Public information officers for government agencies and nonprofits are
often the first people the media contact when disaster strikes. Even
though many have formal training on how to respond, PIOs representing numerous agencies in the same community sometimes never meet each other. When there’s a major disaster, the PIOs are on their own.
Misinformation can make the disaster even worse.
In Wisconsin, the Public Information Officers of Dane County, in the
state capitol in Madison, meet monthly with a goal of keeping each
other informed on the best ways to respond to a crisis.
“We’re all players in a crisis and we need to communicate with each
other,” said Mae Knowles, media relations coordinator for Meriter
Hospital in Madison.
In 1993, a stampede of fans who came pouring out of the stands
following Wisconsin’s upset victory over Michigan at Camp Randall
Stadium, left dozens injured, including seven who were listed in
critical condition. Mae said reporters who were desperate for information about those injured played hospital PIO officers off each
other by saying. “Hospitals A and B gave us information. Why can’t you
PIOs discuss problems such as that one. They also tour places like the
emergency 911 center and meet with reporters and editors when
necessary. Recently, the group created a CD that will be distributed
to the media, with complete contact information for all the PIOs.
“We’re a model that could be copied in other communities,” Mae said.
“It’s definitely worth the time we’ve invested.” If you’re interested
in finding out more about the group, email Mae.
See the article I wrote called “Alternatives to Saying No Comment.”
If you’re a new PIO or if you’ve been around awhile and need to brush up on your skills, check out “How to Keep the Media Wolves at Bay.” Crisis counselor Jonathan Bernstein explains how to communicate your message quickly and clearly, under the most difficult circumstances,without letting reporters back you into a corner. He explains all the ways reporters try to loosen your lips, how you should respond, and how to use a cushion of goodwill to survive a media crisis.