© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
I have heard many organizational leaders rationalize about why they don't need to engage in comprehensive crisis preparedness, that one way or the other they'll be able to prevent or respond well to crises with no vulnerability assessment, planning, training or simulations.
Apropos of this behavior, I have been taught a useful way to restate the word "rationalize":
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
PIER At Core Of Successful Public Affairs Management For G8 Summit Event
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) is a branch within Georgia's Office of the Governor working under the Georgia Office of Homeland Security. GEMA is the state organization responsible for providing the residents of Georgia with comprehensive emergency preparedness, and appropriate response and recovery programs in order to save lives, protect property and reduce the effects of disasters. The state of Georgia often experiences several weather related disasters a year, including localized floods and tornadoes.
The 2004 G8 Summit, which brought together the leaders of the world's major industrial nations, was held in Sea Island, Georgia on June 8-10th. With country leaders in attendance from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom, among others, the Summit was categorized as a National Special Security Event, the highest level security event the Secret Service coordinates, and the highest level security event ever held in Georgia.
Lisa Ray, the Director of Public Affairs for GEMA, was tasked with coordinating all public affairs for the safety and security portion of the 2004 G8 Summit. Initially this task appeared as a daunting challenge. The event itself would be complex with meetings being held in several locations impacting the entire coast of Georgia and some inland locations as far as 100 miles apart. In addition, there would be multiple state and federal organizations involved, who would also be geographically dispersed. All key personnel would need to have access to up-to-the-minute safety and security information. In addition, Lisa Ray's department needed to attend to inquiries from the media, local elected officials and the general public.
In February 2004, Lisa Ray learned of the US Coast Guard District 7's successful use of a communications system called PIER during the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) event in Miami. Lisa Ray decided to license the PIER system from AudienceCentral for use during the G8 Summit. PIER is a virtual communications center which integrates all key communications functions onto a single web-based platform using a common communications interface.
PIER as Part of the Summit
GEMA had the PIER system launched within two days of contract receipt by AudienceCentral. Shortly thereafter, the two key users were adding content to the site. Specific G8 content was added by GEMA users over a two week period directly before the G8 Summit. Immediately before the Summit, GEMA users were familiar enough with PIER to provide their own Joint Information Center training to users from other participating federal and state agencies.
Marc Mullen of AudienceCentral also agreed to be on site during the event to help train the many new users from the multiple agencies and to be available for any other system needs. Because of PIER's intuitive interface, generally new users were comfortably navigating the system within 10 minutes. The web-based system allowed the over 120 unique users to access the system from wherever they happened to be located. New information was posted or distributed from the Unified Command Center, and instantly all users had access to the new information. Although the event was set up as a classic Unified Command situation, the Joint Information Center (JIC) ended up being miles away from the Multiple Agency Command Center.
As the G8 Summit event evolved so did the needs and use of the PIER system. PIER proved to be flexible enough to manage the evolving needs of the multiple agencies and multiple layers of management. Those at Unified Command decided to use the internal communications tool in PIER to provide immediate updates to all users. Updates would include information about possible bridge or road closures that would impact travel in, around, or between the different Summit locations.
One of the most valuable features of PIER for the agencies during the Summit was the ability to manage inquiries. Members of the media or general public were able to submit email inquiries from the GEMA website. Users of PIER could read, respond to and log all relevant information regarding the inquiry. At the end of the first day, they were able to identify common inquiry topics and then developed consistent and approved responses within the identified clusters. These responses were made available to all users of the system. The reporting feature allowed agency managers to generate a report at any time about the history and scope of all inquiries during the event.
In addition, the Command Center was able to add and edit user permissions and access levels within the system on the fly. These changes were completely transparent to the users. The system was also adjusted to allow users to be identified by their organization. Since there were so many people working together for the first time, what agency they represented was important information for understanding what perspective each was coming from.
"A custom designed system could not have met our needs better," said Lisa Ray, Director of Public Affairs, GEMA.
For the GEMA Office of Public Affairs, the G8 Summit was a success. Everyone involved had access to the important information they needed, instantaneously. Inquiries from the media and public were answered quickly, accurately and consistently, and all organizations were able to get the big picture view of the public affairs activities through the various reporting features in PIER. By the second day of the Summit all the users were so accustomed to, and dependent on the PIER system that whenever new information was being discussed, someone inevitably would ask, "Is it in PIER?" From June 1 through June 20 the G8 PIER site received over 209,000 hits, indicating that people were dependent on the site for information.
GEMA plans to continue using the PIER system, integrating it into the daily public affairs duties and relying on the system for communications management for future disasters.
Thanks to AudienceCentral and GEMA for making this case history available for publication. For more information on the PIER system by AudienceCentral, to include a demo, contact Jamie Imus, firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-756-8080.
How To Manage Vocal External Critics
Let's face it: no matter how wonderful the organization is that you represent, there will always be external dissent. Criticism is sure to follow not just the Fortune 500, but also small businesses, non-profits, government institutions, and even churches. And the spectrum of imaginable critical voices is broad: dissatisfied customers, former employees, and cause-driven observers, just to name a few.
Given the inevitable nature of external criticism, it's important to routinely address antagonistic audiences as a part of your communications plan. Critics are more than a wellspring of crises: they also must be considered an enduring audience who absorbs all of your communications, good and bad.
The worst approach to managing negative commentary is to proverbially bury the organization's head in the sand rather than to develop relationships with critics. The out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach just won't work long-term, and often it will only infuriate dissidents when they feel ignored.
In many cases, criticism is solely based on the desire to be heard and recognized. The most effective response is to open a dialogue with a critic; pay sincere attention to their concerns; address the relevant issues that can change and evolve; and explain your position for the issues that can't be modified.
Often, that's enough to do the trick--especially with "Lone Ranger"-style critics. They're "feeling your love," and they find satisfaction in knowing that they're important to you. In some cases, critics become advocates once they realize that your organization DOES indeed care about, consider, and respond to dissenting voices.
One axiom is that you should always run up and hug a critic before they can yank out a knife to stab you. It tends to work.
If opening a dialogue and listening isn't effective in resolving an antagonist's complaints, consider giving in to their demands. Sometimes, it's the best course of action, no matter how right you are and how wrong the critic is. Yes, it might hurt the ego, but that's better than hurting in the headlines or on the six o'clock news.
This is effective in situations where:
1. You're facing a one-time issue, such as a customer's demand for a refund or a mayor's insistence on Rideshare participation.
2. The issue is relatively localized and won't set a well-publicized precedent that you wouldn't want to continually support. As a safety net, be sure to establish key reasons why this situation is exceptional/unique and requires extraordinary steps on your part for this one time.
3. The cost of satisfying the critic is nominal and clearly outweighs the risk of creating potentially negative publicity and attention for your organization.
The additional upside for giving in to a critic's complaints is that it can create good will, which is a precious commodity. It can be surprising to learn whom your critic knows -- either through a grade school friendship, the in-laws, or at the local Rotary Club. If a critic feels that you did resolve the issue in a generous manner, this could very well convert into positive publicity for your organization, either through grassroots-style word-of-mouth or even the media who catch wind of the situation.
Finally, be sure to bulletproof your organization's messaging. Make sure that there aren't gaps between who you say you are and what reality is. If you're an environmentally friendly organization, be sure you have recycle bins. If your company is on Fortune's list of Best Places to Work, then give the employee with the premature newborn another week or month of maternity leave. If your organization prides itself on its standing in the community, make sure you're giving back to it appropriately.
Professional communications is a relational discipline, not a business one. Often, we're tempted to forsake common sense when adopting a productivity- and results-driven corporate mindset.
Instead, we need to remember that we're dealing with individuals, their emotions, and their passions. Corporate-speak is not appropriate in such situations -- we need to relate with friend and foe alike in compassionate and empathetic terms in order to truly be effective.
Reprinted by permission of the League of American Communications Professionals (LACP), www.lacp.com.
CORRECTION: Contest winner Justin Croniser's last name was inadvertently misspelled, without an "s," in the previous issue of "Crisis Manager." He's studying to be a lawyer at Vanderbilt, y'know, so I didn't want to risk omitting a correction in this issue. If you missed the entertaining entries from Justin and others, they are now archived here.
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ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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