September 08, 2016 / by Maria Materise

17LRIf you lack a good story, it won’t matter how you distribute it. Real, genuine messaging is invaluable in connecting with your audience, and if you aren’t genuine, your audience will see right through you.

Alan Caldwell, APR, vice president and chief diversity strategist at Cerrell Associates, stresses the importance of authenticity in brand communication.

In this interview, Alan discusses the critical steps for successful crisis communications, what it means for your brand to be human and how to improve communication through research.

What do you hope to accomplish in your new role at Cerrell?

My goal is to expand the marketing of Cerrell’s respected reputation, publicize the good work of the firm and strengthen our public relations capabilities. Cerrell has an outstanding 50-year track record of delivering results for its clients, and I will help build on our past success to increase our opportunities for continued growth and future success.

As the VP, my objectives will focus on expanding our client base on a more global scale, growing the diversity business and becoming a national thought leader on how organizations successfully handle diversity issues internally and externally.

I also will expand the capabilities and client base for our crisis communications practice based on my corporate experience as the Public Information Officer for a Fortune 100 company.

You’ve handled some major brand crises. What are your secrets for crisis communication success?

First thing is to stay calm and treat it like any other communication situation with the caveat that during a crisis, time is of the essence. But at the end of the day, we provide timely and accurate information to the public.

There are two critical steps that must occur during a crisis. First, you must set up a system to gather information, verify the information and finally get the information approved for distribution. Secondly, identify who will be the designated official spokesperson for the crisis.  Without setting up this two-part system, you will not be successful in handling crisis communications.

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What do you see as the biggest communication challenges facing brands today? How can they overcome them?

It is critical for brands to recognize that in this day of social media when almost everyone has a smartphone you have to be authentic in your communications. You have to be who you say you are. With one tweet or post, your credibility can be ruined if you are not the brand you claim to be.

To deal with the increased scrutiny brands face, they need to develop a culture in which their public message is the reality of how they operate their business. For example, you can’t champion diversity publicly and not have a diverse workforce or a culture of inclusiveness.

What are the keys to maintaining a positive brand reputation?

Brands need to be authentic and human. The brand is just an entity, but behind the brand there are real people who have real lives. Your brand needs to reflect the human element of your business. Be involved in supporting corporate social responsibility not just with finances but also with volunteering and interaction with the community.

Additionally, if issues arise, deal with them immediately; don’t wait and let something that could have been addressed quickly turn into a crisis situation.

Finally, don’t be afraid of open dialogue and constructive criticism, because this may open the door to new possibilities and may improve your business which may increase market share, enhance your brand reputation and brand loyalty.

What role does social media play in protecting a brand’s reputation? Does it present any challenges?


Social media allows brands to quickly ascertain if an issue is going to be a crisis. Monitoring social media channels allows brands to receive almost real-time feedback on how their brand or product is perceived.

I don’t believe that brands should necessarily engage directly with individuals on social media unless it is a specific promotion or specific information request. Brands need to remember that social media has no editor so they need to be strategic on how they respond to social media comments.

However, on the proactive side, if a brand has a good story, social media allows them to push that story to the masses which inevitably will be good for the brand and its reputation.

What advice do you have for brands looking to improve their communication and better connect with consumers?

Brands need to get out of the office and interact with the public and conduct research. In public relations, research is the foundation for any good communications plan. Many times I work with organizations that want to jump into tactics without really understanding an issue.

Brands can no longer assume they know what the public wants to hear and how they want to hear it. They need to work collaboratively with stakeholders and have authentic interaction with them and then develop communication plans that are based on research not just assumptions.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?


At the end of the day, we are all human and have emotions and feelings so when developing communications plans, always remember you are communicating with humans so make sure that your interactions are authentic, truthful and respectful of your audience.

Additionally, as a communicator I have learned that it’s not about the distribution channel for the message that’s important; it’s the message itself. You must tell a good story. If the story is no good, then it doesn’t matter how it is distributed to your audience.

Rapid Fire Round

1. My daily news source is…CNN, Business Insider and ESPN.

2. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…Tony Dungy, Hall of Fame NFL football coach.

3. My favorite social media platform is…Twitter.

4. I laugh most at…ESPN’s NFL Football “C’MON Man.”

5. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…the opportunity to learn something new and make the world a better place.

6. My hobbies outside of work include…golf, travel and trying new restaurants.

You too can be a headline maker. 

The key is understanding what the media wants from your brand’s outreach. Learn how different journalists are using social media and the role it should play in your media relations strategy. Download our new report – Cision’s 2016 Global Social Journalism Study – today.


Images via Pixabay: 1, 2, 3

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About Maria Materise

Maria Materise is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Formerly a copywriter, she enjoys creating content that excites and inspires audiences. She is an avid reader, movie trivia geek, Harry Potter fanatic and makeup junkie..