Now I want to help you encourage your co-op managers to be better prepared for crisis communications, as well as to better understand social media and where social media fits into your crisis communications plan. My goal is for you to conduct a teach-back, at your electric cooperative, that mimics my presentation with the fan, the jump suits and the silly string. Remember to have a gallery of employees ready to capture the stunt and post it to social media, just as we did. Additionally, challenge your leaders to write a news release on a blank piece of paper, just as we did in the presentation.
If you’d like me to do the same presentation live for your statewide meeting of communicators, managers, and or board members, please call me at 985-624-9976. I’d be honored to serve you.
So you can show your executives how fast social media spreads news about an event, I’ve included a few samples of the Twitter feed about the event, along with photos and videos posted by your fellow communicators. You can search for more online.
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To see what a bad Crisis Communications Plan looks like, visit the resource page at CrisisCommunicationsPlans.com to download a copy of the Virginia Tech Crisis Communications Plan.
If your plan looks anything like this document, you need a new plan.
Free Resource #3
Because I had to head to the airport right after the presentation, I wanted you to be able to schedule a private phone call with me this week to ask any additional follow up questions or to discuss issues too sensitive to discuss during the presentation. My phone number is 985-624-9976 and my e-mail is email@example.com Please e-mail me to schedule a call time during the week.
Free Resource #4
I’ve published numerous blog entries about Social Media and Crisis Communications. Here are a few links that you will find beneficial. More will follow in the next 2 weeks. You may wish to use the sign up box in the upper right corner to make sure you receive the next few articles.
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Consider this: Just a few years ago rural electric cooperatives were not under pressure to communicate rapidly with the media, members or employees. Today, you have less than one hour to control the flow of accurate information.
There are three major reasons why this is changing and four things you can do to adjust to these changes. If you are not adjusting to these changes, you will be in big trouble.
To learn about the three major changes and four ways to adjust, read on…
To communicate effectively at a 2014 level, you need these four things:
1) Your co-op must have the most extensive crisis communications plan ever written.
2) Your crisis communications plan must have a library of at least 100 pre-written news releases.
3) Your CEO/manager, operations director, customer service director, and public relations director must agree to all train at least once a year for media interviews.
4) Your co-op must conduct a crisis communications drill at least once a year to test your crisis communications plan, your pre-written news releases, and the media interview skills of your spokespeople.
Why is this suddenly so critical in 2014? Here are the three reasons:
#1 Urban Sprawl
Time was, when city media seldom reported on rural electric co-op issues. Today, as cities like Houston, Atlanta, and others have turned pastures and forests into neighborhoods, the media aggressively covers stories in these areas. New residents in new houses represent a young, emerging audience with disposable income that appeals to advertisers, especially for television news. Those same new residents are likely to be the quickest to call a television news investigative reporter and they will be the first to comment online about a negative news report.
#2 The Rural Weekly Paper is Online
Time was, when rural news was only reported by the local weekly newspaper. Today, the internet has allowed the weekly paper to publish online 24/7. No longer can you take days to respond to a co-op controversy. The weekly paper may still print just one day a week, but they need an interview, facts and quotes from you just as fast as the big city media.
#3 Social Media
An angry member can quickly escalate any issue to the crisis level. They can escalate an issue into an online controversy and a mainstream media controversy. While many co-op managers and board members continue to wrangle with, question, and oppose a social media presence, members are creating their own anti-cooperative Facebook pages. Your extensive crisis communications plan must have a social media strategy.
Co-op communications is changing rapidly. If you, like so many cooperative communicators, find yourself with too many other tasks and too few people or hours in the day, please call me. I have fast, easy and affordable solutions to your communication challenges, including a world class crisis communications plan that can be customized in just two days.
Click here to LISTEN to what other cooperative communicators have to say about this fast, cost effective way to implement a crisis communications plan customized for your cooperative. You can also call me at 985-624-9976 to learn more.
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Few organizations in the world face the communications challenges of America’s Rural Electric Cooperatives.
On any given day customers could be protesting over electric rates. Workers could be under attack for disconnecting service. Board members could be scrutinized for per diems, travel or expenses. Add to that the growing influence of negative social media comments and big city media covering more co-op controversies, and you have a storm brewing. That storm demands effective communications from all executives, board members, and co-op public relations teams.
Here are three steps every cooperative should take:
There is no excuse, in this modern age of media, for any executive, board member or public relations person to mess up when talking to the media. But it still happens.
Many rural people tend to be friendly, honest and sometimes too chatty. Unfortunately many executives, board members and public relations people mistake the gift of gab for the ability to be an effective communicator with the media. Many board members mistakenly believe the respect they get from their status in their communities will transfer to respect from the media. That isn’t true. The fact is many of the habits you have in everyday conversation have to be avoided when talking with a reporter.
Don’t worry, there is hope. The secret is to set aside one day every year to sit down in front of a television camera with a media training coach to practice realistic interview scenarios.
Since most reporters really do not fully understand the history and inner workings of cooperatives, your media training must adopt the newest innovations in training. Never settle for training that provides only bullet points as talking points. This outdated method leads to bad ad-libs and ugly quotes.
Modern training requires a library of pre-written quotes, learned and internalized by each executive, board member and spokesperson. When written properly, internalized, and practiced, these verbatim sentences provide context, information and strong quotes. These are all elements reporters need in their story. Also, when written in a conversational sentence structure, these sentences are easy to work into everyday conversations by leaders and employees alike.
Consider that many executives who are interviewed complain that they are taken out of context and misquoted. A well-worded, pre-planned opening sentence delivered by the spokesperson can serve as a pre-amble statement that provides context to your cooperative’s goals and purpose. This forever eliminates the issue of being taken out of context.
With annual media training you will be a good spokesperson for good news, as well as when you have to speak to the media during a crisis.
The worst time to deal with a crisis is during the crisis. The best time is on a clear sunny day.
During good times, your cooperative must conduct a vulnerability assessment to identify all potential crises.
You must write a crisis communications plan that chronologically tells you every step you must take to effectively communicate during the crisis.
You must write a preliminary fill-in-the-blank statement to use in the first hour of your crisis when facts are still being determined.
You must create a more detailed news release style statement for each potential crisis that you identified in your vulnerability assessment.
If you identify 100 potential crises, then you need to write 100 potential news releases, using evergreen facts, fill in the blanks and multiple-choice options. This is best done through a facilitated writing retreat with your communications team.
A classic mistake cooperatives make is to prepare communications only for natural disasters, power outages and worker injury. A modern crisis communications plan must also cover smoldering crises such as executive misbehavior, discrimination, financial mismanagement, per diems, and even crises involving social media.
When pre-written on a clear sunny day, these documents are ready for quick release to the media, employees, customers, the Internet and other key audiences. This process is not easy and is time consuming, but it pays huge dividends during your crisis. Many organizations experience a crisis, then in the midst of it, look at a blank word document and try to spontaneously draft a statement. The statement then goes through unprecedented scrutiny and rewrites, resulting in massive delays. In the modern age of fast communications, this is lunacy. You should never put off until tomorrow what you can write today.
Writing your Crisis Communications Plan is the perfect way to get all employees, executives, and board members on the same page. On a clear sunny day you can all agree on the policies and procedures that need to be followed for effective crisis communications. Make sure your plan goes beyond standard operating procedures. Also, make sure it doesn’t rely on only the expertise of your public relations team. The plan must be so thorough that nothing in the process is forgotten, yet easy enough to understand and follow that it can be executed by anyone who can read.
Too many cooperatives make the mistake of thinking their executives can wing it in a crisis. They think a gift of gab equates to being a great spokesperson. They also think that knowledge of the business equips them to manage a crisis and the communications for that crisis.
The secret to getting it right on your darkest day is to set aside time on a clear sunny day to hold a crisis drill. During your drill your emergency managers can run a table-top exercise. Your communications team and executives act out a real-time exercise, complete with news conferences, using role players to portray the media.
When done correctly, a drill exposes bad decision-making, bad behavior and outright incompetence among responders, spokespeople and those in leadership roles. Conversely, annual drills teach your team members how to effectively work together during a crisis. Team members are taught to achieve effective communications while also working to end the crisis.
About the author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC has helped organizations on 5 continents communicate more effectively with the media, employees and customers in good times and bad. He facilitates writing retreats and workshops to help cooperatives write and complete their crisis communications plans in just 2 days. He also trains cooperative board members and leaders on how to become effective spokespeople.
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