Archive for the ‘Media Training’ Category

Save a penny, lose a dollar

April 23, 2011

It has been a year since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people lost their lives and five million barrels of oil spilled in the ocean, the worst such accident in US history.

From a public relations point of view, it is surprising that corporations as important as BP reacted in such an inadequate way to the disaster. In fact, BP’s behavior is now the point of reference for what NOT to do during a crisis.

Prior to the accident, BP’s then CEO, Tony Hayward, had reduced the company’s PR budget, following the advice of consultants who obviously were not qualified to make such a recommendation. And much less in light of the coming crisis. The result was enormous damage to BP’s reputation and, therefore, also to its bottom line. By the way, Hayward lost his job as CEO as a consequence of his handling of the crisis.

A corporation which in 2009 earned 14 billion dollars started to save money in an area as vital to them as public affairs and in the end the paid for their mistake. As the saying goes, save a penny, lose a dollar.

A decision that was not only irresponsible but also lacked intelligence; because an oil company definitely knows that, sooner or later, an accident such as this can happen. And when it does, it must have a first-rate public relations team that is always ready to deal immediately and efficiently with such a crisis. Even though any corporation or government can face any type of crisis, this is true for companies that deal with especially risky fields such as airlines and chemical companies. It’s only a matter of time before an accident happens, never mind a terrorist attack. And if the crisis is not dealt with satisfactorily, it could lead to the end of the business.

That is why it’s so surprising that a corporation as prestigious as BP could be so shortsighted.

The other incident that, unfortunately, reminds us about the total lack of preparation when facing catastrophes is what happened in Japan.

I have visited Japan several times. I have dealt professionally with the Japanese and Japanese businessmen and women. The last thing that you’d imagine is that a country as organized and professional as Japan would not be ready for something that is totally predictable.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake prone countries. In that area, obviously, the earthquakes cause tsunamis, which is also to be expected. And is anyone surprised about the potential danger that a nuclear accident could bring about? The Japanese government and the company that owns the nuclear plant should have been ready for all these situations, but it’s obvious they were not. Something that is truly unforgivable because we’re talking about events during which the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at risk.

It is true that the catastrophe was beyond what anyone could have imagined and that when something like that happens it’s hard to react. There is a collective psychological shock. However, I must state again, we are talking about situations that are truly predictable.

In addition to the structural and human disasters, there was an information one. There was a total void of reliable and precise information. The Japanese government completely failed when the population most needed this information to be able to make potentially life or death decisions.

No one knew how to deal with the media, what information to share, which recommendations to make. The information the public was getting was incomplete, half-truths or totally wrong. The Japanese media would say something and the international media would report something totally different. The nuclear plant owners would state something and independent experts would immediately deny it. The Japanese government would put out a press release and the US government would contradict it. And to this we must add the traditional skepticism that
many Japanese have regarding what many national companies say, because they’re well known for their lack of transparency. The result was a total information chaos which was aggravated by an environment of extreme physical and emotional tension. A perfect storm.

I know people who have family in the affected area in Japan. They tell me that no one knew the real security perimeter surrounding the nuclear plant, what they needed to do, where to find shelter or where to find uncontaminated water or food. This is not precisely the image that most have of a country such as Japan.

What happened? Didn’t the Japanese government have a crisis management plan in place for situations such as this, which are, once again, completely predictable? And if they had it, why wasn’t it put in place? Didn’t the Japanese government train its key personnel so they would know how to handle the media, known as media training, especially during a crisis? And if they did get the training, why did they act in a way that put the population in such danger?

How is it possible that multimillion dollar corporations such as BP or first-world governments such as Japan’s could be so poorly prepared for these types of situations? How is it possible that they could have made a strategic mistake of such magnitude?

Without a doubt, in disasters such as these the first priority for a government or corporation should be the physical security of people and the environment. However, during these events, the flow of reliable and correct information is
not secondary but also a priority because it directly impacts the security of the population and the environment. During a catastrophe, knowing how to communicate effectively saves lives.

Unfortunately, more accidents or natural disasters are in our future. We will see if BP and the Japanese government, as well as other institutions and businesses have learned from these mistakes or history will repeat itself.

De mineros a celebridades y pasando por la caja registradora

October 16, 2010

“Chile será recordado y reconocido no por Pinochet, sino como un ejemplo de unidad, liderazgo y coraje, fe y éxito”, declaró el Presidente de Chile Sebastián Piñera a The Times de Londres.

Chile ha escrito un capítulo que será muy difícil de superar en el terreno no sólo de los rescates en accidentes de minería, sino también en el campo de las  relaciones públicas.

Como dice el refrán chino, de toda crisis surge una oportunidad y las autoridades chilenas han realizado una tarea magistral durante esta crisis para posicionar a su país no sólo como una nación solidaria, valiente y luchadora, sino especialmente eficaz. Que sabe hacer las cosas bien. Un modelo a seguir. Ninguna campaña de relaciones públicas, incluso con un presupuesto ilimitado, hubiera podido conseguir jamás esos resultados. Ni de lejos.

Las labores de rescate en la mina San José de Copiapó fueron de manual. Rescatar a todos los mineros con vida ha sido sin duda un milagro, pero un milagro que se ha materializado gracias a una labor planeada al milímetro y ejecutada con un altísimo nivel de profesionalismo. Nada se dejó a la improvisación.

Hoy, después de esta epopeya, cualquier ciudadano común alrededor del mundo pensaría que Chile tiene uno de los sectores de minería más seguros del mundo. Estarían equivocados. Según CNN, el año pasado hubo 50 muertos en las minas de Chile. Aunque la minería representa el 40% de los ingresos del país, sólo es un 1% del mercado mundial. Y con un 1% del mercado mundial, Chile sufre el 8% de los accidentes. Es decir, Chile tiene un número claramente alto de accidentes mineros. El gobierno asegura que ese problema se centra en las compañías pequeñas y sin tantos recursos. CNN también apunta que en la zona del accidente hay únicamente tres inspectores del gobierno para 800 minas y que ese accidente nunca debió haber ocurrido porque la poca seguridad de la mina era algo conocido. La mina incluso había sido cerrada en el 2007. De hecho, una de las primeras cosas que hicieron los propios mineros tras ser rescatados fue pedir al Presidente que se tomen medidas inmediatas para evitar más accidentes de este tipo.

No obstante, la percepción es que el sector de minas chileno es excelente en el tema de la seguridad y, como todos sabemos, la percepción es a efectos prácticos el 90% de la realidad. Y eso el gobierno de Santiago lo ha conseguido, aparte de organizando este exitoso rescate, con un show mediático que ha bordado la perfección.

En primer lugar, y antes de ser rescatados, las autoridades dieron un entrenamiento a los mineros sobre cómo tratar con la prensa. Sí, como lo escuchan. Los mineros recibieron esa clase a 700 metros de profundidad. Y en segundo lugar, el gobierno brindó una cobertura televisiva de acceso completo a todo lo que estaba ocurriendo. Esa fue una decisión no sólo inteligente, sino también valiente porque el rescate fue un éxito, pero también hubiera podido ser un fracaso. Un fracaso con 2,000 periodistas y millones de televidentes como testigos.

Las cámaras estaban en todas partes y, lo que es más importante, todos los participantes en el rescate cooperaron al máximo en la cobertura. Se notaba claramente que los habían instruido para ese momento decisivo. Lo hicieron incluso los médicos, que gentilmente volvían a abrir la puerta del hospital de campaña para que los camarógrafos pudieran filmar mejor a los mineros que entraban en camillas.

Y cuando digo que las cámaras estaban en todas partes, es que estaban en todas partes, incluso, por increíble que parezca, en la propia mina. A 700 metros de profundidad. Uno veía a los mineros en vivo y también a los primeros rescatistas que bajaron a ayudarles. Eso permitió que el nivel de emoción subiera a niveles estratosféricos y que, por lo tanto, el mundo se enganchara a sus televisores y computadores para ver el milagro en directo.

También había cámaras en los cascos de los mineros, de forma que podía verse el ascender de la nave de rescate Fénix por el estrecho túnel hasta la superficie. Por supuesto también había cámaras ofreciendo las imágenes de las grúas y de los rescatistas en acción, de los emocionados familiares esperando y de chilenos por todo el país (y el mundo) llorando de emoción mientras ondeaban la bandera chilena con orgullo. Y, naturalmente, una cámara era testigo de las primeras imágenes de los mineros saliendo del Fénix y abrazando y besando a sus familiares para después fundirse también en abrazos con el Presidente, el Ministro de Minas y los rescatistas. Imposible no emocionarse.

Si el gobierno de Chile no hubiera sido tan inteligente y no hubiera proporcionado esas imágenes, el nivel de interés por la historia no habría sido ni mucho menos el mismo. A pesar de que todo eran imágenes del gobierno y no se permitió otras cámaras, lo cierto es que esas imágenes se brindaron a todo el mundo y todas las cadenas las pudieron utilizar. Aunque limitar el acceso a sólo las cámaras del gobierno nunca es el escenario perfecto porque puede haber parcialidad, también es fácil deducir que no puedes dejar entrar a la zona de rescate a 2,000 periodistas. Porque fueron 2,000 los periodistas que se desplazaron a cubrir este evento a esa remota parte de Chile. Hay un factor de seguridad y distracción que no se puede obviar.

Todo el mundo vivió en directo la odisea. Las palabras, las emociones, los abrazos, las lágrimas de alegría. Chile logró crear una conexión emocional con millones y millones de personas alrededor del planeta. Todos éramos chilenos y nos emocionábamos como si estuviéramos allí mismo, junto a ellos.

Sin embargo, ha habido muchos accidentes de minas que no han conseguido ninguna cobertura mediática. Al facilitar el gobierno esta cobertura, logró aprovechar una oportunidad de oro para conseguir apoyo a la operación y reforzar la imagen del país como un lugar donde las cosas se hacen bien. El rescate ha costado entre 20 y 30 millones de dólares y no hay que olvidar que un tercio será cubierto por donaciones.

Todos, menos posiblemente los dueños de la mina, han ganado en esta historia. Los mineros fueron rescatados y Chile es admirado en todo el mundo. Hasta el punto de que Laurence Golborne, el Ministro de Minas, tiene un 87% de popularidad y ya se especula que puede ser el sucesor del Presidente en las elecciones del 2013.

Esto nos enseña que hay que ser abiertos. Hay que ser transparentes. Hay que ayudar a la prensa a que pueda hacer su trabajo. Ocultar cosas, no proveer información es lo peor que se puede hacer. Entre otras cosas, porque al final los periodistas obtendrán la información de todas formas.

En enero del 2006 cubrí el accidente de la mina Sago en West Virgina, Estados Unidos. Fue un desastre informativo. Los periodistas recibíamos la información con cuentagotas, pero eso se agravó cuando nos proporcionaron información errónea. Hasta el punto de que las autoridades informaron incorrectamente de que 12 mineros habían sobrevivido al accidente. Todos los medios dimos la noticia con entusiasmo. Tras la extrema tensión del no saber qué había pasado con ellos, las familias comenzaron a celebrar el milagro. Sin embargo, luego esa información fue desmentida. Sólo se había salvado un minero. No hace falta extenderse mucho en la reacción de las familias ante semejante noticia.

También viene a la memoria el accidente en Pasta de Conchos, México, en febrero del 2006. Se estima que 65 mineros quedaron atrapados bajo tierra. La compañía dijo que estaban a 150 metros de profundidad. El accidente se produjo el 19 de febrero. El 25 de febrero, la empresa dueña de la mina anunció que “no había posibilidad alguna de supervivencia tras la explosión del metano”. El día siguiente las autoridades anunciaron que la mina sería cerrada indefinidamente.

En Chile, también había gran pesimismo inicial sobre la situación de los mineros. El 12de agosto el Ministro de Minas dijo que las posibilidades de encontrar a los mineros con vida eran escasas. Hay que recordar que no hubo ningún contacto con los mineros hasta 17 días después del accidente. ¡Diecisiete! Sin embargo, las autoridades, a pesar de ese pesimismo inicial, prometieron no rendirse y no lo hicieron. Cumplieron con su palabra. Y el premio fue que finalmente hubo contacto y, tras 69 días de tensa espera, todos los mineros fueron rescatados con vida. Treinta y tres.

Sin dudar en ningún momento de la convicción y compromiso del gobierno chileno con este rescate sin importar si hubiera cobertura mediática o no, ¿alguien duda de que la presencia y el interés de la prensa ayudan a que en situaciones similares los esfuerzos prosigan sin descanso? ¿Qué pasaría en estos desastres si ninguna cámara llega al lugar y explica a través de las imágenes la lucha titánica para salvar con vida a esos mineros atrapados entre toneladas de piedras? Lo que pasa es que muchas veces el esfuerzo no es tan fuerte y por lo tanto bajan mucho las posibilidades de que se salven esas vidas. En el caso de México hubo mucha cobertura, pero no se puede comparar con el despliegue que hizo el gobierno de Chile. Los chilenos se convirtieron en maestros de la comunicación. La labor de la prensa es esencial en ese tipo de situaciones y el inteligente gobierno chileno lo entendió a la perfección. Y ahora la imagen de Chile en el mundo se ha reforzado de manera increíble.

Otra decisión muy inteligente fue dar entrenamiento a los mineros sobre cómo tratar con la prensa. En primer lugar por cuestiones psicológicas, en segundo por cuestiones prácticas.

¿Recuerdan el accidente en 1972 en el cual el avión de un equipo de rugby uruguayo se estrelló en la cordillera de los Andes? Tras otra épica histórica de cómo sobrevivir  en temperaturas bajo cero cuando habían sido dados por muertos, 16 personas sobrevivieron. Pues bien, algunos de esos supervivientes visitaron la mina en Chile para explicar a los mineros su experiencia tras el rescate. Pasar de de ser un minero anónimo a convertirse en famoso a nivel internacional  de un día para otro no siempre es una transición fácil.

Las autoridades chilenas les explicaron que había mucha prensa esperándolos, que todos querrían entrevistas y que serían muy insistentes para conseguir esas entrevistas. Que sus vidas serían aireadas públicamente, para bien o para mal. Ahora sabemos hasta quiénes son las amantes de los mineros. El entrenamiento les sirvió para al menos estar un poco más preparados para lo que les venía encima.

Pero hay otro ángulo, el del dinero. Los mineros cobraban 1,600 dólares al mes por su duro trabajo. No cabe duda de que este rescate se contará en libros, películas y que los mineros darán la vuelta al mundo explicando de primera mano qué ocurrió.

Los equipos de fútbol Real Madrid y Manchester ya los han invitado a ir a sus estadios. Una empresa minera griega también los ha invitado a pasar sus vacaciones en las paradisíacas islas de ese país. Y habrá muchas más invitaciones tanto de cortesía como pagándoles para que vayan. No cabe duda de que algunos medios les pagarán mucho dinero por ser entrevistados.

Los mineros dicen que llegaron a un acuerdo por el cual se repartirían cualquier dinero obtenido al contar sus experiencias en el accidente. Incluso si eso finalmente ocurre, ¿quién va a conseguir más dinero? Obviamente la persona que sepa explicar mejor todo lo ocurrido, que se exprese mejor, la que comunique más. Esa persona será la que viaje y dé conferencias, esa persona será la preferida de las cadenas televisivas para ser entrevistada. Aunque haya sido un entrenamiento muy básico por motivos obvios, entender un poco mejor cómo comunicar un mensaje de forma efectiva, es algo que puede marcar ahora una diferencia fundamental en las vidas de estos mineros. Si son hábiles ya no tendrán que trabajar más por el resto de sus vidas.

From Miners to Celebrities… and All the Way to the Bank

October 16, 2010

 “Chile will be remembered and recognized not for Pinochet, but as an example of unity, leadership and valor, faith and success,” stated Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera to the Times of London.

Chile has written a story that will be very difficult to overcome not only in the field of mine disaster rescues, but of public relations.

As the Chinese proverb so well states, every crisis is an opportunity and the Chilean authorities have masterfully positioned their country during this crisis as not only an empathetic, brave and hard-working nation, but as an especially effective one.  That knows how to do things correctly.  A model to be followed.  No public relations campaign, not even one with an unlimited budget, would have been able to get these results.  Not by a long shot.

The rescue work at the San José de Copiapó mine was done by the book.  Rescuing all the miners was undoubtedly a miracle, but a miracle that became a reality thanks to a minutely planned strategy that was executed with the utmost level of professionalism.  Nothing was left to chance.

Today, after this epic rescue, any average observer from around the world would think that Chile has one of the safest mining industries in the world.  But they would be wrong.  According to CNN, last year 50 people lost their lives in Chile’s mines.  Even though mining represents 40% of the national income, it is only 1% of the world’s market.  And with this 1%, Chile contributes 8% of the world’s mining accidents.  That is, Chile has a clearly high number of mining accidents.  The government states that this is a problem limited to small companies which lack the resources to prevent them.  CNN also points out that the area where this accident took place only has three government inspectors for 800 mines, adding that this accident should never have happened because the safety issues at the mine were well-known.  The mine had actually been shut down in 2007.  And, one of the first things that the miners did after being rescued was to ask the President to take the necessary measures to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.

Nonetheless, the perception is that Chile’s mining industry is excellent in terms of security and, as we all know, perception is for all practical purposes 90% of reality.  And this has been achieved by the Santiago government, apart from having organized a successful rescue mission, through a perfectly executed media show. 

First of all, and prior to their rescue, the authorities provided media training to the miners to teach them how to deal with the media.  Yes, you read it right.  The miners learned about how to deal with the media at 700 meters below the earth’s surface.  Secondly, the government provided full-access coverage to everything that was happening.  This was a decision that was not only intelligent, but also brave because the rescue mission was a success – it could have been a failure.  A failure covered by 2,000 reporters and millions of television viewers as witnesses.

TV cameras were everywhere and, most importantly, all the participants in the rescue cooperated 100% with the coverage.  It was clear that they had been told what to do.  Even the doctors at the hospital where the miners were being treated opened the doors over and over again so that the cameras could better film the miners on their gurneys. 

And when I say that the cameras were everywhere, I mean they were everywhere.  Even, as incredibly as this may seem, inside the mine: 700 meters below the surface.  Viewers could see the miners in real time, as well as the first rescuers who descended to help them.  This allowed for the levels of emotion to reach stratospheric heights and, therefore, had viewers all over the world glued to their television sets and computers to watch the miracle live.

There were also cameras on the miners’ helmets, which allowed us to view their ascent on the Phoenix rescue capsule over the narrow tunnel from the mine to the surface.  Of course, there were cameras following every move of the above-ground rescue equipment and rescuers, of the awaiting families and of Chileans all over the country (and the world) crying as they proudly waved the Chilean flag.  And, naturally, a camera witnessed the first moments when each miner emerged from the Phoenix, hugging and kissing their relatives and immediately after hugging President Piñera, the Mining Minister and their rescuers.  It was impossible to remain unmoved.

If Chile’s government had not been as intelligent and hadn’t provided those images, the level of interest about this story would not have been the same.  Even though all the images were provided by the government and no other cameras were allowed to transmit, the truth is that those images were made available to everyone.  Limiting access to only the government’s cameras is never the ideal situation, because it can be perceived as biased, it is easy to understand that it was impossible to allow 2,000 reporters direct access to the rescue zone.  It really was a total of 2,000 international reporters that traveled to that remote region of Chile to cover this story.  There is a factor of security and distraction that cannot be ignored. 

Everyone lived the odyssey live. The words, the emotions, the hugs, the tears of joy.  Chile was able to create an emotional connection with millions and millions of people all over the globe.  We were all Chileans at that time and we were moved just as if we were witnessing the rescue on site with them.

However, there have been many mining accidents that have been completely ignored by the media. By facilitating coverage, the government was able to take advantage of a golden opportunity to receive support for the rescue operation and reinforce the country’s image as a place where things are done correctly.  The rescue mission has cost between 20 and 30 million dollars, a third of which will be covered by donations.

Everyone, with the possible exception of the mine’s owners, has come out a winner.  The miners were rescued and Chile is admired all over the world.  Such is the case of Laurence Golborne, the Mining Minister, who has an 87% approval rating and is already being touted as a possible successor to President Piñera in the 2013 elections.  

This story teaches us the importance of openness.  Of transparency.  We must help the media to do their job.  Hiding facts and not providing information is the worst thing to do.  Because, among other things, the media always finds out what it needs to find out.

In January 2006, I covered the accident at the Sago mine in West Virginia, USA.  It was an information disaster.  Journalists received information piecemeal, and then to make matters worse we were provided erroneous information.  The authorities even said, mistakenly as it turned out, that 12 miners had survived the explosion.  All the news outlets relayed the news enthusiastically.  After the tense hours of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones, the families began to celebrate the miracle.  However, the information was subsequently refuted.  Only one miner survived.  It is not difficult to imagine the families’ reaction once they found out the news.

I also remember the accident at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Mexico in February 2006.  It was estimated that 65 miners were trapped below ground.  The mining company said that they were 150 meters below the surface.  The accident took place on February 19.  On February 25, the company announced that “there was no chance of any survivors after the methane explosion.”  The next day the authorities announced that the mine would be closed indefinitely.

In Chile there was also great pessimism about the situation with the miners.  On August 22, the Mining Minister said that the possibilities of finding the miners alive were slim.  We have to remember that it wasn’t until 17 days after the accident that contact was made with the miners.  Seventeen days!  However, the authorities, despite the initial pessimism, promised not to give up and they didn’t.  They were true to their word.  And the prize was when the miners were heard from and, after a tense 69 days of wait, all the miners were rescued safe and sound.  All 33 miners.

Without putting into question the Chilean government’s conviction and compromise with the rescue mission, whether or not there was media coverage, does anyone put in doubt that the media’s presence and interest help in similar situations to ensure that full-blown rescue efforts continue?  What would happen in these disasters if no cameras reached the area to explain in images the titanic struggle to save the miners trapped under tons of stones?  What happens is that many times the effort is not as strong and the possibilities of saving those lives are greatly reduced.  In Mexico’s case there was quite a bit of coverage, but it cannot be compared with the Chilean government’s deployment. The Chileans became masters of communication.  The media’s work is essential in this type of situations and the intelligent Chilean government understood this perfectly.  And now, Chile’s image in the world has been incredibly strengthened.

Another very intelligent decision was to train the miners about how to deal with the media.  First of all because of psychological issues, and secondly because of practical matters.

Do you remember the accident in 1972 when a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes?  After another epic story of how to survive in below zero temperatures after they had been given for dead, 16 people survived.  Well, some of those survivors visited the mine in Chile to share with the miners their experiences after being rescued.  To go from being an anonymous miner to being known internationally practically overnight, is not always an easy transition.

The Chilean authorities explained to the miners that there were many reporters waiting for them, that all of them wanted to interview them and that they would be very persistent to get those interviews.  That their lives would be open to scrutiny, for better or worse.  We now even know the names of one of the miners’ mistress.  The training served to at least be a bit more ready for what was to come.

But there is another angle – the money.  The miners made $1,600 a month for their hard work.  Undoubtedly, this rescue will be told in books and movies, and the miners will travel the world telling their stories in person.

The Real Madrid and Manchester soccer teams have invited them to their games.  A Greek mining company has invited them to vacation in Greece’s paradisiacal islands.  And they will get many more invitations, both as prizes and paying them for their attendance.  Some outlets will even pay them a lot of money to interview them.

The miners said that they reached an agreement among themselves to share all their earnings from sharing their experiences about the accident.  Even if this does finally happen, who will make the most money?  Obviously, the person who best knows how to explain what happened, who best articulates the story, the one who communicates the most.  That person will be the one to travel and give speeches, that person will be preferred by television networks for interviews.  Even if the training they received was, for obvious reasons, very basic, knowing just a little better how to effectively communicate a message is something that can make a fundamental difference in the lives of the miners.  If they are skillful, they will never have to work another day in their lives.

Journalism on Life Support

July 24, 2010

With a few honorable exceptions, in my opinion, journalism is clearly declining.  Every day it becomes less relevant when it comes to exercising its primary function as an independent mechanism of oversight and investigation of the government and organizations regarding issues of vital importance for our society.  The latest example is the surreal case of Shirley Sherrod.

For openers, it is surreal because President Obama called her twice, couldn’t reach her and she didn’t even return his call until the following day.  What?  What do you mean?  THE President Obama?  The one that world leaders constantly court and go through hoops to hold fleeting meetings with at the White House?  Yes, the very same.  Just like you have read.  And when he was finally able to speak with her, it was to apologize.  And this is just the latest of the twists in this story of journalism-fiction.

What could have led to this Presidential apology?  Mrs. Sherrod was an employee of the US Department of Agriculture.  This past March 27, Sherrod made a speech at an event of the NAACP, an organization that defends the civil rights of minorities in the United States.  A few days ago, a blogger and conservative activist, Andrew Breitbart, uploaded on YouTube a video clip of Mrs. Sherrod’s remarks.

On the video, she admitted that 24 years ago she hesitated about whether or not to help a white farmer who came to her for assistance to save his farm.  The reason?  He was White.  At the time, Sherrod worked in the south of the United States for a non-profit agency established to help African-American farmers.  Mrs. Sherrod is African-American.

When the media got a hold of the video, all hell broke loose.  A strange and schizophrenic virus took over all media outlets, the Administration, as well as the public.  A first year journalism student would have behaved in a more professional, ethical and responsible manner than the reporters who covered this story.

Especially, the conservative media began to attack Sherrod furiously, accusing her of being a racist.  Like an out-of-control forest fire, the video spread throughout the Internet and the attacks increased, culminating in the Secretary of Agriculture’s decision to fire Mrs. Sherrod.  Some commentators have said that the White House responded so quickly and forcefully out of fear that the Administration of an African-American president would be accused of racism against Whites.

There’s a small problem.  It happens that the video uploaded to YouTube was a specifically edited clip of what Mrs. Sherrod said during the NAACP event.  The real story told by Sherrod was the complete opposite:  one of redemption and racial reconciliation.

At the event, Sherrod acknowledged her previously held prejudices, her inner struggles and stated that she finally decided that she and the farmer were human beings and that there were no differences between them.  She not only helped the White farmer to save his farm but a long-lasting friendship grew from their encounter.  The farmer, Roger Spooner, and his family confirmed that everything that Mrs. Sherrod said was true.  That is, the exact opposite of the image that the world built of Mrs. Sherrod was real.  However, there she was: fired from her job, slandered and constantly criticized by one and all.

Afterwards, the conservative blogger acknowledged that the video he uploaded to YouTube was actually an edited version of the speech.  According to him, the people who gave it to him never told him that the video was made up of selected clips.  Whether or not this is true, the damage was already done and journalism in general suffered a serious setback.  Others accuse the blogger of knowing exactly what he was uploading and that he did it anyway to create a controversy that attacked the Obama Administration and promote his blog.

Did no one verify to make sure that the story and the accusations were true? Where did journalistic ethics go? Where are objectivity, the sense of information equity and justice?  Did nobody bother to request a complete copy of the speech to find out if the quotes reflected accurately the spirit of what was said?  Or was it that, just like it happened, the quotes were taken out of context?  Did anyone find someone who actually attended the event to confirm the authenticity of the remarks?  Did anyone check with a variety of sources to verify the information? Did an experienced editor or producer review the story before printing or airing it? Was nobody suspicious that an organization such as the NAACP, which is on the forefront of calls for social harmony, would invite a supposedly racist speaker to their event? Did this simple fact not raise the alarm?  Did anyone bother to speak with Mrs. Sherrod to allow her to defend herself? Did anyone demand that the story not be made public until all the information had been verified, to ensure that irreparable damage to her reputation was not made if the accusations were not true? My goodness, I could go on and on all day writing this type of questions.  These are the basic tenets of journalism.

However, as I mentioned previously, this situation goes further.  How could the Obama Administration fire someone without verifying that the accusations were true, basing this decision only on press reports?  Is it that those in the government do not know that just because something is published by the media it is not necessarily true?  Then, is it true that, as some people insist, President Obama was actually born in Kenya and that instead of being a Christian is actually a Muslim?  Is it true then that Elvis Presley was having breakfast this morning in Las Vegas? And, how is it possible that the general population can also let itself be influenced in such a manner by the media without displaying the least interest in finding out whether or not this story was true?  Did anyone say, “Wait a minute, is this true? Could someone be making too big a deal out of this?  Couldn’t these be politically motivated falsities?  Has she been given the opportunity to defend herself?”?  No, no one said anything and the life of a woman who has fought during decades on behalf of others’ civil rights, regardless of their skin color, radically changed in a matter of days.  Suddenly, the entire country saw her as a racist.

When everyone finally realized the enormity of the mistake they had made, a great feeling of collective guilt took over.  The Secretary of Agriculture apologized during a press conference and offered her another job.  Some of news outlets also apologized and President Obama himself called her to apologize on behalf of his Administration.

However, once again, this case goes beyond this one situation affecting Mrs. Sherrod.  These are the consequences of what we see in journalism nowadays.  On the one hand, newspapers, television and radio stations fire a large number of experienced journalists to replace them with recently graduated one who are paid a third of the fired journalists’ salaries.  However, they clearly have no experience.  News bureaus have less and less true professional journalists on staff and those who are still around have an enormous amount of work.  They cannot properly do their job.  It is not their fault.  Journalists nowadays have to do the work of two or three people, support the online side of the news, as well as sometimes film and edit the stories they cover.  It is impossible to deliver good, solid work as a journalist under these conditions.

On the other hand, there is the emergence of the so-called blogosphere, which isn’t necessarily journalism.  Many times it is its very opposite.  A weird world where we come across true professionals, but also an army of lunatics and people without the most basic knowledge of issues or journalism but who sell themselves as “serious” journalists.  That, of course, without including the throng of crazed political activists who want to make themselves pass for journalists and don’t have a clue about what they’re writing about.  The result is that you can come across anything on the Web, but readers don’t always know or can’t distinguish between good information and blatant propaganda.

Media outlets always want to beat the competition to the punch when it comes to reporting news.  It is the nature of the business.  To be first.  However, with the arrival of the Web and 24-hour news cycles, the struggle is now down to beating the competition by mere seconds.  The pressure to be first is very strong and, as we can see from this example, the right steps are not always taken before publishing or going on air with a story.  Speed trumps the truth.

The media needs to be an institution where respected journalists and professionals come together and are able to inform the nation in an independent way. People who dedicate their lives to investigate and report the news objectively and truthfully to their readers, viewers, and listeners.  They have to be the point of reference for the public, where they can confidently go to get the news.  The media cannot be the circus sideshow that we just saw with Mrs. Sherrod.  I have profound admiration for journalists who embrace and take seriously their profession.  They are vital to our society.  A real democracy cannot function without a strong, independent, truthful, qualified and brave media.  In spite of this, I think that journalists who are not in this group do real damage to our society and we have to protect ourselves from them.

Many will view this episode as anecdotal, but the problem is that it isn’t.  It represents a very dangerous tendency.  Do you remember the Iraq War?  Do you remember the weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly being hidden in Iraq?  The media did a terrible job in its coverage prior to the war.  And what can be said about the current economic crisis?  How is it possible that financial sector journalists didn’t investigate the problem that was brewing?  Now we know that more than a few predicted something was going to happen, but where were those reporters to talk about these concerns, about the imminent danger of a financial catastrophe?  Surely, due to the decrease in newsroom budgets, these reporters were covering several stories a day and didn’t have the time to cover any of them properly.

From my vantage point, there are only a handful of news media outlets with the financial resources and professional staff to truly make a difference in today’s media world.  Most journalists are doing the work of several people or are deeply enmeshed in looking for the daily irrelevant scandal to increase viewership, ratings, and the number of newspapers or magazines sold.  Many bloggers don’t even care if what they write is true or a lie.  Everything is geared to creating a scandal to get the most hits on their page.  And with that, to increase their notoriety.  Fame.  Others, with political motivations, whether on the right or left, don’t even care about that; their concern is to politically hurt their opponents.  Again, without caring if their accusations are true or merely made-up.  As you well know, a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.

All of this is truly dangerous for our democracy and for the overall well-being of our society.  Crises bring about serious economic problems for millions of families.  Wars bring about death and enormous debt.  The public has a right to be well-informed to be able to make important decisions.  Journalism’s mission is to provide this information.  It has always been said that journalism “informs, educates, and entertains.”  From my point of view, today’s journalism informs very little, educates even less, and entertains us more and more every day.

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El General en su Laberinto

June 24, 2010

La nueva víctima de la falta de Media Training es un general del Ejército de los Estados Unidos y se llama Stanley McChrystal. A pesar de haber tenido una exitosa carrera de 35 años en las Fuerzas Armadas, su fin llegó precipitadamente por no estar preparado para saber tratar con la prensa.

Un general de cuatro estrellas y encargado principal de la guerra en Afganistán difícilmente puede ser un estúpido. La pregunta inmediata es: ¿cómo pudo cometer entonces semejante fallo?

Yo he cubierto muchos conflictos y jamás he visto ningún ejército en el mundo donde los militares puedan hablar con más libertad que en el de los Estados Unidos. Son siempre muy accesibles en el campo de batalla y los altos mandos permiten que se les entreviste. A veces aplauden las decisiones que toman sus jefes y otras veces no, dando su punto de vista del por qué. También opinan si están de acuerdo o no en combatir en un conflicto determinado. Por supuesto, aunque no estuvieran de acuerdo, acatan las órdenes y las cumplen. Esa apertura no es habitual en otras fuerzas armadas.

Sin embargo, McChrystal claramente se excedió. En una entrevista con la revista Rolling Stone llamó “payaso” al Consejero de Seguridad Nacional de la Casa Blanca, afirmó que el Presidente Obama parecía “intimidado y ausente” ante la cúpula militar estadounidense, se refirió al Vicepresidente Joe Biden con una expresión figurativa cuya traducción no podría publicarse en este blog pero que definitivamente no es ninguna alabanza y, para colmo, calificó de poco menos que de traidor al embajador de Washington en Kabul.

Me parece obvio que McChrystal no pretendía realizar estas críticas y después renunciar a su puesto en desacuerdo con cómo se está ejecutando la guerra en Afganistán. Si ése hubiera sido el caso, al leer la entrevista, no hubiera llamado inmediatamente al Vicepresidente Joe Biden para pedirle excusas ni hubiese esperado a que el Presidente Obama decidiera si lo despedía o no. El se hubiera adelantado renunciando. El asesor de prensa de McChrystal también perdió su trabajo.

El problema de McChrystal es que jamás fue entrenado bien para saber cómo tratar con la prensa.

¿Fue suficientemente claro el periodista que lo entrevistó al decir que todo lo que le estaban diciendo iba a ser utilizado en un artículo? ¿Pensaron McChrystal y sus asesores que podían hablar en confianza con ese periodista y que lo que le dijeran no sería publicado y que eran sólo comentarios entre “amigos”? ¿Dejaron claro los militares al periodista que todos esos comentarios eran “off the record”? ¿Entiende McChrystal que la lealtad principal de un periodista no son sus “nuevos amigos militares” sino conseguir buenas historias para su publicación o canal?

Ni McChrystal ni sus asesores niegan que hicieran esas declaraciones, pero sospecho que jamás pensaron que saldrían publicadas textualmente. Nadie quiere acabar una carrera tan gloriosa de forma tan desafortunada.

Un simple cursillo de Media Training hubiera ahorrado a McChrystal este vergonzoso final a su carrera y todavía sería el máximo mando de la OTAN en Afganistán. Tony Hayward, el CEO de  BP, también se hubiera ahorrado muchos disgustos y dinero si hubiese recibido ese entrenamiento. Los fallos cometidos por Hayward durante la crisis del Golfo de México son demasiado numerosos como para poder resumirlos aquí. Su actitud sólo hizo aumentar la gravedad de una situación ya muy difícil de por sí.

El General McChrystal viene del mundo de las Fuerzas Especiales. Unas fuerzas que siempre se mueven en secreto y con muy poco perfil público. McChrystal era venerado por sus soldados porque lideraba con el ejemplo. En el 2005, por ejemplo, lideró un pequeño grupo de comandos en Irak en un ataque antes del amanecer contra uno de los escondites de Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, líder de Al Qaeda que posteriormente cayó muerto en combate. Los insurgentes rodearon al pequeño grupo de soldados estadounidenses y comenzó una dura batalla en la que McChrystal luchó con valentía. No es habitual que un general de cuatro estrellas se arriesgue de esa forma.

McChrystal estaba habituado al mundo de las operaciones encubiertas. A vivir en la sombra. Sin embargo, cuando se le nombró para un puesto de tanta relevancia y perfil como el de máximo jefe militar en el terreno para la guerra en Afganistán, entró a un mundo completamente nuevo y desconocido para él. Y uno de los cambios más drásticos es la continua exposición frente a la prensa.

Me parece obvio que nadie lo entrenó para tratar con efectividad con la prensa. Un fallo que echa por tierra sus 35 años de carrera y sacrificio por su país. Se va por la puerta de atrás acusado por el Presidente de cuestionar la autoridad civil sobre el Pentágono y de dividir al equipo encargado de la guerra en Afganistán. Acusaciones muy fuertes, especialmente ahora que el conflicto en ese país se recrudece y aumenta el número de muertos estadounidenses. La mayor parte del pueblo norteamericano, según las encuestas, ya no ve razón para seguir en esa guerra. El incidente con McChrystal, definitivamente, no ayuda a la Administración en un momento tan delicado como éste.

En una sociedad como la nuestra, con un ciclo continuo de información durante las 24 horas del día, Media Training no es un lujo sino una necesidad para cualquiera que es parte de ese ciclo o quiere serlo.

Media Training debería ser una asignatura más en los estudios académicos. Ya sea para militares, científicos, médicos, economistas o básicamente cualquier profesional.

Una persona puede pasar años, por ejemplo, en una escuela de negocios preparándose para ser un excelente mánager. Sin embargo, si no sabe comunicarse con efectividad pierde un gran valor añadido. No sólo porque pierde ocasiones de obtener publicidad positiva gratuita a través de los medios de comunicación o porque no estará preparado para comunicarse bien durante una crisis importante en su organización, sino también porque todas esas técnicas para comunicarse con efectividad con la prensa también se aplican a la comunicación interna de su organización. Y por supuesto, de igual forma, con otros sectores externos a la empresa que no sean necesariamente la prensa, como gobiernos, inversores, etc.

Las víctimas de la falta de Media Training son continuas. McChrystal ha sido sólo la más reciente. La siguiente ya está a punto de caer. Manténgase en sintonía.

The General in his Labyrinth

June 24, 2010

The newest victim of a lack of Media Training is a US Army general by the name of Stanley McChrystal.  Even though he had a successful 35 year-long career in the Armed Forces, it quickly crashed down because he was not ready to deal with the media.

A four-star general in charge of the war in Afghanistan could hardly be considered stupid.  Therefore, it begs the question:  How could he make such a fatal mistake?

I have covered many wars and can say that I have not observed armed forces where its members can speak with as much freedom as those of the United States.  They are always accessible on the battlefield and their senior commanders make them available for interviews.  Sometimes they praise their leaders’ decisions and other times they don’t, freely talking about their point of view.  They also talk about whether or not they agree or disagree with fighting in a specific campaign.  This type of openness is not usual among other armed forces.

However, McChrystal clearly went above and beyond this openness.  During an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine he said that the White House’s National Security Advisor was a “clown,” stated that President Obama seemed to be “intimidated and absent” while meeting with US military leaders, referred to Vice President Joe Biden with an euphemism that cannot be quoted on this blog and which definitely was not a compliment, and on top of all of this, pretty much said that the US Ambassador to Kabul was a traitor.

It seems obvious to me that McChrystal did not intend to make these critical comments and then resign because he disagreed with how the war in Afghanistan was being carried out.  If this had been the case, after reading the interview, he would not have immediately called Vice President Joe Biden to apologize nor would he have waited until President Obama decided whether or not to fire him.  He would have preemptively resigned.  His press assistant did immediately lose his job.

McChrystal’s problem is that he was never trained about how to deal with the media.

Was the reporter who interviewed him sufficiently clear when he told him that everything McChrystal said would be used in the article?  Did McChrystal and his advisors think they could speak candidly with the journalist and that whatever they said would not be published and would be considered comments among “friends”?  Did they make it perfectly clear to the journalist that all of those comments were “off the record”?  Does McChrystal understand that a journalist’s main loyalty is not to his “new military friends” but to get good stories for his or her publication or channel?

Neither McChrystal nor his advisors deny making the statements in question, but I think that they never thought that they would be quoted verbatim.  No one wants to end such a distinguished career on such a disgraceful note.

A simple Media Training course would have saved McChrystal from this embarrassing end to his career and he would still be the supreme commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.  Tony Hayward, British Petroleum’s CEO, would also have spared himself from the many confrontations he has faced and saved quite a bit of money if he had been trained properly.  Hayward’s mistakes during the Gulf of Mexico crisis are way too many to outline in this article.  His behavior only served to exacerbate an already difficult situation.

General McChrystal is a product of the Special Forces.  A secretive organization that works in the shadows, away from the public eye.  McChrystal was admired by his subordinates because he led by example.  In 2005, for example, he led a small group of commandoes in Iraq in a pre-dawn attack against one of the hideouts of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Al Qaeda leader who was subsequently killed in combat.  The insurgents surrounded the small group of US soldiers and McChrystal fought valiantly in the intense battle.  It is not usual for a four-star general to risk his life in such a way.

McChrystal was used to the world of undercover operations.  To live in the shadows.  However, when he was named to such a high-profile job as that of supreme commander of ground forces of the Afghan war, he entered a completely different and unknown world for him.  And one of the most drastic changes was the continuous contact with the press.

It is obvious to me that no one trained him to deal effectively with the media.  A mistake that decimates his 35-year career of sacrifice for his nation.  He leaves through the back door, accused by the President of questioning the civil authority over the Pentagon and of bringing division to the team in charge of the war in Afghanistan.  Strong accusations all, especially now that the conflict in that country intensifies and the number of dead Americans is on the increase.  The great majority of Americans, according to recent polls, don’t see the reason behind continuing the war.  This incident with McChrystal definitely does not help the Administration at this junction.

In a society such as ours, with an ongoing news cycle where information flows 24 hours a day, Media Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity for anyone who is or wants to be a part of that cycle.

Media Training should be a required part of the curriculum at colleges and universities.  Whether for members of the military, scientists, physicians, economists, or basically any professional.

For example, someone can spend years in business school preparing to be an excellent manager.  However, if he or she does not know how to communicate effectively, they will miss an important value added component.  Not only because they miss out on opportunities to get free, positive publicity through the media.  Or because they won’t be ready to communicate well during times of crisis.  But, also because all these techniques to communicate effectively with the media are also applicable to internal communications in any organization.  And of course, they can also be used to communicate effectively with external stakeholders.  

The victims of this lack of Media Training will continue to surface.  McChrystal is only the most recent one.  A new one will soon come to our attention.  Stay tuned.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner didn’t deliver

April 15, 2010

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s president, gave a speech at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC on April 9, 2010.  The powerful US Chamber has three million members.

In his introduction, Chamber president Thomas Donohue told President Fernández de Kirchner that the US business entrepreneurs in the audience were especially interested in three subjects:  corruption, transparency and accountability.

The president, during her more than 30 minute talk, gave a detailed, precise and very well executed accounting of her country’s economic situation and sold it as a very good place to do business.  She only mentioned in passing that problems or conflicts always exist between partners and that their obligation is to find a solution to those disputes.  However, she never directly addressed the issues that concerned her audience. 

There are two ways to look at this situation.  The first one is that the president simply did not want to delve on these issues and avoided them.  The second is that she was not ready for the questions or did not understand what was asked of her.  I do not know if Mrs. Fernández de Kirchner understands English well enough.  Her presentation was in Spanish.

Regardless, the result was a negative one.  If she did not want to speak about the issues of concern to the audience, the question at hand is why did she accept the invitation?  Since she took the time to be there and obviously made a real effort to convince the potential future investors that Argentina is, according to her, a good investment choice, it is not logical that she then did not address her audience’s most important concerns.  The reason is that if these questions are not addressed this obviously will not help to convince them to invest their capital in Argentina.  On the other hand, if she did not understand what she was asked, the result was equally damaging.

The conclusion is that her presence at the forum did not meet its objective.  The president should have addressed these issues in more detail, even if she didn’t focus the presentation on them; otherwise she should not have gone to the event.  President Fernández de Kirchner could have talked about Argentina’s economic situation and at the same time touched on the issues of corruption, transparency and accountability. 

Was the purpose of the event not explained thoroughly to the president?  Did she not understand well the audience to which she would be speaking?  What is clear is that many of the entrepreneurs, after the event, said that they left with the very same questions they had when they arrived.

What was clear to me is that the message was not well prepared and that it was a lost opportunity to attract investments to Argentina.  It isn’t every day that a political leader can speak to an audience of the most powerful and influential business leaders in the United States.

Later, during the question and answer period, the president did something that, from my point of view, gratuitously distracted attention from her message to encourage investments in Argentina.

A member of the audience asked regarding the issue of copyright piracy, such as DVDs.  The moderator said that piracy was a current and global phenomena and that it can even be seen on the streets of Washington.  The president said that she agreed with the statement that piracy was a current issue and then mentioned the subject of the Malvinas [Falkland Islands].  The audience laughed.

We do not need to address the issue of whether or not the islands are Argentina’s; that’s not the point.  The point is that such a statement from such a high-profile official immediately distracts the audience and distances it from the message at hand.  They did not listen to her message about piracy because everyone was commenting about the statement about the Malvinas.  In addition, if the implication was that the British are pirates because of their presence on the islands, we must remember that the United States assisted Great Britain during the Falkland Islands war; therefore, if the British are pirates, so are the Americans.  I do not know if it is appropriate to call the Americans pirates to their face during a presidential visit to Washington, and then ask them to invest their money in Argentina.

Definitely, the issue that the audience talked about at the end of the presentation was not that Argentina was a good investment opportunity, but that the president had not talked about transparency and corruption and what the diplomatic reaction would be from London to the president’s statement comparing the British to pirates.

I do not think that the event helped the Argentinean leadership’s goals for more investment in Argentina.  They were not effective in getting their message to their audience and this could result in less foreign investments in the South American country, resulting in less economic growth as well.

The Argentinean president cannot be aware of everything, but I think that she was not well advised or prepared for the event.  However, I also think that she made a mistake by not honing in on her key message and introducing an unrelated controversy, distracting attention from the main focus of her presentation:  invest in Argentina.

Real Madrid y Barcelona: ayuda urgente

March 14, 2010

El Real Madrid quedó eliminado de la Copa de Europa en los octavos de final, algo que, tras 300 millones de euros en gastos para reforzar el club, ha originado un verdadero terremoto deportivo entre los aficionados blancos. Los sueños de una final de la Champions en el Bernabéu han quedado destrozados.

El Madrid había perdido uno a cero ante el Lyon en el partido de ida, en Francia. No obstante, tras la increíble remontada ante el Sevilla apenas unos días antes (de perder dos a cero en casa a acabar ganando tres a dos, literalmente, en el último minuto), muchos pensaban que la eliminatoria europea ya estaba en manos del Madrid.

Sin embargo, el Lyon peleó como un león y acabó empatando el partido uno a uno, clasificándose para la siguiente ronda. El autor del gol francés, Pjanic, dijo que “nos motivaron las soberbias declaraciones del Madrid a la prensa antes del partido”, en relación a las declaraciones de algunos jugadores blancos sobre la goleada que supuestamente le iban a meter al Lyon.

El defensa madridista Sergio Ramos, un jugador excepcional y que había metido un decisivo gol al Sevilla, vaticinó con confianza que iban ganar al Lyon por tres a cero. Tras el partido, y cuando iban hacia los vestuarios, hubo un fuerte enfrentamiento verbal entre varios jugadores del Lyon y Sergio Ramos. No hace falta tener una imaginación superdotada para adivinar qué le dijeron los futbolistas del Lyon. “Arrogante”, “te tuviste que comer tus palabras”, “gracias por motivarnos”, quién sabe cuáles fueron las palabras precisas, pero parece claro que la conversación fue en términos similares.

El Madrid tiene una de las mejores plantillas del mundo. Es, al menos en papel, claramente mejor que el Lyon. Sin embargo, perdió. Y los jugadores del Lyon dicen que salieron al césped con una gran fuerza mental en buena medida porque se les faltó el respeto al darlos por perdedores incluso antes de jugar el partido.

Esto demuestra una vez más la nula preparación que muchos deportistas profesionales del más alto nivel tienen para tratar con la prensa. Lo último que tú quieres es levantar la moral de tu adversario, fortalecerlo mentalmente. Darles motivos adicionales para pelear como leones hasta el último segundo.  Sin embargo, esos deportistas cometen constantemente fallos increíbles como estos. Y luego el equipo tiene que pagar las consecuencias. Además de un deporte, el fútbol es un claro negocio. Esta derrota supone para el Madrid un durísimo golpe no sólo moral, sino también económico. Entradas, venta de material deportivo, auspiciadores, derechos de televisión, imagen internacional. El Madrid ha dejado de ganar una cantidad de dinero muy importante.

¿Cómo es posible que no se entrene a estos jugadores para saber cómo comportarse ante la prensa? ¿Cómo es posible que no se les diga qué tipo de cosas no se pueden decir respecto a un rival, especialmente en la Copa de Europa, donde hasta el peor equipo es de los mejores del mundo? ¿Cómo puede ser que los jugadores no tengan que firmar un “libro de estilo” sobre qué cosas no se pueden decir para no dañar los intereses del equipo? Y si se les da esas orientaciones, ¿cómo es posible que repitan una y otra vez los mismos errores?

No se trata de limitar la libertad de expresión de un jugador. Se trata de que sepa qué cosas no deben decirse para afectar negativamente al equipo, como claramente hemos visto en esta ocasión. 

Ahora el Madrid va a tener que ver el resto de la competición más importante en Europa desde casa y por la televisión.

Pero, ¿aprenden otros jugadores o clubs de estos fallos? La respuesta es no porque el último ejemplo en ese sentido la dio un miembro del archienemigo del Real Madrid, el FC Barcelona.

El Barcelona recibía este domingo al muy peligroso Valencia. ¿Y qué se le ocurre decir al defensa del Barcelona, Rafa Márquez? Que “sin Villa no son tan peligrosos”. Se refiere a uno de los mejores delanteros del mundo, David Villa. Jugador del Valencia y que finalmente no pudo jugar en Barcelona debido a una lesión en el hombro.

¿Qué reacción puede esperar Márquez ante sus comentarios? Naturalmente, que los otros jugadores del Valencia se motiven aún más para demostrar que, con o sin Villa, pueden darle un susto al Barcelona.

Finalmente, el Barcelona ganó con autoridad, pero el Valencia no se lo puso nada fácil y lucharon con fuerza y mucho carácter. La primera parte acabó cero a cero y el Valencia jugó mejor, creando varias ocasiones de gol.

Aún me sorprende ver cómo atletas al más alto nivel como Sergio Ramos o Rafael Márquez no entiendan ni cómo funcionan los medios de comunicación (esas declaraciones serán portada de los diarios deportivos porque echarán leña al fuego y por lo tanto se venderán más periódicos) ni se les entrena para que no cometan ese tipo de fallos.

El Media Training no es sólo para gerentes, políticos, presidentes de compañías, expertos o académicos, sino también para atletas. Los intereses que se mueven alrededor de su negocio son demasiado importantes como para cometer fallos como los que hemos mencionado. Bastantes problemas tendrán ya para ganar a sus oponentes como para, encima, buscarse problemas adicionales que no sólo harán más difícil una victoria, sino que podrían dañar seriamente las finanzas del club.

Real Madrid and Barcelona: in need of urgent help

March 14, 2010

The Real Madrid futbol team was eliminated from the European Cup during the round prior to the quarterfinals, something that after the 300 million Euros spent by the team to strengthen its roster has given rise to a real earthquake of complaints from fans.  Their dreams of a Champions finale at the Bernabéu stadium have been destroyed.

The team had lost 1-0 to Lyon during a previous game in France.  Nevertheless, after their incredible comeback during their game against Sevilla only a few days before (where they were losing 2-0 at home, and ended up winning 3-2, literally at the last minute), many thought that the European qualifying round was in Real Madrid’s hands.

However, Lyon fought like a lion and ended up tying the game 1-1, classifying for the next round.  Pjanic, the Lyon player who scored their goal, said that “we were motivated by the Madrid’s arrogant comments to the press before the game,” regarding the comments by some Real Madrid players about the many goals they were going to score against Lyon.

Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid’s defender, an exceptional player who had scored one of the goals against Sevilla, predicted confidently that the team would win 3-0 against Lyon.  After the game, when the teams were on their way to the locker rooms, there was a strong verbal confrontation between several Lyon players and Sergio Ramos.  You don’t need to be too creative to guess what the Lyon players told him.  “Arrogant,” “you had to eat your words,” “thanks for motivating us,” who knows what where the exact words, but it’s clear that the conversation must have been along those lines.

The Real Madrid has one of the best rosters in the world.  It is, at least on paper, clearly a better team than Lyon.  Even so, it lost.  And the Lyon players said they went out to the field in a great mental frame of mind in large part because they were disrespected and categorized as losers even before playing the game. 

Once again this shows the non-existent training given to the best professional athletes to deal with the media.  The last thing they want to do is to raise their opponent’s morale, strengthen their resolve.  Giving them more of a reason to fight tooth and nail to the last second of the game.  Still, many athletes constantly make these incredible mistakes.  And later it’s their team that has to pay the consequences.  In addition to being a sport, futbol is clearly a big business.  This loss means a real moral and economic defeat.  Tickets, souvenir sales, sponsors, television rights, their international image.  The Real Madrid has stopped making a significant additional amount of money.

How is it possible that these players are not trained to know how to behave with the press?  How is it possible that they’re not told what they can’t say about an opponent, especially in the European Cup, where even the worst team is among the best in the world?  How is it that the players are not expected to sign a “style book” about which things can’t be said so as not to harm the team’s interests and image?  And if they are trained, how is it possible that these mistakes are made over and over again?

It’s not about curtailing a player’s freedom of expression.  It’s about the player knowing what not to say so as not to affect the team negatively, as we have clearly seen here.

Now the Real Madrid will have to watch the most important competition in Europe from home and on television.

But, have other players or teams learned from these mistakes?  The answer is no because the most recent example of this behavior was made by a player from the Real Madrid’s archenemy, FC Barcelona.

This Sunday, the Barcelona was hosting the very dangerous Valencia team.  And what did Rafa Márquez, Barcelona’s defender decide to say?  That “without Villa they aren’t that dangerous.”  He was referring to one of the best forwards in the world, David Villa.  The Valencia player finally couldn’t play in Barcelona due to a shoulder injury.

What reaction can Márquez expect to his comments?  Naturally, that the other Valencia players become even more motivated to show that, with or without Villa, they can give Barcelona a big scare.

In the end, Barcelona won authoritatively, but the Valencia team didn’t make it easy for them and fought forcefully and with character.  The first half ended tied 0-0 and the Valencia played better, getting close to goals several times.

I’m still surprised to see how top-level athletes such as Sergio Ramos and Rafael Márquez don’t understand how the media works (those comments will be on the front page of the sports publications because they will add fuel to the fire and will, therefore, sell more papers) nor are they trained to prevent these mistakes.

Media training isn’t only for business leaders, politicians, experts or academicians, but also for athletes. In addition to the team pride and sports angle, what drives the business of sports is too important to make such mistakes. These teams and athletes will have enough challenges on their way to winning to, in addition, look for additional problems that not only will make a win harder, but could seriously damage their team’s finances.

10 consejos para triunfar en la relación con la prensa

March 11, 2010

Por: Pablo Gato

Publicado en la edición de febrero de 2010 de Politics en español

Me han pedido que escriba un artículo sobre cómo triunfar en la relación con la prensa  y que dé diez puntos básicos al respecto. La relación con la prensa es muy importante, en muchas ocasiones incluso vital. Una mala entrevista puede hundir una carrera política. Sin embargo, saber actuar con eficacia con la prensa eleva su prestigio y reputación de forma exponencial. Quienes no entienden el poder de la prensa y la necesidad de prepararse bien para esa relación, están condenados a pagar el precio de su osadía, prepotencia o ignorancia. Y aunque esto parece una obviedad, especialmente para profesionales de la política, la verdad es que hay muchos en ese campo que todavía no se preparan debidamente para esa relación con la prensa. Esa relación, por su propia naturaleza, es muchas veces de adversarios, pero, en muchas ocasiones, no tiene por qué ser necesariamente de confrontación. Si usted entiende cómo funciona, qué quiere y cómo puede ayudar a la prensa, ya habrá ganado una importante batalla antes de que empiece.

El propio Presidente Barack Obama ha dicho que no saber comunicar bien su mensaje ha sido uno de los factores claves para los últimos y serios reveses demócratas. Uno de los más significativos, la pérdida del escaño senatorial en Massachusetts que durante casi cinco décadas fue monopolio demócrata y, concretamente, de la familia Kennedy. Eso ha provocado la muerte por vía rápida del plan de seguro médico del Presidente, dado que ahora los demócratas ya no tienen los sesenta senadores necesarios para poder aprobar leyes incluso con toda la oposición republicana en contra.

Este problema que ahora encara la Casa Blanca no se limita sólo a la relación con la prensa. Engloba un marco más amplio de comunicación estratégica. Las encuestas demuestran que la mayoría del pueblo estadounidense no entiende el plan de reforma de seguros de salud pública del Presidente ni tampoco cómo va a lograr sus metas en materia económica. Así pues, hay un problema de comunicación a nivel estructural. No obstante, la relación con los periodistas es una parte básica de esa comunicación.

Primer consejo, tómese muy en serio a la prensa y a los periodistas. No los menosprecie y trátelos con profesionalismo y respecto. Comprenda que están haciendo su trabajo. Si los trata con respeto, muchos le devolverán con la misma moneda, algo que sin duda se reflejará en su cobertura. A menos que se hayan comportado poco profesionalmente con usted, procure dar entrevistas a todos. El Presidente Obama ha decidido ignorar a la cadena conservadora FOX y eso está provocando que los conservadores expresen sus opiniones sin que la Administración dé su punto de vista. O sea, la Casa Blanca está permitiendo que su oposición conservadora defina el debate y el mensaje en ciertos foros.

Segundo. No repita a los periodistas los llamados “talking points” o pautas del día independientemente de lo que le pregunten. Si lo hace, los periodistas pensarán que los está tratando como estúpidos o que no sabe de lo que está hablando y eso se reflejará en su cobertura. Es legítimo que usted intente transmitir el “mensaje del día” que le interese, pero ha de hacerlo de forma inteligente. Utilizando las técnicas adecuadas, pero no ignorando la necesidad de información del periodista. El buen comunicador sabrá transmitir su mensaje de forma efectiva no importa qué se le pregunte.

Tercero. Cuando dé una entrevista, conozca muy bien la audiencia a la que se está dirigiendo y acomode su mensaje a esa audiencia. El periodista es el canal para llegar a esa audiencia, no un fin en sí mismo. Dé ejemplos de lo que dice para reforzar tu mensaje y que se haga creíble. El hecho de que usted diga algo no lo hace verdad. Dar ejemplos concretos, sí.

Cuarto. Simplifique su mensaje. No hable de forma complicada. Hágalo de forma correcta, pero simple. Que cualquier persona le pueda entender. No use jerga ni siglas a menos que explique su significado. Si el periodista que le cubre no es un experto en su campo, podría no entender bien lo que dice y por lo tanto seguramente le atribuiría algo que no dijo. Si eso ocurre, no se queje porque usted fue en parte responsable de eso. No transmitió su mensaje de forma clara y simple. No se aseguró de que lo entendieran.

Quinto. No improvise nada. Practique. Hasta los mejores comunicadores han reconocido que su éxito se ha basado en la práctica. El ex Presidente Bill Clinton entre ellos. En la última convención demócrata antes de ser nominado a la presidencia, Clinton recibió el mayor número de aplausos cuando en su discurso finalmente dijo “y para acabar…”.  La gente estaba aburrida de escucharlo. No supo comunicarse bien. Luego se convirtió en uno de los presidentes que mejor comunicaron. Comunicar es un arte y hay que practicarlo constantemente.

Sexto. Aprenda técnicas para estar preparado para responder con efectividad a cualquier pregunta que se le haga. Cualquier persona con un perfil público debe recibir cursillos de Media Training. Esas técnicas le ayudarán a responder cualquier pregunta, por difícil que ésta sea. Cuando practique estas técnicas llegará un punto en que no se notará que su respuesta responde a una metodología concreta. Si no domina las técnicas, sus respuestas parecerán robóticas y no auténticas. No estoy hablando de manipulación, sino de comunicación efectiva.

Séptimo. No mienta. Decir la verdad en ciertos temas puede levantar más de una ceja entre algunos políticos, pero si miente, al final, todo resulta peor. Si comete un fallo o hay una crisis, muéstrese sensible hacia lo que ha ocurrido y prometa aprender de ese fallo para que no se repita en el futuro. Si miente y la prensa averigua que lo hizo, se cebará en usted y arruinará su imagen pública.

Octavo. No improvise su relación con la prensa. No puede llamar a los periodistas sólo cuando los necesite. Tiene que mantener viva esa relación. Si esa relación existe, siempre tendrá más acceso a ellos el día que los necesite.

Noveno. Entienda la mecánica de cómo funciona la prensa. Casi siempre necesitan acceso a usted rápidamente y tienen un deadline o límite de tiempo para escribir su artículo o editar su reportaje. Tiene que adaptarte a eso o no será parte de ese reportaje, con lo cual habrá perdido la oportunidad de transmitir su mensaje a la audiencia.

Décimo. Nunca diga “sin comentarios” por muy mala que sea la situación. Eso le hace ver culpable o que oculta algo, aunque ése no sea necesariamente el caso. Los periodistas quieren una respuesta a su pregunta, pero si por algún motivo no puede dar esa respuesta en ese momento dígales algo que puedan usar. Si la prensa consigue alguna una cita, aliviará la presión.  

Estos son sólo por supuesto algunos consejos básicos. Hay muchos más, aunque lo más importante es aprender la metodología de fondo.

Lamentablemente, el periodismo cada vez se está convirtiendo en algo más superficial. Una lucha diaria para ver quién es más sensacionalista. Dicho esto, todavía hay periodistas serios y profesionales. A estos, trátelos de forma profesional. A los otros no tiene por qué darles una entrevista, pero  si lo hace prepárese bien para que sea usted quien la controla. El periodista puede hacer las preguntas que quiera, pero lo que sale de su boca lo controla usted. Enfóquese en su mensaje.

Muchas veces no se trata de defenderse de la prensa, sino de comprender cómo funciona y qué necesita. Una vez entienda eso y se prepare seriamente, los beneficios de mantener esa relación viva y muy activa son enormes.

Tanto usted como sus portavoces o responsables de comunicación tienen que entrenarse para saber comunicarse bien. No basta con creer que uno comunica bien o con quizás antes haber sido un periodista. Hay que aprender metodologías específicas para esa labor. No es lo mismo hacer preguntas que responderlas.

Sorprendentemente, muchos políticos, empresarios y figuras públicas de primer orden nunca se entrenan para eso. Luego suelen pagar el precio, ya sea con un desastre mediático o no sabiendo maximizar el beneficio gratuito y reputacional que le provee la prensa. Si usted tuviera que jugar un partido de tenis contra Rafael Nadal, ¿se prepararía antes o simplemente acudiría al terreno de juego para que le hiciera picadillo? Con la prensa es lo mismo. Prepárese para asegurarse el éxito.

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Pablo Gato es el presidente y fundador de Gato Communications.  Tiene una trayectoria periodística de 30 años, 22 de ellos en la televisión como corresponsal nacional e internacional, productor y director de noticias.