Unreal PR

By Ross Pfenning

With the impending day of spirits, ghouls and costumed chicanery fast approaching, it seems most anyone with access to a blog or some social media outlet is attempting to jump on the trend-wagons of #halloween or #trickortreat. So, in the eternal spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” we give you the following fantastical feature.
For the duration of this blog post, I have one simple request: Allow yourself to believe – just for a couple of minutes – that vampires, werewolves, wizards and witches, along with all the other supernatural creatures of legend, do, in fact, exist; that they breathe the same air as you and even walk down the same dimly lit streets you do. Was that a chill or did it just get colder in here?
So, if these creatures really do exist, it raises one critically important question: Why is the (mortal) world so convinced they do not? And here’s the only ‘logical’ answer I can fathom: Someone or something is pulling off the most masterful PR campaign the world has never seen. I’m dubbing it “Unreal PR: Public relations for all beings who are mythical, legendary or otherwise fabled—and want to stay that way.”
To uncover this mysterious enterprise, we’re going to examine some of the PR tactics these folkloric fiends have likely employed – as long as they don’t get to us first!

Crisis communication

As anyone involved in the public scene knows, anticipating the next territorial werewolf dispute or vampire feeding frenzy is the key to keeping a situation under control. By pre-emptively developing and continually updating plans for different crises, the powers that be are able to regulate the release of information to the public, giving them time to perform damage control and deliver a situation-appropriate message.
Of course, in the case of paranormal occurrences, the general public’s dedicated unwillingness to accept things which cannot be explained with cold, hard facts and forensics lends a massive assist to those attempting to cover up the possible discovery of their kind. So, the headline “Amateur Wizard Accidently Ignites Warehouse in Attempt to Woo Girlfriend” becomes “Unattended Gas Leak Leads to Inferno on the Docks.” “Wrestling Giants Use City’s Buildings as Bludgeons” instead reads “First Earthquake in County History Levels Entire City Block.”
As for the eyewitnesses, who knows what happened to them?

Consistency of message

Not only is it critical to get out ahead of a crisis, but also to create and circulate a standard message that is echoed and reinforced in subsequent deliveries. Electing trained spokespeople to handle all interviews and briefings mitigates any chance of incompatible or otherwise incongruent messages from being communicated to the public.
While this “monster” of a PR campaign has inarguably been successful, it has not been without its share of complications. In carrying on such an elaborate deception for so long, mistakes have inevitably been made. Now whether some have been purposeful – to keep us guessing – or purely accidental, it’s hard to tell. But one has to wonder: Why do we have so many competing theories on the best ways to kill a vampire?

Knowing your audience and medium

No, I’m not talking about crystal balls or a séance. Crucial to delivering the right message is knowing who will be receiving it and how. More often than not, there are multiple, distinct parties seeking explanation after a crisis has occurred. While, for the sake of expediency, it is appropriate for the first public address to take more of a one-size-fits-all approach, subsequent messages should be tailored to each of the different audiences to quell their respective concerns. Of course, it is necessary to also take into account the medium by which the messages will be delivered. The public at large may accept a news broadcast and a few well-worded, sincere tweets, but stakeholders potentially affected by the situation will require greater, more personalized attention.
The general public is a skeptical bunch, except for matters concerning supernatural events. Time and again, the oblivious, disbelieving humans conveniently play right into the hands of the otherworldly deceivers. They may have our number, but where our antiquated antagonists fall a bit short is in their comprehension of modern communication. Vampires might have superhuman speed and agility going for them, but that doesn’t mean they can necessarily compete with a teenager on a smartphone (unless they’re a teenage vampire who was recently turned, in which case GAME OVER). News travels lightning-fast these days, so it’s more important than ever to respond to crises faster than a witch on turbo-charged broomstick. The trick comes in doing so without sounding like a senseless zombie.
As for the treat, who doesn’t like a PR win? Those magical, mythical, monstrous types certainly do. And let’s be real, they’re probably in the act of hunting down each and every person currently reading this post. Your only hope now is to share this information with everybody you can! Then run and hide. Just make sure to take your phone with you so you can document the experience in 140-character increments. And pics or it didn’t happen!
Photo courtesy of Daniel Hollister’s Flickr photostream.

Crisis Communications & Tourism

By Monty Hagler

I recently had the opportunity to hear Norman Stowe, CEO of Pace Group Communications in Vancouver and WORLDCOM partner, present near Milwaukee, WI at the Upper Midwest Travel & Tourism Conference to more than 100 travel and tourism professionals.  The speech focused on lessons learned from a number of catastrophic events that have taken place in recent years:  the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the collapse of a coliseum roof in Vancouver, the outbreak of SARS in Canada and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
During each of these disasters, WORLDCOM partners played (and continue to play) a critical role in helping communities get back on track, with a particular focus on communicating with external audiences what is happening and the steps being taken on the road to recovery. Disasters – whether man-made or natural – take a tremendous toll on a community’s revenue from a travel and tourism perspective. Events get cancelled, hotel rooms go unbooked and attractions are left bare.
Norman shared many good points, but highlighted below are five intriguing tips that he and I discussed at dinner the night before.
Who Tells the Story Best
In deciding who is going to be the spokesperson in a time of crisis, pick the person who can tell the story best. A person’s title matters far less than having someone who is comfortable talking to the media, who is adept at explaining what is taking place and can elaborate on what is yet to come. Storytelling is not a negative word here. You need someone who can capture what is happening and articulate that to the outside world.
As a corollary, Norman and I both agree that trustworthiness is more important than technical expertise for crisis communications. Norman had a particularly sad but funny story about an engineer being named spokesperson during a crisis, despite the fact he disliked talking with the media and refused to answer any questions that he did not think were relevant.
Don’t Forget the Binder
When a crisis happens, take five minutes to pull out the “Crisis Communications Plan” that has been developed, review the core steps that need to be handled – regardless of what the specific nature of the crisis is – and then get to work. Companies and organizations spend a tremendous amount of time preparing crisis plans, but rarely take the time to put them to work when a crisis hits. The steps are laid out, and while they will undoubtedly need to be tweaked, following that big binder will ensure fewer things are missed or forgotten.
Make Decisions
In a crisis situation, the ability to make decisions quickly is a critical skill. A failure to act compounds the entire chain of response. Yes, information needs to be gathered and assessed, and there must be collaboration among various agencies and groups. But someone must be the decision-maker, and his or her most important task is to MAKE DECISIONS.
Norman put it this way: “In a crisis, you have to make 100 decisions a day. You should aim to be right on 85 percent of them. Be decisive and let people move forward. If you only make 50 decisions a day – even if you get them all correct – you have made things even worse and the recovery more difficult.”
News Media Competition Trumps Accuracy
For anyone who has been involved in dealing with the news media during a crisis, this is a sad, harsh reality. Media coverage is driven by who gets the first details of a story – the sadder and more outrageous the better. Accuracy is lower on the list of what matters to media outlets competing for story angles and breaking news. Organizations must be equally aggressive in telling their story to the media.
The Travel & Tourism Practice Group of WORLDCOM has established a speaker’s bureau of top agency leaders who have handled a wide range of crisis communications projects. If you would like to book a speaker for an upcoming event, or learn more about how to help your organization prepare for potential crises, please email me at mhagler@rlfcommunications.com.