When Your Crisis is Because of a Microphone Goof-up

durst movie gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Robert Durst went to the bathroom with a wireless microphone on. Now he’s facing murder charges. It is an interesting crisis case study.

Yes, he’s faced legal troubles associated with three suspicious murders associated with him. But those were in his past until he agreed to be interviewed for an HBO documentary about… well, the allegations that he murdered three people. During a break during the filming, he wore a wireless microphone into the restroom. The camera, meanwhile, was still rolling.

Since 1994, in every media training class I’ve taught, each participant has been told, “Assume the camera is always rolling and that the microphone is always recording.”

robert durstDurst, while in the restroom, said to himself, while still wearing the film crew’s wireless microphone, “What the hell did I do? I killed them all of course.”

Crews transcribing the videotape found this audio gem and alerted the authorities. It is also a brilliant publicity stunt for HBO to bring this to light as they aired their five-part series on Durst.

Would you ever think that a microphone goof-up could create a crisis that could take over the life of a spokesperson? Durst has been interviewed before. He should have known better.

For all of you who must do interviews with the media, the lesson is to assume the microphone is on and that the camera is rolling and recording at all times. Presidents have been burned by this and news anchors have been burned as well.

Fox News Reporter John Roberts in the scrum of reporters covering the Robert Durst hearing in New Orleans.

Fox News Reporter John Roberts in the scrum of reporters covering the Robert Durst hearing in New Orleans.

While standing outside of Orleans Parish Criminal Court today I was reminded of anchor’s being burned when I saw Fox News reporter John Roberts. His wife Kyra Philips was burned on CNN when she wore her microphone into the bathroom and said some personal things, while President Bush was giving a speech on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The audience heard everything she said.

Rule 1: Only put the microphone on just before the interview starts.

Rule 2: If you whisper anything to anyone while wearing the microphone you can assume the audio technician and the videographer will hear you, among others.

Rule 3: If you have to go to the bathroom, take the microphone off.

Rule 4: As soon as the interview is over, take the microphone off.

When “It Hits the Fan: Effective Communications for Critical Times

By Gerard Braud

The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.

Williams ExplosionThe reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.

This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.

Williams FB pageWithin minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.

When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.

Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.

But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.

What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?

Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.

Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.

(Get a free sample and use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN)

Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.

Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.

The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.

When “It Hits the Fan: Effective Communications for Critical Times

By Gerard Braud

The need for crisis communication has never been greater. The need for speed in crisis communications has never been greater.

Williams ExplosionThe reality is that if you experience an incident that the public knows about, you should be communicating to them about it in one hour or less. The biggest problem with this one hour benchmark is that in a world with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, that is still 59 minutes too long.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Yes, those are workers running from a fireball as it is still rising. What else do you notice? Yes, when everyone should be moving toward safety someone stopped to snap a picture with a cell phone.

This event eventually claimed two lives and resulted in more than 100 reported injuries.

Williams FB pageWithin minutes of the photo being taken, workers built a complete Facebook page about the event. Meanwhile, the company took nearly three hours to issue the first news release. Other than the time of the event, there was nothing in that statement that was newsworthy or that could not have been written and approved three years before the event. It was boiler plate language. By the time it was released, the media and the public already knew every detail.

When “it” hits the fan in the age of social media, you have the option to control the flow of accurate information by releasing details faster than ever before. If you fail to do this you surrender control of the story to the general public, who may or may not have accurate information.

Granted, human resources needs to communicate with the families of the dead and injured. Granted, lawyers will want to avoid giving ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney in your statement. Granted, facts need to be gathered by the home office. Granted, state police are acting as the primary spokespeople under a NIMS agreement.

But will you also grant this? The photo on Facebook and the Facebook page are providing more information to the public, the media, and plaintiff’s attorney than the official source is. And NIMS can provide a law officer to discuss evacuations, but a state trooper cannot express the necessary empathy that families need to hear, nor can they communicate the contrition that a community needs to hear.

What should you do? How can you get the upper hand?

Step one is to have an effective crisis communications plan that facilitates the fast gathering of information about any incident, combined with the fast dissemination of the details to key decision makers.

Step two is to have a “First Critical Statement” document in your crisis communications plan. The First Critical Statement is a fill-in-the-blank document that can be modified in five minutes and then posted to your corporate website, emailed to all employees, emailed to all media, read to the media at a news conference if needed, and also used as a link on your corporate social media sites.

(Get a free sample and use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN)

Step three is to write a library of pre-written news releases with a more in depth system of fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options. Such news releases can be written on a clear sunny day, months or years before you will ever need to use them. The goal of the document is to answer every question you might be asked about a specific incident – ranging from fires and explosions, to workplace violence, to executive misbehavior. The pre-written nature of the release allows your leaders and legal teams to proofread the templates and pre-approve them. This saves time on the day of your incident. Usually, the pre-written document can be edited within ten minutes and approved nearly as fast. Once it is ready to use, it can be your script for a news conference, a post to your corporate website, an e-mail to all media and employees, plus a link on social media.

Check your calendar: It’s 2015. Check your computer and smartphone: Social media amplifies everything the public sees or thinks. Check your decision-making: It is time for you to have a modernized fast moving crisis communications plan.

The bottom line is that your reputation and revenue depend upon it.

Selecting the Right Spokesperson: Should it be Multiple People?

DSC_0114Who should be your media spokesperson? In this series of blogs, we have reviewed the argument for the CEO serving as the spokesperson and the PR person serving as the media spokesperson.

Consider option 3: Should a Variety of People Should Serve as Your Media Spokespeople?

A subject matter expert, with proper media training, can be a great spokesperson. In fact, an expert in the subject is often the most credible with the media and the audience.

Numerous people should be media trained as spokespeople, with each ready to go when called upon.

In a crisis, the PR person should speak during the first hour of the crisis, as explained in our previous article. By the end of the second hour of the crisis, a subject matter expert should serve as the spokesperson. If needed, the subject matter expert can remain the spokesperson if the crisis is ongoing. The final news briefing of the day may be the best time to feature the CEO as spokesperson, as explained in our previous article.

Think of your spokesperson selection process the way sports teams operate. You have stars and strong people on the bench, ready to step in as needed.

Media training helps identify your star players and secondary players. Most of all, never let anyone speak without intense training. Media play hardball. Don’t send out an untrained person with little league skills.

Train your CEO. Train your PR expert. Train multiple subject matter experts. The number of experts you train is based on the type of organization you represent. A hospital, for example, could have multiple doctors from multiple fields, as well as one or two nurses. An electric company could train multiple supervisors and line workers, as well as someone who is an energy conservation expert.

The key to effective media training is to help these subject matter experts learn to put their daily jargon aside and learn to speak at a level that a sixth grader could understand. This is especially true for persons with an analytical mind, who have a propensity to focus on tiny, technical details, rather than focusing on the big pictures.

Who will be your media spokesperson?

About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is a media training and crisis communications plan expert. He has helped organizations on 5 continents. Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. www.braudcommunications.com

Crisis Communication & Media Hide and Seek: The ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery Explosion

By Gerard Braud

Where is the ExxonMobil news release for the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery explosion? An explosion is a crisis, which requires expert crisis communications. The media would expect information on the corporate news release page. Media want it fast and easy to find.

But look what you find on the ExxonMobil news release page – A fluff release about a summer jobs program.

ExxonMobile-#1-No ReleaseReally ExxonMobil?

Oil may have come from the age of the dinosaurs, but public relations in 2015 shouldn’t be prehistoric in nature.

Is ExxonMobil playing hide and seek with their news release?

At the bottom of the ExxonMobil page I found three social media links. I clicked on Twitter and found a statement that I’ve written about before – the dreaded and preposterous, “Our top priority statement.” The Tweet says, “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in Torrance.” Obviously it isn’t your top priority, otherwise you would not have had an explosion with four people sent to the hospital, right?

ExxonMobil-Twitter-TopPriority

Come on PR people: Enough with the bad clichés that you can’t defend. My top priority is to get public relations people to stop saying, “Our top priority.”

The link on Twitter sends me to this news release page, which did not appear in my initial search. Note the time stamp on the hidden news release – 10 a.m. ET on February 19, 2015. Now note the first sentence of the news release – it indicates the explosion happened at 8:50 a.m. PST on February 18, 2015. If there is an earlier release, it is hidden from me.ExxonMobil-2-release

I have to question, why does it take nearly a day for a news release to be posted? This is absurd. This is 2015 and we live in the age of Twitter. No corporation should go more than one hour before a news release is posted. And don’t blame it on your lawyers or your executives. An expert public relations leader must learn to deal with lawyers and executives before a crisis so that your crisis communications can move with haste and professionalism. Your crisis communication plan should be filled with pre-written and pre-approved news releases. Geez!

Even on Twitter on the day of the explosion there is no ExxonMobil Twitter post related to the explosion, yet citizens are posting images and details about the crisis trending on #torranceexplosion.
ExxonMobil-Twitter-Feb18

Now let us examine the news release as ExxonMobil plays hide the facts and details. Compare the ExxonMobil release that mentions an “incident,” to the headlines on Google, which uses words such as “explosion” and a host of descriptors such as “rips though refinery,” “rocked by large explosion,” etc.

 

ExxonMobil-Google

 

While ExxonMobil uses clichés such as “top priority” and “incident,” the NBC Los Angeles website describes, “Crushed cars, mangled metal, flames and a health warning.” Their lead says, “Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality…”

Something tells me this was more than an “incident.”

 

ExxonMobil-NBC

In a crisis, it is important for official sources to provide official information. It is also important to control SEO. From a control perspective, the corporation should be controlling the flow of accurate information, rather than surrendering to the rumors and opinions for the public.

In the 2014 Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil is listed as second. Some might wonder if their PR is second rate.

So what do you think about how ExxonMobil manages its crisis communications?

How to Select the Right Spokesperson? Should it be the PR person?

CrisisDrillGerardBraudWho should be your media spokesperson in a crisis?

In a recent blog, we reviewed Argument #1: The CEO Should Always Be the Spokesperson.

Now we can review Argument #2: When Should the PR Person Be the Spokesperson?

The public relations person is an excellent choice as a spokesperson in the first hour of the crisis when media might be just arriving. But your PR guy or gal doesn’t need to be the spokesperson throughout an entire crisis, nor would I suggest they be your only long term spokesperson.

The best argument for using your public relations expert in the early hours of a crisis is because other members of the crisis management team are likely responding to and managing the crisis. Also, those other experts will rely on the PR team to provide them with the words, talking points, and key messages that need to be communicated.

In most cases, your public relations person has a natural gift for words, both spoken and written. These are usually natural gifts that other members of the crisis management team do not have. Usually the C-Suite is heavy on analytical thinkers who are better with numbers, facts, and figures than with words.

If you weigh your options and look at the variables, the senior member of your public relations team is a perfect first choice, especially when a spokesperson is needed in the first hour of the crisis.

Also, always make sure a PR person is on the crisis management team. Additionally, they should serve as leader of the crisis communications team.

Many companies are slow to communicate in a crisis because:

1) they wait until they know everything before they say anything

2) they are waiting for the CEO or a senior manager to free up long enough to speak

My best recommendation is that you should speak within the first hour of a crisis, even when only a few facts are known. You can tell the media what you know now and add more details later. A “First Critical Statement” is the document that I use in every crisis communications plan I write. It should be in your crisis communications plan also. To download your free copy of my First Critical Statement, use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

When few facts are known, it allows the PR person to:

1) Acknowledge the crisis

2) Provide basic facts

3) Say something quotable, while promising more information at a future briefing

Our previous blog about speaking with one voice and relying on the CEO explains my belief that multiple spokespeople can speak on behalf of the company and SHOULD speak with one voice.

In our next blog on this topic, I’ll give you a third option as you decide how best to select the right spokesperson for your company.

By Gerard Braud

The Fog of Decision Paralysis: A Lesson in Crisis Behavior

Fog_CrashYou should know it is fog season in New Orleans. With fog season comes some significant lessons about human behavior in a crisis.

Dive in with me, if you will, on an incredibly foggy morning. We are crossing a 12 mile long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain from Mandeville, Louisiana to New Orleans. We’re on this 12 mile bridge because the 24-mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge is closed because of zero visibility.

The fog is so thick it’s as though our headlights are reflecting off of a bright, white wall.

Our forward visibility is at most three to four feet.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

What would you foresee happening?

I was actually in that situation on December 31, 1996. I was still asking myself this question and preparing for a possible crisis, when a white, Ford F-150 pickup truck swept by me. He was in the left lane driving far too fast. It took only a flash for him to disappear into the fog.

Within an instant I saw his taillights bounce high into the air. He had rear-ended a slower moving car. The two cars were then faced sideways blocking both lanes of the interstate.

Because I was driving slow… I was able to stop short of making impact. But then I heard the horrendous sounds of screeching brakes behind me.

As I looked in my rear view mirror. I could see headlights closing in on me rapidly.

I steered slightly to the left; the lights veered to my right and smashed into the truck.

I was witnessing the beginning of what would soon be a 70 car pile-up.

There were more screeching brakes… more headlights… more crunching metal.

I continued to steer slightly more to the left and out of the way with each continuing wave of arriving headlines. Each cluster of cars piled into the debris field in front of them.

Soon a green minivan hit the pile and flew in the air tumbling end over end. It landed upside down. Soon a small white pick-up was being crushed like an accordion.

The sounds of crashes seem unending. By now I had inched from the right lane, across the left lane, and onto the shoulder of the bridge. I was making spit-second decisions. I was taking action based on the events around me.

Then there was a brief lull. I reached my left hand slowly across my body and unbuckled my seat belt so I could help rescue those in need. I suspected some are likely dead. The lady in the flipped minivan was first on my mind, followed by the guy in the truck that was squished like an accordion.

But before reaching for the door handle I glanced in the rear view mirror one last time.

And as I looked up into my rear view mirror, all I could see were these letters. They were backwards: G- r- e-y-h-o-oohhhhhhhhh…greyhound-braud

I jerked the car one last time to the left until my rims were grinding against the curb. And by some miracle… the bus slipped by me in slow motion.

And as I followed the bus with my eyes, there in front of it was the first car to have been hit. It was still blocking the highway. The woman driving the car had been frozen in panic. All this time she had done nothing. All the while I was making spit-second decisions and taking action to avoid being hit. Meanwhile she was just sitting in her car, sideways across the left lane of traffic; the left lane now occupied by the Greyhound bus that was sliding past me in slow motion as the bus driver stood on his breaks. And the woman in the car… I watched the horror on her face… she raised both of her hands across her face. I watched as she screamed…

…and the Greyhound plowed into her car door. He windows shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Her car crumpled like a tin can, spinning down the bridge the way a tin can spins when kicked down the street by a child.

Then there was silence.

I exited my car. I crawled out onto the railing of the bridge.

I walked around the back of my car into the piles of crumpled cars and dazed drivers. The space between my car’s right side and the side of the bus was approximately eight inches. I eased between my back bumper and the bus so I could go check on the lady in the first car.

Out of 70 cars, my car was the only one without a scratch. No one had hit me.

It was a miracle. But I also did something the driver hit by the bus did not do: I took action.

In this world… there are some people who react and respond… and there are some who fall into fog of decision paralysis.

The fog of decision paralysis often strikes people in public relations, the men and women in the c-suite, and the leadership positions in the corporate world. When faced with a crisis, they often do nothing to effectively communicate to key audiences, as if they are paralyzed with fear.

Sure, fire crews are authorized to fight their fire without approval. But it often takes 4-8 hours for a news release to be written, approved and released, following the onset of a crisis.

Doing nothing is unacceptable. Doing nothing makes things worse.

In the age of Twitter, you must decide today how you will communicate at the speed of Twitter when a crisis strikes.

If the answer eludes you, call me at 985-624-9976. Your answer awaits.

 

by, Gerard Braud

 

 

You’re “Excited” AND “Pleased” ??? Wow, That’s Effective Communications: NOT

Emergency News Release  Gerard BraudWhat if you learned that your writing and communications skills are really sub-par? Would you want someone to tell you? Here is an example– An IABC e-mail just reached my inbox. The lead sentence says, “I’m excited about…”

That is sub-par writing and public relations. It is shocking that public relations people cannot write a lead sentence for a news release and that they continue to use tired, old clichés. It makes me wonder if their public relations teachers accepted this as good writing in college.

Effective communications focuses on your customers or your audience. However, every day while teaching media training or in message writing workshops, I see PR people and CEOs all making inward facing comments, rather than external facing comments. They focus on themselves by using words and phrases such as, “I’m excited to announce…” or, “We’re pleased to tell you…”

Your audience, however, is excited and pleased when your opening sentence says what’s in it for them.

Ironically, the e-mail was promoting an IABC event, which likely needs a session on writing without clichés.

Take a moment to search through your e-mails and news releases to determine if you are guilty of using these clichés, especially in your lead sentence. Akin to this is the sin of writing a fake quote from the CEO that says, “We’re pleased and excited about this event,” says CEO Pat Jones.

If you find you are guilty of these sins, write to me at gerard@braudcommunications.com and confess your sins. I’m willing to conduct an intervention on your behalf… or should I say, “I’m pleased and excited to help you stop saying pleased and excited in a lead sentence.”

By Gerard Braud

The Doctor of Crisis Communications

Crisis communications doctor gerard braudIf you were a smoker and your doctor told you to stop or you would die of cancer, would you stop?

If you had diabetes and your doctor told you to change your diet so you don’t die, would you change?

Amazingly, there are people every day who ignore the advice of an expert and do the wrong thing. Some are stubborn. Some are in denial. Some just magically hope the problem will go away.

I’m watching two crisis communications patients die right now. As their doctor of crisis communications I submitted to each a plan of action that they could have taken long ago, when the early warning signs of a crisis were on the horizon. Both are major smoldering crises on the brink of igniting.

Time was on the side of each patient 60 days ago when they first contacted me. Time is now their enemy because the flash point has arrived and the media are writing stories on each. No messaging has been written. No news releases created. No media training has been conducted.

A doctor can’t miraculously cure cancer in a patient that has refused to listen to expert medical advice. Likewise, we in public relations are called upon too often to make miracles happen. We can’t always do it.

I could try to save each of these patients, but I know the effect of the communications we would do so late would be about 1/6th as effective as what was originally suggested. I know that this marginal benefit would cost them much more than the original plan, with less than satisfactory results. I don’t know that I want my name associated with a marginal response that lacks planning and execution.

Persuading audiences, engaging employees and communicating to the media takes time. Strategies are best done on a clear sunny day. Media training and writing a crisis communications plan should have been done weeks ago.

In one case, an organization will face very expensive legal bills and payouts. Their reputation will be damaged. People will likely get fired.

In another case, lawsuits will likely be filed, the institutions reputation will be damaged, I predict their revenue will fall, and there will be an employee revolt. The best employees will quit and go to work for their competition. Many angry employees will remain on the job, polluting the human resources culture for a decade or more. In the process, customer service will suffer, leading to a greater loss in revenue. This institution may also get gobbled up by a competitor as the value of the company drops.

Why do people ask for advice and ignore it? Who knows? They just do.

By Gerard Braud

Ebola Crisis Communications, Finding God, and Your Leadership Team

findinggodExecutives and crisis communications enthusiasts remind me of criminals who find God 15 minutes after then enter prison, then forget God 15 minutes after they are back on the street. Here’s why…

True story from this week: The president of an institution wants crisis communications help now! Why? Because a crisis is at their door, related to an Ebola rumor. At this point, it doesn’t matter what it costs, because their reputation and revenue are on the line. Their dark day has arrived.

A public relations person invited her leadership and executive team to join her for one of my recent Ebola crisis communications webinars. She sent an e-mail to me after the webinar to say her management team is on board and ready to implement all of the crisis communication strategies I suggested. They have seen the light. Amen.

Then 24 hours past and their budding crisis disappeared. All bets are off. The leaders are not ready to spend a dime. They are not ready to do any preparation to ward off the next crisis.

This disturbs me less than it used to because I see it every day in my line of work. But it still disturbs me. I always try to have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Most people have no plan and pray for miracles when the crisis hits. Most executives expect their PR team to rise to the occasion on a moments notice. Most executives are in denial about the need to have a plan and practice that plan on a clear sunny day, so they are prepared on their darkest day.

Like a criminal who finds God in their crisis, then forgets God when the crisis is over, many executives are ready to do what it takes when the crisis is at their door. However, they have short memories about the reputation and revenue damage that awaits them any minute when the next crisis arises and they are unprepared.

Have you seen this where you work?

I’d love to hear how you deal with it.

By Gerard Braud