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Ragan Postcard

Next stop, Ragan's 10th Strategic Public Relations Conference in Chicago. Online reporter Charles Pizzo covers hot topics in communication, interviews experts, and previews sessions. Click the banner below for detailed information. Blog HomeRagan Home

Updated: 2015-09-17T00:03:15.783-05:00


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New entries will commence in the coming week.


Audio Post: Andy Lark's session (summarized)


A summary of Andy Lark's session, "How participatory communications is changing public relations: A walk through the blogosphere." Lark is CEO of The Lark Group and former vice president of global communications at Sun Microsystems and Nortel Networks.

Lark's Bark


Andy Lark is a techno-evangelist. He's one of those people who can make technology seem really fresh by delving behind the mechanics and analyzing the way new tools impact communication. The change is nothing short of revolutionary - from transmitting content (one way) to engaging participation by stakeholders (two way).

The whole notion of a two-way dialog scares executives. Suddenly, they can't control the message. Their power to withhold information and discussion are gone.

All over the Net, on blogs and discussion forums, people are talking about your organization. It's a free for all of inside information, rumor and speculation. The shift started when Amazon let consumers write their own reviews of products. Andy says communication will never be the same, and that PR people better learn how to listen.

Lots more to come on this engaging keynote.

PS On one visual, Andy showed his newsreader. He reads Nevon!

How Much Content Should You Post Online?


In a pre-conference session yesterday, one practitioner said that he feared putting too much information on his organization's Web site press room because "if reporters can find everything they need on their own, why would they ever call me?"

This comment took me aback. Media relations is a relationship business, thus I don't feel that working relationships should be dependent on controlling access to information - forcing reporters to call.

In fact, if we post a lot of content, we are more likely to get our organization's unique point of view across effectively. We can then use our "face time" (even if by telephone) with media to develop more a more strategic dialog about our plans, vision, and leadership.

Others in the room offered testimony about this concept. By posting lots of information, they reported that media called looking for more in depth information and quotes.

Interesting. We'll see what others think about this here in the Windy City.

Hot Topics in PR from Chicago


PR people are always lamenting that other people won't let them do their job properly. Executives, lawyers and other know-it-alls edit words, topics and communication strategies. Then, when the modified plan fails to produce results, blame rests with the PR person.

Wrong! The issues of authorization, approval and counsel are important ones. As a profession, we need to advocate about the expertise we bring to the table. Goodness knows that our professional associations - well intentioned as they might be - are lame advocates for the profession (when is the last time you saw a business page story about communication?).

These are the issues we're discussing in Chicago at Ragan's Strategic Public Relations Conference. Experts are gathered to share best practices, tips and techniques that work inside organizations. We'll delve deep into media relations and new technologies.

Along the way, we'll interview attendees to find out what's on their mind. What's working, and what's not, in PR today? What are the big challenges and lessons learned?

We'll share all that and more with you right here. Stay tuned.

Biting the hand


Our experience dealing with the Red Cross has been perplexing. They are terrific about raising money and assisting people struck by natural disasters. But their communication and organizational skills could use some improvement.

For the past five weeks, we have been unable to get through to the Red Cross financial assistance line. Everyone hands it out to us, but reaching it has been an acknowledged exercise in frustration. Katrina overwhelmed the system and flooded the agency with calls.

Then came Rita. These two back to back events maxed out systems and crisis plans.

We read the same media stories you do about the Red Cross sheltering evacuees in hotels and helping out with the bill. We wonder how that process works - and no volunteer we have met can tell us. We ended up paying our tab with precious emergency cash.

From shelter to shelter we go - looking for answers. Where are the key messages, information databases and frequently asked questions (FAQs)? And why are they taking information down on paper instead of computers? Who's going to re-enter data for a million-plus evacuees?

The Red Cross is making me cross.

D'Nile - A Lake in New Orleans


Gerard Braud contributed this report. He is a former television environmental reporter:

Those of us from New Orleans will have lots of crisis communications lessons to share in the coming weeks. Since I specialize in crisis communications and write crisis plans, I'm about to die, seeing how unprepared my own home town is to communicate. My heart aches and I am sick so deep down inside that it is hard to put into words. Yes, I've previously offered to help, "but it's too expensive" and "we don't have time" were the responses. Those, by the way are the standard responses of most government agencies, most business and most other institutions. Yes, the City of New Orleans contacted me 3 years ago to write a crisis communications plan for them, and the job never got funded.

Ironically, in 1990 I did a television series called, "When the Big One Hits", that foretold all that we have seen unfold this past week with Hurricane Katrina. When I did the series, city leaders told me I was sensationalizing what might happen. I have so many secrets I could tell about how so much of this could have been avoided.

The biggest lesson I can share with my colleagues is to stop the denial in your companies and agencies. It can happen. It will happen. Maybe in a year-maybe in 50 years. Are you ready?

D'Nile isn't a river in Egypt: it is a large lake in the city of New Orleans.

Gerard Braud (Jared Bro)
Link to Web site and contact info

If the Intranet is part of your crisis plan


If the Intranet is part of your crisis plan, you better update it today.

Intranets across the Gulf region went dark when the electricity went out. Servers housed or backed-up in the affected areas became inaccessible. Companies with key personnel and generators found themselves locked out of office buildings secured by landlords who were worried about looters and liability during a mandatory evacuation.

During the exodus from a land mass the size of Great Britain, many employees didn't have laptops or Internet access. Their primary focus was far more simple: food, water and shelter.

So how do you reach them? How do you get your workforce back up and running so you can resume operations? Ponder that reality. This is not a drill; it just happened.

Companies were forced to post internal information publicly. I previewed some early shots I captured for the audience here at Ragan's International Communication Leadership Summit in Toronto - and people seemed stunned to see benefits and other information posted openly on the Web. More to follow on this topic, including screen shots. We'll definitely delve into this in detail in Chicago at the upcoming PR conference.

Hurricane Katrina blew away crisis plans because of its sheer scale, scope and duration. For now, take a peek at this public message board for desperate employers.

Being the News


When my 78-year old Mom gasped, I wheeled around. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer had cut to a reporter in a helicopter flying over New Orleans. They were headed to St. Bernard Parish (county), where Mama Pizzo has lived since my Dad returned from Korea.

Like watching a slow train wreck, we stared transfixed as bridges and roads we knew came into view above the flood waters. As the chopper flew slowly down the main thoroughfare, we traded knowing glances. This would be the first media report we've seen showing her neighborhood.

Sure enough, in the blink of an eye, her subdivision came into view. There was her pharmacy. A few seconds later, we saw the church and senior center where she lunched regularly. In a few surreal seconds, the new Wal-Mart Supercenter came into view, then grocery stores and other places at which she shopped.

All under water.

It's one thing to watch the news, yet another to be the news. It can be unnerving at times. While others see a city in ruins, we see familiar landmarks. We are haunted by memories and the realization that nothing will ever be the same. Friends and family are now dispersed over eleven states; the thought of a casual barbecue with familiar faces seems remote.

That was Katrina. When Rita came through the Gulf, it brought another tidal surge that flooded St. Bernard Parish a second time. I told Mom she should consider herself special - how many people can say they've been wiped out twice in one month? Not one to miss a counter punch, she retorted that she upgraded her home to an indoor swimming pool.

Humor is something the hurricane can't take away. Maybe it's a defense mechanism, but we're coping even as we cling to the images on TV like an ant to a crumb at a picnic.

We're starving for the New Orleans we knew and love.

Goodwill Goes Far


Texas-style hospitality from Jason's Deli. It's the little things like this that impact an evacuee on a daily basis. Not only are we grateful - we're becoming regulars. This is a socially responsible way for a brand to make new customers and foster loyalty.

Re-populating New Orleans


OOPS: the draft was published in error. This is the correct version:

It's hopeless for me to try to keep this blog in chronological order. Some events are swirling as fast as did the hurricane force winds.

Truth be told, I must confess that while writing has been cathartic, it also forces me to relive the pain and emotions of the past few weeks. People who think of me as the consummate gourmet might be surprised to know that I am perpetually sick to my stomach these days.

We're glued to the news in search of any information about our neighborhoods, yet the constant repetition of horrible images batters our brains. Knowing that our situation is out of our control, and in the hands of politicians jockeying for power and federal funds, is mind numbing. Call me a cynic, but the chances of money trickling down to affected evacuees seems like a cruel hoax. Corrupt politicians and land-grabbers are poised to pounce on the poverty stricken.

While the national media paints a sensationalist view, we find the best sources of local information are often less sophisticated and informal (examples: Charles, Mama Pizzo).

The news cycle du jour is about re-populating the less impacted areas of New Orleans. This seems more like public relations than public safety. Electricity is not restored, water is unfit for bathing much less drinking, phones are knocked out and 911 is down, and hospitals remain closed. The EPA has yet to weigh in on soil and sludge, and the public infrastructure is not fully restored.

We know a few brave souls who made the trek. They promptly left, disheartened by the chaos. Roads are blocked by trees and power lines, and debris remains widespread. Flat tires are commonplace because boards with nails litter the streets. Mama Pizzo's neighbor navigated the security checkpoints but was unable to reach his home by car or boat due to massive destruction and downed trees. His call to her, stating that the area "looked like an atomic bomb had dropped," prompted days of crying and worry.

The news by a parish (county) official on TV that 30,000 homes would have to be bulldozed produced an impromptu breakdown at the dinner table the other night. Our plates are full on many levels - not all good.

It's probably safe to say that one's outlook depends on whether your worldly possessions, livelihood and memories are safely on high ground or completely submerged in toxic crap.

In one particular e-mail list I am on, a fellow PR practitioner is rallying for the city - calling for a return of tourists. The message is "let's support New Orleans and its businesses." Noble, but not without issues. I just read about armed guards with shotguns posted outside the Sheraton. I wonder if the tourist commission in Baghdad is offering the same line?

The tourist economy of New Orleans is vital, so I can understand why people want to protect it. From where I sit, though, this seems surreal. A friend who owns an establishment in the French Quarter visited his business then turned around for Florida. He called the return "premature."

Yet another friend who owns Mother's Restaurant jumped at the chance to go home, electricity or not. He wants to inspect his business - alarmingly close to the Convention Center and the epicenter of a lot of human misery - and get back to work. Life as an evacuee is making him stir crazy; he'd much rather stir a pot of gumbo propped on a propane tank on the sidewalk.

What's right, what's wrong? Nobody really knows.

On the Road


No doubt many of you saw pictures of gridlock in New Orleans once the city finally called for an evacuation. A mass exodus on that scale simply overwhelms roads.

One lesson we learned during the last evacuation, during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, was that it's a waste of time and gas to evacuate during daylight hours. At that time, it took us 13-1/2 hours to drive to Houston because of traffic - normally a six to seven hour run. We had heard reports that people who left at night escaped such delays.

Thus, in addition to having a plan, we had a strategy. We would pack the essentials, nap, then leave under cover of darkness - in the middle of the night.

Indeed, we sailed northwest past the major bottleneck - a mere two lane bridge across the mighty Mississippi River in Baton Rouge in record time. Once past, we alternated between cat naps and sprints of one or two hours of drive time. The plan was simple: stay ahead of those who would flee in the morning once the evacuation order was called.

As we approached Alexandria, mid-morning on Sunday, we heard reports on the radio that the interstate leaving The Big Easy had become a parking lot. We were the lucky ones, out ahead of the pack and driving a Honda Civic gas-electric hybrid that used comparably little fuel.

Emotionally, we were wrecks. Reports on the radio were so dire that we had to switch it off in favor of some calming classical pablum. Anything to soothe the nerves.

Though our stomachs were in knots, we stopped at a convenience store for juice. Behind the counter, a large television confronted us with images of the storm, massive and bearing down on New Orleans with category five winds clocked at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers).

My whole body convulsed, and I almost puked right on the floor. It was all I could do to hand the juice off to Mom and run outside for some fresh air.

Not So Easy to Evacuate


While pundits and critics debate why people did not evacuate the Gulf Coast, I thought it would be useful for professionals in the lodging industry to learn about our experience.

There is no centralized hotel/motel reservation system to assist during a major evacuation.

Neither government nor relief agencies have addressed this bottleneck.

Hotel chains ceded control to local properties rendering (800) numbers useless.

Hotel Web sites indicated reservations could no longer be accepted online.

We called over 50 properties individually looking for space.

Overwhelmed themselves, front desks resorted to using paper to tally reservations.

Evacuees without computers and Internet access would not have found out of town hotel telephone numbers readily.

Some people hedge their bets by making multiple reservations in various cities, holding them until the last possible second before canceling - artificially depleting the emergency inventory.

This one major breakdown in the system had the most impact on the time we had to pack (little).

It took us five (5) hours before we landed a reservation

Our experience was exacerbated because of special needs: handicap accessible and pet friendly. That was like threading a needle during a hurricane.

There was limited-to-no messaging advising people they could stay in rest areas (normally illegal).

It was not until we started driving that we found out that the Red Cross had set up tents at interstate exchanges to divert those without hotel reservations to shelters.

Systems, processes and communication failed to save lives.


Locating safe harbor is one item for which you can't prepare until you know the projected path of the hurricane. Then, you head far inland in the opposite direction.

Until the lodging industry, relief agencies and/or government address this issue, many people are going to remain cut off in their quest to find shelter from the storm. This issue is not socio-economic. Some homes do not have computers or broadband, and there will always be a percentage of people who don't know how to manually search for lodging in unfamiliar cities.

Those with limited patience become frustrated and make the fatal decision to stay home. Seniors who cannot navigate this maze come up short. After the storm, we learned of two elderly neighbors of my dog sitter who could not locate a place to go in time.

They drowned.

Mom's Home Devastated + Contaminated


Mom has lived in St. Bernard Parish (County) since 1959; I grew up there.

St. Bernard parish residents face months of waiting
12 Sep 2005 22:47:39 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La., Sept 12 (Reuters) - Hundreds of St. Bernard Parish residents descended on the Louisiana capitol on Monday looking for answers and were told it could take months to clean up their parish, the site of a major oil spill during Hurricane Katrina. (more)

Source: Reuters

Looting in My Neighborhood


My home/office is in Lakeview (New Orleans) on Robert E Lee Blvd.

Lakeview patrols target looters' boats
Rowboats, kayaks towed away, sunk

By Paul Purpura
Staff writer

A small rowboat gently tapping the front door at 6069 Argonne Blvd. caught the attention of National Guardsmen patrolling Lakeview Tuesday, seeking survivors, looters and the dead. (more)


Damned Politicians


A lot of attention has focused on leaders at all levels of government. Why the hell are politicians pointing fingers when they could be using their hands to fish the dead bodies of fellow Americans out of flood-ravaged waters in our homeland? To push people in wheelchairs out of nursing homes? To pick up pets stranded on tree branches and front porches?

After seeing the lack of preparedness to deal with this disaster, who feels there is more coordinated security between the federal, state and local level?

Leaders must back their words with action. Much of the Gulf Coast got blown away or flooded while local, state and federal officials feuded over whose fault it was, who had control, and other arcane bureaucratic administrivia. They cared about government, not governing.

Save lives, not votes.



There has been a lot of talk about failures of leadership. In one conversation, Tom Lattanzio raised an interesting point regarding failures of followership. The essence is simple: for leaders to lead effectively, there must be followers.

This is an interesting concept which has implications for employee communication. I hope we'll get to discuss this in Chicago.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, many people failed to follow evacuation orders. They did not take personal responsibility or ownership of the impending crisis situation.

This notion is controversial because some people did not have the means to leave town. Ideally, everyone would have a plan that might include some emergency cash for evacuation. But New Orleans is a poor city where many live hand to praline, and they expected leaders to provide for them. People will debate this dilemma for years to come.

My own decision tree was simple: evacuate if a storm escalated to category three or higher and was projected to pass within 100-150 miles of New Orleans. Mama Pizzo is almost legally handicapped, so I knew she couldn't climb onto a roof or into a boat during a rescue. I also felt a responsibility to take my pet - as well as myself - out of harm's way.

As soon as I returned home Friday night, I went online to read the news. There it was, a satellite image so chilling that I paused: this storm was huge.

Staying put was not an option.

In the morning, I kicked Mama Pizzo into high gear. "Pack what you can, and grab your prescriptions. We gassed up the car and withdrew cash. We also had a cache of traveler's checks ready to go, as well as some important papers in boxes prepared to stuff into the trunk.

To keep up with the weather, I had long ago registered with a local television station that offered severe weather alerts. It dawned on me that e-mail would be useless during the evacuation, so I registered to have alerts sent directly to my cell phone.

As the frequency and intensity of alerts increased, I started sending them via text message to my IABC colleagues who were meeting at the Hilton. It was time to raise the red flag. They felt safe because their hotel was a hurricane-rated shelter, yet I implored them to come with us or rent a car and drive north by northwest. "Get out of Dodge!"

This plan was basic, hardly all encompassing. Yet it allowed us to follow the evacuation orders earlier than the mandatory edict. We took that responsibility upon ourselves.

Why Some People Stayed Behind


For any rational person watching the debacle in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast from a distance, a logical question is "why did some people stay behind?" The media has played up the socio-economic angle, that many people did not have transportation. That's true - and perhaps the most compelling for television images - but it's not the whole story. Not by a nautical mile.First, the storm turned toward New Orleans late during a Friday new cycle. Early media reports had assured people that a trough of high pressure would veer the storm elsewhere. If you missed the news, you were caught unaware by the deadly change in direction. There were no sirens, no police on the street urging people to evacuate.Even I did not know. That Friday night, I was out entertaining members of the IABC Executive Committee who were in town for a meeting when I bumped into an acquaintance. He expressed surprise that I was not home making preparations? "For what?" I replied. I had been in commercial establishments all night and nary a word of warning was expressed. Police in the French Quarter were on the beat, but not one urged the crowd to go home. A killer offshore was taking aim, and many people were simply unaware.Second, there was a local attitude of laissez-faire. Some people who had evacuated for Hurricanes Georges and Ivan - which jogged at the last minute and spared New Orleans - felt a false sense of security. They had become insulated to the warning signs, immune to the communication. The headaches of traffic and lodging which had plagued the last two evacuations likely remained top of mind for many, and escalating gas prices only made the situation more difficult.For anyone familiar with behavior-based safety, this willingness to risk life and limb in the face of a storm four-states wide and packing a powerful punch is tantamount to civic suicide.But the biggest factor, in my humble opinion, was the weak and indecisive messaging by leaders. They vacillated in the face of disaster, delivering wishy-washy statements watered down by lawyers. Calling for a citywide evacuation is no small undertaking, and the city was clearly unprepared. Rather than plainly state that people should leave, they rattled off impotent messages: if you have the means to go, now might be a nice time to go visit someone 400 miles northwest while this thing passes. They had a hard time making up their minds that this was a real emergency.The clincher for me personally came at 10:40 p.m. on Saturday night when the mayor appeared live on television. The city wasn't calling for an evacuation, it was merely looking into a way legally that it could possibly maybe potentially call one in the morning. A sharp reporter picked up on this and asked if legal concerns were the only thing preventing him from calling a mandatory evacuation. The mayor mumbled something about exposure and liability if the city could not marshal the resources to provide transportation in time.Politics before people. Liability before life. A legal system that betrays timely communication.Studies indicate that it would take 72 hours to evacuate the New Orleans metropolitan area, but the order didn't come until less than 12 hours before the onset of gale force winds.Thank God we had pulled the trigger and fled in the middle of the night.[...]

Postcard from the Edge


Until recently, I lived in New Orleans. Now my life is submerged under toxic lake waters.

The number of stories I have written in my head over the last two weeks has been mind numbing. The cogs have been turning, yet the upheaval and loss in the wake of Hurricane Katrina definitely impacted my work flow. Things have stabilized a bit, and we find ourselves in Texas in the care of two real-life angels in the form of Red Cross volunteers.

Now it's time to unleash a flood of observations about the communication lessons learned and our experience as evacuees. Swirling in a sea of rumors, media speculation and red tape, we've been confused and disoriented. But we're alive and safe, and that's what is truly important.

As I organize my thoughts and look at what went wrong - from an insider's, first-hand perspective - I'll share my notes here. The good folks at Ragan have set aside some time at the upcoming Strategic PR conference to talk about these issues. As someone living through this nightmare, I have a lot of passion to unleash about the topic. I believe this will become an added session at the event, where it will be good to see many of you in person.

Joining me here periodically will be Gerard Braud, also from the New Orleans area. He's a former television environmental reporter with great insight about this whole mess.

If you think it looks bad on TV, come live it with us.

Beyond a Corporate Fad: Employee Engagement


New, in the IABC Café:

The concept of employee engagement – a noble ideal about getting employees driven and motivated by what the company is doing and wanting to help it get there – has very quickly been lost in the last couple of years. It’s become a thing rather than an ethos; a product rather than an ideal; and, more often than not, a survey rather than an overall change in the way the business functions (vis-a-vis its relationship with employees). More...

Too May Interviews, Too Little Time


Audio posts (podcasting lite), is something I had dreamed of doing when we started this "On the Road" series. It turned out to be easy yet time-consuming. I also attended numerous IABC international conference events and took notes, plus 20-25 speakers sent me handouts and slides that I still need to share with you. More: I have ten pages of quotes from attendees to edit and post yet!

Though I have to dash to the airport soon, content posting will go on and on (cue refrain from Celine Dion's overplayed hit song now).

IABC Conference blogging will continue over the next couple of days. Y'all come back.

Interview: IABC President Julie Freeman, ABC, APR


In 2001, Julie Freeman, ABC, APR, became staff president of IABC. She sat down with us to discuss attendance at the conference, membership increases that have resulted from corporate packages, the association's safety net - an unsecured line of credit, and the forthcoming edition of Inside Organizational Communication.

Click the link above to hear the audio, or download it to your music player.

To visit the IABC Café blog, click here.

Technorati iabc international conference 2005

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Interview: First Time Conference Goer


The Net generation is on top of tech-related issues. Jiyan Wei, 27, discusses the impact the Net can have on corporate reputation, the phenomenon of cybersmearing (virtual attacks, often coordinated) by disgruntled employees, activists, et al., and the subsequent need to monitor online spaces. "Clipping services are not enough," he says, "you need content analysis." This was Jiyan's first time attending the IABC conference, and he gave high marks to the Web-related sessions on the program.

Click the link above to hear the audio, or download it to your music player.

To visit the IABC Café blog, click here.

Technorati iabc international conference 2005

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Interview: Heather Burns, Ragan Communications


What's on the mind of communicators? We got an anecdotal earful from Heather Burns of Ragan Communications, who shared what attendees talk about in the Exhibit Hall. "Training, tactics and networking." She also shares her observations on the state of internal newsletters and magazines.

Click the link above to hear the audio, or download it to your music player.

To visit the IABC Café blog, click here.

Technorati iabc international conference 2005

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Interview: David Kistle, ABC, current chair of IABC


As chair of IABC, David Kistle, ABC, has led our association during the 2004-05 term. Just moments before the AGM, David previewed his remarks on the state on the association exclusively for members around the world. He discusses IABC's financial health, re-engineering, successful programs, and his experiences meeting with chapters, districts and regions across the globe. David has served IABC for more than 25 years.

Click the link above to hear the audio, or download it to your music player.

To visit the IABC Café blog, click here.

Technorati iabc international conference 2005

UPDATED: description added