In 2018, brands are witnessing a wave of a new consumer activism. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, since the beginning of 2016, one in five Americans has participated in some form of activist involvement. In all, 27% of American adults have taken part in two or more offline activities, while 18% (representing 24% of Internet users) have engaged in two or more activities online. And, many of them claim they plan on getting more active. Making sure your brand is properly prepared to engage with activists both proactively as well as reactively will be essential to navigating the activism landscape.

Activism Defined:

Activism can be understood as acting to affect social change and can occur in a myriad of ways and in a variety of forms. It is most often concerned with “changing the world” through social, political, economic or environmental efforts. Activism can be led by individuals but is often done collectively through social movements.

Types of Activism:

  • Digital/Internet/Social Media
    • The use of electronic communication technologies such as social media, email, podcasts, etc. to enable faster and potentially more effective (far-reaching) transmission of oppositional beliefs by concerned citizens who may or may not be involved in a larger movement
  • Protests/Grassroots Movements
    • The protest is perhaps the oldest and most traditional form of activism
    • Individuals (who may or may not be part of the same community and/or organization) who coordinate and assemble a large-scale event bearing witness on behalf of a cause
    • Protesters may organize a protest as a way of making their opinions heard to influence public opinion or government policy, or they may undertake direct action to enact desired changes themselves
    • Can be non-violent and/or violent depending on the situation and can escalate from non-violent to violent depending on the circumstances
    • May take place in one designated location or could consist of physical movement i.e. a walk or march
  • Activist Organizations
    • The activism industry consists of organizations and individuals engaged in various forms of activism fighting at least one perceived injustice; often done full-time as part of the organization’s core business model
    • Often non-profit and/or non-governmental
    • Does not generally manufacture goods
    • May engage in lobbying, or attempting to influence decisions made by the federal government
    • Examples of Activist Organizations: PETA, Greenpeace, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, etc.

Profile of an Activist:

  • Usually involved in larger organization/movement
  • Engage in demonstrations, sit-ins, etc.
  • Act on what they believe to be true and/or what they hold as core values (i.e.: civil liberties, women’s rights, animal rights, etc.)


Proactive: Get Ahead of the Curve

First Steps

  • Identify issues that might attract activists’ attention
  • Assemble crisis management plan and team with members in specialty areas who have activism or similar experience
  • Develop specific crisis management plans for different types of possible activism crises
  • Select and train a credible spokesperson for the media
  • Consider conducting dry runs/test crises to make sure your plans will work

Do Your Research

  • Develop media relations plan, community relations plan and risk communications strategy
  • Appoint responsibility to appropriate members of staff who have relevant experience in crisis management (especially when it comes to activism)
  • Develop a written and verbal complaints procedure
  • Consider holding community events or engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility programs – reach out to the community if you think they may turn against you; don’t isolate your brand
  • Identify and keep in touch with the views of all activist groups that may prove a threat
  • Keep track of public opinion of the organization and relevant general issues (environment, animal rights, equal pay, racism, sexual assault, etc.)
  • Do not lose touch with breaking news and trending headlines – always be on top of what’s going on in the larger community that could affect your brand in some way


  • Don’t assume it won’t happen – anyone is vulnerable to a crisis, activism-related or not
  • Don’t play defense instead of offense
    • You may not always have the opportunity to expect the unexpected, but waiting to act until an activism-related crisis occurs is not the way to go unless there’s no other option
  • Don’t expect people/public opinion to be on your side – including employees
  • Don’t release messaging related to a potential crisis without consulting your crisis management team and/or legal counsel– risk of bringing unwanted negative attention to your brand
    • This goes for reactive crisis management as well


Reactive: Crisis Management


  • Identify and act quickly
  • Keep calm
  • Do not engage in further verbal or written communication, especially online
  • Be on high alert

Be discreet and cordial

Preparing for a Protest:

  • Identify and act quickly
  • Expect a video camera; this means they may come in groups of two or more

During a Protest:

  • Administrators should handle addressing the protesters, not staff
  • Ideally there is no video footage, but we should at least aim to keep the encounter as short as possible
  • Avoid protesters entering private property
    • Verbal phrases to communicate:
      • “We apologize, but no video camera recordings are allowed on our premises at this time.”
      • “Ma’am/Sir, you’re going to have to vacate the building.”
      • “Please adjourn to public property for your speech.”
    • Continue to not engage in further verbal communication


  • Do not engage in verbal conversation
  • Calmly repeat company policy
  • Do not stray from this script
  • Do not physically touch any of the protesters
  • Do not attempt to take posters or cameras away
  • Do not allow guests to verbally or physically engage

 After the Protest:

  • Do not further engage in conversation with guests about the occurrence
  • Apologize for the disruption
  • Ensure customer safety
  • Contact/update executives

Hard-hitting activist campaigns against big corporations have become part of the business landscape in 2018, but encountering activists doesn’t need to be an intimidating experience. Having a partner like DEVENEY to support your organization and devise a plan ensures that your best foot is forward when navigating the activism landscape.

Want to learn more? Join our conversation by tweeting us @DEVENEYMKTG.



Graphic of Activist Groups

Preparing for the Future of Crisis

Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in activism and protests to voice concern over various topics and issues such as abortion, gun reform/school shootings, sexual violence and animal cruelty, just to name a few. Supporters of these groups are very passionate about their respective causes and can create turmoil for a brand’s reputation if one happens to get caught in their cross hairs.

Activists will do anything to bring attention to their cause, whether it be staging protests outside of a business or vandalizing a brand’s identity through every possible outlet, including social media networks, advertising, direct mail and grassroots efforts. By engaging with and empowering their supporters, these groups can quickly build momentum, control the conversation and increase support in other locations.

On March 25, 2018, McDonald’s was targeted by an animal rights group that criticized the chain for its “chicken welfare policy” – pressuring the corporate giant to agree to source its chicken from more sustainable/humane farms. Over the past year, the group has also targeted other fast food empires, food suppliers and manufacturers demanding the same commitments, many of which have agreed to the group’s demands such as Subway, Starbucks and Burger King, Sodexo, General Mills and Carnival Cruise Lines.

The group launched an aggressive fight against McDonald’s and has appropriated its logo, slogan, products and mascot for a negative image campaign, which has been implemented online, on bench ads in front of restaurants, on mobile billboards and in full-page ads in the Chicago Times and the New York Times. The group has also taken to projecting negative messaging on buildings next to restaurant locations and erecting large-scale, branded product installations around Chicago. Through an online campaign, including email newsletters, supporters are being mobilized to protest outside of restaurants around the world and at McDonald’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago.

To date, the group has not received the commitment they are seeking from the brand, and each day the attack continues. McDonald’s has not publicly responded to the group.

Think your brand might be targeted next? Here are a few recommendations on how you can identify and monitor any activist groups possibly targeting your brand.

Activism Monitoring Toolkit


  • Identify current groups and groups on-the-rise that might be targeting your brand and/or your competitors
  • Keep an eye on the news and hot topics nationally and globally and identify topics that might be a pain point for your brand (animal welfare, gun reform, etc)
  • Listen to public opinion, as it changes quickly


  • Set up Google Alerts for trending terms/issues
  • Utilize social monitoring tools such as HootSuite or Sprout Social to see posts and engagements as they happen

Befriend the enemy:

  • Sign up for newsletters
  • Follow social accounts to keep an eye out on what brands they are targeting and why


  • Develop a media relations plan, community relations plan, and risk communications strategy
  • Assign roles to team members who have relevant experience in crisis management
  • Conduct a media training for key executives and spokespeople
  • Prepare talking points and a holding statement
  • Prepare responses in the event you begin receiving calls, emails or negative comments on your social networks

Want to learn more? Join our conversation by tweeting us @DEVENEYMKTG.


Southwest Blue (DEVENEY Image)

No company ever wants to deal with a crisis, let alone a fatal one. However, the sad reality is that certain industries and sectors are high-risk and fatalities are just one of the many crises that could potentially arise.

Unfortunately for Southwest Airlines, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, they dealt with their first in-flight death when an engine failure caused an object to fly through a window above one of the wings. While we certainly would never wish this kind of tragedy on any company, Southwest’s swift action is something to learn from. Let’s take a quick look:

The Company Responded Quickly

One of the most challenging things about a crisis is that innate reaction most of us have to deflect responsibility. None of us wants to be responsible for poor service, a defective product or, in this case, the death of a customer. Southwest, however, took swift action and immediately took responsibility.

The company issued a press release on their website at 12:04 pm, 41 minutes after Flight 1380 made the emergency landing in Philadelphia, PA. That response time is impressive.

Southwest Airline Press Release regarding Flight 1380

The Company Used Social Media to Respond

Following the press release, the company updated their social media profiles. On Twitter, they shared a video message in the form of a tweet that was pinned to the top of their profile and then updated their bio to reflect the information:

Southwest Airlines Twitter Response in Crisis

They also shared the video and response on Facebook in the form of a pinned post:

Southwest Airlines Facebook response to crisis

And they shared it on Instagram:

In addition to taking responsibility so quickly, Southwest Airlines also very quickly updated their social media profiles to reflect the severity of the situation. They changed their profile picture and cover photos to be more somber, while still maintaining their brand identity, as well as their bios to direct people to the press release.

Additionally, they ceased posting to their social media with the exception of responses and customer service (which we’re about to get into) allowing for the news of the crisis to maintain top position of their feeds. Many times in a crisis, brands are tempted to bury a negative story by overcompensating with  positive ones. In this particular instance, Southwest refrained, which further enforces the seriousness of the issue to them.

southwest airlines adjusted their branding following the crisis

They Adapted Their Social Media Strategy 

Even in the face of an unimaginable crisis like the one Southwest is dealing with, regular life continues to occur. In a service industry, people will always need support no matter what issues you’re dealing with. Sometimes, our natural response during a crisis is to cease all communication, of any kind, until things have blown over. Unfortunately, that isn’t always something you can do.

Southwest handled the situation well by ceasing their regular social media posting and focusing their narrative on the tragedy and the steps they are taking as a company to ensure it never happens again. That said, they did continue to respond to any customer service requests. This is incredibly important because it helped to maintain the reputation that they have for top-level customer service and care. Even while handling what I can only imagine is one of the worst crises in the history of the company, they managed to make all customers feel valued and heard. That’s hard to do.

Southwest's continued customer service in the face of a very serious crisis

Additionally, they came up with clear messaging for instances where people specifically addressed the engine failure and fatality. They didn’t shy away from the crisis, they confronted it head-on, another thing that can be intimidating and difficult to do.

They Continued to Update the Public  

Two days later, Southwest continued to provide updates to the public regarding the incident. This is another tactic that people tend to shy away from; it’s bad enough to admit you have failed let alone continue to talk about it.

As a whole, we give major kudos to Southwest Airlines for how quickly, honestly and sincerely they addressed the tragic fatality experienced on one of their flights. And, while we all hope for the best we know that is smart to learn from their experience and prepare for the worst.


When a client calls in crisis, you answer. Timeliness is essential when it comes to a crisis, that’s a no brainer. And wondering if you’ll encounter a crisis is not a matter of IF but a matter of WHEN.

With health care clients, crisis can literally become a matter of life or death. Luckily for our team, we’ve never had to be involved in such a situation. However, working with health care crises can be both enlightening and stressful. Serving as a strategic partner to our crisis clients is what we do best. However, there’s also a difference between responding to a crisis from our own office and work space and being on-site, in the trenches with the crisis communication team at your client’s office. Many PR practitioners might not realize, but there are a number of things we can do to make our and our client’s lives easier in these circumstances:

Executive Summaries are gold

As a partner, we obviously want to provide as much content and detail as possible. In a crisis, it’s likely your client or the communication director has their hair on fire. So, while all the detail is great when proving your thoroughness to a new client, this is not the time. Provide an executive summary of traditional and social media monitoring, then provide backup should they want to investigate further.

Respond often and regularly, even if there is no update

Avoid the client asking what’s going on, what’s the update. Set morning and afternoon times to provide updates and check-ins, regardless if there’s an update or not. This will provide a sense of security and ease, one less thing for your client to think about.

Crisis ≠ sloppy

Just because you’re sending reports, emails and correspondences quickly, does not allow for quality to slip. If anything, quality in a crisis situation should be higher, due to increased risk level and demand for airtight content. Also consider, crisis clients often are billed at a higher rate, so they should receive the quality they’re paying for. Often times your work is being shared directly with the highest level of an organization, so make sure it’s tight, professional and worthy of a CEO’s immediate review.

Be conscious of stakeholders, policyholders and general consumers involved

With health care, a crisis could mean the potential threat to patient privacy. To ensure all laws are withheld and critical information is kept secure, communications teams often have to address reporters with an air of ambiguity. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to answer the reporters questions (obviously wanting to maintain an air of transparency) it just means there are laws bigger than them to protect those most important, the general public.

Research all the sticky parts

Before walking into a client’s office for a crisis briefing, be sure to research as much of the company, situation and current climate of the situation. Again, research seems like a no brainer, but being in the midst of those who live and breath an industry will automatically make you feel lost. Try to brush up on jargon specific to the industry you’re working in, so you can easily keep up during those high-intensity briefings.

Find a way to be helpful

When a group of presidents, CEOs, physicians, CMOs and communication team members gather to talk about a crisis, the climate is likely tense. It may be easy to fade into the background, but always find a way to contribute something to the conversation or situation. Whether that’s including a relatable anecdote (John Deveney’s greatest talent) when providing an update, or jumping behind a computer to take notes on the big screen, the crisis command center is a place for collaboration, so no idea is a bad idea. Who knows, your suggestion might be just what the team needs to hear.

Is your team equipped to handle a crisis? Tweet your questions to us @DEVENEYMKTG



As public relations professionals, we have a number of tools at our disposal- these items make our business lives easier as we strive to deliver on the objectives set forth for our brands each year. One tool that is often overlooked and sometimes considered unnecessary is media training.  Often, media training is not something that comes to mind for a business until absolutely necessary.

Media training IS necessary. Today, business leaders are expected to have the ability to easily navigate a media encounter- at times it is even considered a job requisite. But speaking to the media is not a skill that comes natural to most people, it’s a skill that needs to be practiced and honed.

DEVENEY offers a media training that is best-in-class and covers a variety of methodology including interview simulations with a journalist and film crew. The DEVENEY method teaches attendees how to control an interview, stay on message, utilize body language effectively and avoid the pitfalls of an overly inquisitive reporter. Our training sessions are uniquely tailored to your business needs and we work in conjunction with your team to specifically target each spokesperson’s strengths and weaknesses in communicating key messages to the media.

Other distinctive DEVENEY techniques include methods of messaging recall, weak language to avoid and tips for live interviews. After working through several media encounter simulations, trainees leave with a comprehensive binder of best-practices and tips, to encourage continued practice and improvement. We like to say that POISE comes with PRACTICE and our ultimate goal is to make training effective and efficient for you and your team.

Think that media training might be right for your business or organization? Get in touch with us at @DEVENEYMKTG



With October being National Cyber Security Month and on the heels of the recent Equifax breach, personal information security is an issue that most consumers are all well too familiar with. As a population we’ve become increasingly reliant on digital and mobile technology- things that we previously did in-person, like banking, is now more frequently done on our mobile devices.

As consumers, we share our most private and personal information online and on our phones, so when a large breach occurs, like the issues that affected Target and Equifax, widespread sentiment towards these companies becomes unfavorable.

With cyber security breach more prevalent than ever, how can a brand successfully navigate the inevitable fallout often associated with diminished consumer confidence?

Security Audit & Tabletop Exercise

A comprehensive audit is often a good first step for brands dealing in secure information. Determining where vulnerabilities might lie is necessary for creating a strategic crisis plan unique to your business needs. A tabletop exercise will walk participants through a hypothetical cyber-attack and expose senior leadership to the types of damage and immediate decision making that is needed in the event of a real security problem.

Communication Response Strategy

Following the audit and table top exercise, a detailed response strategy is an essential tool to prepare yourself in the event of a breach. Elements might include a pre-planned customer response, internal communications, staffing plan, talking points, media releases and much more.

Media Training

Finally, consider preparing senior leadership for any potential crisis. A media training will take spokespeople through interview simulations and prepare them for handling the press. Maximizing control in an interview and staying message driven are key skillsets to master when all eyes are on a brand.

While there are many considerations to take into account in the event of a cyber security breach, a proactive approach and preparedness are sure to provide a good first line of defense for any business.

Is your brand prepared in the event of a security breach? For more information on cyber security, tweet us @DEVENEYMKTG.


Higher education clients experience a variety of issues that can prove challenging for an administration.  Sensitive subjects like sexual misconduct, inclusion and diversity, student suicide, and overdoses are among the issues that today’s colleges and universities might face. And with today’s environment of immediate information share and unparalleled levels of transparency, higher education organizations need to have a proactive plan in place, should an issue arise.


Preparation is the key to working through a difficult situation. At DEVENEY, we work with our higher education clients to prepare them with the tools needed to navigate through a variety of issues. From putting a communication team in place to developing the appropriate messaging, we work together and devise a strategy to not only address an existing crisis, but enable clients to manage a potential future reoccurrence.

Below are some considerations when working through a campus crisis:

Assemble a crisis team. Based on the situation, this could include legal counsel, the university president, a public affairs member, a member of the board of directors or similar.

Establish a crisis command center. This center might be a physical meeting space, virtual one, or a conference line with a protocol on how to quickly assemble and engage your crisis team.

Identify critical audiences. These can vary greatly and could include students, media, alumni, faculty, administration, donors, campus neighbors and law enforcement officials.

Develop messaging. Arming your spokespeople with key message points and thoughtfully crafted statements and updates is crucial for successful crisis management.

Determine message delivery vehicle. Whether it’s a letter from the president, a statement to the media, conversations with affected students or a newsletter to faculty, the delivery method will be determined by the audience and situation.

While it’s always a good idea to plan for potential crisis situations in advance, due to their nature, many are often unpredictable. With over 20 years of experience in dealing with crisis issues big and small, the experts at DEVENEY can help you stay ahead of a potential crisis, manage brand reputation and shape favorable outcomes.

Want to learn more? Tweet us @DEVENEYMKTG and let us know your crisis questions.


Do you believe in the power of media training? At DEVENEY, we most definitely do! And while most public relations agencies have a method of media training that is fairly standard, the process at DEVENEY is a different and best-in-class approach in terms of enabling a participant for message-driven preparedness.


Prior to each media training session, participants are asked to complete an in-depth survey that provides a deeper understanding into their history in working with the media. Upon receiving survey results, DEVENEY prepares a customized curriculum that is tailored to each attendee. In addition to this survey, we carefully consider the trainee’s position within the company, their background and expertise, and how to best prepare them for subject interviews relative to their role.

As an example, we recently trained Chef Abdiel Aleman, vice president of culinary development for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Our survey did well to inform us of the concerns Chef Abdiel had in regard to cooking demonstrations during broadcast segments. As a result, we provided recall methods for him to ensure he could balance his messaging with meal prep!

In advance of each media training, we also work closely with our clients to develop real-world practice scenario themes for the participants. This process involves research and collaboration to determine potential issues that could be broad, like industry related problems, or very specific, like a public-facing litigation. We work with the client to approve the scenarios and ensure they are appropriate for each trainee.

Did we mention that we hire actual journalists?

We do! This is one of the elements that sets the DEVENEY process apart from other media trainings. For on-camera training scenarios, we utilize a professional journalist with extensive experience to deliver the most accurate interview situation.

Our journalist takes participants through several scenarios and interviews, with each being carefully reviewed and analyzed. The ultimate goal of these exercises is to provide feedback and tips to help improve a message-driven interview approach.

That’s the DEVENEY media training approach in a nutshell, or at least SOME of it, the rest is something you might have to experience yourself.

Do your executives know how to navigate a tough interview? Ask DEVENEY about our unique media training experience by tweeting us @DEVENEYMKTG.


Public relations, advertising and marketing industry awards can be overwhelming, but with the right tools, they can also be a key tactic to put you on the map for prospective clients. DEVENEY is no stranger to award submissions (and wins), and as the spearhead for our efforts, I have some pro tips on how you can win the gold and leverage it for fame and glory.


Like everything in our industry, identifying the best award opportunities begins with research. From identifying upcoming prospects to classifying the most well-suited categories, how do you choose? The most important thing to keep in mind – what are you looking to get out of this award submission?

Know your audience. What defines a win for this competition? Award programs provide entry requirements when they call for submissions, so it’s imperative to READ THROUGH THESE CAREFULLY – they provide information on eligibility dates, categories, required information, formatting specifics, acceptable supporting documentation and more.

Finally, make sure the host organization is reputable. There are many awards programs out there, but only trusted, reputable ones recognized by your target audience will get you the desired outcome – fame and glory.

Pro Tips:

·   Walk through the entire submission process to make sure you understand all the information you need to provide, supporting document requirements, etc.

·    Research previous winners in each of the categories.

·  Prior to beginning, define your goals for submitting the award to ensure the programs you select and nominations you submit align.


Whether you’re drafting a brief rationale on why your creative piece is the best or nominating a full campaign case study, your submission must be relevant to the category, clearly explaining why it is award-worthy.

The experts who judge campaign-focused awards are most interested in the research your team conducted to develop the campaign strategy, how and why you decided on the recommended tactics, implementation, timeline, and most importantly, how your campaign impacted the target audience. Some questions to keep in mind:

·      How did the research impact the recommended strategy?

·      Did your campaign evoke a behavioral change?

·      How did you measure that change?

·      Did you meet your desired outcomes?

Creative/design focused awards are different. Judges grade your work based on aesthetic, technique and overall creativity. Creative/design awards require more details about the motivation behind your work. Some questions to keep in mind:

·      Is your design revolutionary?

·      Is your design both creative AND functional?

·      Does it evoke the desired emotion?

·      How is the user experience?


Supporting documents are not optional – they are an extension of your case study and should be used to reinforce and strengthen your nomination. Judges want to see the research you cited in the case study, the full campaign strategy and proof of results. Instead of uploading the press release, upload media coverage of that press release. Instead of submitting the file of the digital graphic, share an image of the graphic as used in social media, including likes and comments garnered. Prove your results by providing reporting documents – from analytics snapshots to media coverage spreadsheets. Supporting documents are evidence of a successful campaign.

Pro Tips: Reference your supporting documents in the nomination “…as noted in the complete research document included as a supporting document…”


Celebrate and promote your well-deserved wins! Not only did you implement a successful campaign or design an innovative creative piece, but your peers recognized your work as an award-winning case study to be shared with the industry. Leverage that designation to promote your business via social media, press releases, website updates and more. Let your clients know your work has been recognized as the best.

Didn’t get the results you were hoping for? Always ask for the judges’ feedback on your submission. More often than not, they will share it with you. Feedback from judges, while harsh at times, can only help you improve your case study for the next award submission. It also provides insights on potential areas for improvement when diving into future projects.


In working with several hospitality clients throughout the years, dress policy is inevitably an issue that rears its head time and time again. Many clients struggle with putting a policy in place, and even more face backlash when it comes to enforcing it.

The most recent issue of United Airlines refusing to allow a Pass Rider from entering the plane due to her apparel choice – in this case leggings (we’ll call it Legging Gate) – brings up the question of why we put dress policies in place and why enforcement is important.

From our experience, here are a few considerations:

1. What are you trying to convey to your guest/consumer?

Pass Riders are either employees of an airline or their friends and family who are typically extended the privilege to fly for free on-board the airline, given they adhere to a strict set of rules. Setting a standard within your category sends a message to your guests of what you stand for as a brand.

In the case of a luxury setting, for example, there is an expectation of level of service that directly correlates to the overall aesthetic of an environment, inclusive of its employees. Excellence of experience = expectation of excellence in the environment.

2. Consistency is key.

The uproar surrounding Legging Gate has many begging the question as to why it seems that a dress policy has appeared out of thin air. It’s for this very reason that consistency of enforcement is crucial. A system-wide rollout of a policy is necessary to ensure that parameters put in place are visible to all employees. Regular check-ins are also important, and a refresh of the policy is always a good idea to keep all parties informed.

3. Public Notice, Yes or No?

Depending on the type of business you operate, your policy should be made public. For service industry businesses, this is especially critical. Framing the policy with language about the mission is a good place to start. The case with United Airlines is unique in that the rules only applied to a small internal group – employees, friends and family. In this case, internal communication pertaining to company policy is a better approach.

What are your thoughts on the great debate of #unitedleggings Legging Gate? Do you think United was justified in turning away this Pass Rider? Tweet us @DEVENEYMKTG and let us know.