Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Do You Organize and Utilize Your Crisis Communications Team?

We highlighted crisis communications a couple of weeks ago when we featured crisis communications expert Dr. Joe Trahan and his "go ugly early" approach. Crisis communications will be a hot topic at next week's NAGC Communications School.

I'm really interested to hear from others on how they distribute and redistribute tasks during a crisis. At Memphis Light, Gas and Water, we are fortunate to have a pretty large communications staff, so I'm able to spread our major tasks across several employees.

Our Director of Communications serves as the team leader and PIO, and attends the meetings at the Joint Information Center (JIC). My role as supervisor is to serve on the emergency response team and be a liaison between them and my staff. I attend meetings at our emergency response center, then relay bullet point updates to everyone on my staff that they can quickly use to create news releases, post to social media and website, and distribute to employees. I'm also the primary coordinator of the media interviews.

My internal communications team is made up of communications specialists, community relations coordinators, clerks, a webmaster, public records clerk, staff photographer, graphic designers, and other staff. Here are some of the tasks that are each primarily assigned to one individual during a crisis. Several employees will assist with these tasks and creating various types of communication, but I like to have one "point person" for each:
  • Media site visits
  • News releases and interviews
  • Web updates
  • Twitter (several employees serve as backup requires multiple admins)
  • Facebook (several employees serve as backup if volume requires multiple admins)
  • YouTube
  • Employee communications (e-mails, business TV, etc.)
  • Community presence (information booths, etc.)
  • Liaison for community leaders
  • Liaison for government officials
  • Spanish-language communications
  • Photography
  • Video
  • Research into individual customer accounts/issues (often inquiries via social media or e-mail)
It's important to keep in mind that your communications team should also include key contacts from other organizations as well. As I noted in my post about collaboration last year, sharing info with a targeted, key group of external contacts can really help the public get the information they need. Our external team includes:
  • Local community leaders
  • Government officials
  • City and County PIOs
  • FEMA
  • Peer utilities
I'm interested in hearing from others on this. How have you created your crisis team and what are their roles? And what about those of you who ARE a one- or two-person communications team? How do you manage that?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Now, What Was The Name of That...?


Paul Mellor
Quick, what did you have for lunch last Tuesday? To whom did you send your last e-mail yesterday? What did you get from the in-laws last Christmas? OK, granted, you may NOT want to remember that, but you get my point. 

Now more than ever, we live in an information overload type of culture. Not only are we bombarded with information from all directions, but for many communicators, we keep adding to the project list without adding staff!

How to keep up with everything? 

One person who doesn’t have this problem is Paul Mellor of Fix My Memory. Paul was a finalist in the 2008 USA Memory Championship in New York City. He remembered the names of over 90 people in less than 15 minutes, recalled the exact order of over 100 single-digit numbers after reviewing them for less than five minutes and recalled the exact order of a shuffled deck of playing cards after less than a three-and-a-half minute review.
Paul provides memory training to a client list that includes the Ohio State Bar Association, Builders Association of Northern Nevada, Oregon Mayors Association, Kentucky State Police, and Virginia Crime Prevention Association. His work with the latter organization, and its importance to police officers, was featured in this article in The Virginian Pilot

In a couple of weeks, Paul will be on hand for a highly interactive, very entertaining and fast-moving seminar at the NAGC Communications School in Arlington, VA. Participants will take with them the ability to remember names and faces; the confidence to get through a day without the fear of forgetting something; and the knowledge and application to retain information. Who wouldn’t benefit from those traits? 

I know for me, keeping up with all my employees’ projects, deadlines, etc. is a continual challenge. When it comes to remembering things, what is most challenging for you, and what have you done to improve?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Government Communications and...The Monkees?

Not making the connection? Understandable at first glance.

The theme of this year's NAGC Communications School is "Telling America's Stories" and many of the speakers will be doing just that -- sharing their case studies, experiences and anecdotes -- and showing how their agency made an impression with their audience. That usually means connecting with that audience in some way that leaves an impression, and the best way to do that is to tell a compelling story.

Peter Tork of The Monkees
While he's not a government communicator per se, Peter Tork is a both a great American storyteller and a great American story. Peter will speak and perform at the NAGC Communications School on Thursday, June 7, at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, VA.

Long before he became part of the legendary 1960s phenomenon known as the The Monkees, Peter was already a well-respected musical artist in the burgeoning New York folk and blues scene. 

The Monkees brought international fame to the multi-talented musician and the success of last year’s 45th anniversary reunion tour with former Monkee mates Micky Dolenz and the late Davy Jones is evident of his enduring popularity. His real passion, however, is for the musical storytelling of the blues and Peter can currently be seen touring with his band, Shoe Suede Blues. In a rare solo performance, Peter will share his love of folk and blues music and talk about its importance in the American culture to tell the stories of our people.

Register now to attend the NAGC 2012 Communication School – “Government Communicators - Telling America's Stories" – June 5-8, 2012. Peter’s performance will be part of the NAGC President’s Reception June 7. For more details and the rest of the exciting agenda, including Astronaut Michael Foreman, memory expert Paul Mellor, Communicator of the Year Judy Gish, ace speechwriter Joan Detz, media panels, and much more, visit www.nagc.com. Professional development at its best!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Go Ugly Early


Dr. Joe Trahan, APR, Fellow PRSA
Examples of bad crisis management are readily available, and a common universal element is a slow response. 

For media relations trainer and PR strategist Dr. Joe Trahan, APR, Fellow PRSA, of Trahan & Associates, the rule is simple: “go ugly early.” In other words, get out and take control of the crisis before it takes control of your organization. “Only two things age well: women and wine,” quips Trahan. “Bad news doesn’t.” 

Trahan suggests a communications response within seven minutes in order to stay ahead of a rapidly-evolving crisis communications landscape that includes social media and mobile technology. 

Dr. Trahan will share his knowledge of crisis communications and leadership through two different sessions at next month’s NAGC Communications School

Trahan, an avid New Orleans Saints fan, uses his favorite football team as an example of bad crisis management and communications. The football team is now embroiled in a scandal about bounties put on opposing players that has resulted in a number of fines and suspensions. Trahan says that quickly responding and allowing head coach Sean Payton to address the allegations would have allowed the Saints to control the situation and better manage their image. 

Trahan, is no stranger to PR, communications and crisis management. In addition to his work with Trahan & Associates, he is the current Chair of Public Affairs and Government section at the Public Relations Society of America and a Faculty Advisor at Georgia State University. He has more than 20 years of public relations/affairs experience in governmental, association and educations and non-profit public relations. In addition, he’s Lt. Col. (Ret.) Joe Trahan, United States Army Reserve, former Commander of the 314th Public Affairs more »Operations Center in Birmingham, Ala. He has successfully operated four Joint Information Bureaus and one Joint Information Center from 1991 – 1994. 

Back to going ugly early – do you have examples of how your organization has done that?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NAGC Communications School Preview: Astronaut Mike Foreman, Carmageddon, Media Relations, Social Media, etc.


The upcoming NAGC Communications School will be my fifth in a row to attend and I am looking forward to the 2012 offering with great anticipation.  This year’s theme, “Government Communicators-Telling America’s Story”, exemplifies the responsibility and challenge we face each day.  As government communicators we must spread the word about the programs and services offered by our various organizations, and we are challenged to do so in as transparent manner as possible.  We strive to find the balance between information and information overload; and, we are confronted with ever expanding sources for information distribution.

All these challenges are being addressed at this year’s communications school.  Personally, I am looking forward to hearing our Communicator of the Year discuss her proactive approach to disseminating information to divert a potential traffic nightmare in one of the most traffic-centric cities in the U.S.  I wonder if she will touch on the latest information about ‘Carmageddon’: the baby-boom being attributed to the 500,000 people staying home for that weekend?

Our Media Panel promises to add to the government communicators’ arsenal of information for how to pitch your agency’s story to the media.  The break-out session on “Using Social Media Analytics for Government Operations and Policy” will help us understand how to leverage new technology to help in the decision-making process.

If that's not enough, we'll get to hear Astronaut Mike Foreman tell one of America’s greatest adventure stories — living and working in space. During two missions, he traveled more than 20 million miles in orbit and performed five space walks tethered to the shuttle by a cable. Mike will also be available to sign autographs during the President’s Reception.

The NAGC Communications School 2012 has something for every level of government communicator whether you are tasked with crisis communications, writing press releases or policy or just looking for ways to get your story out.  I hope you are looking forward to attending this year’s school as much as I am.

Submitted by Kathryn Stokes, Strategic Affairs Officer, Mississippi Department of Employment Security and Treasurer for the NAGC Board of Directors.