Category Archives: communicators

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.

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.

Utility Communicators

Just returned from speaking at the Utility Communicators International conference held in San Francisco. I’d heard of the old Mark Twain quote before, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” but I never knew what it meant. While it was in the 80s back home in Bellingham we just about froze in Fog City.

Interacting with some of the professional communicators at this conference brought home some of the key issues that are continually being raised here. There was incredulity about the idea of corporate blogging, and only about 1/4 had heard of wikipedia. More surprising to me was the fact that almost no one had any familiarity with the Incident Command System and its communication element, the Joint Information Center. More about that in future posts, but it is my strong opinion that everyone in crisis management and communication needs to have strong familiarity with these–and particularly if there is any chance of having to work with any local or state first responder agency such as police, fire or emergency response. Everyone will be playing a game and you will be asked to play, but you won’t have a clue as to what the rules are. That sucks.

We had a good discussion at lunch about blogging and the role of the internet in crisis management. I am more and more convinced as I talk to communicators out there that the coming culture conflict between audiences and communicators will be more challenging and disruptive than anything we can imagine. Corporate speak doesn’t work in a time of when authenticity is prized above all. But I like the question of one gentleman sitting at the front: “Did corporate speak ever work?”