Now, I’m not saying press releases are dead. That debate went on several years ago. There’s a time and a place for a press release. But, there’s not much time and place for one in crisis communication. Yet, over and over and over I see plans where everything is focused on getting out a press release. There may be some other things in there, like maybe talking to the community–eventually, maybe even using social media (as long as it doesn’t get ahead of getting out the press release and only if God and everyone below Him/Her approves it).
If you are responsible for your organization’s crisis plan, look at it right now and answer this question straight out: is this focused on the media and getting out press releases or holding press conferences? If so, stuff it in the 1990s files where it belongs and get it updated.
Did the Boston Police hold press conferences during the manhunt? Yep, and some media were there and some of the coverage was carried. But, that was hours after the real story came out and that means hours after much of the media and public interest went away. The media needed those press conference so they could get a little fresh video of the faces involved to add to their story if something new came up. But that’s about it.
So, how was the story told? Two ways: through the rebroadcast to millions of the Boston Police radio chatter. And through the Twitter account of the Boston Police, plus the Twitter feeds of the few hundred bystanders who were reporting what they were seeing during those dramatic moments as the police closed in on the boat where the suspect was hiding. If you weren’t one of the literally millions following these sources directly, then you were one of the millions watching it on TV as the reporters were using these sources to report the news. I was watching Twitter when Deputy Commissioner John Daley tweeted that the suspect was in captivity and the manhunt was over. I waited for about a minute before that tweet was reported on CNN live.
There is still a time and a place for a release–but I would never ever any more call it a press release. Why? Because the media are just one of many important audiences to get it. Call it an information release, or an update, or a situation report, or “Message to All Those Important to Us.” Getting rid of the term press release in your crisis communication plan may be one of the most important things you do because it communicates to one and all–from CEO and Board Chair through all team members–that your job is to communicate to those whose opinion about your organization is most important to the future. That includes the press, but goes far, far beyond it.
Why is this so important? Hey, you live in the age of digital communications and smart phones. Let’s say you invested all of your grandma’s inheritance in XYZ company and you are counting on it for your retirement. You follow its progress as if your future depended on it. You track their Facebook, “like it,” follow their Twitter feed, even take advantage of their interactive website to put in a question or two to their Investor Relations department–which they answer promptly. Then, something goes horribly wrong. Maybe a product safety issue, a recall. Maybe a toxic spill hurting people and the environment. Maybe wrong doing of some senior execs. Panic. What happened? What are they doing about it? How are they protecting your future–you have to know and you have to know now.
So you go to their website. Nothing. You shoot an inquiry into their wonderful interactive Investor Relations website. Nothing. Or worse: they tell you that they are too busy putting a press release together to be able to answer any questions right now. You have no recourse to get the information from the media. It’s all over the place. You check social media but all you see is anti-corporate venom and how XYZ company is now in the Hall of Shame. The media reports are awful, but you are part of the 71% of the American public who believes most of what the media feeds you isn’t exactly the truth. And you think, why on God’s green earth would these smart people trust the media–whose primary job is to attract an audience through fear, doubt and outrage–to tell their story for them? Why, in this age of digital communications, of social media, of Mailchimp for goodness sake, can’t they shoot me an email or put it out on their Twitter account so I know what the heck is going on?
OK, I’m ranting. But I frankly don’t quite get it. From the largest government agencies to most municipal or county emergency management departments, to major utilities and corporations the story is the same: if something goes wrong we have to put out a press release–preferably in the first hour.
Sorry, but if this is your plan, you are going to be disappointed.