Ebola Crisis Communication Plan Update: Ebola Hysteria Requires Communications

cruise ship ebola gerard braudBusiness leaders and public relations professionals should continue to monitor signs of Ebola hysteria. The damage to the reputation and revenue of your organization is real. It can come from a direct Ebola contamination to one of your employees or customers. In the case of public institutions like schools, the institution could face a costly shut down or closure.

Since outlining how real or imagined Ebola threats could trigger your crisis communications and crisis management plans, in last Friday’s Ebola webinar, the weekend revealed more examples. (Click here to listen to the webinar) A customer/passenger aboard a Carnival cruise ship out of Galveston was identified as having been in contact with lab samples from the deceased Dallas Ebola patient.

Listen to the re-broadcast

Listen to the re-broadcast

The crisis cascade of events included the ship being turned away from Belize and Mexico, plus the closure of a school in Moore, Oklahoma, because a student was on the same cruise ship as the hospital worker from Dallas. Not only did each of those institutions or governments need to communicate, but so did various ports of entry and various emergency response or decontamination companies. And while this ship sailed from Galveston, every port city in America could have just as easily found themselves in the same position as the Port of Galveston. Likewise, any school in America could be forced to make the same decisions as Moore, Oklahoma.

Are we seeing too much hysteria? Is the threat real or imagined? In my expert opinion, it doesn’t matter because either a real threat or an imagined threat can trigger both your crisis management plan and your crisis communications plan. Either a real threat or an imagined threat can damage the reputation and revenue of your organization.

Should you take steps today to prepare or should you wait and see? My mantra is be prepared. Use this potential crisis as an opportunity to set aside time on a clear sunny day to prepare your plan and your crisis communications should you need it on your darkest day.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braudShould you prepare only for Ebola or should you prepare for everything? My mantra is to do it all at once. You can have a comprehensive crisis management and crisis communications plan that is completed today and ready to be used for years to come.

Doing it right is always the path of least resistance.

By Gerard Braud

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