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Crisis demands understanding, says expert Hennes

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

IABC Cleveland is no stranger to Bruce Hennes. He’s the 2011 communicator of the year and his firm, Hennes/Paynter, is the local champion of effective crisis management through communication. At the 21 Feb. lunch, a small but lively crowd ate up his pithy prescriptions for communicating in very bad times.

I’ve seen Bruce speak many times, first at a luncheon for the Legal Marketing Association, then at an IABC lunch in 2011, and now today, and he always impresses me. As a speaker, he’s an unassuming guy, not given to theatrics, but his content is peerless and his delivery always excellent. Many speakers could learn from him how to hold an audience’s attention through sheer strength of story.

Hennes uses catchy terms — the 3 Tells, 3 V’s, F’up, Fess-up, Fix-up  —  and demonstrates through example what he means. The first of these is the command that supercedes all others — you have to tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all. The 3 V’s are the frame that the media places around stories. Everyone involved is one of these: Victim, Villain, or Vindicator. Care to guess where business (especially executives), education administrators and other “powerful” people find themselves?  The goal for most organizations in the midst of a crisis is to move from villain to vindicator, he says. When you, ahem, Mess up, you need to fess up and describe what you’re doing to make sure it never happens again.

The media brings its own filter to the proceedings, and they’re on the lookout for you to reinforce the role they want you to play. That’s why “no comment” or its usual cousins are so bad — what does “no comment” mean to you? Guilty!  Hennes insists that the media’s job isn’t to inform or educate, it’s to tell stories — the triumph of the Little Guy over the Establishment being a fairly common one — Victim, Villain, Vindicator.

The good thing is that when we know that, we can take action.  Hennes tells a story about an embezzlement scandal at a governmental organization. Hennes/Paynter brought the executive director straight to a reporter and gave them the story in exquisite detail, without violating privacy dicta, and when the very big story broke, its headline put the organization in very positive light, instead of the reverse. The reporter told Hennes later, that if the organization had not brought the story in, the paper would have socked it to the organization big time.

Entertaining, educational and excellent all the way around.

Note: I’m still having no luck uploading photos for the blog since it changed URLs. Help? 

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