Evan Nierman | How to Turn Negative News into Great PR

John Corcoran 11:22

I’m really glad you compared what you do to the wolf and not the GIMP in that situation. So although maybe sometimes you feel like, I want to ask you,

Evan Nierman 11:33

I’m not going there, you’re saying this interview in a very, very edgy arena. So

John Corcoran 11:39

I’m just gonna elicit encouragement for those, like, you know, you said you hadn’t seen Ray Donovan, which I have neither. But for those who haven’t seen Pulp Fiction, you’re gonna have to go see that in order to get that reference. But you one of the challenges for you is just being contacted late, right, like you said, just yesterday, you got a call, kind of a crazy situation from a company, which with a couple of hours notice, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to help with preparation. So talking about that

Evan Nierman 12:06

type of scenario. Yeah, it’s not uncommon, you know, crisis management crisis, PR support is a little bit like insurance. People don’t want to pay for it, and they don’t want to spend the money. But those who do are damn glad they paid it when they need it. And what happened yesterday has happened actually, many times before, and that was our phone rings, someone tells us they need our help, they start explaining the situation. And in this case, it was a nonprofit organization that had taken money from donors and from other other sources, and they’re accountable, they have a fiduciary responsibility for those funds. And the situation they were facing was that someone in a very high level, the organization was misappropriating those funds and treating the nonprofit’s accounts, like his own slush funds, or his own piggy bank. And so when we hung up the phone around 230, in the afternoon, they were serving papers to that individual at five o’clock PM, letting him know that he was terminated. So it was important for the board of directors to act speedily and to rely on us to guide them through this situation. And, you know, look, that’s that’s not a lot of turnaround time. And you got a lot of audiences that you have to be preparing to speak to when something like that happens. So you’ve got donors who’ve given to the organization because you don’t want them to get the wrong idea that the that the organization has done something wrong as a group as opposed to one individual, you don’t want them to think that the money that they’ve given has been misused, you’ve got to rally the internal audience, which is the staff. It’s a very traumatic thing when a high level executive gets removed. And so they needed a way to message that to the team, and to bring unity to the team as opposed to sowing confusion or fear. They obviously needed to have a plan in place in case the press became interested in this. And they needed internal communication among board members. And they needed to be individually prepared for what to do if they got questions, whether it’s from donors or, or the press, etc. So there’s a lot of moving pieces and a lot of parts. And with regular PR, your goal is ultimately to help an organization accomplish its goals and then over a sustained period. You want to use communication to do that. But crisis PR is like regular PR on steroids with super high stakes and zero margin for error and a fraction of the amount of time to turn things around and to be decisive and to be successful. And that is a difference. Most firms purport to do crisis communications most don’t or if they do it They’re dabbling in it and they don’t do it well. And that really underscores the difference between crisis PR versus regular PR for those who are kind of wondering what is, you know, crisis PR crisis PR is a niche area of Communications and Strategic Communications and PR. And it’s one that’s very specialized.

John Corcoran 15:21

Yeah. And, and I imagine kind of fun in that sense that, you know, it’s exciting. There’s high stakes, but from a business perspective, perhaps more challenging. And I’ve talked to others who have businesses like this, where it’s more challenging to build something that’s more predictable, more stable, which you want from a business perspective, if you have something where people just kind of want it and they need it urgently.

Evan Nierman 15:48

Absolutely. And it can be and I saw that, actually, you know, I started read Banyan, because I’d had the opportunity to work at a crisis PR firm in the past. And I’d worked there about three years before I started Red Banyan. And at the time, I was at that other firm. I saw that firms approach and how they did business. And one of the big challenges, as you pointed out correctly, is when you’re only doing crisis communications, it’s many times feast or famine, and you’ll get really, really busy with a client engagement and a matter. And then the irony is, if you do a great job for the client goes away yourself out of work. Yeah. So yeah, hey, great. I solved your problem in two days. Now you that person doesn’t have to pay us anymore. Yeah. So it’s a little bit of a catch 22. And but the difference is I knew the reason I had to start my own firm was I’d seen what that firm did, and how it operated and how it treated clients. And it treated clients in a very transactional manner. The idea was charge as much as you can build them as fast and aggressive as you can and maximize your profits. And then to hell with them. If the relationship falls apart. Well, we got paid for our work, if it ends up in litigation or arbitration or acrimony? Oh, well, that just happens. And that was that firms approach. And I didn’t last very long at that firm. Because what was going through my head at the time was, you know, imagine if we treated the clients, like they were our family members, or our friends. And we cultivated a relationship with them. And we took them through the crisis. And we did right by them. And we did good work. And we got paid fairly for the specialized service that we provided. But we ended on great terms, wouldn’t it be good that they would we solve their problem, it stands to reason if they have an issue down the road, they’ll come back to us. Yeah, they’ll spread word among their friends or their contacts, hey, these guys got me out of a jam. They’re really good. They’re great to work with. They build very fairly. And so I was thinking to myself, well, rather than having a client where you make as much money as fast as possible, but you don’t treat them right, what if you kept that client instead of two months, keep them for 10 years. And so that’s really what I set out to do with Red Banyan. In the early days, I had a lot of trouble with what you’re describing, which is the the uncertainty, the the ebbs and flows. And what I quickly found was, it wasn’t enough as a fledgling agency for us to do only crisis comms. And so we needed to do both crisis communications. But then we also needed to do ongoing strategic communications, positive PR. And we needed to do both. And by building up our roster of retainer clients, folks, organizations for whom we were working on an ongoing basis with a fixed scope of work that provided steady, predictable revenue. And then when the crises came in, it’s almost like the that was the gravy on top. But the business was really focused upon building the book of recurring revenue from positive PR,

John Corcoran 19:02

and you mentioned the positive PR, and you’ve been able, in some instances to turn a negative situation into a positive situation. So you’ve done some work, your company’s done some work for the US Holocaust Museum, which is amazing. My business partner, Jeremy, Grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, very impactful on his life. Obviously, the Florida Holocaust Museum also had a situation where this side of the building got tagged with swastikas. And I can imagine, you know, the museum directors coming out and just wanting to just cover that up, or just clean it up as soon as possible. But you took a different tact, and in turning into a positive to talk about how you did that.

Evan Nierman 19:42

Yeah, that’s right. And what people need to understand about crisis is, in the moment, it’s very painful, it can be very disorienting. But the flip side of that crisis is opportunity. And so if you’ve got someone helping you along the way and guiding you the right way, you can actually take a negative and turn it into a positive And so with the Florida Holocaust Museum, as you, as you pointed out, they were tagged swastikas on the building. And it could have been something that happened and went away quickly. But instead, it was really important, I felt to to use it as a as a teaching moment as a chance to bring the community together. And so

John Corcoran 20:23

let me interrupt you on that real quickly. What was that conversation like? So you get a call from the the Florida Holocaust Museum, they say this happened? Like, we’re cleaning it up as it is, and you’re like, stop. I mean, that must have been a hard conversation for them. Like they must have I imagine I can imagine that they were like, we want to call the press. Like, we don’t want to highlight this. This is deeply painful and personal to us. How do you convince them to that you can turn it into a positive?

Evan Nierman 20:55

Well, it’s good thing for the museum, the chairman of the board is a guy named Mike Eagle. And he’s young, he’s whip smart. He’s an attorney. He’s a great businessman. And he has a an understanding of both politics and the media. And so when Mike called me in the morning, he called me at seven o’clock in the morning or something and said we’d been tagged, this has already happened. And and actually, I didn’t, I told them, I didn’t tell them, you know, wait, stop cleaning it up. You know why? Because they had already cleaned it up, ironically. And so what I was really asking Mike was, did we get photos of it? Do we have images of it? Because we needed those, there had to be some evidence of it, we needed to share that. And honestly, the pictures that we had were not great. They weren’t high quality, they weren’t really staged the way that you would you would, when I say staged, I don’t mean that, that they were fabricated or anything. I mean, they weren’t. They weren’t lined up where you could see everything in one frame. They just were bad pictures. And obviously, the content makes them horrible as as is the conversation with Mike, who’s the chairman of the board was, you know, this is a terrible thing. But we’re going to we’re going to use this to the museums advantage, because this shows how critically important your commitment to education Holocaust education is. And it shows that the threats and the hatred and the anti semitism that led to the Holocaust, haven’t been eradicated. And that that still exists today. And it continues to be something that our society needs to be aware of. And part of the way that we’re going to make them aware is, you know, this, this incident, we’re going to turn this into national news, because it’s important. And he said, Okay, I trust you. I don’t know how you’re going to do that. But we’re here to support you in whatever whatever we can do. Do it, please help us. We don’t know what to do. And they ultimately used it as an opportunity to really bring the community together in Tampa St. Pete. So they held an event, a less than a week after the incident. And they had a community gathering. And they had Christian, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, white, black, Asian, they brought representatives from a diverse community all together to stand against hate. And it became a an event that was both, you know, when the incident happened itself, it became national news. And it was covered by Fox and CNN, and a range of other outlets. And guess what, a week later, when the community all came together to stand against hate, it became national news again. And Mike, actually who’s who’s a third generation, his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. He published a very thoughtful op ed that ran on cnn.com that talked about the lessons of what had happened there and what the community should should learn from this and what the takeaway is. And for me, it’s a really great illustration, that a crisis doesn’t need to be something that has a permanent stain, or creates a permanent stain, something that you need to run, run from and you need to hide from. If you take it head on, and you deal with it in a proper manner, you can actually turn it to your advantage and use it as a unifying force.

John Corcoran 24:25

Yeah. Wow, what a great story. Thank you for sharing that. We’re running a little short on time. But I do want to ask about the changing media landscape and how that’s affected your work and affected communications in general PR, crisis communications. You’ve been doing this a while, you know, we’re recording this for a podcast, which is a new media tool, their social media, how does that affect and change the world of communication today?

Evan Nierman 24:56

Great question. Every couple of years the world of communicate asians completely reinvented itself. And that’s part of why I find it to be such a fascinating and interesting line of work is there’s new new platforms that come online every day. And you have to be nimble, and you have to be a lifelong learner and willing to adapt. Because you got to meet reporters where they are, you got to connect with media wherever that is. And so it’s one of the things that I think makes this one of the most fascinating arenas in which to play. And so every day I wake up excited, and you just have to be willing to, to adapt quickly, because the old way falls away fast.

John Corcoran 25:34

Yeah, it’s crazy. I was listening to CNN has a podcast about the 2003 recall campaign, which I was on the losing end of because I was working for the governor last on that one. But they were talking about how radical it was at the time that honors were saying or announced, he was running for governor on The Tonight Show. And now these days, it’s done by a tweet, it’s done via YouTube video, maybe it’s done on Twitch, there’s so many different ways that people are communicating.

Evan Nierman 26:01

It’s amazing. And now, there’s never been a better time to get your message out. The biggest challenge now is how to break through the noise. It’s not how to amplify because what’s amazing is every single one of us is walking around with a global amplifier, we have these devices called smartphones in our pockets. And with a couple of thumb taps and swipes, you can broadcast your message to the world. And that’s a remarkable thing. It’s totally changed the way that people get their information, how they both absorb information, and also how they push out information. And it’s changed the landscape of everything from politics to media, to social connectivity, and it’s it’s amazing. It’s fraught with risk and opportunity.

John Corcoran 26:49

Yeah, is it fascinating world that it then Well, I want to wrap things up with the last question I asked him big fan of gratitude. So if you look around at your peers and contemporaries, others, maybe in your industry, others who you would admire, however you want to define it. Who do you respect? Who do you admire that’s doing good work out there these

Evan Nierman 27:08

days? So your your question comes at a really appropriate time, because just a couple of hours ago, I was at lunch with Verne Harnish, who is the who’s a serial entrepreneur, a brilliant guy, and he’s the founder, the creator of an organization called Eco Entrepreneurs Organization. And EO was created to give entrepreneurs and business owners a safe space where they could come together that they could help each other and they would know that they had a support system in place. And I walked up to Verne, and at one of the breaks, he gave two really great presentations, I walked up to him in between, and gratitude was on my mind. And I said, I wanted to thank you because I’ve been affiliated with a yo for the past nine years. And in addition to meeting and marrying my wife, having my kids joining EO and being a part of this network, it has been one of those transformative events in my life. And I met some some of the most amazing people I’ve been able to grow spiritually, my depth of knowledge for business has grown exponentially. And I’ve it’s just been a life changing experience. And so Verne, I just wanted to say thank you, to you for for creating this and it’s given me so much. And the person, the person who was standing next to me said Oh, I bet you’ve never heard that one. He said you know what, I hear it all the time, but it never gets old. That’s great. Yeah.

John Corcoran 28:41

Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line by Evan Nierman. Evan, where can people go to grab the book and learn about you and Red Banyon?

Evan Nierman 28:51

Yes, you can get the book on amazon.com. You can download it on Audible. You can you can find it anywhere books are sold – Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble. If you want more information about me, you can connect with me at evannierman.com, check out redbanyan.com, which is my company, and all of our social media is linked to it from from the redbanyan.com. And if you reach out to me and drop me a line, I’d love to connect with you. And I do read my email. I do respond and I look forward to continuing the conversation. 

John Corcoran 29:26

Excellent. And Evan, thanks so much.

Outro 29:28

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.