By Gerard Braud
Good media interview skills, a properly written crisis communications plan, and command of technology will be critical in the next few days as winter weather moves across the United States, especially into the Northeastern states.
Good crisis communications means now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers, citizens and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last for days. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.
Transportation delays – from streets to airports and airlines – will be challenging. Let the community know this now. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio began issuing warnings early. Well done mayor.
Meanwhile in Boston, (and I don’t want to deflate anyone’s fun here, but…) I question the sanity of a rally for the New England Patriots . People need to be getting home before heavy snow and the team should be moving up their departure time to beat the weather.
In your communications to your audiences, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.
#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News
Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.
#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism
You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.
#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You
Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:
- Be ready to post updates to your primary website
- Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube
- Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video
- Post that same video to CNN iReports
- Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video
#4 Media Training for Spokespeople
Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.
#5 Be Skype Ready
In a winter storm crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.
#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications
Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.
#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters
Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.
#8 Be a Resource
Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resources that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.
#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark
Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.
#10 Rest When You Can
Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.
#11 Victory from Preparedness
Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.
#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan
When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.