Category Archives: Utah mine

Revising my thinking on the Utah mine disaster communications

In a previous post I congratulated the Chairman of Murray Energy, Bob Murray for providing the face of the mine disaster and doing a good job of working with the media during this almost-made-for-cable event. Then I watched the news last night and saw how things have turned so against the company–from the families, the union and the media. Losing three rescuers also violated the first rule of emergency response: do no harm. But, communications has gone almost as badly lately as the rescue efforts.

My friend and colleague Jon Harmon provided an op-ed piece that was run by the LA Times today and it is a much better, more complete and insightful analysis than I provided. Here is the link to that op-ed.

Here is a relevant quote: It doesn’t have to be pretty. It is a measure of public cynicism toward slick spokespeople that Murray’s unpolished, bellicose presence struck many as refreshingly candid.

That is in part what I was responding to. In comparison with Mattel’s chairman who I think also has done well, but for some has come off as far too slick, practiced and insincere, the same could not be said of Mr. Murray. Ah, it is difficult challenge, isn’t it.

The "face" of the mine disaster

The mine collapse in Utah is perfect stuff for cable news. There’s the drama of following how close the shaft they are drilling is getting to the workers and the opportunity to break in with breaking news every time there is the slightest new development. As a result, the president of the company is getting lots of face time on cable news. In fact, several times last night Soledad O’Brien commented on Bob Murray, I believe, putting a face on this event. I will admit, on first glance, not being too impressed with the “face” they were putting on this event. But I have changed my tune. Mr. Murray, while admittedly not photogenic and obviously tired, in my view is a very impressive spokesperson for the company. He is the president and that is critically important. The company is not running and hiding from the scrutiny and the obvious circus environment this entertainment-based opportunity provides the cable news providers. He is almost ubiquitous. He provides details that are relevant and bordering on the too technical because it is clear he is a mining guy and knows what it is to be in the trenches, or shafts. He is sad and sober, empathetic with the families. His care worn appearance is appropriate when he talks about being at it for four days straight, we believe him. He has obvious patience with the media and their questions and expresses it.

So, for all of us media trainers who want to put a pretty face on such an event, there is a lesson here. Good job, Mr. Murray. You are earning your pay in these troubled days.