Issue It Now, Later, or On The Blog

In our public information roles, we always hear that we should be in front of a story, to proactively respond. We are provided with a story of how a bad story didn’t reach fever pitch in the media due to some PR Director’s ability to beat the coverage. There’s little to no research (that I know of) that a bad story can be avoided by prompt release.

All of that said it’s a plausible theory and I, along with my colleagues, believe it to be true. There was a nice opportunity recently to test this theory, and it was provided by our friends at the US CDC and EPA. The Homeland Security Watch blog picked up nicely on the difference. First the CDC:

[T]he CDC reached out to the Huffington Post to deny the existence of any “virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).” […] [T]he CDC decided to get ahead of the story and attempt to put an end to silly rumors.

To me this showed a remarkable level of social media awareness and a willingness to engage the public early and on issues not traditionally considered within the public health arena.

Then, the EPA:

The Environmental Protection Agency was spying on Midwestern farmers with the same aerial “drones” used to kill terrorists overseas.

This month, the idea has been repeated in TV segments, on multiple blogs and by at least four congressmen.

[…]

At this point the EPA should have been alerted to this spreading meme and the possibility of a further negative public relations impact. […] They waited until:

At EPA headquarters, a spokesman said, the first inquiries about EPA drones began coming in.

While “getting ahead of the story” is an important part of this dynamic, I would argue that the use of social media by the CDC was just as important. We all have things in our jobs that are important to get out, but aren’t press release worthy (A press release saying you don’t use drones to spy on Americans? Probably not.). What do you do with those things that are nice to release, but you don’t really want to make a big hub-bub about? I’d suggest a blog post.

And I’m not the only one suggesting moving a good bit of your releases to the web, either. The Journalistics blog recently posted on a way to move your agency away from press releases altogether and gives the example of Google, which issues their releases via blog post.

Something to consider, especially as our friends in the press find themselves more pressed for time and besieged by releases.

The Coming Media Landscape

There’s an amazing article in BusinessInsider from last week that is a MUST READ if you work in PR, public information and crisis communications (and obviously members of the media). It’s a sobering look at the state of the newspaper industry, and makes hints about the television networks.

The sobering part?

For those who are students of history, check this out:

What’s more, the digital audience stopped using newspapers as a reference and source for commerce. […] But for almost a whole decade, the newspaper industry barely noticed. Subscriptions kept going up. Ads kept going up. Stocks kept going up. Those who said that newspapers were screwed were dismissed as clueless doom-mongers, at least by newspaper executives. Then [it] happened[.]

The author then describes a lot of the warning signs that the television industry is seeing today that echo what the newspaper industry underwent before the floor fell out.

What does that mean for public information officers? Plenty! If I told you that social media was in the process of going away (i.e., readership and utilization dropping, funding disappearing, etc.), how much would time and effort would you spend on it? How much planning would you do to find an alternate means of communication?

So how much planning are you doing?

Relating to Bloggers

One of my favorite people in the whole world is Dan Slee. He is one of the very best crisis communications thinkers out there, and I don’t share his stuff enough. Let’s see about changing that right now.

Recently, Dan posted about the relationship between bloggers and press officers (PIOs), and distilled 15 key points that should drive how the two groups relate to each other. As someone who has a foot firmly in both camps, I LOVE his 15 points (summarized below), and think that we, as PIOs and bloggers, can learn a ton about how to establish and improve this coordination.

1. Hyperlocal bloggers have a place in the media landscape.
2. Hyperlocal bloggers have better technology.
3. Putting a blogger on a mailing list is just a start.
4. There needs to be tailored content. The embeddable YouTube clip or the Audioboo may be part of the solution.
5. Spin died a long time ago.
6. Should press officers speak to anonymous bloggers?
7. A telephone number and an email address can establish a blogger’s credentials.
8. A hyperlocal bloggers should shout LOUDLY about their webstats.
9. A Hyperlocal Alliance may help build credibility.
10. Hyperlocal bloggers could do with a back channel and a policy for complaints.
11. Not all hyperlocal blogs are good.
12. Metadata (searchable tags added when an item is posted online) will be the comms person’s best friend.
13. Comms people need digital press offices.
14. Bloggers won’t react like a journalist to a complaint.
15. The war is over. The debate about whether or not local government press officers should talk to hyperlocal blogs is long finished.

If you haven’t had a discussion internally about how best to deal with your local blogging community (yes, you have a local blogging community, trust me), check out Dan’s amazing post.

Twitter Superstar

Those who know me know that I enjoy Twitter. I’ve been both lauded and ridiculed for how much time I spend on the social network. My reach (how many people I can “talk” to) is much wider than it would’ve been without Twitter. And I’m just a small fish.

There are big fish, though. And not just Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber either, according to this recent article in the Times. Apparently, the real Twitter superstars are a number of evangelical Christian leaders whose messages (by percentage usually and sometimes gross number) are retweeted and spread more than any of those folks that regularly show up in the tabloids.

Consider this post in April from Bishop T. D. Jakes: “Your words will tell others what you think. Your actions will tell them what you believe.”

His message was forwarded 2,490 times — just shy of the 2,491 retweets that the pop singer Katy Perry generated the same month with this message to her fans: “Sometimes jet lag makes me feel like a cross eyed crack head #muststayawake.”

Both messages performed remarkably well. But there was a key difference: Bishop Jakes has 450,000 followers, while Ms. Perry has 20 million.

What does this mean for emergency public information? Well, there’s a big push to reach folks that do not consume traditional media, and place their trust in other, ahem, higher authorities. Doesn’t it behoove us, even if we can’t use social media, to engage with these connected pastors? And these are just the national folks, would you be surprised if there was a religious leader in your community who could act as a bullhorn (or force-multiplier, or trusted agent distributor) for your message, including on social media?

Covering the Titanic

Here’s a fun story from the annals. You think the media swarms you during a crisis today? Imagine what it was like during the original disaster, after the sinking of the Titanic.

The whole thing is amazing, and here’s the key graf on the plan for once the Carpathia docked:

Here were the elements of Van Anda’s plan:

  • Pay for a whole floor in a hotel near where the ship would come into port.
  • Install four telephones at the hotel connected to Times rewrite desk.
  • Send 16 reporters to the pier with only four passes. Reporters without passes would work the docks, getting as close to survivors as possible.
  • Assign the main stories to the four reporters with passes.
  • Instruct reporters to rush to the hotel for debriefing by rewrite men, and re-assignment.

It’s an extremely interesting read on a story that can give us insight into what’s considered “the ultimate in disaster news coverage.”

What You Wished You Knew Once Upon a Time

I often forget how much of a greenhorn in public information I am. Last week I posted on conducting media management using social media and one of my favorite crisis communications heroes left a comment that reminded me of it. (In the nicest possible way, of course.)

Whenever I feel like a newbie, I head back to these posts by Denise Graveline, of the Don’t Get Caught blog. She’s now had two posts geared towards new communicators as they start in the business, and I love them. I wish I could contribute something, but honestly, I continue to find myself on the learning side of that equation.

Some of the best are as follows:

  • Ask for–or go get–training and development on a regular basis.
  • Don’t get sucked into the cubicle.
  • Be bold.
  • Decide what you don’t need to learn.

Be sure to check out the posts: For the Rookie Public Information Officer, and Advice for the Rising Communicator, and please leave your best tips (consider they’re for me too!) in the comments.

The Discussion

I love this for public health reasons, public information reasons and well, it’s just ballsy. The big news in the public health world last week made the front page thanks to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Banning extra large sodas.

I’m a public health guy, but I agree with all of the folks who say that it’ll never happen (that’s just the soda industry story, the talking heads are almost completely opposed). It’ll never happen. As much as I think it’d be a good idea.

But. (There’s always a but.)

Tell me you EVER thought we’d be having a discussion about banning soda. Ever. But we are now.

And that’s our lesson today. Sometimes you will fail. You will take a chance on a story, an angle, and it’ll fail. (And maybe you know that it will fail.) So long as you’ve been proactive and, well, ballsy, in your messaging, you’ve got a chance to set the discussion, to set the parameters for the media interest.

Maybe you can have that discussion your agency has always wanted to have…