The month of September was full of exciting chapter activities and events. In addition to serving as a sponsor of the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit, which was attended by several chapter members, many had the opportunity to learn new photography skills at the Photo Safari in Fells Point (September 14), led by photographer-extraordinaire Harry Bosk of Harry Bosk PR & Photography. We also appreciated the public relations team at Planit hosting an informative discussion on September 22, regarding how to successfully pivot your PR strategy when traditional pitching isn’t effectively securing coverage for clients. The month of October will be equally exciting with a “Coffee with Vitamin” on October 5, which will focus on ways to navigating difficult conversations with the media. Additionally, on October 13, you have the unique opportunity to attend a presentation on how one of America’s top secret agencies (CIA) uses the world’s most public communications channels (social media).
One important goal for the chapter has been to shine a bright light on Baltimore’s finest communication professionals at the Best in Maryland (BIM) Gala and Holiday Party on December 8, 2016. Now is your perfect opportunity to make this vision come true and nominate someone for any one of the five professional awards. This is sure to be one of the chapter’s highlight events of the year, so take advantage of the opportunity to check out the application, past winners and more details at PRSA MD Professional Awards. Our deadline is October 15, 2016.
Each week, PRSA MD members are faced with having to address difficult and challenging situations. The expertise provided by communications professionals in these circumstances is invaluable and provides some important lessons. Here is an example:
A local television reporter calls — just what you were hoping would not occur just a few days into your role providing communication support for a potential community health threat. You were doing such a solid job of providing initial internal communication support (e.g., crafting a communication timeline, developing talking points and letters), but now a news media representative has learned about the potential health risk from a Facebook post, and the situation appears to be headed for the 11:00 p.m., news. People in your organization who have responsibility for managing this issue are concerned…what should you do? Should you email the reporter a media statement crafted the day before? Or, should you immediately request to go on-camera to share the information available at that time? Or, should you not respond to the inquiry and hope the reporter does not call back?
You elect to gain additional facts about the situation and call the reporter to share your prepared statement. During the discussion, you broaden your response to point out that the potential health concern is receiving priority attention, the welfare of those who could be affected is assured, and the initial Facebook post was misleading. You emphasize how no indications to date reflect an existing health-risk to the public (contrary to the social media comment) and that further analysis is necessary before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. The reporter acts surprised to hear these facts, leaving the impression that she believes much more has been involved. After your conversation, it appears that she will not pursue her potential news report (at this time, and unless circumstances change). Still, you monitor news reports the next few days; no stories appear.
You are engulfed in providing additional communication support for about another week, and then this situation is resolved without incident. The precautionary steps taken in addressing the health matter were successful, and there is no need to provide official notification of any community health risks.
This incident demonstrates three key communication lessons:
- Initial Communication. As events initially unfolded, it became critical to establish an ongoing incident timeline for future reference. It also was necessary in this timeline to note the type (e.g., email, telephone conversation) and sequence for specific communications as they unfolded. This strategy was vital in helping guide incident responses, as well as reflecting to internal and external stakeholders the immediate and appropriate steps being taken to address the situation.
- Reporter Conversation: If a media statement simply had been emailed to the reporter, there would have been a strong possibility that her story might become a reality. One of the main reasons why is because outside sources were providing her information that exaggerated the situation. By engaging in a conversation about the issues raised, the reporter gained not only a more balanced and greater understanding of the situation, but also an appreciation for the communication transparency.
- Strategic Communication Impact: If the situation being addressed had received publicity, the entire communication dynamic would have changed. A significant amount of time would have been needed to respond to various internal and external stakeholders’ reactions to this news report – which would have heightened anxieties about a situation not yet determined to be an actual health concern. Investing in targeted “front-end” communications prevented the need to address a variety of presumption-based issues.
Dan Dunne, APR
President, PRSA MD