Category Archives: california wildfires

Arnold Schwarzenneger for Spokesperson of the Year

Here’s why I nominate the Gubernator: the California Wildfires and his aggressive response when the media tried to go down the tired and untrue path of finding fault with the response to the wildfires.

It was absolutely expected. Here was a major disaster with people being hurt, property damage huge and many different agencies responsible for responding. The media fully expected that the story line that played out so effectively for them in Katrina about incompetent government would be the main story again. Arnold would hear nothing of it. He was prepared. He had his facts. And when the first hint of this as an emerging story line evolved, he jumped right on it. He said, in effect, anyone who complains about the response is just complaining and they don’t know what they are talking about. As to the criticism about not enough airplanes, he said we have 90 of them, but they don’t fly in 60 mile per hour winds for safety reasons. His tone was aggressive and impatient. He anticipated their nonsense and called them on it. I half expected him to say, “Any of you who go off and write stories other than that we are doing the best possible job is just a girlyman.” Of course, he didn’t, but it was almost there.

Compare that to the run to the caves response of the Department of Homeland Defense and FEMA following the press conference. The more I learn about that (from a very reliable source) the more I see this as a story that is farther and farther from the truth and more in the line of journalistic abuse. Did the agency leaders challenge them on their name calling of a “fake news conference?” No, they ran for the hills throwing anyone they could under the bus.

What about the nonsense of Speaker Pelosi coming to San Francisco to criticize the Coast Guard for a poor response and the CG commander losing his job because of the criticism. The only reason anyone had to complain was that in the very earliest reports, the amount of the spill was under estimated. Where was Arnold to stand up and say “if you girlymen are any better at estimating a spill amount in the first little bit after a spill, maybe you better take that job. You want the best information we can give you absolutely as soon as we can get, then when we give it you with all kinds of caveats about it may be wrong, you turn around and crucify us with it. To make things worse, girlymen, you play into an obvious attempt to embarrass the administration and politicize something where politics don’t belong. Why don’t you pay attention to the competent dedicated work of those who are dealing with this mess instead of somebody who is trying to make political hay out of an accident?”

Until spokespeople start understanding the methods and approaches of today’s media which is increasingly desperate to build audiences and start calling them on their games, the trust situation in this country is going to get an awful lot worse. I hope that when Arnold leaves office (assuming no constitutional change is on the horizon) that he goes into the media training business. Because his style of media engagement is something desperately needed.

Philadelphia, PRSA and the California Wildfire communications

Writing here from the birthplace of the nation, Philadelphia where yesterday I presented at the PRSA international conference. I think I have spoken at four of these now and this was by far the best crowd, most informed, most engaged and most supportive audience I have had at these. A packed room and given that it was the last day of the conference that was great.

Things have definitely changed in the last few years and communicators are getting more and more in control of web-based communication which is a huge improvement. My sense was that the discussion about the changes in the news business, the opportunities to communicate directly to stakeholders, the focus of communicators on those people who matter most to the future of the organization–those were the things that were of most importance to this group of pretty sophisticated communicators. The other thing that struck me is how small our world is. I talked individually with a few before the session and with most there was some connection to users of our system, or other presentations or activities that we have been involved in.

As I write this, and as we talked about the new world of communication in Philly, it was very much in evidence in the big story of the day–the wildfires in California. Today’s issue of USA Today has a story titled “Technology’s Pipeline is Lifeline.” This confusing headline focused on the use of communication technology both by victims to connect to each other as well as officials to communicate with stakeholders. Universities in the region are using their new text and phone callout systems to inform their campus communities of closures. Public safety leaders are using their reverse 911 (phone-based emergency notification systems) to alert hundreds of thousands to evacuation information.  Bloggers are active and playing a role in the response. Social media sites like craigslist are providing means of communicating damage.

Interesting. It shows dramatically the shift of public communication to a variety of internet opportunities. But, how is such an effort coordinated? Given the fragmentation and shattering of traditional means of communicating, how do the responders participate and manage communication control? How can they speak with one voice–or is such a thing no longer possible and desired?

Much to think about here.

But, while in Philly I also want to spend time thinking about the meaning of this city and its artifacts to our history. Yesterday I visited Independence Hall for the first time. Sacred ground and I felt it in my soul. Having read a number of books recently about our revolutionary beginnings, only those who have stood in front of the tables where Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest sat and deliberated, debated and then signed those incredible documents can understand the sense of presence one feels here. Thank you Philadelphia.