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Hurricane Isaac: iReports Before, During and After. Is This Guy Crazy?

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

It is important to evacuate when an approaching hurricane is going to be a bad one. Staying in your home in destructive winds and killer flooding is dumb. Hurricane Isaac was not a strong storm and mandatory evacuations were not called. So, I decided to stay in my home on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, LA, which is 30 minutes north of New Orleans. The storm winds at the eye of the hurricane were just over 75 miles per hour, making it barely a Category  1 hurricane. The eye was forecast to pass 50 miles to the west of me, which meant the winds would not be destructive where I was. The path would push water from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Pontchartrain, resulting in localized flooding from storm surge.

As an experienced storm chaser, my goal was to document the hurricane, from the preparation stage, through the flooding, then through the aftermath and cleanup.

My home is a small cottage, raised on steel 10-foot pilings, with steel beams. Below my house is a carport and storage area that is 5 feet above sea level. That places the floor of my living quarters 15 feet above sea level and makes for a great perch to view mother nature. The storage area is constructed with mandatory breakaway walls, which will wash away in a storm, and they did.

Two days before the hurricane I began to document the flurry of activities and preparations in the community. There were long lines at the gas stations until every pump ran dry. I documented empty grocery store shelves, as water and canned goods were snatched up. At the hardware store I documented long lines as people purchased electrical generators and filled propane tanks.

On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the evening before the storm made landfall, I filed an iReport that showed a calm lake, a green parkway and the green grass in my yard. I explained to viewers that the next day the entire area would be underwater, which all came to pass and made for a great follow up report. That was the iReport that lead CNN Headline News (HLN) producers to ask me to do a live report on Evening Express as the hurricane made landfall on August 29. By then, electrical power had gone out and I was broadcasting live using my iPhone 4, a G3 phone signal, and Skype

Isaac Ireport Gerard BraudThe big surprise with Hurricane Isaac was that the storm stalled and stayed in the same place for nearly 2 days, all the while causing the floodwaters to get higher. A fast moving storm would have come and gone in 12 hours. This one would cause flooding from Tuesday until Sunday.

By the time we hit the air live on Evening Express on the evening of August 29, there were whitecaps rolling down my driveway. After dark I did a live report for the Dr. Drew Show. Shortly after I signed off with Dr. Drew around 9 p.m., I began to hear strange creaking noises in the house. Occasionally there were unnerving vibrations. When I turned on the faucet there was no water. This wasn’t good. #understatement. I grabbed a flashlight and walked downstairs, where I could see that the breakaway walls in the storage areas on my carport began to wash out. As they did, debris in the waves broke the water supply, leaving me without running water. Then I realized that near the water pipes were natural gas lines. #causeforconcern

I phoned a neighbor and asked if I could sleep at his house just in case mine had a gas leak. I shut off all of my pilot lights, blew out all of my hurricane lanterns and candles, grabbed my life vest and paddled my canoe to his house. By this time, the water was so deep I simply paddled over my fence.

Overnight, the eye of the storm began to move again. The morning of August 30th I paddled home to find there was no gas leak, so I filed more iReports showing the damage as the water level dropped some.

I was surprised at how much debris had washed into my yard. Then nature revealed unwanted guests. First, there were 10 alligators swimming in my yard. As it got warm, dead nutria, a large swamp rat the size of a large muskrat, began popping up out of the water. I counted 50 carcasses. As the water drained off further, it revealed a blanket of swamp grass 12-24 inches deep, filled with thousands of snakes. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. Such anomalies mean just one thing: file more iReports and do more live reports for Evening Express and Dr. Drew.

For me, the beauty of iReports is the ability of ordinary people to take their stories right to the world’s leading news network. News happens fast and there isn’t always a professional news crew present to capture it. A citizen with an iPhone can capture and report the news even when no news crews are around.

Gerard Braud Media Training and Crisis Communication with IPad IPhoneYou should each have an iReport. If you are a Public Information Officer (PIO), Emergency Manager, or public relations expert for a company, government agency or non-profit, you should certainly have an iReport account. In the next few articles you will learn how to establish your account, as well as how to produce news worthy videos.

Final notes

#1 Thank you for voting and sharing the voting link in your social media

#2 I would be honored to teach you the specifics of iReports as a conference presentation or as a private training program. Just download this PDF, then call me.

 

 

 

 

How a Guy in Mandeville, Louisiana Became the Source of Breaking News

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.)

IMG_0470* copyAs you read this, please be so kind as to also click this link to vote for me as CNN’s iReporter of the Year…  I’m one of 36 finalists and your 30 seconds of support is greatly appreciated.

Over the next few days you will learn the background story of how I was selected by CNN.  If you come back to this blog daily, you will learn secrets about how and why you should also be crazy about iReports and using smart phones and tablets to broadcast to the world.

CNN is recognizing me for a series of reports I filed about Hurricane Isaac 2012.

With 7 feet of floodwater surrounding my home and no electricity for 5 days during Hurricane Isaac, I was able to broadcast live to CNN using only my iPhone, G3 and Skype. Amid the rain, heat, waves, snakes, alligators, debris and dead animal carcasses, I kept broadcasting.

Because of the reports I filed from August 26-September 2, 2012, CNN producers chose my reports out of all the reports filed by 11,000 iReporters in 2012, to be recognized for continuing coverage of breaking news. The reports were seen both on the CNN iReport website and they were broadcasted by CNN and HLN to viewers around the world.

These reports took viewers into places that even CNN news crews couldn’t reach with their million dollar satellite trucks and $60,000 HD cameras.

Wow. #crazyflattered #makesmymomproud #thisisfriggincool. It is so cool to be nominated by CNN.Isaac Ireport Gerard Braud

Hopefully the experiences you will read about here will help you understand why you should be a part of iReports. You will also learn step-by-step how to do what I do.

I have been a CNN iReport evangelist since the program began. During 4 major weather events my iReports have been broadcast on CNN and on multiple occasions have lead to live broadcasts.

The first time was when I witnessed a funnel cloud during Hurricane Gilbert. I simply uploaded a short iReport with no narration to CNN. CNN showed it, then my phone rang. A friend in California called to warn me there were tornadoes near me and he had just seen it on CNN.  Ha. Funny how that worked.

CNN Ireport gerard braud snowOn December 11, 2010 we had an unusual 5-inch snow fall in the town I live in, near New Orleans. I had not sent out Christmas cards yet, so with my point and shoot camera I made a short news video about the snow, then wished everyone Merry Christmas. I uploaded the video to iReports. Their producers vetted the report and confirmed it was real. They edited off my Christmas greeting, then used the rest of the video all day long to run before every weather report. That was really cool.

CNN asked me to do a live report via Skype, but that got canceled because of breaking news. That was the day the body of Caylee Anthony was found in the woods, leading to the murder trial of the child’s mother, Casey Anthony.

In August of 2011, Tropical Storm Lee came through New Orleans and my little town of Mandeville, LA. A week before, I had moved into a new house on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The storm surge filled my yard with 5 feet of water. Using my iPad and WiFi, I shot a 90 second news report, then uploaded it to iReports. Within minutes, producers were asking me to do live reports. With an iPad as my broadcast camera and WiFi as my broadcast channel, I was on the air for 2 days.

These 3 events set the stage for Hurricane Isaac in August 2012 and the series of reports for which I was nominated. You will learn more details in our next article.

 

 

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.

 

Dark Day Crisis Planning Must Begin on a Sunny Day

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159

Few organizations in the world face the communications challenges of America’s Rural Electric Cooperatives.

On any given day customers could be protesting over electric rates. Workers could be under attack for disconnecting service. Board members could be scrutinized for per diems, travel or expenses. Add to that the growing influence of negative social media comments and big city media covering more co-op controversies, and you have a storm brewing. That storm demands effective communications from all executives, board members, and co-op public relations teams.

Here are three steps every cooperative should take:

Step 1: Annual Media Training with Good Key Message Writing

There is no excuse, in this modern age of media, for any executive, board member or public relations person to mess up when talking to the media. But it still happens.

Many rural people tend to be friendly, honest and sometimes too chatty. Unfortunately many executives, board members and public relations people mistake the gift of gab for the ability to be an effective communicator with the media. Many board members mistakenly believe the respect they get from their status in their communities will transfer to respect from the media. That isn’t true. The fact is many of the habits you have in everyday conversation have to be avoided when talking with a reporter.

Don’t worry, there is hope. The secret is to set aside one day every year to sit down in front of a television camera with a media training coach to practice realistic interview scenarios.

Since most reporters really do not fully understand the history and inner workings of cooperatives, your media training must adopt the newest innovations in training. Never settle for training that provides only bullet points as talking points. This outdated method leads to bad ad-libs and ugly quotes.

Modern training requires a library of pre-written quotes, learned and internalized by each executive, board member and spokesperson. When written properly, internalized, and practiced, these verbatim sentences provide context, information and strong quotes.  These are all elements reporters need in their story. Also, when written in a conversational sentence structure, these sentences are easy to work into everyday conversations by leaders and employees alike.

Consider that many executives who are interviewed complain that they are taken out of context and misquoted. A well-worded, pre-planned opening sentence delivered by the spokesperson can serve as a pre-amble statement that provides context to your cooperative’s goals and purpose. This forever eliminates the issue of being taken out of context.

With annual media training you will be a good spokesperson for good news, as well as when you have to speak to the media during a crisis.

Step 2: Write a Strong Crisis Communications Plan

The worst time to deal with a crisis is during the crisis. The best time is on a clear sunny day.

  • During good times, your cooperative must conduct a vulnerability assessment to identify all potential crises.
  • You must write a crisis communications plan that chronologically tells you every step you must take to effectively communicate during the crisis.
  • You must write a preliminary fill-in-the-blank statement to use in the first hour of your crisis when facts are still being determined.
  • You must create a more detailed news release style statement for each potential crisis that you identified in your vulnerability assessment.

If you identify 100 potential crises, then you need to write 100 potential news releases, using evergreen facts, fill in the blanks and multiple-choice options. This is best done through a facilitated writing retreat with your communications team.

A classic mistake cooperatives make is to prepare communications only for natural disasters, power outages and worker injuries. A modern crisis communications plan must also cover smoldering crises such as executive misbehavior, discrimination, financial mismanagement, per diems, and even crises involving social media.

When pre-written on a clear sunny day, these documents are ready for quick release to the media, employees, customers, the Internet and other key audiences. This process is not easy and is time consuming, but it pays huge dividends during your crisis. Many organizations experience a crisis, then in the midst of it, look at a blank word document and try to spontaneously draft a statement. The statement then goes through unprecedented scrutiny and rewrites, resulting in massive delays. In the modern age of fast communications, this is lunacy. You should never put off until tomorrow what you can write today.

Writing your Crisis Communications Plan is the perfect way to get all employees, executives, and board members on the same page. On a clear sunny day you can all agree on the policies and procedures that need to be followed for effective crisis communications. Make sure your plan goes beyond standard operating procedures.  Also, make sure it doesn’t rely on only the expertise of your public relations team. The plan must be so thorough that nothing in the process is forgotten, yet easy enough to understand and follow that it can be executed by anyone who can read.

Step 3: Hold an Annual Crisis Drill

Too many cooperatives make the mistake of thinking their executives can wing it in a crisis. They think a gift of gab equates to being a great spokesperson. They also think that knowledge of the business equips them to manage a crisis and the communications for that crisis.

The secret to getting it right on your darkest day is to set aside time on a clear sunny day to hold a crisis drill. During your drill your emergency managers can run a table-top exercise. Your communications team and executives act out a real-time exercise, complete with news conferences, using role players to portray the media.

When done correctly, a drill exposes bad decision-making, bad behavior and outright incompetence among responders, spokespeople and those in leadership roles. Conversely, annual drills teach your team members how to effectively work together during a crisis. Team members are taught to achieve effective communications while also working to end the crisis.

As your facilitator prepares your drill scenario, make sure you include realistic elements of social media, since social media can spread good and bad news faster and further than the reach of traditional media.

Conclusion

As more cities sprawl into rural areas, they bring more homes and electric customers into your cooperative territory. The sprawl also brings more media attention and more scrutiny of your operations.

The best way to prepare for the increased attention you will get, is to plan on a clear sunny day and never to wait for the dark clouds to roll in.

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About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC has helped organizations on 5 continents communicate more effectively with the media, employees and customers in good times and bad. He facilitates writing retreats and workshops to help cooperatives write and complete their crisis communications plans in just 2 days. He also trains cooperative board members and leaders on how to become effective spokespeople.

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.

 

Prescriptions for Great Media Interviews: Secrets You Need to Know Before Talking to Reporters

By Gerard Braud

Braud MDU3 copyThe doctor’s resume was impressive. It demonstrated a successful practice, plus a history of research and teaching. The ABC News program 20/20 wanted to do a story about the doctor’s research. The teaching hospital selected me to be the media trainer.

After the best research possible, to prepare, I called the public relations department at the doctor’s hospital.

“What exactly does this person do?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” said the public relations director. “That’s why we hired you.”

“Hum? This is going to be a challenge,” I thought.

The media training class began as normal, with the doctor being recorded on camera for a baseline interview, to evaluate the spokesperson’s natural strengths and weaknesses. The baseline interview is usually followed by a critique and suggestions for good key messages that will help guide the interview.

There was just one problem. After the baseline interview, I still had no idea what the doctor was saying. No matter how I tried to get the doctor to simplify the information, we were getting nowhere, until the fourth hour.

Yes, it was four hours into the day when I sketched out a simple diagram with a cause and effect explanation. I presented it to the doctor and asked,  “Is this what you do?”

“That’s perfect,” The doctor responded.

“Then why didn’t you say that four hours ago?” I asked.

“Well what would my peers think?” the doctor replied. “I don’t want to dumb it down.”

“The goal of this interview is to put butts in your waiting room and money in your pocket,” I replied. “We’re not here to impress your peers. We’re here to talk to potential patients.”

Many medical professionals fall into this same trap. They are afraid to “dumb it down.” The truth is, you don’t need to dumb it down, but you need to simplify it.

With that said, let us examine three great rules for more effective media interviews.

Gerard-Braud-Author-BookRule #1: Don’t talk to the media, but rather talk to the media’s audience.

Spokespeople mistakenly put reporters on a pedestal. The reality is, most reporters are generalists who know a little about a lot and can make an audience think they are smarter than they really are. Don’t try to talk at a high level. Besides, the reporter isn’t your audience.

Your audience is made up of the people at home. Research tells us the average person watching television has a 6th grade education and the average person reading a newspaper or other written source has an 8th grade reading level.

This means that anything you say must be said at a 6th grade level if you want to be a great communicator. You don’t win prizes for using big words. Additionally, never give too many details.

Many spokespeople shun this advice, saying they don’t want to “dumb down” their information. The best mindset you can adopt is the same one learned through diversity training, which is to respect all people and to be inclusive of all audiences.

Also remember, when you use big words and technical terms, often the reporter has no idea what you are saying. Which leads us to the second rule, based on how little most interviewers know about your topic.

Rule #2: You should always know the first words that will come out of your mouth.

The goal is for you to know two great sentences that instantly adds context to your interview and simultaneously states a great quote.

The two most often heard complaints by spokespeople after interviews is that they were taken out of context and their best stuff was left on the cutting room floor. That will never be the case when you follow this rule. These first two sentences become a verbal headline.

Many spokespeople reject this rule. First, they don’t believe you can know what to say without knowing the question they will be asked. Secondly, they don’t want to sound scripted or rehearsed.

Here is a confession from my 15 years as a journalist, combined with a revelation from 20 years as a coach to spokespeople. Think AED Hears sign_633back to your last media interview. While you were talking, were you partially wondering what the next question would be? Confession: when I was a reporter and my guest was blabbing, I was wondering what my next question would be, because their answer was rambling, full of jargon, too detailed, or lacking quotes.

The revelation is that both the reporter and guest are wondering what their next question is and no one is concentrating on the current answer. This creates an amazing opportunity. Your pre-planned answer will provide context to all you believe about your subject, it will be quotable, it alleviates the jitters about not knowing what to say, and it becomes a preamble to eventually answering the question you were specifically asked.

Furthermore, when written for the mouth and ear, and used in daily conversation following your media training, your pre-planned sentences become internalized and never sounds rehearsed. In fact, you will sound spontaneous and natural.

Rule #3: Talk about the benefit you bring to your patients and not the scientific details. Focus on what’s in it for them and work to manage their expectations.

If you think details are important, do a quick self-examination. When you read the newspaper, do you read every story? No. Of the stories you read, how often do your read until the end? Often you don’t. Chances are you read the headline and the first few paragraphs.

So, if you are not interested in everyone else’s details, what makes you think people want to know your details?

Finally, remember that media training is designed to let you mess up in private so you’ll be great when the real interview happens. In a career where perfection is expected, it takes humility to subject yourself to training. But the most effective communicators train at least once a year and before every interview.

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About the author: Gerard Braud is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. He is a media training expert who helps spokespeople communicate more effectively. Braud has appeared on TV more than 5,000 times and been quoted in more than 500 publications around the world.

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 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.