Thursday, September 29, 2011

We Get to Play...

In the spirit of October baseball that’s about to descend on the nation, I thought I’d use a Disney movie about baseball that’s starting to emerge as a classic to support a point. The motion picture is “The Rookie,” a true story about a high school baseball coach that had missed his chance at Major League Baseball fame and fortune because of an injury many years before.

Now, a husband and father with bills to pay and obligations to keep, the coach played by Dennis Quaid, goes about the business of living and coaching. One thing leads to another and much to his surprise, the coach gets noticed and has that second chance at the majors that he never dreamed would come. Of course, he’d have to earn his way up by spending time in the minor league system. That’s the struggle of the story.

He knows time is not on his side and this is his last chance. He’s put his life on hold to pursue his dream, and it’s creating hardships at home. He misses his family and wonders if it’s all worth it. The stress shows in his performance. He’s in a slump, and as negativity dominates his thinking, it all starts to spiral.

Through the course of it all, he has an epiphany. He finally remembers what it was about the game that drew him to it as a boy. He loves baseball. When he was a kid, every day on the ball field was pure joy, and seen by him as an opportunity to live his passion, if only for a few hours each time. The solution becomes clear, change his mindset.  To get back to the love of the game, his passion for it, and the notion that every day he gets to put on a uniform and take the field is an opportunity, not a job, an obligation, a struggle.

The turning point of the story is when he realizes this and then returns to the locker room with a new attitude. While not profound, the line stands out as a classic. He approaches the young star of the team and says simply, “You know what we get to do today, Brooks? We get to play baseball.”

It’s a great movie moment even if you’re not a baseball fan.

So how does this apply to communications?

Quite simply, we are often confronted with communications challenges or business challenges where communications plays a role. We become preoccupied with the nature of the challenge or the work. And sometimes we forget that what may have drawn us to the profession is a love of writing, strategizing or problem-solving.

Every now and then, it’s good remember our own “love of the game.” Play ball!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First Response in a Crisis

The concept of first responders came to mind recently when I was involved in a discussion on how fire, police and emergency medical personnel respond to emergency situations. While the term may have been around a long time, “first responders” took on new meaning on September 11, 2001 when we saw these everyday heroes run toward the problem while trying to help everyone else escape.

Their real-life example provides a certain model for those who may serve as “first responders” of a different sort – crisis communications.

That said, the first thing that a first responder does is assess the extent of the problem, who is affected, how they might be affected, and the potential risks to the public. This all serves to help alert all who might be affected to at the very least, remove them from or keep them safe from danger. First responders must follow clearly established protocols for establishing a perimeter around a problem area, and then they must enter the fray, doing what they’ve been trained to do to take control of the situation and then resolve it.

No matter who you talk to, a police officer, a firefighter or a paramedic, all will tell you how important it is to have clear lines of communication and an established chain of communication and decision-making so that first responders can do their jobs.

In the business world, an effective first-response strategy is to apply some of these basic principles to crisis communications:

1. Assess the risks to those already affected and those who could be affected.
2. Make sure the public well-being is top of mind from the very outset.
3. Make sure your response team is properly trained and briefed on the situation before they get actively involved.
4. Have established operational protocols in place, including chains for communication and timely decision-making.
5. And make sure that you have sound systems in place for communication within the team.

All of this is very basic and very fundamental to the larger process of gathering information, assembling a crisis communications team, and creating the strategies, messages and action plan required to put forth an effective crisis communications response.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

It’s been ten years and a common question these days is, “Where were you on 9/11?”

My memory is probably less interesting than most, but for that matter, I remember being in a meeting with a colleague right next to the Pittsburgh airport. The air traffic outside became a distraction over the course of the hour we met. By the time we finished, as I was leaving, an administrative staff member asked me if I had a plane to catch. I said, “No.” She said that was good because all of the air traffic was backed up due to a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I hustled to my car and listened to the latest on the radio. By that time, it was being reported that two planes had hit the towers and one of them may have been from Delta. I have a niece who is a flight attendant stationed in Boston at the time. I spent the ride calling my sister to see if my niece was okay. She was fine. By the time I got back to home base, like everyone else, I was fixated on the live TV coverage the rest of the day.

A few months earlier, I had been on the 93rd floor of one of the towers in a meeting with people from Fred Alger Management. This was in my prior position just before starting my own business in May of that year. I wondered how the people I had met were doing on that day.

In the days to come, like so many others, I gained a new appreciation for so many things and continued to watch the news more carefully than I already had been doing.

Eventually, an article in a business publication reported that 35 of Fred Alger’s 39 employees at the World Trade Center had lost their lives on 9/11.

This past week, National Geographic has been running a series of compelling documentaries centered on 9/11, focusing on how leaders at that time felt and dealt with the minute-to-minute decisions they had to make.

If you have the chance to spend an hour or so watching, you won’t regret it. It’s a very good way to step back and reflect on how 9/11 changed this country’s worldview.