Misinformation Alert: Media Training & Crisis Communications Plans, NIMS, Emergency Communications & More from Gerard Braud

Big warning on the BraudCast today.
Big warning as we commemorate September 11th.
Big warning as we remember August 29th, the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Big warning as your kids go back to school.
Big warning for all executives.
Big warning for everyone in public relations.

Why all the warnings?

After September 11th and Hurricane Katrina the Federal government launched a massive emergency communications effort. However, these efforts have little, or anything, to do with PR people communicating with the media, employees and other key stakeholders.

The reason I issue the warning is that many schools, government agencies, hospitals and companies are not doing what they are supposed to be doing… and many executives, government leaders, hospital administrators and school leaders think they now have all the communications tools they need.

They are so wrong.

All of these emergency communications efforts deal with the radio systems that allow first responders to talk with one another during a crisis. RADIO SYSTEMS.

They have nothing to do with communicating the written and spoken word with your core audiences.

Many school systems and many law enforcement agencies around the country spent the summer rolling out what are known as NIMS Emergency Plans. In the program, government buildings and school buildings have all been given special numbers to identify them during an emergency.

One PR person recently told me her boss said he no longer needed Media Training because if there was a disaster, the FBI would be their spokesperson. Another executive stopped a PR department from working on their Crisis Communications Plan because they were part of the new Federal Emergency Communications System.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It frightens me what executives know, what they think they know, what they don’t know, and what they don’t know they don’t know.

For clarification, yes, executives and administrators still need Media Training because in a crisis, they still need to talk to the media, employees and other key audiences. In schools, that means the training needs to include talking with students, parents, faculty and staff. In a hospital it means talking with patients and their families. In a company it means talking with customers as well as the media and employees.

If your event involves first responders, they DO NOT become your spokesperson. Their interest is different than your interest. If a Joint Information Command is set up for news conferences, your spokespeople talk about what you know, while the responders and law enforcement talk about what they know.

Additionally, every organization needs its own Crisis Communications Plan in addition to any NIMS plan, Incident Command plan or Emergency Operations Plan. Those plans ONLY coordinate responders arriving in a timely manner and talking to one another through secure radio systems. They DO NOT include instructions for your written and spoken communications to your audiences. They DO NOT include all of the dozens of pre-written news releases that your crisis communications plan should contain.

I’ve posted new resources in the definitions section of 2 websites, including:
www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com and www.schoolcrisisplan.com

Please forward these to your leadership to educate them.
Please forward the link to the podcast to educate them.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about this and I’m concerned about the misinformation and misconceptions that is out there. Your own Media Training and your own Crisis Communications Plan can save lives through communications prior to a natural disaster, such as communicating evacuations for a hurricane… and during a crisis, such as a school shooting or workplace violence event. You would be using your written and spoken communications skills long before first responders even get involved, while responders are on the scene, and long after they have left the scene.

Here’s today’s call to action. Meet with your leaders and discuss this with them. If your leadership won’t listen to you, I’ll be happy to talk with and explain it. I’m also happy to speak to any association conventions where your leaders may be in the audience. As PR professionals we need to stick together on this and educate our leaders and executives. I’ve updated my website at www.braudcommunications.com with a new keynote called Leadership When “It” Hits the Fan, specifically designed to address some of these issues.

Let’s work on this together. After all, it is our job as strategic communications professionals.

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H1N1 Swine Flu Crisis Communications Plan & Resources

Here are three incredible resources, ranging from Free to very affordable,
to help you with your Fall 2009 communications challenges as:

• Swine flu is escalating
• Budgets are tight
• Staffs are reduced
• Resources are limited

Here they are:

1) Write a full crisis communications plan in just 2-day at 4 locations across America.
• Listen to a 2 minute explanation
• Download a full brochure
• Get more details at www.crisiscommunicationsplans.com
• Call 985-624-9976 to talk it over with Gerard

2) Prepare for your Swine Flu communications with a new teleseminar on demand.
It is available for listening when you are ready for it. Simply place your order now.
• No bad phone connections – No juggling schedules
• Listen on demand when you are ready
• Plus, get 15 minutes of private Q & A with Gerard after you listen

Regular price $199

Order now for just $99

3) Get regular Swine Flu communications updates for Free when you sign up

for the special BraudCasting Swine Flu edition.
Get free audio podcasts delivered directly to your inbox
Sign up for Free at www.braudcommunications.com

I’m here to help. You just need to click before “It” hits the fan.


Media Training, Whole Foods, Health Care Reform & Cow Poop

The most fundamental rule of media training that I discuss with every executive is this: “If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?”

That brings us to Whole Foods and the much publicized letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, about healthcare reform.

… and in just a bit, we’ll introduce you to new media training concepts for this Austin based company, which include folk-style comparisons to bees, hunting dogs and cow poop.

CEO John Mackey laid out 8 steps that he thinks would help solve the healthcare problems in the U.S. His letter inspired a firestorm of debate, as well as calls for boycotts and a FaceBook page dedicated to the boycott.

On Whole Foods own website there is an active forums section discussing Mackey’s letter, with more than 1,800 discussions on healthcare reform and more than 13,000 posts.

So if we posed the question to Mackey before he wrote the letter; if we posed the question to Mackey after writing the letter; if you posed the question to your CEO, does a letter to the editor like this cause a company to make money or lose money? Is such a letter good or bad for business? Does it cost you sales?

In this case, the answer may be that it is a wash. There is an enormous amount of chatter in the media and on the web about Whole Foods, but the chatter seems equal to the rest of the chatter about the healthcare debate. And while some openly profess that they will not shop at Whole Foods, we can’t quantify how many of them were previous customers, nor can we quantify how many new customers will go to Whole Foods because they agree with the CEO’s point.

But here are 2 things that bother me about this entire issue from a media relations and media training point of view.

1) First, as the media have made inquiries about the letter to Whole Foods, the media relations department has been saying that Mackey wrote his letter as a private citizen and not as the head of Whole Foods. In Texas lingo, where Whole Foods is based, that dog don’t hunt. When you are the co-founder and the CEO of a company, when you use your company’s health care plan as an example in your letter to the editor, when you mention your company by name several times and when your letter discusses the importance of eating healthy food as sold in your stores, there is no separating the man from the business. This was clearly a letter from the CEO of Whole Foods. Meanwhile, the Whole Foods online press room is void of any mention of this national story, although their own online forum is abuzz. Apparently the Whole Foods media relations department is running around like a free range chicken with its head cut off. Trying to separate the writer/CEO from the company he co-founded is pure bull.

2) The second problem is that if you stir up a hornet’s nest ya’ gonna get stung. Mackey makes some strong arguments for his position on healthcare reform. The problem is he stirs the hornet’s nest in his opening paragraphs as he compares the Obama plan to socialism, then he kicks the hornet’s nest one more time for good measure at the end when he gets into a debate of whether “healthcare is an intrinsic right” and whether the rights for “healthcare, food or shelter” are part of the U.S. Constitution.

Had Mackey made his points as, “8 things to consider in the healthcare debate,” there would be little or no firestorm and the 8 points likely would have contained no fuel to ignite calls for boycotts.

I can empathize with Mackey because I can be harsh in what I say and what I write. But you are the CEO and you had to realize there would be consequences. The question is, financially, was it a calculated move and did you even care? We’ll find out as we watch your sales and your stock over the next quarter.

I can empathize with the media relations department because I’ve been put in a fix a time or two by CEO’s who fly off at the mouth. But do you even believe your own B.S.? I don’t think you do? Besides, cow manure is best used as an organic fertilizer and not as a media statement.

Overall, in this case, Whole Foods has stepped in it and the stench will linger on their boots for some time.

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Crisis Communications, Michael Jackson & Your Executives

I’ve been wanting to share these thoughts with you since the story first broke about the death of Michael Jackson, but I thought some may consider it insensitive or overtly opportunistic too close to his death. But now that some time has passed, let’s examine what we, as communicators, can learn from the death of Michael Jackson.

The first thing I would ask is whether a Michael Jackson mentality exists in your company and among your executives?

If you consider Michael Jackson, he provided great service to his customers… in other words, his fans loved his music and shows.

At the same time, Michael Jackson did many good works, traveling the world and giving away millions of dollars to charities, especially for children.

But then, there is the negative. The suspicions about whether he had inappropriate relations with children haunts him to this day.

These 2 sides of Michael Jackson polarized audiences.

Furthermore, the death of Michael Jackson, the investigation and the massive quantity of drugs found in his home, indicates that he had a big problem. I would even go so far to say that his advisors probably knew about his dangerous drug addictions and they failed to speak up, take action and do something about it.

I see this very same behavior everyday in corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Many of you work in organizations that have a loyal customer base and give back to the community, but there are those in your organization that simultaneously do things that raise suspicion… sometimes to internal parties; sometimes to the suspicion of the public.

It is a classic case in which you know that someone needs to tell the emperor that he has no clothes, but no one will.

I’ve seen those in the C-suite lose their temper so outrageously, in meetings, to the point that everyone is afraid to speak up, because no one want to be reamed out next. I’ve known of non-profit executives who own businesses or property on the side and have suspicious dealings with their own non-profit, and they have fired those who have questioned those dealings. In the world of government, there are constantly questionable relationships with vendors.

In the world of public relations, media relations and crisis communications, these are classic smoldering crises.

They also put you in the awkward situation of even compromising your own ethics if you fail to speak up. Yet, you also know that if you do speak up, you could jeopardize your own career and possibly get fired.

So what do you do? My first suggestion is that if you can’t fix the problem, you should start looking for a new job. I’ve challenged my bosses before and faced repercussions. When I couldn’t fix it internally, I decided to change jobs. I knew that eventually the company would pay the price for their bad ethics and misguided deeds. My goal was to be long gone so I wouldn’t be tainted by those bad deeds. After leaving I was happier and I always got a significant raise in salary.

If you do find yourself trapped between bad executive behavior and no prospects for a new job, realize that you, as the communicator, may eventually have your good name and reputation smeared when the scandal breaks, affecting your own future.

Does a Michael Jackson mentality exist where you work? If it does, your crisis communications plan may be need of a serious rewrite. Before you begin the rewrite, consider conducting a full blown vulnerability assessment so you can include all of the smoldering crisis that exists. Chances are there are other people in your organization who know of other misdeeds that you may not know of. Many crisis communications plans are flawed because they are only made to deal with a sudden crisis.

Don’t delay. Act now. Move it to the top of your priority list. It’s only a matter of time before your smoldering crisis ignites and everything goes up in flames.

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Obama’s 7 Deadly PR Sins & Brew-ha-ha

It is rather timely that the biggest news story of this past week is among one of the most basic lessons of media training … which is, never speculate.

Media darling and President of the United States, Barack Obama, proved that even the best spokespeople are not perfect… and up until now, he has been close to perfect when it comes to speaking to the media.

Every executive and spokesperson in the world can learn from Obama’s gaff, which we would expect from Vice President Joe Biden, but not from Obama himself. When asked about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates, Jr. by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, Obama weighed in to a story that he should have never touched because he didn’t have all of the facts.

Media Training teaches every spokesperson to never speculate. Obama speculated. The correct answer is and always should be, “I don’t have all the facts and it would be wrong for me to speculate on that.”

But Obama committed a triple sin. Sin one was speculating. His second sin was when he used inflammatory language, indicating that he believed the police department acted, “stupidly.” He let his own, personal emotions about race and racism cloud his judgment and his language. It became his achilies heel and caused him tread verbally into the danger zone.

The third sin is that Obama’s inflammatory statement deflected all the headlines away from his primary news conference and messages about health care. All the work; all the preparation for that news conference on healthcare was for naught.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall, behind the scenes in the White House, when the press secretary realized the sins the President was committing.

Lesson learned? When you have an executive who needs to be media trained, but insists that he or she knows how to handle the media, you can show them how even a media pro like Obama screws up. If he can screw up, so can your overconfident spokesperson. Media Training should be a mandatory for everyone from Director and above, with an annual requirement for a refresher course, and of course, full role-playing before every interview.

And by the way, the offer to have the 2 men involved over to have a beer is sin number 4. It is only prolonging the story and keeping it in the news. Sin number 5 will be the fight over which beer the men drink. Sin number 6 will be the flack from people who don’t think the president is setting a good example by having a beer.

I can hardly wait to see the 7th deadly sin in this saga.

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Tweets on University of South Florida

Interesting Tweets… trying to find out how many students are talking.

Interesting that media, including Ann Curry, are sending Tweets to students.

Other news media giving a live video feed link.

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

Hard to Get News Coverage

by Gerard Braud

Would you believe me if I told you that as you read this more than 2-million U.S. citizens in the nation’s 4th largest city have no water, food, shelter, electricity and other basic human needs – and it is not a big enough story to get news coverage?

When I teach seminars and media training, people always ask me what is the best way to break through the log jam of potential news stories in order to get coverage. I always tell them the story has to have a great hook, it has to stand out above the crowd and it must have Wow! I also emphasize that visuals are important.

This week’s financial meltdown on Wall Street got so much news coverage that many news organizations are giving almost no coverage to the human suffering in Houston, Texas, from Hurricane Ike. KPRC-TV in Houston even complained to Brian Williams at NBC. Williams made mention of the complaint in a 20 second comment, then apologized for not giving more coverage because Wall Street was a bigger story. Wow! Even a network affiliate can’t break through the log jam and they have an inside track and great visuals.

News is often defined by how many readers, listeners and viewers are affected. In this case, the media perceive that 300-million U.S. citizens are affected by Wall Street and only 2-million are affected by the hurricane.

Imagine, if a decimated city in the U.S. can’t get media coverage, how hard is it for the rest of us?

The national media also are quick to cover what’s in their backyard first. In this case, Wall Street is right down the street and is most on a New Yorker’s mind. National media in LA have possibly given more coverage to this week’s train derailment than they have to Hurricane Ike, again because the train derailment is in their back yard.

It’s a vivid lesson about how the media defines what is news.

If you’d like more of my thoughts about news and media relations, I’ve posted a 15-day media relations course to my website. I call it, “Don’t Talk to the Media.” It is yours free at www.braudcommunications.com