Manage the Expectations of Your Audience: Story Telling Secrets of the Media and a CNN iReporter

By Gerard Braud

{Editor’s note: In 2013, CNN selected me as one of their top iReporters, out of more than 11,000 iReporters. This is part of a series of articles about how you can be a good iReporter and how to make CNN iReports a vital part of your crisis communication and media relations strategy.}

DSC_0076As you watch television news, especially live cable news and live breaking news in a crisis, observe the questions from the news reporters, news anchors and members of the media. They want to know how much worse will the event get?

If you recognize this, you can make this a part of your planned storytelling, whether you are filing a CNN iReport, communicating as a public relations spokesperson, or communicating as a Public Information Officer (PIO) for a federal or state agency, or for state, county or local government.

During Hurricane Isaac, my goal was to manage the expectations of the national audience and the national media so they would know just how bad things would get. For the most part, it was all predictable for me, because I had been through and reported on so many hurricanes during my career as a television reporter. As a resident of Mandeville, Louisiana and as someone born in New Orleans, I had a pretty good idea of what was to come. (Although the 4 10-food alligators, the 50 dead nutria and the thousands of snakes were a surprise.)

Electric utility companies are a perfect example of the kind of company that should build their media training and crisis communications strategy around managing the expectations of their audience. Some people in New Orleans were very mad at Entergy of New Orleans when the electric company didn’t have electricity restored to all of their customers on the day following the hurricane. The angry citizens called the media and complained non-stop on social media. Although all were without electricity after Hurricane Katrina, they expected faster restoration after Isaac, which was a Category 1 hurricane. Restoration to 99% of the customers may be great, but the 1% without power can still cause a public relations problem for a company.

To their credit, Entergy was holding news briefings and using social media where possible. But here is what I would like to see every investor owned utility and every Rural Electric Cooperative (Co-op) say to their customers before any big, predictable weather event:

“This storm will disrupt electrical service. You may lose electricity early as trees fall on power lines or as winds blow power lines down. Your home may survive the storm, but in the days immediately after the storm, you may be very miserable. You won’t be able to turn on any lights. You won’t be able to cook on electric stoves. If you have an electric hot water heater, you may not have hot water. Your air conditioning (or heating) may not work. While our electric crews and those from other communities will begin restoring power quickly, we cannot say when everyone will have their lights back on. Furthermore, if the electric meter to your home is damaged or if the electrical wiring in your home gets wet or damaged, it may be weeks or months before your power can be restored. For that reason, we suggest you follow the advice of your local government and evacuate to an area outside of the predicted disaster zone, then return home when you can once again have modern conveniences.”

That type of statement

1.) Tells it to the audience straight without any public relations B.S.

2.) It manages their expectation for how bad things may get

3.) It gives them a clear reason as to why they should evacuate — because many people are in denial about whether or not the wind or flooding will harm them, but they don’t want to be miserable and without creature comforts.

Social Media Gerard BraudState, county and city governments can also benefit from this approach. The government will often call for an evacuation for public safety. Many people don’t want to evacuate because a previous hurricane did not significantly impact them. Government should emphasize that no two storms are alike. A zone that survived one hurricane might be destroyed by the path of another storm. Government public information officers and spokespeople should also emphasize the loss of creature comforts associated with the loss of electricity, water, operating toilets, and the inability to cook or buy supplies.

This technique goes hand in hand with my previous article on explaining the compare and contrast of what is and what will be. Please read that article for more valuable tips.

To continue to manage the expectations of the audience before, during and after an event, any corporation or government agency, can do exactly what I did as a citizen — they can create a CNN iReport account and file multiple iReport videos just as I did. We will look at that in our next article.

Thank you again for your daily votes through May 5th at http://www.cnn.com/ireport-awards#nom=indepth

My reports are in the In-Depth Storytelling catigory under Isaac’s Aftermath.

To learn more, here are links to previous articles on this topic:

Compare and Contrast News Stories: Secrets of the Media

Get the Right tools to be a good iReporter

Set Up Your CNN iReport Account on a Sunny Day

Hurricane Isaac: iReports Before, During and After. Is This Guy Crazy?

 

 

Speak Your Mind

*