Thursday, April 30, 2015

When words collide

Words are powerful things. They can buoy the fighting spirit of a beleaguered nation during its darkest hours.

They can inspire a generation to strive to achieve the unimaginable.

 They can offer comfort during a time of great sorrow.

So, they need to be chosen very carefully and with great thought, lest the entire meaning of your message get lost by your poor choice of words. This is something that is being faced right now by Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, as her city faces a spasm of violence in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the city's police force.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake during her media briefing
While speaking with reporters over this past weekend, she made the following remark:
I've made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It's a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well, and we work very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate.
While just about everything she said in that statement would be something that even the savviest PIO would be hard pressed to improve on, the line about giving those who wish to destroy space to do that as well will be the 14 words she will probably regret the rest of her life. Regardless of her intentions, her words will always give the impression that she gave permission for the riots to occur in the first place.

A scene from the early moments of the riot in Baltimore
Was this the only time a gaffe like this has ever happened?  Heck no. It's not the only time it happened this week. The marketing team at Anheuser Busch found itself in hot water this week it unveiled its new Bud Light labels, claiming that drinking their beer is perfect for removing the word No from your vocabulary for the night.

The label in question
While this may seem innocuous at first glance, groups concerned with alcohol-related sexual assault lambasted the company for its insensitive implications. Given recent stories where excessive alcohol consumption was linked to sexual assaults, the company backpedalled and issued an apology for the choice of words on the label.

English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword. And, while this was true in the days before telegraphs, it has become exponentially more important in today's well connected world. That's why it's critical to understand what you want to communicate, and play all scenarios out in your mind to determine which words should be taboo in your messaging. 

It will keep you out of trouble for sure. 

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Don't panic

Growing up, I loved to read. It was a great way to spend my down time, when I should have been doing homework, yard work, chores ... whatever. I could pick up a good book and get lost in the pages, especially when the book was exceptionally well written.

One of my most favorite books of all was the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Written by Douglas Adams, the book - actually, it was one in a five-part trilogy - was about Arthur Dent, a mild-mannered Englishman, his friends, a harrowing escape from the destruction of the planet Earth for a planned space highway and the adventures that follow. 

In the series of books, I discovered a number of important lessons. Namely, you should never go anywhere without your towel, listening to Vogon poetry is an awful experience, Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are great drinks if your plan is to never remember anything afterward - oh - and Don't Panic. Emblazoned on the front cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide, it was there to remind interstellar hitchhikers that, hey, things could always be worse.

Famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke stated that those two words were the most important piece of advice that the human race has ever been given. And, I believe they are two of the most important words of advice to give a public information officer.

OK, they looked kind of like this...
I remember about a year ago I had an opportunity to speak with members of a leadership group. We treated them to a boring lecture where they sat and listened to several of us go on about how government functions. I could tell in an instant that they were totally bored. 

Fortunately, one of the coordinators for the class recognized the rolling eyes and decided that no, there was no way this was going to work.  No, the next class was going to get the full-court-press.

So, we put together an exercise to take place at our Emergency Operations Center. A hurricane scenario. People would have specific jobs to do. There would be surprise injects. From the moment we got the official 'OK' to proceed, we put the students through their paces. Roughed them up. We had calls coming in all over the place. Media banging on the door asking questions. We finally ended with a mock press conference.

The final press conference
At the end of the scenario, I asked if anyone had any questions. The poor person who was made the lead public information officer asked me at what point I would panic during a situation like this.  I told her that we couldn't panic, because if we did, lives were on the line, and things could get ugly in a hurry. 

I explained that we had to work with our operations manual to go step-by-step through the process. We had to train our people relentlessly because when a situation did arise, we couldn't be trying to figure out what to do. And, we had to develop our relationships with everyone - fellow PIOs, the media, other agencies - so we could call on them to help us when the time came.

While it was only a taste of what a real event could be like, I could tell that the students were amazed at what went into the media side of a response, and that they had a new found appreciation for keeping your cool when things went wrong. 

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What we don't know makes it worse

Ionizing radiation.

Just looking at those words probably makes you squirm - especially if you can remember the Cold War. It is the force that powers large ships of war. It's the force behind the most destructive bombs ever devised by human minds. Heck, it's the stuff that's responsible for the Blob, giant mutant insects and Godzilla.

May I call you Mr. Zilla?
It's also the stuff that makes nuclear power plants run. And, that can have some very scary implications. We saw what could go wrong at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor after a major earthquake and tsunami. We saw it in the central Soviet Union at the Chernobyl reactor disaster. And, there were several other accidents that did cause injury or the release of radioactive materials through the years.

The Three Mile Island reactor in 1979
But, it was one incident that not only changed the course of the nuclear power industry, it also changed the way public information officers do their jobs forever. The Three Mile Island reactor incident which took place in 1979 set the bar on how confusing and bungled the response to an event could possibly be.

It started with a bad control board design that failed to indicate the proper position of a Pilot Operated Relief Valve, which allowed the reactor's coolant to leak out without the operators noticing. By the time a change of shift happened a few hours later, the reactor's core was exposed above the coolant, and the fuel rods began to melt. It was an event known as a loss of coolant accident.

A schematic of the reactor at the Three Mile Island generating plant

Now, understand that while the reactor's fuel was melting, it was also encased inside of a reactor vessel and a containment building, providing a significant amount of protection against a release of radioactive material (These important safety devices were missing in the Chernobyl reactor, making that accident much more serious). Plus, due to the type of fuel used in a nuclear plant, there is no chance of a nuclear explosion like an atomic bomb. It just can't happen.

Governor Thornburgh giving a a media briefing about the crisis
But, that wasn't communicated in the confusion as the event unfolded. Metropolitan Edison, the operator of the plant, was slow to provide information to Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh. The information released to the media was also contradictory - at one point, stating that radioactive gas had been released, then reversing position. Given this contradictory information, Governor Thornburgh said there was no danger, then ordered an evacuation of children and pregnant women from a five mile area - eventually expanding to a 20 mile radius.

Angry at the utility, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania turned to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for guidance.  While this did add subject matter experts to the incident, very little coordination between the agencies compounded the confusion.

The movie poster for the China Syndrome
It didn't help that a movie - the China Syndrome - about an act of sabotage that nearly caused a meltdown at a nuclear power plant had been released in theaters a mere 12 days before the accident happened. The fictionalized account spurred fears that the reactor vessel and containment building could be breached.

It wasn't until President Jimmy Carter, a former Navy nuclear technician who understood ionizing radiation and the level of threat, showed up on scene to tour the facility - and observe the operations in the control room - that the public began to breath a little more easily.

While the event fortunately didn't lead to a catastrophic loss of life, it did open the eyes of emergency managers to the importance of bringing public information officers into a disaster early on. In fact many of the tenants of the National Incident Management System were established in the months and years after this accident.

As far as the lessons public information lessons learned, you can read the after action report online... an interesting case study.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Monday, April 20, 2015

Social slipups might sink ships

World War II wasn't just won on the battlefield or the high seas. It was won through the incredible manufacturing capability of the allied nations. It was won through incredible scientific advances. It was won through daring and determined leadership.

And, it was won wearing a veil of secrecy. 

Reminders for service members and civilians to not divulge critical military intelligence were everywhere. In newsreels. In newspapers. And, in posters plastered in easy sight, driving the point home.

Keep yer trap shut
One of the most famous was the admonition that loose lips sink ships, reminding people that speaking carelessly could cost many lives in a convoy of ships crossing the dangerous North Atlantic. People were advised to keep gossip and chatter to an absolute minimum to prevent this kind of loss.

If we were to play that advice forward to 2015, it might be loose lips sink careers. We saw this recently in the story of Britt McHenry, the ESPN reporter who had a few choice words for the towing company clerk she was dealing with. Each of those words was caught on surveillance tape, which was later released through social media.

Ms. McHenry from the surveillance video
The outcry was brutal and immediate. In the court of public opinion, Ms. McHenry should have been strung up by her heels and berated for her boorish behavior in the town square. ESPN took the step of suspending her for a week for her caught-on-tape tantrum, and people even went so far as to call for her job.

But, for one minute, think about life before social media and the ever-present video camera. Have you ever had your car towed? Have you ever gotten bad service someplace? 

And, have you ever let your emotions get the better of you?

Come on, let's be honest. It has happened to all of us at least once in our lives. The anger, insult or alcohol gets the best of us  and we have unloaded on someone who maybe didn't deserve it.

Even media savvy former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his moments
Now, let's think of our roles as media spokespeople for the agencies we represent. Or maybe the reputations of our bosses. What would happen if our actions - or the actions of our bosses - ended up on social media? Does your social media response plan have anything in it for handling such a potentially damaging event?

McHenry's Twitter apology

in Ms. McHenry's defense, she did come out immediately and apologize for her actions on social media, and ESPN - while they did suspend her for a week - did also apologize for her actions and made it clear that much better is expected from their employees. 

Even the towing company that employed the lady Ms. McHenry berated didn't want to see her fired, and accepted her apology. 

What's the lesson? Well, in the court of public opinion, it's critical for us and our organizations to understand is that social media presents some outstanding opportunities to promote our missions, but when things go wrong, it can certainly leave you with a sinking feeling.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The best time for bad news

A few weeks ago, my friend Tom Iovino and I were teaching a session of the Basic PIO course for new Public Information Officers from throughout the state of Florida. What's that like, working with Tom?  Think Abbott & Costello Meet the Media.

Which one is Tom? Probably the guy with the hat
While talking about the traditional news cycles, and the typical guidelines of releasing bad news late on Friday afternoons and good stories on Monday mornings, an intriguing point was raised. A recent convert from the media, who had been in TV news for 30 years, said that given the current state of TV news in our Market (Tampa Bay), she thinks releasing the bad stories on a Tuesday morning is the best strategy. 

Bob, that must have been some bad news...
Her reasoning is that the bad news would be erased in short order by the busiest days of the news cycle, which are typically mid-week. She also made the point, based on her former station operations and our local 24 hour news station, that stories reported on Friday afternoons are repeated in broadcasts throughout the weekend due to lack of weekend news staff. She said her previous station would have aired a compelling bad news story from Friday evening all weekend long, with a final airing on Monday morning. 

I have to say, that the more I thought about this, the more it piqued my interest. She makes a good point given our market, but there are other factors at work too. For instance:
  • How many people will actually see that report over the weekend as opposed to weekday coverage? 
  • How many outlets will be able to cover it on Friday evening as opposed to those with mid-week staff? 
Of course, the media markets in which we all work vary widely and that affects the coverage a release would get. Also to be considered is how much traction the social media posts get during the week as opposed to the weekends and how quickly bad news stories will be pushed down in the stream to be considered off the radar?
Assignment editors sift through a lot of potential story ideas
So what do you think about this proposition? We’ve put together a short poll below to find out what our counterparts in other markets are doing.

Bob Lasher, External Affairs Manager
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Keeping your cool

If you can keep your head when all about you
     Are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...

On this very day 45 years ago, a desperate life or death struggle played out across television sets across the country and the world. Three lives hung in the balance. Rival nations stepped to the fore to offer whatever assistance they could provide. Calls for worldwide prayer were made for a safe resolution of the situation.

Apollo 13's mission insignia

In case you were wondering, I am referring to the astronauts aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell were on board the Lunar Module Aquarius, hauling a crippled Command Module Odyssey on a swing around the Moon, hoping against all hope that their supplies would hold out until they reached Earth. Hoping that their Command Module's heat shield wasn't damaged in the explosion that left them in this situation in the first place. Hoping that they could restart all of the systems in the Command Module so they could safely get home.

Yes, we have all seen the movie Apollo 13 featuring Tom Hanks. Director Ron Howard took a few dramatic liberties with the plot to build suspense, the actual communications on the flight director's loop were surprisingly cool and measured. In fact, you can hear the exact exchange in the loop here in this video.

Why would that be?

It's because that's the way flight control was built. From the early days of the Mercury missions through the successful Gemini program to the catastrophic loss of life on the Apollo 1 test, the mettle of men such as Gene Kranz was tested (BTW - I love this article about Mr. Kranz - TI). They uniquely understood that there was a razor-thin margin between a successful mission and a disaster.

So,when the oxygen tank in the Service Module exploded, there was no panic. The team members understood what was being requested of them, and what they had to do to get the astronauts home safely.

Now, what do we take from this as public information officers? Of course, the information we put out to the public is critical, especially during times of crisis. It could literally mean the difference between life and death. After all, will people get the word they need to evacuate before a hurricane makes landfall, or to shelter in place while a cloud of deadly chlorine gas drifts through their neighborhood?

Flight Director Gene Kranz working the situation
You will notice that during the communication on the audio loop was very deliberate. What do we know? What are we hearing from the astronauts? What was happening when we saw this anomaly pop up? How can we take very simple, easily reversible steps to fix what we are seeing before resorting to something more drastic?

It's only later in the voice loop that the more urgent communication spurring the crew to take refuge in the Lunar Module was communicated, and that was done again in a very deliberate manner to save as many resources as possible to ensure the crew's survival.

Now is not the time to show panic
As PIOs, we need to be aware that the tone we take with our voices and body language can communicate much more than what we say. There is a time for a lighthearted approach and winning the audience over to your point of view. There are times when a totally serious approach in the only one that can work. But, there is never a time where panic should rule your response. It may take a monumental effort on your part - or the part of the dedicated spokesperson - but it must be done.

None other than the legendary Gene Kranz postulated that the tragedy of the loss of the Apollo 1 crew was what saved the Apollo 13 crew. In his famous Kranz Dictum, he told everyone in flight control that the prerequisite for being part of the elite community were toughness and competence. And, in that vein, the flight controllers went to work, solving problem after problem that no one could have possibly considered.

For instance, the carbon dioxide scrubbers which kept the poisonous waste product from exhalation from accumulating used round canisters in the Lunar Module, but rectangular ones in the Command Module. Since the Lunar Module was only designed to hold two astronauts for the short duration they would spend on the Moon, this became a problem which was overcome with innovative thinking, imagination and just a little bit of duct tape.

To survive, it may become necessary to improvise
While we can plan for just about any scenario in our preparations, there has to be some ability to make adjustments as real world events play out. What if your computers go down, your relief crew can't make it to your location or the last drops of juice get squeezed out of your cell phone's batteries? Knowing what you have available to you and being able to adapt those items to your situation can make a big difference.

On April 17, 1970, the Odyssey safely splashed down southwest of American Samoa, just four miles from the USS Iwo Jima. Except for a urinary tract infection that plagued Fred Haise, the crew was little worse for the wear. It would be nearly a year before the next mission, Apollo 14, launched for the Moon, and the valuable lessons learned from 13's endurance test were incorporated in the new craft to make the trip safer.

The Apollo 13 crew safely aboard the USS Iwo Jima
While I am certain that whatever plan you have in place will be tested, and you will no doubt make mistakes once it sees an actual event. The key is to learn from those mistakes - and the mistakes of others - to help make your plan as strong and resilient as possible.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bring out the boss

The first concert I ever attended was one for the ages. It was Bruce Springsteen. In Giant's Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Born in the U.S.A. tour. Shows don't get much better than that.

The Born in the U.S.A. Tour poster
I mean, come on. It is his home state. The guy puts on a concert with enough energy to power all of the homes and businesses in a moderately sized metropolitan area. We had seats, but never sat down - all three hours of it. It was awesome.

So, if someone tells you that they are going to take you to see The Boss in concert, you know it's going to be a big deal.

But, when is it time to bring out the boss at a scene?  No, not the hard-rocking New Jersey guy also known as The Boss, but the top elected official, the CEO or the president of the board of directors?

Let that question sink in for a few minutes. I'm sure that if you come from a small enough town and you are in a very small media market and there are only a few weekly newspapers, I'm sure the mayor could fill just about every single spot on an org chart. Chief of police? Fire chief? Dog catcher? PIO? Sure...

This guy might be the mayor of a really small town...
But, the larger the organization, the more that the mayor needs to bring on specialists. Someone who knows fire suppression. Someone who knows how to set up a municipal budget. Someone who knows the ins and outs of fleet management. And, as that number of specialized people grows, that mayor delegates the authority to others to handle day to day operations - and media relations.

That mayor then becomes the person who sets the vision for how the burgeoning city will operate. While still giving the overall guidance, he or she is hardly the expert on every single topic. So, while things are routine (the trash gets picked up, speeding tickets are written, city vehicles are being maintained, etc.) there is not a huge rush to get that mayor out in front to speak to the media about every single topic. When things are going smoothly, that's the time when most mayors talk about the future of their city, how they want to make their city someplace so desirable that people can't wait to move there, how they want to expand economic vitality ... you know, those campaign promises they made while running for the position.

But, there come those times when an incident happens where the boss has to come out to the front and do the talking. Typically, it's during a time of crisis. Perhaps an unprecedented weather disaster. Maybe a terrible accident. Maybe during an incident of incredible controversy that draws national - or even international - media attention.

Think back to major incidents and where the chief elected officials were. New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani on September 11, 2001 walking in the destruction of the financial district. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon meeting with survivors of the 2011 Joplin Tornado. President Jimmy Carter on scene during the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in the spring of 1979.

President Carter in the control room of the crippled Three Mile Island reactor
Each time, those top elected officials were not there to direct the response. In fact, the security that goes along with a presidential visit can create a security headache even when there isn't currently a disaster.

They are there instead to show the residents ... the shareholders ... the constituents that they care about their welfare, and that they support the work of the experts they hired in the first place.

I was teaching a basic public information officer course just a few months ago when we had students simulate a news conference. The scenario one team was given was a tornado touching down in a small town. They had just about every role identified for the briefing, including someone from the local weather service office to explain - in great, technical detail - the size and power of the storm.

The only person they forgot to include?  The mayor, to at least just say a few appropriate words expressing her concern about the safety of her constituents, and that all of the people who were going to talk about the recovery had her unconditional support.

That, my friends, would have rocked!

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A matter of integrity

It was a story about a most horrific crime - a gang rape of a female college student by members of a fraternity on the campus of the University of Virginia. It sparked outrage and protest in Charlottesville and other campuses around the country. A call for major changes was made for Greek life in just about every college and university.

The article that appeared in Rolling Stone
The problem was that none of it happened - or at least happened as the accuser laid out the facts. That's what the Rolling Stone magazine had to admit this week - that the case built against the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi by the reporter who filed the story was replete with investigative failures, some as basic as no social event taking place the night of the alleged attack and that the student identified as leading the assault worked at the school's aquatic center - when none of the fraternity's members held such a position.

The prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued a scathing report about the story, the Poynter Institute called it the Error of the Year in Journalism, and the fraternity is planning on filing suit against the magazine.

Phi Kappa Psi's house at the University of Virginia
The sad part of this discussion is that journalistic scandals are hardly a solitary event. Whether it was Jayson Blair of the New York Times who plagiarized articles from other newspapers when writing about with the Beltway Sniper case in 2002 or the recent claims by NBC's Brian Williams about his taking fire in Iraq or seeing bodies in the floodwaters post Hurricane Katrina, there are times when journalists will - and do - stretch the truth to boost ratings or add more impact to a story.

As public information officers, we need to understand that incidents such as these are very few and far between, which is what makes their revelation such a shock to the journalism community. The vast majority of journalists take their professional duties very seriously, and they understand that misreporting a situation - such as the incident that happened in Rolling Stone - can have a terrible effect on victims who may now fear that their accusations may not be taken seriously.

The Society of Professional Journalists is clear in its code of ethics that as custodians of one of the most precious First Amendment Rights - freedom of the press - journalists have an ethical duty to:
  • Seek the truth and report it;
  • Minimize harm;
  • Act independently; and.
  • Be accountable and transparent.
While we can't do these things for the journalists, we can take the proactive steps of being as open and forthright as possible in our dealings with them. Maximum allowable disclosure in the minimum amount of time. With a reputation of being someone who is readily available to reporters - and responsive to their requests - there is one less reason that a reporter would have to struggle to fill in the blanks.

Being open with and responsive to reporters is a critical part of our jobs
Another important advantage that we have in plying our vocation in 2015 is that it is easier than ever to create a record of what we communicate to reporters. Obviously, radio and television reporters are electronically documenting your responses to their questions, and most TV reporters are bringing at least rudimentary video equipment with them to interviews to document and produce a short video for their websites. And, it takes only a few minutes to dash off an e-mail to the reporter restating your key messages to ensure that the information you have provided is relayed accurately.

While this is absolutely no guarantee that the reporter will get every single detail right, it does provide a trail of evidence that unequivocally relates what your message is and proves that you have done your part to help get the report as accurate as possible. 

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It's bite sized

With visions of being buried under feet of snow just barely memories now, it's time for the big rites of spring... graduation and wedding season. Don't they all seem to come rushing at us quickly? Right about this time, if you come from a big family, you should be getting all the invitations in the mail. Nieces, nephews, the sons and daughters of good friends and neighbors... yup, invitations for their special events start pouring in right around this time of the year.

Oh, those bright eyed graduates...
That's a good thing! I mean, high school and college graduations are the crowning achievements of academic success, earned after hard years of study. And, those young couples preparing to start their lives together, well, it's enough to almost bring this softie to tears.

The happy bride... and tasty hors d'oeuvres... 
Oh, and both occasions are also PRIME time for sampling some awesome food!

What is it with me and food this week?

Typically, at events like these, hors d'oeuvres or appetizers are served before everyone sits down to a big meal. These flavor bombs are designed to give you a small, delicious taste of the chef's skill before the main course is served to the assembled guests.

Since they are so diminutive, they have to pack a lot of punch for their size. Flavors. Textures. Ingredients. Contrasts. In other words, they have to convey a whole lot of wow factor to your senses of smell, vision and taste in a very small package.

A lot like a properly crafted sound bite.  Oh, I know what you are thinking.  Sound bites are for slick politicians and double-talking CEOs. Well, no, they aren't, especially if you think of them as information appetizers. They have to be concise, punchy and leave a lasting impression in the very short amount of time people will have to hear them.

Don't believe me? Watch the news with a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand on it. Time how long everyone except the anchors, reporters, sports and weather person has to deliver his or her lines. Even the president of the United States of America - regardless of his party affiliation - gets no more than nine to 15 seconds to tell his story.


So, when you craft your sound bite, there are two schools of thought that you should consider to guide your preparations.

There is the one taught by Dr. Vincent Covello of the Centers for Risk Communication, who breaks it down mathematically:

  • 27, 9, 3 - 27 words, nine seconds and three thoughts.
Inigo Montoya
You know where you saw this before? Have you ever seen the movie The Princess Bride?  Do you know who Inigo Montoya was?  His sole mission is life was to meet the Six-Fingered man, and tell him, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."  Short. Sweet. To the point, so to speak.

The other school of thought comes from Clarence Jones of Winning with the News Media, which is his mathematical calculation:

  • 1 + 3.  One 'feeling' thought, followed by three points that back up your statement.

The evacuation over the Howard Frankland Bridge during Hurricane Charley's approach
During the evacuation for Hurricane Charley, a reporter was concerned about the number of people crowding the roads about 36 hours in advance of the storm. He asked me, "So, Tom, what do you have to say about all of these people stuck in traffic before the arrival of the storm?"

I looked at him and said, "I am encouraged by how busy the roads are right now. That means people are taking the evacuation order seriously, they are on the roads early and will be somewhere safe should the storm impact the Tampa Bay area."

The reporter looked at me for a second, then turned to his camera operator to ask if he needed any other shots for the story.

By using techniques such as these to organize your thoughts before you speak to a reporter, you can provide a sound bite so tasty and packed with information that there's no way a reporter can ignore it, helping you get your message across with great impact.

That sounds delicious...

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida