Monday, February 20, 2017

Tips for the PIO in the age of disinformation

It's safe to say we live in "interesting times" as the Chinese cookie proverb goes. The environment for the public information officer (PIO) keeps changing at breakneck speeds. How people consume and share news, how they create their own networks are key elements of that transformation.

Academics and practitioners are offering some hindsight on this change to the role and duties of the PIO. Recent event in the US have exacerbated things. Mistrust, plain lying and active disinformation are present at the highest levels. All this undermines the ability of the Federal government to communicate effectively in any future emergency.

While some things can be adopted from the "Trump" way ... it plays a large role in furthering the credibility and trust gap. And although I've addressed the need for adaptation by PIOs in the recent past, it's time for another look at how we must fulfill our role.

Whether you're a PIO for a public safety agency, a government, an emergency management organization or a hospital (my new role), I modestly offer some tips to help colleagues remain efficient and reach their audiences during a crisis.
Streaming from your EOC might be a good idea
  • Cut through the clutter ... become your own broadcaster  ... when media might be perceived (BTW, not by this former broadcaster) as biased ... you can talk directly to most of your audiences though social networks ... streaming is particularly efficient and gaining in popularity.

  • Be present online at all times ... before,during and after a crisis ... a good way to build confidence ... create your own network of message amplifiers ... a "circle of trust" of sorts ...
  • Stick to facts ... become the "beacon of truth" about your incident ... brand it ! No need to add flourish ... to obfuscate ... to exaggerate ... your actions dictate your comms response. It's simple in reality: emergency comms are about three things: A: tell your audiences what's happening and what you're doing about it ... B: tell them why you're doing it ... C: update 1 and 2 constantly
  • Engage meaningfully ... that means true two-way conversations ... if people don't have a sense they're being heard or even contributing ... they'll disconnect ... social listening brings value to any response ... it's the starting point for dialogue and also enhances your situational awareness.
  • Ignore trolls ... don't dispute alternate facts ... stick to your messaging ... sometimes discretion IS the better part of valour. Some fights are not worth getting into ... if you've followed steps 1 to 4 above chances are you're having a good comms response. Unless misinfo puts lives in danger ... let it go ... people will know where to find the truth.
All this is of course predicated on a socially-convergent outlook by the PIO. A thorough use of social and mobile to get the job done. On top of that, the PIO needs to adhere pretty closely to the four imperatives of a comms response to any incident.

How are you prepared to be heard in the age of disinformation? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

When the boss is the wrong spokesperson in a crisis

One of the most cited principles of crisis communications is to have the "guy in charge" ... your CEO or senior elected official become the face of your response. Most often this approach will work. People who get to the top drive the agenda, know how to seize an opportunity.

NOTE: skip to bottom to see tips on how to help make that happen

And, there's the other guys (or gals !). The leaders who can't handle a crisis in the right way. When that failure by the CEO become another crisis, things get real dicey for crisis comms practitioners. Their arrogance dooms them to failure because they don't realize they are not prepared or trained in crisis comms.

Few would dispute that the current White House is close to a state of apocalyptic chaos. From a communications perspective, it's one bad day after another. The Press Secretary is a bumbling buffoon ... and today, his boss #POTUS proved again he's totally unhinged and unfit for office. Yet, he's the boss and took his show front stage. 

The reaction was immediate and not flattering

Obviously, the Donald has no ability to stay on message or to look prepared. We shouldn't be surprised. His debates against Hillary Clinton were of the same ilk.

So, if the boss can't be relied on to be prepared for planned events, how can his own people have confidence in how he/she will react in a crisis? Truth is they don't. It's likely the whole thing will be a train wreck.

Which brings me to another boss who made things worse for his company: Edward Burkhardt. One of his train devastated a small Qu├ębec town, killing dozens. That's bad enough. His mishandling of the communications aftermath made the pain even more unbearable for residents and those who lost family and friends in the tragedy.

So, what's a communicator to do? Here's what I wrote a few months ago:

Here are five things that can help:
  1. influencing ... know your principal ... understand his/her motivations, demonstrate how your advice can make THEM look better 
  2. coaching ... if you have the experience, you can coach your boss in how to handle the media and other stakeholders in a crisis, how to stick to the message and avoid improvisation
  3. preparing ... if you do your boss justice, you'll have a solid crisis comms plan ready based on various scenarios, snappy key messages for every audience ...
  4. repairing ... if your boss comes across as unprepared (or worse, uncaring) you'll do your best to show empathy, knowledge and optimism ... and not make things worse (see above re: Trump and Pierson)
  5. learning ... you'll use every opportunity to learn from a crisis or even a well handled issue that didn't make it to the crisis stage ... and show your boss how he/she came out a winner ...
And , here are five more tricks you can try:
T: as in Train ... practice, involve senior leadership in drills or mock scenarios
R: as in Rehearse ... improvising at the podium is not a good thing
U: as in Unite ... bringing people together in a crisis is key ... dividing is unproductive
M: as in Moderate ... your CEO's ego by controlling the setting, providing messaging
P: as in Pace ... a marathon press conference = disaster. Parcel out interventions

You still have the choice to bail if the captain keeps steering the ship towards that iceberg ...