When “It” Hits the Fan: Effective Crisis Communication for the Chemical Industry

Williams ExplosionBy Gerard Braud –

It’s an honor to be invited to deliver the morning keynote presentation today to the Chemistry Council of New Jersey at their 2015 Conference. You can view today’s handout here.

The crisis communications lessons being discussed on stage serve as a reminder to everyone in the C-Suite, in emergency response, and in public relations, that news travels fast. The faster the news travels, the faster a corporation must respond. Smart phone technology and social media are changing the rules for both corporations and the media.

Now is also a good time to compare your traditional approach to crisis communications with what should be your new normal. The emphasis in that sentence is the word NEW combined with NORMAL.Williams FB page

What got ‘ya here won’t get ‘ya there could be the best advice I can share. Yet many industries have traditionally failed to successfully get to the old normal, much less embrace the new normal.

Traditionally, many chemical and heavy manufacturing companies operate without a public relations employee or team. Some have one public relations person while others have several. It really depends upon the size of the  geismarcompany. But regardless of the whether you have a public relations staff or not, corporate crisis communications often takes a back seat to emergency response. Furthermore, news releases are often delayed by executives who excessively scrutinize each word and comma. Sometimes delays are caused by lawyers who oppose the concept of the news release.

Many chemical companies also make the mistake of delegating all of their crisis communications to law enforcement, following the guidelines of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). While police can be effective in communicating precautions or evacuations from a chemical crisis, the flaw with NIMS is that law enforcement spokespeople are not able to communicate empathy on behalf of the company.

The most frightening case study I’ve observed regarding the chemical industry, involves the media, social media, and crisis communications.  On the morning of June 13, 2013 there was a tragic explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins Chemical plant in Geismar, LA, about 50 miles from my home, which killed 2 workers and injured more than 100. Before the company had a single news release issued, or before they provided any images or videos posted to the web, someone published a Facebook page with more details than the chemical company ever gave.

My research indicates it took nearly three hours for the company to put up an official news release on their website. The goal I would ask any corporation to aim for is to have an official news release on your website within one hour or less.

One hour is a reasonable goal if you recognize that you don’t have to know everything or state all of the facts in your initial release. It is perfectly acceptable for you to publish a few facts at a time as you get them. That is why in my presentation today I strongly recommended that people use my first critical statement as a fast alternative to writing a formal press release. To get a free download use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.

Industry leaders and executives should keep in mind that eye witnesses to an event are posting images, rumors or details to social media as soon as a crisis happens. This means that your one hour news release may still be 59 minutes behind the first eyewitness account. However, it is much better than a three hour delay as seen in the case study above.

Don’t let a similar situation be your demise.

Bruce Jenner: 4 Media Lessons in Teasing, Ratings & Public Relations Pitching

bruce jennerBy Gerard Braud –

Pitching a story to the media is hard. Today I’m making a presentation to a group of public relations students at Loyola University in New Orleans. They want to know about secrets to pitching stories to the media. Their instructor wanted me to share my perspective since I have been both a working journalist in print, radio, and television, as well as a working public relations strategist for more than 20 years.

Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC presents a great perspective on what the media consider news and who the media consider news worthy.

Here are 4 lessons:

Lesson 1: Who you are matters. The more famous the better. The Kardashians and their team are pros at publicity and notoriety. Jenner’s notoriety from reality TV makes him a ratings getter. Did you hear that? A ratings getter. The ratings sweep period is beginning and ABC News knows that the celebrity persona of Jenner will bring in viewers. If you have to pitch a story to the media, you need to pitch it in a way that draws viewers to television, listeners to radio, readers to print, and visitors to the web. If your story helps to grow the media’s audience and advertising revenue, then you are more likely to get coverage. It is easier with celebrity status. If you are not pitching on behalf of a celebrity, then you must demonstrate that your story will attract a large audience for the media outlet.

Lesson 2: The power of the tease. There has been a mystery about whether Jenner is transitioning to become a woman. It is tabloid fodder, but tabloids wrote the book on building a readership centered around celebrities, innuendos, and rumors. Jenner’s story is a perfect match. In Jenner’s case, the mystery makes it easy to tease the interview program, which further drives buzz and ratings. My cynical side says Jenner and his team have carefully crafted the mystery so they can spin off a reality program about Jenner without the Kardashians.

Lesson 3: Timing. The LGBT community has worked aggressively for nearly 20 years to make stories about being gay a front page story in every publication in the world. Their goal has also been to add gay characters to television programs. They LGBT community has mastered media relations. First came stories of gay males, followed by stories of lesbian females. In most cases, the community worked to identify high profile people to tell their story. Again, a gay celebrity has more clout than a non-celebrity. Ellen’s coming out on her sitcom marked a turning point in the movement. I noted to my wife just two years ago that I was expecting a shift in story telling to the transgender topic since the L and G story lines of LGBT were fading. Shortly there after Orange is the New Black became a hit and Lavern Cox made the cover of Time magazine. The T story is the hot story now. The bi-sexual story line will soon follow after the transgender story line has played out.

Lesson 4: Be opportunistic in pitching your local media. If you are in public relations or represent a cause, brand, person or company that has a transgender connection, today is the day that you should be pitching your story to your local media. Local media love to be copy cats. Friday night’s 10 p.m. news on ABC stations will all feature a recap segment about the Bruce Jenner interview. All that is missing for them is a localized version of the story. I can hear the anchor now saying, “And while Bruce Jenner captured America’s attention tonight, we would like to introduce you to a local man who has a similar story to tell.”

Here are some examples of people or organizations who could be pitching a local version of this national story to the media:

  • Local LGBT support groups
  • Local man or woman activist who is transitioning
  • Local therapist
  • Local university expert on the topic
  • Local surgeon who does reassignment surgery
  • Local plastic surgeon who does cosmetic surgery for transitioning individuals
  • Local boutique that might serve transgender customers, with things such as clothing, wigs, make-up, etc.
  • …the list could go on.

Pitching is very much about relevance, ratings and timing. It isn’t easy, but it is fun to observe and learn from when it is done right.



5 Media Training Lessons About Parsing Your Words So You Are Never Taken Out of Context

Mitt RomneyBy Gerard Braud

CEOs and other executives – in fact an enormous number of spokespeople I meet in media training classes — all complain that in their past, “The media took me out of context.”

As we look at public relations lessons from political campaigns this week, we can examine the failed presidential campaign of Mitt Romney and a troubling day when he was, in my observations, taken out of context.

The headlines quoted Romney as saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

Lesson #1: Someone is going to edit what you say. Let it be you. (See Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Lesson #2: Great quotes are seldom spontaneous. They are best written by a professional writer and then practiced relentlessly by the spokesperson until they appear to be spontaneous.

Lesson #3: It is important to parse every word of a great quote. Parsing words is the difference between a bad quote, a good quote, and a great quote.

On the day in question, Mitt Romney was trying to make the point that the middle class needed help. Many articles provided his entire quote, but the headlines took the entire quote out of context.

The full quote said, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there,” he said. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

A well written, well practiced, and well delivered quote with parsed words might have said, “The poor of our country have social programs to help them. The rich have their wealth to support them. But the middle class may be the group most in need of help from Washington and if I’m elected, I’ll work to help the 90-95 percent of Americans who are considered middle class.”

According to my parsing, each part of the quote can stand alone as a fair statement with no negative impact:

“The poor of our country have social programs to help them.”

“The rich have their wealth to support them.”

“The middle class may be the group most in need of help from Washington and if I’m elected, I’ll work to help the 90-95 percent of Americans who are considered middle class.”

5 lessons for all spokespeople:

1) It is important to parse words.

2) It is important to write quotes before you plan to deliver them.

3) It is important to break down the sentences of your quote to make sure each thought can stand on it’s own without being taken out of context.

4) It is important to undergo frequent media training.

5) It is also important to remember that, “Someone is going to edit what you say. It might as well be you.”




Media Training Case Study: Political Season Is Upon Us

Hermain CainBy Gerard Braud

In yesterday’s article I mentioned The New York Times called me Friday for a comment about Rand Paul’s hostile interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. When the Times starts calling for observations, that means the political season is in full swing.

You can learn a lot about your own media interview dos and don’ts during campaigns, especially the presidential campaigns. We’ll take some time this week to look at a few lessons from the current presidential campaign, as well as the last campaign.

We can learn two lessons from the 2012 failed campaign of former pizza CEO Herman Cain.

Lesson #1: Always consider the financial impact of your words. (See Chapter #2 of Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Lesson #2: When you have big negatives in your past, you must be ready to explain them to the media the day you decide you want to be a candidate. Therefore you must spend time to craft your answer, then practice that answer, and be able to deliver it flawlessly the day you get asked about it.

Lesson #3: Don’t be in denial about your negatives. The media will eventually find out, ask you about it and you’ll need a perfect quote and explanation.

The Herman Cain lesson begins with the fact that he had, according to reports, been accused by several women of sexual harassment. His employer at the time settled out of court and the accusers signed a confidentiality agreement about the settlements. However, before the settlement was signed, it is possible that these women discussed their cases with their friends. You can also bet that opposing campaigns hired opposition research experts who would eventually discover this. Those researchers will look for an opportunity to leak it to the media. The media_If you could attach a dollar to every-1 eventually asked Herman Cain the question, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?” Cain replied, “Well have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Really Herman? You wanted to be the President of the United States and on the day you announced your candidacy you didn’t know how you would answer your toughest question? This is such a rookie mistake, yet also a typical mistake of high powered people.


Regarding Lesson #1: The day after this quote aired, Cain told everyone it wasn’t hurting his campaign and that checks were still coming in from supporters. The reality is checks were arriving from people who wrote them before the bad quote. The checks stopped rolling in later that week and the campaign ended. My opening sentence in each media training class I teach is the question, “If you could attach a dollar to ever word you say, would you make money or lose money?” Herman Cain’s situation proved this point.

Regarding Lesson #2: The day a candidate launches their campaign, they must have their quotes written and practiced for every negative in their lives. Failure to do so is unprofessional. In public relations, failure of a PR person to do this for their company and failure of the C-Suite to know the answers is unacceptable and amateurish. It is the job of the PR team and the job of the executives to be prepared. As a public relations person, you must be willing to push your CEO hard enough that if he or she doesn’t listen, you are willing to quit your job.

Regarding Lesson #3: Every candidate has negatives, just as every company has negatives. It is only a matter of time before an opponent learns of the negatives and tips off the media. It is better for you to acknowledge this and prepare for this than to live your life hoping it never gets discovered. Hope is not a public relations or crisis communications strategy.

Next, we’ll apply these lessons to Hilary Clinton.

4 Media Relations Lessons from Rolling Stone and 5 Public Relations Ways to Deal With Bad Reporters

rolling stoneBy Gerard Braud

The Rolling Stone Magazine retraction of their University of Virginia gang rape story is filled with parallels I often warn of in my media training and crisis communications programs.

Here are 4 realities:

1) Reporters love an underdog and generally value the word of the accuser more than the word of the authority. I’ve witnessed it as a reporter and as a communications consultant representing companies and organizations that have been wrongly accused by zealots. Giving more credibility to the underdog represents both bias by the reporter and a lack of proper training on ethics and fairness.

The perception by reporters is that the accuser is honest and a victim, while the institution in question has something to hide. Sometimes that is true, but often it is not. The reporter’s job is to conduct as many interviews as possible and to allow all parties to tell their side of the story.

2) Generally in an underdog story, the media interview the underdog at first, then call the authority figure for a response, often asking you to defend your actions. That should be a big red flag. (Although the investigation by the Columbia School of Journalism seems to indicate the reporter didn’t even call the fraternity accused of the gang rape to get their side of the story.)

3) The media get sloppier each day. Deadlines and budget limitations have frustrated members of the media from editors to reporters. Their self-defeating attitude about the media industry bleeds over into the belief that they can only dedicate so much time to a single story and that they can’t be as thorough as they’d like. That mindset needs to change, but likely won’t. Budget cuts and the downfall of quality reporting is what inspired me to resign as a television reporter at WDSU-TV6 in New Orleans and to not move on to a full-time job at CNN, where budget cuts were already underway and continue today.

4) A growing number of people in the media want to classify themselves as “advocate” reporters. In other words, they believe it is their moral responsibility to report on a point of view or on behalf of a group. This frightens the daylights out of me when I hear this. It is a clear example of bias and managers should not allow it, but they do. (The world as we know it is over.) Such individuals should be bloggers, but never paid reporters.

How should you deal with these issues? I suggest you consider these 5 options:

1) If you are called for an interview in which you are expected to “defend” your position or organization, always ask the reporter who else they have talked with and what those individuals said. You have the right to know.

DSC_01142) Make a list of specific questions you would ask the accuser and then ask the reporter if he or she asked these questions. You can even suggest that the reporter delay the interview with you until those questions have been asked.

3) If it appears the reporter is asking you questions that put you on the defensive, your goal should be to make your story compelling in ways that puts the accuser on the defensive and places you on the offensive. This requires research, key message writing, and media training before the interview. This is never accomplished through spontaneity or ad libs in an unpracticed interview.

4) If you perceive bias from the reporter, call the managing editor of the media outlet to have a conversation about your concerns. Better yet, tell them you’d like to visit them in their office with the editor and reporter present. I’ve done this many times. Many times it results in the story being killed. Other times, it swings the story to our point of view.

As with number three above, this requires research, key message writing, and media training before the meeting. This is never accomplished through spontaneity or ad libs in an unpracticed meeting. Yes – practice and role-play for the meeting, including using video cameras to evaluate what was said so you can parse your words.

5) If you’ve done your best to manage the story before it is written and it turns out poorly, write a letter to the editor. Aim for 150 words and settle for 250 words. Nothing any longer will get published.

Warning: Many executives will want to “just let it die” because they have been taught to “never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Those are outdated ways of thinking. The internet gives you as much ink as the media. Furthermore, search engine optimization requires that you post a well worded reply, i.e. letter to the editor, so it is recorded in history and on the internet, especially on the internet site of the accuser.

Remember: There is a huge reputational and monetary impact on any organization that is reported on by the media. You can’t afford not to play the game and win.

Yet to be answered:

1) Why the story of the alleged rape was fabricated by the accuser?

2) Why no one has been fired?

Reality: An interesting case study is ahead as the fraternity sues Rolling Stone.

Great Sound Bites for Dumb Questions: Lessons in Crisis Communication & Media Training


Carsten Spohr, head of Lufthansa

By Gerard Braud

The media, especially the 24 hour cable news channels, are asking some really dumb, speculative questions as they cover the tragic crash of Germanwings flight 9525. In media training the trainer should teach the spokesperson to never speculate. Yet many spokespeople don’t always deflect the speculative questions as well as I would like.

Wolf Blitzer of CNN is notorious for speculative questions about the impossible. As news broke that the Germanwings co-pilot may have intentionally crashed the plane, the dumb, speculative questions began from Blitzer and others. A typical dumb, speculative question might be, “How can this happen?” or “Does this mean we need stronger screening?”

A great quotable answer was given by the airline’s CEO, who said, “No matter your safety regulations, no matter how high you set the bar, and we have incredibly high standards, there is no way to rule out such an event.”

CEO Germanwings

CEO Germanwings

This is a near perfect quote. The only fine-tuning I would do would be to remove the phrase, “and we have incredibly high standards.” The reason I’d take it out is because an investigation could uncover flaws or compromises in those standards.

Great lines and great answers to speculative questions are best thought of and written on a clear sunny day, long before you need them.

The best way to approach this is to make a list of the most common speculative questions, then formulate answers that say a lot in essence, but offer no real details. And by all means, the statement must be a great quote.

This technique has been at the heart of my writing retreats and the large library of pre-written news releases I use in my crisis communications plans. Just give me a call if you have specific questions.

In Defense of Social Media

InstagramBy Greg Davis –

[Editors Note from Gerard Braud – Today we have a guest blog from Greg Davis of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative. Greg wrote this as a follow up to my March 5, 2015 blog about utility companies avoiding a crisis by communicating with customers who take their complaints about high electric bills to Facebook. Thank you Greg.]

For electric cooperatives, consumer engagement remains critical to continued success. Social media allows you to be involved with members on a personal level. Many people view smartphones and other mobile devices as an extension of themselves. They’re connected—and they expect you to be connected, too.

To toss up a social media presence without proper management or trained communications people to guide content is a recipe for disaster; however choosing to avoid social media can prove to be as catastrophic.

The need for electric utility social media presence is best demonstrated during Crisis communication. Social media allows for fast, fact driven, controlled communication. During a major outage the worst thing a utility company can do is not provide regular up to date information with customers. Getting information from traditional media outlets alone is no longer acceptable.

facebook-like-buttonWhen customers see that they are one of thousands currently without power or can see pictures of miles of downed poles and lines that information can greatly influence their expectations for restoration. It can also greatly influence traditional media expectations.  Social media communication during prolonged outages has also been proven successful in deflecting inquiries to the call center and helping improve call center response time. Social media outage information gets shared by other organizations, the media and individuals, all helping your information reach a greater number of people in a timely fashion.

Not to be forgotten are the marketing opportunities, corporate branding and general community outreach.

The social media conversation will take place with or without you. “Doing nothing” has never been the answer to managing your brand. Being actively involved puts you in the conversation. It lets you tell your story with facts and better control of the message.

No matter what you do you will never create 100% customer satisfaction. Someone will make a negative comment on one of your channels. Some negative comments turn out to be a positive, offering the chance to transform an angry customer into a brand ambassador. More often than not your engaged fans will defend you if someone is bashing without a reason. If you opt not to establish a social media presence, your members can still post unflattering things about you online. What’s the advantage of providing a place for your members to talk about you online? It puts you in the conversation. They will establish a reputation for you even if you aren’t out there to share the facts. Your story will be told even if you “do nothing.”

Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan

schock2By Gerard Braud

Why are so many powerful people oblivious to the potent, negative power of social media? Every day there is a new crisis communication case study and today it is from Aaron Schock, who has resigned as Congressman from Illinois.

Schock created his own crisis with excessive selfies and posts on social media, showing him engaged in a rather lavished lifestyle of travel. This raised questions about whether taxpayers were footing the bill for his fun.

Tip 1: Establish guidelines for what should be posted and what should not be posted as an official representation of the corporation and the leadership of that organization.

schock1Tip 2: Review your current social media policy for all employees to make sure best practices are being followed. If you don’t have a social media policy for employees, make it a priority to write one.

Tip 3: In a corporate environment, require that three people concur about an image or post before it is shared on social media. Get feedback from one another to measure positive and negative reaction before anything goes online.

If you have a great social media policy that you’d like to share with your public relations colleagues please send it to me at gerard (at)

If you’d like guidance on setting up a system that works for your corporate culture just give me a call at 985-624-9976.schock3

Brand Judgment Day

Racist chantBy Gerard Braud

Judgment day in the Biblical sense is the Godly determination of your fate at the end of time.

We’ve been taught that we do not know the hour or the day of our death or judgment.

But in the world of your brand, your products, and your services, we do know the day and we do know the hour. In fact, we know the minute.

The time is now. Social media and the throngs of participants on social media could be described as the most judgmental slice of humanity that civilization has ever seen.

Last week I watched two national stories unfold that led to a lot of online judgement. The first was the story about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a song filled with racial slurs. The second story babyswaddled in american flagwas about a photographer who posted a picture of a baby swaddled in an American flag.

[My goal is to interview both the fraternity brothers and the photographer to learn more about their experiences of being judged so harshly and so quickly. If you can introduce me to any of these folks, please call me.]

Swift social media judgment is a rather interesting phenomenon, considering the societal emphasis placed on political correctness. The political correctness movement had its roots in the 1990s.

When you think about it, an entire generation of young people have been taught that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin, or their ethnic background, or their religion. From there it grew into not criticizing someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Perhaps an unintentional consequence of the political correctness movement is that many people feel compelled to correct everyone else’s speech or behavior. Essentially, people anointed themselves as the police of appropriateness. Individuals became self-ordained. Many attempt to shame the rest of the world into adhering only to thinking as they do and approving only what they approve.

So would this also be true? Would it be true that as the political correctness movement spreads, parents, teachers, and well-intentioned folks enable a new breed of judgment that replaced the kind of judgment they were actually fighting against? Did they endorse and encourage judgment? And was the new judgment harsh?

For a large segment of the population, every day is the day they judge everyone around them. Hence, everyday is judgment day.

About this same time political correctness judgment took hold, talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh began their own breed of judgment. This opened the floodgates of copycat radio shows, which made many older adults also increase their level of harsh judgment and verbal criticism.

As this age of judgment was born, unto everyone was also born the Internet, social media, and technology.

Blogging and anonymous comments on blogs represented phase one of judgment. Phase two of judgment began when media news websites opened their doors to anonymous comments. Then phase three emerged with the birth of Facebook and Twitter.

Specifically to Facebook and Twitter, what could be a platform for sharing joy and goodness has become the trolling grounds for those who judge, hate and comment negatively with gusto. Social media can be a real hellhole for your brand.

The truth is, we all judge and pass judgment with every thought. You have thoughts about the products you buy, services you contract for, people you encounter at work, etc. You also have thoughts about every person you see. Your mind creates a near immediate impression as to whether you initially like someone or not. Your judgment on that may change within moments. You make judgments based on what a person is wearing, their body type, their ethnic background, and what they say.

You are in judgment of others, regardless of whether you have pleasant thoughts about a person or negative thoughts.

But do you verbalize every conceivable thought you have or have you been taught the art of self-control?

Many of us were taught the adage, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all.”

The political correctness age shifted that to, “If someone says something that is not nice about someone you should correct him or her and put them in their place.”

That is called judging those who judge.

This has all morphed into a self-ordained right to comment on social media about everything in society. I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.


The Self-Centered Media and How it Affects You  

By Gerard Braud

gerard braud ron burgundyThe media love their gadgets. They also love promoting their gadgets.

At KSLA 12 in Shreveport, Louisiana, LifeEye12 was our mother ship. That is why I laughed so hard when the opening scene of the movie Anchorman shows Ron Burgundy stepping out of his helicopter. I’m not, however, laughing at CNN’s disgraceful coverage of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

Disgraceful, I say, because of CNN’s coverage of their drone video of an empty bridge.

KSLA Gerard Braud HelicopterFlashback to the 1970’s and 80’s — a news helicopter was the epitomy of status and the gadget of all news gadgets. At KSLA, it was
so important for us to mention and show the helicopter that I was almost fired as weekend anchor because I failed to show our anchorman landing in LifeEye12 at a local festival. Silly newsman and journalist Gerard Braud thought it was more important to report on the four different stories involving fatalities that day than to feature our helicopter. CNN is the latest sinner. CNN is using a drone and they are supporting my premise of the media making it all about them. (See Chapter 3 of my book Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)

Jon Stewart did a brilliant job of calling out CNN for their excessive coverage of the fact that they were using a drone to photograph the Edmund Pettus Bridge, even though there were no people on the bridge. If you haven’t seen it, watch this clip four minutes in. He calls out their sin better than I can even dream to.

gerard braud drone story

Click to watch video

The lesson for all of you is that each day it becomes harder to get the media’s attention. CNN would rather spend valuable airtime talking about themselves and their drone than reporting on the issues of the day. And because media copy media, you can expect to see valuable airtime on your local television station wasted as your local media praise themselves for buying, owning, and using the same toy that all of us have access to.