Communications plans are essential to any crisis. You have to understand the incident, identify your audiences, select the principal messages, and determine the best ways to deliver and spread your information. Then you have to make sure a lot of other folks understand the plan. For a primary crisis communicator or PIO, you should always have a plan and it should constantly be evolving based on the reality of the incident. However, unlike public affairs people, we often don't have time to write it all down.
Every media training I've ever been to advocated doing away with um and uh. However, this principle is based on what is best for media personalities, not crisis communicators. If you read the advice post, you won't be surprised to know I care little about ums and uhs. They are a natural part of speech and can actually lend credibility in a time of crisis. When you use those fillers it is a sign to everyone listening that you are thinking out loud. You are verbalizing your thoughts.
It is a mantra among just about everyone that we must speak with one voice during times of crisis and uncertainty. It is also a mantra among just about everyone that we should speak with one voice during times of certainty and non-crises. One voice is always justified in the name of consistency, to reduce anticipated public confusion, and if we are being honest, it’s done because the larger organization does not trust some folks to get it right when difficult topics come up. Thus, top-down talking points and no deviation from the core message. The problem, as Peter Sandman points out, is that when you speak with one voice, there is a predictable and increased interest in what those other voices might have to say.
Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune cut their newsroom staff from 90 to 56 and announced they will stop publishing statewide news sections and reduce content in other sections. The Denver Post announced they will drop 30 positions. The Boston Herald recently went from 240 employees to 175. The reduction of reporters is a trend that has been going on since the digital became ascendant.
In 2000, there were 65,900 reporters in the United States, but by 2015, there were 45,800 reporters and their salaries had cumulatively diminished over those years to fall behind the inflation rate. Take broadcast reporters out of the equation, and pay for reporters is below the national average. The decline in job numbers fell mostly on the newspaper side, but local radio also took a big hit.
About the time I finally became a Type I Public Information Officer, I became frustrated with the inability to advance my knowledge and skills beyond the standard courses. After maxing out on NWCG and FEMA classes and then teaching everything I could, there was no set avenue for further learning. Local colleges offered Communications courses but there was nothing in those classes that would get at what I wanted, assuming I could even describe what I wanted.
It all led me to the obvious conclusion that there is a training and information deficit for advanced PIOs and Public Affairs Officers in government service. This will be the first in a series of posts where I talk about what I have found out there and I hope it will engender discussion and recommendations from others. This is certainly not to be considered the final word--it is merely what I found to be useful information.
Occasional thoughts on incident response, crisis communications, wildland fire, and other topics.
Docendo disco, scribendo cogito.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2019.