Jul 16 2010

#Antenna_Gate: First Tweet

Bookmark and Share

#Apple #Antenna_Gate response was defensive PR. Heed the lessons of #Icarus #FanBoy is insulting http://bit.ly/9ZHb2f

Jun 22 2010

Loose Lips

Bookmark and Share

Gen. Stanley McChrystal may be admired for his direct, warrior leadership style. However, the outcome of his interviews with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone magazine paints a wholly unflattering, lone wolf portrait.  “The Runaway General” article is instructive for anyone trying to manage his or her media image.

When I conduct media training, I draw upon several examples of politicians and business leaders who forgot “the mic is always on” during a TV or Radio interview. Helen Thomas and Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown being among the most recent victims. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview now tops my list of how not to engage the media.

Critically, it will be hotly debated if McChrystal should lose his job as a result of his disparaging remarks about his Commander-in-Chief and other administration officials.

As for his apology, it meets the sincerity and contrition tests for an effective mea culpa.  Yet, like so many others (Helen Thomas, for example), it lacks a critical ingredient — the measure of improvement, the action by which the injured party can evaluate the effectiveness of the apology.

There are several lessons that can be gleaned from this error reputation management.

1) Reporters are not your friends; they are image makers. It’s important to remain consistent in your messaging and presentation.

2) You — and everyone of your staff aids attending the interview — are always on the record.  I’ve pitched similar “follow me” interviews — they can be very effective for sharing process and personality. Be sure to provide media training and guidance not only to the primary spokesperson but also those will be playing a secondary role in the interactions.

3) Define your messages and objectives.  Know what you want the outcome to be and plan accordingly.

4) Rehearse.  We don’t call media role playing a murder board for nothing.

5) Stay positive. (Or “Never let them see you sweat.”) It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting a war, deflecting criticism for an environmental disaster or answering questions about a new product launch that isn’t meeting expectations. Showing your crankiness and criticizing others isn’t effective. Leaders take responsibility regardless.

Finally, remember that controversy is the heart of compelling news headlines.

July 1: An updated version of this post appeared in the Capitol Communicator. And while I did not seek permission to share the cartoon below, I trust Mr. Wasserman and the Boston Globe won’t mind the additional publicity.

May 3 2010

Reserve Judgement

Bookmark and Share

Unfortunately, as a university spokeswoman, I had to deal with death too often. Suicide. Alcohol abuse. Homicide. Natural causes. The challenge was to provide an empathic, timely, factual and non-judgmental response for the campus community and media.

In the first few hours of any crisis, there are more theories than facts. The cause often seems self-evident. However, the situation is rarely a simple case of cause and effect.

University of Virginia President John Casteen today released a statement regarding the alleged murder of Lacrosse player Yeardley Love. He conveys a compassionate, but judgmental tone.  The text of statement as reported in the Washington Post follows:

“This death moves us to deep anguish for the loss of a student of uncommon talent and promise, and we express the University’s and our own sympathy for Yeardley’s family, teammates and friends. That she appears now to have been murdered by another student compounds this sense of loss by suggesting that Yeardley died without comfort or consolation from those closest to her. We mourn her death and feel anger on reading that the investigators believe that another student caused it.”

He went on to say, “and let us all acknowledge that, however little we may know now about Yeardley Love’s death, we do know that she did not have or deserve to die — that she deserved the bright future she earned growing up, studying here, and developing her talents as a lacrosse player. She deserves to be remembered for her human goodness, her capacity for future greatness, and for the terrible way in which her young life has ended.”

The president of a university has a delicate balancing act when responding to controversy — especially when involving two or more students. While circumstances have implicated George Huguely, a fellow UVA student who was likely romantically involved with Love, President Casteen should reserve his judgment. Huguely has been arrested, but he is still innocent until proven guilty. If he is not convicted of a crime, the president will have contributed to damaging the reputation of young man falsely accused.

A few years ago, I dealt with a similar situation where the initial inquiry pointed to a possible date rape with lethal consequences. However, police investigations and autopsy results confirmed alcohol poisoning. I know how demanding it is convey compassion — outrage at the unnecessary loss of a young life — while remaining neutral until facts have been confirmed.  When an autopsy can take weeks to confirm cause of death, this is not an easy task. The campus community wants answers and needs to begin the healing process.

Whether a student death or an fuel spill (they happen on college campuses too), here are a few considerations in responding to a crisis.

1) Be compassionate and share heart-felt emotions. However, do a gut check to make sure you are responding in consideration of all involved parties. Avoid making unfounded pronouncements and judgments.

2) Share and confirm only the facts. You do not need to comment on speculation.

3) Be responsive to media inquiries. This is an opportunity to gather intelligence. What rumors or information is the reporter trying to confirm? Be an active listener and explain you’ll respond when you can confirm information.

4) Abide by federal regulations safeguarding student privacy. FERPA allows you share “directory” information. Media are savvy and will locate photos and testimonials about the student from other sources.

How you respond and what you say affects not only your reputation, but that of the others involved.

Apr 25 2010

Reading Digital Strategies

Bookmark and Share

Read any good books lately?

In addition to being one of my favorite interview questions, the topic of good books makes for great networking and cocktail conversation too.

Welcome to my video series on business books and blogs. We’ll explore some of the newest titles in business and public relations as well as revisit the classics.

The first recommended title is for anyone struggling with building the business case for social media. Paul Argenti of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Courtney Barnes of Think Communications and editor at PR News have written an excellent primer: Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications. The book explores how Web 2.0 is informing public relations, government relations, employee relations and investor relations – every aspect of communications for every company. The authors presents case studies in branding, public affairs and crisis communications along with resources for measuring social media.

If you think you can avoid reaching into the Web 2.0 toolbox, please think again. At least some segment of your stakeholders are on the Web and talking about you. Start listening. Start participating. Start building your social media presence today. Otherwise, you risk having to create social networking in response to a crisis putting you and your company on the defensive.

Feb 26 2010

Crisis On Display

Bookmark and Share

Chances are you missed this week’s other bi-partisan round table — Cyber Shockwave “We Were Warned” — a war game hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and broadcast on CNN Feb. 20 and 21. It was compelling television.

This crisis simulation of a cyber warfare attack that cripples telecommunications, air travel and countless other activities that we take for granted was expertly executed. Participants — former national security officials and advisers from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations — gathered in a mock White House war room to work through the scenario and prepare a briefing for the President.

Former press secretary Joe Lockhart role played the president’s adviser. His participation was critical to the success of the simulation. His counsel throughout the exercise illustrated the balancing act of sharing timely and accurate information with the public without causing panic. Lockhart’s focus on the effect of both the problem (an act of war by an unknown country, terrorist group or individual) and the recommendations for action (e.g. shut down the cell phone network) were poignant.

The communications/PR function must be at the table to recommend and help formulate policy and protocols as well as plan for information dissemination.

To view the simulation on You Tube, search”cyber shockwave”. If you’ve never been involved in table top crisis exercise, this is an excellent example of a crisis scenario.