Monday, October 17, 2016

Between the apocalypse and crying wolf: finding the right tone

It now seems every major storm comes with dire warnings ... sometimes even mentioning impending death. That plays well in the media ... grabs attention .,.. but just how effective is it really? 

My good friends Gerald Baron (@gbaron) and retired fire chief Bill Boyd (@chiefb2) brought this issue to my attention. Gerald in a tweet ...
@patricecloutier @chiefb2 turned out to be quite a bust. Very little wind. Concerned about the "cry wolf" effect.
And Bill Boyd through a series of funny Instagam posts ... including this one.
So, where to draw the line between crying wolf and calling for the end of times?

OK, you'll tell me this is on FOX News ... The same people who made a Trump candidacy viable ..
But, they weren't the only ones predicting the coming apocalypse that was supposed to be Hurricane Matthew in Florida:
The Weather Channel people also relied on very strongly worded public warnings.
Now, add the voices of senior elected and emergency management officials and you had a chorus of voices calling for caution and mandatory evacuations and using very strong language. Yet, many chose to stay ... There are many good reasons why people make that choice. A great article recently looked at that issue.
Predicting weather events has its challenges, leading to alarm fatigue ... as does predicting earthquakes ... technology is improving and making warnings about seismic event a real thing ... such as what happened in California a couple of weeks ago. ... causing some fear and uneasiness.

This is not without consequences:
Does this potentially translate to more injuries and deaths? According to a study published in Weather, Climate and Society, “tornadoes that occur in an area with a higher false-alarm ratio kill and injure more people, everything else being constant.” Why? Because when people live through enough warnings in situations where tornadoes never actually materialize, they start to ignore them.
So, false alarms come at a cost ...they create apathy and complacency that can kill. But it's kind of a lose-lose situation ... don't warn ... people may die ... warn too often ... people may not care ...those who do and evacuated can face other difficulties that can add to the alerting conundrum later.
Some people are actually disappointed when carnage and destruction don't follow dire warnings ... adding to the cacophony of conflicting messages. So what are possible solutions to this dilemma?
  • stricter criteria for sending out warnings ... especially those that include words such as death, catastrophic, or other dire messages
  • more effective use of a variety of channels (social media + mobile technologies) to reach a very specific set of audiences ... (although WEA/IPAWS come with their own issues too .... ) ... people trust their friends/family more on social networks than they do official agencies ... influencing that info flow on social networks is critical.
  • Monitoring social media during crises gauge the effectiveness of emergency information and adjust according to needs and the behavior observed on the ground. A vital crisis comms imperative.
  • focusing on risk communications and public education prior to events ... so that warnings convey the right meaning to populations at risk ...

Combating human nature is never easy ... finding the right tone will be hard ... reaching the right audience even harder if you only rely on traditional media.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Art of the Apology ... the meaning behind SORRY

There's real craft in being able to deliver an effective apology. It's got to hit all the right targets, have the right tone and be seen seen as believable. I've written about this in the past and did a podcast on it as well.

However, following the latest Trump debacle's a subject worth revisiting ... Most crisis comms practitioners should be glad that they'll never have to defend someone as repugnant, blatantly misogynistic, overtly racist and as much of an egomaniac as the Republican presidential nominee.

I won't even talk about the latest tape that proves how big of a threat to women he really is. (Now imagine if he gets into the White House and has to deal with women heads of governments.) Instead, I'll concentrate on his apologies to his latest outrage. The first was a tweet ... a non-apology if there ever was one ... a misconstrued attempt to deflect and obfuscate:

Here's what this "apology" says to me:

  1. it wasn't a big deal ... so many years ago ... locker room stuff ... boys will be boys right ? 
  2. I only talk like this in private ... with my other pro-sexual assault buddies ...
  3. besides ...I'm not the only one ... even my old buddy Bill tells good stories ... 
  4. you shouldn't take it badly ... i mean ... i'm a little sorry ... but not really .... 
And then the Trump "brain trust" (if you can call them that ...) (BTW ... what's KellyAnne Conway think now?) seclude themselves high up in Trump Tower in NYC ... hours later they come up with such a bad video apology ... it looked like it was made purposefully to be a training aid for crisis comms professionals on what NOT do do: 

Here's what's wrong with the video:
  • the background is totally impersonal ... adds to make it look like a fabricated piece
  • "I've never said I'm perfect" ...this from the guy who styles himself as the only one who can save America
  • video should have been 21 seconds long and stopped at : " ... and I apologize." .... PERIOD ...adding anything else in this case took away from any hint of sincerity
  • Trump talks about all the people he's met ... and vows to never let them down ... be a better man TOMORROW ... now, all this a month away from the elections and against a background of Trump having been Trump throughout the campaign ...
  • Trump then launches into his stump speech about jobs and how DC is "broken" ... worst of all ... he brings up Bill and Hillary Clinton again ...
The only message to be taken from this video is that Trump is only sorry for getting caught ... this "distraction" as he calls it only diverts attention from his inevitable (in his own mind) ascension to the highest office in the free world. 

Here's what a real apology needs ... How saying I'm SORRY resonates with various audiences: 

  • S ... for being SINCERE ... however good you might think yourself in front of the camera ... audiences will quickly make their mind if you're being honest with them
  • O ... for OPENNESS ... being open and transparent about what has gone wrong ... laying it out ... avoiding obfuscation 
  • R ... for REGRET ... showing remorse is key ... heartfelt message about wanting to be a better person or organization 
  • R ... for RESILIENT ... demonstrating that a person or organization will learn from this "mistake" or incident ... move on and improve 
  • Y ... for YEARNING ... to be better ... laying out the steps you and your organization will take to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.
In this regard, Trump fails on all counts ... Now, contrasts this with this apology (from a real billionaire ...) head of a very large food processing company in Canada ... shortly after a listeria outbreak that killed 22 people across the country: 

That's how the top guy is supposed to handle an apology and explain the actions of his organization in a crisis ... in other words ... to be a leader ...everything Trump isn't ...