Fineman PR gains new clients in architectural design, wine and education

Fineman PR has added three new clients: Habitat Horticulture, Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards and Antioch University Santa Barbara.

Operating at the intersection of design, architecture and horticulture, San Francisco-based Habitat Horticulture creates living walls for commercial and residential projects. The company has installed artistic, vertical gardens at commissions throughout the Bay Area, including urban/public spaces and for a rolodex of Silicon Valley businesses. Habitat Horticulture seeks to enhance national awareness of its brand and services, especially leveraging news of its recent masterpiece – a 4,400-square-foot living wall that will grace the newly expanded, LEED-certified San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which opens to the public in May 2016.

Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards has opened a new large winery and tasting room in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll District. The family-owned estate seeks to increase exposure of its wines and the visitor experience offered by its daily, appointment-only tours and tastings.

Antioch University Santa Barbara, a private, liberal arts institution, has turned to Fineman PR to help create awareness of its new Master of Fine Arts in Writing & Contemporary Media program. Fineman PR will work to strengthen the university’s brand reputation and leverage its proximity to Southern California’s creative and entrepreneurial entertainment industry to drive enrollment.

“We are continuing to grow as a result both of entering into new business categories and of expanding within industries we have long served,” said Michael Fineman, agency president.

About Fineman PR

Fineman PR is an award-winning, full service public relations agency specializing in Brand PR, crisis communications and multicultural communications. The agency has worked in a variety of industries that include food and wine, construction, consumer package goods, health care and education. Fineman PR is a member of IPREX, a global network of communications agencies. The agency reaches diverse audiences with its multicultural division, Mosaico. For more information, visit

Behind the Headlines with Travis Taylor

The road to successful PR isn’t straight. So how can you best navigate the bumps and curves that will threaten to trip you up along the way?

The key is to break through the noise and stand out by doing something noteworthy.

Here, Travis Taylor, executive vice president of Fineman PR, discusses his uncommon path to a career in PR, the need for continuous improvement and the gratification of being a mentor.

Read the Cision story here.

Fineman PR, looking ahead, promotes Taylor to executive vice president

Fineman PR has promoted Travis Taylor to executive vice president.

Since joining Fineman PR in 2012, Taylor has employed his extensive experience in corporate communications, media relations and training, crisis communications, community relations and public affairs to strengthen the agency’s operations and strategy, manage personnel and attract new clients. He has led a number of high-profile accounts, including several higher education institutions, government agencies, statewide and national nonprofits, and a myriad of corporate clients. In his new position, Taylor will be taking on a larger role in strategic planning and operations, staff development and client acquisition.

“With the growth of our agency, it is critical to plan ahead and strengthen our senior leadership team to help keep the firm moving forward,” said Michael Fineman, agency president. “Travis is a public relations dynamo who has proven to be a natural leader. He embodies all the qualities this agency represents. He has the vision, instincts and energy – hardly surprising in an enthusiastic rugby player – that are required to build on our success. I look forward to seeing the influence of his leadership in years to come.”

Before joining Fineman PR, Taylor served as vice president of Communications Pacific, Hawaii’s premier public relations firm and, like Fineman PR, a partner in IPREX, a global network of leading, independently owned communications agencies. That followed three years as senior communications advisor to Hawaii’s lieutenant governor.

Taylor serves on the marketing committee of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco and the public policy committee of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, he received a Certificate of Honor for his involvement with Leadership San Francisco.

Real Estate Icon John Cushman Puts 750-Acre Zaca Mesa up for Sale After 40 Years

Zaca Mesa

Winery Known as Santa Barbara Region’s Earliest Syrah Producer

Commercial real estate icon John Cushman today announced that his Zaca Mesa winery, vineyard and surrounding ranch are for sale. The longtime owner of one of Santa Barbara’s most magnificent, largely undeveloped properties, consisting of 750 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley, seeks the next steward for the land and the historic brand he started more than 40 years ago.

Cushman purchased the ranch with a group of friends in 1972. The first vineyards were planted in 1973, and the pioneering winery was built in 1978 and later expanded. That year, Zaca Mesa also planted the first Syrah in Santa Barbara County. Zaca Mesa holds one of the oldest winery permits in the region and has been solely owned by the Cushman family for more than 25 years, including an ownership stake by John Cushman’s twin brother, Lou Cushman, Vice Chairman of Cushman & Wakefield in Houston.

In the early 1990’s, it was determined that Rhône varietals were best suited to the property. In addition to Syrah, other estate varietals planted on the ranch include Grenache, Roussanne, Mourvedre and Viognier. The property’s flagship vineyard block, Black Bear Syrah, sells out every year and retails for more than $65 per bottle.

Cushman recently divested his remaining interest in Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate firm founded by his grandfather and where he had previously served as chairman. However, when the company merged with DTZ, his professional responsibilities increased even further. His global role with the new Cushman & Wakefield keeps him traveling close to 8,000 miles weekly, and he’s been named chairman of Cushman & Wakefield’s 100th year commemoration. This is in addition to many personal business interests and positions as an active board member, director or trustee of Callaway Golf, Boy Scouts of America, National Park Foundation, Urban Land Institute, Colgate University and Claremont Graduate University.

“My commercial real estate interests dictate that I can no longer devote the time and energy to the proper oversight of Zaca Mesa,” said Cushman. “After 40-plus years as the steward of this property and the Zaca Mesa brand, I am ready to pass it on to a new steward who can take it to new levels of success and preserve its unspoiled beauty.”

According to Cushman, there is no current residence on the property, but all three parcels that make up the picturesque ranch are zoned to accommodate residential development. Nearby estates are valued in the seven figures.

Assets of the ranch include a nearly 24,000 square foot barn-style winery production facility and tasting room, and approximately 150 acres of estate vineyards. Although the winery is currently producing just more than 40,000 cases annually, WineryX’s Katie Somple, the property’s listing broker, states that both the winery and vineyards are scalable for larger production.

“The winery’s permit allows for up to 100,000 cases to be produced,” said Somple, “and the vineyard is expandable by more than 100 acres, with ample water on the property to support additional vines.”

Interested buyers may contact listing agent Katie Somple at WineryX for more information at (707) 235-8585.

Video: Get your ship together in a crisis

Don’t want to get caught with your pants down in a crisis? Fineman PR developed an animated video to demonstrate an easy way to remember the basic communications principles that will guide you through a crisis response. We call it PANTCHEK. Each letter represents a guideline that will help you keep your pants on.

Even experienced communicators can get rattled when the phones are ringing off the hook – from the media, regulators and other government authorities, customers, the general public, employees and the board. Not to mention the fires breaking out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Response time has shrunk from 48 hours to 48 minutes to what feels like 48 seconds.

Memorize PANTCHEK to get your priorities in order so you won’t flail and fail in public. Here’s an easy visual story to help you get started.

Click on the video above for an animated demonstration of PANTCHEK. 





  • Public welfare is the first priority
  • Assemble the facts. Once they are verified, Announce All bad news at once
  • No blame, No speculation, No repetition of negative charges or questions
  • Tell your side of the story or Take responsibility
  • Care and Concern for those affected – express it sincerely and right at the outset
  • High-level organization spokesperson – let the public see the crisis has top-level attention
  • Ensure that it will not happen again with a solid plan that will generate confidence
  • Keep a separate plan for moving daily business ahead

View our crisis checklist here.

Michael Fineman is president of Fineman PR, a San Francisco public relations firm that specializes in crisis communications, brand PR and multicultural communications. Contact him here

Fineman PR expands senior leadership team

Fineman PR, a top public relations firm in San Francisco, today promoted two company executives to senior leadership positions: Karmina Zafiro to vice president and Serene Buckley to senior director of content strategy.

“We’ve built a winning culture that allows us to promote from within, and Karmina and Serene earned their new roles after years of consistently producing great work,” said Michael Fineman, agency president. “They provide our clients with the strategic and creative prowess to build reputation and trust for their brands. It is a privilege to work with them, and I’m looking forward to the next step in their careers.”

Karmina Zafiro, vice president

Karmina Zafiro, vice president

Zafiro has risen through the ranks at Fineman PR, beginning as an intern in 2004. Along the way, she built the agency’s measurement and analytics division and expanded its digital and social media offerings, leading account teams across a range of industries and sectors. Zafiro specializes in consumer PR, crisis communications and issues management. She has worked with Foster Farms, UC Santa Cruz, The San Francisco Marathon, Sequoia Healthcare District and National Outdoor Leadership School, among other high-profile clients. In her new position, Zafiro will join the agency’s executive management team and take on a larger role in managing personnel and new business development companywide in addition to maintaining her leadership of several account teams.

Serene Buckley, senior director of content strategy

Serene Buckley, senior director of content strategy

Buckley now takes the lead on the agency’s content strategy and brand development efforts. She joined Fineman PR in 2011 with a skillful eye and knack for written and visual content that elevates brand stories and reaches new audiences. Buckley specializes in brand development, strategic planning and content creation. She works with the Girl Scouts of America Bay Area Chapter, The San Francisco Marathon, San Francisco Boat Show, HealthRIGHT 360, Foster Farms and a host of other clients. As senior content strategist, Buckley will develop and oversee content integration and marketing efforts throughout the agency.

About Fineman PR

Fineman PR is an award-winning, full-service San Francisco public relations agency specializing in Brand PR, crisis communications and multicultural outreach. The agency works in a variety of industries that include food and beverage, construction, transportation, consumer packaged goods, health care and education. Fineman PR is a partner in IPREX (, a global network of communication agencies. The agency reaches diverse audiences with its multicultural division, Mosaico (, helping to facilitate ethnic and multilingual communications and culturally relevant events for general-market clients. For more information, visit

Creating a compelling brand story for your wine

In today’s increasingly fragmented wine marketplace, a compelling story that draws consumers to your brand can be the deciding factor that determines whether they choose to pop your cork.

Matt Kramer’s recent Wine Spectator feature, “Drinking the Story,” surmises that a compelling story “adds a dimension of understanding and appreciation” to a wine, or even an entire wine category, beyond price, reviews and other factors that consumers weigh before making a purchase.

Ultimately, a wine’s “brand story” has the power to attract, and resonate with, consumers making wine buying decisions, especially in the ultra-luxury category. Far more than the copy on the back label, the brand story is the finely crafted brand messaging that consumers are presented with at every touch point.

Supermarket shoppers perusing the “commodity wine” shelves – with dozens of wines at similar prices and perceived levels of quality – are more likely to be drawn to eye-catching labels and clever names than a brand story. If they don’t enjoy their purchase, they’re out only $10 and will quickly move on to the next brand that catches their attention.

However, at the luxury and ultra-luxury levels (let’s say wines exceeding $75 retail), exceptional quality is assumed. And yes, some consumers will always chase the “it” wines of the moment or those receiving the latest high scores in Wine Spectator or from Robert Parker. For just about everyone else, it is the history, people, place and other elements of a wine’s brand story that lead them to make the investment (or perhaps the splurge) on a particular luxury wine.

Here are five tips to telling a compelling brand story for a luxury wine.

  • Be Authentic: Your story needs to be real, not contrived. This is what builds trust with your audience. Bill Harlan famously founded Harlan Estate with the vision of producing a California “First Growth” from the hills of Oakville, and he’s adhered to this goal for 25 years with remarkable success.
  • Make It Memorable: Authenticity is essential, but it’s not enough. To be powerful, a brand story must also stick in consumers’ minds. A memorable brand story coupled with memorable quality creates brand loyalty, which is critical in a wine category where direct-to-consumer sales are so important. California wine lovers will always remember the blind wine tasting in Paris that put Chateau Montelena – and Napa Valley – on the map. Identify the element of your brand that resonates most powerfully with consumers and build a story around it.
  • The Human Element: Great brand stories are inspired by the people who bring your wine to life – those individuals who have worked to create, develop and nurture your brand. Not every brand has a winemaking icon like Robert Mondavi behind it, but each luxury brand does have a visionary such as Fred Schrader or Lee Hi-Sang as its driving force. Make sure your consumers not only know him or her, but feel a connection.
  • Set Yourself Apart: All ultra-luxury wine brands have some sort of a brand story, so there are bound to be overlapping components. That’s OK. Just make sure at least one facet of your story is uniquely yours. Quintessa was founded on the principle of “One Estate, One Wine,” and it’s stayed that course since its founding.
  • Keep It Simple: Your narrative will likely include many supporting elements, but one overarching theme will make it easier for consumers to recall your brand when it’s time to purchase. Think of this as the “headline” to your story.

What’s your story? If you want to know how your brand can benefit from a wine PR program, give me a call. We’ll be happy to help.

Fineman PR adds two new clients

Fineman PR today announced the addition of HealthRIGHT 360 and Renteria Wines as new clients.

HealthRIGHT 360, headquartered in San Francisco, appointed Fineman PR to expand the community health care provider’s profile in California and increase its recognition nationally. With its beginnings in the “cultural revolution” of the 1960s when thousands of adolescents and young adults streamed into San Francisco, Haight Ashbury Free Clinic opened its doors as the first free medical clinic in the country. Two years later, in 1969, Walden House was founded to help homeless and runaway adolescents with substance use disorder problems. After more than 40 years, the two health care innovators merged in 2011 as HealthRIGHT 360 and have continued to grow as a national model for community health care. HealthRIGHT 360 recently added Lyon-Martin Health Services, Asian American Recovery Services and Women’s Recovery Association, among others, to its family of programs. HealthRIGHT 360 is constructing a five-story modern medical center in the heart of San Francisco that will provide a one-stop facility for comprehensive, integrated health care – available to all. Fineman PR will work to position HealthRIGHT 360 as a leader in the health sector as well as expand public awareness of its services and approach through multicultural and general market media outlets.

Renteria Wines engaged Fineman PR to launch its new ultra-premium wines. The family also owns and operates Renteria Vineyard Management, a long standing vineyard management company in California’s Napa Valley. At the time of its founding in 1987, Renteria was the first immigrant-owned vineyard management company in Napa and has gone on to work with famed vintners and growers throughout the Napa and Sonoma area. Combining a love of family, tradition and land with innovative managing techniques, the Renteria family is entering a new stage in its business with wine production from some of the best vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, leveraging its unsurpassed growing expertise with the winemaking of world renowned Kirk Venge. Fineman PR will help refine the family’s brand message and harness its storied past to bring its wines to a larger audience.

“We are so proud to work with two clients who have such a legacy in their respective fields,” said agency president Michael Fineman.

About Fineman PR

Fineman PR is an award-winning, full service public relations agency specializing in Brand PR and crisis communications. The agency has worked in a variety of industries that include food and beverage, construction, consumer package goods, health care and education. Fineman PR is a partner of IPREX (, a global network of communication agencies. The agency reaches diverse audiences with its multicultural division, Mosaico (, helping to facilitate ethnic community communications and culturally relevant events for general market clients. For more information, visit

PR jargon to be kept behind closed doors

Secret handshakes have gone the way of AOL email addresses (sorry, “Top Gun” fans), but there is still a surefire way to gain acceptance with a group of insiders: Speak in jargon.

Every profession has its own lingo based on a common understanding of terms that are unfamiliar or confusing to those outside the loop. Talking to a Marine about a FOB (forward operating base) is far different from an FOB (free on board) for someone in the freight industry, an FOB (front of book) for a magazine publisher or the fob many of us need to open a locked door.

For PR pros, it’s essential to learn the jargon of new clients (and keep up with it as it evolves) so we can better understand what they do and how they communicate internally. We should also continually advise clients to scrub the jargon whenever they communicate with external audiences. When telling stories and building relationships, jargon is a stumbling block the size of Gibraltar.

Of course, PR pros use jargon too, sometimes to the detriment of engaging those we’re trying to reach. When we do this, we’re unconsciously saying, “If you want to be in the know, learn to speak our language.” We ought to learn that it’s not OK to use our jargon when speaking with anyone who’s not conditioned to get giddy at a follow-back from a prominent reporter.

FPR-jargon-word cloud

Here are 10 PR jargon terms that should not be repeated in public:

  1. Elevator speech – If you can’t explain what you do and why someone should care in the time it takes for an elevator ride, you will lose your audience’s attention. (But if you’re talking about work in an elevator, you deserve to ride with the kid who lights up all the buttons.)
  2. Story with legs – Most news stories are told once and they’re history, but a “story with legs” keeps running as new developments and perspectives emerge. The best ones—stories for which we are trying to get maximum coverage—are rolled out across multiple news cycles. The worst ones—the ones full of unbalanced, misleading claims—are like ultramarathoners running through Dante’s “Inferno.” They scream and get plenty of attention. If a PR firm is good at what it does, it can extend any positive story by promoting it on other channels.
  3. Fluff piece – Many PR clients want a news story to be about as provocative as cotton candy at the county fair, but journalists are naturally skeptical and loath to write a “fluff piece.” They’ll often seek opposing viewpoints—for example, a dietician’s perspective on cotton candy—to balance a story. We’re all chasing unicorns, but prepare yourself to catch a wildebeest.
  4. Managing expectations – We get paid to meet our clients’ objectives, and we’re good at it. However, some clients believe PR is about getting the most sought-after publications to cover a brand simply because it exists. That’s just fantasy, and part of our job is explaining to clients that to get coverage, they have to present the media with a compelling story, one that will command the attention of readers/viewers.
  5. Above the fold – The top newspaper stories are on page one, above the fold. For online outlets, stories “above the fold” are on the home page and visible without scrolling down. If gaining media coverage is a win, getting a story above the fold is worth ordering extra copies and shipping them overnight to the client.
  6. In the weeds (antonym: 30,000-foot view) – While it’s important to be detail-oriented, too often PR writers can get caught up in the minutiae and lose sight of the overall objective. Encumbering the client’s basic message with too many details or detours into interesting but unessential tangential areas all but guarantees missing the target. Messages should be kept clear, simple and “out of the weeds.”
  7. Block and tackle – For folks in construction or the moving business, “block and tackle” refers to a system of pulleys used to lift large objects. For a football player, those words mean something entirely different. In PR, media materials and pitches are our stock in trade, our “block and tackle.” While we’ll always handle traditional public relations activities for our clients, our role as communicators – and content creators – continues to evolve. The boundaries between traditional and digital/social media are blurring, as are the players.
  8. Out of the box – Creative ideas outside the norm are said to be “out of the box,” but in reality there is no box. If your message isn’t creative, it won’t resonate. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t work anymore.
  9. Low-hanging fruit – In PR, “low-hanging fruit” refers to targeting easily achievable opportunities or taking advantage of existing relationships. Deft PR pros know how to harvest fruit from the highest branches.
  10. Disrupt [industry] – You ever hear a song and play that jam over and over until you’re sick of it, and then you hear it again on your music stream? Tell a journalist about a product that will “disrupt” an industry, and you will get the Luigi death stare. Solid PR professionals don’t play into the hype machine. They focus on what clients are doing to improve people’s lives and why the audience should care.

A version of this story originally appeared in PR Daily. Travis Taylor is vice president at Fineman PR, a San Francisco public relations firm that specializes in consumer PR, crisis communications and multicultural outreach. Connect on Twitter @travistweets.

Cheering for those who are trying to make a difference

Turn on the TV, flip through the pages of your favorite newspaper, go to any major news website and it’ll be surprising, after seeing again and again how pervasive is the problem of poverty and inequality, if you’re not discouraged. Isn’t there anything, you must wonder, that we can do to end this eternal problem?

Well, here at Fineman PR, we’ve been working for the last few months with an incredible group of people who are determined to do what the rest of us might think impossible, and in the process turn our discouragement into optimism.


Meet Agnieszka Winkler, David Grusky and the more than 20 other academics, practitioners and foundation heads from the U.S. and Mexico who will come together for the Mazatlán Forum 2015. For two days they will discuss radical yet practical ways to eradicate poverty once and for all.

Yes, that’s right. These people want to eliminate poverty. Period.

In developing Mazatlán Forum press releases and pitches for the U.S., Hispanic and Mexican markets, I encountered some push-back. After all, the goal seems utopian. Yet, while the objective is undeniably enormous, if you abandon for a moment any jaded assumptions about poverty, you’ll be able to see the issue from their perspective.

First, poverty is a human phenomenon, not an immutable force of nature, so if society has created it, it is within the power of human ingenuity to transform it.

Second, for the most part, we still address poverty from a 1960s “War on Poverty” perspective. However, much has been understood about poverty in the half century since then, so it is time to step back and re-examine the assumptions that led to the War on Poverty’s failure to bring about poverty’s demise.

Third, most anti-poverty efforts are designed only to alleviate local situations or to target just one aspect of a poor population’s life. The shortcoming of such approaches should be evident.

The alternative is to design plans that, while responding to local needs, are linked to regional and global strategies that will ultimately eradicate poverty once and for all, worldwide.

Finally, poverty doesn’t affect only the poor; it is a moral, social and economic problem that affects every one of us. Simply put, poverty is unacceptable and very bad business. We must stop tolerating it and treating it as inevitable. It will do us all good.

From the airplane that is taking me to Mazatlán at this very moment, I invite you to cheer for this amazing group of people – warriors, not utopians – and follow the Forum on Twitter using #MazatlanForum2015.

For my part, I’ve left my former discouragement on the ground behind me and have my hopes high – right up here with me at 35,000 feet!

Learn more about Mazatlán Forum here.

Don’t Get “Deened” – Crisis-proof Your Brand When Things are Not Smooth as Butter

Even the most popular brands are susceptible to crumbling under the immense pressure of a crisis. The mass exodus of celebrity chef Paula Deen’s corporate sponsors following her admission that she used a racial slur is the latest example of a bad situation that can quickly take a turn for the worse. In the end, it wasn’t the continuation of Deen’s butter-loving, health-averse concoctions in the face of having Type 2 diabetes that took down the southern cooking magnate. It was her lackluster response, continued exposure and awkward interview on the “Today” show that reversed years of brand building and stardom in a matter of minutes.

Deen may still be able to regain her footing, but reputation recovery will take years – not weeks or months – if at all. Deen’s sudden downfall is instructive for other brands that are not adequately prepared to handle crises.

Everyone wants to be part of a successful brand, and the best brands employ a cadre of professionals, resources and tools to achieve their communications objectives. But too often, brands overlook the importance of having an expert crisis communicator at the ready in case a situation threatens their reputation.

We don’t know what went on behind the scenes of Paula Deen’s PR blunder, including whether her PR team advised her of the cardinal rules of crisis communication. The same goes for Men’s Wearhouse, another big brand to recently succumb to poor crisis response.

Regardless of how each crisis came to be mismanaged, all brands should be on notice. Crises can happen anytime without warning, and the first 48 minutes through 48 hours are the most critical. The decisions made in these first moments can mean the difference between a blip on the radar and a full-fledged attack on your brand.

Just as the most successful CEOs surround themselves with smart people and demand accountability, so too must a brand’s communications arm. Your public relations agency must be a strategic partner, capable of providing sage counsel and planning in good times as well as bad. Alternatively, if you can’t bear to part with your publicity horses but question their crisis chops, pre-select a crisis agency to shield your brand in its greatest moment of need – before you need it.
Virtually every PR firm promotes its “strategic” and “integrated” approach, but how can you tell which firm is best for your brand? Here are my top 10 differentiating characteristics of PR agencies that separate the winners from the losers.

1. PR Substance, not spin: Going into any crisis, you want knowledgeable, fact-based counsel that earns your trust on its merit. Avoid misleading deflection techniques and question anything that sounds too good to be true.

2. No lone wolf: Hiring a crisis spokesperson is a different tactic than hiring a crisis agency. Talking heads may look great on camera and alleviate the fears of media-shy executives, but their value and substance is temporary. The collective perspective of a crisis “team” will help you over the long term, from establishing credibility and preparing for a crisis to managing and recovering from a crisis as well as everything in between.

3. Battle-tested PR: The best PR firms are on the frontlines of crises with their clients and have the relevant, routine experience to back up their claims across many industries. Some agencies excel in various facets of PR, such as publicity, corporate communications, community relations or digital and social media, but the right PR firm is able to handle all of these needs in an integrated approach and has demonstrated the ability to manage a crisis PR situation in a moment’s notice. Don’t be the guinea pig in a crisis.

4. Long-time clients: You need to make difficult decisions quickly in a crisis, and it helps to have a firm that knows your business inside and out, which comes with time. Look for an agency that has staying power with its clients. Firms that weather the ebbs and flows of the market as well as personnel changes show their ability to manage lasting relationships with all audiences and keep the account service fresh.

5. Strategic PR counsel/high-level involvement: Make sure you know exactly who’s going to serve on your crisis account team. A firm may bring in its top brass to get your business but assign junior staff to handle your account as soon as the contract is signed. The ongoing, regular involvement of senior executives will help ensure your communications strategy is sound and they can often foresee potential issues junior and mid-level staff may not catch.

6. Third-party-backed credibility and reputation PR: One way to help determine if you’re getting straight talk or empty promises is to see what others are saying about the PR firm you want to engage. Ask for client references and case studies and follow up to make sure the PR firm is capable of handling your needs across the communications spectrum.

7. Attention to detail: Words matter, especially in a crisis. The last thing you want is a firm that doesn’t catch typos in media materials or doesn’t understand the intricacies and nuances of your business. In an RFP response or business proposal, look to see how well they’re listening to what you told them. A little extra effort can go a long way.

8. Honest, transparent communication: On a gut level, do you believe you’re being told the truth or is something amiss? Be careful of firms that appear to over-promise and under-deliver. The best firms will manage your expectations and be up-front about what can and cannot be accomplished. You also want practitioners who communicate in an honest, straightforward manner, which you’ll need in a crisis. “Yes” people may boost your ego, but they do little to solve tough problems.

9. Responsive: Crises are not scheduled. They can happen late at night or over the weekend. You need a PR team that is going to be accessible when you need them. We know the nature of the business and nothing is more important than providing the utmost in client service. This can also be gauged in how long it takes the firm to respond to your inquiry or develop a program proposal.

10. Pre-selected: It’s far easier to engage a crisis PR firm you’re already familiar with in those precious first minutes of a crisis than starting your search from scratch. Having a crisis partner pre-selected with initial scenario plans developed to mitigate your organization’s vulnerabilities will free you and your team to manage the situation from higher ground. Clear-headed, strategic responses will always win over emotionally-fueled, desperate attempts to clean up a big mess.

In preparing your brand to weather a PR crisis, pre-select a PR agency that meets your needs, understands your business and is willing and able to provide the brutally-honest counsel that will save your brand when things are not smooth as butter.