Lesson 17: What Makes the Media Say Wow! – Commit News

By Gerard Braud

As a reporter, I generally hated going to a news conference or a media event that was about good news. It’s not that I’m opposed to covering good news, it’s just that generally the spokespeople were poorly prepared and the organizers were completely oblivious of the wants, needs and desires of the media.

If you call a news conference or organize a media event, you’d better be prepared to commit news. When someone commits murder, it is usually a pre-meditated act.  Well, good news needs to be pre-meditated as well. You need to commit news.

The litmus test we use in the newsroom is to first ask, “Who cares?” Actually, in most newsrooms everyone curses like sailors, so how we actually phrase the “who cares?” statement is a lot harsher. To pass the litmus test, the answer needs to be that a large portion of our viewing, reading or listening audience care. That’s how news is determined.

Too many good news events fail to meet that basic test of affecting or bettering the lives of a vast number of people in your community. A ribbon cutting is not news. Expanding your facility is not news. The anniversary of when your organization was founded is generally not news. Yet every day, the newsroom is filled with news releases asking the media to cover such events.

It is not news if the event is self-centered and all about how good your organization is. To be news, you must explain how it is good for that broad audience. To quote my wife – it’s not about you. It needs to be about the audience at home watching TV, reading the newspaper or listening to the radio.

For something to be news, you also have to make the media say Wow! That means you need to knock their socks off with a catchy hook, have good quotes and good visuals. Often adding wow means you have good timing and you are able to link your issue or event to something else important in the news. For example, holding a blood drive on a clear sunny day is likely not news, but holding a blood drive to help the victims of a crisis is news. Holding a food drive on a clear, sunny day is likely not news, but holding a food drive to help victims of a major natural disaster is.

I teach a workshop called, “What Makes the Media Say Wow!” My favorite case study in that program is one for a litter clean-up event that I was asked to handle PR for. The event is called Beach Sweep. It is an annual event that organizes thousands of volunteers to fan out along the Louisiana coast to pick up trash that has washed up on the beaches. While the event initially got lots of media attention, after covering the story for several years, media attention had died off.

To add wow I added controversy. In our state legislature there was a huge battle between a group of recreational fishermen and members of the commercial fishing industry. Fishing in Louisiana has a huge economic impact because more seafood is caught in our coastal waters than in any of the lower 48 states. With that said, I called the leaders of the 2 feuding groups and asked if they would both lay their differences aside for one day. I further asked them to call on all of their members to help pick up trash in the coastal waters as they went fishing on Beach Sweep Saturday. They both agreed. I then asked both leaders to act as spokespeople at a media event. These feuding parties standing side by side helped to create the wow I needed.

Next, I needed the event to be visual, so I held it at a boat launch where the fishermen could take reporters out by boat to see the trash problem first hand.

Finally, I provided just enough media training for both spokespeople to teach each a handful of good quotes and how to deflect any probing questions about their ongoing battle in the state legislature. The best quote was crafted by simply asking the fishermen to hold a landing net and to demonstrate how it could be used to pick up trash, while saying, “This landing net is the best tool a fisherman can have this Saturday because you can land a trophy fish and you can use it to pick up trash.” It was what I call a show-and-tell quote. Four TV stations used the same quote, as did one radio station and every newspaper.

I knew going into the event that every reporter was really covering the story hoping to get greater insight on the legislative fight. When asked about the fight, the spokespeople were taught to say, “We’ll talk about that another day. Today we’re here to talk about something that is important to every fisherman, which is to clean up the environment.”

Hence, we committed news, told a story that impacted the economy, every fisherman and everyone who uses the waterways and beaches. That means we had all the pieces of a perfect story. And, to add icing to the cake, every reporter thanked us for making the story so easy to cover because we met their wants, needs and desires by giving them a story with a great hook, great quotes and great visuals.

In summary – be ready to commit news and don’t try to make the news about you, make it about your audience.

In our next lesson, we’ll talk more about how to prepare, media train and practice for an interview being conducted by an investigative reporter.

Lesson 15: How to Structure Media Training

By Gerard Braud

One of the most difficult challenges I have in my job as a media trainer is to get executives to carve out time in their schedule for training. As mentioned in lesson 2, some don’t see the financial benefit. An even greater percentage are afraid of what ever embarrassment they may go through during the training.

Admittedly, it is difficult for high powered people to intentionally put themselves in a vulnerable position.  But media training requires an executive to exercise a little humility and to recognize that training is a great time to learn a new skill or perfect an old skill.

So here are some suggestion whether you are the executive who needs to be trained or whether it’s your job to convince an executive that he or she need media training.

Everyone needs to understand up front that the day needs to be fun and that they need to be ready to laugh at themselves and their mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning, i.e. you learn from your mistakes.

Just the same, I try to create a safety zone for the student. If the person being trained is the CEO I prefer that we are the only two people in the room. At a minimum we can expect the class to take 4 hours. And as a sign of good faith, I always promise to destroy the video tape that we used to record mock interviews during the training.

If it basic media training to familiarize an executive with the concept of media interviews, I’ll generally conduct 3 interviews during the course of the training. The first interview is a simple baseline interview. It let’s me gage the executive’s natural skills and personality type. I’ll determine quickly if the student is prone to give too many details, for example. I’ll also test their ability to stay on topic or whether they are easily distracted and get off topic easily.

The interview is recorded on video so it can be played back, evaluated and critiqued, even if you are practicing for a print interview.

I’ll then introduce the concept of using key messages to stay on topic and control the interview, then we will do a second interview on camera, followed by another evaluation.

My third interview begins to introduce negative questions and is designed to teach the concept of blocking a negative question by bridging back to one of the key messages and then hooking the reporter with new information.

I conclude the training with four things. First I let the student destroy the video tape as promised, secondly I give the student instructions that in order to truly master the skill they must begin using key messages every day in ordinary conversations. Thirdly, I tell them they must role play with someone before every interview. Even if you only have 5 minutes, you need to get your head in the game and your mouth in gear. Finally, I let them know that media training is not a one time event in life, but something that requires practice and more training. Hopefully top executives understand the concept of having personal success and life coaches. I suggest an ongoing approach to media training with a refresher course taught ever 6-12 months.

For groups of vice presidents, managers and directors, the choice is yours as to whether you offer them a private 4 hour training, or whether you combine them into small groups for a full day of training. It is my personal preference to have no more than 4 people in a full day training program. When you add additional people you may need to add a second video camera and interviewer in order to complete all 3 role playing interviews in the allotted time.

In some cases, clients will ask for a training program to familiarize large groups with media training and the do’s and don’ts of media interviews. Such classes are possible. I’ve conducted programs with hundreds of people in the room. You can teach them all of the same lessons you would in a small media training class, but you are obviously unable to do personal role playing interviews  with everyone. Generally I’ll bring a volunteer to the stage to show everyone how an interview should be conducted. Then I ask the audience members to partner with the person next to them to conduct an interview. The audience members each take a turn to ask questions and to answer questions. Then I lead them through the process of giving each other an evaluation.

Finally, one way to get hesitant executives to train is to incorporate presentation training into the program. Many of the skills used to make a good presentation are some of the same skills used in an interview.

I always remind my students that Michael Jordan did not become the best basketball player of his day after a single practice, nor did Tiger Woods become a great golfer after taking a class at a Putt-Putt course. Likewise, to truly master the skill of being interviewed, you have to practice on a regular basis and find a coach and trainer who is a good match for your organization.

In our next lesson we will look at the big difference a little practice makes.

Lesson 11: Why do they interview people with no teeth who live in a trailer (with all due respect to trailer dwellers)

By Gerard Braud

Let’s be respectful here and realize that many poor people don’t have either dental insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket for dental care. And let’s realize that while hoping to someday fulfill the dream of home ownership, many people live in an affordable alternative – a mobile home.

Let’s also recognize that many of these people are in lower income brackets and therefore also tend to live near industrial facilities where the more affluent members of society may work, but do not live.

With all of that out of the way, let me acknowledge that when I was a journalist, people would actually ask me, “how come reporters always interview people with no teeth who live in a trailer?”

The answer was, because when the industrial facility blew up, no one from the company would agree to an interview with us. The people living near the facility were the only eye witnesses and they were willing to speak.

If you work for a company that has a crisis, you have the responsibility to provide a spokesperson as soon as the media arrives. Usually the media will be on site within 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the crisis. And as more media outlets become dependent upon web based audiences, their need for news is even more immediate.

Reporters need facts and quotes and they are going to get them from somewhere. It is their job to get interviews and their job is on the line if they do not deliver.

If you don’t give the information to the reporter, the reporter will go get it from someone else and that someone else will likely not represent your point of few.

And as the age of Social Media and web based tools expands, more and more media outlets are depending upon digital photos and video taken by eyewitnesses. A simple cell phone is capable of doing an enormous amount of reputational damage by providing the media with pictures and video.

So what do you do?

First you need to establish policy and practices that insure you have a spokesperson ready to respond at a moments notice.

Secondly, you need to have a crisis communications plan that contains a vast array of pre-written statements designed to address all of the many crises your organization could face.

With those two things, a spokesperson should be able to pull a pre-written template out of the crisis communications plan and walk out to the media to deliver that statement. It also allows your organization to post the template to the web, e-mail it to the media, employees and other key audiences.

Even if you only have partial facts, your organization still needs to make a statement. And it is critical that the statement is delivered by a person and not just issued on paper or via the web. The human element is critical in gaining the trust of the media, employees and other key audiences. A written statement is simply a cold cluster of words.

In my world, the spokesperson should be able to deliver the statement live within one hour or less. It should never be longer than an hour and hopefully much sooner than an hour.

One of the biggest delays in issuing statements is the lengthy process of waiting of executives and lawyers to approve a statement. This delay should be eliminated with the pre-written statements. The statements should be pre-approved by executives and the legal department so that the public relations or communications department can issue statements quickly.

Creating such a template is a timely process that I take organizations through when I help them write their crisis communications plan. The process is too lengthy to discuss here. But certain portions of the template must be fill-in-the-blank, and the communications department must be authorized to fill in the blanks with information such as time, date, and other critical facts. Executives and lawyers need to establish a trusting relationship with the communications department so that they help speed up the process rather than hinder and delay the communications process.

When you follow these simple steps, you begin to manipulate the media because you are meeting their wants, needs and desires.  You also become their friend. The more you can provide the media with information, the less need they have to interview an ill informed eyewitness who is thrilled to have their 15 minutes of fame. The more you can occupy the media’s time, the less time they have to spend interviewing people with no teeth who live in a trailer.

In our next lesson we will discuss whether or not you can pass the cynic test.

P.S. To this lesson — at and I have posted dates and details for my Nov. 3 & 4, 2008 crisis communications program that lets you write and complete an entire crisis communications plan in just two days. The plan was first created to avoid the types of situations described in today’s lesson. It is a very affordable and effective way to complete months worth of work in just 2 days.

Lesson 9: The Myth about 3 Key Messages

By Gerard Braud

So in the last lesson, we talked about not letting facts get in the way of a good story. The secret is to keep it simple.

When you go through media training (which I enjoy teaching more than anything in the world and I would still do every day even if I won a $200 million dollar lottery)… when you go through media training you are always taught the concept of identifying your “3 Key Messages.”  In other words, what are the 3 most important things you need to communicate during your interview with the reporter?

But what is a key message?

Is it a bullet point?

Is it a talking point?

Is it a set of words that incorporate more spin than truth?

Is it a set of verbatim words that incorporate both truth and quotes?

In my world, it is a set of verbatim words that incorporate both truth and quotes. But many media trainers teach only bullet points and talking points.  I call this the myth about 3 key messages.

Let’s put this in the context of a U.S. political candidate in a debate with his or her opponent. The moderator of the debate might ask a question such as, “Please give me your thoughts on education.”

The candidate, whose strategist may have determined that the key messages should only be about energy, the economy and international relations, is left with nothing to say. Hence, the candidate will BS his or her way through 50 seconds of a 60 second answer, then conclude by saying, “education is important and you can get more details on my website.”

That is such bull.

When you give a spokesperson or executive only bullet points and talking points for an interview, you give them license to ad lib. Have you ever seen anyone who can truly ad lib well? They are few and far between. The person who ad libs is doing what? They are winging it. What did we learn in Lesson 2?  When you wing it you crash and burn.

In my world you should start an interview with 3 key areas that you want to talk about. For each of those areas, you should have learned and internalized several pre-written sentences that are also very quotable sentences. Then, each of those 3 areas should have 3 key messages of their own, that are well written, internalized and quotable. And conceivably, each of those 3 key messages will have 3 more messages to go with them.

Think of your conversation as a large live oak tree like you see in the south. Picture that tree with a huge, study trunk and 3 large branches. In my training programs, I teach the executives what I call my tree trunk message, which usually consists of 2 sentences that anchor the entire conversation. These are the first words out of your mouth when the reporter asks the first question. These first two sentences provide context for the conversation you are about to have. Both sentences must be quotable. The first sentence serves virtually as a headline that sums up your organization’s vision, value, mission and belief. The second sentence points to the 3 key areas that the spokesperson is prepared to talk about. The second sentence begins the foreshadowing process that we talked about in lesson 6. It is this type of foreshadowing that will help the reporter develop his next question for you.

Next, I write 2 more sentences for each of those 3 large branches that grow from the tree trunk. Can you visualize this large oak with 3 large branches? The sentences must again be highly quotable. These sentences add a few more overarching facts and point to other important areas that you may want to talk about. Again, you are foreshadowing other areas that you are prepared to talk about.

Again, this is a technique that I usually take half a day to teach in my “Kick-Butt Key Messages” workshop. But if you can visualize a tree with a large trunk and 3 large branches, you begin to understand how the conversation grows. Then add 3 limbs to each of the large branches. Then add 3 twigs to each of the limbs. Then add 3 leaves to each of the twigs. Draw it out if necessary to fully visualize the tree. Ultimately, just as a tree sprouts limbs, twigs and leaves, your conversation needs to sprout additional sentences with slightly more detail.

In our visualization, the leaves represent great detail while the tree trunk and 3 branches symbolize very basic facts.

If you invest time to populate your tree with verbatim, quotable sentences that you internalize, your next interview will be the easiest interview ever.

Basically, your populated tree has created a full conversation and an interview should be a conversation. It should tell a story.

Additionally, our tree analogy has prepared us to tell our story in the inverted pyramid style – the same style reporters use when they write.

Is this easy? No.

Does it take preparation? Absolutely.

How much preparation? An interview is as important as any business deal. If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?

Bottom line – know what you want to say, know it verbatim, and be prepared to tell a story.

In our next lesson I’ll ask you the question I ask often when I talk to people who use lots of jargon, corporate speak and acronyms. The question is, “What does that mean?”

Lesson 8: The Facts Don’t Matter

By Gerard Braud

One day, as a joke in the newsroom, I uttered the phrase, “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” We all laughed. A colleague was pushing for a story to make the evening news, but there were lots of holes in the story and I (who in lesson 3 emphasized that it’s all about me) wanted my story to be the lead story. I won and got the lead story. The colleague’s story was killed.

Over the years we used the joke several times daily just to raze each other. But then we began to realize that way too much of what made the news at our TV station and at those of our competitors, made the news regardless of the facts. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons I left the news business after a great 15-year ride.

But let’s be honest. How many news stories are filled with facts? The truth is, not a lot.  Newspaper stories will always have more details than TV and radio news reports. But TV stories, especially, are driven by visual images. The example that I always use is that if the story is about a brown cow, I need video of a brown cow. If I have no video of a brown cow, I can’t put the story on the evening news.

Another example I always use is the mixed metaphor that says, “If a tree falls in the woods and it is not on video, is it news?”

When I used to cover hurricanes in the ‘80s and ‘90s I was always upset when I didn’t have video of something blowing away. I needed the visual on video to tell the story.

I laughed a few years ago when there was a news report about a landslide in Japan. A highway traffic camera captured trees sliding down the side of a hill. It was only news because there was dramatic video. Trust me, as a guy who has worked around the world and extensively in the Pacific rim, there are landslides all over the world every day. This one happened to be captured on video and therefore became news.

As I mentioned in lesson 4, a print reporter will likely write only a 12-20 sentence synopsis, a radio reporter is only writing 6-8 sentences and a TV reporter is only writing 10-12 sentences.

The average person tries to give way, way, way too many facts in a news interview. Take this comment with a grain of salt, but the reporter doesn’t really care about you or the facts. Sure, they seem interested in you, but their report is more important to them personally than your facts.

A news report is a puzzle. Certain pieces must fit exactly together. In a TV report, quotes make up 1/3rd of the story. The lead and the conclusion together make up 1/3rd of the story. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but can you guess how much room we have in the story for your facts? In a TV news report, that equals 4 sentences. In a print report that equals 8-12 sentences.

If there is no room in the story for a bunch of facts, why would you spend so much time giving lots of facts to the reporter?

So, in conclusion for this lesson… don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

In our next lesson we’ll explore the media training myth about 3 key messages

Lesson 7: Never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel

By Gerard Braud

I find it unbelievable that in the 21st century we still find executives who don’t want to take on a reporter or news outlet that has wrongly damaged their reputation.

The traditional way of responding to a media outlet that makes a factual error is to ask the management for a retraction. But sometimes the issue is not always factual but a difference in your point of view. If a newspaper does a hatchet job on you, the correct way to respond is to always write a letter to the editor. The letter should be short and to the point, with about 200-400 words. In some cases, you may want to ask 3rd party supporters to also write short letters on your behalf.

Yet I still find executives who say, “We’re not going to respond. Just let it die. You can’t get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” That statement was wrong 50 years ago and it is even more wrong today.

In the past, a negative story may have run on TV or radio once or twice for 60-90 seconds, then it was gone. In the past, a negative story appeared in the newspaper for just one day, then the paper was thrown out, never to be seen again.

But the internet has changed all of that. Today, those negative stories live on in archives on the internet forever. Additionally, media websites are among the highest ranked websites on the internet because their information is deep, the site is constantly updated, and it is perceived by search engines as highly credible. The media sites are so highly ranked that if your organization or name is mentioned in a news report, the media website could come up as a higher ranked site on the internet than your own site.

What this means is that if I do an internet search for your name, or that of your organization, I may see and read the negative things written about you on a media website before I read the positive stuff about you on your own web site.

So what do you do?

Well, just as always, if it is a newspaper that has damaged your reputation, you should write a letter to the editor as I’ve outlined above. That letter to the editor now becauses part of the online archive linked to the story. That way, in the future, when people stumble across the story they will immediately find your point of view as well.

In the case of radio and TV, you should place your comments on the media outlet’s blog on their website. Please be aware that other web users and opponents may verbally attack you and your comments once they are on the media outlet’s blog. You need to be ready to clearly state your case.

Additionally, you may wish to place a response on your own website and blog. Blogs are highly valued by search engines and will help counter the negative comments from the original story.

Finally, don’t take it personally. Your response is as important as a business decision, as we outlined in lesson 2. Hire professional PR writers to help if necessary. They will take the issue less personally and likely choose better words that may temper any anger you are feeling.

In our next lesson we’ll explore why the facts don’t matter.

Swine Flu Rumors & Haig – Biden Syndrome

Swine Flu and Crisis Communications are our topic this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For additional resources please visit these site:

Crisis Communications Resources & Learning

More on writing a Crisis Communications Plan

School Crisis Plans & Crisis Communications

Swine Flu

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 10 steps you should take today:

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

2) Be ready to communication workplace and social precautions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign up at

An April Fool Who Lost His Crisis Communications Plan

Imagine you invest lots of time and money to develop and write your crisis communications plan, then you lose it. It’s happening more often than you might think.

To find out how and why this is happening, take a listen to today’s BraudCast.

Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day Two – Can We Talk?

Your executives will be talking more in 2009 and so will your employees. With the economic issues we all face, the media and employees will be asking tough questions… perhaps the toughest your executives have ever been asked. And when times are tough, employee morale can go down and employee talk can turn negative, further hurting the organization’s reputation, image and productivity.

That’s why in the first quarter of 2009, I’d recommend 3 types of training within your organization: Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training.

We’ll talk about all 3 in a minute, but first let’s look at some typical speaking styles to understand why you need these training programs, even if you’ve done them before.

If we look at the 2008 election cycle, we see 5 dominant spokespeople and see 5 distinct styles that you will likely see in your spokespeople. Look at President Bush, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Sarah Palin and John McCain… and to understand my point of view, please put your political views aside and just look at their styles.

Bush is the top guy… like many CEOs he’s very knowledgeable, but is a horrible speaker. His inability to communicate well undermines the confidence people have in him. This happens to many CEOs.

Obama has the natural gift of speaking with great rhythm and style, and he has the ability to inspire and motivate. He could read a grocery list and get a standing ovation. Few people have this natural gift.

Joe Biden is the unfiltered speaker. Like many executives, he’s prone to say something stupid at anytime. He is the proverbial loose cannon on deck. Many executives think this is the proper way to be honest. Boy are they wrong.

John McCain is the classic humble spokesperson. He has an incredible story to tell, but refuses to tell it because of humility. His skills as an orator are good, but could be better. Great stories are a part of great communications. Many executives fail to use stories effectively.

Sarah Palin, like many female executives, has a lot of pizzazz and spunk. She, like Obama, has some great natural gifts as a speaker in front of a crowd. But while her spunk and pizzazz are appealing to many, it also rubs many people the wrong way. Female speakers may also face sexist preconceptions and prejudices that male speakers don’t have to deal with.

Chances are in your organization you have people who can’t put 2 words together, people who are naturally gifted, people who are too humble to tell a great story, people who make you cringe because you never know what kind of stupid or inappropriate thing they will say, and people, who while gifted, might rub some people the wrong way.

Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training can help you conquer the challenges of all 5 of these communications styles.

Media Training is, of course, designed to help with those difficult media interviews. In a time like this, they can help executives communicate honestly and teach them how to handle negative questions.

Presentation Training is needed to help executives communicate challenges in small group meetings, as well as in meetings with large groups of employees. You’ll certainly need these skills if layoffs are in the cards. Regardless of your challenges, regular face-to-face communications with employees provides a high degree of comfort in uncertain times.

Ambassador Training is a program I designed for mid-level managers and ordinary employees, to help them communicate positively, rather than constantly repeating negatives. It combines some of the skill sets you find in both Media Training and Presentation Training, especially the ability to speak positively and answer tough questions honestly, without repeating negatives.

As an example, imagine this: Your company lays of 500 people and an employee wearing your company logo on their shirt is in a grocery store line. Let’s imagine the person in front of them in line sees the logo, has heard the bad news, and says, “Wow, things must be bad where you work?” Most employees would instinctively respond, “Oh, it’s bad and getting worse.” This type of negative response then fuels the continuation of a negative conversation.

Most employee have told me over the years that they do not want to be a part of that negative conversation, but in their awkwardness and embarrassment, they don’t know how to get out of it. The proper way to get out of it is with a positive response. But the fact is, a negative response is easier and it is more in line with human nature.

If we return to that grocery store scene, a positive response might be, “Well, your heart has to go out to the people who have left, but that means the rest of us need to double our effort so we can be profitable and bring them all back.” If an employee said that, what would happen to the conversation in the grocery store? It would either turn positive or end right there. Negative comments are like throwing gasoline on a fire; it makes it more volatile. Positive comments are like a fire extinguisher; they’ll put an end to the negative fire quickly.

As you propose training for 2009, realize many people may be resistant. Some think if they’ve trained once they know it all. But the fact is, media training and presentation training are not skills that a person masters in a single session. It needs to be an annual program with refreshers.

Also realize that some people will be resistant because they fear they will perform poorly or because they are embarrassed to fail either on a personal level or in front of colleagues, during training. Many will even say that they would rather wing it. Your trainer needs to make sure that training is done in a safe environment, that each participant can see some improvement, and that each participant is predisposed to the idea that training is not a one-time event, but should be part of an ongoing program for personal improvement.

A good analogy to make to your participants is to compare it to sports. Every great athletic performer has coaches and every great executive needs personal coaches as well. Likewise, great athletes don’t become great after a single practice; they become great because they practice daily and constantly try to improve.

And on the topic of practice, your participants in Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training need to be reminded that they must practice their skills in daily conversations in order to master the techniques of speaking positively, keeping information jargon free and simple, and knowing how to respond positively to negative questions.

Finally, in tight economic times, PR budgets get cut quickly. Be ready to make your case that, whether speaking to the media, to a group of employees, or even in informal public situations, the things your executives say can have a direct impact on your profits and the performance of your workforce. The cost of training can be miniscule compared to its financial benefits.

If you or your executives would like to begin the learning process, they can sign up for my 29-day online Media Training program at Everyday for 29 days you’ll receive a 3-6 minute audio lesson that you can listen to on your computer or i-pod.

If you have questions about how to deal with executives who may be resistant or embarrassed to train, send an e-mail to me or call me via my contact information at

In our next lesson, we’ll look at the role you need to play as a writer in 2009.