So… The new International Media Training No-No

Crisis Communication - Gerard Braud - Crisis TrainingSoooooo…. I’ve noticed a new trend. Soooooo…. it appears people think every sentence needs to start with “Soooooo….” Soooooo…. stop it already!

I first noticed this alarming trend while teaching media training to a global defense contractor in Los Angeles in 2010. One engineer — a lead engineer –started every sentence with “Soooooo….” It was driving me nuts and I worked with him to eliminate it.

When I came back to Los Angeles for their annual media training class one year later, “soooooo….” had spread like an epidemic. Much like corporate jargon spreads like a virus, so had soooooo… In the 2011 refresher course, nearly every engineer was saying soooooo…. as the open to every sentence.

Normal people don’t talk like that. But it is spreading, not like any ordinary virus, but like a global pandemic. I was teaching media training in Europe recently and a petroleum engineer with a major oil company had the same bad habit. During our media training role playing on camera, she began every answer with “Soooooo….”

As best as I can tell, this bad habit is rooted among engineers and IT (information technology) employees. If you hear it, please try to put a stop to it. Otherwise the pandemic will infect every conversation and media interview in the future.

Media Training and Crisis Communications Tip: Reporters Will Interview Anyone Who Will Talk (Who Are Often People with No Teeth and Live in Trailers)

Let’s be respectful here and realize that many poor people don’t have either dental insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket for dental care. And let’s realize that while hoping to someday fulfill the dream of home ownership, many people live in an affordable alternative – a mobile home.

Let’s also recognize that many of these people are in lower income brackets and therefore also tend to live near industrial facilities where the more affluent members of society may work, but do not live.Crisis-Communication-Plan-In-Action-Braud Communications

With all of that out of the way, let me acknowledge that when I was a journalist, people would actually ask me, “Why do reporters always interview people with no teeth who live in trailers?”

The answer was, because when the industrial facility blew up, no one from the company would agree to an interview with us. The people living near the facility were the only eye witnesses and they were willing to speak.

If you work for a company that has a crisis, you have the responsibility to provide a spokesperson as soon as the media arrives. Usually the media will be on site within 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the crisis. And as more media outlets become dependent upon web based audiences, their need for news is even more immediate.

Reporters need facts and quotes and they are going to get them from somewhere. It is their job to get interviews and their job is on the line if they do not deliver.

If you don’t give the information to the reporter, the reporter will go get it from someone else and that someone else will likely not represent your point of view.

And as the age of Social Media and web based tools expands, more and more media outlets are dependent upon digital photos and video taken by eyewitnesses. A simple cell phone is capable of doing an enormous amount of reputational damage by providing the media with pictures and video.

So what do you do?

First you need to establish policy and practices that insure you have a spokesperson ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

Secondly, you need to have a crisis communications plan that contains a vast array of pre-written statements designed to address all of the many crises your organization could face.

With those two things, a spokesperson should be able to pull a pre-written template out of the crisis communications plan and walk out to the media to deliver that statement. It also allows your organization to post the template to the web, email it to the media, employees and other key audiences.

Even if you only have partial facts, your organization still needs to make a statement. And it is critical that the statement is delivered by a person and not just issued on paper or via the web. The human element is critical in gaining the trust of the media, employees and other key audiences. A written statement is simply a cold cluster of words.

In my world, the spokesperson should be able to deliver the statement live within one hour or less. It should never be longer than an hour and hopefully much sooner than an hour.

One of the biggest delays in issuing statements is the lengthy process of waiting of executives and lawyers to approve a statement. This delay should be eliminated with the pre-written statements. The statements should be pre-approved by executives and the legal department so that the public relations or communications department can issue statements quickly.

Certain portions of the template must be fill-in-the-blank, and the communications department must be authorized to fill in the blanks with information such as time, date, and other critical facts. Executives and lawyers need to establish a trusting relationship with the communications department so that they help speed up the process rather than hinder and delay the communications process.

When you follow these simple steps, you begin to manipulate the media because you are meeting their wants, needs and desires. You also become their friend. The more you can provide the media with information, the less need they have to interview an ill informed eyewitness who is thrilled to have their 15 minutes of fame. The more you can occupy the media’s time, the less time they have to spend interviewing people with no teeth who live in a trailer.

Check out my 2-day crisis communications plan course: You will knock out your plan and templates so your organization is never ill-represented in the media.

Crisis Communications for Schools Part 2: Defining a Crisis and a Crisis Plan

By Gerard Braud

For the purpose of our discussion in these articles, we will define a crisis this way:

StudentsGerardBraudA crisis is any incident that may seriously affect the safety, function, operation, reputation and/or revenue of any organization, public or private.

We will not debate or parse words as to whether what is called a crisis in this article might otherwise be called a situation, incident, event or any other synonym. Furthermore, we will divide our crises into two types: sudden crises and smoldering crises. A sudden crisis has a sudden flash point, such as a school shooting, tornado, fire, or explosion. A smoldering crisis might involve a labor dispute, issues of discrimination, and incidents of executive misbehavior such as embezzlement or sexual misconduct. In a smoldering crisis, details are known to internal decision makers, but not yet known to the public.

In our last article, we introduced you to the concept of the text messaging notification system and the crisis communications plan. While a text message notification system is intended for use in only a sudden crisis, the crisis communications plan can be used to communicate vital information for both a smoldering and a sudden crisis.

Confusion in “Crisis Plans” – Defining a Crisis Communications Plan

A great flaw in schools, in corporations, and in the world of emergency response is the generic use of the term “crisis plan” and crisis team. A crisis plan is not the same as a crisis communications plan. Each school and school system must operate with a collection of three unique plans that are executed by three unique teams, with each team being composed of individuals with specific skills and areas of expertise. Although the plans each serve a unique purpose, they are also designed to be executed in unison without any plan overriding or contradicting the directives of another.

The three types of plans needed are:

1) An Incident Command Plan, which is sometimes called the Emergency Response Plan, Coordinates police, fire and rescue. It is executed by the Incident Command Team.

2) A Risk Management Plan, which is sometimes called a Business Continuity Plan, ensures the components of the business operations are restored following a crisis, including identifying alternate facilities and supply chains. The Risk Management Plan is executed by the Risk Manager.

3) A Crisis Communications Plan, dictates prescribed measures for communicating accurate and timely information to key audiences, including parents, students, employees, the media and other stakeholders. It includes the components of public relations, media relations and stakeholder relations, and is executed by the Crisis Communications Team.

TulaneGerardBraudAll plans and all actions during a crisis should be managed by the Crisis Management Team.

Further confusion takes place in this area when the incident command plan makes reference to crisis communications. Usually this refers to details about radio systems and other technology used for interactive communications among emergency responders. This confusion must be avoided. We must emphasize that in this document, crisis communications is a function of public relations, media relations, employee relations, and social media management.

A sudden crisis, such as a school shooting or tornado would trigger all three plans. But a smoldering crisis such as an accusation of sexual harassment, would trigger the use of only the crisis communications plan, without causing a need to use the incident command plan or the risk management plan.

Your assignment for this article is to have a discussion with the leaders in your organization to identify the types of plans you have. If you think you have a crisis communications plan, I will be giving you come criteria in future articles by which you can determine if your plan is written properly.

You can also email a copy of your plan to me at gerard@braudcommunications.com and I will be happy to give you 15 minutes of free feedback.

Crisis Communication for Schools: Part 1

By Gerard Braud

TulaneGerardBraudIf you have school age kids, you’ve likely gotten a text message or phone message about some type of emergency or non-emergency at school. While useful for emergency notification, these systems are not a substitute for having and using a Crisis Communications Plan.

Out next few articles will answer the questions:

  • What is a Crisis?
  • What is a Crisis Communications Plan?
  • How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan?
  • Do I Need a Crisis Communications Plan?

Our goal is to give you practical information that applies if you work for a school, things you should be asking if you are a parent, and we’ll draw some parallels between crisis communication for schools and crisis communication for corporations.

Like building blocks, if your school or business has a text message alert system, it is time for you to add the next layer of protection. This will help you build a holistic system surrounding all of the aspects of communicating during a crisis.

You need a crisis communications plan. This plan must be a system that addresses all of the modern communications challenges created by mobile technology, social media and traditional media.

What is a Crisis Communications Plan? A crisis communications plan is a manual that will guide school administrators (or corporate officials) through the process of rapidly and effectively send credible, actionable information to key stakeholder audiences. These will include the media, employees, parents, students and the community. (In the case of a business, it includes getting information to your customers, just as a school sends information to parents and students.)

For all of the benefits of text message alert systems in schools, there are unintended consequences that must be and can be addressed.

1) The lifesaving use of text messages triggers an onslaught of media arriving at the school to report on the unfolding event.

StudentsGerardBraud2) The text and voice message systems brings an onslaught of parents in panic arriving at the school to rescue or comfort their children, and thereby creating traffic jams that delay life saving emergency vehicles and emergency responders.

3) The speed of the notification system hastens and triggers an instantaneous disbursement of panic, misinformation, rumors and inappropriate comments on social media.

All three of these unintended consequences can be mitigated and managed to the safety and betterment of parents, students and educators. It requires the use of a comprehensive Crisis Communications Plan.

Rapid or Mass Notification Systems versus a Crisis Communications Plan

Some schools and school systems mistakenly believe that their policy to send out rapid communications via text messages or phone messages is their crisis communications plan. This is incorrect. A system that sends out mass notification by way of text messages or telephones requires us to make a fine distinction between notification and communication. Notification screams panic! Communication uses words and information to calm fears by sharing actionable, honest and accurate information about the severity of an event. For example, a 140 character text message cannot convey the details of a web posting, email blast or news conference.

A mass notification system can quickly send messages such as, “gunman on campus,” “shelter in place,” etc. These are only short bursts of actionable information, which create the unintended negative consequences of panic that we mentioned previously. In contrast, a crisis communications plan must be used in addition to the mass notification system, but often it is used when the mass notification system is not even required, as we will explain in upcoming articles. The crisis communications plan provides the actionable and informative words and details that will be used in news conferences, on websites, in emails, in meetings with parents, student, and employee, as well as on social media sites.

As you will learn in this series of articles, a crisis communications plan can be vital before, during and after a crisis.

In our next entry we will define the word “crisis” and examine why many schools and businesses think they have a crisis communications plan, but very likely do not.

What Can You Learn from a Media Roundtable or Media Panel?

Katrina Media_0311By Gerard Braud

Another one just hit my LinkedIn group message discussion — Each month I get numerous announcements about associations inviting a media panel to talk to their members, most of whom are public relations people.

These media panels usually draw high attendance at a meeting, but do they benefit the members?

My observation — having sat through many of these, having been a journalist, having been on the panels, and as someone who specializes in media training and crisis communications — is that you should take the advice of these journalists with a grain of salt. No wait… take their advice with a block of salt.

The advice the media members give is bad advice. Often, the media give advice contrary to what you should do in a media interview and in a crisis.

“You should always tell us everything you know,” they usually say. In other words, they want you to go to confession with them. Media want to you confess every negative aspect of your business and your event.

My expert advice is that you should always be honest. However, you are never obligated to confess to them everything negative about your crisis.

My advice is to be prompt and timely with information to the media in a crisis. In fact, my entire crisis communication plan system is built on getting honest information to the media quickly. However, a key part of the plan is my addendum of 100 pre-written news releases that acknowledge known facts, while deflecting media speculation and negative details about your crisis.

On one hand, if you don’t know the media or how to function with the media, a media panel could be a useful part of your association meeting. However, if you don’t want to be given one-sided bad advice, may I suggest that after the panel gives their presentation, you dismiss them. Next, ask a media relations and public relations expert to give you their take on what the reporters said. You will definitely hear an opposing point of view and have an eye-opening program.

Please feel free to call me if you have questions about organizing such an event.

 

Can You Introduce Me to Your Conference Meeting Planner?

When it hits the fan image

Click image to watch video

Can you help open the door for me?

Can you introduce me to the right decision maker?

The world is better when leaders and communicators in corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies communicate more effectively in a crisis. Rapid communications saves lives and protects revenues and reputations.

If you belong to a professional organization whose members could benefit from a presentation about effective communications with the media, employees, and key stakeholders, would you please be so kind as to introduce me to any decision makers or meeting planners you know?

Here is an example of what you might include in the e-mail:

At our next conference, I think the audience would benefit by having a program about effective communications with the media, employees and other key stakeholders during a crisis. At a previous event I saw a presentation by Gerard Braud. I think he would be a good fit. I’ve cc’d Gerard on this e-mail so the two of you can talk to determine if this is a good match. You can learn more about his programs at www.braudcommunications.com.  You can also see a short video of his presentation style.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

GM Hires Crisis Communication Expert

By Gerard Braud

GM Crisis ExpertGM has hired a Crisis Communication Expert to help the company communicate their way out of a crisis surrounding their faulty ignition switches, according to headlines.

Why do companies hire crisis communications experts after a crisis?

Why don’t companies hire a crisis communications expert before they ever have a crisis?

Why don’t companies write crisis communications plans so that they can manage a crisis and the communications on their own?

The story of crisis communications is much like the movie Groundhog Day. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, living the same story daily. That is because every day, another company announces they are hiring a crisis communications expert to magically make everything better after corporate executives allowed a crisis to happen.

Here is an open letter about crisis communication to corporate leaders:

Dear Corporate Executives,

Many of you make bad decisions every day. You put profits before people and when you do, you have the recipe for a disaster. GM executives decided not to spend 57-cents per car, in order to replace faulty ignition switches, because they thought it would cost too much. If they had spent the money, then:

  • People would not have died
  • A crisis would not have happened
  • The company’s reputation would not have been damaged
  • The company would not be paying untold millions to fight or settle cases
  • The company would not be getting grilled by congress
  • The head of GM would not be the butt of jokes for every late night talk show

Corporate executives should hire a crisis communication expert before a crisis happens.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communication expert to make sure their company has a properly written crisis communications plan.

Corporate leaders should stop relying on someone with a spreadsheet to make decisions about revenue that will later damage the company’s reputation.

Corporate leaders should hire a crisis communications expert to be the cynic at the table. That way, spreadsheet decisions do not lead to revenue decisions that have short-term gains and eventually cause long-term damage to both reputation and revenue.

Corporate executives should commit to protecting their reputation and revenue by having a crisis communication plan that guides their decision making before a crisis happens, during a crisis, and after a crisis

Postpone Your Crisis: Crisis Communication Wisdom with a Twist

K2 copyBy Gerard Braud

Consider this: scheduling your crisis may be the wave of the future. Rather than being ambushed and surprised by a sudden crisis, which forces you into crisis communication, consider the model used by many of your leaders who ignore my plea to plan for the worst.

Here is how it works. Many public relations people have e-mailed me to say that they cannot conduct media training or crisis communication training with their executives because the executives do not have time. Often these public relations people are asking for only a single day for media training. Sometimes they are asking for two days to write a crisis communications plan. Regardless of which communication training you ask for, there are always too many other projects more important than preparing to effectively communicate in a crisis. Hence, if an executive does not have time to schedule the training for the skills that would be mandatory in order to protect the profits and reputation of their company during a crisis, it only makes sense to declare that no crises should take place unless it is scheduled.

So next time you want to schedule media training or crisis communication training and you are told there is no time on the schedule because we have too many higher priority projects, just ask your executives when they would like to schedule their crisis?

Sure, it has been said that, “If you fail to plan, than plan to fail.” But under this new crisis communication model, we could simply say, “Plan to fail.”

If you’ve ever been told there is no time on the schedule for communication training, please share this article with the person who told you that, then send their reaction to me.