Citizen Journalism: How Breaking News Got Broken and 5 Things You Need to Do Now

By Gerard Braud

Gerard Braud * 15Watch the news coverage as winter storms move across the United States, leaving many people without power in the cold for up to two weeks. Much of this story is being told through the eyes of the so-called, “citizen journalists.”

Citizen journalism is one of the reasons breaking news got broken. While corporate communicators, corporate executives and corporate lawyers haggle over every word and comma in a news release, eye witnesses to news events are posting their pictures and videos online with astounding speed.

Corporations around the world need to wake up. They need to rethink their approach to media relations and crisis communications. They need to think and act like citizen journalists. They need to post fast to the web.

Learn more at this Free Webinar on Thursday, December 12, 2013

When I hear a corporate communicator tell me, “Our people will never let us do that,” my first instinct is to channel my inner Ron Burgundy because, “I’d like to punch you in the spleen.” Trust me, in 1994 I heard these same people telling us that we couldn’t use e-mail and websites. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

But seriously – stop saying you can’t. Here are 5 things to consider.

us-airways#1 The Miracle on the Hudson

When U.S. Airways had a jet full of people land in the Hudson River in the media capitol of the world, all of the world’s media used the same image taken by a guy with a smart phone who posted the image to Twitter. I’d wager that U.S. Airways might have not even known they had lost a plane when those first images hit Twitter. You must be that fast to post images of your own news events.

#2 The Virginia Tech Massacre

On that sad day when 32 people died at Virginia Tech, University officials were slow to meet, slow to make decisions, and slow to issue both news releases and emergency communications to their student body. Instead, an engineering student used his smart phone to capture video of police officers on campus as 26 gunshots from the gunman are heard on the video. There was no national VT Cell Phonenews media on the campus at that moment, yet when the students uploaded his video to CNN iReports, the media had all they needed to tell the story from a location where no media would have been allowed. You must be that fast to post video of your own news events.

#3 Stop Analyzing Words and Commas

After more than 30 years in communications, I still don’t understand why corporations spend so much time scrutinizing a written news release, only to have the spokesperson say dumb, un-vetted comments in an interview. If the interview isn’t going to match the written news release then stop spending so much time on the news release and spend that time in media training with the spokesperson.

#4 Stop Writing News Releases from Scratch

Every crisis communications plan should have a huge library of pre-written and pre-approved news releases that can be easily modified through strategically placed fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice options. If 100 things could go wrong in your organization, you should have 100 pre-written news releases. The pre-approval process will allow them to be posted to the web and read to the media in less than one hour of the onset of your news event or crisis.

#5 Practice

To be as good as a citizen journalist you must have the necessary Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts set up. You must set up accounts with CNN iReports and other media uploading profiles. You need the right phone or tablet device and it must be configured to interface with your social media accounts. You need Skype for live reports. Here is the big one – you must practice your performance on camera as well as your ability to share and publish online from your smart device. This isn’t easy to do, yet you must do it and make it look easy.

The bottom line is someone will be telling your story. It can be an uninformed, yet technologically advanced eye-witness, or it can be an official source who understands the technology, as well as good media relations and crisis communications.

Who will tell your next story?

Want to learn more? Register for this free CommPro.Biz webinar on December 16, 2013 at 1 p.m. EDT

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3 Reasons Powerful People Say Dumb Things in Media Interviews

By Gerard Braud

Click to watch video

Click to watch video

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has done it. So has Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. So have presidential candidates like Herman Cain and Sarah Palin. Each is guilty of saying dumb things in media interviews.

Why do powerful people say dumb things in media interviews?

Here are 3 reasons…

First, powerful people fail to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to preparing for and training for their interviews. Most people who run for office or lead corporations are usually sent to a media training coach so they can learn to effectively communicate with the media. The media trainer should never be a spin doctor who teaches people to avoid answering questions, but rather a thoughtful coach who teaches the spokesperson to craft thoughtful, well worded answers that provide the appropriate amount of context, quotes, and supporting facts. The essence of the best answers requires having a good writer who can write articulate, quotable phrases in the voice of the spokesperson. The spokesperson is then responsible for internalizing these phrases for use in the interview.

One media training class is never enough. Media interviews require practice before each interview, just as an athlete would practice before each game.

Training, practicing and internalizing key phrases requires dedicated time, and many powerful people fail to allocate time, thinking they can do fine without additional practice.

That leads us to reason number two, which is arrogance and overconfidence by the powerful person.

Powerful people have often had some success in the past with spontaneously saying the right thing in the right moment. Politicians have often been told early in their careers that they were good public speakers. However, the stakes get higher each day as a person’s public profile rises. Often, reporters begin to dig a little deeper and question the congruency between what a person has said in the past and their actions in the present.

The increased scrutiny generates harder questions, which requires even more practice and more time spent internalizing powerful, quotable phrases. Yet the arrogant and over confident spokesperson fails to recognize that what got them to this level will not get them to the next level. In other words, a good public speaker needs to become a great professional speaker. Many are never motivated to become as great as they should be.

This brings us to reason number three, which is the spokesperson’s failure to correlate the monetary and reputational impact of what they say and the massive damage that happens when they say dumb things. One of the worst examples I’ve ever seen is a spokesperson who said the wrong thing and derailed a $700-million industrial project.

Toronto Media Training BraudJust look at the spokespeople we sited above. Rob Ford’s dumb statements have lead his city council to begin stripping him of his power. It is unknown whether his reputational damage will cause him to lose his job come election time. Chip Wilson has seen an outcry on social media as former customers abandon Lululemon yoga wear, all because of a careless adlib on Bloomberg TV.  Herman Cain tried to run for president, knowing sexual harassment allegations were part of his past, yet failed to be prepared with a well-written response. Instead, when he was asked if he had ever been accused of sexual harassment, he responded, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?” His campaign contributions dried up and his bid for President ended. Sarah Palin may be able to bring a crowd to their feet in a public rally of supporters, but in media interviews my opinion is she is consistently one of the worst spokespeople I have ever seen. Her failed interview with Katie Couric during her bid for Vice President derailed the presidential campaign of Senator John McCain. Many would say her verbal blunders have kept her from advancing her political career. Her statements may be acceptable to a certain loyal audience, but constant blunders erode her loyal support and empower her detractors.

Chip Wilson BloombergPowerful people become powerful because they have certain skills or characteristics that propel them forward. The most powerful people are those who can recognize their own weaknesses and either hire people to do those jobs for them, or they hire coaches who will honestly critique their weakness and develop a process to improve in those areas.

Talking to the media is hard. It requires you to think like a reporter and organize your thoughts like a journalist is taught to write a news report. It requires you to know how to punch home a headline, how to begin and end with a great synopsis sentence, how to pepper the interview with well planned quotes, and how to give a few supporting facts without over loading the interview with irrelevant details. A journalist spends four years in college learning this system and practices it daily with each report they write.

No spokesperson should be foolish, arrogant or over confident enough to try to match their amateur status with that of a professional, anymore than they should think that one trip to the putt-putt course makes them ready to play golf in the PGA.


Media Training Advice to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

By Gerard Braud

Toronto Media Training BraudWhen media training a candidate, politician, or elected official, one of the hardest things to teach them is when to shut up.

In every media training class I impart this expert advice to the trainee: “When you are digging a hole for yourself, put down the shovel.”

Media Training BackhoeToronto May Rob Ford has likely never heard this from his media trainer. One must ask, has Rob Ford ever had media training? Instead of putting down the shovel he has brought in a backhoe.

As repulsive as you may find Rob Ford’s latest quote, I’m going to give it to you here just to show what an amazing failure this guy is every time he is questioned by reporters. You can watch the video for yourself.

“Oliver Gondek says that I want to eat her pussy and Oliver Gondek, I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home,” said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

From Vancouver to Toronto, Canadians have dominated the news for the past two weeks for saying things to the media that they should not say. Each time, they make the situation worse with a poorly executed apology. We saw that last week with Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson and now with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Each case, the spokesman created their own crisis by what they said. Dare I say the United States media has not covered this much news from Canada in my lifetime?

Admittedly it is difficult to media train certain people with certain personality types. Certain rich or powerful people are arrogant enough, or over confident enough, that their inflated egos preclude them from seeking expert advice and expert coaching in order to improve their skills in many areas, including talking to the media.

Oh! Canada!

Media Training Jon StewartIf after this you need to have a good laugh, watch John Stewart’s coverage of this story on The Daily Show.


Navigate the Waters of Reputational Repair: 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications Planning

By Gerard Braud Navigating the waters of a crisis requires a good crisis communication plan before the waters ever begin to rise. Clear sunny day planning, long before your darkest day, is the secretBy Gerard Braud

DSC_0076Navigating the waters of a crisis requires a good crisis communication plan before the waters ever begin to rise. Clear sunny day planning, long before your darkest day, is the secret. In today’s social media filled world, this has never been more true.

Sadly, in our social media world some public relations people expect to Tweet their way out of a crisis or repair damage using Facebook. Neither is true. While “shiny and new” social media can be part of an effect communications strategy, you must first have the foundation of tried and true media relations, crisis communications, employee communications and stakeholder communications.

(Hear from Gerard in person during this special free webinar on November 20, 2013 1:00 p.m. EST)
Want to know the secret ingredients? Read on…

Here is a sure fire 5 step approach that must be your foundation.

Step 1: Vulnerability assessment

Before “it” hits the fan, you have to identify everything that could go wrong, including potential sudden crises and smoldering crises. Hire a facilitator to take your organization through the process of a deep examination of the things that could go wrong that would damage the reputation and revenues of the company.

Step 2: Write your pre-written news releases, web posts, and e-mails

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “when you are up to your ass in alligators it is hard to think about draining the swamp.” This applies to crisis communications. One of the biggest mistakes public relations people make is that as the crisis is unfolding, they open a blank document on their computer and start writing a news release, which then goes through hours of unnecessary re-writes before it is release. Consider this: on a clear sunny day you should write as many of these potential news releases as possible, leaving blanks that you’ll fill in when you know the details of the actual event. These documents can be pre-approved by leaders, speeding up your ability to release them to the public. I’ve facilitated many crisis communication writing retreats that produced more than 150 pre-written news releases in one day. That kind of productivity rocks!

Step 3: Write your crisis communications plan

Very few documents that public relations people refer to as a crisis communication plan would pass my test for what a plan should be. Most are worthless 6 to 12 page documents that state standard operating procedure and serve absolutely no purpose on the day of your crisis. Yet to be fair, this is what most PR people were taught in school or at some PR seminar. Frustrated by what I kept finding, I invented something new.

My approach is to write a document that is intended to be read and followed during the crisis. It dictates specific, sequential tasks in a very fast moving time frame. It captures all of the perfect behaviors of the most senior communicator, yet is so easy to follow than any one who can read can execute the plan flawlessly. I’ve invested about 2,500 hours of development in my base plan, which is about 50 pages long, which I am now able to customize for my clients during a single afternoon workshop.

Step 4: Annual media training for a crisis

Despite all of the buzz about social media, holding a live news conference within both the first and second hour of a crisis is vital if the media are standing at your door. Many organizations damage their revenues and reputations when untrained spokespeople say dumb things during a crisis.

It is important for every potential spokesperson to recognize that media training is not a bucket list item that you do once in life. Talking to the media is a skill that requires regular practice. I recommend media training for all spokespeople at least once a year, with an expert coach. Then, before every media interview, in-house staff should do a fast refresher course.

Think of it this way – the best athletes achieve great success because they practice often and partner with a great coach. Great spokespeople practice often and partner with a great coach, protecting their reputation and revenues through what they say, and just importantly, what they don’t say.

Step 5: An annual crisis communications drill

Realistic crisis communications drills are the best way to test your communications team and the decision making process of your leaders. A drill once a year allows colleagues to establish trust and good working relationships. A crisis drill allows ample time for leaders to pause and discuss decisions they must make during a real crisis. This helps them avoid decision paralysis during a crisis.

Your crisis communications drill should include at least two mock news conferences during the drill. Hire mock media and never use real media. Your facilitator must write a complicated, yet realistic scenario. It must include a likely crisis, plus all of the social media, employee and media buzz that would surround a real crisis. The facilitator should also hire a team of people to flood your phone lines with constant calls, replicating the calls you would receive from media, customers, and concerned citizens in a real crisis.


All of this takes time. None of it is easy or fast. But, it is much easier to prepare on a clear sunny day than to struggle and fail on your darkest day. Your reputation and revenues depend upon it.

About the author: Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) has helped leaders and organizations on 5 continents write their crisis communications plans, using his one-of-a-kind writing retreat that completes one years worth of work in 2 days. He is regarded as an expert in media training and crisis communications plans and is the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to a Reporter. Contact him at or


Did Lululemon’s Crisis Communication Efforts on Social Media Create a Bigger Crisis?

By Gerard Braud

A bad media interview caused by insufficient media training is creating a crisis communication problem on social media. Experts will weigh in on this, but I don’t think any one expert has the answer as to the best way to handle this.

reax Lululemon FBI really want to know what you think.

The founder of Lululemon has posted a video to the company Facebook apologizing for comments he made in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Read the full details on my blog from last week.

As I write this, nearly 500 people have clicked “Like” on this particular Facebook post while more than 700 comments are posted. The vast majority of these comments are negative.

I have several crisis communication questions for you:

1) Do you think the founder, Chip Wilson, has made the situation better or worse by attempting to apologize on Facebook for comments he made on television?

2) Do you think the situation is getting better or worse on the Facebook brand page as the company’s public relations and social media teams try to engage in a conversation with those who post comments?

Without providing an answer to those questions, here is something to consider — Each time the public relations and social media team replies to a comment on the Facebook post, it moves the discussion higher in the news feed of the page followers, increasing the odds that someone new will jump into the conversation.

Was this a big mistake to take this discussion to Facebook?

Could this apology have found a better home in the company’s newsroom?

Was the apology itself poorly worded, leading to more negative comments?

Was the apology made only to employees and not to customers?

If the apology was to employees only, should it not have been posted where only employees would see it?

Could all of this crisis on the back end been eliminated by doing things differently on the front end?

As a father, I’ll tell you that my wife and I had a couple of basic rules when we were raising our two daughters. One rule was that you never have to fix the big things if you fix the little things. In this case, the lesson for all PR people, CEOs, and executive spokespeople, is to understand that the apology would never have been needed if the CEO had not said a foolish ad lib in the interview.  The foolishness would have been eliminated if executive media training had been done prior to the original interview.

I’m amazed on a daily basis at how under valued media training is among executives and public relations teams.

In every media training class that I teach, I challenge the CEO or spokesperson with this question, “If you could attach a dollar to every word that you say, would you make money or lose money?”

StopSpending LuluLemmon FBOf the more than 700 comments on the Lululemon Athletica Facebook page about this issue, many clearly say they will no longer buy the company’s product. Need I say more to prove my point? I think not.

In every crisis you should consider my “Crisis Rule of Thirds,” which states that one-third of the people love your company/brand, one-third will hate your company/brand, and the third in the middle will swing like a pendulum, based on what is popular at the moment.

In a social media crisis, in a world that is already filled with negative comments, I think many companies will lose the battle, lose the war, lose customers, and lose money.

Consider this: Delete the video, delete the Facebook post, and stop talking about it.

What do you think?

Social Media Revolutions & How to Write a Social Media Policy

How to Write Your Social Media Policy
March 1st Webinar

Plus the Social Media Revolution – What You Can Learn from Global Events

The time is NOW. Social Media is changing nations. But are you watching from the sidelines or digging in and learning how this affects your communications where you work and with your audience. For all the benefits of Social Media, there is an ugly flip side most people won’t talk about, or fail to recognize, or turn a blind eye to. I’m ready to talk about it.

Join me March 1st for a powerful teleseminar that will cover 2 aspects of the dangers of Social Media. First, learn how to write a Social Media policy that is perfect for your company.  Then we discuss the impact of Social Media during a Crisis, what your leaders don’t understand about Social Media, and what you need to be aware of from this day forward.

Join us for this thought provoking webinar.

Just $79 for your entire team to listen and learn.

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