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Public Relations

Tornado Hits St. Louis Airport: When Crisis Communications Training Pays Off

By Crisis Communications, Media, Public Relations

We woke up to reports of a tornado hitting Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. It’s hard to look at footage of a place so familiar, a home-away-from-home in my former home. The devastation to the area is still being uncovered in the daylight this morning. The airport is closed, they’re saying, indefinitely. The economic impact of that is difficult to calculate but will no doubt, be years in recovering.

The footage of passengers being evacuated to the safer, lower levels of the main terminal are amazing; everyone seems calm, there’s no shoving or panic in evidence, even while in the background, it appears scenes from the Wizard 0f Oz tornado are playing through the windows. The shot of a Southwest jet moving away from the jetway in the wind is hard to believe. From an outside perspective, and based on the fact that no one was killed in the crush and damage of the storm, it appears that the airport team is to be commended. Without airport employees training for crises like these, conducting drills and managing consistently to keep up with continuing education, it would be almost impossible to manage a crisis of this magnitude with the speed and efficiency required. From all I’m seeing on TV and online, this crisis was managed as well as could possibly be expected.

I’ve been in the main terminal at Lambert many, many times. I’ve flown in and out of St. Louis probably more than 50 times. That main terminal is made of a lot of glass. Reports say that more than 50 percent of the windows are broken and blown out. It will take some time to clean up and restore the airport to safe, working order.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, the airport’s director, is in a role she hoped she’d never have to assume, as the spokesperson for an airport hit with catastrophic damage. I just watched her in an interview aired on CNN. She’s handling the crisis communications beautifully and very quickly had Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley on the scene. It was touching when, as the CNN reporter asked the airport’s director at the close of the interview, how she felt about the tragedy. Hamm-Niebruegge smiled but was visibly choked up and said, “It’s sad. It’s just sad.”

Our hearts go out to the people in St. Louis affected by the storms; many homes have been damaged and lost — it may be a long time before St. Louis recovers from this Easter weekend.

Agencies: You Can’t Fake it Till you Make it in Social Media – 3 Tests to Try

By Media, Public Relations, Social Media

Public relations and marketing agencies have been trying to take a slice of the social media pie for about five years now. Grow it or hire it, are the two options for incorporating new capabilities into agencies. Growing it means extensive training and support for existing team members. Firms have had limited success with this, since agencies often find it difficult to create a structure of accountability, forcing employees to get with the social program.

Forcing PR people (or old school marketers) into social media engagement just plain doesn’t work. Everyone I’ve known who is engaged in social media and who also has it as an element of their career does it because they love it. And because they love it, they do it well. They spend the time necessary to teach themselves and continue learning (which social media, by nature, necessitates).

Agencies who are claiming to “do” social media or offer digital communications as a practice area to clients think they can do this with limited personal experience in the social web. They’re trying, in my opinion, to “fake it till they make it” and in social media, that just doesn’t work. Having worked with several firms in my time, I know that immersing yourself in a client’s business, that learning on the fly and applying communications knowledge to the industry is how agencies work. It does work for PR practices, crisis work, media relations and a ton of other communications work — much of which is done behind the scenes and white-labeled with client brands and spokespeople.

As soon as a practitioner claims to offer social media counsel to clients, however, a quick look at that person’s digital footprint tells a very fast and accurate story. Do three things to test out anyone seeking work in the social media arena:

  1. Google them. What do you find? Do they have a Google profile? Is the content you find from them? Is it what you think they’d want you to find?
  2. Read their blog. What’s that you say? They don’t have a blog? Ditch them. If they “contribute” to a collaborative blog, check them out personally — how much of the content on a firm blog is theirs? 10 percent? 20? How many posts in a year?
  3. Check their Klout.com score. It’s not a perfect measurement system, but it will give you an overview of the outreach and impact your social media consultant has to offer on your business’s behalf.