Crisis Communication before/during/after Hurricane Katrina…What Went So Wrong?

Picture provided by Dr. Susanna Priest, College of Mass Communications and Information StudiesAccording to Wikipedia crisis communication is sometimes considered a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. When there is a break in communication before, during and after a crisis this can mean disaster. In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina was proof of this which officials still use this catastrophe as a reference of how what needs to be improved on for future disasters.

What did go so wrong in the first place? According to NPR.com state, local and federal agencies knew the big storm was going to hit and they spent the weekend before the storm in almost non-stop conference calls — making sure all the plans for food, water and security were in place. But even before the storm hit, some of the plans started to fall apart. National Guard troops in other states sat ready, waiting for orders that never came. Instead, they were told to wait for an official plan and a chain of command to be established. When they finally received an official order to deliver supplies, the delivery point was miles off of where the most help was needed. It seriously all came down to red tape.

While reading through the many reports of failed communication before, after and during Katrina from stories such as the one I found by Information Today, communication gaps where due mostly in part from damaged lines, no cell service, no internet and all powers of communication completely lost. But the bigger picture was that no one felt they had the power to cut through the red tape and step up to call out orders. Seems officials had so much bureaucracy to go through and that needed to change. Our government at all levels completely failed and its public lost faith.

President George W. Bush stated “This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. We are going to review every action and make necessary changes so that we are better prepared for any challenge of nature, or act of evil men, that could threaten our people”. The White House published a “lessons learned” report in which they re-evaluated how this county can survive the next big disaster with a strong communication plan using Katrina as a model of what not to do.

Recently with the Hurricane Sandy disaster the communication was much better. President Obama stated “We will cut through red tape. We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules.” The state and local government levels did not have to wait for federal government to deliver orders. Emergency assistance and supplies were received quickly, communication gaps were tightened and cleanup efforts are well on their way.

Overcoming disaster is difficult but not learning from the past can be catastrophic. There are still many improvements that can be made but we are well on our way.

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National Football League Brings Awareness to Breast Cancer

Picture provided by NFL.com/pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and if you are a National Football League (NFL) fan you know happens next.  The NFL, its clubs, players and the NFL Players Association come together and to support the fight against breast cancer. The campaign A Crucial Catch, in partnership with the American Cancer Society (ACS), is focused largely on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women who are 40 and older. The creation of this great awareness campaign was ingenious as it reaches millions of viewers every year to remind woman to get their check ups regularly.   It also happens to combine both my passions in life, football and fighting cancer.

Throughout October, NFL games will feature players, coaches and referees wearing pink game apparel, play with special game balls and the fields bare the pink ribbon stencils all to help raise awareness for this important campaign. All apparel worn at games by players and coaches, along with special game balls and pink coins will be auctioned off at NFL Auction.  Proceeds benefiting the ACS’s Community Health Advocates National Grants for Empowerment (CHANGE) program. The CHANGE program provides outreach and breast cancer screenings to women in underserved communities.

Since its founding in 2009, the NFL has raised over $3 million dollars through A Crucial Catch for the American Cancer Society. All 32 teams are currently participating in the program. Some NFL players even go above and beyond raising more funds by hosting fundraisers through other vaious creative ways. Take Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for example.  Larry lost his mother to breast cancer in 2003 and he uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter to gain followers by donating 25 cents per every new “like” or “follower” he gets during the month of October. For more information on Larry’s personal experience with breast cancer, click here to watch a video on NFL.com.

Reports recently came out by The Huffington Post stating only 5% of the proceeds from A Crucial Catch program goes to the ACS. Although these numbers seem low, millions of dollars have been raised and more importantly million of lives will be saved by having these outreach programs it supports.  Breast cancer is no joke and stastics shows that the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8.  Personally I don’t like these odds so we have a lot more work cut out in the future. My beautiful mother Sandy battled breast cancer and will be celebrating another birthday this November because of great programs like this.  She is now 6 years cancer free.

Me and my mom Sandy

Why Research Before Blogging on a Hot Topic?

via www.thesologuide.com

Research picture provided by The Solo Guide

Great question don’t you think?  When I first learned that we will be creating a blog in my Introduction to Public Relations class I was stoked to say the least. This was going to be my outlet for my thoughts, feelings and my own creative take on the world! But I soon found out that to properly post information that others are going to read, it really must be honest, true and properly researched first, not just my own perspectives on things.  Well this just took the air out of my tires if you know what I mean but I understand why.

One day I hope to be working in the profession of public relations so I must learn the importance of research now.  Some PR practitioners credit communication and strategy as the most valuable skills in their field. You cannot put those skills to good use without a foundation of research and information gathering. I will need a strong foundation to start from, a building block if you will so I must properly research my client, target audience or whomever I am trying to reach before posting my blog. Not only will I need to research my audience but the content of my blog must contact facts and site appropriate linked information.

According to an article I read posted from PRFriend on the importance of research stated there are various types of research involved in PR, such as market research, industry research, news tracking, and competitive analysis. Each project requires different research methods, but one thing is constant: all PR projects involve research to some extent. Some ways that research can help improve PR practice is to know your client, find your market, choose your media and make your pitch.  Sounds easy but there is so much that goes into it that is very time consuming.  Stay patient as research is extremely important to the livelihood of the message or product you are trying to promote.

I volunteer for a nonprofit called Downtown Terre Haute, Inc. (DTH) which was established to preserve, create and promote a downtown neighborhood that is a vibrant hub for business, entertainment, government, arts and educational activity, attracting both local residents and area visitors to the downtown Terre Haute area. A recent website called Choosedowntown.com was launched in 2011 from what had started as a group of students from a marketing class at Indiana State University conducting a research study for DTH to find out how many people lived within a 100 mile radius to Terre Haute to assist the nonprofit with better promoting businesses within the Downtown Terre Haute area. Their results provided insight on their audience that could be potential customers to the local markets. This information gathered to further help establish future businesses to the area as well.

All research no matter how big or small is extremely vital to public relations. Good luck with your research!

A Sit Down Conversation with Lorrie Heber, Public Relations/Communications Leader in Terre Haute, IN

Lorrie Heber via Linked In

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with one of the most respected professionals within the Public Relations field in the Terre Haute, IN area. Her name is Lorrie Heber, President of Trailblazer Communications. Lorrie is an accomplished, creative and results-driven communications and marketing professional with more than 25 years of progressive experience primarily in hospitals and healthcare. She is recognized as a multi-faceted leader consistently elevating the organization and its community in a competitive and rapidly changing environment. Lorrie is especially strong in the realms of internal and external stakeholder relations, key message development and delivery, and brand management.

She knew at an early age she would be in public relations. In the 60’s she moved with her family to Terre Haute, IN where her father was sales manager of a local a radio station. Lorrie assisted with his business by editing commercials, working on sales strategies and assisting with daily programming needs. She attended Indiana State University (ISU) in the Radio-Television-Film program ISU offered at the time but soon discovered she was not meant to become an on air personality so she altered her major to Speech Communications with a minor in Marketing. She later pursued a Master’s Degree in Leadership Development at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in 2008.

Lorrie held a few positions at Union Hospital over 20 years she was employed with them which all positions were in the Marketing/Communications/Public Relations field.  While at the hospital one of her cherished accomplishments was successfully navigating a community debate including City Council regarding the closure of a city street for the construction and opening of three major building projects including a $178 million hospital expansion completed in 2010. Union Hospital East Now Open Commerical is one of many great promotional videos that Lorrie created and posted to the my union hospital Channel on YouTube that will give you a sense of the magnitude of projects Lorrie worked on while Director of Communications/Marketing at Union Hospital.

After many years of building her career in a fast past environment, Lorrie decided to start working for herself. Currently President/Owner of Trailblazer Communications she stated her daily routine changed drastically and not all for the worst. After I had a clear understanding on where Lorrie got her start and built her career, I wanted to learn more about her take on the Public Relations profession.

Lorrie explained that in the PR profession there is not a typical work week. Making phone calls, networking, researching the internet, writing, and organizing herself are just a few things Lorrie spends a big part of her day. She keeps current in the PR industry by gaining memberships in her field such as being a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PSRA), attends many conferences and reads articles on the internet. Lorrie mentioned the true PR profession is very limited in this area of the Midwest especially in Terre Haute. She wishes that could change in the near future.

“Writing is the most important skill you can have in my line of work”, Lorrie stated. She went on to add that she journals every day and practices writing to strengthen that skill. She then gave a few tips for me as she knows I am green in this field and need some helpful hints. The three main guidelines Lorrie gave me are to volunteer within my community, stay updated within my field and make sure you know how to explain the history/proof of the skill set(s) you say you bring to the table. Lorrie also added not to overextended myself. She said that I need to understand by saying yes to one thing, I am saying no to something else. This has really opened my eyes and made me really think about this profession in a new light. She stressed that balance is a key factor in the success to this field.

Lorrie sits on several Board of Directors of nonprofit organizations within the Terre Haute community. She most recently was the 2012 Susan G. Komen Wabash Valley Race for the Cure Chairperson as she is also a breast cancer survivor since 2006. After spending over 2 hours with Lorrie, I have realized Communications/Public Relations within a nonprofit organization is exactly what I want to with my career. I can use my passion for cancer awareness combined with my skills in PR to build a platform to spread the word to the world and hopefully one day have a world without cancer. To find out more about Lorrie Heber visit her Linked In page at Lorrie Heber LinkedIn. This by far was one of the most powerful discussions over coffee I have ever had.

Social Media Within the Non-Profit World

Photo is from Reach to Recovery site for American Cancer Society

It truly is a jungle out there in the world of social media. A mass of information can be found with a click of your TV remote, car radio, cellular phone, computer, and with the millions of sites that can be viewed can be overwhelming at times. How does social media impact public relations for non-profits organizations?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) uses media and social networking to advocate cancer awareness to reach millions of worldwide cancer survivors, newly diagnosed cancer patients, researchers, doctors, media, and the general public. The ACS utilizes social media to educate the general public on exercise, health, cancer research, assist with funding and much more. On any given day the ACS utilizes and maintains 7 Facebook pages, 9 separate Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, an ACS app for iPhones, My Space page, and of course their main website at www.cancer.org.  Social media has allowed non-profits to reach a broad audience enabling them to educate themselves on the warnings signs and detect certain cancers before diagnosed to prevent this deadly disease.  This has the potential to save millions of lives.

The ACS also uses social media outlets as a way to fundraise to help in the assistance of cancer research expenses. Personally I have used this method time and again to raise funds within my network of friends and family via emails, texting, Facebook page, and the use of the YouTube videos on the ACS YouTube Channel to share with others to gain interest for potential volunteers and donors as well. Without social media in the non-profit realm, fundraising would be drastically different.  There is nothing like a good old fashioned face-to-face meeting to supplement that personal touch, but by use of social media I can reach 30 people in 5 minutes, share my passion in a quick personal message and link a video to add that extra touch to reel in my audience hoping they will be hooked and donate to the cause. This method has actually worked for me in the past as I gained $75 in 5 minutes by only sending a personal email out to 5 friends. Social media made it easy using the ACS account info to link their payment options all within a click of a few buttons. Who knows maybe those few dollars I raised are the ones that will find a cure cancer one day.

Resources:  http://pressroom.cancer.org/index.php?s=63 ACS Press Room Social Media page