Professional Development Opportunity on Crisis Communications Best Practices

I’m often asked to present on crisis communications best practices alongside my peers, but it has been a while since I’ve presented alongside such a stellar list of crisis comms colleagues. Next week Janice Abraham, Cindy Lawson, Joseph Urgo and Gretchen Bataille and I will present a webinar on “Managing the Unthinkable.”


The best part? The webinar is FREE.


This is the time of year when dollars are sparse and resources are necessary– I can’t recommend this webinar highly enough. It’s well worth your time and I believe will be a great introduction for your team on how best to prepare for worst case scenarios. Details are below:


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Hope to “see” you there.

Preparing for an Interview? Do your Homework!

One of my favorite activities is conducting media training. And inevitably I have someone attend who thinks they don’t need to be there and can “wing” their next interview.


Should that be you, I encourage you to watch an interview on The Daily Show from last month. Aasif Mandvi interviewed Todd Wilemon, a Fox News guest contributor, and provided a gem for those of us in the industry. I have a new go-to video for “what not to do.”



Below are three quick tips that are essential for every interview, especially as you draft your talking points and rehearse your delivery:

  • Begin your background work by considering the outlet. It was masterful the way in which Mr. Mandvi asked his questions– but not wholly unexpected. If you’ve watched The Daily Show before you know that it’s coming. If you are on the receiving end, you have to expect it.
  • Prepare for the questions you know you are going to be asked. These are the obvious one that all reporters, regardless of outlet, are going to ask. They set the stage and provide context for the issue.
  • Prepare for the questions you dread. If you know you have a vulnerability or can be trapped, then you better be prepared to move to safe ground or share information that clarifies the situation.


I’d love for you to share your favorite interviews below. After all, I need some midweek humor!

Lesson to be Learned from Malaysia Airlines Text

There are a lot of conflicting messages out there about the now infamous text (pictured below) sent by Malaysia Airlines to the families of passengers on flight 370 informing them their loved ones were assumed dead.

Some reports claim the text was sent before families were notified in person; some said that the text was sent after an hours-long meeting with the families. And in fact, Malaysia Airlines subsequently released this statement:
“As the Prime Minister said, respect for the families is essential at this difficult time. And it is in that spirit that we informed the majority of the families in advance of the Prime Minister’s statement in person and by telephone. SMSs were used only as an additional means of communicating with the families.”
Whether that’s true (and I sincerely hope it is), or not, the text was inappropriate. If families had been notified personally, why torture them with a matter-of-fact, emotionally deficient text message. Just because we have the technology to communicate in a variety of ways with our audiences, doesn’t mean we have to use it.
Crisis situations—particularly unprecedented ones like this—are enormously stressful, and generate a massive media response. It’s not easy to do everything perfectly. But victims and their families, in any crisis, big or small, should be treated with compassion and respect, and they should always come first. Just because a procedure, like text notification, is the usual step taken, doesn’t mean it applies in every situation.
As difficult as it can be, remember to take a step back and put yourself in the victims’ shoes before making decisions in a crisis communications situation. Doing so can mean the difference between the start of the healing process, and the beginning of a PR disaster.

Waste Some Time on Twitter’s Nostalgia Tool: #FirstTweet

Twitter is turning eight years old, however unlike most eight-year-old’s birthday parties I doubt there will be a clown, magic show or trip to a roller skating rink in anyone’s plans (is that what still happens when someone turns eight?) In fact, Twitter has celebrated its birthday in a much better fashion by creating a tool that allows you to search for your, and anyone else’s, first tweet! Naturally, it’s awesome and I highly suggest you check it out.


Of course, I had to search for the first tweets for the TVP Communications team. And if I do say so myself, Kristine and I are tied in terms of most interesting first tweet:

In Defense of Data


I am not what you’d call a “numbers person.” The stress of calculating a waiter’s tip in my head is enough to make me stop eating out altogether. And even though I don’t even really know what Sudoku is—having to actually play it is my worst nightmare. (That statement is closer to reality than hyperbole.)


I am a word girl, through and through—which is why I do what I do. Every day on the job is filled with wordsmithing challenges, carefully crafted prose and lots and lots of reading.


But the ironic reality is that much of what I spend my days reading and writing about is numbers—data, percentages, statistics, survey results, increases, decreases, growth, cost, etc. Numbers are the backbone of the news, so as much as I’d like to avoid them altogether, the truth is I need them and I’ve learned to appreciate and value them.


In my opinion, when well-known investor Ann Winblad uttered the now famous words, “Data is the new oil,” during an interview on CNBC, she was right. Data is an invaluable tool for higher ed media relations and communications folks—and here are some ways we can all invest more to increase our chances of positive new coverage.

  • In every pitch you write, ask yourself if it could benefit from a data point or two. Maybe it’s internal data that would strengthen your case, or maybe you’ll need to look to external resources like studies by national organizations for the numbers you need. The extra research will be worth it if you can clearly provide context for why your story is important.

  • Make friends with your institutional research team, and make sure they understand the value data brings to media relations efforts. They often have the data you need and can control how quickly you are able to share it with reporters. Many of the incoming inquiries I receive from reporters are requests for institutional data points, and they usually require a quick turnaround. Being able to respond quickly and accurately is key to inclusion in a story; and can go a long way toward demonstrating you’re a solid source that can be counted on in deadline situations.

  • Use the data you see reported in news stories to shine a spotlight on your campus. For example, if you can identify a human story behind a particular data point at your institution, share it widely with reporters. If you have a faculty expert who can provide insight into what a new survey result reveals, capitalize on it.


Don’t get me wrong, you will never see me willingly play Sudoku. But I do have a deep appreciation for data and the power it holds in the media. And I bring numbers into every pitch possible—and more often than not, it’s the data-driven pitches that strike oil.

Lessons to be Learned from Mishandled Campus Rape Cases

Breaking-the-silenceNo matter how many times I hear the statistics on college student rapes and sexual assaults, I am always taken aback by the realities of what happens on college and university campuses: One in four young women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate; 90 percent of campus rapists get away with it.
It’s not a new problem, yet still policies and procedures at many of our nation’s colleges and universities fail to adequately address the issue. Last week, Boston’s newsmagazine program Chronicle shined a spotlight on this critical issue, highlighting cases at Syracuse University and Emerson College, which has been under fire for allegations it mishandled two sexual assault cases last fall.
The program is worth watching and sharing. I am a strong believer that for real change to happen, victims’ stories must be heard and felt. But there are also lessons to be learned from institutions who are currently grappling with how to handle this problem—and the ones, like Emerson, where mistakes were made, but are now being addressed in concrete and meaningful ways.
I know I am not alone in my hope that campus rape statistics will improve—quickly and substantially, and through the intentional and proactive efforts of colleges and universities. Until then I applaud Chronicle, and the media in general, for making sure we don’t forget this very real epidemic, and institutions like Emerson, Amherst and the University of Montana for taking concrete steps to make their institutions stronger and safer.
For more on this topic as it relates to Title IX, see Teresa Valerio Parrot’s earlier entry: Title IX: What You Need to Know and Must Read 
Segment 1:
Breaking the Silence: Campus Rape Epidemic
Segment 2:
Campus Rape Victims’ Second Assault
Segment 3:
Inside the Mind of a Rapist
Segment 4:
Campus Rape: Speaking Out

TVP Comms contributes to “Managing the Unthinkable: Crisis Preparation and Response for Campus Leaders”

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.37.12 PMI was honored to be asked by Gretchen Bataille and Diana Cordova to contribute a chapter to a book entitled, Managing the Unthinkable: Crisis Preparation and Response for Campus Leaders. The book was released this week and is worthy of a read and place on your bookshelf for future reference.


I highly encourage you to take a look—the book includes an impressive lineup of higher education contributors including presidents, communicators, attorneys and industry professionals. We all have one commonality—we have worked on crisis responses and share personal stories. It’s a practical guide with first person perspective and behind-the-scenes insight into some crises you will recognize.


The format is as follows:

  • Part One: Preparing for and Managing a Crisis
  • Part Two: Accidents, Catastrophes, and Natural Disasters
  • Part Three: Building a Team: Shared Responsibilities
  • Part Four: Dealing With the Media: Who to Tell What and When
  • Part Five: Remembrance and Healing


My chapter is housed in part four of the book and focuses on “Working Effectively With the Media: Advice From the Frontline.” I shared tips from years of crisis work with campuses and was lucky enough to include interviews with Inside Higher Ed editor Doug Lederman, American Council on Education’s VP and communications guru Tim McDonough and Frostburg State University President Jonathan Gibralter. I have to admit it was pretty cathartic to make Doug answer questions for once.


Let me know what you think of the book once you’ve read it and feel free to share recommendations for other crisis books you’ve found helpful.

Principal Valerio Parrot Earns CASE Crystal Apple for Stellar Speaking

If you’ve ever heard our principal Teresa Valerio Parrot speak at a conference, then this news won’t surprise you. Last week she joined an exclusive group of Crystal Apple Award winners for stellar speaking from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). The award recognizes speakers who earn an average combined score of 4.5 or above (on a 5 point scale) on their session evaluations at 10 different CASE educational programs.


Teresa has presented at conferences around the world—and as far away as Australia—on a multitude of topics related to higher ed communications, but she is most well known for her engaging, comprehensive and effective media and crisis communications training.


Please join all of us at TVP Communications in congratulating her. And if you haven’t yet seen her present, make plans to do so. It’s a decision you won’t regret – just ask CASE.

Problems and Crises Abound– Are You Ready?

Something beyond falling snow seems to be in the air and blanketing our campuses. A read of The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed the past few weeks shows that the season of random occurrences, fluke luck, problem situations and crisis stories is upon us. While there isn’t a way to prepare for all situations, there are some questions you need to ask yourself and perhaps some items to add to your to-do list.


  • Have you developed criteria for determining the difference between a problem and a crisis? Some situations need TLC and/or leadership expressed, some require a hands-on and direct approach, and others really are just the equivalent of ginormous snowballs that run away and need minimal repairs (hat tip to Reed College for their appropriate response). Know the differences between the different types of situations.
  • Do you have a sense for when you will have media relations/communications/spokespeople represent a situation and when you will have campus voices speak on behalf of the institution? Each situation is unique, but I suggest determining guidelines in advance for making these decisions.
  • Have you identified administrators, faculty and staff who can represent a cross section of potential topics? Are they credible and trusted internally and externally? Ask yourself about the comfort levels of these individuals to be the public face of the institution and whether or not they need media training. If they aren’t interested or trainable, then you need to find new go-to communicators.
  • Do you have individuals who can and will defend your institution on social media? Do you have a way to connect with them quickly to ask for their help and a mechanism in place to thank them for their support? The worst time to try to enact supporters is when you need them most. Solicit their willingness to participate before you are under the gun and give them a test run by having them share your good news, too.
  • Do you have the necessary lines of communication in place to advise your president and board chair on communications strategies? If you haven’t built a relationship with them in advance, develop a plan to eliminate this professional and institutional liability before a problem or crisis exists. Should you need to make the case for having access to top leaders, I recommend reviewing resources CASE has available online for its members.
  • Have you identified peers who can serve as your support system and/or sounding board? Our jobs are stressful and the hours can be really long when addressing a crisis. Make sure you have a cadre of people who can recharge your energy and spirits on the longest of days and share a hug (if only, metaphorically, by email or on the phone) at the dreariest of moments. Even the stories that may eventually be funny are draining while dealing with them.
  • Are you building relationships with the media who cover you? Similarly to building networks of supporters, the worst time to introduce yourself is during a crisis. Consider making time to meet for coffee or have an introductory meeting, or offer them an exclusive on a story about your campus (real news, not the fluffy stuff we sometimes try to feed them).


And finally, know that the best and worst of responses provide insights for future communications approaches. Consider telling your story to your peers through written pieces and presentations. It’s always informative to hear the story-behind-the-story. For many of us, lessons learned are how how we tighten up our future approaches.

L Is for the Way You Look at Me…

It’s Valentine’s Day, a holiday which brings out creative expressions of love and kindness (while also eliciting eye rolls from many, myself included). But this year, a couple of stories from campuses across the country caught my eye and maybe melted my heart a bit.


First, Donal O’Shea, president of New College of Florida, has spent the past several weeks signing valentines to his 800 students, 100 faculty, and 150 staff. Read more about his effort in Inside Higher Ed, and follow the #NewColhearts hashtag on Twitter to learn why members of the New College community love their school.


In Utah, members of Brigham Young University‘s male a cappella group Vocal Point surprised women across campus with songs and flowers. The resulting film will definitely make you crack a smile.


Of course, for my colleague Kyle and me, today isn’t Valentine’s Day. No, no, it’s something MUCH more important…





Happy House of Cards Season 2 Release Day, y’all!