Archive for June, 2010

McChrystal Interview Fallout Shows Why Interviewees Should Stay in Control

June 2010

General Stanley McChrystal is in big, big trouble. In a profile of McChrystal appearing in Rolling Stone magazine, he’s on the record saying things about his boss (a.k.a. the President of the United States), Vice President Joe Biden and the administration’s management of the Afghanistan war that should never appear in print.  It was a mistake that has now cost him his job.

Politics aside, many inside the Beltway and the Department of Defense are wondering how Rolling Stone freelancer Michael Hastings gained so much access and why a media veteran like McChrystal would allow it. The New York Times blog recently shed some light on the former and I think McChrystal’s comments in the Rolling Stone article offers an explanation for the latter.

President Barack Obama meets with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen, Denmark on Oct. 2, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

While we may never be in the national media cross-hairs like McChrystal, it’s good to have a refresher course of what to do during media interviews to maintain control and get the best outcome in resulting stories.

Here are some tips to help you stay in control in any interview situation (even if you’re a decorated four-star general):

  1. Let your key message, or single overriding communication objective (SOCO), form the basis of the agenda that you want to get across in your interview.
  2. If you don’t know the answer say so, but offer to get the information and then make an appropriate transition to your message point.
  3. You can’t be quoted if you don’t say it. This principle would have served McChrystal well if he had used it in his Rolling Stone interview.
  4. Correct any flawed information before answering the question. Silence is golden, but not in this situation. By failing to correct an inaccurate question, you are giving the reporter consent to include that misinformation in the story.
  5. Keep answers short and simple. It will help you stick to your agenda and can improve accuracy of the reporting.
  6. Don’t volunteer more information than the question requires. This is a tip that should also be extended to your staff who may have contact with the reporter as well before, during and/or after your interview.
  7. If you make a mistake, stay calm, admit it and correct it promptly. There’s no guarantee that it won’t make it into the news story, but a good reporter will run your correction instead of your mistake.
  8. Never answer for another organization. Getting one organization to comment on or criticize another is a frequently-used tactic by reporters to add drama and conflict to news stories. Avoid this slippery slope and remain focused on your own organization in interviews.

No communicator wants to be in the position that McChrystal is in right now. It’s easy to get carried away and say more than what you intended and the vast majority of the media are professionals who appreciate your willingness to participate and will be ethical and accurate during interviews. However, good reporters ask tough questions to get the whole story and in response, interviewees have a responsibility as their organization’s spokesperson to stay on message and in control during interviews.  These tips can help prepare people to be spokespersons.

Twitter Apps for Public Relations Professionals

June 2010

Since it looks like Twitter is here to stay, public relations professionals need to learn how to effectively use Twitter and the myriad of tools that have been developed to help us navigate the microblogging network. To help, I pulled out the 10 apps that I thought would be most useful for PR pros from the article, “105 Twitter Apps for PR Professionals”:

  1. CoTweet allows multiple people to connect to and tweet from a single corporate Twitter account. This is one of two tools I am highlighting in this post that I have used. I found CoTweet to be extremely easy to use and valuable because when needed, you can schedule tweets far in advance (I scheduled two weeks of tweets at once) and you can see what the other CoTweet-ers are doing on the account.
  2. Twiler allows you to receive email updates of tweets that contain the keyword(s) that you set up. Instead of constantly checking Twitter Search or TweetDeck (see #7) you can have the tweets you want to see sent directly to your email to view at your convenience.
  3. TwitTrans is a service provided by OneHourTranslation.com that translates your tweet to any language using human translators for a small fee. You can translate your tweet to Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. I’m assuming that the translation takes an hour, but that’s a lot faster than learning a second language!
  4. ConnectTweet allows groups or organizations to combine the voices of its employees into a central Twitter account. With ConnectTweet, multiple people can contribute to the organization’s Twitter account by adding a hashtag to their company-related tweets coming from their personal account. ConnectTweet grabs the tweets containing the relevant hashtag and posts them to the organization’s Twitter page along with the individual’s Twitter handle.  This is a good way to avoid having a ghostwriter for your organization’s Twitter account (see my previous post: Ghostwriting for Social Media).
  5. Twitpress automatically sends a tweet each time you update or add a new post to your blog. This helps you to promote your blog without having to remember to tweet about each new post you publish.Twitter
  6. TwInbox, formerly known at OutTwit, integrates Twitter into Microsoft Outlook. This tool allows you to update your Twitter status, receive updates, archive, search and more all from Outlook. Simplifying Twitter and allowing you to have fewer items open on your computer?  Sign me up!
  7. TweetDeck is a real-time browser that you can use on your desktop to connect your Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Google Buzz and more accounts that you monitor and use daily. The Integrated Media Services Group at Vanguard uses TweetDeck, and I have found it to be incredibly useful and organized. I can have multiple searches running for my clients at all times and can pull up TweetDeck to view these searches at my convenience.
  8. TweetEffect allows you to see which tweet made people follow or unfollow you on Twitter. This could be a great tracking tool to see which messages and information are effective for your audience.
  9. Twinfluence measures the combined influence of Twitterers and their followers to allow you to easily see which of your followers has the greatest influence on Twitter. Tracking success on Twitter is an ongoing question for PR professionals, and this may be a way to at least scratch the surface of this complicated question.
  10. TweetBeep is similar to Twiler in that it sends you an email when your keyword(s) is mentioned on Twitter. The difference is that TweetBeep sends you an update every hour (which could be helpful or annoying depending on your personal preferences) and not only sends you information on people mentioning your keyword(s) but also who is tweeting your website or blog – even as a shorted URL!

What are your favorite Twitter apps?

BP Public Relations Missteps Continue, More Lessons to Learn

June 2010

As if BP’s crisis response mistakes mentioned in a recent post weren’t enough, apparently their public relations disasters continue as more oil pumps into the saturated Gulf Coast.

Newly released documents reveal BP’s standard crisis response strategy to be “accentuate the positive, downplay the negative, tell everybody they’re sorry, they’re gonna fix it, they’re gonna do better, and not to worry.” Well, it is good that they developed a crisis communication plan, but it misses a key element—flexibility.

BP is Buying Facebook Ads as Part of their Damage Control Efforts

From Flickr User Geoff Livingston

Effective “damage control,” BP’s highest priority, means that your plan should include situation analysis development so your crisis response strategies, messages and tactics are relevant and resonate with your audiences. While taking into account the current news cycle is important when responding to crisis, it should be a part of your situation analysis and not your whole assessment.

And one more blunder of note—apparently BP has hired a private security company to block media from reporting from impacted beaches or interviewing people involved with the clean-up. This exchange between a local reporter and a security guard caught on video is the last thing a PR team would want posted online. These damage control tactics represent short-term thinking and are not helping your cause, BP.

Here’s a new communication strategy free-of-charge—provide full disclosure, access and transparency to the media.

Let them see and document it all: the oil spill containment process, polluted marshes and beaches, oil-covered animals, BP employees helping in the clean-up effort, local fishermen collecting oil from the Gulf. Answer all of their questions and make it clear that BP has nothing to hide or leave unanswered.

By doing so, you let the media tell the full story to the public—and your shareholders—and allow the public to draw its own conclusions and be your judge and jury, instead of relying on aggravated reporters to paint the picture.

Celia Cruz: Diva for Democracy

June 2010

Celia Cruz: Diva for Democracy

June 2010
Celia Cruz

Diva for Democracy

“Celia was an absolute pillar as a human being and one of the most unselfish humanitarians I have ever met and am sure I will ever have known.” – Marc Anthony

Internationally renowned as the “Queen of Salsa,” Celia Cruz was born in Cuba in the 1920s. Her lifelong devotion to education was instilled in her by her father, who had hoped she would become a teacher. Cruz, however, dropped out of the national teaching college as her musical talents became increasingly undeniable, instead attending the Havana National Conservancy of Music. After joining the Cuban big band La Sonoran Matancera in 1950, Cruz departed for extensive tours of North and Central America, taking her to Mexico in 1959 when Fidel Castro assumed power. Rather than return to Cuba, Cruz and her band sought asylum in the United States – leading the new Castro regime to bar her from ever returning home. Cruz became an outspoken critic of Castro, and an American citizen in 1961, going on to become one of the top selling salsa artists of all time. Releasing more than 70 albums, three GRAMMY® awards and four Latin GRAMMY® awards, Cruz rooted her music firmly in Cuban styles. With her success, Cruz became a Cuban icon – a representation of what was possible without the limitations of an oppressive regime – and used this status to give back to the Hispanic community. In 2002, Cruz and her husband founded the Celia Cruz Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for underprivileged students seeking to study music, while also supporting the fight against cancer.

BP's Gulf Coast Oil Spill PR Blunders Offer Crisis Response Lessons

June 2010

Wow. The BP PR team just can’t get it right. Even fifty days plus after one of the worst environmental disasters in history, the BP crisis communication strategy (if there is one) continues its downward spiral and never ceases to surprise me.

Recently, the Christian Science Monitor reported that BP has been buying up top Internet terms related to BP and the oil spill to push their messages and improve the public perception of the company. Really, BP? Is this the best way to communicate with key audiences and rebuild a tarnished brand? When Saturday Night Live’s next season premieres, count on a Weekend Update Really?!? commentary from Seth Meyers on this one.

From Flickr User lsgcp

Let’s face it: BP is collecting quite a laundry list of communication missteps.  Their gaffes and mistakes will be analyzed and used as examples of poor responses in crisis communication 101 classes for decades to come.

Hopefully as PR professionals, we won’t personally have to deal with a crisis the size and scope of the Gulf Coast oil spill.  Nevertheless, here are a few lessons learned from BP PR strategy to add to your own crisis communication preparedness kit.

  1. Prepare spokespersons to be spokespersons. The Boy Scouts’ motto – “Be Prepared” – should be the mantra of your organization’s spokespersons. BP’s CEO Tony Hayward has not represented the company well in interviews thus far. Since crises happen unexpectedly, spokespersons should be prepared at all times for media interviews. Identify potential crisis scenarios in advance and then train spokespersons on how to conduct themselves during interviews and important messages to remember. Spokespersons are your most public presence during a crisis, so make sure they look AND sound good when talking with the media.
  2. Manage your audiences’ expectations. Since BP’s oil rig exploded in April, the company has done very little to manage anyone’s expectations about stopping the oil spill and cleaning up the mess — whether Gulf Coast residents, the White House, Congress or the American public.  As a result, it seems no one really knows what is happening – and public outrage grows. When communicating during crises, we must tailor talking points and materials to relate reasonable, achievable next steps. These messages will help keep your audience informed and prepared while keeping their expectations realistic. If BP was more measured when discussing options for dealing with the leak and the recovery process, they would give the impression they were in more control of the situation and ease resulting frustration with their response.
  3. Listen first, and then communicate where it makes sense. BP’s attempts to manage the crisis by buying Internet search terms related to the oil spill or trying to shutdown a BP Twitter parody profile were not the best use of PR resources. Instead, they should have taken a page out of Toyota’s crisis communication playbook: listen before you speak. BP PR strategy fails to listen to important audiences not only for responding to this crisis, but also for repairing their brand. During crises, communicators should devise methods — whether formal or informal or online or in-person — to first listen to the needs and perspectives of your audience and then determine where, when and how you will communicate with them. While it’s good to start this practice at the beginning of crises, it is never too late for mid-course corrections and to start doing more listening than talking.

There is a long road ahead for communicators involved in the Gulf Coast oil spill. However, it’s never too late to admit errors in judgment and attempt to communicate differently during a crisis.

So listen up BP PR team. Please do the PR profession a favor and start implementing a communication plan that can be a credit to us rather than perpetuate the notion we’re just flacks and spin doctors. The truth is that right now, you’re not even making “spin” look very good and communicators, the environment and America is paying for it. Like SNL character Oscar Rodgers (a.k.a. Kenan Thompson) says, “Fix it!”

Curious New Additions to the 2010 AP Stylebook

June 2010

Like a kid on her birthday, I always get excited about the release of the latest edition of the AP Stylebook. I love searching for new entries to find out how our use of language has evolved. In fact, I still have my very first wire-bound edition from journalism school, and it’s fun to see how we referred to “new” technology, like fax machines, back then.

From Flickr User allaboutgeorge

Last week, AP released the 2010 version of its guidebook for journalists, and the changes are great conversation starters. Some highlights:

  • Twitter and Facebook are capitalized, despite both social networking sites’ trendy use of lowercase logos.
  • Web site is now website. Web master is now webmaster. Web page is still Web page. Uh, OK.
  • The economic misery we’re all enduring is now known as the Great Recession.
  • California roll is finally popular enough to earn its own entry.
  • The movement known as the tea party made the book, but it didn’t rate capitalization.
  • Unfriend is the  preferred way of describing someone’s virtual act of abandonment, but the less-used defriend is also acceptable.
  • Definitions and usage rules for some terms are still a little fuzzy, and I expect to see updated–and clearer–entries in a later edition. Potentially specious references include social networking, social media, mashup, and liveblog.

Today I subscribed to the online version of AP Stylebook, which allows the user to enter notes and customize entries. I’ll miss the “new book” smell of a hard copy guide, but I’m excited about all those seconds I’ll save by not having to actually get up from my desk to grab it from the bookshelf.

Little Typos Can Lead to Big Problems

June 2010

One thing that we have all learned is that mistakes happen. However, there is one type of mistake that I cannot accept – typos. I’m one of those people who find typos everywhere – magazines, newspapers, websites, books, etc. I’m an avid reader and when I find a mistake in a book it stops me in my tracks and I find it difficult to move past it. I often find myself wondering how many people were involved in the review process, and how it could slip past each person. This article on CNN.com outlines how a little typo can have a big impact:

The theory seems to be that, in e-mails and instant messages and various other forms of digital discourse, speed counts for more than accuracy, and those whose blood pressures rise when they see such typos are stodgy, ancient, out of touch. The contemporary attitude is: Who cares if a few words are mistyped?

We live in an incredibly fast paced world, but I don’t think that speed should be an excuse for sloppiness. The examples in the article show how a “little typo” can become an embarrassing, high-profile problem.

In a related article on CNN.com you can see some benefits of being a stickler

Image from Flickr user pnoeric

for typos. Doesn’t this make you want to run out and find a high-profile typo?

In my previous post, I discussed the benefits of writing quickly – but typos may be an unintentional result of that process. As a speed writer myself, I have learned two tricks that have saved me from many a lazy typo.

Once I complete my document and have finished my review of it:

  1. I read my document backwards. Reading each word separately from the end to the beginning of your document allows you to side step that pesky trait of ours that allows you to read the word you intended to write, and not the word that you actually typed.
  2. I read my document out loud. When you read out loud you tend to slow down and pay more attention to the actual words on the page, which can help you notice a typo that slipped past you before.

What tips and tricks can you share for catching typos?

Live Blog: Department of Health and Human Services' Community Health Forum

June 2010

Good morning!  Today we will be live blogging the Community Health Forum: Harnessing the Power of Information to Improve Health, put on by the Department of Health and Human Services.  The event runs from 9:00 until 10:30, and will feature a number of fantastic speakers.  We are waiting for everything to get started, and will update this post regularly with coverage.

By way of background, the Community Health Forum centers around the Community Health Data Initiative, designed to “launch a national initiative to help consumers and communities get more value out of the Nation’s wealth of health data.”  Data has already been made available on the web, which will “form the basis for the content anticipated to be available through the Indicator Warehouse and which will further the success of the Community Health Data Initiative.”  Today’s event promises to focus on tools and applications in development as part of the project, as well as an overview of current efforts and the future direction of the initiative.

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