Catalyst Communications

It's on my mind

Share with me your thoughts about trends and issues. Periodically, you will find posted here an article I've published or a commentary on a business trend and its communication implications.

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Communicators as the Conscience of the Organization

Early in my career as a corporate communications editor I gave no thought to my role as being the conscience of an organization. Yet, as I think back I recall the frustration and outrage I experienced when asked to write a benefits article that discouraged, in subtle ways, vested and retiring employees from withdrawing all their retirement funds, which was an option, from the company supported program.

At the time employers were allowed to keep the funds they had contributed to an employee’s retirement account upon the death of the employee. That meant that there would be no beneficiaries to those funds, only the funds the employee had contributed. It also meant that because the company was very generous they were able to recoup significant funds upon a retiree’s death.

My boss’s response to my questioning the direction of the story, which emphasized the tax burden of 100 percent withdrawals, was that I was no longer working for a daily newspaper. I persisted by talking to the senior vice president of HR. He did allow me to present a more balanced piece. He recognized that this well-respected company needed to take the high road.

I didn’t recognize it at the time but I was acting as the conscience of the organization. The company in question is a large, Fortune 5oo company that’s often listed as among the “best” companies. Today, it is employed owned.

As professional communicators, we have an obligation to uphold the reputation of our clients or employers. When we are pushed, even bullied, into taking unethical or unprofessional actions, we must push back—or be prepared to seek a new job.

It is something to think about every time we write a release, post on a social media site or engage in any type of communication–internal or external. Unlike some fictional portrayals of our profession, there can be no “hype.”

The most critical time to avoid the hype and jargon is when bad news must be communicated. During a crisis the more straightforward and candid your messages, the greater your opportunity to neutralize the worst. You can tell the truth without extending the liability by sharing what you can and being forthcoming about the reasons why some information cannot be shared.

Work cooperatively with legal counsel but stand your ground if they should attempt to hide or deny the truth. I once suggested to a client’s attorney that I would promise to not practice law if he would promise to not practice public relations. We had a staring contest, but he blinked first. My relationship with this client lasted 10 years through a very contentious time with the city. My client eventually won out.

The attorney representing the city hired me a few years later to work on another crisis that dragged on for nearly four years before being resolved.

Mary Ann McCauley, ABC, IABC Fellow, awarded 2014 IABC Chairman’s Award

May 2, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — Robin McCasland, the 2013-2014 international executive board (IEB) chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), has announced that Mary Ann McCauley, ABC*, is one of two recipients of this year’s IABC Chairman’s Award. The Chairman’s Award is conferred annually upon select volunteers who have made extraordinary efforts to positively enhance the organization.

Selected by the IEB chair, any current IABC member who has belonged to the association for the last five years can be nominated for consideration for the Chairman’s Award. The award will be presented to McCauley at the opening session of the 2014 IABC World Conference in Toronto, Canada, on the evening of Sunday, 8 June 2014.

“Mary Ann calls IABC her home, and I know why,” said McCasland. “She’s been involved in almost every aspect of our association at one point or another. She is very plainspoken and honest in her communication style, and it is one of the things I have come to admire very much about her. There’s a home here for members like Mary Ann, who have been part of our global neighborhood for decades, and there’s a home here for the newer communication professionals who want to make the most of their membership as well.”

McCauley is principal and founder of Catalyst Communications, a consultancy for business and nonprofit leaders. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Mary Ann is an IABC Fellow, the highest honor awarded by IABC, and is the current regional finance director for IABC Pacific Plains. She has served as a leader of IABC Minnesota for several years, and on various IABC committees this year, including the Fellows Selection Committee, the Executive Director Search Committee and the IEB Nominating Committee. McCauley received the Rae Hamlin Award for Volunteer Service from the IABC Accreditation Committee in 2012, and this is her second Chairman’s Award — she received her first in 2000 from former IABC Chair Dave Seifert.

“I’ve received far more than I’ve given to the IABC community,” said McCauley. “The lifelong learning and networking opportunities have made me a better professional, given my clients additional assets and provided a circle of friends who have had my back many times. I don’t where else I could have gained so much and had so much fun in the process.”

*ABC = Accredited Business Communicator

About IABC:
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) enables a global network of communicators working in diverse industries and disciplines to identify, share, and apply the world’s best communication practices. IABC is recognized as the professional association of choice for communicators who aspire to excel in their chosen fields. For more information, visit

Melissa Dark
Director Communication & Member Services
(415) 544-4752

Tips from the PR News Crisis Management Guidebook

I am pleased to be among the professionals selected to contribute to this collection of best practices in crisis management. Here’s such a sampling of the crisis preparation process I use. Crisis Management Guidebook_Page_001

Most important to healthy communication–crisis or routine is to make certain that your communication professionals are engaged at all times at all levels of your organization. If you are that professional, don’t wait to be invited. Step up and demonstrate your value by taking the lead in making certain the communication process your organization needs is in place. Before trouble strikes be prepared by:

1. Assessing the possibilities through straight talk and in depth discussion.
2. Creating a process with easy tools to assist triaging any situation.
3. Gaining consensus among senior staff and leadership teams about the process.
4. Identifying potential spokespersons.
5. Conducting spokesperson training for all potential spokespersons.
6. Identifying and have agreements in place for outside PR and legal counsel.
7. Reviewing the process at least annually but ideally semi-annually.

You can order the book by visiting, and entering code CGContrib14 when checking out to receive the reduced rate.

Is Your Roadmap in Place for 2014?

About 16 years ago I took up a new sport—performance driving with the Audi Club of North America. Like today’s communication it is fast-paced, has some risk and requires total concentration to avoid an “agricultural adventure.”

As I look to the New Year, I’m seeing many correlations between car club events and the practice of good public relations and corporate communications.

1. Total focus—if we are not focused on the desired outcomes of our communication initiatives, we get off track. Effective, measurable communication demands clear objectives that describe the desired behaviors (outcomes) we strive to attain.

When driving at high speed on a road track with a variety of corners and straightaways, a glance away from what is in front can mean an agricultural adventure off the track. Focus is paramount.

2. Ongoing skill development – The speed at which our communication channels are evolving requires the professional communicator to be ever vigilant about polishing, acquiring and using these channels at the right time for the right reasons to obtain the desired outcomes. Not staying with the rapidly changing environment means missing opportunities to engage your prime stakeholders.

Today’s road track changes with temperatures, degrees of wetness and dryness; wear on tires and unexpected obstacles. Expecting the driving experience to be the same all day, every day is fool hearty. A safe run means becoming more skilled and more adaptable.

3. Driving the car you’re in – The safe driver and the excellent communicator both focus on what they can control and anticipate to the best of their abilities the variables surrounding them. Both know that getting too tuned to what someone else may or may not do can cause their concentration to stray resulting in a missed change in conditions. You can’t drive someone else’s communication strategy just as you can’t drive a car if you’re not behind the wheel.

The communicator needs to be concentrating on his/her objectives while continually scanning the environment in order to make necessary changes in strategy. Having a nimble plan is essential to avoiding missed opportunities.

The driver must be looking beyond the bumper in front of him/her to be ready to react to that unexpected change up the road. Being alert to where his/her vehicle is in relation to the road and traffic is critical to arriving safely at the desired destination.

4. GPS = Good Planning—The proficient communicator never launches without a measurable plan that clearly maps where an organization wants to go, how they will get there and how they will know they’ve achieved the desired outcomes.

The efficient driver also has a map. Today’s GPS systems tell us where we want to go, how to get there and how long it will take.

Do you have your map in place for 2014?

Mary Ann McCauley Named IABC Fellow

CHANHASSEN, MN — Mary Ann McCauley, president of Catalyst Communications, Inc., has been named an IABC Fellow by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The highest honor the association bestows on a member, the IABC Fellow designation is awarded to communication professionals for exceptional leadership and service to IABC. She will be honored during the opening general session of IABC’s 2013 World Conference held in New York City from June 23–26.

IMG_0061“Being recognized by my peers is humbling and gratifying as it is an honor I’ve dreamed of but didn’t expect,” said Mary Ann. “I have admired, been in awe of and learned from this group of Fellows so it is quite the privilege to be joining them.”

Mary Ann also holds the designation of Accredited Business Communicator from IABC. Currently, Mary Ann serves as IABC Pacific Plains Region finance director and co-director of examinations on the IABC Accreditation Committee. Earlier in her career, she received the IABC District Four Communicator of the Year award in 1982 and was the recipient of the IABC Chairman’s Award in 2000.

Chanhassen-based Catalyst Communications, founded in 1987, provides counsel in crisis/issues management, organizational/employee communication, media relations, mergers/acquisitions, and community relations. To learn more about Catalyst Communications, go to

About IABC
Founded in 1970, The International Association of Business Communicators ( provides a professional network of about 15,000 business communication professionals in more than 80 countries. Members hold positions in areas of expertise ranging from marketing, public relations, writing, editing, teaching, graphic design, and human resources.

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