 18:11:06 +0000 What is pattern recognition?

Pattern recognition has been around since humans have been around, as it’s one of the more logical ways we make sense of our world. In recent years, it’s gained a bunch more contextual notoriety because it’s deeply tied to image processing, neural networks, machine learning, textual analysis, and other tech stack fields that are advancing very rapidly.

I’ve always thought of pattern recognition career-wise in this way: within any given field — say, oil and gas or digital marketing — there are people who have seen so many situations of a given sequence emerge and unfold that they know exactly the cadence of what’s going to happen next before it does. This, in my mind at least, is true expertise or mastery of a field.

It’s going to vary by what you specifically do, so let me give you two examples.

Think of a child learning the pattern square-circle-triangle. At first, he knows nothing about said pattern; he might not even know the individual three shapes. But over time, if he’s repeatedly exposed to the same pattern, he will know that circle always follows square. It will become intuitive to him.

Now think of a professional who manages widget production. He knows what inputs need to go in, what can stop the machines, and what must come out. He’s seen the machines stop, so he knows what steps happen there. He’s seen near-perfect output. In every possible situation, he knows the next step in the pattern.

But are these situations normative in the real world?

These are idealized situations where learning takes place, and then takes root, over a period of time. But that’s not always how the real world works. (It almost never is.)

For years, for example, economics was rooted in the idea of rational actors. Since it’s pretty clear human beings aren’t rational, a field called “behavioral economics” emerged — the idea was to explain irrational decision-making. The best minds from that field have dominated the Nobel Prize ever since, and Michael Lewis just wrote a book about one of them (Daniel Kahneman). That field only emerged because we needed new ways to look at the world. Nothing about how we learn or make decisions is truly that rational.

Point being: there are patterns in the work we choose for our careers, and some have experienced it so much that they know the next part of the pattern before it happens.

But in so many work situations, a giant wrench is thrown in — and the patterns you understood are now completely scattered.

Crisis Communications

The biggest example of this to me is crisis moments, or the need for crisis communications.

That’s a field in which I see patterns, because I’ve been working in it for decades.

But when we go in to companies experiencing a crisis or brand reversal, they have no playbook. They understand their business model and how their industry flows. That’s where they see patterns.

The different elements of a crisis — reporters calling, news stories, social media cycles, accountabilities, etc. — are almost completely new to them.

They have no idea of the patterns now.

So they need to learn pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is the key, in my mind, to advanced crisis management — and performance in those moments. I wrote about this in 2015 in the context of good and great communicators.

Performance in crisis is about two things having happened prior to the crisis:

  • The team was crisis-ready
  • The team was reputationally-aware

The beautiful thing about trying to reach these two states in this way is that anyone can learn pattern recognition.

The way to accelerate learning pattern recognition is by doing, testing, making mistakes, and group learning. It’s much like you would do over the long term, but in a concentrated learning environment where you learn from yourself and from your mistakes. The learning is done in a gated garden, so no one can get in trouble. This is how you accelerate your crisis communications performance.

The point to remember is that you can’t learn this from a lecture. You can’t watch a video on how to learn pattern recognition.

You have to experience it and practice with it in order to gain mastery over it.

And now, the big reveal idea

I’ve been kicking tires on a new concept.

Let’s say I flew to your HQ on one day, and had dinner with your team the first night.

The second day, all day, we spend working on crisis management and response. We do some simulations, go through best practices, literature, what similar companies to you have done, etc.

We try to teach you pattern recognition — what to do and what to look for in the crisis moments — across an immersive day.

Then we leave, and we support you.

I don’t know if it will work. It flies in the face of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours concept, although admittedly that rule has been debunked before.

Can we teach people the signs and patterns of a crisis in their ranks or their industry in less than 48 hours?

What do you think?

The Equation For Crisis Success Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:02:24 +0000


We’re not big fans of jumping into the fray with whatever everyone else is writing about at a given time. There’s a lot of digital noise already out in the ether, so why make that worse? We have opinions on the United flight dog, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation, Uber’s self-driving car death, and more. Of course we do — the name of our game is crisis management, right? Those are all crises for those brands. We have views.

I am not sure how many of the “experts” have even been in the room when issues and impacts like these are discussed. I am slow to comment on what happened, why and what’s next when I am not in the room learning all the dynamics of the situation.

But rather than shove those external views down your throat in an article that will get lost in 478 articles about the same topic, we wanted to organize thoughts a bit differently. We wanted to give you an equation for crisis success, which you can get a deeper reveal on in the webinar above. A model that has proven itself across industries, companies and cultures.

Start here:

  • First and fast is important.
  • If you can’t tell your own story, someone else will — maybe even a competitor.
  • The “bar” in terms of customer response to what happens with your brand isn’t about solving the problem; it’s actually about showing that you’re aware of it and willing to make changes.

Now, taking all that into account, here’s the promised equation:

These are the elements you need to plug into this equation:

  • What do you actually stand for? (As opposed to the buzzwords you use in big meetings)
  • Who is truly in charge of a given situation?

If you know both of those answers, you’ll understand your speed of response in a crisis.

For example:

  • Bad: Stand for nothing except for pursuit of profit + very unclear hierarchy in tough moments will lead to a slow response


  • Good: Very principled about actions + clear hierarchy in terms of who calls what shots will lead to a faster response


People have asked me for years — and we discussed this on the above webinar — where I come down on “speed kills” vs. “speed saves.” Speed kills is usually around really sloppy execution. I’ve seen that happen in client engagements, sure.

But in general, I come down on “speed saves.” If you get in front of a storyline and own it, you will get through a crisis. If you flounder, you’re playing from behind. Except for the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, most teams aren’t good at playing from behind. You need to be in front or close. And speed is going to help you get to the right spot.

This all ties to our model for reputation excellence. We created this but while there are dozens of models around R&D and pricing, HR and legal, there wasn’t a set model for reputation management and crisis. So we designed this:

What we’re discussing here about the chain of command and core values crosses all of these areas, although awareness is one of the primary areas.

The bottom line:

  • Be observational about what’s happening in the marketplace.
  • Ask yourself, “How would we have handled this?”
  • Walk through the exercise.
  • See how mission/values intersect with chain of command.
  • What would the speed of response be?
  • How many people would need to weigh in?
  • If you test this process once a quarter, you’ll have a road map for how to determine your “choke points” and subsequently fix them.

So ask yourself: does my organization respond with the speed it should? If not, brushing up on your crisis math may be the way to improve.

How can universities handle reputational risk better? Mon, 15 Jan 2018 17:57:26 +0000 Higher education is seemingly in an increasingly perilous spot. As the job market shifts — 47 to 54% of jobs will likely be lost to automation by 2030, or roughly 800 million jobs globally — higher ed also needs to reinvent itself to be more of a value-add in the modern age. Just a few years ago, The New Yorker referred to higher education as predominantly “an arms race” that was benefiting the administrators more than students and parents.

Into this confusing time comes a lot of issues with reputational risk, shown recently in new research led by United Educators. The research is based on questions sent to board of trustees chairs, presidents, chief financial officers and other senior administrators at 145 institutions in 2017.

The Key Findings


As you can see, the previous three years (purple) included campus climate and sexual assault/Title IX issues as predominant (along with academic programs and student behavior). In the next three years, those remain concerns and business model shoots way up as well.

Some quick hit takeaways yield even more to think about, though. Note:

  • 87% believe the board has organizational oversight of reputational risk
  • 83% believe that reputational risk is more important than three years ago
  • 78% believe that the institution has identified drivers of reputational risk
  • 67% have a reputational risk plan and response in place


Take those together: 9 in 10 believe the board has oversight, and more than 8 in 10 see reputational risk as an increasing issue. Hold those thoughts for one second.

Now consider these statistics, from the same report:

  • Only 26% of survey respondents believe that their institution’s response to reputational risk is consistently proactive
  • The number of reputational risk events occurring is large
  • The impact of some reputational risk events can be devastating, and
  • 54% of institutions state that they do not have the ability to withstand a major reputational risk event.


So despite the confidence of the first set of statistics, that confidence isn’t really there — less than 3 in 10 believe the response is proactive, more than half think they lack the ability to withstand a reputational risk event, and most seem to agree the sheer number of reputational risk events is large.

Now consider the current situation at Michigan State

2018 is shaping up to be Michigan State’s “annus horribilis.”  The university administrators are finding that the standard actions in the crisis toolbox– demanding the resignation of a senior person and appointing an outside investigator– are no longer sufficient to stem the reputation hemorrhaging.

In this post-Harvey Weinstein world where allegations of harassment and predation have shaken institutional foundations to the core, the game has changed for everyone. This has moved beyond the actions of a sexual predator.  It is now about “what did you know, when did you know it and why didn’t you do anything about it?” The greatest challenge Michigan State faces now is how to manage the widening circle of damage threatening its trustees, its entire athletic department, and the trust of faculty, students, alumni and donors — as well as future applicants.

Words alone can’t fix this.  Investigations, accountability, soul-searching and culture-change will be the order of the day.  The university can’t think reputation-repair tactics will be an exercise measured in weeks and months.  While the matter may drift from the national conversation, the caretakers of the university’s reputation are facing a Manhattan Project-sized challenge that will take years to address.

What’s the path through this for Michigan State and other universities?

Consider a Reputation Management Council 

A Reputation Management Council, created with representatives from multiple disciplines, fosters mutual understanding of risks, and ensures the right issues get surfaced at the right time.

This could work for universities because of the disconnect shown above: most higher ed institutions seemingly do not have a venue where critical thinking about reputation growth and risk can take place among key leaders. It seems the belief is that the board should do it, but the board isn’t doing it proactively enough — and that’s possibly because of being pulled in multiple directions, lacking the knowledge base to handle crises, etc.

Understanding your potential risk framework as an university would be Step 1. The report here outlines some of the major areas for risk, as an example.

Also understanding that ultimately, universities (and corporations) are defined by their behaviors and actions in critical moments. That’s Step 2.

Step 3 is figuring out how to approach it — and it’s clear the current models aren’t being viewed favorably, so a cross-disciplinary Reputation Management Council makes some sense here. It would also allow for differing perspectives on the risk issue that’s arisen, as opposed to simply the board or the President’s office.

This is important not just for the institutional integrity of the university, but for the quality of experience that the students receive. In an era supposedly defined by customer experience, you must think of students as customers, as crass as that might feel to some. If you’re unable to deliver for them academically and culturally, future generations will go elsewhere. And we already know business model is a looming concern.

To get in front of the risk issues that might drive down student experience, you need a new approach. Isn’t it time?

A Year in Review: Critical Takeaways from Key Case Studies Fri, 01 Dec 2017 13:52:10 +0000  

As we look back on 2017, we at Kith find ourselves not only planning for the new year ahead, but reflecting on the past 12 months. We had a busy year helping clients in their journey toward reputation excellence by implementing the Kith Model for Reputation Excellence.


Kith’s Model for Reputation Excellence was created after CEOs and CMOs expressed desire for a framework that would help their organization understand and manage reputation. CEOs and CMOs were familiar with the Four P’s of Marketing— Price, Product, Placement and Promotion– as a way of managing the marketing mix, so we created the Four A’s of Reputation Management: Awareness, Assessment, Authority and Action.


The Four A’s empower organizations with the framework they need to turn critical moments into reputation-building opportunities for durable, long-term growth. I talk about the model more in my book Critical Moments.


In 2017, we helped many organizations, but as we reflect on the past year I’m looking at three particular instances so you can see the real-world applications of our model.



CLIENT: A Major Hospital System  

MODEL ELEMENT: Awareness – Crisis Readiness


A major hospital system in New York came to Kith after suspecting there were gaps in their crisis response capabilities. The client knew it performed well in marketing communications– both digital and traditional– but suspected their reactive communications, especially in a time of crisis, were less strong.


The way this client came to Kith is not uncommon. While we work with plenty of clients who come to us while in the middle of a crisis, many come to us seeking to strengthen their response tactics before a crisis strikes (or strikes again). Awareness, at the base of the model, asks you to think about your need and desire for change. This client did just that– it surveyed the landscape and understood that there was room for improvement in crisis response.


Together with the client, we determined a crisis simulation was the best training method for the hospital system’s team. Kith designed a scenario that involved a negative social media post about patient care going viral. We used our integrative platform Crisis3 for execution of the exercise. Crisis3 is an intense, time-driven session that demands rapid cooperation and organization from participants. This fast-paced, high-pressure exercise included media injects like broadcast clips and live role-players calling in as reporters and other third parties. Needless to say, the exercise felt very real for participants and got hearts racing.   


We do crisis simulations not to just set your team’s hair on fire or freak them out. We do crisis simulations because they test your systems and reveal gaps in your crisis response. In short, they create Awareness. This exercise not only stressed out the hospital system’s team, it helped the group realize there were improvements that could be made. Leadership expressed relief that these needed improvements were revealed in an exercise rather than a real-world scenario. In our post-exercise report, we were able to analyze the client’s gaps and create a plan to better equip them for future crises.


We love doing crisis simulations– they’re a quick (and intense) way to test an organization’s plans and systems and lead to great crisis planning and response. I expect we’ll do many more simulations in the year to come.



CLIENT: College Board

MODEL ELEMENT: Authority – Reputation Management Council


We’ve enjoyed a long relationship with College Board. For those unfamiliar with College Board, it’s a not-for-profit with a mission providing opportunity for college bound students. They’re responsible for assessments like the SAT and programs like Advanced Placement. Higher education institutions rely on the credibility and reputation of College Board, so College Board is fully invested in defending and building its reputation.


In 2017 Kith and College Board delved deeper into managing their reputation more proactively. College Board expressed a desire to have better coordination between operations and marketing/communications. We see this a lot at companies– the creators/builders (operations) and the sellers (marketing/communications) don’t always work closely together or share information as proactively as they should. There are a number of reasons for this including cultural and geographical, but we’ve found that not having these two entities leaves your company rife for reputation disruption.


For  College Board, we decided the best way for operations and communications to work together and establish a firmer grasp on risks facing their reputation was establishing a Reputation Management Council. The Reputation Management Council is part of the Authority section of the Model for Reputation Excellence. Authority means giving yourself permission and the tools necessary to bring about the change you’ve chosen to pursue. A Reputation Management Council is a body of leaders from across the organization that comes together to evaluate the risks and set an agenda for implementing programs. They have the authority to implement change related to risks facing the organization.


For College Board, this was an opportunity for operations and marketing/communications to work together more closely to mitigate and identify risk. Rather than wait for a crisis to strike, a Reputation Management Council would allow for College Board to discuss risks facing their organization on a regular basis and even allow them to mitigate a potential crisis before it went public.


For example, say the finance team made a decision to change the price of one of College Board’s products. Because of how the organization is structured, it’s possible groups like communications wouldn’t know of the decision until it was about to be implemented. Instead, with a Reputation Management Council in place, the other disciplines would know about this pending decision ahead of time and have time to plan. Communications could develop reactive messaging or a counter-narrative explaining the improvements made to the product. Government affairs would have time to discuss the upcoming change in a proactive way with their contacts. IT could ensure that the website was ready to update and reflect this new change. Reputation Management Councils provide a venue for productive conversations like this to take place and provide an early warning system for any potential issues that may impact your reputation.


Results from a Reputation Management Council are difficult to measure, as its hard to measure how many issues you actually prevented from happening as a result of discussing them during a Council meeting. However, increased communication and collaboration between business units make College Board more prepared than ever to take on risks that may impact their reputation.



CLIENT: Cargill

MODEL ELEMENT: Awareness – Situational Intelligence


Cargill is a major producer of protein supplied to food makers, food service companies and food retailers. We’ve worked with them both in and out of crisis and helped them establish their strong reputation they enjoy in the market today. Major food companies like Cargill are a huge target for reputation disruption with risks include NGO activism and food-borne illnesses. It’s imperative for companies like Cargill to be aware of their unique and challenging risk landscape.


In 2017, we built out Cargill’s existing Awareness activities and added Risk Mapping. Risk Mapping is a form of situational intelligence and is a way for Kith and its clients to take an in-depth look at all the risks facing a client, analyze them, then hone in on the risks that are the most likely to happen and have the most impact.


Cargill already had one form of situational intelligence in place– they receive weekly in-depth reports created by us that analyze the news coverage and make recommendations organized in three categories: Act, Monitor, and Backburner. However, not all your risks are being discussed in the news on a regular basis (at least not until they become a crisis). You still need awareness of risks that aren’t being discussed in the news– this is where Risk Mapping comes in.


For Cargill, we conducted one-one-one interviews with 14 subject matter experts to uncover what the risks faced Cargill and the experts’ opinions on the likelihood and impact of risk. Following the interviews, we uncovered more than 100 risks in need of further analysis to determine likelihood and impact. Using the insights gained from interviews and Kith’s own expertise on crisis management, we were able to take the risks identified and provide an output of the most likely and impact risks.



The reveal of the most likely and impactful risks is just the beginning. From there, we’re able to further categorize these risks into our framework and create action plans that will help Cargill address these risks. This is the start of a journey toward fully grasping, planning for and eventually mitigating the risks facing the company.


As we begin a new year, we’re looking forward to many more exciting opportunities to help companies on their journey toward reputation excellence. If we’ve learned anything this past year, its that there is a deep desire from CEOs and CMOs to make reputation management manageable, and we believe our model has done just that. We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to help clients work through the model on their own individual journeys, and look forward to continue doing so in the upcoming year.


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Crafting the Perfect Crisis Simulation Mon, 20 Nov 2017 13:52:10 +0000 The Best Crisis Simulations Follow a Recipe, Leaving Your Team Better Prepared to React to Crisis


Creating the perfect culinary recipe can take years. Ingredient measurements are carefully calibrated, spices are meticulously added and subtracted, and numerous taste tests occur before the perfect combination is uncovered.


A similar process occurs when developing a crisis simulation.


Kith has spent years developing the perfect recipe for crisis simulations for our clients. When we put together a crisis simulation, we often follow a step-by-step process–much like a recipe– for building a credible and beneficial crisis simulation. By following this process and mixing in a few extra spices, we’ve been able to create countless exercises that embolden teams to be at their best during a real crisis.


Crisis simulations are the best tool when it comes to arming your organization for crises. These simulations, when done correctly, test your team in a highly credible scenario and give the feeling of a real crisis. Teams are required to respond with the speed and accuracy that they would if things truly were on fire, but are able to do so in a “safe” environment without the potential for negative reputational consequences.



Another reason we advocate for crisis simulations is because of the concept of active learning. Researcher Edgar Dale suggests that people learn best by doing (active learning) rather than reading or listening to a lecture (passive learning). During the 1960s, Dale theorized that learners retain more information by what they do as opposed to what is heard, read or observed. His methods inform what is today known as experiential learning or experiential training, where participants learn by doing. You can read more about my thoughts on active learning and crisis simulations here.


So how do you create a crisis simulation of your own? Kith has spent years developing its own recipe for what we know makes the best crisis simulation, and we’re happy to share it with you.


Like many recipes, the recipe for a crisis simulation has a few required ingredients where no substitutions are allowed. Without these required ingredients, your crisis simulation won’t give you the desired result. Leaving out a required ingredient in a recipe does the same thing– you’ll get a messy or foul-tasting result.



The first required ingredient for a crisis simulation is a realistic scenario. You can’t just pick any random scenario– it has to be one that is realistic for you and your organization. If you’re a food & ag company, realistic scenarios for you would include a foodborne illness or product recall. If you’re a healthcare company, a data breach may be the best scenario for you. It’s important that when you’re creating your scenario you consider:

  • The likelihood this could happen to your organization/industry;
  • Whether your team would be the ones responding to the crisis, or if it would be handled by someone else (like general counsel or a dedicated task force);
  • If the severity of the issue is truly a crisis that would warrant an urgent response.


If you evaluate your scenario against these three criteria, you’re sure to have a realistic simulation scenario.



The second required ingredient is a crisis plan to test against during the scenario. A critical output of a crisis simulation is a gap analysis identifying where your team can improve.


Obviously without a crisis plan to test, it’s more difficult for you to identify and repair weaknesses. Chances are you have a crisis plan you created years ago lying around somewhere– it’s probably stashed on a shelf in a white binder. Make sure you’re using the same crisis plan you’d use if a crisis struck tomorrow. You want the scenario to be real, but you need your response to be real, too.



The third required ingredient is the right participants. We understand the inclination to just include the communications team in a crisis simulation. It’s definitely easier to schedule. But think about the last crisis your team went through. Did you have complete autonomy in your response tactics?


Probably not.


You probably had to get approval from legal for reactive statements. Or loop in Government Relations if it involved a government agency or official. Maybe it was a cyber attack, and you had to work with your IT/data security team. People outside of comms are involved in your real crisis response, so they should all be involved in your crisis simulation.


Additionally, these participants should be active and engaged. We understand everyone is busy, but a crisis simulation is not something during which you can multitask. Crisis simulations need participants’ full attention, not just because it makes for a more engaging exercise, but because people learn better this way.


There are countless studies, the most famous being from Stanford, that says people who are multitasking cannot pay attention or recall information as well as those who stick to one task at a time.


If you want your organization to truly benefit from the crisis simulation, they need to be 100 percent present for the entirety of the simulation. We know this makes scheduling a bit trickier, but we can promise you it’s worth it.


These are the required ingredients for a crisis simulation recipe, but you can add your own ingredients to further customize or “spice up” your simulation. Our two favorite spices are:

  • Technology: We partner with Social Simulator to create a virtual environment that lends an added layer of authenticity to a simulation. Participants are met with posts from Friendbook (which looks quite similar to that little social media site called Facebook), viral Tweeter posts (aka Twitter) and other media pieces that make the scenario look and feel real. Most crises are unfolding online on social media, so being able to create a realistic social media environment–where tweets or Facebook posts are going viral and you’re getting real-time demands from your customers and media– is a huge benefit.


  • Role Players: In Kith’s Crisis3 simulations, we utilize role players who pose as members of the media or other third parties. These role players call participants demanding answers, much like media or third parties would do in a real crisis and put pressure on participants to react quickly.



Crisis simulations are, in our opinion, truly the best way to train and evaluate your team when it comes to crisis readiness. And with the right recipe, you can create a crowd-pleasing simulation that will leave your team well-prepared for when crisis strikes.

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Active Shooter Situations: How CEOs Can Plan And Prepare for the Worst Wed, 15 Nov 2017 13:52:10 +0000 By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith

Active Shooter Situations Are a Realistic Risk For Which CEOs Should Prepare

Critical Takeaways

  • Crisis simulations help your organization prepare for every scenario, even the ones that are painful to think about
  • In an active shooter situation, law enforcement runs the show. Training now helps you maximize what little control you have in a situation.
  • Employee and core stakeholder communications should be your top priority in an active shooter situation

It’s become upsettingly commonplace to see news of a mass shooting in America. While it’s a difficult subject, CEOs must consider what this disturbing trend means for their businesses. According to the FBI, the largest proportion of active shooter incidents (44%) occurs in areas of commerce, including businesses both open and closed to the public. In this day and age, businesses are at an unprecedented level of danger, liability and reputational damage when it comes to active shooters.


At Kith, we’re big believers in preparation and training for risks that face your organization. Training and planning have the largest impact on protecting your reputation when it’s tested with a crisis.


A circle split into three different sections. The largest section says training and the remaining sections say planning and response.

It stands to reason that CEOs would put preparing for or protecting their organizations against an active shooter a top priority, right? Unfortunately that’s not the case. According to Everbridge, 69% of businesses view an active shooter incident as a potential top threat, but 79% of the organizations admitted to not being fully prepared for one. Other key data from the study:

  • Communicating with and confirming the safety of those in an impacted building were seen as the biggest challenges during an active shooter situation by 71 percent of organizations. Despite that, 39 percent still said they didn’t have a communications plan in place.
  • A majority of respondents (61 percent) do not run any active shooter preparedness drills
  • Only 7 percent of respondents described themselves as “very much prepared” for an active shooter


While an active shooter situation is every company’s worst nightmare, ignoring the risk and just hoping it never happens is a dangerous approach. CEOs must be proactive in their preparations and training for the dynamic and even frightening risks facing organizations today.


Crisis simulations are a unique approach to aiding businesses with their response by performing fast-paced, hands-on exercises that mimic an active shooter scenario. More than a third (39 percent) of the organizations surveyed by Everbridge said they don’t have a communications plan in place. Crisis simulations prepare employees and implement a protocol, but they also create a framework and foundation on which to build out your crisis communication plans.


Im of yellow tape at a crime scene saying "police line do not cross".


When we conduct active shooter crisis simulations, once of the first things participants realize is that law enforcement takes over. The tool kit left to CEOs is extremely limited– law enforcement controls what CEOs can or cannot say and what they can and cannot do. That’s why it’s critical that organizations train for what they can do: focus on internal and stakeholder communications.


Beyond practicing internal and stakeholder communications, one of the assets of implementing a crisis simulation framework is learning the trajectory of a crisis. Crisis simulations allow executives to test their strategic thinking, response times, and resources in a realistic and interactive setting. Training executives on pattern recognition is a key component in ensuring a crisis does not become debilitating for a business. In the case of the Las Vegas shooting that occurred on October 1st, the eyes are now on Mandalay Bay as investigators and victims question the strength of security and hotel employee awareness to recognize the shooter’s actions. A crisis simulator prepares companies for gaps that may be examined, allowing businesses to have the foresight to regulate those sensitive areas prior to a crisis.


In addition to testing the preparedness of a business through crisis simulations, executives need to actively engage with community stakeholders. Law enforcement will be the first call that an employee makes in an active shooter crisis. CEOs and their communications team should have an established relationship with local police and sheriff departments. Law enforcement will be the primary communicator with the media and the first purveyor to control your message. As police gather information and witness accounts, there is an increased chance for misinformation and mistakes fueled by a hectic environment and raw emotion. If a designated team is in place to build and maintain a rapport with law enforcement, businesses will be in a more favorable position to accurately convey the crisis and response.


Image showing a hand drawing stick figures that say chain of command.


A controlled response can only be achieved if businesses have a clear understanding of the chain of command within the company. While an entire organization should be privy to the immediate response during a crisis, communications executives and other leadership positions should have key roles and responsibilities in place after an active shooting has occurred. One of the primary complaints following a shooting is the lack of communication to families following the incident. Law enforcement officials are limited in the communications they can provide to families, but businesses can elect an employee to run point on those calls.


Police officers are frequently trained with crisis scenarios. Actors are hired to simulate domestic violence emergencies, suicide attempts, and more. Based on an officer’s response, the actor playing a domestic assailant may decide to pull the imaginary trigger or surrender. What fuels the difference in those reactions? Empathy. Business leaders cannot be expected to talk down an active shooter, but the importance of empathy still plays a crucial role in the aftermath. An organized plan is essential in response to a crisis, but it does not mean that leadership or employees should be expected to have a robotic reaction after a tragedy. Humanity will be the saving grace for any post-crisis plan and cannot be replicated or replaced by any tangible strategy.


The likelihood of active shooters attacking a business and its employees is a difficult subject to discuss. Preparation for such atrocities and the reality of its impact on families is deeply unfathomable. And while such horrific events are not always predictable, they can be prepared for.


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3 Questions (and Answers) On CEO Authenticity Tue, 07 Nov 2017 13:52:10 +0000 By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith


An interesting question: who’s the most authentic CEO in the world?


Yes, authentic. Authentic as defined by the dictionary is


Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.”


Or more simply put: REAL.


We’re used to ranking CEOs by innovation (i.e. Jeff Bezos) or market share (i.e. Tim Cook) as opposed to this idea of authenticity.


Admittedly, authenticity can be hard to rank — it’s not the most quantifiable element ever — but our friends at Quantified Communications just tried to do it. The Quantified Communications Index sought to recognize the 20 Most Authentic CEOs in the Fortune 100.


The top 10 Most Authentic were:


2017 CEO Authinticity Rankings list



The methodology, explained here, largely used proprietary algorithms based on linguistic, vocal, and nonverbal patterns that have been proven through academic research and audience testing to rank CEOs. The work is based on publicly available communication samples.


Jamie Dimon is perhaps an odd choice as No. 1 — financial services firms aren’t usually associated with authenticity — but the reasoning is sound, including this:


From the way Dimon presents himself on stage, whether he’s in front of investors, Congress, or J.P. Morgan employees, nobody is going to question whether that’s the same person they would meet for a beer, for a meeting, or in the elevator. He doesn’t take on any sort of persona—the audience feels like he’s the same Jamie Dimon everywhere he goes.

Does CEO authenticity matter?

Yes, it does. Digital noise is fairly high these days, with about 293,000 statuses posted to Facebook every minute. There’s a lot to consume and, moreover, a lot of people pushing, peddling, or otherwise selling themselves. Most would also logically refer to social media/digital comms as often “curated.”


But what about authenticity and real transparency? That has to be a way to cut through the noise out there, right?


Maybe that’s why consumers are responding more to it, and organizations are now taking the time to study and rank the authenticity of CEOs, whereas previously we’d just evaluate them by their numbers.


We at Kith have long believed that it’s the less obvious attributes, like a CEO’s authenticity, that make up a company’s reputation. We call these attributes The 7 Levers of Reputation.



There are seven levers that companies must “pull” in order to have a positive reputation. These seven levers are areas where companies must focus if they wish to grow their reputation. Based on findings in an article by Charles J. Fombrun, Naomi A. Gardberg, and Joy M. Sever called “The Reputation Quotient: A multi-stakeholder measure of corporate reputation,” Kith’s 7 Levers of Reputation are clearly defined areas where companies can focus their activities and messaging in order to grow their reputation. firm. Just as you can pull certain levers in marketing (like adjusting the price or dramatically increasing advertising spending) to get people’s attention for your products, you can use these seven levers to bring about change in your company’s reputation over time. You can learn more about the 7 Levers here.


CEO authenticity directly impacts the Leadership Privilege lever. Leadership Privilege is a CEO’s ability to demonstrate humility, generosity and, you guessed it, authenticity in their role as a leader. A humble, authentic leader serves organizations well and is simply real and relatable.


Most of the companies named in the Top 10 above, including JPMorgan Chase, are growing at an above-average rate. That’s obviously not necessarily causal, but we’ve also recently seen rankings of empathetic companies and also seen positive financial returns therein (market cap grows 23.3% compared to a weighted average of 5.2% from other companies in the sample).


Additionally, a slew of recent studies have actually tied “being more authentic” to the bottom line, with one even showing that 88% of consumers will reward a brand more for its authenticity.


You could argue that all seven of the levers are tied to authenticity. It’s a huge part of your overall reputation. Less-authentic brands and companies have a legitimate chance to lose customers and market share, as they will eventually deflect to organizations they find more authentic. This is apparently increasingly true of millennials, who want brands to present as more authentic

How can I pull the Leadership Privilege lever?

There are three things you can start doing now to be a more humble, authentic leader:


  1. Ask for (and embrace) feedback: Create a culture where everyone, including the CEO, can ask for and receive honest feedback. That’s the easy part. The hard part is embracing the feedback when it’s not something you want to hear. It’s not easy to be told of your weaknesses, however, you’ll gain a great deal of insight from these conversations and show your openness to employees’ input.
  2. Look out for others: Coauthor of Leading with Humility Rob Nielsen says team performance is typically much higher when team members believe their leaders are truly looking out for their best interests. I’m not asking you to hold hands, but what am I asking you to do is ensure your team has a working environment where they get what they need to do a good job.
  3. Admit fault: You’re probably going to upset your legal counsel with this one when you do it with media/customers, but admitting when you are wrong goes a long way in demonstrating humility and authenticity. A leader is more approachable when he or she admits to mistakes. But what’s critical is that this transparency involves improvement– you (and the organization) must learn from the mistake. If you, the CEO, make this transparency a priority, the whole company will be better equipped learning from failure.


Leadership Privilege is a powerful lever for reputational success. Studies like Quantified Communications’ and lists like Inc.’s Most Admired CEOs wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t. The greatest organizations have dynamic, visionary leaders who also see themselves as servants– they serve their customers and their team. This quality describes not just leaders’ visibility and ideas, but their attitudes, character, and the way they carry themselves in the world. Will you help your organization be great?

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Death By Binder Mon, 30 Oct 2017 13:52:10 +0000 Crisis binders are outdated and a risk to your reputation


By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith


I’m going to let you in on a secret that may upset my fellow crisis communications experts. Those binders you have on your shelf right now? The ones a consultant charged you and your company thousands of dollars to create?


They’re worthless.


We often see companies trying to catalog risk by organizing every imaginable calamity in a series of white binders. The pages filed inside listed everything from executive plane crashes to data breaches to workplace violence. The examples collected in these binders were never exhaustive and were exhausting to maintain (meaning they often weren’t). So, they got compiled, shelved, and forgotten.


Too often I’ve witnessed companies in the throes of crisis Not even think to pull dusty binders off the shelf and hope that it has the answers to whatever plagues them. And too often I’ve seen them be disappointed. The idea of a crisis plan being “one and done”– your team writes it once and hope it sustains the organization for all future crises– is not only unrealistic, it put your organization at risk. To assume that something your team put together during a planning meeting will apply in the ever-changing landscape of crisis leaves you with inappropriate false sense of security less prepared than not having a binder at all.


I understand the impulse behind these binders. People want to control risk because uncertainty is uncomfortable and overwhelming. I know how they feel. Honestly, as a consultant in years past, I created those binders and plans that ended up sitting on shelves. I realize now that this was the wrong approach; that’s not what people need.


What people do need is a framework to work from. Something that, regardless of the issue, is applicable and understood by the entire organization. Enter the Kith Risk Framework. The Kith Risk Framework categorizes all of your risks into three categories:



  • Strategic: Risks your organization took intentionally for superior gain
  • Preventable: Risks you have a zero-tolerance for, easily avoidable
  • External: Risks you have no control over (i.e a weather event)


And the good news is these three categories have prescribed response tactics, thus making your response strategy clear:


  • Strategic: Defend and explain your decision to take the risk
  • Preventable: Apologize and promise to make it right.
  • External: Become one of the herd and promise to return to business as usual as soon as possible


This means your response is determined by the type of risk. Let’s take a look at a recent crisis: the listeria recall for Mann Packing. Presumably, a company’s food safety standards would prevent contamination of product, which makes this a preventable risk. Therefore the practice is to apologize and promise to make right, which Mann Packing has done well thus far.


Aside from freeing up shelf space, categorizing risk into this framework puts risk into a language everyone can quickly and easily understand, thus improving reaction time. In a crisis when every minute counts, this is a critical benefit of using a framework.


To learn more about the Kith Risk Framework, click here.

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Brick By Brick: Rebuilding Your Reputation Post-Crisis Sun, 01 Oct 2017 13:52:10 +0000 Why post-crisis is the best time for your company to ideate on its reputation

Critical takeaways:

  • Pattern recognition helps communicators anticipate what is likely to happen next
  • Awareness of risks present, past and future helps organizations recover their reputations more effectively
  • Values alignment post-crisis ensures a stronger, more resilient corporate reputation


There’s carnage in the form of negative news and rubble in the form of dwindling tweets, but you made it. You survived a crisis. The worst of it is over, and things are finally getting back to normal. I’m willing to bet you’re exhausted and grateful for any sense of normalcy at work. I hate to burst your bubble, but if reputation excellence is your goal, being post-crisis means your work has just begun.


There are countless blog posts, webinars and trainings that teach you how to plan for a crisis or what to do during a crisis. And those can be helpful– after all, we’ve written a few blogs on the subject ourselves. But most of the crisis-related posts and trainings rarely tell you what to do once the crisis is over. Usually this is because most assume things can and should go back to normal. This is a mistake. At Kith, we believe that post-crisis is the time lay a new foundation, brick by brick, for reputation excellence.


When rebuilding your reputation, think of it like building a house. To oversimplify it, you build a house brick by brick. All reputation rebuilds should consist of the following three bricks:


  1. Pattern Recognition
  2. Awareness
  3. Values Alignment


Each of these bricks creates a foundation that will best position your company to succeed post crisis.


As a seasoned communicator, chances are you know what a typical crisis looks like. They follow a pattern:

Let’s compare this with one of the more well-known crises: Wells Fargo’s Fake Account Scandal of 2016. In case you’re unfamiliar, Wells Fargo was in hot water following allegations that its employees create millions of fake bank accounts for customers.


  • First you have the initial media coverage. On September 8, 2016, Wells Fargo announced it was paying $185 million in fines to to city and federal regulators to settle the allegations surrounding the creation of fake bank accounts. The media coverage was fairly straightforward and factual.
  • Then the personal stories began to emerge. Millions of consumers were impacted by Wells Fargo’s actions, and many came out to share their stories with media or on social media. But an added layer to this story were the stories of Wells Fargo employees. There was a particularly heartbreaking piece in The New York Times where Wells Fargo employees provided firsthand accounts, by email or by phone interview, of how pressure to create accounts affected them. Many compared the pressure to feeling like they were going to have a heart attack, while another employee reported being under so much stress that she drank hand sanitizer.
  • Then you have the jokes on late night TV. John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, Stephen Colbert of The Late Show and Seth Myers of Late Night each eviscerated Wells Fargo on their respective TV shows. The resulting online clips each had more than one million views each.
  • Legislators eventually get involved. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts did what she does best and reamed CEO Tim Sloan during a hearing of the Senate Banking committee, saying “At best, you were incompetent, and at worst you were complicit. Either way, you should be fired.”
  • Then interest starts to wane. This was especially true for Wells Fargo, as weeks after the scandal broke, Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States.


Why is it important that you know this crisis trajectory? So that you may begin to recognize patterns and learn from others. Pattern recognition is what separates good communicators from great communicators. We think of it as one of the first bricks in rebuilding your reputation.

Pattern Recognition

Pattern recognition is the ability to see lasting patterns in data. In crisis, pattern recognition helps communicators anticipate what is likely to happen next, thus giving them a heads start on preparing defenses or reactions. Take the above trajectory, for example. If a good crisis communicator with pattern recognition knows that typically legislators are going to get involved, they’re likely going to loop in Government Relations sooner than someone who doesn’t have that ability to see around corners. By the time the person without pattern recognition gets around to involving Government Relations, they have lost valuable preparatory time.


Pattern recognition can be learned, and it’s a skill that every communicator should develop, hone and practice consistently. While most people develop pattern recognition from career experience, you may find yourself wanting to accelerate the process. Luckily for you, that’s possible through professional development and practice. Our preferred way of accelerating crisis pattern recognition at Kith is through crisis simulations.


Crisis simulations accelerate pattern recognition by putting you through a highly realistic crisis, but in a safe environment. You are able to test your reaction time, writing skills, strategy development, all in a simulated scenario. This allows you and your team the opportunity to test your existing skillset and learn new skills without fear of errors that impact their business. Regular crisis simulations help bolster skills and pattern recognition so that, in a real crisis, that crisis muscle memory already exists, even if you don’t have 20+ years of career experience.


There’s a JFK quote that we at Kith love: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” We strongly believe that every crisis presents an opportunity, especially after the crisis is over.


Post-crisis, your organization is in a unique position. Some may say it’s vulnerable, others may describe the position as damaged or painful. But post-crisis, your organization has an opportunity to really look inward and evaluate. We call this Awareness, and it’s part of our Kith Reputation Excellence Model.

Awareness is one of Kith’s Four A’s. Just as the Four P’s helped marketers organize their go-to-market efforts, the Four A’s make the journey to reputational excellence manageable. Before now, many people’s thoughts around reputation have been vague. I often hear people express excellent ideas—they want to do something for their employees, or they want to get the word out about their innovative processes—but they don’t know how to implement them. The Four A’s offer a measurable, sustainable mechanism for creating positive impressions on key stakeholders.


Post-crisis, it’s all-too-common for companies to want to get back to “business as usual.” I understand this desire. Nobody is particularly interested in revisiting a time of pain and stress for the company. But I’m here to tell you that you must in order to gain awareness of your company, its risks, its industry and all that led to the crisis you just emerged from.


We’ve created a way for organizations to review their times of crisis in a productive and non-emotional way with Kith’s Crisis Discussion Guide. You can find it here. The original intent behind the creation of this guide was to help companies evaluate crises experienced by others in order to avoid these mistakes themselves. However, this debrief can always be used as a self-evaluation tool.


Taking an objective, non-emotional look at how the crisis happened, how you handled it, and where you go from here is critical if you wish to build a stronger organization post-crisis. Utilizing our thoughtful discussion guide helps you and your team uncover insights that are applicable to your unique organization.


Once you’ve evaluated the crisis that just took place, it’s time to review and organize other potential risks facing your company. This is where Kith’s Risk Framework is a critical tool. Kith’s Risk Framework is a streamlined system that organizes risk into 3 distinct categories — Strategic, Preventable and External — providing you with insights and a framework your whole organization can understand and execute upon. We talked about the Risk Framework in greater detail here.


After a crisis is a great time for companies to review and organize risk, as the crisis they just experienced likely is a risk they need to re-evaluate.


Once you’ve looked inward, then it’s time to look ahead and lay the third brick.

Values Alignment

After a crisis, your company must align on its values. Values are critical to any organization and its reputation. In fact, values are the underpinning of each of Kith’s 7 Levers to pull for reputational growth. Having clearly defined and accepted values not only bolsters your corporate reputation, but leads to better decision making in times of crisis.

It’s possible that a recent crisis called your values into question. Now’s the time for your organization to sit down and really dig in on what it wants and believes its values to be. Values alignment requires participation from all disciplines– not just communications– and all levels, including the CEO.


There are five steps to values alignment:


  1. Understand your environment: Gain understanding about your industry and competitive landscape and ensure everyone understands
  2. Review strategies and discuss winning moves: Review current strategies and reflect on things your company viewed as “wins”
  3. Envision reputational excellence: Determine what “reputational excellence” looks like to your company
  4. Discuss, debate and agree on details: This is when your company hammers out final decisions on the above points
  5. Cascade and communicate: Share this information with your organization


A best practice for kicking off values alignment is one we adapted from Rhythm Systems, an organization that helps companies identify, track and collaborate on their unique top priorities. The practice, called Start, Stop, Keep, asks executives the following questions:


  1. What should we START doing?
  2. What should we STOP doing?
  3. What should we KEEP doing?


These three simple questions help identify the priorities of an organization’s leadership, thus helping the company align on values.


A crisis does not mean the end of your company. For many companies, it was the beginning. Some of the more famous bouncebacks from crisis that come to mind: the Netflix/Qwikster debacle, Tylenol’s cyanide scare and Home Depot’s data breach are all examples of how you can succeed post-crisis if you take the right steps to rebuild. But, like building anything, it takes work. If you use the tools and bricks we’ve provided above, you’ll be well on your way to a stronger and more resilient reputation.

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CEO’s Abrupt Exit Puts Fintech Firm in Spotlight Tue, 26 Sep 2017 13:52:10 +0000 “The SoFi board was forced to act quickly and did so in a way that was transparent and compassionate–it just took two bites. SoFi likely wishes it had removed Mr. Cagney right away rather than allow him to transition out of the CEO role, given the backlash. However, SoFi listened to its critics following its initial CEO transition announcement and course-corrected quickly.

“SoFi’s internal communications conveyed a tone of empathy; too often companies…are aloof or even crass in their messaging to employees. It’s critical employees understand their employer takes these issues seriously and SoFi did a solid job in acknowledging the problem and explaining what would happen next. Increasingly, and appropriately, companies are writing internal communications with the expectation they will be shared with media. This has forced companies to be more human in their reactions and to be held accountable not just by employees but by the public, as well.”

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