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My Mentor is Dead

Wiley-HilburnWiley Hilburn, Jr. has died. He is the man who shaped my writing and my career as a journalist. Each day, I think of myself first as a writer, knowing that writing is the root of my media training and crisis communications programs. Likewise, my skills as a journalist and television reporter, cultivated by Wiley, allowed me to have two great careers that have sent me circling the globe.

The death of Wiley Hilburn, Jr. is not breaking news. January 16, 2015 marks one year since his passing. Although a year has passed, I think of him often because he is alive in me. Not only is he alive in me, but he is alive in the pens and keyboards of journalists and public relations people across America.

Wiley was the head of the Louisiana Tech Journalism Department. He launched young journalists, like a parent should launch their children. Wiley nudged us, the way a mocking bird nudges a chick from the nest. He made sure we could fly. He nudged more than a few chicks out of the nest knowing they were better off eaten by a cat than to be in a newsroom. If you had the right stuff, Wiley praised you and nurtured your writing. If you didn’t have the gift for writing, he didn’t mince words in advising you to seek another career path. Every quarter he would bring each writer for the Tech Talk student newspaper in for a personal evaluation of their clipping file. We used to take bets in the newsroom as to who would leave Wiley’s office crying after his evaluation.

He was also famous for his back-of-the-classroom private evaluations about what you wrote for each class assignment. He never knew everyone could hear him until the day he praised me for having no misspelled words, just a week after giving me a C on a paper, upon which he wrote, “I’d like to take this to the Shreveport Times, where I’m known as a horrible speller, just to prove there is someone who spells worse than me.” On the day he gave me his “private” praise, the class stood and applauded. Wiley turned beat red and asked, “Have ya’ll always been able to hear all of my evaluations?” Wiley and I laughed about that day every time we visited. After my first week as a television reporter – a job he helped me secure – he sent a handwritten note that said, “You are doing great Gerard. As far as I can tell from your reports there are no misspelled words. You were made for TV.”

My creative writing style has never come close to Wiley’s. I’m envious of great creative writers who have a true gift of describing details and sounds and scents and moods. News and television writing were the places where I found my comfort zone.

Wiley took Mark Twain’s advice to write what you know. His writing was brilliant enough that he could have lived and worked anywhere, but he chose to stay close to home, living in Ruston, Louisiana writing as a columnist for the Shreveport Times and the Monroe News-Star. His columns were about the people, places, and unique little tidbits that only people along this Bible Belt region of Louisiana could appreciate.

My friend Bob Mann wrote of Wiley’s death one year ago as, “The Passing of a Louisiana Journalism Giant.”

Indeed, we all looked up to Wiley. And he always looked at us over his heavy rimmed glasses, which were broken at one hinge and held together with Scotch tape for most of the years that he was my professor. His thinning hair was always tousled. Wrinkles in suit never bothered him.

My hope for each of you is that there is someone special in your life who was pivotal in shaping your career. I hope you remember them with great fondness the way I remember Wiley today.

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

Ebola Crisis Communications Lesson: Ask for Help

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudOf all the Power Point presentations by his leadership team members, the CEO only stood and applauded the vice president who showed he was having difficulties in his division, when the other vice presidents showed rainbows and green lights. The company was millions in debt with falling sales and the CEO knew that everyone who painted a rosy picture was either a liar or delusional. The one who asked for help was the star.

A colleague shared this story supporting my premise in yesterday’s Ebola communication considerations blog. In the blog I suggested that public relations, marketing, media relations and crisis communication professionals will not be fired if they ask for help. Instead, your CEO and leadership team will respect you for telling the truth and knowing that your truth may save the reputation and revenue of your organization.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braudThe field of communications is misunderstood, even by the C-Suite. Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. They expect publicity. Often the CEO will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Sadly, many with MBAs don’t really understand the differences either.

Even in public relations, many do not realize how difficult it is to be a crisis communication expert. The expert is the one who prepares on a clear sunny day for what might happen on your darkest day. At the university level, most public relations classes touch on crisis communication as an evaluation of how well you manage the media after a crisis erupts. That is outdated and flawed. Preparation = professionalism.

Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge and expertise rather than asking for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue.

Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue.

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Ask for help.

If you’d like some FREE help, join me on Friday, October 17, 2014 for a free webinar that explores what you need to do today to prepare for your possible Ebola communications tomorrow. Register here.

 

— By Gerard Braud

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning

EBOLA webinar Gerard Braud

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Is 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.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braud

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You may own a business, be the CEO or leader of a business, hospital, school, or non-profit. You may be the 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.

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.

Gerard braud Ebola blog 1

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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

Crisis Communication Leadership: Power of a Resignation

It is always a good thing in crisis management when the person at the top says, “The buck stops here,” and they are willing to resign because a significant crisis happened under their watch.

Listen to my opinion with Radio Host Kate Delaney:

 

This does 2 things. From a public relations and crisis communications standpoint it:

1) Sends a strong signal that someone is being held responsible

2) It communicates that change is coming

Julia Pierson, a 31 year secret service veteran resigned as head of the President’s protection agency as a result of an increasing number of secret service failures.

A true leader demonstrates good character by stepping down when they are unable to manage a crisisJulia Pierson and when the crisis gets worse. Some of the scandals and shortcomings happened before Pierson took the job. But she was also appointed to clean up the agency last year after the Cartagena, Colombia prostitute scandal in 2012.

Before she could even start to clean up the previous scandal, three secret service agents responsible for protecting the President in Amsterdam were sent home for being drunk. One was reportedly passed out in the hallway of their hotel. Pierson, as leader, put the agents on administrative leave.

But when Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence and got inside the White House, it became clear that too many problems were happening too fast. At the same time a story broke about a November 11, 2011 incident in which a man parked his car on a street near the White House and reportedly fired a semiautomatic rifle multiple times, hitting the building.

Too many security lapses means somebody needs to take the heat for the ongoing crises.

I’ve written many blogs in the past few weeks about the NFL scandals and the need for Roger Goodell to demonstrate he has leadership by admitting his repeated failings and stepping aside. Julia Pierson is a leadership role model for crisis communications and crisis management. Goodell would be well served to learn from her example.

When a crisis strikes where you work, a good leader makes the crisis go away and communicates what happened and what changes are on the horizon. Often your job in public relations is to be the one to support the leader and guide them to make the right decisions.

By Gerard Braud

Smoke, Mirrors and Diversion Do Not Work as a Crisis Communications or Crisis Management Strategy

Braudcast Sept 18 NFL

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By Gerard Braud

The NFL has appointed a panel of women to advise them on domestic abuse. Is this a viable crisis management strategy? Is it a viable crisis communication or crisis management strategy?

Actually, it has made the crisis worse because it kicks the decision can down the road. It has also drawn criticism because three of the four panelists are white and one is black, while in the NFL, the majority of players are black.

My observation is that this is a weak attempt by Roger Goodell to appear he has taken action, when in fact, his inaction from the onset of the Ray Rice crisis has cost a bevy of other aspects of the crisis.  He has caused more players being placed under scrutiny, more teams being forced to make very public decisions, and sponsors pulling out of the NFL.

The fans are smart enough to know this is not a solution to the ongoing crisis. If only the NFL leadership were as smart as their fans.