Category Archives: communications manger

Earning the "Right to Operate" is gaining traction

The corporate community is learning. Even a staid industry like the utility industry. From the old school perspective that “every one needs what we make so we just need to make more of it and ignore the critics,” the change is securely underway that demonstrates that public trust and confidence is not something to be taken for granted. Here’s an article that shows this kind of thinking in the energy industry.
I don’t agree with everything about this assessment from inside the utility energy:

– it seems very media-centric rather than talking about addressing stakeholders more directly

– I’m not sure that promoting economic benefits is effective in all communities–some, like my home community could care less about economic benefits. With strong growth, they don’t worry (for now) about jobs, taxes, and all that. They want to know quality of life will be protected.

The point is that the world has changed and the old ways of doing things and communicating about them (or failing to communicate) don’t work anymore. The winning soundbite was provided by  Mary Deming of Southern California Edison: “If we lose public trust, we are doomed to fail.” Well said indeed.

Princess shows how to go from disaster to disaster

I was going to post a blog about Princess Cruises’s poor communication now that it is known that human error caused the ship to list dangerously injuring 240 passengers. I wanted to make the point that not explaining anything further than “human error” only adds to the fright and mystery. Good for them for admitting that somebody made a big mistake. But why not explain what the mistake was. Why leave the mystery stand as to how one person (presumably) can make a huge ship with 5000 people aboard nearly tip over for no apparent reason.

As I said, I was going to make that point, then I got a comment on this blog from someone who was on board. Please read the comment on the earlier post. It makes the point for me. Their “human error” explanation only adds to the fright. And this passenger says she may never cruise again. How many more current and prospective cruisers are thinking the same right now. If I was head of the cruise industry association I would be going absolutely nuts. I’d be all over Princess to come out and start talking about what they did. I went to Princess’s website. Nothing. Oblivious. Clearly they don’t want people to think there might be a reason to not go on a cruise.

I guess the fact that big successful companies like Princess clearly don’t get it is what keeps people like me in business. Sad.

Aine McDermot and Purposeful Journalism

I am a fan of newsvine and the model it presents for the global “watercooler”. By that I mean the real time discussion of current issues by those participating. Aine McDermot is a familiar name to newsvine junkies. And here is a very insightful and thought provoking article posted on newsvine by this talented writer and thinker. Purposeful Journalism.

I especially appreciate the comments about how mainstream media has blurred the lines between entertainment and journalism, driven by their need to run profitable businesses. For those interested, this is a major topic of my book “Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News” and the soon to be published second edition, Now Is Too Late2.

Her comments on “Social Journalism” are equally relevant but I sense are just touching the surface of this fascinating and incredibly important topic. Everyday I become more convinced that the world of public information, news, reporting, public affairs, corporate issue management and crisis communication is changing dramatically and the change is driven increasingly by the blogosphere and the huge culture changes that the blogosphere represents and is leading.

If you are in corporate communications, or are a CEO or senior leader of an organization that operates with a public franchise, I encourage you to check out Newsvine but also read this intriguing article.

Everything you need to know about bloggers

If you are curious about bloggers, who they are, why they blog and almost anything else of interest about bloggers, see this report. It is from Pew, which has a strange name, but does a wonderful job of tracking how the internet is changing our lives. I will comment more about these findings after I’ve had a chance to review the 25 page full report.

Princess Cruise on a roll

If you’re in crisis management and you do drills for things that can go wrong, you often wonder how the media would report your story if things went terribly wrong. Look at the coverage of the Crown Princess incident off the coast of Florida.

Interesting first to see how uninvolved people such as myself get the news. My son called at about 10 pm asking me if his grandparents, my parents, might be on that ship. What ship? The one that almost capsized, he said. No, they were on a cruise ship in Alaska, not headed to the Caribbean. He doesn’t have TV so got his news from a website. That’s how I first found out.

I watched the 11 pm news. They interviewed by phone Seattle area residents who were on the ship, honeymooners who described the horror and a ruined honeymoon.

Then the newspaper reports and other web reports this morning. The AP story shown on newsvine is a great example. First the bare facts. Then several paragraphs of recollections, selected primarily because of their vivid descriptions that describe the horror of their experience. A quotation from the Port Canaveral CEO. Finally, and this is my point, a brief comment from an unidentified spokesperson from Princess Cruises. The obligatory “we’re very sorry, inconvenience, reimbursement, etc., etc.” Nothing wrong with their statement, really. But the company seems strangely in the background. Why are they not out front? Where is the CEO? Why, in the stream of video from frightened passengers is there not at least one senior level executive seen actively dealing with the situation, involved with passengers, talking about addressing their concerns.

One cardinal rule for crisis communicators is to avoid discussing cause. The lawyers make certain of that and no doubt prematurely identifying causes can cause huge problems. But it is one of the first questions reporters ask. Here is a great example. The cause apparently was a steering problem. Oh boy, that raises concerns. I’ve been on a few cruises and now when or if I get on board again I am going to think about their steering systems. Are these ships so poorly designed that some computer glitch or a loose bolt gets caught in a cable and the whole dang ship tips over? Come on. If you want passengers to have some assurance, you better come up with a much better answer than this and in a big hurry.

And the hurry again becomes the point. This story will be off the news by this afternoon. But the impact of the coverage will linger for a long time. Sure, people will continue to take cruises, but with a stronger sense that things can go horribly wrong without any clear explanation. And that if things do go horribly wrong, the Coast Guard, the Port that ship came from will be involved, but the cruise company itself will send out some attractive cruise director-like “spokesperson” to simply say how sorry they are. Fellow communicators, we need to do a lot better than this.

Crisis management basics and ICS

It’s easy for me who is into the communication and communication technology game to forget that crisis communication starts with an effective crisis response. In working with clients, I have to keep going back to the basics of crisis management. It’s been a great benefit to me to have had much exposure to the Incident Command System. If you are not familiar with ICS and you have anything to do with managing crises for your organization, I strong advise you to become familiar.

ICS was created in the 1970s by the fire service. It was designed to help manage a fast moving event (like a wildfire) when there are multiple agencies involved. The problem was simple. You have all these people show up to help. They have their own ways of doing things, their own command structure, their own language, their own communication technologies like radios, their own cultures, their own attitudes, etc. How do you get them to all cooperate and work together. The answer is a very simple, scalable management structure that everyone must learn and adhere to. Plus other key principles such as interoperability of systems.

ICS has been proven to be very effective. It moved out from the fire service into fire departments, emergency management departments and eventually some federal agencies like the Coast Guard. From there it began moving into the private sector, largely because of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the post-ExxonValdez legislation. This law requires oil companies, shipping companies and those dealing with oil near the water to conduct annual drills with the Coast Guard and other local and state agencies. These drills as well as actual spills always use ICS.

I first became aware of ICS in the middle of a major incident involving a gasoline pipeline explosion with three fatalities and an entire community in shock. Since then I have been involved in dozens of incidents and drills using ICS and have adapted it for use in responding to crises for almost any kind of organization. If you have interest, comment here and I will send you my own basic document.

Dell Flack Attack

Attn Corporate Bloggers. Here’s a good example of what not to do. Apparently Dell’s PR firm assigned one of their staffers to review blogs for negative comments about Dell. OK, standard procedure. But the guy commented on a well known blog in terms that, well don’t even meet the “angry blogger” standard of decency. Let alone, appropriate in defending his client.


Here’s what the anonymous “PR” guy wrote on Jeff Jarvis’ blog:

Hey Jarvis. I honestly think you have no life. Honestly? Do you have a life, or do just spend it trying to make Dell miserable. I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere and I cant honestly say that Dell is trying to take a step towards fixing their customer service. They hire guys like me to go on the web and look through the blogs of guys like you in hopes that we can find out your problem and fix it. But honestly I dont think you have a problem Dell can fix. Your problem is you have no life.

Interesting that Richard Edelman, head of the largest independent PR firm and a competitor of the firm in question decided to raise this issue on his blog.  Well, I guess it is OK for a competitor to help point out a serious mistake on the part of a competitor. At least Edelman was gracious enough to point out that the culprit was likely a summer intern.

The point here is that there is no such thing as anonymity on the web–and the sooner anonymity as a presumed option goes away the better as far as I am concerned. So warn everyone who presumes to be speaking in your defense to not be so stupid. And to conduct themselves as they would as if everything was in the light of day. As it should be. And as apparently it is.

Add Dell to the list of corporate bloggers

Dell is taking an interesting team approach to corporate blogging (read article).

In addition to having several employees comment on a corporate blog site I find this article interesting in how it brings in a story about a Dell laptop blowing up in Japan. If this was just a way for a reporter to turn a positive blog announcement story into bringing in a very negative incident and using the blog as the flimsiest of pretenses, I would be pretty upset if I was in the communications department at Dell. On the other hand, if it was part of the press release (which I doubt) as a way of telling an ugly story and putting it in the context of a more positive announcement, it’s a pretty bizarre example of a not uncommon strategy.

Any way, you get two unrelated stories here for the price of one.

Crisis communication planning made easy

Meeting with a client shortly to put a simple crisis plan in place. He’s a contractor with sizeable projects in multiple states. So this is kind of help me prep for that.

Every crisis consultant does things differently no doubt, but here is my approach with a client like this.

1) What are your goals? How do you define winning in a crisis? The answer usually comes down to wanting to minimize damage. I will remind him of the Chinese character for crisis which can be read as “risk” and “opportunity.” A crisis represents a great risk of damaging or destroying reputation and potentially the enterprise, but it also represents opportunity to enhance that reputation according to how the crisis was handled and communicated. What do we need to do in a crisis to help people think of us more positively?

2) Who will speak? Identifying spokespersons and making certain they are properly trained and prepared is essential. Also, preparing those who are not spokespeople to understand the policy and to learn how to “refer and defer” is also very important.

3) Who are the people whose opinion of you is most important to your future? That helps identify and prioritize stakeholders. Reporters are important, but their opinion is not the only one that counts. Key managers, employees, customers, suppliers, bankers, subcontractors, neighbors, potential opponents, industry influencers, government officials, etc. Know them, prioritize, and build lists to enable you to phone and/or email very quickly. I usually create lists of Level 1, 2 and 3. Level 1s get phone calls. Level 2 get emails and letters. Level 3 get more general emails and direct to website.

4) How will you communicate? Through media only? Big mistake. Prepare to manage message development and distribution to multiple critical audiences. And prepare to do it from wherever and when you’re entire IT infrastructure is down. This need is what led to the development of PIER, still the only web-based crisis communication control center. It is the reason why the US Coast Guard was able to continue to communicate non-stop during Hurricane Katrina despite having a distributed team and all IT resources under water.

In this, don’t forget your website. It is just about your most important asset for communications in a crisis. If you can completely control it without having to do go through some ridiculous chain of command and IT management process, you are flat out dead in the water.

5) How will you respond to and manage inquiries? Who will do it? Are they capable? Do you know where the inquiries will come in? How will email inquiries be managed? Who will prioritize and make sure of the responses and speed of response. Again, this daunting problem is why we created PIER which also fully integrates and manages the inquiry function.

6) Remember, now is too late. To try to put these pieces in place during an event means you will not communicate in time. It’s an instant news world and that means virtually instantaneous response. That can only be done through appropriate preparation.

Should the top dog blog?

I talked to our local top elected official the other day and he mentioned the need for hiring a communications manager for his administration. I suggested he should start blogging. Myself?! he said. Yes, I said. Why not? I don’t have time for that.

I told him about Naked Conversations and the increasing number of CEOs of large corporations who are blogging. No way, man. There’s no way a CEO of a big company is going to take the tiime to blog.

On first take, his comment makes some sense. It seems quite clear that he neither reads blogs normally nor pays much attention to the blog world. So his perception, as a lot of others, is that only 22 year old guys sitting with their baggy pants hanging down to their knees, are reading blogs during the few hours of the day when they’re not too bleary from whatever substance they choose. Why would a CEO take precious time out of his or her day to blog when they are talking to the videogame crowd.

So I bought the elected official a copy of Naked Conversations. My perception is this. Blogging may not reach the masses that the newspaper or TV or radio still does. But the blogosphere’s influence is far greater than its readership would indicate. The mainstream media (msm) is one reason. They pay attention to blogs. If the county executive were to start sharing his thoughts on a daily basis about the issues facing the county, I’ve got a pretty good idea that the political reporter at the local daily would likely get an RSS feed pretty darn fast.

And the others in the community who would over a period of time sign up for the feed or visit the blog site would be those people who have a high level of interest in the issues. And it is those people who are most influential over others. If I said, here was a way you could communicate directly and personally with the 200 people who will most influence how the rest of the community feels about you, wouldn’t you jump at the chance. Would that be worth taking ten minutes out of your day?

What is the job of a CEO or elected leader? Isn’t it communication primarily? My guess is that a CEO or elected leader right now spends about 80% to 90% of their day communicating. This wouldn’t take up more time. It was actually save them time because of the high efficiency of communicating directly to those people who really care what you have to say.

If you’re a CEO or elected leader, it’s time to give it some thought.