The Ebola crisis has spawn a rash of spokespeople saying things to the media that should have never been said. If you are the public relations person responsible for writing statements and news releases for your hospital, company or spokesperson, this blog is for you. If you are the media trainer preparing the spokespeople, this blog is for you. If you are the spokesperson… yep, this blog is for you.
Behold exhibit # 1: A news release statement from October 15, 2015, as a second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital becomes ill from Ebola.
The hospital released a statement saying, “Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious.”
YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! Really, you cannot defend that statement PR team from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Here’s why: If it were true, two nurses would not have Ebola. Do you follow my thinking? Two nurses have Ebola because safety was obviously not the greatest priority and obviously compliance was not taken seriously.
Every time I teach media training or do a conference presentation, my advice to PR people and CEOs is to run every statement through the cynic filter. I just demonstrated my cynicism… and trust me, I’m a huge cynic. If you filter your statement past me, will you get a positive reaction or a negative reaction? That my friends, is the cynic filter.
My apologies to the PR team if this was not your words, but the words of your lawyers or PR firm or agency. But as a public relations professional, your job is to shout “No” when a B.S. statement like that is written or proposed.
Back in August, when the Ebola story broke regarding Emory University Hospital, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden made bold statements about Ebola not spreading in the U.S. He was wrong.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, with the National Institute of Health, in an interview on the Today Show this week, on October 11, 2014, said, “We’re not going to see an outbreak” of Ebola in the U.S. He even references Dallas as an example of proper containment of the virus, which as we all now know, is wrong.
Once again, if you are a spokesman, you can’t say that. You can’t defend that statement. You cannot guarantee it so you should not say it in an interview.
If you are the person providing media training for the spokesperson, you cannot allow the spokesperson to say something like that. You have to be so intense in the media training class that you push the student to the point of failure in the training class, pick them up, fix them, and don’t release them from role playing until they are perfect. Media training should be designed to let a spokesperson fail in private so they don’t fail on national TV, or any interview.
Close isn’t good enough. A crisis this serious demands the best communications possible. There is no margin for error in interviews just like there is no margin for error in containing a serious disease.
Would you like to know the magic words that will set you free? Insert the word, “goal” and throw away the words, “committed” and “top priority.” My top priority is to get people to stop saying top priority and committed.”
Instead of saying, “Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious,” a better option is to say, “Our goal is to protect the safety and health of every patient and every employee.” (Yes, I intentionally used “every” twice.)
My statement is one that can be defended because it is stated as “a goal.” It is forward looking and aspirational, while not definitive, such as, ““Patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very serious.”
If you are responsible for writing statements that get re-written with tired clichés by your lawyers or CEO, your job, as a public relations professional, is to push back. If you write these type of clichés because you were taught to do this or have heard these clichés so many times that you think this is the way it should be done, please stop.
If you are responsible for media training your spokesman, you must not be afraid to push back when the student doesn’t perform well. As the trainer, you must not be intimidated, especially if you are training your boss, or in the case of a hospital, a powerful doctor.
We’ll talk about these issues and more this Friday in a special webinar about Ebola. Register here.
If you need help with your Ebola key messages, contact me for assistance writing bullet proof key messages. And if you need help media training your spokespeople, I’m happy to help. Call me at 985-624-9976.
— By Gerard Braud