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Media Training 9: The Myth about 3 Key Messages

By Gerard Braud www.braudcommunications.com 

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?”

Media Training 6: I Wonder What the Next Question Will Be?

By Gerard Braud

www.braudcommunications.com 

I want you to think for a moment about the last interview you did with a reporter. The reporter asks you a question then you start talking. Think very carefully now – what were you wondering the entire time you were answering the question?

In most cases, my media training students will confess that the entire time they were talking, they were thinking, “I wonder what the reporter is going to ask me next.”

Well here’s a little confession – Most of the time while I was a reporter, the entire time people were answering my question I was wondering what I was going to ask them next.

This means that in most interviews, both people are distracted, wondering what the next question will be and therefore neither is really concentrating on what the current answer is.

Therein lies the biggest problem in most interviews and therefore the greatest opportunity.

Here is what you need to know about reporters to fully understand how the interview will go down. In most cases, the reporter has no written, prepared questions before the interview. And chances are, the reporter has not done an extensive amount of advanced research.

If you are dealing with an investigative reporter or a television network news magazine, you can expect the reporter has done more research and has some specific questions to ask. But in your average interview for your average story I would estimate that 80-90% of the time, the reporter is going to make up the questions on the spot when the interview begins.

The interview will start with “soft” questions, designed to help you relax and get into your comfort zone. As the interview progresses, the questions will become more direct and possibly more negative.

But here is the big secret – How you answer the current question will dictate what the next question is. Even more specifically, the words you use at the end of your answer will often be used by the reporter to craft the next question.

In other words, the reporter will mirror your language right back to you in a form of a question. For example, if my final words are, “…the challenges we’ll face next year will eclipse the challenges we face this year…” what do you think the next question will be?  The reporter will ask, “What are the challenges you expect to face next year?”

To test this theory, watch a TV news anchor talking to the reporter who is live on the scene of an event. The anchor will ask a question and the reporter will repeat part of the question back to the anchor as part of their answer.

Mary the Anchor: “Bob, it sure looks like a disaster zone out there…”

Bob the Reporter: “It sure is a disaster zone out here Mary…”

I’ve developed a system for crafting answers that foreshadows the things that I want to talk about in an interview, followed by a “cliff hanger” or a sentence that creates some suspense. The trick is to always stop short of giving all of the details about something and to make the reporter want to know more. You want to make the reporter ask you a logical follow up question.

This technique makes life easy for the reporter because they never have to think very hard about their next question. You, therefore, are controlling the interview and the questions. The reporter is just following along.

I teach an entire workshop on crafting these “Kick-butt Key Messages.” Unfortunately, time here doesn’t permit me to teach the entire program. You would need a half day to truly learn the technique and system I use. But in the meantime, observe news anchors tossing questions to reporters on live locations and in your next interview try to create a few “cliff hangers” that will make the reporter ask you the logical follow up question that you want.

And finally, in lesson 3 we talked about creating quotes. In every interview you need to talk in sound bites and quotes. Often reporters keep asking questions because while they may already have enough facts to write the story, they don’t have a good enough quote to put into the story. And here is a big secret – the faster you give the reporter a good quote, the sooner the interview will end.

In our next lesson we’ll explore the old myth that you should never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

 

Media Training 5: The Media are Biased

By Gerard Braud

www.braudcommunications.com

There is much debate about whether the media are biased; especially whether there is a liberal bias. If you truly want to explore that subject, I suggest you read the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg.

It has been my experience over the years that much of what is perceived as bias is really the result of the following:

• Editors send reporters out of the door armed with only partial facts or rumors

• The reporters and editors have misconceptions or misperceptions about you or your issues

• A competitor or opponent of yours has approached the media and only told them half of the story

• Ignorance by the reporter

All four of the above result in the reporter calling you, asking for an interview, and asking you negative questions, putting you in a defensive posture.

Let’s break it down.

Partial facts are usually the result of rumors and innuendos. We all share rumors every day. “Hey, you know what I heard today…?”  In the newsroom, a reporter or editor turns that rumor into a research project and must confirm or refute it. “Hey Gerard, I heard a rumor today that… Why don’t you go check it out?”

That rumor would become my assignment for the day. If there is a rumor that the mayor is on cocaine, then I try to prove that the mayor is using cocaine. If he is, it is a story. If he isn’t, then there is no story.  If the rumor is that the married congressman has a girlfriend, then I try to prove the congressman has a girlfriend. If it is true, I have a story. If I can’t prove it, then there is no story.

You may not like it, but it is the nature of the business.

The next issue is very similar; it’s the impact of a misconception or misperceptions. Often this is purely subjective. Perhaps you are proposing a new development, but something just seems shady. Then the news report may likely reflect a tone of skepticism. The reporter may even seek out a 3rd party who is willing to cast further doubt on your project or credibility.

On the issue of opponents — I’ve watched many opponents make compelling cases and provide an enormous amount of supporting material and a hefty helping of innuendo. In the U.S. they’re often called “opposition groups” while around the world they are called “NGOs,” which stands for non-government organizations.

Usually the members of these groups are very passionate about a specific issue and those issues may be considered liberal issues. If a member of one of these groups makes a compelling case to a reporter, they could trigger a news report about you or your company. The reporter may come armed with reams of documentation supplied by the opponent, placing you in a defensive position. The resulting story could portray you in a very negative light.

And the final issue is ignorance by the reporter. Sometimes reporters just get the wrong idea about something and pursue it as a negative story. For example, most reporters look at steam belching from an industrial facility and think they are seeing pollution. Hence, they may do a story about industry polluting and fill the report with images of the stack belching what looks like smoke.

When you are faced with a situation like this, you need to apply all the tricks from lesson one, which includes explaining everything to them in simple terms the way you would explain it to a 6th grade class at career day.

Chances are the media are not “out to get you.” But somebody else may be out to get you and they are letting the media do their dirty work.

In our next lesson we’ll talk about how you can predict what questions are reporter will ask you in an interview.

 

 

Media Training 4: They Took Me Out of Context and They Left My Best Stuff on the Cutting Room Floor

By Gerard Braud

www.braudcommunications.com

The 2 single biggest complaints I have heard from executives over the years, after they have done an interview, is that “the reporter took me out of context” or that “the reporter left my best stuff on the cutting room floor.” (If you are young, the cutting room is where
film was edited for TV news prior to the mid 1970’s. Film that was not used in the story was thrown to the floor during editing.)

Here is the God’s Honest Truth – First, if it was your best stuff it would be in the story. What you think is your best stuff and what the reporter thinks is your best stuff may be very different. But no reporter leaves your best stuff on the cutting room floor.  Secondly, reporters never intentionally take anyone out of context. If you are taken out of context there must be a reason for it and I think I know why. Let’s break it down –

In lesson 3 I emphasized the importance of talking in well worded, professionally written quotes. Why do we all know Neil Armstrong’s quote, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind?” The reason we know it is because it is a well written quote from a professional writer and Armstrong practiced as part of his pre-flight training. It was not a spontaneous thought or ad lib by Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to set foot on the moon.

Your best stuff should be a well written practiced quote. Hey, if it is good enough for Neil Armstrong, it should be good enough for you.

Unfortunately, spokespeople who refuse to go through media training are usually guilty of making some spontaneous, inflammatory statement that becomes the quote. Generally they say something really dumb that they regret later. The problem is once it is said, it’s said. There is no taking it back. There is no do-over.

So my big rule for you in this category is that someone is going to edit what you say; it should be and must be you. Editing starts when the quote is written.

And remember this — reporters all recognize a good quote. If you want proof, attend a news conference and watch the reporters as they take notes. It is like watching a ballet as all of the reporters raise their notebooks at the same time to write a quote or fact as the spokesperson says something important. Then all of them put their notebooks down together, then raise them all together again as they hear the next important quote or fact.

Let’s now look at the issue of, “they took me out of context.”

Being taken out of context is usually the fault of the spokesperson. It is generally caused by the spokesperson being unclear, transposing important words, speaking in jargon or trying to give too many facts. That results in the reporter misunderstanding what the spokesperson meant. In short, something gets lost in translation.

How can you keep from being taken out of context?

Don’t try to overload the reporter with facts. Reporters write in an inverted pyramid style. That means they start with a headline that is the synopsis of the story. Then they add the next broad general fact and so on. Seldom does the reporter get into great detail and an abundance of facts. So, don’t get caught in the trap of trying to give too many facts.

Also, realize that the flaw of giving lots of facts and details is often a personality trait. Accountants, engineers, doctors and lawyers live in a world of details where numbers and facts must be precise. Hence, they want to be exact in what they say and they say too much; they give details beyond the reporter’s comprehension. A print reporter is likely only writing a 12-20 sentence synopsis, a radio reporter is only writing 6-8 sentences and a TV reporter is only writing 10-12 sentences. Usually the miscommunication begins when the spokesperson may want to tell the details of “War and Peace” but the reporter is only looking for the CliffsNotes.

If you keep it simple you help the reporter write their story without miscommunications or misinterpretation and you won’t be taken out of context. That’s why in so many media training programs the trainer will ask the spokesperson to focus on just their 3 most important messages.

Next, forget the corporate and non-profit jargon, buzzwords and the government acronyms. Jargon, buzzwords and acronyms are speed bumps to comprehension. They are easily misunderstood by the reporter. The reporter then writes what they think they heard you say. However, if you were not clear, then the story will be wrong. It is your fault and not their fault.

Finally, before the interview is over, ask the reporter if they clearly understand all of the words you used. An embarrassed reporter may nod their head in agreement, yet be too embarrassed to ask you to define certain terms that you used.

In summary… Keep it simple.

In our next lesson we’ll address bias in the media.

 

How Do I Get a Seat at the Table? Times of Crisis Management and Crisis Communications Present an Opportunity

Seat BraudPublic relations people constantly ask, “How do I get a seat at the table?” The short answer for now is to take advantage of the Ebola hysteria.

The seats are not handed out at the table. The seats are taken. During a time of crisis or potential crisis, leadership can be displayed by those who speak up about how to manage a crisis, how to make a crisis go away, and how to effectively do both through effective crisis communications.

We addressed this in the October 27, 2014 IABC webinar, “Is it too soon to talk about Ebola?” My advice is that each public relations professional needs to become a crisis communications expert. The Ebola crisis is a perfect time to gather executives and leaders together to discuss the many ways real or rumored Ebola contact could damage the reputation and revenue of the business that employees you.

Speaking to the IABC group, my advice was to focus on the negative ROI. In other words, focus on how much money could be lost, even if the public thinks Ebola has tainted your company. Often in crisis communications and crisis management, rumors and hysteria can do more damage than a real infection.

Additionally, my suggestion was that each organization should use this as a perfect time to update or write a crisis communications plan that can be used in the Ebola crisis, as well as any other crisis that might strike in the future. (contact me via my website to learn more)

If you are waiting for your invitation to take a seat at the table, it won’t come from your boss. However, there is a chance Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) just sent one to you via the web.

 

 

Ebola Crisis Communications Lesson: Ask for Help

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudOf all the Power Point presentations by his leadership team members, the CEO only stood and applauded the vice president who showed he was having difficulties in his division, when the other vice presidents showed rainbows and green lights. The company was millions in debt with falling sales and the CEO knew that everyone who painted a rosy picture was either a liar or delusional. The one who asked for help was the star.

A colleague shared this story supporting my premise in yesterday’s Ebola communication considerations blog. In the blog I suggested that public relations, marketing, media relations and crisis communication professionals will not be fired if they ask for help. Instead, your CEO and leadership team will respect you for telling the truth and knowing that your truth may save the reputation and revenue of your organization.

Crisis communication workshop gerard braudThe field of communications is misunderstood, even by the C-Suite. Many CEOs and executives hire one person to manage their image. They expect publicity. Often the CEO will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Sadly, many with MBAs don’t really understand the differences either.

Even in public relations, many do not realize how difficult it is to be a crisis communication expert. The expert is the one who prepares on a clear sunny day for what might happen on your darkest day. At the university level, most public relations classes touch on crisis communication as an evaluation of how well you manage the media after a crisis erupts. That is outdated and flawed. Preparation = professionalism.

Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge and expertise rather than asking for help. But in the C-Suite, the reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most people in the C-Suite, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue.

Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the company’s reputation and revenue.

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Ask for help.

If you’d like some FREE help, join me on Friday, October 17, 2014 for a free webinar that explores what you need to do today to prepare for your possible Ebola communications tomorrow. Register here.

 

— By Gerard Braud

NFL Crisis Management and Crisis Communications Double Standard

Why Suspend Goodell? Watch

Why Suspend Goodell? Watch

By Gerard Braud

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell missed a crisis management and crisis communications opportunity to end the Ray Rice crisis. Sunday should have been the day Roger Goodell announced to the world that he would be suspending himself for one year. It would have displayed leadership in a crisis. It would have been communications that managed and ended the crisis.

What? Why? Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communicators counselors could make?

Consider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year because even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players. Payton received a one-year suspension because Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell

So, many call for Goodell to be fired and Goodell goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet faile
d to sere Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.

Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens with the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executive’s actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.

The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.

Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications

Crisis Communications Statements That Say Nothing

GW TodayBy Gerard Braud

Leaders are slow to communicate in a crisis, so I get excited when I see an executive initiate some type of crisis communications. However, the example I’m going to show you here, in my expert opinion, does little to effectively communicate. Also, with two potential crises, this executive opts to focus on the lesser of the two and ignores the bigger crisis.

I was contacted by reporter Colleen Murphy with the George Washington Hatchet, the student newspaper at George Washington University. Her initial call was to get my reaction because a past GW president had made a comment on NPR regarding college women being drunk and how that might contribute to them being a victim of sexual assault.

Critics of the past president resented the suggestion that a woman would be anything more than a victim in a sexual assault. (In fairness, if you listen to the full interview for full context you would likely agree with what was actually said and not what people perceive was said.) Sensitive to the negative outcry, the current president decided to issue a statement. However, at the time the president is issuing his statement, a co-ed had just filed a sexual assault complaint after she reported being assaulted in a fraternity house.

GW presidentGW President Steve Knapp writes, “My responsibility as president is to make my own and the university’s position — and the steps the university is actually taking — as clear as I can.” To that, I say bravo.

But read on and see how Knapp’s statement is anything but clear. He also fails to outline any real steps. And, in light of the sexual assault report just filed, notice how Knapp fails to mention the assault in his statement:

“My strongly held position is that sexual assault under any guise and regardless of the circumstances is utterly repugnant and unacceptable. In recent years, we have hired a Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and a Title IX Coordinator, and we are currently seeking a Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Student Advocacy. Together with others across the university, including many dedicated faculty members, students, and staff, this team is advancing our efforts to create a university culture in which every member of our community understands that sexual assault must not and will not be tolerated. Our work must focus unambiguously on ensuring that the university is fully supportive of the survivors of such acts and treats appropriately those who are found to have committed them,” Knapp’s statement concludes.

As I told the reporter, this was an excellent time to advance the discussion about assaults. Hiring a new Provost will not stop assaults. Lost from Knapp’s statement is anything that educates female students as to how to prevent an assault. This was a perfect time to give the best three tips for avoiding being a victim. Absent is an attempt to educate male students about what is unacceptable behavior. Lost is the opportunity to set new, strong standards for attacking this problem at GW.

I laugh at the sentence, “Our work must focus unambiguously on ensuring that the university is fully supportive of the survivors of such acts…” because the entire statement is ambiguous.

Some executives and public relations people have a way of saying many words, but failing to effectively communicate. Behold: I give you GW University.

Crisis Communications Management: The Ebola Expert vs. The Social Media Celebrity Alarmist

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud Crisis Expert Ebola VirusGerard Braud Crisis Expert Ebola VirusSocial media complicates crisis communications, especially when an expert is pitted against alarmists and detractors on social media. Crisis communications and crisis management get more difficult when the social media alarmist is a celebrity.

Donald Trump has taken to his Twitter account to say that people with Ebola should not be brought to the United States. His assertion detracts from what I think has been a brilliant job by the medical community to provide media training for doctors and physicians, while having a plan to manage crisis communications about the outbreak.

Doctors and physicians trained as spokespeople to be interviewed by the media have gone to great lengths to discuss the layers of protection put in place to keep the Ebola infection from spreading as two ill health workers were flown to the United States for treatment. The messages in the media have served to calm fears in a country where conventional wisdom or logic might lead one to believe Ebola could spread quickly in the U.S. if infected patients are intentionally brought here.

In a crisis, you must:

Trump Ebola 21) Plan and write your messaging on a clear sunny day

2) Be ready to turn on a dime if those who disagree with your message start to get traction.

The safety message is one that clearly needs to be written and approved long before it is never needed. Good crisis communications should be judged by how well you prepare on a clear sunny day and not how well you wing it in the heat of the crisis.

Twitter sadly gives visibility to detractors. In this case, Donald Trump, with 2.65 million followers, has tweeted these 3 tweets:

“A doctor on NBC Nightly News agreed with me-we should not bring Ebola into our country through 2 patients, but should bring docs to them.”

“Doctors have already died treating Ebola. We should not be importing the disease to our homeland.”

“The bigger problem with Ebola is all of the people coming into the U.S. from West Africa who may be infected with the disease. STOP FLIGHTS!”

What would you do if this happened to you? What expert advice would you give to your employer or client?

Donald Trump is notorious for picking fights and escalating a situation, so the medical community has to proceed with caution before fighting back on Twitter. Sometimes, the proper way to address crisis communications on social media is to respond in kind through the same social media channel. Yet that isn’t necessarily true on Twitter, nor is it true with a Donald Trump type celebrity who has a huge, loyal following who agrees with his political philosophy or agenda d’jour.

In a crisis, your communications to a detractor can easily get ugly. You have to harness the proper amount of cutting pith, while not letting it cross the line into overt anger. You must carefully zero in on your key detractor, yet carefully avoid turning it into a personality battle.

In social media, when the detractor has a huge ego, a huge budget, and a huge following, you have to consider how your response might positively or negatively escalate the war of words. You must consider whether escalating the war of words will get your message out to the world more effectively or whether it gives greater visibility to the negative comments of your detractor.

The message the medical community needs to convey is this:

“As experts in medicine, we are able to gather the top experts in disease prevention to both quarantine ill patients, as well as to take steps that may save their lives. At a time like this, we call on everyone to let the experts do what they do best, while ignoring the non-expert publicity seekers who deal in fear and not facts.”

This crisis statement could be written many ways. Often it is Trump 1athe editing fight and parsing of the words that makes a statement stronger, yet sometimes the editing delays the speed at which the message reaches the intended audience while making the statement weaker.

The crisis statement does not name Trump specifically, but has a bit of a bite with the phrase, “…the non-expert publicity seekers.” My guess is 50% of you would want to leave it in and 50% would want to take it out. I’d leave it in.

Media also love a good compare and contrast quote. This crisis statement clearly separates medical experts from fear mongers.

I would never advise taking this fight to Trump on Twitter. I would, however, get this message to all media outlets and specifically to all medical correspondents and all media facilities. Keep in mind, local media are interviewing local doctors at local hospitals from New York to New Orleans. In a crisis like this, you want an army of experts on your side.

The hazard of posting a 140 character version of this message to Twitter and Facebook is that these social media platforms tend to attract more non-expert publicity seeking fear mongers. My expert advice would be to post the message to your secure website, then send direct tweets to the media with a link to your official statement. Your direct message would say, “Ebola infection update (add your link)”

Trust me, you’ll get your message to the media. If you have the overwhelming urge to use your Facebook and Twitter, you might post the identical link. There is some safety in not posting the “fighting words,” but to post a calming link.

Trump 3This may also be a good time to create a YouTube message. YouTube allows the emotions of the speaker to be displayed through both the visual elements and the tone of their voice. However, YouTube comments and shares may get ugly as well. But, if someone shares your video with a negative comment, the person who sees the video may be persuaded to your side.

In a crisis, there are many challenging decisions to make in a short period of time. My hope is that you are a bit stressed out right now. That’s good. Imagine if you had to fight this fight in real time? Imagine if you had to come up with all of this logic on the fly? Imagine if you had to fight with a room full of executives who disagreed with your approach?

A great way to manage your crisis communications and crisis management team in a crisis is to hold frequent crisis drills that play out a scenario with this level of complication. You should have at least one crisis communication drill each year and every drill must have complicated twists and turns of social media embedded in them. I pride myself on making drills so realistic that spokespeople cry. Occasionally we have to call a time-out because an executive is clutching his chest because the scenario is so realistic and the stress is so real.

Are you ready to deal with a crisis this stressful?

 

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media for Crisis Communication and the Generation Gap

By Gerard Braud

IMG_2621As we discuss social media as a crisis communication tool that allows you to reach your core audience, this is a good time to explore what I will describe as both the leadership gap and the generation gap, that social media presents.

People in leadership positions, traditionally perform poorly in a crisis because it is an out of the ordinary event for which they are seldom trained. They don’t plan on a clear sunny day for the things that will affect them on their darkest day. They ignore the old adage, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”

You can rectify this in several ways. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, include leaders in the process of conducting a vulnerability assessment that explores all the things that could go wrong where you work. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I facilitate many executive meetings throughout the year to conduct such vulnerability assessments. Leaders are often stunned when they see the long list of potential ways that “it” could hit the fan.

So add to your to-do list the need to conduct a vulnerability assessment in a facilitated setting with your leadership team.

If you already have a crisis communications plan, leaders should be trained in two ways; that would include annual media training and at least one crisis drill each year.

Just because someone holds a leadership title, doesn’t mean they have leadership qualities. Among the qualities I look for in someone who has leadership qualities is the ability to manage a crisis. The leadership gap is most often personified by decision paralysis. In other words, leaders are paralyzed by the fear that the decisions they will make will be the wrong decision, therefore they do nothing.

In the world of crisis communications, decision paralysis is personified by people in leadership positions not authorizing or allowing you to issue a statement in the first hour of a crisis. Often, lawyers advise them against saying anything for fear that they will say the wrong thing. My belief is that you must begin communicating something, even if it is only partial facts.

A crisis communications drill will get your leaders used to the speed at which a crisis unfolds and media training will give your spokespeople the confidence to stand before an audience of employees or the media, to let them know what is happening. I’ve seen some remarkable changes among the leaders whom I media train and the organizations for which I annually conduct crisis communications drills. If you fail to conduct media training and you fail to conduct crisis communications drills annually, you can expect your leadership team to fail you during your crisis. You can expect your leaders to fall back into decision paralysis. Think of it this way; a great athlete practices constantly and has great coaches. Well, your leaders likewise need to practice and have great coaches in order for them to perform well when they need to.

This brings us to the generation gap. We’ve already established that in the world of traditional media, leaders are slow to respond and issue statements. In the days of traditional media, when I was a television and newspaper reporter, if a crisis happened, it usually took us about one hour to arrive on the scene and begin reporting. But these days, any employee or any person on the street can communicate the crisis to the entire world in a matter of seconds. Instead of the 24 hour news cycle, we now have the 140 character news cycle. For those new to social media, 140 characters is the maximum message size allowed by Twitter.Twitter over capacity

Many leaders do not use social media. Many leaders still don’t know what social media is. Many leaders have no idea how fast messages get communicated by social media. Some leaders may have heard of the various outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. But the reality is, they have no idea what these tools do and how they work.

I’m asked to give keynote speeches at many association and corporate conferences and a few years ago I introduced a new keynote called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. The keynotes give me an opportunity to create a dialogue from the stage with leaders as I ask them what they know about social media. Here are my questions and the responses received.

• When asked how many use LinkedIn.com, 10% – 20% usually say yes.

• When asked how many use Facebook, fewer than 15% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have watched a video on YouTube.com, about 25% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have ever posted a video to YouTube.com, the response drops to 2%.

• When asked how many use Twitter, the response is usually 1-2%.

I then ask, how many have no idea what I just said and what I’m talking about, to which most hands go up and there is an uproarious laugh.

This represents both the leadership gap and the generation gap. While Gen X & Gen Y employees post comments, pictures and video to social media sites, often via their smart phones, older employees – especially leaders – are oblivious to the far reaching impact of these tools and trends.

In an earlier article in our series, I told you the best research on social media behavior comes from the experts at PEW Research.

As of December 2012:

  • 15% of online adults say they use Pinterest
  • 13% of online adults say they use Instagram
  • 6% of online adults say they use Tumblr
  • 67% of online adults say they use Facebook
  • 16% of online adults say they use Twitter

•    20% of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012.

At this point, take out your to-do list and place on the list the need to do social media training; that is to say, you need to conduct programs to educate leaders on the impact of social media both on good days and in a crisis.

If you have a corporate meeting planned or if your leaders attend specific association meetings, you can always ask the meeting planner to invite me or you can call me with their contact information. That way, I can help you close the generation gap and solve the leadership gap if you would like my help.