It’s Time to Evolve Media Training

Media Briefing at Our Lady of the Lake University

Media briefing after a devastating fire at Our Lady of the Lake University. Photo courtesy of OLLU.

In the early days of my public relations career, it was an accepted fact that you should train the key people in your organization who may be called upon to speak to the media.

In some organizations, this “training opportunity” was geared to one or a few key executives. In larger organizations, it was often many more, drawing on the philosophy that subject matter experts should be used whenever possible.

There were three reasons to this approach:

  • Rewiring the executive’s brain to think on his feet during a live television interview
  • Educating them on media agenda and news flow
  • Developing key messages for your executive to share during interviews

We all know that approach is a crap shoot.

Some execs are great on camera, some are terrified of it and others should be.  It’s easy for any spokesperson to get off track, be distracted by the technology, or be so loaded down with facts, figures and messages that he or she loses their way in an interview.

During my years on the public relations team at SeaWorld, we minimized the liabilities of individual spokespersons with a rich and varied group from which we could draw when opportunities arose. In this case, more is better and during particularly busy times – like the birth of an animal or the opening of a new exhibit – we could offer news media more variety with more spokespersons.

This thinking was completely geared to traditional media and involved a very linear process of preparation that went something like this:

  1. News media calls.

    Elected Official giving a Press Conference

    Easter Press Conference with Ruth Jones McLendon on Minority Cancer Awareness Month. Photo courtesy of Write Counsel.

  2. PR person negotiates details of date, location, time, spokesperson.
  3. Spokesperson is prepared.
  4. News media arrives.
  5. Interview/live shot/taping occurs.
  6. News media departs.
  7. Interview runs.
  8. Opportunity is evaluated.

Now that the news cycle is round-the-clock and everyone is a publisher, it’s time to change the approach and the process.

If organizational communications are to succeed in the next 10 years, every person in the organization needs to understand the “why” of the organization AND be able to communicate it.  While media training will still serve an organization well when preparing for 60 Minutes or CNN, each organization has opportunities EVERY DAY in which to tell its message, online and IRL – in real life — in the community.

This means organizations need to invest in developing media literacy skills for its employees. Preparing them to respond and empowering employees to tell the organization’s story will go farther in advancing the organization’s identity than traditional media training achieves today.

Does your organization empower your employees to represent online or in real life? Tell us what strategies are working for you.

The Future of Health Care is Bright!

I am NOT talking about “Obamacare” or anything related to recent issues in health care. I am talking about students from HOSA, the Health Occupation Students of America.  They are our future health care providers and my recent experience with them made me so relieved for the future of health care in our country.

Recently, I was asked to be a judge at the state of Texas HOSA Leadership Conference. This conference, held in San Antonio last week, included thousands of students from across the state, competing in many areas of health care debate and service, including prepared and extemporaneous speaking, extemporaneous writing, biomedical debate, skills testing and service projects, to name a few.

The category I participated in was public service announcements.  Students had to create a 30 second PSA around the theme “Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet.” In teams of 3-6, they had to conceptualize, research, plan, shoot, edit and show a PSA around this theme. They were required to do target audience research, defend their cinematic approach to the problem AND they had 4 minutes to present it me and my co-judge, Monica Faulkenbery, APR, the assistant communications director for the Northside Independent School District.

Over a four hour period, we watched, listened to and scored 26 student teams from around the state.

Their work was amazing.

These students used sophisticated video techniques, including stop motion, white boards, jump action and Claymation.  That’s right, Claymation.  One group even used visuals crafted from a complex grid of color-coded sticky notes and, with stop motion camera work created animated visuals. Others used sepia frames or black and white to enhance the drama of their piece.

That’s not even the best part.

The best part is that they thoroughly understood their subject matter and why it’s important to clean out your medicine cabinets.  Here’s why:

  • Accidental overdoses by young people or old people
  • Medicines are dangerous when they lose their shelf life

They also explained, comically and in great detail, how to safely dispose of medicines.

By the 5th presentation, I put a date on my electronic calendar for cleaning out my own medicine cabinet.

What was most impressive to me about this event?

Their professional demeanor. They thanked us for taking the time to judge the event. Each team had clear definition of roles and responsibilities in their presentation. And, with the exception of two college teams, they are all in high school.

If this is the next generation of health care professionals, we will all benefit from their obvious dedication to health and well-being.

The future of health care is bright and it has nothing to do with politics.

Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Earlier this week, I taught two classes at the TTIA’s Tourism College at Texas State University. The program, in its second year, will lead students who participate all three years to a certificate called “Certified Tourism Executive” or CTE.

While teaching the sophomore class this week, we examined a mock crisis in small groups.  Our scenario was a historic hotel fire.  Each group of 5-7 assumed three things: 1) the fire had been reported; 2) the hotel was occupied; and 3) all members of staff and management were present when the fire began.

Their task was to figure out who should do what in a crisis. During the course of the activity, each group thought of additional things that would need to happen during their scenario—like what to take out of the hotel and who should write a statement.  As a communicator who has participated in numerous crises during her career, it was gratifying to see the groups thinking innovatively under pressure.

After the scenario, each group shared one role that they devised and what the responsibilities were for each role.  Here’s what they shared:

  • Command Center – needs to include communication and operations components and use a hub and spoke approach
  • Monitor – someone to monitor dialogue in all media spaces and report misinformation.
  • Liaison – someone needs to be the go-between for fire, EMS and other first responders because in this scenario, they will be in command.  Someone in a maintenance or engineering role would be best suited to this task.
  • Public Relations – Someone to serve as spokesperson, create statements and interact with media requests, preferably someone who is bilingual.
  • Records – Since this was Tourism College, the group naturally knew that the occupancy list and other business records would need to be retrieved and that someone from the financial area of the leadership team would be most suited to do that.
  • Sales – This function could serve by working with partner hotels to help relocate guests displaced by a fire.
  • Housekeeping – One group thought that the housekeeping team could calm guests and assist them with blankets, water, etc in a café across the street.
  • Leader – Last but not least, this function would most likely be performed by the General Manager who would be briefed throughout and most likely serve as spokesperson.

Other Roles determined by the team included the Front Desk Manager who could assist with guest evacuation, particularly special needs guests, and someone to do Vendor Outreach to get the supply chain restored.

This group activity highlighted the flexibility that small organizations might need during a crisis. It’s easy to assume that the role you perform each day is the same role you would perform in a crisis, but in small organizations, each member of the team often wears several hats.

Is your team ready for its next crisis? What roles will you assume?

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

This series is to support the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I worked with earlier this week who attended my session on crisis planning. They are attending Tourism College,  a week-long educational opportunity which is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.




Crisis Planning includes Packing a Bag

There’s a crisis every day somewhere in the world and plenty of advice from marketing and public relations professionals on how organizations should handle communicating when they happen. But rarely have I seen an attempt to outline the supplies you need to have on hand before your crisis hits. When I was the communications director for SeaWorld San Antonio, many of these things were at the ready when preparing for a crisis; others we developed over time or as part of post-crisis evaluation. So here is a list of essentials for organizations just starting to visualize their readiness.

  1. A Ready Room – A place from which you will work the crisis. It can be a room, or it can be a box, or it could be a folding table in a hallway.
  2. Paper stuff – You need paper, pens, notepads, notebooks, business cards, markers and a phone book.  Yes, really.  The most routine crises are weather driven and usually result in an interruption of power. It’s best to assume you will not have power while working through your crisis plan.
  3. Lists – Media contact list, community contact list including the PIO at police, fire and public utilities plus leadership team list.  If the power is out, you may not have access to your computer and don’t want to waste what’s left of your cell phone battery to check phone numbers.
  4. Call Log – Make a simple chart with these headings: Date, time, media outlet, request, deadline, call-back number or URL, then make 25 copies and put it in the box.  In a time of crisis, the phone lines may be jammed with callers and this will assist multiple people in effectively answering and tracking incoming inquiries.
  5. Timeline log – As soon as the crisis starts, start writing down the events as they unfold.  It’s amazing how quickly you will forget key points in managing a crisis. All participants contribute to the log and it can be on a whiteboard, in a notebook, or on tear off sheets that are taped to the wall.
  6. Sign In Sheets – If you end up calling a press conference, or doing multiple media briefings, these are very helpful for tracking who was present.
  7. Other supplies:  Two way radios can be effective if you are trying to communicate over long distances, as well as batteries, camera and flash drives.

While I haven’t covered it here, there are plenty of other items that might be specific to your workplace or industry that you want to have on hand during a crisis.  Some that were mentioned during our crisis planning exercise included a schematic of your building or facility and a passenger or guest manifest. And don’t forget the first aid kit!

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

This series is to support the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I worked with earlier this week who attended my session on crisis planning. They are attending Tourism College,  a week-long educational opportunity which is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.

6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

It happens to every organization at some point.  Something sudden and unexpected happens which requires us to act.  In tourism organizations, it can be as simple as a weather event which affects daily operation.  Or as complicated as an event like the BP Oil Spill.  Most disasters fall somewhere in between, but the key to survival is to have a plan and use the plan.  Organizations who do not, often find themselves under more intense scrutiny and then, it’s easy to make mistakes.

  1. Taking too long to respond is the most common mistake made during a crisis.  Communicate early and often, particularly in this 24/7, “always on” media environment.
  2. Getting angry with the media.  It’s easy to lose your cool and the pressure from large volumes of media is unusual for most organizations, and they often have a hard time coping with it.  Stay cool and you will survive.
  3. Internal panic – in the face of a disaster, you need every cool head and may need to calm down those who haven’t been through something like this before.  This makes it even more important to create roles and responsibilities for the team members responding to the crisis.
  4. Dual roles – Many members of your leadership team will be wearing more than one hat during a crisis, which can complicate communication.  Clarify as much as possible and afterward, figure out how to adjust roles for future events.
  5. Underestimating interest by the public – When you’re on the inside of a crisis, the level of detail that the media and public are requesting often seems out of line.  Organizations still aren’t used to sharing so often and it takes some adjustments to accept.
  6. Leadership – This is the key to any organizations success or failure in a crisis.  Whether it’s lack of leadership or, on the other hand, too many leaders, a crisis is the time for the best leader to step in and take the team through the process.

Identifying potential issues before a crisis strikes, will help an organization avoid them and master their next crisis.

This series is a resource for the 100 tourism professionals from around the state that I am working with this week on how to prepare in a crisis, as part of Travel and Tourism College. The week-long educational opportunity is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.  Those who participate for 3 years will get certification as a tourism executive.

Part 1: First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Part 2: 6 Mistakes Organizations Make During a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities

First Advice in a Crisis: Do No Harm

Do no harm. This was the first thing I was taught about crisis planning, back in the mid-1980s way before cell phones and Twitter. Twenty-plus years later and it’s still the best piece of advice anyone can follow.   It is an integral part of every crisis planning and crisis response session I teach.

The second piece of advice came from my years as a Girl Scout:  Be Prepared.  While no one waits around for a crisis to happen, there are so many things you can do in advance of an unforeseen event that will help your organization manage it and move on.

Many organizations do crisis planning and response well, and literally scratch their heads when they see the gaffes committed by those organizations who make big mistakes under fire.  If you haven’t yet thought about what would happen in a crisis, here are three objectives commonly used in visualizing the problem.

Contain the Risk

This means responding to the actual crisis, whether it is natural or manmade, accidental or intentional.  It also means to secure the people and places that are involved in the event.

Resolve the Problem

This is pretty self explanatory for weather events. If it’s a fire, put it out. If it’s a thunderstorm, clean up the damage.  For manmade or intentional events, though, the road to resolving the problem is far more complicated.

Communicate Effectively throughout the Process

This means to talk about what’s happening, give advisories, warnings, share images, updates and information. Where some organizations get into trouble is when they consider these three principles as happening one at a time, when in fact, they often happen simultaneously.

Smart organizations know that many elements of crisis planning CAN and ARE planned in advance.  This can be as simple as creating a phone list or as involved as creating a triage team for larger incidents and practicing how you will respond.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. Here are some links to get you started in planning YOUR next crisis.

This series is a preview of my presentation tomorrow for 100 tourism professionals from around the state who are attending Travel and Tourism College. The week-long educational opportunity is an initiative of the Texas Tourism Industry Association (TTIA) and is now in its second year.

Part 2:  6 Mistakes Organizations Make in a Crisis

Part 3: Crisis Planning Includes Packing a Bag

Part 4: Before Your Next Crisis: Assign Roles and Responsibilities