Crisis Communications

When Cute Doesn’t Cut It: Rep. Ed Markey on the East Coast Earthquake

By Communications, Crisis Communications, Media, Public Relations

The east coast earthquake of late August, 2011 may have damaged (perhaps insignificantly) the North Anna nuclear power plant situated 12 miles from the quake’s epicenter. NBC Washington reported the story, quoting Representative Ed Markey, D-Mass. from a statement urging further research into the safety of the plant. 

“Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter last week to the NRC pressing the agency to determine whether the ground motion exceeded North Anna’s design and

Getty Images

to use the most up-to-date geological information to assess risks to nuclear power plants.

“There needs to be a seismic shift in the way in which these plants are protected from earthquakes or other natural disasters,” Markey said in a statement.”

I suspect a staffer in Markey’s office thought they were being cute, throwing the phrase “seismic shift” into a statement about an earthquake, but tensions are high, and weak humor from politicians (or their writers) is not at all appreciated.

Costly natural disasters are no time for puns; it’s important to be careful with language, even if you think it will never reach the masses.





Filtering the Hype: Of Hurricanes, Floods and Power Outages

By Communications, Crisis Communications

hurricane ireneI don’t know about you, but over the weekend, news of hurricane Irene, possible flooding and potential power outages had me seriously stressed. I began planning my schedule around weather-related issues. I checked in with far-flung family members to ensure safety. I read tweets and watched radar and essentially got myself all worked up for what turned out, at least in my neck of the woods, to be barely more than a mild rainstorm.

I think it’s great that we have channels of information to keep us on top of disasters and even potential disasters, but when Sunday morning the sun was shining and the day turned out to be gorgeous I was lamenting that I wasn’t at a friend’s pool, or that I had turned down opportunities because I feared the weather would be awful.

Shame on me for listening too closely to the feed instead of sticking my head outside and looking at the sky.

Have you done this; become too involved in the online conversation to live in the moment?

I’m glad that by Sunday I walked away from all media and enjoyed the weather. Here’s hoping those affected aren’t for long and that the ongoing hurricane season is also, nothing to lose sleep over.

Crisis Planning: What Comes Before Blood on the Floor

By Crisis Communications

The Shark Attack photo by Kelsey Sparkle Rakes

My former colleagues at Standing Partnership have written some really good content on advising clients in a crisis. I particularly like Nick Sargent’s recent post providing tips for an effective crisis response video.

Another Standing alum, Mistie Thompson  has a saying about crisis work; it’s not a crisis unless there’s blood on the floor (or in the water, in the case of a shark attack).

Real PR professionals, the down in the ditches, get your hands dirty communicators love a good crisis; the messier the better. When Mistie talked about blood on the floor, it was simply that any other crisis was a cake walk; that the challenge of a situation where lives were at risk was the kind of communications challenge that really got our hearts pumping, our minds working overtime and our fingers flying across keyboards, crafting the right messages to alert, reassure and ultimately, restore order and reputations.

I freaking LOVE a good crisis.

That isn’t to say that I wish crisis situations on any client, ever . . . but when they do happen (and they will) the adrenaline rush coupled with my desire to think and move fast and accurately is the ultimate communications experience. It’s the PR person’s version of base jumping.

Crisis recovery doesn’t happen easily without prior planning; decisions can be made before any alarms sound. Messaging can be created well in advance of disaster. The communication contacts, stream and process can, and should be mapped in these, the quiet, uneventful days before the storm. Sure, it’s the less glamorous, decidedly less fun aspect of crisis communications, but seasoned professionals know that having these tools in place are what make the rush worthwhile. The planning process is the safety harness, the wire cage, the helmet and the flak jacket of public relations; critical for success, not to be neglected and the difference between business life and death when the blood hits the floor.

One Politician Using Social Media the Right Way: Mayor Dave Norris

By Crisis Communications, Social Media

Dave NorrisLest anyone get the impression that all politicians are complete dopes about using social media,( *cough* Weiner *cough*) I’d like to point out one guy who really gets it, and always uses social media wisely.

Dave Norris is the mayor of Charlottesville. I’ll admit to total bias here because I love Charlottesville and Dave is a personal friend. Nevertheless, I think most who know him will agree that Dave does a spectacular job engaging with the community online.

Dave has neatly set parameters around his personal life and decided exactly where he will focus his engagement efforts online. Dave doesn’t use Twitter — rather, he devotes energy to Facebook. This is smart because there are more Facebook users than Twitter users and Twitter users are, by and large, also Facebook fans. (By the way, I asked Dave if it was OK with him that I write this post and feature his use of Facebook. He gave me the OK.)

Dave uses his personal profile more than the page he set up for campaign purposes. A popular guy, Dave has more than 1,400 friends — just on Facebook. I’m certain it’s hundreds more in real life. (Side note: I find it sort of amusing that Dave and I have 132 friends in common. We should never co-host a party; it would be huge.)

Dave uses Facebook to give an ongoing report on the life of a city mayor. Updates, often uploaded from his phone, include photos of those he’s meeting with, city events, and sometimes, his family members.

Dave is responsive, engaging in conversation with people commenting on his profile. He interacts with the hundreds of friends he has by commenting on their posts as well. He helps support local businesses by making sure he clicks the like button when that business establishes a Facebook page. Savvy enough to keep up with Facebook changes, Dave also makes sure to tag Charlottesville businesses when posting an update that includes them, so the post shows up on their page as well.

He’s an ambassador, online and off, and has a community grateful to be allowed to follow him in his daily work, including a recent trip to Charlottesville’s sister city, Winneba, Ghana. He’s mastered the art of being transparent and personal enough without ever crossing the line into what should be private.

I’m impressed with that — it’s not an easy skill to master and to keep in balance. We’ve seen so many lose control of that ability, that it’s time to appreciate those who do it well.

I’m featuring Dave primarily because of his online engagement, but Dave definitely shows up in person, whether it’s a Snoop Dogg concert (video evidence: Dave meets Snoop at 2:13) or in support of candidates for city council.

Spend any time in Charlottesville out and among its people and you will meet our mayor.

I think it’s really important for politicians to not only have this really clear definition of the difference between personal and private, but also to have an extremely good sense of humor. A politician who can’t laugh at themselves is not one I want to support. My favorite incidence of this, blogged about by my friend Steve Whitaker came during the whole Weiner/weiner scandal, of course.

Politicians at any level can learn a lot by watching Mayor Dave Norris.

He’s genuine, funny, opinionated, smart and highly engaged in his community.

What else could you really want in a politician?

Thank goodness there’s someone out there doing this right, and I’m just lucky enough that he’s the mayor of MY town.

“Coal Cares” Crisis: What Peabody Energy Should Do Now

By Crisis Communications, Media, Public Relations, Social Media

Today’s news includes the story of a hoax launched as an attack on coal company Peabody Energy. In short, an activist group calling itself Coal is Killing Kids developed a false campaign including a news release, a Coal Cares website and a Twitter account. The campaign positions itself as a Peabody Energy sponsored initiative (it’s not) to provide free inhalers and discounts for asthma medication for children living within 200 miles of a coal plant.

Close reading of the content on the site quickly reveals the true intent of the site’s creators. From the site:

Coal Cares™ is a brand-new initiative from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, to reach out to American youngsters with asthma and to help them keep their heads high in the face of those who would treat them with less than full dignity. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride.

Yikes. Peabody Energy should be in full crisis communication mode, prepared to react to this action. The company, however, seems to be under the impression that a social media-based initiative can be fought with traditional public relations. They’ve released a statement, and placed it on their website. The story has been picked up by CNN and Wired Science; CNN noted that “A Peabody Energy spokeswoman did not immediately return a call or an e-mail from CNN” and Wired Science mentions the company’s “immediate response” with the aforementioned statement released to the media.

Unfortunately, Peabody does not seem prepared to react and respond appropriately, using digital communications to combat a digital communications-based attack. Here are six things the company should do right now.

  1. Launch a website with a blog (I’d say launch a blog on their current site but it’s clear the Peabody Energy website needs a complete overhaul and there just isn’t time for that). The blog will provide a platform for the company to respond to questions and publish content correcting the misinformation the company says is being shared by the Coal Cares campaign.
  2. Appoint an active, visible spokesperson who will be accessible and is authorized to engage with the media and the public to address questions quickly.
  3. Create and post videos of the Peabody Energy team talking about the company’s efforts to run a safe and clean coal operation.
  4. Mobilize the coal community (employees, partners, political allies) and enlist their support in “liking” a multi-platform campaign and content designed to share positive stories about the company.
  5. Offer Vic Svec, the leadership team member with a Twitter account, counsel and coaching to leverage the effectiveness of that account and the ability to use Twitter to engage and share content that casts Peabody in a more positive light.
  6. Begin today working with the leadership team to help them understand the culture of transparency, the power of the social web and how they can use it in their own interests, and developing a social strategy that can be executed by members of the Peabody community so future attacks won’t have quite the same effect.

Coal is a difficult industry to defend, but it is not indefensible, nor is it an industry we can do without. Peabody deserves the chance to set the record straight and to have the tools to do so in the same platforms as their detractors. One thing social media makes available to all of us is a level playing field; you just need to know the rules of the game.