Thursday, August 10, 2006

'Plot to blow up planes' disrupted - PR in the front line

Today in the UK we have both a plot foiled and an on going threat alert.

On a day like today, when a major criminal threat on lives on an unprecedented scale affects the police, airports, airlines, travel industries and many others, the Public Relations Industry has to work very hard.

The need for reliable information is at a premium. The range of publics desperate for news is enormous and those of us who are onlookers have interests too.

In the last six hours, the Public Relations industry has, for the most part, shown how good it really is.

At the heart of this is trust. People have gone to our professional communicators for information and have been able to trust companies and receive good, timely and accurate information.

We will all learn lessons but with PR now in the front line we have to both follow through with existing capabilities and adopt new ideas too.

Not only is this a matter of being able to trust the organisations but the means they have available for communication too.

Emergency plans have to be ready anyway but the need for a real person to be available to make live statements is important too. The real voice of organisations using as many channels for communication as possible is critical.

What is evident is the role digital media has played and continues to play.

There are places people trust. Online News 24 hours a day like News24 from the BBC, the news web sites and those of the airports and airlines are obvious stopping off places.

We have to consider what the essentials are. The first is a reliable pipe.

I live 70 miles from the most affected airport, London Heathrow. Where I live has the highest penetration of broadband in the country. My available BT bandwidth is down 30%. This is an issue. It has to be an issue for governments and the need for alternatives is now critical. In addition to broadcast, cable, copper, public wifi and cellular options have to be in place for all civilised countries. Without this capability all the other forms for communication at a disadvantage and public safety and security is at risk. On this occasion, the networks coped but BT, the primary provider of Broadband in the UK looked sick.

Given that the Internet is capable to deliver traffic, PR practitioners in both public and private organisations have a primary consideration be able to serve up web sites. Without this basic ability, they cannot communicate.

The bandwidth issues are critical and are a public relations responsibility. Can your servers cope South Roof Office Block? BAA, the primary airport operator in the UK failed at this first hurdle. It had a single page up and served up a 404 when I clicked on all the other links. BA, the Airline responded online effectively

Finally, the Internet is robust as a network. Being able open up channels from a range of locations is important too, with a capability to serve information from a number of locations is helpful.

The next big problem is an ability to deploy a range of outlets. Web sites can be overwhelmed as we found out during the 9/11 attack. Today, we have a wide range of alternatives and can lever the capacity of the biggest servers in the world. Trusted social media needs to be in place. Channels like blogs have a role to play because they can distribute information across the network fast and being networked is robust.

In addition, the use and application of mobile has to be a consideration. Mobile can now be both push and pull and can help reduce concerns over both the telco issues such as my BT problem and an ability to manage bandwidth problems more effectively.

Being in a position to share information fast is paramount. The chief communication manager in the organisation now needs to push ahead with collaborative media. Managers, even in relatively small organisations just have to come to terms with wiki style information sharing and knowing that some (designated) wiki pages can be used to serve up news to other sites as soon as approved and by a range of authorised employees.

There is a big role for trusted social media.

This crisis in the UK today has pointed up a need to explore the role of a wider range of communications channels.

Picture: Heathrow today