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?

Media Training Tip: Ebola Crisis Communications Interviews

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudThe Ebola crisis has spawn a rash of spokespeople saying things to the media that should have never been said. If you are the public relations person responsible for writing statements and news releases for your hospital, company or spokesperson, this blog is for you. If you are the media trainer preparing the spokespeople, this blog is for you. If you are the spokesperson… yep, this blog is for you.

Behold exhibit # 1: A news release statement from October 15, 2015, as a second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital becomes ill from Ebola.

The hospital released a statement saying, “Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious.”

YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! Really, you cannot defend that statement PR team from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Here’s why: If it were true, two nurses would not have Ebola. Do you follow my thinking? Two nurses have Ebola because safety was obviously not the greatest priority and obviously compliance was not taken seriously.

Every time I teach media training or do a conference presentation, my advice to PR people and CEOs is to run every statement through the cynic filter. I just demonstrated my cynicism… and trust me, I’m a huge cynic. If you filter your statement past me, will you get a positive reaction or a negative reaction? That my friends, is the cynic filter.

My apologies to the PR team if this was not your words, but the words of your lawyers or PR firm or agency. But as a public relations professional, your job is to shout “No” when a B.S. statement like that is written or proposed.

Back in August, when the Ebola story broke regarding Emory University Hospital, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden made bold statements about Ebola not spreading in the U.S. He was wrong.

Dr-Anthony-FauciDr. Anthony Fauci, with the National Institute of Health, in an interview on the Today Show this week, on October 11, 2014, said, “We’re not going to see an outbreak” of Ebola in the U.S. He even references Dallas as an example of proper containment of the virus, which as we all now know, is wrong.

Once again, if you are a spokesman, you can’t say that. You can’t defend that statement. You cannot guarantee it so you should not say it in an interview.

If you are the person providing media training for the spokesperson, you cannot allow the spokesperson to say something like that. You have to be so intense in the media training class that you push the student to the point of failure in the training class, pick them up, fix them, and don’t release them from role playing until they are perfect. Media training should be designed to let a spokesperson fail in private so they don’t fail on national TV, or any interview.

Close isn’t good enough. A crisis this serious demands the best communications possible. There is no margin for error in interviews just like there is no margin for error in containing a serious disease.

Would you like to know the magic words that will set you free? Insert the word, “goal” and throw away the words, “committed” and “top priority.” My top priority is to get people to stop saying top priority and committed.”

Instead of saying, “Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious,” a better option is to say, “Our goal is to protect the safety and health of every patient and every employee.” (Yes, I intentionally used “every” twice.)

My statement is one that can be defended because it is stated as “a goal.” It is forward looking and aspirational, while not definitive, such as, ““Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious.”

If you are responsible for writing statements that get re-written with tired clichés by your lawyers or CEO, your job, as a public relations professional, is to push back. If you write these type of clichés because you were taught to do this or have heard these clichés so many times that you think this is the way it should be done, please stop.

If you are responsible for media training your spokesman, you must not be afraid to push back when the student doesn’t perform well. As the trainer, you must not be intimidated, especially if you are training your boss, or in the case of a hospital, a powerful doctor.

We have an Ebola crisis on our hands. Are you making it better or worse with your statCrisis communication workshop gerard braudements?

We’ll talk about these issues and more this Friday in a special webinar about Ebola. Register here.

If you need help with your Ebola key messages, contact me for assistance writing bullet proof key messages. And if you need help media training your spokespeople, I’m happy to help. Call me at 985-624-9976.

– By Gerard Braud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebola Crisis Communication Plan, Crisis Management & Strategy: Is It Too Soon to Talk About It?

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudIs it too soon to talk about your Ebola crisis communications strategies and plan? A New York based public relations professional asked me that question today. I responded by saying, “Why wait? One week ago no one in Dallas gave Ebola crisis communications a second thought. Today, at lease 14 businesses and government entities have to send spokespeople out to talk to the media about their portion of the Ebola crisis.”

I say start getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now. Your Ebola crisis can crop up without warning. Your crisis could result not only from an actual Ebola case, but from the hysteria of false information about a case.

You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be Crisis communication workshop gerard braudthe public relations or crisis management professional for a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. NOW is the time to realize that it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your organization for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with will be treated like a 19th century leaper – no one will want to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, the patient’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means thirteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

Click image to watch

The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven woefully inadequate. In no way do they meet the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Could you suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations will say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could destroy us.”

“Destroy us?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? Likely financial ruin.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you own a company? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert for a company?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth our time and effort,” is what the vast majority of organizations will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.

Gerard Braud

3 Questions to Ask about the Intersection of Crisis Management, Crisis Communication, and Crisis Communications Plans: The NFL

By Gerard Braud

rayrice apAnother crisis management and crisis communication lesson plays out in the NFL as the Associated Press reports the NFL had a copy of the videotape showing Ray Rice punching his fiance in the face.

This exposes a crisis management and crisis communication weakness found in many organizations, which either involves leaders intentionally covering up a crisis or the crisis management team not fully sharing information. This prevents everyone from connecting the dots in a way that results in the best resolution of the crisis and full, honest communications about that resolution.

Here are three questions you can ask today to have a better crisis management and crisis communications plan.

1) When a crisis unfolds, do you have a central hub within the crisis management team in which all information is collected and disseminated to the key decision makers? If there is or was such a system within the NFL, a videotape of the punch would have been shared with the crisis management team. If there is and was a system, then we have a case of unethical behavior, personified by a cover-up and possible lies in media interviews by Roger Goodell.

2) Does your crisis communications plan have a predetermined list of questions that you will ask in every crisis so that everyone is always on the same page? This is one of the most powerful tools you can have and a vital part of all of the crisis communications plans I write.

3) Is there conflict in your organization because ethical decisions about a crisis often take a backseat to legal arguments by lawyers or financial arguments from the CFO? Those arguments often result in everyone taking a vow of silence so the organization doesn’t get sued, resulting in a loss of reputation and revenue. This is the job of communication experts in the room: Connect the dots for everyone else. Focus on the long-term reputational and financial health of the organization by doing the right thing and not the most convenient thing in the short-term.

Smoldering crises like the NFL Ray Rice case often cause various leaders to connect the dots only in a way that is immediately best for their interest, rather than in a way that is best for the long-term health of the organization, its leaders, and in many cases, the victims of the crisis.

Rayrice blog gerard braudFor example, in the case of Penn State, we saw the university fail to expose the crime of sexual abuse out of fear of reputational damage and a loss of revenue. This short-term failure resulted in more boys being victims of sexual abuse, greater reputational harm, a larger financial loss, and top leaders being fired.

In the case of the NFL, many experts believe the only reason the NFL has taken a tough stand on concussions is because of a lawsuit that would damage their reputation and lead to a huge financial loss if the lawsuit went to trial. It was not done years ago when it could have been.

When powerful people hide the facts from the world, as a way to avoid reputational and revenue loss in a crisis, you are witnessing unethical behavior in a crisis. In most cases the secret becomes public, executives get fired, the institution’s reputation is damaged, and revenue is lost. Stay tuned to see what happens with the NFL.

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.

 

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

Tutorial #1: Why You Should be a CNN iReporter

Tutorial #1 by CNN iReporter Evangelist Gerard Braud

Tutorial #1 Still Gerard Braud

Click the image to watch the video

The future of crisis communications and media relations is here. If you are a Public Information Officer (PIO), an official corporate spokesperson, or if you work in public relations for a corporation, government agency or non-profit organization, you should learn to also be a CNN iReporter.

I’ve created 23 articles and video tutorials on how and why you should be a CNN iReporter when your organization faces a major crisis or news event that gets significant attention from your local news media, and has the ability be get national news attention.

I have extensive experience as an iReporter. In 2013, CNN selected me as one of their top iReporters, out of more than 11,000 reporters, for my in-depth coverage of Hurricane Isaac near New Orleans on August 28, 2012.

Most iReports are eyewitness accounts of events. They are filed by the average person on the street who sends photos, video and narration directly to CNN, in the very same way that they can send videos to YouTube. What you will learn in these 23 lessons also applies to placing videos on YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and your official website.

Who would you rather have posting photos, videos and narration? Should it be someone speculating about what they see? Would it be better if it came from an official source, with real knowledge of the event? Shouldn’t the media have official information from someone like you?

A CNN iReport is a direct path to one of the world’s premier news networks.

This link will take you to my tutorials on the CNN iReporter website. I hope you take the time to view, study, and share all 23 videos and articles.

This link will take you to the index for all of the articles and videos.

If you, like many others, think this information would be valuable as a workshop at a conference or corporate meeting, please call me at 985-624-9976. You can also download a PDF with a description of the program: Social Media iReports.pdf, so you can share it with your meeting planner or training manager.