Managing Expectations: 12 Crisis Communication Action Items for Winter Storms

By Gerard Braud

winter storm cleonCrisis Communications, a working Crisis Communication Plan as well as good media training skills will be critical in the next few days as bad weather moves across the United States.

Before the weather gets to you, now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last up to two weeks. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.

In your communications to them, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.

#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News

Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.

#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism

You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.

Click here to watch Gerard’s video on winter storms

Gerard Braud Winter Storm

Click image to watch video

#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You

Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:

  • Be ready to post updates to your primary website starting now.
  • Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube.
  • Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video.
  • Post that same video to CNN iReports.
  • Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video.

#4 Media Training for Spokespeople

Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.

Cleon#5 Be Skype Ready

In a winter storm type crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.

#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications

Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.

#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters

Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.

#8 Be a Resource

Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resource information that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.

#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark

Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.

#10 Rest When You Can

Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.

#11 Victory from Preparedness

Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.

#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan

When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.

 

 

Crisis Communications Plans Built to Fail: 3 Warning Signs and How to Avoid Them

By Gerard Braud

Would you be disappointed to learn your crisis communications plan is built to fail?

Here are three questions to ask to find out if you are destined for trouble when a crisis comes calling — or if you will manage your crisis like an expert.

Warning Sign #1

What is the system within your company by which people report a crisis? Most organizations have:

1) No requirements among employees to report a problem or potential problem.

2) No single phone number to call to report a crisis.

3) No clear definition of what a crisis is.

A reportable crisis should be defined as any event that can negatively impact the revenue and reputation of your company. This can range from a sudden crisis like a fire or explosion, to smoldering issues such as sexual harassment or executive misbehavior. It needs to also include all of the things in between that can trigger a crisis, such as dangerous working conditions or problems that are swept under the rug. Don’t fight over the semantics of whether it should be called a crisis, an event or an incident. Categorize it all as either an actual crisis in the making or a potential crisis.

As a rule, you should welcome the possibility of over-reporting rather than under-reporting. Every employee should be encouraged to speak up and bring issues to the attention of their immediate supervisor. Each supervisor should be encouraged to report up the chain of command. Even better yet, there should be a hotline number that any employee should be able to call to report an actual crisis or a potential crisis. Furthermore, regular employee meetings should be held in which supervisors ask employees questions and create opportunities for them to freely speak up about potential crises.

Often, there is a weak link in the chain of command. Employees fear reprisals for speaking up, rather than anticipating praise for being a team player. You don’t want that culture in your workplace.

Warning Sign #2

Spontaneity and winging it are of little use when a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding. You must know what to ask and with whom the information must be shared. Once you have established a reporting system, such as a hotline, you need to consider what happens when the hotline is called.

1) What questions need to be asked of the caller?

2) What information should the caller be prepared to share?

A flaw in most companies is that neither the caller nor the person receiving the call has a script to follow that outlines what information needs to be gathered and shared.

The solution to this problem is in good crisis communication planning on a clear sunny day. Either one good communication strategist, or a team of people, should discuss what they would want to know in a crisis, then write out the questions that need to be asked by the hotline operator.

The system becomes stronger when the questions are placed with strategic individuals throughout the company. They should be trained to recognize that when a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding, they should be prepared to ask these critical questions and pass that information on to the hotline operator.

In places where a 24-hour operator is not a viable option, consider making a single cell phone the hotline phone. Each week a specific manager can be designated as the crisis manager. They must carry the phone with them 24/7. Their job is to answer the hotline anytime it rings, then begin to gather information that can be shared with other managers, so the crisis can be dealt with.

Warning Sign #3

Most organizations fail to have a well thought out Crisis Management Team. Many have no established team. Hence, their response to a crisis is usually ad-hoc and prone to fail because mistakes are made in the heat of the moment.

Once you have gathered the initial information, you must clearly establish to whom does it go and what actions should they take?

All companies should have three types of plans for a crisis, which would include the plan we are talking about here, which is a Crisis Communication Plan. There must also be an Emergency Response or Incident Command Plan, as well as a Business Continuity Plan. Few companies have all three. Many companies have none.

The leader of each of these teams should be members of the Crisis Management Team, along with the CEO. You should consider limiting your core Crisis Management Team to only four to five leaders. This is your inner circle. Each of them should have other internal managers and experts who can be called upon as needed.

The Crisis Management Team is the group that should receive the information gathered when the hotline number is called. Each should then dispatch their legions of designees to respond to the events.

In our case, the leader of the Crisis Communications Team needs to start communicating facts to internal and external audiences as quickly as possible, using the most reliable tools. These tools should include:

  • Holding a fast, initial news briefing with any media who may be on site.
  • Posting the information to your secure website.
  • Simultaneously emailing information to the media and employees with text and a link to your website.
  • Using email to reach key stakeholders, such as customers.
  • Using YouTube as a location to host a short video statement for the world to see.
  • Using Twitter and Facebook to drive traffic to your statements on your website and on YouTube

Your ability to use all of these communications channels or only a few of these channels depends heavily upon whether your company has one PR professional or a team of them. When you are short handed, use the channels in the order that they are outlined above.

The difference between crisis communication success and crisis communications failure lies in planning. It is called a crisis communications plan for a reason. Don’t wing it. Take time now, on a clear sunny day, to determine if you are destined for failure from the start because you are missing the most critical steps from the onset of every crisis.

Effective Communications for Your School’s Shooting – Lone Star College – Houston – Shooting Update

By Gerard Braud

Do the communications surrounding school shootings drive you nuts? The repetitive crisis communication failures are enough to drive a communications specialist insane. While the debate over guns rages, no one debates the merits of good or bad crisis communications. Here are my thoughts on what you should recognize and work to improve…

Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is when you keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. I’m watching television right now – January 22, 2013 – and there is another shooting at another school, with the same crisis communications failures.

 

Here is what I’m seeing – and it is the same as what I see 99% of the time when there is a school shooting:

1) The media show aerial video and speculate because no official spokesperson comes forward in a timely manner.

2) Social media becomes both helpful and harmful. On the one hand it can be a place for updated information, but in this case Facebook is a place for ugly discussions while Twitter is a repetition of both current and out of date tweets.

 

3) Without an official spokesperson, the media are interviewing as many students as possible. Some are more knowledgeable and forthcoming that school officials and some are fueling rumors in the absence of an official spokesperson.

4) The school’s website fails to give accurate, timely information. The message is poorly worded.

This is what I expect from our school leaders and public relations teams:

1) Stop living in denial and thinking it won’t happen to you. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That means that on a clear sunny day, you must write a crisis communications plan to guide you through your communications challenges on your darkest day.

2) Stop saying you don’t have the time or the budget to write a crisis communications plan. You are responsible for the lives of thousands of people. The lawsuits you face after their injuries and deaths far exceed the cost or time you spend upfront. A communication plan should be considered a vital part of your operations, just like turning on the lights or putting chairs in a classroom. And let’s be more honest… these are the lives of people who trust you – not just an economic decision.

3) A crisis communications plan is not a 6 page free document you download from the Internet. It must be a precisely crafted document that anticipates every twist in the crisis and the precise communications steps you must take. The heart of a good plan will be about 50 pages long.

4) You should never be at a loss for what to say. Your crisis communications plan should be filled with 100 or more pre-written statements that you can read to the media, post to your website and e-mail to your students, faculty and staff. Every plan must have a document called a “First Critical Statement” which quickly shares the basics while you gather more information for a more detailed release. On a clear sunny day you can write 75%-95% of what you will need to say on the day of your crisis.

5) Go beyond texting. Texting only tells your students to take cover. The downside of texting is the panic and media attention that follows, as well as the firestorm that you ignite on social media.

6) Manage the expectations surrounding an emergency text message. People who get their texts late get mad.  It may take 20 minutes before everyone gets a text. People who get their text late will often take you to task, especially complaining on social media.

7) A text may cause an instant traffic jam on roadways, which limits the ability of emergency responders to reach your campus.

8) You still need to hold a traditional news conference for the media as quickly as possible. This should not come as a surprise. Whether in person or over the phone, someone must be able to do this in the first 30 to 60 minutes of the crisis. Your first critical statement template is exactly what you will read to the media. There is no need for anyone to attempt to ad lib his or her way through this. A public relations spokesperson is my first choice for this first statement, not the top dog, who should be managing the crisis.

9) A bad or confused spokesperson undermines the credibility of your institution. You expect your students to go to class to learn. Likewise, all potential spokespeople should take an annual media training class so that you are well educated and prepared for your media interviews. It is part of your job. Failure is not an option, but too often is a reality. Media Training must be like a sport – you must practice to be good at it.

10) You won’t perform well on your darkest day if you don’t practice on a clear, sunny day. Hold at least one crisis communications drill each year. This will test your plan, your spokespeople, and your ability to communicate quickly and effectively.

11) Be wary of Twitter. Hours after you give the all clear, well meaning people will re-Tweet messages about the shooting and further fuel the confusion and panic.

My files are full of case studies like this. Beyond adding text messaging, I really haven’t seen any significant improvements at schools since the first major shooting in 1997 at Pearl High School. Instead, it appears that many in education have yet to learn the craft of effective communications. I find that sadly ironic.

About the author: Gerard Braud helps organizations achieve effective communications during a crisis and effective communications with the media. He has successfully helped organizations on 5 continents.

www.braudcommunications.com

gerard@braudcommunications.com

 

 

 

One Month After Sandy Hook: Effective Crisis Communications In Critical Times

One Month After Sandy Hook: Effective Crisis Communications In Critical Times By Gerard Braud

(Free conference call Monday, January 14, 2013 REGISTRATION IS FREE TO ALL)

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut will raise many questions about school safety and gun control. What will it not do? The Sandy Hook shooting will likely not raise any discussions about effective crisis communications, although it should.

As television viewers, we see the coverage, but most people don’t realize that such a crisis immediately brings 500 media outlets and approximately 2,500 people to your town and to your front door, all with questions they want you to answer now.

Why no attention to communications? Schools will review emergency procedures. School safety consultants will call for more security measures. Companies that sell school text messaging systems will be in full sales mode. But few if any schools or school systems will do anything to prepare for the day when they might have to communicate with parents and the media about a tragedy at their own school.

The sad reality is that school shootings and workplace violence happens all too often. If you are the leader of a school or company, or the designated spokesperson, examine whether you are prepared to flawlessly and effectively communicate amid chaos, trauma and grief. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine if you had a personal relationship with any of these victims. Now imagine trying to talk with parents or loved ones to break the bad news, then respond to hundreds of media calls, while dealing with your own personal grief.

The worst time to deal with crisis communications is during the crisis. The best time to address all of these issues is on a clear sunny day.

As it relates to tragic shootings in schools, be aware of these realities:

• A text messaging system is not the same as a Crisis Communications Plan. A text messaging system is only a notification system. Your text messaging system may save lives on a college campus when you can warn students to take cover from an active shooter. But when those texts are going to parents, a text sent too soon will lead to panic with potentially thousands of parents attempting to reach the school. This traffic jam then keeps emergency responders from reaching the scene. A text messaging system is notification; it is not communications.

• If you are unfortunate enough to experience a shooting at your school or workplace, you can be assured the media will be on the scene in greater numbers and nearly as quickly as emergency responders. You have an obligation to speak to them within one hour of the onset of the crisis, regardless of how tragic and personal the event is. For that reason, on a clear sunny day you should write the statements you will say to the media, parents, employees or any other stakeholders. You must successfully use three types of sentences in such a pre-written statement, which would include 1) fill in the blank statements, 2) multiple choice statements, and 3) declarative statements that are true today and will still be true on the day of the crisis.  I’ve successfully used this system in every Crisis Communications Plan I’ve ever written. On the day of your crisis, your template can be customized for release within 10 minutes. This message should then be shared simultaneously with all audiences, including communications to the media, e-mail, the web, social media, employee meetings and with all stakeholders. No audience should be told anything that is not told to all audiences.

• Denial and ignorance are the greatest evils that keep organizations from writing an effective Crisis Communications Plans. Denial means many will never take this step because they don’t believe they will fall victim to such a tragedy, although they may spend money for all sorts of security measures and text messaging systems. Ignorance means they simply think that having a text messaging system, a public address system and a plan for a fire drill are enough. You will forever be judged by your ability to communicate effectively.

• Do not summarily dismiss your responsibility to communicate and defer all communications to law enforcement.  Some law enforcement officials are effective communicators and some are shamefully bad. Furthermore, their comments should only be about the crime, crime scene and the investigation. Your job is to communicate on behalf of your institution. Your job is to be the face and voice of comfort to those you know so well and with whom you share a bond and grief.

• Leaders will quickly second guess every decision and every word during a crisis. That is why all communications decisions and all words that will be spoken should be determined on a clear sunny day. Most Crisis Communications Plans state only vague policy and procedures without definitive timetables or job assignments. Most Crisis Communications Plans fail to have a bountiful addendum of pre-written statements and news releases. By my standards, if I can identify 100 potential crisis scenarios, then on a clear sunny day, I can and will write 100 pre-written and pre-approved news release templates.

• Stay in close touch with members of your Crisis Management Team. Each team member is running their own team, be it emergency response and incident command or communications. Meeting in person is best, but you should never delay meeting because you are not all physically present. Opt to use conference call technology to hold virtual meetings when necessary.

• The perfect Crisis Communications Plan should outline in great detail every decision that must be made in order to effectively communicate. The plan must be written in chronological order so that in one hour or less you can successfully gather all of the facts known at that time, confer with fellow decision makers, then issue your first statement to the media and all other stakeholders. Your plan must be so perfect and thorough that no steps are left out, yet easy enough to execute that in the worse case scenario, it can be effectively executed even by an untrained communicator.

• Many leaders fail to communicate in a timely manner because they are waiting for all of the facts to be known before they say anything. This is a bad strategy. Speaking early helps eliminate rumors and helps to gain the public’s trust. It is better to communicate a little than to say nothing. You need two types of pre-written statements. The first statement gives only the most basic information and is void of many of the hard facts, which are usually not yet known in the first hour of a crisis. In my plans, this is known as the First Critical Statement. Some organizations call these holding statements.

Such a fill-in-the-blank statement should acknowledge to the world and the media that the event has happened and that you are gathering more information which you will share within the second hour of your crisis.

The second hour statement is a more detailed statement that fills in the blanks to many of the facts that were not given in your First Critical Statement. This statement should be written on a clear sunny day, when you are not under emotional distress. This is the type of statement I referenced above. To achieve this you must successfully use three types of sentences in such a pre-written statement, which would include 1) fill in the blank statements, 2) multiple choice statements, and 3) declarative statements that are true today and will still be true on the day of the crisis.

• Communicate quickly, especially in a college or high school situation where an active shooter is present. During the Virginia Tech shooting, the university had a woefully inadequate Crisis Communications Plan, which is sadly still used by an enormous number of universities. Furthermore, when the first two students were killed, school officials were slow to communicate. Two hours after the initial shooting, the gunman shot 30 more people. The university, meanwhile, had still not communicated the events and dangers from the initial event. In addition to the sad deaths of 32 people, extensive fines and court damages have been levied against Virginia Tech for their failure to adequately issue communications that could have saved lives.

• Never get frustrated because you think reporters are asking stupid questions during a news conference. The questions get dumber when you fail to communicate quickly. On a clear sunny day you can actually make a list of all of the questions you think you might get asked by reporters in any given crisis event. Once you have written all of these potential questions, you can effectively write news release templates that will sequentially answer each anticipated question, beginning with who, what, when, where, why and how. You can also successfully write answers that deflect speculative questions, which are the specific questions that so many spokespeople and law enforcement officers consider to be stupid. I can promise you are going to be asked, “why do you think this happened.” You also know that in the early stages of the crisis you will not know the answer. But don’t get frustrated and angry.  On a clear sunny day write a benign answer and have it ready in your news release templates. All of my pre-written statements contain this phrase: “One cannot speculate on why a violent individual would commit such an act. We will have to wait for our investigation to tell us that.”

• When you have your emergency drills, enhance those drills by including mock media and mock news conferences, complete with video cameras. Never use real media for these drills. During your drill you can test your skills, your Crisis Communications Plan and your pre-written statements all on the same day.

• Social media in such a crisis may do more harm than good. As a communications vehicle, social media is a tool and it should never be substituted for talking to the media, talking to employees, posting to the web and communicating to stakeholders via e-mail. All of these tried and true techniques should be used before Facebook and Twitter. YouTube should be your first social media option, followed by links on Facebook and Twitter to your primary website and your YouTube videos. My experience and research shows that Twitter is especially problematic, because well meaning, yet ill informed people, will re-tweet old tweets as though the shooting is still under way, causing undue panic. Once a shooting is over you must tweet an all clear message repeatedly for several hours, complete with links to your primary website where you must post the latest information.

• Do not delay in writing your Crisis Communications Plan. Twice this year I was contacted by organizations that wanted to write their Crisis Communications Plan “within the next 6 months.” Both had shooting fatalities in the workplace before they “ever got around” to writing their plan. One experienced a triple shooting with a double murder and suicide within 12 hours of calling me.

Please realize that the question should not be if you should have a Crisis Communications Plan, but how soon can you have one. Every organization must be prepared to effectively communicate in critical times.

About the author: Gerard Braud is known as the guy to call “When ‘It’ Hits the Fan.” He is an expert in writing Crisis Communications Plan and Media Training, and has practiced his craft on five continents. He has developed a unique workshop that allows multiple organizations to write and complete an entire Crisis Communications Plan in just 2 days, using his proprietary message writing system. You can reach him at gerard@braudcommunications.com  www.braudcommunications.com  www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com
Amid the heartbreak of every tragic shooting we always hear, “No one every thought it would happen here.” The “never happen here” attitude creates huge problems, leaving schools, businesses and communities unprepared – whether it is a tragic shooting at a school, a theater, a mall or your workplace.

It is heart breaking to have to address these concerns during this holiday season, but such is the reality of our world today.

CommPro.Biz has asked global crisis communication expert Gerard Braud to offer a free conference call and conversation to guide us through the steps every school, community and business should be prepared to take when the unthinkable happens.

REGISTRATION IS FREE TO ALL

http://www.commpro.biz/green-room/the-sandy-hook-tragedy-effective-communications-in-critical-times/

Please share via Twitter, Facebook and e-mail with your child’s school leadership, with community leaders and with leaders in your organization.


In this conversation we will discuss:

• Why this tragedy will lead so many institutions to do absolutely nothing

• Tragic flaws in the conventional wisdom about crisis communications

• Social Media’s upside and downside in a crisis

• Tried and true techniques that everyone must be prepared to undertake

• How leaders fail to lead while throwing up roadblocks


 

Write and Complete a World-Class Crisis Communications Plan in the Two Most Intense and Productive Two Days of Your Career

Join Global Crisis Communications Expert Gerard Braud in Denver, CO

October 29 & 30, 2012

Save Time – Save Money – Save Lives

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You need a Crisis Communications Plan, but you don’t have time to write one on your own or you know you don’t have the expertise to do it correctly. You need a Crisis Communication Plan, but every price you’ve gotten from an agency is expensive and outside of your budget.

You need help. We have the solution.

Only Gerard Braud offers this intense 2-day program that generates his exclusive, world renowned Crisis Communications Plan, used around the world by corporations, non-profits and government agencies.

You bring your team of writers and Gerard Braud will provide you with the most amazingly designed communication documents. You and your team of writers will customize your plan under his personal supervision.

You’ll leave the workshop not with theory, but with a finished document.

You could struggle on your own and after a year of work never create a Crisis Communications Plan that is this well thought out and perfect for every crisis.

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For one corporate price, you are invited to bring up to 6 writers to participate in the 2-day process of customizing your company’s new plan.

This isn’t touchy-feely collaboration. This is you and your team locked in a room for 2 days getting real work done without distractions.

This is going from your “to-do list” to your “done list.”

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Size & Price Matter

Many organizations spend 6 months and $25,000 to $100,000 to create a six page plan that will fail them every time, which is the document on the left side of this photo. In just 2 days we create the document you see on the right. It is 3 inches thick and full of everything you need to do and say in a crisis.

Register before Monday, October 15, 2012 and receive an immediate $500 discount.

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About Your Instructor

Known as the guy to call when “it” hits the fan, Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) is an expert in crisis communications and media issues. He is an international trainer, author and speaker, who has revolutionized crisis communications for organizations on five continents.

Versed in the daily struggles of corporations, non-profits and government agencies, Gerard developed this exclusive 2-day workshop as a remedy to cries of “we don’t have time to do it on our own” and “we can’t afford to hire an agency.”

Only Gerard Braud bridges the gap by offering an affordable alternative in a time frame that fits everyone’s schedule and budget.

What’s his secret? As a senior communicator with more than 30 years experience as a journalist and a corporate communicator, Gerard has been on the front line of crises his entire career. He has invested more than 1,500 hours of time into capturing the most perfect behaviors any communicator could dream of… and he’s put it into a sequential plan. It is a plan so thorough that nothing is left out, yet a plan so perfectly organized that it can be successfully executed by anyone who can read, regardless of their job title or communication experience.

What You Need to Bring

  • A laptop for each writer
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For full details and answers to all of your questions, call 985-624-9976 or email gerard@braudcommunications.com

The Fine Print: Each Crisis Communications Plan is the intellectual property of Diversified Media, LLC, dba Gerard Braud Communications. As such, your organization is technically purchasing a license to use the plan. Your organization is granted rights to use the plan, but it remains the copyright product of Gerard Braud Communications. As such, you are prohibited from ever sharing your plan with anyone who is not an employee of your organization.

US Airways Flight 1549 Crash & Crisis Communications

By Gerard Braud

gerard@braudcommunications.com

www.braudcommunications.com

From a crisis communications perspective, I’ve put together a quick score card for you to learn from as we watch the events of US Airways flight 1549 unfold.

My top rules in crisis communications is to communicate within one hour with the media, your employees and other key audiences, such as passengers, their families, and future passengers.

U.S. Air gets relatively good marks for speed of communications. The CEO made a public statement early, although I don’t think he made his statement in one hour or less. I’d suggest a PR person make the first public statement, while the CEO manages the crisis at hand. Then, before the start of the second hour, an executive should become the spokesperson for the second briefing. By the second briefing a few questions should be taken and answered.

As for how the first statement was presented, the CEO covered what he knew up to that point and then left without taking questions from the media. That’s exactly what should be done.

Too many organizations wait until they know far more details before they speak. A simple fill-in-the-blank template is all you need for your first announcement. (You can download a free copy of such a template at http://www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com/  Look for instructions in the right margin.)

Making a statement early and in person has a strong psychological impact on your audience. It says you are open and forthcoming. Doing it in person lets you communication emotions that cannot be communicated on paper. Strategically, it should also let you establish strong quotes early. Hopefully, your quotes provide context and balance to the emotional quotes from witnesses and victims.

Social Media and Web 2.0 tools were all abuzz during this crisis. The first post was made to Twitter from an i-phone. http://www.alleyinsider.com/2009/1/us-airways-crash-rescue-picture-citizen-jouralism-twitter-at-work

The actual Twitter post is interesting: http://twitter.com/jkrums/status/1121915133

The photo is amazing: http://twitpic.com/135xa

The New York City media capital was also quick to get interviews with passengers.

Witness interviews and Social Media make it all the more critical that a company is able to tell its story early and in person.

Mayor Bloomberg took the opportunity to be in the spotlight with a quick news conference. However, he had few facts, even though U.S. Air had already released facts he should have known. Like many politicians, he rattled off thank you ad-libs without pause, good pacing or good quotes. And no one should hold a news conference with other officials standing behind you. It’s distracting and looks stupid.

The U.S. Airways news releases leave much to be desired. The early releases lacked basics, including the time of the accident and the fact that their plane had landed in the Hudson River. I suspect they company would have known this, especially by the second and third release.

U.S. Air’s website was also slow and problematic. When I first went to their site there was an updated splash page that listed links to several news releases. Once you accessed the first link, you could not return to the other releases. Instead, it took you back to the airline’s standard home page for booking flights, where there was no mention of the crash until late in the evening. Such an event warrants a special bulletin on the home page. Attempts to open the Press Room link hidden below About US, were unsuccessful.

http://www.usairways.com/awa/content/aboutus/pressroom/welcome.aspx

It took 30 minutes to access the Press Room, but again there was no special link to the crash information. Late into the evening news releases still contained few facts.

http://www2.usairways.com/home3.html

So what should you be doing next based on this quick case study?

1) Check your crisis communications plans templates. Your first statement should come from a fill-in-the-blank template that should anticipate all you’ll need to say when information is limited.

2) A second set of templates should be written for all of your other possible scenarios. Write with a format that includes fill-in-the-blanks, bullet points and/or multiple choice options that speed up the release. Write them on a calm day so you’ll remember all the points you need to cover; points you may forget in the throes of a crisis. 

3) In a crisis, the sequence is usually, Problem – Panic – Paralysis, as in decision paralysis, which slows down rapid communications. Success comes from Planning – Practice – Performance. Revise your plan annually and practice through regular crisis drills in order to perform well on the day of your crisis. Practice also means testing your ability to update your website.

4) If you have not done a major re-write to your crisis communications plan since the advent of Social Media, your plan likely has fatal flaws. Witnesses, victims and employees are communicating faster than corporate spokespeople and traditional media. All of the rules have changed.

Why Do Reporters Interview People With No Teeth Who Live in Trailers?

Crisis Communications Plans are designed to help companies communicate quickly. 

To learn more about the topic in the above headline, you should listen to all of the Gerard Braud audio program, “Don’t Talk to the Media.” Lesson 11 specifically addresses this controversial topic.

Write Your own Crisis Communications Plan in 2 Days

Yes, it is true — you can write and complete a Crisis Communications Plan in just 2 days.

I’ll be hosting a 2-day program here in New Orleans on November 3 & 4, 2008.

If you can’t make these dates I can arrange to hold a private or group program in a city near you.

Details can be found at www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com