Chess Moves Help With Crisis Communications

In today’s fast-paced social media world, you may never be contacted about a media crisis, even if it’s your responsibility to handle a crisis.

Too often, reporters, get their information directly from social media. By the time you learn of the event, it may have been streaming for hours.

“The journalist writing the story never contacted me,” Patricia Dempsey, director of communications at St. John’s College (MD), shared at the 2014 College Media Conference. “Media are researching online, whether the information is accurate or not.”

Ben Jones, vice president for communications at Oberlin College said, “I got the call at 4:30 a.m. about the situation, but the students were already tweeting.”

What do you do?

“It’s not a linear strategy. It’s like a game of chess.” Jones said. “You have to think five moves ahead.”

Those moves include:

  1. Develop a relationship with the media so they actually trust what you are saying. Provide context and give them something they can use.
  2. Follow the news on social media and update your own channels with relevant and timely information. That’s what the Boston Police Department did during the Boston Marathon bombing.
  3. Work with what is happening. A crisis plan is great to have, but it’s not always valuable in the midst of a situation.
  4. Develop a counter story and share it with the media.
  5. Identify individuals who are supportive who could respond on social media sites, including reaching out to reporters.

Prepared Messages Are Essential Part of a Crisis Communications Plan

If you work in media relations, a great deal of your time is probably spent drafting messages that may never see the light of day. That doesn’t mean that the work isn’t important.

These statements are important to have at the ready, and executives most likely will feel more comfortable knowing that a statement exists about a potential situation.

All media statements contain common elements, namely answers to questions that follow the basic journalism questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. Specifically,

  • Who was responsible?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen? Or why did the company respond to the incident the way it did?
  • How is the company resolving the issue?

Once you have the message drafted, it’s important to prepare FAQs to expand on the points and also answer questions that your company may not want to proactively discuss but that may be asked by the media, employees or stakeholders. By already having answers at the ready, the company won’t look as if it is unaware or trying to hide information.

Having messages at the ready is the first step in a well-executed crisis communications plan.

(Editor’s Note: My next post will focus on how to make the best moves for effective crisis communications.)


What Did You Learn Today?

I attended a conference in June that had a cool app. The Guidebook app allowed conference participants to review the schedule from their phone, read bios of the speakers and connect with participants.

I was so impressed with the app, I wanted to use it for the NFPW conference. NFPW is an organization in which I am actively involved, although I was not involved in the planning of this year’s conference (whew!). I knew this year’s conference planners already had plenty on their plates so I reached out and asked if they were interested in the app if I created it for them.

20140908_200423Of course, they said yes. I spoke with Guidebook and found out that because our conference wasn’t that large, there would not be a cost to use the app. The downside is that I would not be able to get technical assistance, but I was assured it was intuitive. How hard could it be?

It was worth the time to create it because it meant participants at the NFPW conference would have conference details at their fingertips. Today almost everyone carries a smartphone with them. Keeping track of a conference program can be a challenge.

And I developed some new skills. I had a few challenges, but I persevered. It was a good learning experience, and conference attendees used the app.

Another example is a presentation given at the conference on useful apps. One way to learn is to learn from others. The session highlighted useful apps and then participants shared their favorites. By the time the session ended, we had a list of about 25 additional recommended apps.

Another great place to grow your skills is This site provides web tutorials on hundreds of topics. You can subscribe for a month or a year. I subscribe for a month when I realize I need to learn about a specific topic. I spend a few hours learning through the site.

Another site to check out is Online Media Campus, which is a partnership of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and press associations throughout the United States and Canada. It provides high-quality, low-cost online training to media professionals.

Learning new skills makes good business sense. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes, “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

What have you learned today?

Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Strong Bio

Writing a strong bio helps build your brand. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Writing a strong bio helps build your brand. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Have you ever been asked to write a bio, whether as a member milestone or as a speaker? It’s an opportunity to brand yourself and share your uniqueness.

Too often, however, people simply include their name, professional highlights and education without making themselves stand out.

If you want to capture someone’s attention, you should spend time carefully crafting your bio. Here are some tips to do just that:

Identify yourself. Tell the reader who you are and what you do. It also helps to share a bit of your personality, such as a hobby or your community service. I usually include something about traveling or mysteries in my bios, for example.

Share your story. Readers connect with stories so tell yours. Did you overcome an obstacle? Did an experience move you to start a business?

Use a conversational tone. Pretend you are telling your story to a colleague and then write it that way. Skip the big words that may come across as if you are showing off.

Write tightly. Make every word count. If it’s boring to you, it’s probably going to be boring to readers. One way to make your writing stand out is to use the active voice and strong verbs. (This holds true for almost all writing.)

Include a photo. People like to put a face with the name and credentials. (This holds true for LinkedIn, too.)

4 Tips to Write a Headline That Gets Read

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.

David Ogilvy, father of advertising

Too often, those of us in public relations are asked to send a media release – usually on a subject that is not newsworthy.

We struggle to write the release, and we struggle to write the headline. A speaker I recently heard said, “If you don’t know the headline, and it’s not good, you probably don’t have a press release.”

That’s sound advice.

What makes a good headline? Here are four tips:

  • Focus on the most provocative part of the story to pull in readers.
  • Use numbers. The posts in which I use numbers in the headline typically have more readers.
  • Be specific and concise.
  • Use question words, such as why and how.

If you want to learn more, check out Poynter’s post on headline writing.



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