Following the alleged FEMA press incident in October 2007, I assumed responsibility that led to very harsh personal and professional consequences. That event taught me much about leadership, which I was familiar with, having commanded ships in the Coast Guard and served as chief of Coast Guard Public Affairs. Equally important, it affirmed for me how the media landscape has changed so dramatically in the nearly 20 years that I have been a communication professional.
The fact that the event was characterized as a “fake” news conference by the media, with the obvious intent to manipulate and deceive rather than a “botched” press conference where errors in timing and judgment were compounded, revealed much about how those who reported the story approach their discipline.
I absolutely do not condone what happened — and I was surprised when the event unfolded as it did. However, nothing presented by the official in the press briefing was inaccurate or untrue. In permitting the political pressure from those above to “fill the news window” about government activities, mistakes were made by well-intended staff.
This incident is relevant because it speaks directly to the issue of trust. In a mass media environment that appears to value entertainment more than substance, how do organizations communicate effectively? How do organizations build and maintain trust with those who matter most if the traditional paradigm of delivering critical and urgent information through the mass media no longer works?
Organizations must not only perform well today, they must also communicate well. I believe effective communication programs are built on people, policies, planning and platforms. How these are developed and implemented can facilitate delivering and receiving information directly, quickly and transparently. And these are key to building trust with stakeholders.
By John P. “Pat” Philbin, Ph.D., APR, Senior Vice President, PIER Systems, Inc. Pat has nearly 25 years experience in strategic communication; government, congressional and public affairs; organizational/business development; and innovative leadership with top-level, senior government officials and company executives, including crisis communication, media relations, marketing communications, brand management, government relations and strategic planning. Pat most recently served as the Director, Office of External Affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He also oversaw the Employee Communications Program as well as the Private Sector Office. Prior to joining FEMA, Pat worked for Anteon/General Dynamics Information Technology as a Technical Director where he served as a consultant in strategic communication to the Department of Defense’s Business Transformation Agency directing and assisting in communication efforts to Capitol Hill, the Government Accountability Office and the general public. Pat also served as the Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Communications for a private security firm.
Join Philbin for When Press Conferences Go Wrong: Lessons Learned About Today’s Media/Political Environment at the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection on Sunday, October 26 in Detroit, MI!