Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the future of journalism, new technologies and the opportunities for PIOs

There was a recent meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio and Television News Directors Association in the US. It represents a kind of "state of the industry" conference for people in the news biz.

One thing struck me ... a quote from a senior news leader:
"People aren't having a hard time finding what's going on ... They're having a hard time figuring what it means. I don't think the technology is helping us with that." Bob Horner, President of the NBC News Channel.

He was referring to all the mobile technology that makes citizens, viewers, listeners ... gatherers of information. As a former reporter, I can understand the anxiety that prevails in the news industry these days. Their last rampart is their desire (and that's more and more difficult) to be neutral and objective, to adhere to those notions that made journalism in North America a great defender of the Truth.

Now, as a PIO or crisis communicator, I see the Horner quote in a totally different light. If people have the information. If they know what's going on. Our role should be a little different than it traditionally has been.

We're not simply releasing information to the media anymore ... it's still important but more and more ... we have to educate as we go ... help ensure that those who are concerned by an ongoing incident that affects our organization or client, get the meaning of this information.

What the impact will be on them, their family and so on. To do that, you need an established presence on the networks/platforms where your audiences get that information. It's all linked.

That means engaging in permanent dialogues with your audiences even during routine times, pre-incident. That's how you build credibility and presence (they go hand in hand ...), so that when an incident or crisis happens and people want to interpret the information they have, they come to you ...

Many studies indicate the growing importance of online/web information tools:

People turn to whom they trust during a crisis: family and friends certainly, but also other trustworthy sources: media and others who've established credibility. That can be (and is more and more so) social media platforms ...

In other words (I'll restate my favourite phrase): Be there and occupy the public space ... if you're not, you'll be irrelevant!

Just thought I'd add this: a good resource for some crisis/risk comms tips:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On the future of crisis communications

Good evening everyone!

Just a quick post related to a good discussion started by Gerald Baron on the future of crisis communications.

Some good comments resulted ... included one from yours truly.

Now, to sum up ... I think that because organizations and businesses now have the ability to respond and engage with their diverse audiences themselves ... they need some kind of advisor to help them do it effectively.

Furthermore, to be able to respond quickly and effectively, you need a plan, trained people and procedures ... that's work for crisis comms pros.

Add to that the fact that while crisis comms consultants may no longer have to develop news releases during a crisis ... their actual work has shifted to one of coordinator, arranger or even orchestra conductor ... as we help coordinate or advise our clients/command, on the best way to proceed, the best channels to use ... the best messaging to put forward ...

In summary, we're more needed now than ever before precisely because technology has multiplied comms channels ... hard enough for us to keep track ... clients/command could quickly be overwhelmed during a crisis ... cooler heads are needed !

Crisis communicators of the world unite !

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Crisis management and moral authority

Yeah, I know it's Easter .... but with all the news and relentless coverage on the Vatican's and Catholic Church's (mis)handling of the sex abuse scandal, how not to pipe up on that topic?

As crisis communicators, consultants and advisors, we're often put in situations where we're handed tough cards to play. Executives have messed up, bad policies have been systematically implemented and followed, and you have to keep convincing the people you work for that what you're proposing is the best way forward.

Are there times when there is just no silver lining? When you should just walk away?

I'd say very, very few. But with the sex abuse scandal ... it's hard to see a way out in terms of crisis communications. Here are a few considerations:
  • Leadership and authority ... when your whole legitimacy (and this also applies to government) is based on moral authority, what do you do when this becomes threatened, challenged or even disappears? In the case of the Vatican, centuries of secrecy, mythical invincibility and almost blind obedience, have created an atmosphere of denial, us-against-the-world state of mind and aloofness. How do you change that to convey a real, sincere-sounding message of regret and apology?
  • Then there's the issue of confused messaging. Church leaders from around the world (particularly in North America) have apologized many times for the behaviour of some in the clergy ... even the Vatican. But recently, it seems, the message from the top has been to kind of blame the media and blame the victims. That's simply a wrong-headed approach to dealing with a reputation crisis. Nothing positive will come out of that ... only more scrutiny on decades of cover-ups and a policy of secrecy. Anywhere else, that would border on criminality: obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
  • At what point do you have to change the face of the organization you're defending? When does your spokesperson lose his/her credibility and only helps to make matters worse? Now, the Pope is not about to resign but has he lost all his moral authority? Has the Church itself? As would suggest some high-ranking clerics from other Christian faiths? As crisis communicators, how would we handle this? If the Chair of the Board or CEO just won't see the light? Do you bail? Or stick around to work with the tools and resources you've been handed to correct the message and the public's perception of your client?
  • Finally, how much of an impact have your own personal opinions and considerations on the work you're tasked with? Recognizing and dealing with that question is an essential part of your thinking process. It will help you gauge what mental evaluation your audiences will use to judge the work you're doing. That's critical in helping you shape your reputation-saving campaign, the tools and the channels you'll use.

In conclusion ... I'd personally walk away from this one. Not a matter of faith but a simple professional evaluation. There are, sometimes, lost causes ... in my opinion this is one of them.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this issue.