Tag Archives: training

When A Private Crisis Strategy Session Becomes Front Page News

Crisis Communications Lessons: When A Private Crisis Strategy Session Becomes Front Page News | GroundFloor Media PR Agency | Denver, COAs part of crisis communications training with our clients, we emphasize that unless you are in a closed-door office or in a private location, anything you say in public can be used against you. This lesson, once again, resonated loud and clear in a Sunday New York Times scoop.

Last week, Denver attorney Ty Cobb who now works for the White House to coordinate its response into investigations into Russia’s connection with President Trump, was having a strategy lunch with the president’s lead outside attorney on the Russia investigations, John Dowd.

Little did they know, a Times reporter was also having lunch, at the next table.

Read more after the jump…

NBC Spat With Emanuel Brothers, Hickenlooper Outburst

fastpitchThe softball interview is under attack.

Just landing an interview with an important figure is not enough to get a credibility boost. National news reporters are expected to ask tough questions, and do so without upsetting the interview subject or the handlers. It’s a tough needle to thread, but if they fail, the reporters risk getting pilloried on social media.

NBC’s Brian Williams, apparently all too aware of the potential criticism, purposefully strayed from a discussion with the Emanuel brothers—Hollywood mogul Ari, doctor and author Ezekiel, and Chicago Mayor Rahm—about Ezekiel’s new book, “Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family” and broached edgier topics during an interview for last Friday’s “Rock Center” broadcast.

On the flip side, a 9News reporter gets called out by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper for asking a “stupid” question.

Read more at Ragan’s PR Daily.

The cringe-worthy things journalists do

reporterThe following is an excerpt from an article written by GroundFloor Media’s Gil Rudawsky for Ragan’s PR Daily:

This week marks four years since I became a PR professional after spending nearly two decades as a newsman.

Since going down with the ship when the Rocky Mountain News stopped the presses after 150 years, I’ve had few regrets about my career move to PR. Sure, I miss the big news stories, the energy of election nights, and the irreverence of the newsroom, but witnessing from a client perspective how the changing news media operate makes me even more comfortable that I’m no longer a journalist.

While most of my friends continue as journalists and I continue to be a news junkie, I am disheartened by the direction of aspects of the profession. It is even clearer in my job as a crisis communication practitioner.

Yes, there are still good reporters, editors, and producers out there, but there don’t seem to be as many as there once were. I don’t take questioning the Fourth Estate lightly, so I have put together some firsthand examples of practices that made me cringe as a PR professional, and as a journalist.

Read all the cringe-worthy practices here. Also see how some journalists are responding on Jim Romenesko blog.

Is the media phone interview dead?

It used to be that editors would do everything in their power to coax reporters out of their chairs and into the world where they could talk to their sources and cover stories in person.

Nowadays, that has evolved to the state where reporters hardly pick up the phone to talk to sources, let alone cover stories by face-to-face meetings. Interviews are now done via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

During a recent talk on social media and crisis communication, Dallas Lawrence, chief of global digital strategies for Burson-Marsteller, mentioned a survey indicating that 49 percent of reporters find story sources on Twitter.

For reporters, it takes the hard work out of searching for sources, because they can simply perform a hashtag search on a topic and find numerous sources, then contact one or more of them with a targeted tweet or direct message.

This phenomenon is particularly true with the new generation of reporters who have grown up with social media and texting, said Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter.org, a site covering journalism issues, news, and trends.

“Maybe some of it is a natural evolution of our industry,” said Myers. “There still feels like there’s something transactional about it: Send questions on email, get answers on email, and put the story together without actually physically talking to someone.”

The email interview lacks the color a phone call can have, and it loses the natural back and forth that comes from a conversation. Plus, there’s no personal relationship building, however slight, when everything is done in written form.

Though Myers conceded it is probably not the best work practice, he adds that some reporters have better results contacting people through email. Sources can take time to craft responses to questions provided beforehand instead of being surprised by them on a phone call.

I work on many statements to provide reporters, but I will always make a point of calling the reporter back, or having them call me before I forward a statement. This way I can talk to them about their story angle and provide additional background that is simply too obtuse to be included in a statement.

I’ll admit that sometimes it feels futile. One reporter recently emailed me seeking a statement. I asked the reporter to call me before I provided one.

The reporter did not call and ran the story ran without the statement. I guess it was too much effort for that reporter to pick up the phone.

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily)

5 reasons that reporter isn’t calling you back

Having been in a newsroom for two decades, I can attest to how inundated reporters are with email and phone pitches from PR pros. And with shrinking newsrooms, I can only image it has gotten much worse.

To help PR pros tasked with cold-calling reporters and editors with pitches, here’s a basic list to help understand why journalists are not calling you back.

First, let’s just assume that reporters do not actually pick up the phone when you call, because they rarely do. Blame it on not enough time, deadline, or that they are out in the field getting stories.

Why would a reporter not call you back?

1. Your pitch is not engaging. Yes, this is the primary reason reporters ignore your pitch. Newsworthiness rules, and “so what?” pitches will be deleted immediately.

2. You’re pitching the wrong person. There has been shuffling of assignments under the guise of doing more with less, so pitches that go to the wrong reporter will be deleted rather than forwarded to the right reporter.

3. You are from out of town. This one is hard to swallow, but reporters assume that calls from an out of town PR agency will not be newsworthy for local readers. This is especially true for smaller media outlets.

4. Your pitch does not have a local angle. Publications rely on wire services to cover national stories, and they will rarely pick up on a regional or national story unless there is a strong local angle.

5. You have a track record of providing lame story pitches. This is about relationship-building and being a good source for reporters, not just a mouthpiece for a client. If you regularly fill up voicemail with nominal pitches, even the most newsworthy pitch will get deleted. Be a good source, understand when to avoid pitching junk, and remember that no one owes you a favor.

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily.com)

‘Off the record’ vs. ‘on background’: What every PR pro should know before talking to the media

The concepts of “on background” and “off the record” are confusing even to some seasoned reporters. It’s no wonder the PR world gets them wrong so often.

In the era of quick-hit reporting and little or no source-building, there are times when it makes sense to provide the media more than simply a short official statement.

In most crisis communication scenarios, a statement is the go-to, tried and true media response. Longer interviews or long responses get shortened or paraphrased—and often misrepresented. There are ways to get an issue across outside of an official statement, but they, too, have pitfalls.

Among those ways is to speak to a reporter off the record.

Going off the record with the media means providing them information that they cannot use. Presumably, they can use the information to help formulate their story or to ask further questions. It should never come out that the information came from you.

It’s a dangerous proposition, and, more often than not, the off-the-record information makes its way into the story, and it becomes clear who provided it. Having a solid rapport with a reporter is the only way this tactic works; otherwise, there is a good chance you will get burned, particularly if the information is juicy.

As a reporter I refused to listen to off-the-record information from sources, because I was afraid that it would end up in my stories and, often times, I suspected it was a trap to get me in trouble.

As a PR practitioner, I recommend never going off the record with the media.

(Find out here why another PR professional thinks you should never go off the record.)

Instead, it might be more useful to provide background information to a reporter. Giving information on background means providing reporters with information that they can use in their stories but cannot attribute to you because it has come from another source.

Though journalists will probably extract text solely from a statement, background information can change the tenor or angle of a story. This is particularly true when you provide factual background documents not intended for public consumption.

With both off-the-record and background discussions, there are gray areas and potential pitfalls. We tell our clients, based on experience in and out of the newsroom, never tell a reporter anything that you don’t want to see in a story.

If you or your client feels compelled to use these tactics, make your expectations clear before passing along the information. Be sure the reporter knows the source and understands the restrictions on its use. Or tell the reporter that the information is off the record and cannot be used or traced back to you. Even then, don’t be surprised if it does.

6 essentials for your crisis response plan

Crisis communication is becoming an integral part of public relations.

As some point, every company is going to have to quickly switch gears from proactive to reactive, and how the company’s reputation survives often comes down to how it responds. Remember the classic episode of the television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” when the station held a turkey drop from a helicopter? It’s a prime example of a PR stunt gone bad.

WKRP’s Les Nessman, played by Richard Sanders chronicled their last flight:

Though this is a hilarious fictional miscalculation, it’s not too far out of the ordinary. Remember BP’s CEO going sailing with his family after the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, or automotive CEOs taking corporate jets to D.C. to ask for a bailout? You can’t make this stuff up.

When a crisis does happen, a targeted, prompt response that addresses the issue can often diffuse the situation. A coverup response will simply fan the flames.

Here are some crisis communication response tips that might’ve helped WKRP, or other companies, respond to a disastrous PR event:

  • Be targeted. Focus messaging on the right audience.
  • Be prompt. This shows the company is addressing the issues, and it can diffuse a negative situation from spiraling by presenting the facts early on.
  • Be concise but comprehensive. Crisis communication should be compact, delivering a lot of information in a small space and time.
  • Be transparent. Perhaps more so than any other content you create, crisis communication must be honest and clear if the company’s audiences are going to trust you to get through the event.
  • Be clear. Articulate what the company is doing and, whenever possible, how long the process might take. The latter can be difficult to estimate, so don’t commit to a timeframe if you aren’t sure of it; but if you know a solution is not imminent, it’s best to be honest with customers about that fact.
  • Be compassionate. Regardless of the source of the problem, in most issues management situations you have let your customers/consumers/employees down; acknowledge this, and then get to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

With regard to the last tip, you may recall WKRP station manager Arthur Carlson’s honest, pained response: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily.)

Mind your off-the-record comments and what you say during sound checks

There’s no such thing as “off-the-record” anymore.

It used to be, at least in theory, that politicians and business executives could safely assume that if the cameras weren’t rolling, or if a reporter had set down his pencil, they could speak freely and there was little risk of the comments showing up on the 6 p.m. news or tomorrow’s headlines.

Given the number of modern, high-profile “sound-check gaffes,” most notably with President Reagan, it’s unclear whether the notion of “off the record” was ever really followed that closely. And it certainly is not the case these days. We live in a 24-hour news cycle that is just waiting for the next story, and everything we say has the potential of being recorded, and then beamed to millions.

Last week, President Obama fell victim to the “always on-the-record” world in what is being called open mic night for the president at a Chicago restaurant. A live audio feed carried Obama’s comments to the White House press briefing room where he was caught challenging Republicans to repeal healthcare reform, saying: “You wanna repeal health care? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. But you’re not going to be able to do it by nickel and diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?”

His comments came after the White House press pool had been escorted out of the briefing room. But, his comments made at an exclusive fundraiser, were recorded by NBC News and CBS News. They promptly played the tape for their audiences and posted it online.

The White House press team played off the gaffe, saying that the President was not embarrassed that the remarks were made public.

In the last month, a Google news search for the terms “microphone” and “gaffe” came up with numerous high-profile blunders. Given the rich history of these missteps caught on tape, it might help to review some best practices with regard to speaking to the media:

1. “Off-the-record” is not considered off the record anymore. This even applies if the reporter agrees to the off-the-record rules. Many reporters face too much competition to not run with a scoop, regardless of how they came about it.

2. Following up on No. 1, never say anything to a reporter that you wouldn’t want to see in the evening news.

3. Temper your comments in public places. Remember with social media and mobile phones, everyone can be a reporter, beaming “caught on tape” comments, photos and videos from a short elevator ride to the world.

4. After you are done speaking to a reporter, make sure they are not continuing to listen, through an open mic or otherwise. One of my best scoops came when an elected official forgot to end a cell call with me, and inadvertently gave me the unfiltered inside story, as told to his staffer.

5. And finally, it’s best to keep to simple – and non controversial – topics during sound checks, and not joke about bombing Russia, as Ronald Reagan infamously did during the height of the Cold War.

~ Gil Rudawsky