Set Up Your CNN iReport Account on a Clear Sunny Day

By, Gerard Braud

{Editor’s note: In 2013, CNN selected me as one of their top iReporters, out of more than 11,000 iReporters. This is part of a series of articles about how you can be a good iReporter and how to make CNN iReports a vital part of your crisis communication and media relations strategy.}
IReport Voting page

CNN iReports should be added to the crisis communications, media relations and social media tool kit of every corporation, government agency, and non-profit organization in the world. Should your organization experience a significant crisis that gets significant media coverage, iReports are your direct path to adding perspective and official information about your breaking news story.

Just as most of you have established an account at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, you should have an account pre-established at www.cnn.com/ireport so it is ready to use if you need it. Unlike other social media sites, you will use this one less often.

The set up process is fast and simple. If you have created any online profile in the past you can figure it out and complete the task in 5-10 minutes.Isaac Ireport Gerard Braud

Some leaders and executives may question whether the company needs an iReport account. My philosophy is that if you experience a newsworthy crisis, you have two options.  You can either have your story told by an unofficial eyewitness on the street that has an iReport account or you can provide better video, more factual details, and dispel rumors.

Shortly after your video is filed, a team of CNN iReport producers will watch your video. if they like it, they label it as vetted by CNN. The link is then shared with producers for the various CNN news programs. If those producers like it, they may place all or part of the video on the air in their news program. If your video proves that you have great visuals, a compelling perspective and compelling information, expect to get a phone call from CNN producers, asking you to do a live report via Skype, using your computer, smart phone or tablet.

You will learn more about how to properly produce a newsworthy CNN iReport in an upcoming article. But before we go into depth on that, your assignment is to set up your official account right now.Gerard Braud Media Training and Crisis Communication with IPad IPhone

(And if you haven’t yet done so, please click here to vote for my iReports in the iReporter of the year category. You can vote once every 24 hours and your friends and social media buddies can vote too.)

About the author: Gerard Braud has been nominated as iReporter of the Year for his In Depth coverage of Hurricane Isaac in 2012. During the hurricane his home was surrounded by 7 feet of water and he had no electricity for 5 days. Yet before, during and after the storm, he continued to file Live reports using only his iPhone and Skype. His day job is traveling the world teaching effective communications, media training and crisis communications workshops at conferences and in private corporate settings.

 

 

Crisis Communication Priorities for a Sudden Crisis

(Writer’s note: Please take 15 seconds of your time to vote for me to win a CNN I-report award for my in-depth storytelling and reporting on Hurricane Isaac.  With your vote, I can win the Community Choice Award. Your first vote is greatly appreciated, but to make an even bigger impact you can vote everyday until May 6th.  Click here to Vote. )

By Gerard Braud

Media_Relations_CamerasIf you experience a crisis that results in the mainstream media wanting to cover your story, your highest priority crisis communications outlet should be talking to the media. In the vast majority of cases, you should want to have a live human being talking before the media, and not relying on a simple printed statement, e-mail or even social media post.

It works like this: If your crisis is big enough to command media attention one of two things will happen; the media will spontaneously show up at your door or you need to call a news conference and address the media about your crisis.

In a sudden crisis, such as a fire and explosion, or a school shooting, panic and chaos are likely to follow. The fastest way to settle panic and chaos is to calm emotions with a spokesperson that has command of his or her emotions, command of his or her words, and can demonstrate some degree of competence and control.

Many organizations think a written statement is sufficient. It is better than nothing, but those are cold words. A spoken statement is better than a written statement of cold words is. Audio of the written words creates warm words. Audio allows you to convey emotion. Best of all is a person with warm words appearing in person or captured on tender video. The look on a person’s face conveys more emotions than his or her words alone.

In the case studies I have mentioned in previous articles, including at Virginia Tech, at the University of South Florida, at Dominos Pizza, a human being before the media or on video could have made a huge difference in the first hour of the crisis.

The size of your communications department comes into play, as you determine whether you have enough people to record a podcast or web video. If you select podcasting and web video, keep in mind that sites like YouTube limit the length of what you post.

Add to your to-do list time to reflect upon what your technical capabilities are for using social media in the form of podcasting and web video.

Next on my priority list after the spoken word, is posting your information to your website… the website that you control. Next, a series of mass e-mails must be sent to various groups of stakeholders. These stakeholders will include the media, employees, and then groups specific to your organization, such as customers, parents, students, patient families, government officials, etc. If e-mail is down, you will have to contact some of those people by phone as a Plan B. If phones are down, you will have to have a Plan C.

Add to your to-do list the need to make sure you have those lists made on a clear sunny day. Have the e-mail addresses in group folders for fast e-mail notifications. Also, have a full written, printed version in your plan.

It should be noted that I have a strong belief that all audiences are equal and that you need to reach all audiences simultaneously, or as close to simultaneously as possible. When I first started writing crisis communications plans in 1996, my top priority audience was the media because, at the time, the media were the messengers to the masses. Back then, if a company needed to talk with their employees, the easiest way to do so was to put them in front of a television. Technology has changed that drastically.

There are so many ways to talk directly to your employees and key stakeholders. This means that in many respects you can circumvent the media and how the media might interpret the information before sharing it with your audience. Technology at your disposal includes e-mail and websites, plus reverse 911 phone call capabilities, plus text messaging and more.

One problem that many organizations face is that their IT, or Information Technology departments, severely limit who has the ability to update the corporate website. This can be a fatal flaw if you do not have the ability to update your website.

I recently heard a speaker with a public relations firm present a case study lauding how she and her client so masterfully used Facebook and Twitter to reach out to their community during a crisis. When I asked how they used their own website, their answer was, “well, we didn’t have the ability to use our website, so we had to use Facebook and Twitter.” Whoa?! Really? What that tells me is that both the PR person and the communicator at the company did not have a crisis communications plan in place. Instead, they selected to wing it. It says to me that these are people who failed to plan. When you fail to plan, plan to fail.

Add to your to-do list the need for a meeting with your IT department to make sure you have access to a portion of your website so that you can control the content of information regarding your crisis.

In a previous article I discussed how a WordPress blog template is your best tool for fast web updates.

Controlling the flow of information on your website and getting it posted quickly requires a number of things. Previously I mentioned that every one of my plans has dozens of pre-written crisis communications templates. Each one of those templates can be:

a) given to your spokesperson to read to media on site

b) given to a spokesperson from human resources to read to employees if an employee meeting is called

c) can be posted in its entirety to your website

d) can be e-mailed to your key audiences, while still including a link in the e-mail that brings everyone back to your website

To speed the process of posting to your website, you can create what is often called dark pages. These are web pages that are written and coded and sit unpublished. When you need them, you simply hit publish and the information is up for the world to see. This is also covered in more detail in my previous article about using WordPress.

AirplaneMany major organizations do a poor job of being ready to use their websites. I find airlines to be among the worst. On September 11, 2001, neither American nor United Airlines were ready to use their website for crisis communications. In January 2009, during the miracle on the Hudson landing by US Airways, the company was still more focused on selling tickets on their website than informing the world about their crisis. The US Airways website, to their credit, had a hyperlink on their home page, which I recommend. The link took you to a page in the corporate newsroom with more information, which I also recommend. However, on subsequent visits to the home page, the hyperlink would disappear. If you tried to navigate with the back button to the home page, the home page defaulted to a ticket reservations page. Overall, it was a frustrating experience trying to get first hand information about the unfolding event. If you frustrate your visitors, they will get their information from other sources, which may be less reliable, yet more accessible than your site.

Add to your to-do list the need to convert your pre-written templates into dark pages that are ready to be used quickly.

As mentioned in previous articles, a blog is easy to use and gets high rankings in search engines. It allows you to store many unpublished pages, which are just one click away from being published. Also, search engines place a high value on your blog because a blog is treated as though it is the most current news on the web. Furthermore, the title you place on your blog is quickly picked up by search engines. Hence, if my crisis is food tampering at Dominos, my blog headine would be Dominos Pizza – Food Tampering – Employee Hoax. Simply think of the words that your audience would put in a search engine and use those words in your headline. Don’t sanitize the words in the headlines because the search engines need to see the words that the web searching audience would use.

Additionally, a blog gives you the ability to open the conversation through the comment section of the blog, if you’d like. There are other benefits that you can achieve by using a blog on a regular basis. Industry bloggers and trade publications will follow your blog and use it daily, as well as on the day of the crisis. Add to your to-do list to have an official blog.  Many corporations still are of the opinion that a blog is a bad thing because they don’t want to hear the nasty things customers say about them.

 

Crisis Communication Priorities for a Smoldering Crisis

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159As you look at crises, recognize that some crises are sudden, while others are smoldering crises. A smoldering crisis has the potential to get worse with time. You also have the ability to defuse a smoldering crisis and make it go away before it ignites.

From the perspective of the media, you can make the crisis look like a non-story. The way to make your story a non-story is to show competence, communicate in a timely manner and communicate quickly. Let’s look at two case studies.

The first case study was during the 2008 presidential elections. CNN had pegged a county in Colorado as the biggest battleground, barometer county in the country. This county would be the next Dade County, their election process would be the next hanging chad, and the spokesperson would be the next Catherine Harris.

Critics claimed was that the county was ill equipped to handle pre-election day early voting.  There could be problems with the voting machines and how the votes are counted.

From a crisis management standpoint, we worked with election officials to make more voting machines available. From a crisis communications standpoint, we were up at the crack of dawn as new voting machines were put in place. Sure, we could have issued a statement… and we did. We made the decision to use YouTube to show the voting machines being set up. Seeing is believing. The voters appreciated it and the media appreciated it. Since the media didn’t want to send camera crews out at their cost at the crack of dawn, we made it easy for them to visually cover the story by using your video on YouTube.

In the process, we showed that the county was competent and going the extra mile. In the end, the media gave up their harsh predictions and took their negative news coverage elsewhere. Social media played a strong role in making a negative story go away.

Add to your to-do list to take the time to be ready to use YouTube by making a YouTube Channel now. Make sure you have an iPhone, iPad or other similar smart device that allows you to quickly shoot and post videos. You may need to learn some basic video editing skills as well.

Along the lines of making a story go away with social media via YouTube, allow me to present my case for the Tiger Woods story. When Tiger Woods had his late night accident at the end of 2009, in his own driveway, it raised a lot of questions. I’ve long said that if you don’t tell your story, the media will think you are hiding something and they will go digging. I also constantly emphasize that you need to be ready to make a statement within one hour of the point at which a crisis goes public. Is it likely Woods, after an accident, would issue a statement quickly? Not likely. An athlete of his stature has “people” and a public relations team. I would expect the team to at least have a statement ready for the first news cycle. Instead, days went by before Woods issued a statement, leading to swirling rumors.

Sandy Hook ImageAccording to the Braud belief system, the power of social media, and especially YouTube, could have done wonders for Woods. When a celebrity goes into hiding, they have something to hide. When they hide, the media go looking for a story. I think a short YouTube video that said, “Hi, this is Tiger Woods. Last night, after a late night playing cards with the guys at my country club, I was involved in an embarrassing car wreck, in of all places, my own neighborhood. I hit a fire hydrant, then pulled forward abruptly and hit a tree. To say the least, this is embarrassing. I appreciate your concern and appreciate your understanding if I let this short video suffice as my statement for now.”

Without seeing and hearing from Tiger, rumors of a marital spat and girlfriend turned into a sex scandal with more than a dozen girlfriends. There is a good chance the bigger story would never have been explored if Woods had come forward and let us see him early.

In the process of presenting my case for a YouTube video for Woods, some have indicated that Woods may have actually been injured, perhaps by his wife hitting him with a golf club. I don’t know the facts about any possible visual cuts to Tiger’s face, but even if I have to shoot the video with a bandage on my face, I would do it and explain the bandage in the video.

The Tiger Woods case study has evolved over the years, but regardless of the facts today, we can consistently observe that saying nothing made the news coverage worse.

Let’s also take a minute to talk about how social media works better for celebrities, than it does for many companies. Celebrities have fanatical fans. Celebrity fans want to follow facebook-like-buttoncelebrity tweets, Facebook fan pages and YouTube channels. A manufacturing company or other business may be able to attract some fans, but you don’t have the same advantage as celebrities for reaching out via social media in either good times or bad. Let’s face it, do you think I really want to sign up for the fan page for a chemical plant? For more thoughts on people wanting to follow you, please visit my article about being a social media hypocrite.

In our next article, we’ll look at one big oil company and how they attempted to use social media during their crisis.

 

What Are the Secrets to a Crisis Communications Plan?

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

Braud Communications Training web photoIt is critical to pick the right tools for crisis communication and your crisis communications plan.

The right fit for crisis communications includes your official website, and a mix of crisis communications channels, placed in a priority and used according to that priority. That priority needs to be established during the planning stages of writing your crisis communications plan. That priority needs to be established on a clear sunny day, when emotions are low, anxiety is low and everyone has clarity of thought and purpose. That priority needs to be tested during crisis communications drills, so that everyone in the organization will trust the crisis communications plan and not second guess the plan on the day of your crisis.

Generally my priorities are:

1) Talk to the media on site (If there are media onsite)

2) Post information to your official website

3) Send an e-mail to all employees with a link to the website and a complete text of what is said on the website

4) Send an e-mail to other important stakeholders

5) Post short messages to your official Facebook & Twitter pages with a link to your primary website

youtube6) Post a YouTube video with your official statement

During the planning stages, let me establish the fact that size matters. By size, I mean the size of your communications team. The organizations that use my crisis communications plans vary in size. The Internal Revenue Service has a huge staff of communicators across the U.S. There are global organizations that have employees all over the world, but some have only one or two people on their global communications staff.  There are national retailers with a staff of two. There are manufacturing companies that have no communications staff at all. Therefore, when I say size matters, which tools you use and in which priority you use them is directly dependent upon how many people can help you during a crisis.

If a company has only one communicator on staff, it is difficult to do the basics of a news conference, web statement post and e-mail, and still have time to deal with social media. If a company has no trained communicator, they may have difficulty getting a statement on the web and updating social media at all.

Since so many companies have no trained communicators on staff or because they have only one or two communicators, every crisis communications plan I write is created with a failsafe mechanism. This mechanism takes into account that the person executing the plan may have zero training. I have colleagues in the communications world who disagree and believe that plans should be written for communicators only. That is a flaw, first because is failure to recognize some companies have no designated communicators. Secondly, it is a failure to realize that, in some crises, the communicator may be out of pocket and unable to execute the plan.

Your plan must be so thorough that it dictates that you sequentially do everything that a seasoned, senior communicator would do in a crisis. At the same time, it must be so clearly written that anyone who can read and follow directions can execute it. This is a much more difficult plan to write because it must be thorough, yet simple, while at the time not being simplistic.

When I first set out to write such a plan, the first draft took 150 hours and the second draft took another 100 hours. At 250 hours of writing, I tore it down with the goal to make it easier to execute yet impossible to screw up. That plan now has 1,500 hours of development in it and guess what? It is a living plan, which means it continues to evolve and grow.

I consider plans that state only standard operating procedures to be too simplistic and dangerous.  This is because there are no mandates to take action in the plan and there are no timelines that must be met in the plan. You can find them online just by searching for crisis communications plans. Many universities use these flawed plans. On the day of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, the university had just such a plan.

Virginia Tech Shooting - Gerard Braud blogThe Virginia Tech plan had not been updated in five years, which means it wasn’t a living plan. It contained no names or contact information for anyone. It had no pre-written statements. The directions were so simple that the entire plan looks like it could have been written by a freshman PR student on their first day in class. The plan simply listed standard operating procedures.

Meanwhile, the thorough yet simple approach I advocate embeds the standard operating procedure with a list of chronological steps to take. It has specific instructions to communicate at specific time intervals. It includes a statement within one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, and again at the beginning of the second hour of the crisis, if it is an ongoing crisis.

Take a moment to add to your to-do list time to review your plan and ask yourself if your plan is a simplistic list of standard operating procedures that can only be executed by a trained communicator. If it is, add to your to-do list the need for a major re-write.

If you have questions, I welcome your phone call. I’m at 985-624-9976. My two-day workshop to write and complete your crisis communications plan is the fastest way to get what you need.

 

Be a Control Freak with Your Crisis Communication

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

Braud MDU3 copyBy Gerard Braud

Your first choice when “it” hits the fan should be to use the crisis communications channels that you have the greatest control over, that reach the broadest audiences, and that offer you the greatest stability.

Many people think you can’t control the media, but I have a long track record of controlling the media with spokespeople that I have put through a thorough media training class.

Good media training means going far beyond developing three key messages. I think the three key message system is bull. Simply giving an executive three bullet points and asking them to talk and ad lib about those issues as much as possible in an interview is often a recipe for disaster. Many are not naturally gifted at filtering their words on the fly. Many might hit the bullet points, but phrase their answers in a negative nature, rather than in a positive sentence structure.

Ask yourself, why would you ask a spokesperson to completely ad lib an interview with bullet points, when you could achieve better results by giving them time to internalize, carefully worded sentences with a positive sentence structure?

I believe that the key to successful media training is being able to tell a deep story. The story should be filled with quotes from the minute your spokesperson opens their mouth. The spokesperson should be trained to end each answer in a place that creates a cliffhanger, and generates a question that they want to be asked. To that extent, you control the message, you control the questions, and therefore you also control the media.

I’ll get to my priority list of tools later, but first let’s look at a case study that shows the dangers of depending upon social media and why it is a bad fit.

Twitter over capacityHave you ever gotten the smiley whale page on Twitter? It’s the page that says Twitter is over capacity. If you are depending upon Twitter to handle your crisis communications and Twitter is over capacity, you are screwed. In a crisis, chatter increases on both land based and cell phone networks, as well as on social media sites. Making social media a high priority is a bad idea because the probability exists for those tools to fail you when you anticipated that you would need them the most.

The next reason I think social media is a bad fit is because the sites and profiles are so very easy to hack. This happened to Burger King recently. Gerard braud burger king hackTheir entire account was hacked. Read more about it in one of my previous articles.

Beyond the straight Twitter hack, in seconds someone can create a profile with a name that is similar to your profile, causing confusion for the social media audience. Additionally, security is low on social media sites. Virtually everyone I know who uses Facebook has received a direct message from a friend who is allegedly in London, has been allegedly mugged, and who is allegedly asking you to wire money to them because their credit cards and cash have been stolen. This is a hack. The hacker uses deductive reasoning to determine a password.

How many of us have received a Tweet from a friend tells us they made an extra $500 last week and that I can too if I link a website? Or a friend sends a link that says someone has posted a compromising picture of you online. Those messages all came from Twitter accounts that had been hacked. My point is some social media is a bad fit because it is vulnerable to failure and the fix is beyond your control.

Take out your to-do list and schedule time to evaluate which forms of communications are a bad fit and which forms of communications are the right fit.

 

The Media Are Listening in a Crisis

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

Among those listening IMG_0470* copyand fostering social media are the mainstream media. CNN’s i-
Report format is perhaps the most dominant among mainstream media, but other media outlets have their own channels for sharing photos and videos. The same is true for local media.

Because I am a regular contributor to i-Reports during weather events and natural disasters, CNN has turned to me on numerous occasions to provide live, on the air interviews. This is something each of you should be prepared to do should you experience a crisis where you work.

I first discovered the power of i-Report during an unusual snowstorm in New Orleans in December 2008. I posted a 15 second i-Report, which CNN pulled off of the web and aired going into their weather reports. It was shot with a point and shoot digital camera, then uploaded via my laptop. I was able to be on location in the snow where no reporters were and I was able to shoot and upload the video faster than any news crew could. Before any assignments editor could think about sending out a news crew, I had already done the job of the assignments editor, the reporter, the producer, the photographer and the editor. Furthermore, it cost the network nothing to have a timely news report.

CNN liked my video so much that they asked me to do a live report via my laptop web camera. Unfortunately, the live report was cancelled at the last minute because a bigger story broke on the national scene. Minutes before airtime, the body of Caylee Anthony was discovered in Florida, after months of speculation that the child had been killed by her mother, Casey Anthony. But just the same, technology placed me where they had no news crews.  The media’s own social network allowed me to speak and the media listened.

Since then, my i-Reports to CNN in Tropical Storm Lee in August 2011 and Hurricane Isaac in August 2012, resulted in the networkCNN iReport Lee Web asking me to be their correspondent, providing live reports for several days. I’ll explain the technical side of how you can do this in a future article.

In the case of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the Japanese tsunami in 2011, CNN i-Reports allowed CNN have to have reports in the early hours of these crises. However, as the infrastructure of electricity and communications weakened and collapsed, social media tools became less effective for CNN.

There are two events that I consider as game changers in the world of social media, and especially how it brought out of reach crises to the mainstream media.

One is the January 15, 2009 miracle on the Hudson, in which US Airlines flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. What makes this a game changer is that New York is the undisputed media capitol of the world. No single city in the world has a larger collection of global media correspondents. Yet the first official picture used by the media was a Twitter picture taken with an i-Phone by a man who was on a ferry. He tweeted that the ferry was going to rescue survivors and he included a photo. He was there, where no other reporter could be. Additionally, he knew more about the crash than anyone at US Airways corporate headquarters. So, in this case, the company could use Twitter as a way to listen and get updates. It required the airline to proceed with caution as it attempted to verify facts. We must all be careful not to fall victim to a possible hoax or a Photoshopped image.

To verify what the airline saw on Twitter, should the airline start tweeting back? As we’ll discuss a little later, that depends on many other variables.

The second game changer was on April 16, 2007, when a gunman went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech. That day is filled with more crisis communications lessons than we have time to cover in this series of articles. These are lessons I am happy to discuss with you in depth in another forum.  On the day of the shooting, a student with a cell phone innocently stepped outside of a building and came upon police trying to storm a building where the gunman was killing 30 people. The student was so close that you could hear 26 gunshots in his video, which he immediately uploaded as an i-Report to CNN. The student took the global media and their global audiences into a place where no media should have been and where no media could go.

I think we can use these game changers as a launching point to emphasize the need for speed in crisis communications. Among the lessons that we should touch on here is that, had the university had a properly written crisis communications plan, it would have dictated communications within the first hour of the crisis. All of this was covered in a previous article. Add to your to-do list that in your crisis communications plan, it clearly needs to state that your organization will begin communicating with the outside world within one hour or less of any crisis going public.

Most crisis communications plans have no mandates at all. Most crisis communications plans, like the Virginia Tech plan on that day, are fatally flawed because they state standard operating procedures, but contain no mandates or timelines for implementing those standard operating procedures.

In this case, the first shooting happened at 7:15 a.m. and the first communications should have begun no later than 8:15 a.m. Proper communications would have likely cancelled classes and locked down the campus, in which case, the student with the cell phone would never have had the opportunity to stumble across this news event and become an i-reporter. More importantly, communications within one hour would have kept most, if not all, students from entering the campus, which would have prevented the deaths of 30 people.

For the record, the first communications from Virginia Tech came out at 9:25 a.m., which was 10 minutes after the second shooting began. Here you clearly see several compelling reasons why there is a need for speed and why you must always begin communicating within the first hour of the onset of the crisis.

This Virginia Tech cell phone video is further a game changer because the university was so oblivious as to what was happening. They waited a full five hours after the crisis began before sending forth a human to make a public statement. A human should have been making a statement within the first hour. Instead, the world was clamoring about the shooting and the story was being told from everyone’s perspective except the university’s.

For timeline purposes, let us note that Facebook was functioning at that time as primarily a tool exclusive to college students, so the outside world was limited on how much they could look in. Also at this time, Twitter was about to be launched and didn’t play a role in this crisis.

Without getting side tracked on the sins of Virginia Tech, the bottom line is the media monitor social media for breaking news, and in the case of CNN, they have a team of people who are constantly reviewing and vetting i-Reports. If you are not ready to use these tools to control the flow of information about your crisis, expect that eyewitnesses with smart phones will control more of the story than you will.

Tomorrow, I’ll teach you about the tools I use to file my live reports, even when I have no electricity in a hurricane.

 

How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan? Start With the End in Mind

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

Using social media for crisis communications is still our primary discussion. But we needDSC_0159
to discuss one additional aspect of the crisis communication planning process before we dig deeper into social media.

While every crisis is unique, how you communicate during each crisis does not need to be unique. A hospital crisis is different than an oil company crisis. Each would have unique issues identified in their vulnerability assessment. The hospital crisis may range from a wrong site surgery to a pandemic. An oil company crisis may range from an oil spill and water pollution to a refinery fire and explosion. Yet these, and every other organization, could face a crisis such as workplace shooting, a mass injury, a bomb blast, a fire, executive misconduct, embezzlement and a variety of other crises.

In the end, regardless of the crisis, effective communications must take place. Employees will be chattering and clamoring for information. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube may become social media forums for rumors and ranting. The media may be waiting for you to issue a statement or hold a news conference.

My goal for you is that you should be able to issue your first official statement in one hour or less of the onset of the crisis, if it is a “sudden” event. In the age of social media, this is really a long time, because social media chatter will start immediately. The faster the better, but never longer than an hour.

The rules are initially different in a “smoldering” crisis, such as a case of executive behavior, which may be known to internal decision makers before it is made known to the public. All of the rules are the same once the executive behavior becomes known to the outside world.

Either way, the secret to writing a great Crisis Communications Plan is to start with the end in mind. The crisis begins with what I’ll call a flashpoint. What must you do in order to issue your first critical statement to all of you various audiences in one hour or less? How do you gather the information you need? How do you craft the statement quickly? How do you get approval to issue the statement? How to you get the first critical statement out to your audiences?

If there is a school shooting, a workplace shooting, a shooting at city hall or anywhere else in any other type of business, the crisis will unfold the same way. The event will happen, a call will go out to 911, employees and witnesses will begin to communicate via e-mail and social media. Cell phone photos and video will be posted to the web. The media will arrive in about 30 minutes or less and until they arrive, they will be taking photos and videos from the Internet, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. You will need to communicate quickly and accurate and the clock starts running right away.

Let us assume that on your best day, you can have a statement ready for the media in one hour or less. This means you have written your news release and your Crisis Management Team has marked it up with a red pen, demanded changes, and you have made those changes to their satisfaction.

You know on a clear sunny day that this will happen, so take the necessary steps on a clear sunny day to figure this out. The worst time to figure this out is in the throes of your crisis, when emotions and anxiety is high. That is why in yesterday’s article we offered the solution to hold a writing retreat so that you have both pre-written and pre-approved statements.

The Boy Scout motto is, “Be Prepared.” I’ve lived that approach every day of my life. My strategy for writing a crisis communications plan is to make it far more thorough than any plan I’ve ever seen anyone else produce. It’s in my nature to go above and beyond the ordinary. I’ve witnessed too many mistakes in too many crises to not be fully prepared on a clear sunny day for what will happen on the darkest day. It is what makes my plans unique and guarantees communications success by the organizations that hold a license to use my plans.

What I’ve learned through decades of research is that most Crisis Communications Plans are flawed. They simply state, “gather information about the crisis,” rather than going the extra mile to list specific questions that need to be asked. Yes, I can’t make that up. They really say, “gather information about the crisis.”

The plans I write have a detailed list of precise questions you will want to ask in order to a) inform your Crisis Management Team and b) begin to fill in the blanks on your First Critical Statement and get it issued. This will also help you to further customize the pre-written communications templates in the addendum of your plan, that matches the particular crisis at hand.

After you gather the initial information, you must confer with your leadership team, i.e. Crisis Management Team. So, your Crisis Communications Plan needs to contain detailed information about how you will reach the team members. Most Crisis Communications Plans are flawed. They say, contact… and then they have a long list of job titles with no names, phone numbers or e-mail addresses. What a hug flaw. Your Crisis Management Team should only be 4 or 5 people and you need to know every way that you can contact them. And it needs to be in your plan with great detail.

Once you have gathered the facts and consulted with your Crisis Management Team, you need to write you first critical statement, i.e. news release… and get approval from your Crisis Management Team. Your Crisis Management Team needs to approve your pre-written templates for fast release, without major re-writes.

If it is a sudden crisis and there are many facts that are still unknown, but base facts that are known, you should use your First Critical Statement for your first release to the media, your employees and other stakeholders. If it is a smoldering crisis, you may be able to bypass the First Critical Statement, turn to the addendum of your plan, and customize one of your more specific pre-written statements and use it as your release to all of your audiences.

Once the statement is approved, how you release it depends upon how much attention your crisis is already getting. In many circumstances, you may need to call a traditional news conference.

If a news conferences is required, I suggest you follow these steps and outline them carefully in your plan.

1) Begin reading your statement to the media, but do not give them a copy of the statement until after the news conference is over.

2) As your spokesperson begins to speak, publish the statement to your organizations primary website.

3) As soon as your statement is published to the web, e-mail the statement to all of your employees and include a link to the website in the e-mail.

4) If necessary, send identical e-mails to various stakeholder groups.

5) Make posts to social media that include a link to your statement.

Yes… there it is, the priority list. Notice social media is fifth in the suggested line of priority. In this list, tried and true beats shiny and new.

If your crisis is an event that is still unfolding, you need to prepare to issue your next statement. Your goal should be to issue your next, more detailed statement within one hour or less. Therefore, your Crisis Communications Plan must very specifically outline all of the steps you must now take.

It is for this second release that I rely heavily upon my pre-written communications templates.

How detailed should your instructions be in your Crisis Communications Plan?

1) The goal of every one of the plans I create is to be so thorough in directions that nothing is forgotten, overlooked, or falls through the cracks.

2) My goal is for the person executing the plan to read the plan as they go and do exactly what the plan tells you to do. This is a different approach than most people take, but when anxiety and emotions are high, this approach insures communications success.

3) This approach also insures that if a veteran communicator is unavailable to manage the crisis communications, that anyone who can read and follow directions can skillfully execute the plan and issue the necessary communications.

So to recap, you’ve now identified your vulnerabilities, you’ve evaluated your audiences and how they want to receive information, and you’ve studied a three part approach to writing an effective Crisis Communications Plan.

In our next article, we go deeper into our core topic of social media to assess whether it is a viable communications tool for your employer, as well has how social media may be the source of your crisis.

 

How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan with Pre-Written Statements

By Gerard Braud

In crisis communications, you should have two types of pre-written communication Gerard Braud * 15
documents. The first is for fast release, called a “First Critical Statement.” Some companies call these “holding statements.”

The First Critical Statement is a way to tell the world that a) a crisis has happened, b) you know about it, c) your organization is dealing with it, and d) you will provide more information as soon as you have it. To get a free download use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

The second type of statement is much more thorough, which brings us back to your assignment to conduct a vulnerability assessment.

The reason you are asked to conduct a vulnerability assessment is because as a communicator, you may be called upon to issue one or more statements or news releases about any or all of these events.

Referring back to my previous confession of my propensity to always be prepared and to go above and beyond when writing a crisis communications plan, my goal for you is to create a large addendum in your crisis communications plan, where you will have written one document for each crisis you identify in your vulnerability assessment.

Because I’ve written crisis communications plans since 1996, for organizations in every conceivable business, government sector and non-profit sector, I maintain a huge library of pre-written documents. When writing a crisis communications plan with clients, we convene a writing retreat with a team of writers. The outcome is that we customize templates using a proprietary writing technique. The end result is that at the end of the day, your crisis communications plan addendum is quickly filled with 75 to 100 pre-written documents.

The documents contain a series of multiple choices and fill in the blank options, mixed with factual statements that are true today and will be true on the day of the crisis. The document provides great context, the appropriate degree of remorse or contrition, plus great quotes designed to drive public and media perception.

Because these are written on a clear sunny day when emotions are low and anxiety is absent, we are able to produce a better document than the one you might right when you are under a crisis deadline with high emotions.

Additionally, because these crisis communication documents are written on a clear sunny day, you have ample time for your executive team to read and pre-approve the documents for fast release.

Previously I set for you a goal to communicate effectively within one hour of less of the onset of the crisis. Often, critical life-saving time is lost because executives and lawyers anguish and languish over words in your news release. You then lose valuable time in rewrites. This pre-written and pre-approved approach works wonders and speeds up the entire crisis communication process.

The rule here: One pre-written document for each item in the vulnerability assessment.

Your options are to write them yourself, call on me to hold a writing retreat for you, or hire and agency to write them for you. Pick the one that works best for your, your time budget and your financial budget.

In our next article, we’ll cover the steps you need to take to get from the flashpoint of the crisis to the release of information about your crisis.

How to Write a Crisis Communication Plan? Step One: Identify What Could Go Wrong?

By Gerard Braud

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

The decision to use social media for crisis communications is not a decision you should Gerard Braud Audience 11make independent of considering your holistic approach to crisis communication.

Social media is only one set of tools that may be in your communications tool box. All tools must be considered, including very traditional approaches, including news conferences, news releases, e-mail and your website. In the workshops I teach and at the conferences where I am asked to speak, I often tell the audience that “tried and true beats shiny and new.” And helping you understand the pros and cons of social media in a crisis and what is the best approach for your organization, is the purpose of this series of articles.

My goal is for you to decide what the “right fit” is for you, rather than perhaps the “force fit” that I see many people using.

But before we go further with our discussion of social media, we must lay a solid foundation for crisis communication with a solid Crisis Communications Plan.

If you want to write a successful Crisis Communication Plan, you need to start with the end in mind. This is a two-fold process. Part of the process is to know every crisis your company, school, hospital, chemical plant, refinery, electric company non-profit, or government agency may face. Another part of the process is to imagine how each of these crises will unfold and what you will be called upon to communicate during the crisis. What will the media want to hear from you and when? What will your employees want to hear from you and when? What will your other stakeholders want to hear from you and when? Should social media be part of your crisis communications strategy?

Step one in writing a Crisis Communications Plan is to conduct a vulnerability assessment. I have two different approaches I use with my clients, and you can use either of these approaches where you work. You can either do this on your own or call me for assistance.

Approach one is to schedule visits with many individuals throughout your organization to ask them what they fear may go wrong and cause a crisis. It is important to visit with people from all layers of your organization. What your top executives experience every day will shape their perception of what might go wrong. But there are many people in middle management and entry level jobs who see risks every day that you need to be aware off.

As you gather their thoughts, compile them in a spreadsheet so we can evaluate them further. Cluster them by types of crises, such as natural disasters, criminal, business operations, financial, technical, computer/IT related, or executive misbehavior.

A second approach I use is to facilitate a group meeting with people from each department within the organization. I segregate them by departments at round tables through the room. Each group is lead through a facilitated discussion about what defines a crisis. Next, the groups are asked to discuss and list all of the potential crises within their realm of responsibility. Each group then presents their list of potential crises for the group, so we can engage in discussions about how to deal with these crises. In some cases, we come up with great ways to eliminate problems and change policies or procedures in order to lesson the chance that a specific crisis might happen.

In both approaches, I define a crisis as any event that may affect the reputation and profits of the institution, which may also affect the institution’s ability to serve their customers.

A few words of warning: Risk managers often offer to let you use their vulnerability assessment. The problem with the vulnerability assessment from a risk manager is that they base their responses on high, medium and low probabilities of a crisis happening. In communications, the risk probability is irrelevant. Your job is to communicate any time a crisis happens.

Another warning is that risk managers and emergency operations directors often focus only on production related crises, such as the products made, the services offered, the equipment used, or the direct threats to human health or the environment. Absent from their lists will be things like sexual harassment, discrimination based on race or gender, or embezzlement.

Please don’t let their approach overshadow the approach you must take to plan for and exercise your communication functions.

Please recognize that if there is a fire and explosion, the Risk Management Plan, the Emergency Operations Plan, and the Crisis Communications Plan, will all be executed simultaneously. We call this type of crisis a “sudden” crisis. But if an executive is accused of sexual harassment and the case is getting public attention, neither the Risk Management Plan, nor the Emergency Operations Plan will be triggered. But the Crisis Communications Plan is triggered and must be used. We call this type of crisis a “smoldering” crisis.

A final word of caution: Don’t let the people who use the Risk Management Plan or the Emergency Operations Plan convince your executives that they have everything covered, because they may call their plan a “Crisis Plan,” and confuse it with your “Crisis Plan.” Truth be told, everyone should stop using the term “Crisis Plan” and use 3 specific names for their plans: Risk Management Plan, Emergency Operations Plan (sometimes called an Incident Command Plan), and Crisis Communications Plan.

With that said, we’ll stop for the day and your assignment is to begin your vulnerability assessment.

 

“I Cannot Tell A Lie” — If George Washington’s Quote Applied to Social Media and Public Relations

By Gerard Braud

georgewashingtonYet one more group of public relations and marketing professionals has asked me to speak at their PR & Marketing conference about the wonderful ways social media will allow them to connect and sell to their customers. I love to speak at conferences, but I cannot tell a lie, especially about social media and the return on investment (ROI) for companies.

I cannot tell you to use social media for positive ROI without talking about the negative ROI.

Too many PR and marketing professionals still mistakenly think social media is their magic bullet. The truth is, one size does NOT fit all. One company may get great ROI through social media while other companies will generate zero buzz or attraction.

The reality is, one should never talk about the positive side of social media for sales and marketing without talking about the negative effects of social media. It can destroy an organization’s reputation, which then negatively affects the revenues. Social media is a dangerous double-edged sword that cuts both ways. I’ve spoken at many conferences which focus too heavily on social media marketing, without full consideration of the “the big picture.”

Some organizations and brands are a perfect fit for social media. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chobani Yogurt, which benefited from a huge love fest on social media from people who first discovered the product when it first appeared on store shelves a few years ago. Their following developed organically and company benefited from the loyalty of their customers.

This might not be as true for a bank, hospital, electric company, oil company, etc.

One needs to consider the demographics of the social media audience. Chobani is a darling for the social media active 18 – 32 age group, especially among females.

facebook-like-buttonMeanwhile, many of my clients in the rural electric cooperative sector are in communities consisting of primarily older residents who are less active on social media and who are not constantly using their iPhones for calls, texting, and social media. Many are farmers and ranchers who are working the fields all day and not sitting in front of a computer, laptop, tablet or phone. Also, the rural residents who are young and active on social media don’t want to talk about, or follow, or “Like” their rural electric company, their bank, their hospital, or any of the other industries that don’t understand the true nature of social media.

Despite the success of Chobani on social media, when Chobani had a product recall recently, their brand got beat up by their detractors. Meanwhile, my rural electric co-ops, which get little traffic in good times, get a significant increase in traffic during their crisis events, especially when there is bad weather and a power outage.

In the world of social media, too much focus is on Facebook and Twitter, with not enough emphasis on YouTube and videos, which then requires photographic skills and trained spokespeople. In the world of social media, younger folks are leaving Facebook for Instagram and Pinterest. These forms of social media are even more difficult to use for ROI and sales for service industries, while it might be the best marketing for chic consumer brands. In the world of Twitter, only 16% of the population uses it, which makes it hard to use to reach customers, yet it is widely used by the media during a crisis.

Gerard Braud Audience 11In talking about social media one must be careful that young sales, PR & Marketing professionals who use social media daily, think the entire world is ready to embrace social media. The hypocrisy is that they want to market and sell their companies using social media, while the reality is that they have no personal desire to follow a bank, hospital or electric company on social media. A sales, marketing or PR person is doing a disservice to their organization to think they can significantly generate new customers and spread the world about new lines of business without recognizing that:

a) the demographics may not support their belief

b) the “sexiness” of the product may not support their beliefs

c) social media may have a greater negative impact on ROI than it has a positive impact on ROI.

The reality may be that they cannot justify the investment of their time in social media.

So… yes, I can customize a program for your conference if it is focused on all aspects of social media – the good, the bad and the ugly — but I cannot do a program that tells the audience social media is a rosy, wonderful world.