|Storm Clouds Over Manhattan|
First and foremost for PR peeps, an all-consuming news event like a hurricane thrusts our industry's value proposition squarely into the spotlight. While there will always be PR-haters who decry spin and obfuscation, the absence of an effective communications strategy by businesses, emergency services and local governments can mean the difference between salvation and disaster for key constituents.
In following my mobile Twitterstream, I took special interest in Jeff Jarvis's castigation of AOL Patch for having missed the boat on its opportunity to shine during an event custom-made for hyperlocal media. He tweeted:
@jeffjarvis: Just took a tour of all my local Patch sites. With one exception, dreadful. Huge opportunity lost. Storms ARE hyperlocal!Steve Rubel countered with this tweet:
@steverubel: Patch's local storm coverage has been excellent. This is the best source of info on the power outages.Mr. Jarvis took the media storm meme one step further by penning a post on how we could cover the storm. It drew in all the usual media-watchers. Here's a tweet from Emily's Bell of Columbia Journalism School's Tow Center:
@emily bell @jeffjarvis I would argue if you stayed away from networks completely, coverage was pretty good on twitter, blogs, wnyc, ny1...Prof. Bell also drew NYU J-School professor Jason Samuels and paidContent founder Rafat Ali into the conversation:
@emilybell @profsamuels_nyu @rafat @jeffjarvis persistence and immediacy are unfortunately requirements of the story, until you know it isn't a storyI really don't want to pile on over the merits or lack of merits of the news coverage of Hurricane Irene. Though I do think one clear winner was The New York Times and its @NYTLive Twitter feed, mostly for its deeper use of Twitter and its implications for the future of real-time reporting. Poynter expounded in a piece titled
"How The New York Times is taking Twitter reporting faster and deeper with @NYTLive.
The city also built a special (bottom-up) crowdsourced site where citizens could register local storm damage. He even tweeted in Spanish, which produced a parody stream.
On the other side of the communications coin lied the Long Island Power Authority whose infrequent (one-a-day?) uninformative news conferences left most people angry. (They at least could have provided broadcasters with an audio mult-box.)
Furthermore, LIPA - with a half million customers in the dark -- was conspicuously unfindable on Twitter, which prompted this tweet from this powerless LIPA customer:
@PeterHimler It's incredulous to me that #LIPA is not on Twitter when a half million customers are in the dark. #LIPAFail #FlintstonesAha! I did find the @LIPANews Twitter feed with its total of 615 tweets. Geesh! This blogger has more followers than the LIPANews feed has! Here's how it describes itself:
"This is LIPA's news and info feed. It is NOT monitored 24/7 for replies. To report outages please call 800-490-0075 or 631-755-6900 or lipower.org/stormcenter"
It's hard to fathom in this age of real-time and crowdsourced information-sharing that many public-facing organizations continue to be mired in the stone age when it comes to PR. In failing to adapt, they not only compromise their own reputations, but they also put the well-being of their key constituencies at risk.