The Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary has to begin with the words thank you.
The silver lining in the muddy waters was the overwhelming outpouring of help from around the world. Untold volunteers left their lives behind to travel to our region to give their time and talents. Many others donated money to aid in the recovery.
The region is still recovering, but the kindness shared from around the world has made a huge difference.
Recovery involves a combination of rebuilding with brick and mortar, as well as rebuilding the heart, soul and spirit of the communities and the people who make up those communities.
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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.
2) 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.
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You should know it is fog season in New Orleans. With fog season comes some significant lessons about human behavior in a crisis.
Dive in with me, if you will, on an incredibly foggy morning. We are crossing a 12 mile long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain from Mandeville, Louisiana to New Orleans. We’re on this 12 mile bridge because the 24-mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge is closed because of zero visibility.
The fog is so thick it’s as though our headlights are reflecting off of a bright, white wall.
Our forward visibility is at most three to four feet.
If you were in this situation, what would you do?
What would you foresee happening?
I was actually in that situation on December 31, 1996. I was still asking myself this question and preparing for a possible crisis, when a white, Ford F-150 pickup truck swept by me. He was in the left lane driving far too fast. It took only a flash for him to disappear into the fog.
Within an instant I saw his taillights bounce high into the air. He had rear-ended a slower moving car. The two cars were then faced sideways blocking both lanes of the interstate.
Because I was driving slow… I was able to stop short of making impact. But then I heard the horrendous sounds of screeching brakes behind me.
As I looked in my rear view mirror. I could see headlights closing in on me rapidly.
I steered slightly to the left; the lights veered to my right and smashed into the truck.
There were more screeching brakes… more headlights… more crunching metal.
I continued to steer slightly more to the left and out of the way with each continuing wave of arriving headlines. Each cluster of cars piled into the debris field in front of them.
Soon a green minivan hit the pile and flew in the air tumbling end over end. It landed upside down. Soon a small white pick-up was being crushed like an accordion.
The sounds of crashes seem unending. By now I had inched from the right lane, across the left lane, and onto the shoulder of the bridge. I was making spit-second decisions. I was taking action based on the events around me.
Then there was a brief lull. I reached my left hand slowly across my body and unbuckled my seat belt so I could help rescue those in need. I suspected some are likely dead. The lady in the flipped minivan was first on my mind, followed by the guy in the truck that was squished like an accordion.
But before reaching for the door handle I glanced in the rear view mirror one last time.
And as I looked up into my rear view mirror, all I could see were these letters. They were backwards: G- r- e-y-h-o-oohhhhhhhhh…
I jerked the car one last time to the left until my rims were grinding against the curb. And by some miracle… the bus slipped by me in slow motion.
And as I followed the bus with my eyes, there in front of it was the first car to have been hit. It was still blocking the highway. The woman driving the car had been frozen in panic. All this time she had done nothing. All the while I was making spit-second decisions and taking action to avoid being hit. Meanwhile she was just sitting in her car, sideways across the left lane of traffic; the left lane now occupied by the Greyhound bus that was sliding past me in slow motion as the bus driver stood on his breaks. And the woman in the car… I watched the horror on her face… she raised both of her hands across her face. I watched as she screamed…
…and the Greyhound plowed into her car door. He windows shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Her car crumpled like a tin can, spinning down the bridge the way a tin can spins when kicked down the street by a child.
Then there was silence.
I exited my car. I crawled out onto the railing of the bridge.
I walked around the back of my car into the piles of crumpled cars and dazed drivers. The space between my car’s right side and the side of the bus was approximately eight inches. I eased between my back bumper and the bus so I could go check on the lady in the first car.
Out of 70 cars, my car was the only one without a scratch. No one had hit me.
It was a miracle. But I also did something the driver hit by the bus did not do: I took action.
In this world… there are some people who react and respond… and there are some who fall into fog of decision paralysis.
The fog of decision paralysis often strikes people in public relations, the men and women in the c-suite, and the leadership positions in the corporate world. When faced with a crisis, they often do nothing to effectively communicate to key audiences, as if they are paralyzed with fear.
Sure, fire crews are authorized to fight their fire without approval. But it often takes 4-8 hours for a news release to be written, approved and released, following the onset of a crisis.
Doing nothing is unacceptable. Doing nothing makes things worse.
In the age of Twitter, you must decide today how you will communicate at the speed of Twitter when a crisis strikes.
If the answer eludes you, call me at 985-624-9976. Your answer awaits.
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I’d like you to stop for a moment as you plan for the New Year and your public relations goals. Reflect if you will, on the year that just ended, as well as the years before.
Today is the Day of Epiphany, and I’d like to challenge you to identify moments of epiphany in your own life and in your own career. I’m even going to share with you some of my own moments of revelation and epiphany in order to help you out. We’ll get to that in just a moment, but you’ll do better if you understand why today’s focus is on moments of epiphany.
January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany (and it is my favorite day of the year). Here in New Orleans we celebrate it in multiple ways. Today is the last day of the Christmas season. It is the 12th day of Christmas that you’ve probably sung about. According to Christian tradition, this is the day the Magi – or three kings – reached the baby Jesus in the manger.
Gerard Braud as King of the Krewe of Mid-City with his father Allen Braud in 2001.
In New Orleans, this is also known as King’s Day. It begins our Carnival season leading up to Mardi Gras. This is also the day that many of the King’s are chosen for the various Carnival and Mardi Gras parades. In 2001 I was one of those King’s.
So, here is your assignment or challenge… Today is a natural day for you to go beyond setting goals and making New Year resolutions. Your ability to achieve those goals and keep your resolutions is directly tied to who you are and the revelations or moments of epiphanies that you have had.
For example, some of my greatest revelations have come when I have taken various personality profile tests over the past 20 years. These tests can be a window into your DNA and can affect your career and life positively or negatively.
Myers & Briggs confirmed I’m an ENTP – An extravert, dreamer, with opinions who values fairness.
True Colors indicated I’m an extravert who values fun more than money.
This means not everyone is going to like me. Highly emotional people and introverts are repulsed by me. My maverick approach to crisis communications plans is to get finished in two days, but analytical people who value a longer process and a series of deadlines may reject my maverick approach.
On the flip side, if you are a fun-loving, extravert who wants to get in, get out and get done with a crisis communications plan, then we are soul-mates, according to the epiphany presented by these tests.
My challenge to you is to dig up your old personality profiles or take a new test and see what moments of epiphany you have. It could help you know who your allies and enemies will be at work. Like-minded people give you permission to proceed in attaining your goals. Like-minded people are your advocates and will help you get the money or resources needed to achieve your goals. Conversely, those not like you may shoot down your great ideas or setup roadblocks to derail your efforts and ideas.
Who you approach for help will determine if your goals are achieved. Even the best ideas, presented to the wrong person at work, can go down in flames, ruining your year.
Happy King’s Day. I hope you rule your entire year.
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You would think that in 2010, spokespeople would be smart enough not to repeat a negative phrase as part of an interview or as a phrase in an advertising campaign. Surprisingly, it still goes on.
This month, the country of Colombia has launched a new tourism campaign. So what do you think of when you think of Columbia? Do you think about the risk of cocaine drug lords, the risk of hostage taking and killings? Do you think about how you might be risking your life if you travel there?
The new Colombian tourism ads use the word “risk.” It’s a nice try at a play on words, but someone should fire the agency that agreed to write and produce these spots.
The commercials are beautiful and enticing on their own. But as soon as you hear the phrase “risk,” it makes you remember the danger, and causes you to second guess any notion of falling in love with the enticing images of the commercial.
This latest example comes on the heels of Christine O’Donnell’s failed run for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. After announcing on cable TV that she dabbled in witchcraft, she tried to defend her candidacy by repeating the phrase, “I’m not a witch” in countless interviews and even used it as the opening phrase in her TV commercials. Dumb, dumb, dumb. If you do a Google search for “I’m not a witch,” O’Donnell comes up several million times.
The rule is, you never repeat a negative word or phrase. As you prepare for your next interview or media training class, purge your answers of the negatives and learn how to answer questions without adding negative phrases.
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Media Training in New Orleans Lesson coming this Monday. Don’t miss the one-in-a-million quote.
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