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.
It happened again yesterday. I mention the idea of CEO blogging to a business person I respect and the response was a laughing “Oh yeah.” Like, are you out of your ever loving mind? Are you smoking crack? Why does this seems so strange? I realize this is what it looks like to observe a major culture shift occurring. Having one person in the organization talking openly to anyone who will listen on any topic he or she desires to address, without legal review, without PR polishing, without board consensus, without the executive team having 13 meetings to ponder the wisdom of it, just doesn’t seem right. And that is exactly the point.
I wonder if Henry Ford would object to blogging? I wonder if some VP suggested he might screw up in something he said that would cause the company some damage, how he would respond. I wonder how Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, would respond if someone suggested that it would be a bad idea for him to blog. I think he would say, “Why?”
I’m thinking right now the blog world is not so new after all. The desire for openness, honesty, transparency, freedom of expression, the ability to say something stupid once in a while without the world crashing down, is something we all want and always have wanted. The iconoclastic methods and expectations of bloggers are expressions of a universal human desire for authenticity in relationships and communication. It’s more that we have gone far away from that mode of communication in our mediated, hyper-sensitive, politically corrected and over-litigated world. Well, I think it is tiime to go back.
Let’s start talking again. One to one, face to face, if possible, but when not through this remarkable new medium. Let’s reveal ourselves, tell each other who we really are and what we care about. Let’s show a little respect. Let’s forgive a little more. Let’s accept honest mistakes and misstatements without getting the courts involved. And let’s not be so afraid to take the risk of honest communication.
There are lots of people in this line of work who do media training. Everyone comes at it from a particular perspective and almost any training can help to prepare someone unaccustomed to facing media interviews to perform much better under pressure. Here are a few of the key items we try to help clients with when asked to help with media training.
1) Know what the reporters want. They usually have a story in mind and in most cases, they have a role for you to play and it is their job to get on tape what has already been preconceived in their mind. Don’t assume they are interested in what you have to say or your perspective or your company’s position. If you are on camera you are going to fit a ten second spot that helps fill in the holes and provide a compelling, entertaining story. They may be looking for human reaction, they may be looking for the standard “our hearts go out..”, they may be looking for you to appear baffled, uncomfortable and guilty. They will try to control what you give them so that it fits their needs. but it is not necessarily your job to fit their needs.
2) You control the mike. When they put a microphone in your face or ask you questions with pen in hand, you are in control. It feels like you are not, but a media trained person knows that they are in control. In control of their face, their demeanor and their words. That’s why it is critical to understand before the interview what you want to leave them on the tape to work with. It’s critical to know very well what the key messages are and how you wish to convey them. Then the primary task is to respond to their questions in a way that provides only what you want to provide.
3) How you say it may be more important than what you say. That’s why choosing a media spokesperson is important and tricky. They may be smart, think fast on their feet, know the right answers, and all that. But if they come across as uneasy, unconfident, untrustworthy there is a big problem. There are a number of people who just naturally have a “deer in the headlights” look and they don’t do well on camera. Neither do those who look sour or angry or mean. The natural demeanor of someone is important and training can help make adjustments but often it is easier to find a spokesperson that doesn’t require that kind of training. History would tell a different story if our President didn’t continually come across as the goof off frat boy.
4) Authenticity. This seems counter to all above and if it seems that way, there is something wrong. The point is to be effective you have to be open and honest, trustworthy, responsive and communicate effectively the messages important to your organization, and do this while being totally yourself. The ones who do very well at this succeed on all counts. But it ain’t necessarily easy.
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?”