By: Kevin Byrnes
I am Kevin Byrnes, solo practitioner (ByrnesPR & Media Services) and a new member of our chapters’ blog committee. One of the things I love about working in PR are the frequent continuing education and networking opportunities that our chapter has. I worked in television news gathering prior to my PR career. I don’t recall the range of career development and networking opportunities in television that I have experienced since I moved into PR.
I attended one of our workshops and a networking event last month. Climate of Denial: Flint Water Crisis was a fantastic workshop held on Feb. 23, 2017 at the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Center in Livonia, MI. About 50 PR professionals joined me to hear the presentation from Jamie Ward, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at EMU and Bill Knowling, prominent crisis communicator, former lead PR person during the Detroit bankruptcy and a partner at Finn Partners’ Detroit office.
Jamie laid the foundation for how the Flint Water Crisis evolved. Note the word evolved. Over and over again, Jamie reiterated to us that crisis’ and therefore crisis communications, rarely happen overnight. They evolve. A solid takeaway for us practitioners to remember. She shared how residents were told their water was safe to drink…even though in many instances it was discolored. And, even after one of GM’s operations in Flint complained about their water, state officials largely ignored the risk factors. Most of us know what happened next. Irate residents turned to experts and the media for help. Presto. A crisis is born!
I’ve been sports fan since I was kid. I sometimes use sports analogies to illustrate a point. In the case of Bill Knowling, he followed Jamie’s presentation–batting cleanup if you will–and shared with us the practical way he parachuted in to handle the PR of the Flint Water Crisis for Gov. Snyder and the state.
Most of us in the room found his insights compelling. His primary messages were: Have a plan. Any plan. Know who is going to be in the room making the decisions. Be transparent. Be nimble. Most important, he said, “rebuild the lost trust with the particular public hurt by the crisis.”
I worked in government PR prior to going out on my own as a consultant. I found the conversation to be fascinating. Plenty of questions were asked of Bill and Jamie, a clear sign that the audience was engaged. If you are looking to learn more about working with the media and handling crisis communications, Jamie suggested “The Media Training Bible,” a book by Brad Phillips.
Dateline Birmingham. Cue the networking handshake and business cards!
This was not a morning to take notes. This was about having your business card at the ready and interacting with the assortment of PR and business professionals in attendance. It was also a chance for us practitioners to meet the media panel and learn what we can do for each other.
The wide-ranging conversation included advice on their deadlines (Tiffany strongly suggested–no press releases on Friday!). There was even a question about President Trump’s assertion of “fake news” by the media. The question was artfully handled by the panel on what was a politically diverse room of about 65 people.
By the way, quick side note. PRSA Detroit will be holding a Fake News workshop in April. Go to our website http://www.prsadetroit.org/ to get more details on The Role of the PR Practitioner in the Era of Fake News, slated for April 25, 2017 at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Back to the media roundtable/networking event. My one lasting take away came from Jay Grossman. And, it applies to all of us practitioners (particularly those of you who work with the media). Jay observed how the relationship between journalists and PR pros is more critical than ever, given the cutbacks in media newsrooms. He referred to PR practitioners as “boots on the ground” when it comes to the news gathering process. He’s right. The opportunity for us to provide content for the media has never been stronger.
And, it’s all the more reason for us as PR professionals to find time in our busy schedules to attend chapter workshops and network with each other as well as with the media. As our blog committee team leader Megan Peterson said in a recent post–do something, anything! Have a good spring (once the snow melts).
Kevin Byrnes is a Communications Consultant at ByrnesPR & Media Services. His current clients include an investment banking organization and an animal pet shelter. He is a member of the Detroit PRSA chapter (national as well) and serves on the blog committee. He is also a member of the Individual Communicators Network (ICN Detroit Chapter).