These are my notes on Jay Garant‘s opening session “27 Words-9 Seconds-3 Messages: Message Mapping” at the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association conference on 23 April 2009 at Quartz Mountain Resort. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Jay Garant is the Coordinator of Business and Community Partnerships for Fairfax County Public Schools
– jay [dot] garant [at] fcps [dot] edu

NPR ran story on book about scientific ways to be persuasive (“The Science of Getting a ‘Yes'”)
– having someone else introduce you adds credibility

Ground rules
– more fun if this is a dialog
– I’m going to put you to work
– no right or wrong answers

Stand up if you’re considered “the life of the party”
– point to someone else if you think they are
(JAY ASKED A SERIES OF QUESTIONS TO FIND SOMEONE WHO IS EXTRAVERTED / DRAMATIC TO PARTICIPATE IN A ROLE PLAY IN FRONT OF THE GROUP)

– What kind of car do you drive?
– age of car?
– showing pictures with text: typical PPT format (I’m thinking all about Presentation Zen as I watch this!)

First few minutes of a crisis are very important

messaging mapping is all about speaking
– clearly
– concisely

list of 77 questions commonly asked by journalists during a crisis (here is a PDF of the same questions Jay is discussing, a different handout, but the same questions)

Columbine just went through its 10th anniversary of its shooting
– I dealt with the Virginia Tech Shooting when I worked at Fairfax Public Schools
– 5 students from our school district were killed, 1 of our students was the shooter
– we had 86 different news outlets bombarding us from all over the world
– it was crazy
– the shooting happened off campus
– news agencies were calling people beyond the “district communicators”

I THINK SHARING THIS STORY IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING JAY CAN DO TODAY AND IS DOING, BECAUSE IT IS SO PERSONAL, MEANINGFUL AND RELEVANT.

Message maps are scripted and proven
– used in the first hour of a crisis

amount of time which is the benchmark of communication for the community: within 32 minutes
– think back to Virginia Tech, that is how long it took them to get a message out (they were slow)

School district did not have a message alert system (which you have 2 vendors here selling these)
– Twitter is now being used for crisis communication
– which one is better, I don’t know

PARTICIPANT SAID: HAVING ONE IS THE KEY

You need some flexibility
– you don’t just run with what you have, you might change some words
– you have groundwork for an effective message

Target messages for 6th to 8th grade level readers
– be crystal clear

So select for each situation
– the key message
– supporting facts 1, 2 and 3

example situation could be a tornado
– can do this pre- and post- event

“In an emergency, our future may hang on a few words, provided by someone in authority, as we face a fateful decision.”
– Risk communication expert Baruch Fischoff, The Washingtonton Post

Question from Jay: who is your key communicator
– best if that is your superintendent
– ask your superintendent if they would like to be “that person”

MY THOUGHT: KEY COMMUNICATORS ARE WHOEVER HAS THE ATTENTION OF THE MEDIA

realize you are not

risk communication is scientifically based
– Dr Vincent Covello helped developed message mapping (here is a link to a PDF document by Dr Covello about message mapping)
– Rudy Giuliani used message mapping after 9-11
Here is a related PPT from – Here’s a preso I found on this topic, not provided by Jay: “How to Message Map Your Way Out of A Crisis” Friday, November 14, 2008 by Gerri Allen, Washtenaw ISD and Kristin Tank, Muskegon Area ISD

Question to Rudy, “How many have died?”
– one answer he gave: “Too many.”

Message maps can work if you have credibility
– gist is to “create the playbook”

Goal 1: teach you to create a pre-scripted “playbook” of messages, tailored to specific crisis scenarios

Goal 2: review and vet your message content with colleagues (both internal and external) and thoroughly research (ie focus groups)

Goal 3: Once complete, share it with multiple agencies

Do it together. We’re going to do this now.

27-9-3
– you have 3 key messages, you tell it in 27 words, you

It is so important to just stick to the facts with no elaboration
– don’t use terms which can be interpreted to communicate more than you’re able to

The nexus between factual information and you ability to communicate: this is why you are paid as a PR professional
– we are trying to make that curve more shallow

Selecting works is so critical here: “shots fired” rather than “a student has been shot”
– “a student has been injured” instead of “a student has been shot” if you cannot confirm a student has been shot

interesting how the journalism side of this comes at situations differently than PR

public may be starting to expect a new level of honesty

tension between being completely honest and trying to protect the public / not incite a panic

– THIS IS THE SAME REASON GIVEN FOR US OFFICIALS NOT DECLASSIFYING INFO ON UFOS 🙂

I RAISED THE ISSUE OF HOW THE SCHOOL IS PLANNING TO SPEAK TO DIFFERENT AUDIENCES DURING THE CRISIS: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT GETTING A MESSAGE OUT TO THE NEWS MEDIA AND PARENTS. THIS IS ALSO ABOUT STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS IN THE BUILDING, ON THE CAMPUS WHERE THE EVENT IS HAPPENING. OTHERS CONSTITUENTS TOO.

Many schools are locked down from Facebook and other tools so PR people and administrators can’t use them
– get these unblocked readily in a crisis

I MAINTAIN THESE SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES SHOULD BE UNLOCKED NOW, NOT JUST IN A CRISIS. THE PURPOSE OF SCHOOL SHOULD BE WHOLLY DIFFERENT THAN THAT OF A PRISON. THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT SHOULD INCREASINGLY REFLECT THE REAL WORLD OUTSIDE. THIS IS A BALANCE OF CONTROL – I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR NO FILTERING. OF COURSE WE NEED A BASIC LEVEL OF FILTERING. THE ASSUMPTION IN MANY SCHOOLS TODAY, HOWEVER, IS THAT A DRACONIAN / TOTALITARIAN LEVEL OF CONTENT FILTERING IS ACCEPTABLE, GOOD, NEEDED, ETC. THIS IS WRONG, NOT RIGHT, AND NEEDS TO BE CHANGED. THAT IS THE FOCUS OF “UNMASKING THE DIGITAL TRUTH.”

lock down doesn’t translate well into Spanish, for hispanic community members
– translation issues for these messages are absolutely critical
– largest audience for OKCPS is hispanic

Some schools and police agencies changing “lock-down” to the term “stay put, stay tuned”

I AM THINKING THIS CONVERSATION BUILDS A GOOD CASE FOR STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND OTHERS TO USE A COMMON TWITTER HASHTAG. THERE IS NO DOUBT WHEN KIDS AND ADULTS ARE IN LOCKDOWN IN A SITUATION TODAY, THEY ARE GOING TO BE ON THEIR CELL PHONES, TEXTING, ETC. IF YOU HAVE SCHOOL CONSTITUENTS ALREADY TWITTERING USING A COMMON HASHTAG, THEN THE SCHOOL COULD MONITOR THOSE TEXT MESSAGES AND ACTUALLY GET INFO “OUT” OF THE SCHOOL FROM THOSE ON THE SCENE. OF COURSE THE MEDIA AND OTHERS CAN AND LIKELY WOULD BE DOING THIS AS WELL.

Interesting question at our table: Do you want to update your marquee / sign out front of the school with a message about the crisis?
– you may not want a reporter doing a standup report in front of the sign, if it says there is a school shooting

MY THOUGHT: YOU HAVE DO PUT MESSAGES ON YOUR SIGN OUTSIDE WITH THE IDEA THAT IT WILL BE PHOTOGRAPHED AND PRESERVED. IT WOULD BE BEST TO HAVE A PRE-SETUP MESSAGE FOR YOUR SIGN THAT ASKS PEOPLE TO REFERENCE YOUR ALERT MESSAGING SYSTEM (WHETHER THAT IS JUST YOUR WEBSITE, TWITTER, A COMMERCIAL SMS PLATFORM, ETC.)

Now we are role playing different situations, participants are in pairs, quickly coming up with responses

Does anyone have a police radio in your office? You all should have one, and it should be on, on a charger.
– $60 at Radio Shack

FairFax public schools is so large, they have some kind of bus accident every day

When do you begin to act? Once you have an “incident”
– then notify the community, that is reportable

“I think the biggest lesson learned from that whole situation at Virginia Tech is don’t wait, once you have an incident. Start notifying the community.”
– Carols Holmes, Spokesperson, Delaware State University said.

Now listening to a vendor talk about his SMS alert messaging system
– they have all their hardware in-house, they don’t use any 3rd party products
– Twitter and other digital tools are never better than the power of your voice, your superintendent’s voice

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