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.

Executive Media Training – Gerard Braud – New Orleans Saints – Super Bowl Parade

In the Executive Media Training classes I teach, I always emphasize the power of a verbatim quote as a key message, rather than relying on talking points and the ad lib problems associated with talking points. So to prove the power of a pre-planned, verbatim quote, I recently set out to literally be the one-in-a-million quote.

My beloved New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. Hence, a Super Bowl parade was planned and one million people turned out to watch. As my daughter and I drove into the city that day, we saw the media gathering to cover the euphoria. So I told her, “I think dad needs to be on the front page in the morning.”

She gave that uneasy laugh, knowing I’m a man of my word and knowing I’m always willing to do something extreme to make a point. Finally she asked, “So what’s your quote going to be.”

I replied, “We’ve suffered the American nightmare… no… we’ve endured the American nightmare… it’s our turn to… no… it’s our time to share in the American dream.”

She laughed. Several hours later while waiting for the parade to begin I saw a reporter I know. I called him over and asked if he needed a quote for his story. He rolled his eyes, then asked, “What is it?” as though he expected something lame.

“We’ve endured the American nightmare. It’s our time to share in the American dream.” Read more

Media Training: Don’t Talk to the Media

by Gerard Braud

This first lesson may seem counter intuitive, so let me explain what I mean. You don’t want to talk to the media, but to the media’s audience.

Ask yourself, who is that audience and how smart are they? The general rule is that the average person who watches TV news has a 6th grade education. And, the average person who reads a newspaper reads at an 8th grade reading level. Those listening to radio news fall into those same ranges.

So when you do a media interview, you need to be talking to those people and using words and language that those people understand.

Drop all the big words. You don’t win any prizes for being multi-syllabic.

Can the corporate jargon. Synergistic win-win collaboration means nothing to anyone but you.

And get rid of the government speak and axe the acronyms. Neither your audience nor the media should need to be a code talker to decipher what you are saying.

Think of it like this… If you were asked to speak at career day to a 6th grade class at your local school, what would you say?  In fact, my assignment for you is to call a local school and ask to speak at the next career day. It’s a great exercise.

OK, so the skeptics out there may disagree. Here are the things I hear from the skeptics:

• Well I’ll just tell the media what I know. It’s their job to simplify it.

• I don’t want to dumb it down.

• What will my peers think?

• My audience is different.

My answer is bull, more bull, definitely bull and absolutely bull.

If you want the media to get it right then simplify the information for them. Do their job for them. Do the translation for your audience.

No one wants you to dumb it down and I’m not asking you to dumb it down. I want you to simplify it. There is a difference. I want you to be inclusive. I want you to respect what the audience may or may not already know. Be kind. Help them out.

As for what will your peers think, seldom will your peers be your audience when you do a media interview. Chances are your potential customers are your audience. Doctors should not use technical medical information but should use bedside patient language. Corporate people should not use corporate speak but customer speak.

Braud Communications media training tip

New research also indicates that even people with college degrees and advanced degrees prefer to read at an 8th grade level. Information overload means they really want to be able to skim and quickly digest everything they have to read, whether it is a newspaper, e-mail, web site or memo.

You have a responsibility to communicate in a way that the media’s audience will understand. You have a responsibility to communicate in a way that is easy for the media to understand, digest and repeat.

So our first rule is “don’t talk to the media.”  If you’d like a reminder, send an e-mail to me asking that I send you one of my “Don’t Talk to the Media” post cards. You can put it on your desk where you’ll see it every day. (my address is )

In our next lesson, we’ll talk about the connection between profit and a media interview.

Swine Flu Rumors & Haig – Biden Syndrome

Swine Flu and Crisis Communications are our topic this morning.

Two of the worst classic behaviors of crisis communications are beginning to take shape as we get several days into the Swine Flu hysteria. So I come to you today with warnings so that you can look for these behaviors, then I want to give you actual steps to help stop them dead in their tracks, then I want to give you steps you can take to set the stage to keep them from happening in the future.

The first behavior is managing rumors, which is harder to control than ever before because of Social Media and web communications.

The second behavior is what I call Alexander Haig syndrome, which we I may be renaming to Joe Biden syndrome.

First let’s address rumors. Good communications is about how do I want my audience to behave. That needs to be the goal of all of your communications. Not listening to rumors and going to officials sources is the behavior we want out of our audiences at this time, be that audience media, employees, customers, hospital patients, school children, parents, citizens.

My wife works at a school where the rumor e-mails started pouring in yesterday. All were e-mails forwarded from a friend warning that there were secret cases of Swine Flu that the hospitals, schools and government were not telling us about.

This is exactly why I always preach that in crisis communications you have one hour or less to begin your own communications and why making this one hour deadline means stockpiling a massive quantity of communications templates that you can access quickly. This is why when I write a crisis plan with a client we often create 100 or more communications templates in a day.

The most effective words that you can use in your communications are, “This is what we can confirm.” You should also include the phrases or admonition, such as, “We ask members of the media, employees and members of our community to avoid repeating rumors and turn to official sources for information.” Then your statement should tell the audience what those official sources are, emphasizing that your website is THE official source for all information related to you and your services.

The ability for rumors to be spread via e-mail and text messaging scares the pants off of me. A rumor can circle the globe several times via the web before your executives even meet to discuss this. In this short amount of time I can’t tell you all I know about writing messages in advance, but if you’d like to know more just call me at 985-624-9976.

The second classic flawed behavior of a crisis is what I call Alexander Haig syndrome, which is where someone who is not a top decision maker tries to take control of the situation and begins making bold, flawed decisions and statements. (This of course is a cultural reference to March 30, 1981 when President Ronald Ragan was shot and Secretary of State Alexander Haig proclaimed he was in charge, even though he was only 5th in line for the presidency.)

But the reality is, good crisis planning and good crisis communications planning must always take place on a calm, clear, sunny day and not in the throes of a crisis, where panic and anxiety are present.

When panic and anxiety are present we experience 2 extremes. The first extreme is decision paralysis where people are afraid to make decisions because the decision may be the wrong decisions. We saw that at Virginia Tech where officials waited 2 hours and 16 minutes to issue their first communiqué, when the reality was that had they communicated faster, they may have been able to save lives because that first communiqué went out 11 minutes after the second assault began, which resulted in 29 more deaths.

The other extreme is the Alexander Haig syndrome, where people make bold decisions and bold statements that historically end up looking stupid. Vice President Joe Biden has done this today, proclaiming on national news that he has told his family that he would not fly, take mass transit or go anyplace where a large crowd may be gathered. None of these are actual recommendations from the U.S. government, nor are they the recommendation of national health experts.

Both Haig and Biden are famous for saying dumb things. We may already be seeing the impact of this behavior as school systems cancel all sporting events to prevent crowds from gathering. The reality is, sporting events could still continue with players playing safely, but perhaps with no crowds are with limitations on crowd sizes.

The test is on decision paralysis or Haig/Biden syndrome come by judging whether or not your leaders are having to make decisions on the spur of the moment or whether most of the decisions were made on a clear sunny day. In the case of Haig, the founding fathers decided on a clear day in 1776 that the Vice President, and not the Secretary of State, is in charge if the President is incapacitated. In the case of Joe Biden today, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Heath Organization have official guidelines that they laid down on a clear sunny day to determine whether it is safe to take a plane, ride a train, use mass transit or go to a crowded shopping mall. Biden’s advice is not only unsound, but could have serious financial consequences by bringing commerce to a halt at a time when the economy is already hurting.

So what steps should you take if you have not already taken them?

Step 1) Hold a Vulnerability Assessment meeting today to discuss all the scenarios of what could happen to your company/school/hospital/agency as it relates to the Swine Flu. That means discussing how you will manage and respond to rumors, and how you will respond if the outbreak progresses.

Step 2) Decide what actions you will take as certain events unfold, such as what are the parameters that trigger certain behaviors and communications. When I write a crisis communications plan, for example, it has levels of severity, designed to indicate specific communications strategies. The Centers for Disease Control, for example has a 6-point scale of severity, designed to trigger key responses. Currently we are on level 5 of the 6-point scale.

Step 3) Start writing. You need communications written today that you may never use, but that is at the ready should you need it. Think of these as fill-in-the blank templates to which you can add the who, what, when, why and how on the day you need them. But today, much of what you need to say on the day of the crisis can be written. You can list agencies that you are coordinating efforts with. You can list precautions people should take. You can create fill-in-the-blank sections that might describe injuries, infections or fatalities should it come to that. I think that today you may be able to write 75%-90% of what you might need to say. This saves you an enormous amount of time when the crisis really hits, allowing you to communicate rapidly and beat the rumors.

Step 4) Do Media Training now. Never let a spokesperson wing an interview. Media are reporting lots of stories on precautions and what if. Many of the spokespeople I see look like deer caught in the headlights; many look robotic and read statements with a monotone voice. Your credibility is higher when your spokesperson looks comfortable and sounds like they know the material. Some spokespeople do well delivering their statements, but then flush it all down the drain when they screw up during the question and answer portion of their news conferences. Many just don’t understand how to stick to their message and how to use those messages to answer a negative question.

Step 5) Schedule a Crisis Communications Drill as soon as possible. It is critical that you test the behavior of your communications team and your leadership team to make sure everyone can work together, follow written plans, and play well together in the sand box while under stress. In the book “Good to Great” the author says make sure you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats – that is, make sure you have the right employees in the right jobs. He goes on to say that if they are not the right people in the right seats that you should get them off of the bus as quickly as possible because of the irreparable damage they can do. Of all the Crisis Communications Drills that I’ve conducted in my career, twice the company had to fire people who performed so poorly in the drill that it was clear they were not the right people in the right job. One of those fired was because he displayed Alexander Haig syndrome and withheld critical information from the Crisis Management Team. The other person was in a public relations position and she was unable to get her first statement release during a 4 hour drill because she had no pre-written templates to work from and because she was focused on too many other things and not focused on rapid communications.

Keep an eye on all of my websites and blogs for the latest information designed to help you. I look forward to seeing your comments on the blog.

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For additional resources please visit these site:

Crisis Communications Resources & Learning

More on writing a Crisis Communications Plan

School Crisis Plans & Crisis Communications

Swine Flu

Swine Flu – those should be the first words out of your mouth when you get to the office today. The fact that there is a new global pandemic threat could be the best thing to happen to your communications and public relations department all year. Why? Because corporate leaders will be willing to spend money on things that you’ve been wanting to day anyway, such as write a new Crisis Communications Plan or update your current plan. You can also get money in the budget for media training, presentation training and more.

Why will they be willing to spend money? It’s because corporate risk managers, who get the ear of executives more often than communicators, know that a global pandemic could trigger their risk management plan, which generally has lots of contingencies built in for pandemics. The reason there is a big contingency plan built around this is because a mass number of sick workers will affect corporate profits, and nothing gets the attention of corporate leaders more than something that can affect corporate profits.

Twice this decade risk managers were able to get leaders to free up funds for potentially serious events that could affect corporate profits. First, the Y-2-K computer fears lead to massive sums of money being spent on precautionary projects. That was followed a few years later by the SARS Virus.

So what should you do? Walk up to the executive suite and be the leader of your organization’s efforts to  communicate with employees, the media and other key audiences should there be a Swine Flu outbreak that affects your business. The media may want to interview corporate leaders just on the topic of what precautions they are taking. And when you bring up the topic to corporate leaders, they’ll ask what needs to be done and how much will it cost. Be ready with an answer and be ready to ask for more money than you need. Why? Well, if you ask for $50,000, in tight economic times they’ll ask if you can do it for $25,000. You can settle for $35,000 and begin working on your projects.

The Swine Flu is a classic smoldering crisis, for which a properly written Crisis Communications Plan is needed. Once the Crisis Communication Plan is written, it should be followed up with Media Training, then a Crisis Communications Drill.

Here are 10 steps you should take today:

1) Create a combination internal & external communications strategy. Remember that what you say to one audience you must say to all. What you say to employees is never confidential; it gets forwarded to the media.

2) Be ready to communication workplace and social precautions.

3) Be ready to communicate true risks so as to minimize hysteria.

4) Provide perspective. The maps on the news show states where a few cases have been confirmed, but the map looks rather frightening, even though only 2-3 cases have been reported in some of the states.

5) Do a vulnerability assessment. This is the first step in creating a crisis communications plan or crisis communications strategy. Know where the crisis may occur and how.

6) Don’t try to wing it the day you need to communicate. A crisis is no time to write a crisis communications plan. Write or revise it on a clear sunny day.

7) A writing retreat is a great way to get a lot of work done in just a few days. That’s the technique that I use in my 2-day program to write a crisis communications plan. Get everyone who needs to be part of the writing team together at one time. Get them out of the office in a retreat setting to write without interruption. Leave the e-mail, phones and Black Berry devices behind.

8) After the communications is written, determine the ways you’ll communicate. Get all the tools lined up. Web 1.0 tools are still some of the best tools.

9) Hold media training for the executive team. Don’t let them wing these messages. There could be touch questions that follow.

10) Hold a crisis communications drill to test your strategy. The time to screw up is in private. You don’t want to screw up the day of the crisis.

Remember, powerful communications before a crisis and rapid communications during a crisis can save lives.
Here are 2 resources to help you prepare. This link takes you to a special podcast on the subject Swine Flu.mp3

Secondly, I’m inviting you to join me for a special teleseminar in just 2 weeks on May 12 at 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time. The teleseminar will be called Swine Flu, Public Relations and You. In it we’ll spend an hour in greater detail talking about the tools you need to be prepared to communicate for what is going to be a hot topic.

Sign up at

Adjusting for Shut Down Newspapers & Laid Off Reporters

By Gerard Braud

As more newspapers shut down and lay off reporters, those of us in PR need to take heed and make a few adjustments.

1) Reporters still on the job have to do more work to make up for those who have been laid off. That means your writing needs to be better than ever before because they have to write more stories and need your help with your story.

2) Write in quotes more. Quotes are the key to a good pitch and a great story. If you need help with your writing ask me about bringing my Kick-Butt Key Message writing class to your workplace.

3) If you need to hires someone, consider hiring a former reporter. They write well, write fast, and understand what kind of a pitch lights a reporters fire.

I’m Trying to Give Away $100 and No One Will Take It

By Gerard Braud

I feel like such the Social Media middle man. Check this out… I was giving a keynote speech to 100 executives who belong to an association. The topic was similar to my upcoming topic at the IABC 2009 Conference, which is New Frontiers in Media Training, which will include Social Media Training — blending Media Training skills with Social Media realities.

I asked if anyone in the room could tell me what I am doing?

I started getting answers such as, “you are giving a speech.”

It was just one more indicator of the generational and cultural gap between the techno savvy Web 2.0 crowd and leaders who don’t have a clue about what is going on in the Social Media world.

I’m guessing every one of you reading this blog knows how to find out what I am doing? Some of you are going there right now to find out.

I told the executives to think beyond what they see in front of them to understand what I am doing. I told them that people around the world could tell me what I was doing without even being here. They were befuddled. 

So I asked if any of them had ever heard of Twitter? A few responded yes. I asked if any of them had a Twitter account? None did. I asked if any of them had a Facebook account? A few hands went up. I asked how many had ever watched a video on YouTube? A few more hands went up this time. I asked how many had ever posted a video to YouTube? Only one person had.

I asked how many in the audience thought I was speaking a foreign language when I used terms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Finally, most raised their hands amid loud laughter.

The lesson here is we have much to teach our executives when it comes to Social Media. Social Media is the new ambush, capable of catching an executive doing something stupid. Social Media is more dangerous than the old style 60 Minutes TV interviews on CBS News in the United States.

I hope you’ll join me in San Francisco at the IABC Conference so we can explore this topic together.

Please post your comments below…

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