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A Weather Channel journalist Skypes Gerard Braud, a media coach and former network TV reporter who lives along Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans.
Using his iPad, Braud shows the reporter the whitecaps lapping into his front yard. The producer wants B-roll—footage of the stormy lake. Then he asks for a live shot with Braud talking.
“Before you know it, I’m holding up my iPad with Skype on my front porch, and I’m live on the Weather Channel,” says Braud (pronounced Bro). “The technology works.”
What does this mean for you, communicator? Demanding media—and incredible opportunities, Braud explains in a Ragan Training session.
“What I think is going to happen in the future is you’re going to be called upon to start doing interviews the way I’m doing interviews,” Braud says. “You’re going to have a crisis, and there’s going to be none of this, ‘Well, we’ll try to meet you there in a half-hour.’ ‘When can the news crews get down here? Oh, I’m in a meeting, I can’t help.'”
Here are some lessons for today’s crisis communications landscape:
1. Eyewitnesses tell the story.
It’s a new era. People around us are covering crises even before organizations know they have a crisis, Braud says. Consider the so-called “miracle on the Hudson,” when a pilot landed a U.S. Airways jet on the New York river.
Everybody major network in the world has a bureau there. Who broke the news? A guy on the Staten Island Ferry as it headed over to rescue the jet’s passengers and crew. He tweeted a photo.
2. Prepare for a crisis on a sunny day.
The worst day to deal with your crisis is on a dark day in the middle of your crisis, Braud says. Prepare when the weather’s clear—when the phones aren’t ringing and mobile TV transmitters aren’t setting up right outside your CEO’s house.
First, set up an account with CNN iReport, which enables you to upload video for potential broadcast.
Yes, we know. You’ve had it up to here juggling YouTube and Pinterest and Facebook and the rest of it. But sign up with iReport and figure it out on your clear day so it’s ready when your crisis hits.
Braud uploads videos of 38 to 52 seconds each. Practice shooting video on your smartphone and sharing it to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
But people, don’t expect it to go anywhere if it’s not newsworthy. When Braud uploaded footage of the snow in New Orleans, he beat all the local TV stations in getting out his report.
Video-record yourself talking. Get comfortable. Speaking to the media is like a sport, Braud says. If you don’t practice it continually, you can’t be a good spokesperson. Media training isn’t a bucket list item to do once and scratch off your to-do sheet. Keep training—and improving.
4. Location trumps expertise.
Speaking of snowing down South, Braud’s winter video demonstrates what he calls “the yahoo factor.”
Location (the farmer in a cornfield who films the crashed alien spaceship on his iPhone) trumps expertise (the Washington correspondent in front of NSA’s Alien Tracking Division headquarters). This is also true of your crisis. The guy shooting a chemical spill in a ditch with his BlackBerry gets the air time.
“When you are on location, you are golden,” Braud says. “If the yahoo is on location and you’re back in the office, the yahoo has the advantage over you.”
5. Manage expectations honestly.
Let’s say you’re a spokesperson for a city or a power utility bracing for a storm. The best way to mitigate the crisis beforehand is to be blatantly honest, Braud says.
Tell them: “You will lose creature comforts. You will not have electricity. There will be no heat. There will be no air conditioning. You will have no water. You will have no ice. Get out of town.”
If you have to, tell them they don’t want to get trapped in the house with their spouse and a passel of shrieking kids. Tell them to go where there’s Cartoon Network.
6. Call an event what it is.
YouTube is the second most powerful search engines on the planet. Want your spin on that refinery fire to turn up? Do not “corporately sanitize” the title of your video. Call a fire a fire.
Don’t call it “an event in which something got warm and caused flickering images,” he suggests.
7. Tweet out your footage.
Once you’ve posted on Facebook, YouTube, iReport and anywhere else, direct-tweet reporters you know, and perhaps those you don’t but who might be interested. Braud even let one hungry reporter know he had food at the house.
Above all, do your best to top Braud’s hurricane story.
“The thing that really got them interested, especially after the crisis, was that I had four 10-foot alligators to deal with,” Braud says. “They were live. I had about 50 large swamp rats that bit real bad, people. And then thousands of snakes.”
Then again, maybe you should just stay at your desk.