Media Training 7: Never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel

By Gerard Braud 

I find it unbelievable that in the 21st century we still find executives who don’t want to take on a reporter or news outlet that has wrongly damaged their reputation. 

The traditional way of responding to a media outlet that makes a factual error is to ask the management for a retraction. But sometimes the issue is not always factual but a difference in your point of view. If a newspaper does a hatchet job on you, the correct way to respond is to always write a letter to the editor. The letter should be short and to the point, with about 200-400 words. In some cases, you may want to ask 3rd party supporters to also write short letters on your behalf.

Yet I still find executives who say, “We’re not going to respond. Just let it die. You can’t get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” That statement was wrong 50 years ago and it is even more wrong today.

In the past, a negative story may have run on TV or radio once or twice for 60-90 seconds, then it was gone. In the past, a negative story appeared in the newspaper for just one day, then the paper was thrown out, never to be seen again.

But the internet has changed all of that. Today, those negative stories live on in archives on the internet forever. Additionally, media websites are among the highest ranked websites on the internet because their information is deep, the site is constantly updated, and it is perceived by search engines as highly credible. The media sites are so highly ranked that if your organization or name is mentioned in a news report, the media website could come up as a higher ranked site on the internet than your own site.

What this means is that if I do an internet search for your name, or that of your organization, I may see and read the negative things written about you on a media website before I read the positive stuff about you on your own web site.

So what do you do?

Well, just as always, if it is a newspaper that has damaged your reputation, you should write a letter to the editor as I’ve outlined above. That letter to the editor now becauses part of the online archive linked to the story. That way, in the future, when people stumble across the story they will immediately find your point of view as well.

In the case of radio and TV, you should place your comments on the media outlet’s blog on their website. Please be aware that other web users and opponents may verbally attack you and your comments once they are on the media outlet’s blog. You need to be ready to clearly state your case.

Additionally, you may wish to place a response on your own website and blog. Blogs are highly valued by search engines and will help counter the negative comments from the original story.

Finally, don’t take it personally. Your response is as important as a business decision, as we outlined in lesson 2. Hire professional PR writers to help if necessary. They will take the issue less personally and likely choose better words that may temper any anger you are feeling.

In our next lesson we’ll explore why the facts don’t matter.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Why Social Media is Great in a Crisis for Search Engine Optimization

By, Gerard Braud

When a crisis happens, Google logo
people go to the Internet looking for information about your crisis.
If your company, government agency or non-profit organization is experiencing a crisis, you want to control the flow of official information through effective crisis communicationand a good Crisis Communications Plan. (See How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan.)

This means that when people search the Internet for information about your crisis, you hope they find your official webpage before reading the web pages of the media, bloggers and the web’s anonymous naysayers.

Social media can help you with this. But before we go further, you must make sure that in everything you write about your crisis, you call it what it is and not attempt to disguise it with PR-BS or sanitized terms concocted by your CEO or lawyers.

A fire is a fire; it isn’t the “event of warmth that caused the facility to no longer exist,” or some other crazy phrase someone invents. A shooting is a shooting; it isn’t the “incident that involved a metallic projectile expelled from a metal tube,” or some other nonsense. You may laugh, but in my business, I see it every day.

When writing effective messages for crisis communications, you must put on your Google hat. In other words, when someone does a search on Google for information about your crisis, which words are they going to type into their search engine? Those are the words you need to be using in all of your postings to official websites and to your official social media channels.

Google and the other search engines use complicated, secretive algorithms to make up what we know as search engine optimization (SEO). This is what allows someone to type a word into the search engine and get information on that topic. And while the major search engines keep changing their algorithms to prevent you from outright manipulation of the search engines, there are certain things we know about how they work and how you can increase the likelihood of ranking high in a search during your crisis.

Here are five great things to know about SEO in a Crisis.

1) It starts by using the right words. As mentioned above, call the event what it is and don’t use sanitized terms. Next, use those words in the title of your website post, as well as in the opening sentence of your online news releases. Repeat the phrase several times throughout everything you write.

For some, this immediately raises the question: Are you breaking the old PR rule that you should never repeat the negative?

The answer is that you can straddle the fence. You can call the event, “Shooting at XYX Company This Morning.” That is what it is and it is what people will call it. You are, however, avoiding super negative phrases, such as, “The Horrific Tragic Shooting that has Brought XYZ Company to its Knees.”

Some will ask, should you avoid using words like crisis or tragedy? Are you better off calling it an incident? That is really a decision that should preliminarily be made while writing your Crisis Communications Plan and the various communications documents that will live in the addendum of the plan. (For more on this, review our previous articles on How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan.) If you have that discussion on a clear sunny day, you can likely pick the best word, then reconsider it once more on the day of the event.

A recent case in point is the Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy in which 26 people were shot and killed, most of whom were children. This is indeed tragic. A communicator, CEO, or lawyer would be foolish to attempt to sanitize this, as though calling this “an unfortunate event” would or could minimize the impact of the truth.

Let a compassionate heart and common sense be your guide.

2) The search engines love deep sites. A deep site is one that has an abundance of content, which most corporate sites do. However, a deep site that is updated more frequently, is perceived by the search engines to be of higher value. Many corporate sites are static sites with sales and marketing information, with very few updates.

This means that during your crisis, you are competing with deep sites from the news media, which unlike your corporate site, are updated constantly with breaking news.

This means that your official site, the host of your official information, is competing with the news media to be ranked highest when someone tries to get information about our crisis.

How do you compete with them for SEO?

One secret is to write and blog frequently. Blog updates that are part of your official corporate site are the best way to make your already deep site appear to be current, with new information on a regular basis.

Your corporate newsroom should be formatted as a blog site, which is perceived by the search engines, as high value, new information.

This brings us to tip number 3

3) Search engines love Word Press blog sites. I can’t tell you why, but it is true, especially if you have an advanced template with extra code that lets the search engines know you’ve added new content and used the right words.

Most corporate, non-profit and government websites are built with HTML or some proprietary template designed to provide security and firewall protection. But your needs as a communicator may be competing with IT’s need for security.

Together, you’ll need to work out a compromise. Many Word Press templates have advanced security features that satisfy your IT department.

Additionally, Word Press is fast and easy to use. It doesn’t require help from IT or a web designer. It is the ultimate content management system. You can easily add images, audio and videos, as well as links. Plus, if you have followed my earlier advice to create a huge addendum of pre-written crisis statements, these templates can be placed in Word Press on a clear sunny day and saved as unpublished pages. Essentially, this becomes your dark site. Just make sure the people who have access to the site are training not to accidentally post a dark page.

4) YouTube videos should be a high priority for you during a crisis, because when it comes to search engines, YouTube is now second, only to Google.

Throughout these articles I rave about YouTube, and this is just one more reason. Of course, this requires you to properly name each video you post, using the words that people will put into the search engine. Just as we discussed earlier, you must name the video using the same key words that people are searching for and not attempt to sanitize the words.

I especially like the way the iPad and iPhone allows you to shoot a short video and upload it directly to YouTube. I also like the way YouTube allows you to directly send a message to Twitter that says you have a new video for the world to see.

5) SEO also increases for your primary website when you add links to that site via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and your other social media channels.

The Internet is indeed a web and it tracks all paths that lead to other paths.

Keep in mind, stronger SEO evolves when you use social media on a regular basis. SEO improves through regular links to your primary website, and especially when those links go to your blog or newsroom, that you update on a regular basis.

One final note about your official webpage. It is seldom necessary to take down your company’s primary web page during a crisis. During your vulnerability assessment, when writing your Crisis Communications Plan, you should evaluate when that should happen, if ever.

HD FacebookOne thing you should add to your primary website, so it is seen every day on your homepage is a big, easy to find button that says, “Latest News.” You should place this in the upper right corner, in or near the header of the homepage. You’ll need to discuss this with your web designer to make it look good, without distracting from your branding. However, I really hate when I have to look for a tiny link or go through a pull down menu in order to find your newsroom, to get the latest information when a crisis is unfolding.

A button that says “Latest News” can take your visitors directly to your newsroom on a clear sunny day, and serve as a one-click button that takes them to your newsroom on your darkest day. If visitors can get to your newsroom in a single click, you make it less likely that you ever need to take down your homepage.  This is especially important if your homepage is a commerce site and commerce is still required to keep the company alive, while you deal with the crisis at hand.

So, your to-do list today is a long one. Determine how you will accomplish all of the tasks I’ve outline for you here today. If you have questions, please call me at 985-624-9976.



Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day 3 – Wordsmith Wednesday

For 2009 I encourage you to join the legion of followers who partake in a little something I invented called Wordsmith Wednesday.

The reason I invented Wordsmith Wednesday is twofold. First, I hate jargon and there is way too much jargon in organizational communications these days, whether you are with a corporation, government agency or non-profit. Writing with organizational jargon is sometimes easier and faster than writing in a way that the rest of the world can understand. So the first purpose of Wordsmith Wednesday is for you to set time aside to write well and to re-write much of the crap that currently passes for communications.

Secondly, because most organizations have a calendar system that allows co-workers to invite you to meetings, your calendar is constantly filled with unproductive meetings that keep you from getting your work done. Wordsmith Wednesday allows you to mark your calendar to reserve every Wednesday afternoon from noon until 5 p.m. as your time to write. You simply go into your calendar system and block it out beginning this Wednesday and then tell your calendar to repeat it every Wednesday for the next 20 years. That way, when colleagues check your calendar to invite you to a meeting, they’ll see that you are already booked on Wednesday afternoon. Clever, huh?

Now let’s talk about how to spend your time. Writing, especially good writing, is something we all need to do more of. Good writing equals good communications and bad writing equals bad communications.

Good communications should be measured by how well your audience understands what your are trying to say and whether they behave the way you want them to. When I say, your audience, I mean any and everyone who could come to your company to buy your products and services and not just your employees.

When I visit an organization’s website, for example, I often have no idea what the company does because the text contains so much jargon. Usually I find myself asking, “What Does That Mean?” Websites are meant to communicate in a glance.

Jargon filled writing on websites is so bad that it affects your search engine optimization. For example, in a recent writing workshop I was teaching, I went live to and typed in the word Car. None of the major car companies showed up among the top pages. That’s because they sell vehicles and the word vehicle is found all throughout their sites. Folks at home… customers… don’t talk like that. When was the last time you said, “Honey, let’s go get that new vehicle you’ve been wanting.” Believe it or not, vehicles counts as corporate jargon. Try the same test by searching for the word gas. The major oil companies don’t show up in your search because they are energy companies. If my car is low on gasoline, I don’t tell my wife, “Honey, I’m going to get energy for the vehicle.”

Writers get sucked into the corporate jargon machine way too quickly. And we haven’t even touched on all the stupid acronyms. For a full article called, “What Does That Mean?” visit

To improve your writing, forget everything you know about your organization and try something I call Genesis Writing… as in, Genesis in the Bible, where it starts with the phrase, “In the beginning…”

Go back to the roots of your organization and what it does and start with a large, umbrella statement that covers not just the division you work for, but the entire organization.

To begin, fill in the blanks to this sentence: At (blank) our goal is to (blank).

In the first blank you put the name of your employer. Then, in the big picture of helping humanity, determine what your organization does for the greater good, and fill in the second blank. This is your task for your first Wordsmith Wednesday.

The second blank can’t be filled with jargon. It needs to be less tactical and more lofty. For example, a U.S. company that produces oil, gas and electricity might say, at ABC Company, out goal is to power a stronger America.

I’ve seen organizations debate for up to four hours over what goes in the second blank. Take your time. You have all Wednesday afternoon to decide.

Once this sentence is perfected, you’ll find it is the perfect first sentence for your website home page, the first sentence for newsletter articles, the opening line for every speech and media interview. It becomes your defining statement. It points to your vision, value, mission and belief. It becomes your promise statement. And, with some modification, it can become an important tool in search engine optimization for your website.

On your second Wordsmith Wednesday of 2009, I want you to write a second sentence. To write the second sentence, make a list of the 3 most important, biggest profit or service areas of your organization. In addition, think of poster child examples of these. As an example, if we reference back to the ABC Company, we might say, “At ABC Company, our goal is to power a stronger America. Whether you are fueling your car with the oil from our refineries, heating your home with our natural gas, or lighting your home or business with our electricity, each day we work to be here when you need us.”

So your task is to write that second sentence that gives 3 poster child examples of what you do. The sentence needs to be jargon free and focused on your external benefits to society and not your internal goals. Many of the phrases your CEO uses every day will not work in these sentences. If that is the case, your goal is to write new words for your CEO.

I ask you to limit the second sentence to the 3 most important areas because I want you to be able to use these two sentences as the opening statement in a media interview. In media interviews the spokesperson and the listener/reader remember everything better when clustered in 3s. Think of your 3 issues as 3 branches of a large tree.

The following Wednesday, you can delve into more detail by expanding your thoughts and statements about each of the branches. This is the writing technique I teach in my Kick-Butt Key Messages seminars and writing classes, as well as in my workshops on Writing for Search Engine Optimization. I can only teach a small portion here in this forum, so if you have questions just call me at 985-624-9976.

On other Wordsmith Wednesdays you may wish to tackle strategic tasks, such as writing templates for your crisis communications plan. I believe the best way to prepare for a crisis is to write your plan on a clear sunny day without being in the throes of panic and emotion associated with a crisis. In the plans I write, every possible crisis scenario has a pre-written template. That means there is a template for workplace violence, one for pandemic, one for terrorism, one for executive misbehavior, etc.

Much of what you say in the early hours of a crisis is generic, benign information. If you write it out on a calm day you will be able to communicate faster on the day of your crisis because about 75% of what you need to say is already in a word document. Create fill-in-the-blank spaces for information that can only be added on the day of a crisis. Most of the crisis communications plans I help organizations write have 50 to 100 such templates. Each template takes 2-3 hours to write. That should keep you busy for a year or two.

Writing is like love. Your spouse or children shouldn’t get what’s left over at the end of the day; they should get your attention first. Likewise, writing isn’t something that you cram in between all of your other meetings and projects. It is something that you should dedicate quality time to.

For 2009, I suggest you dedicate time to writing on Wordsmith Wednesday.

In our final 2 lessons, we’ll explore my tips for how you should deal with Social Media in 2009.