Twin Peaks Shooting: Early Thoughts and Observations on the (Lack of) Public Relations

It’s a little more than 48 hours after a biker gang brawl in the parking lot of the Waco breastaurant Twin Peaks, (killing nine, injuring 18 and resulting in the arrest of 170) and there’s barely a word from the Twin Peaks corporate office.

Sure, there was one tweet from the corporate account about 6 hours after the midday tragedy:

TWin Peaks tweet

A similar message was posted on the corporate Facebook page:

Twin Peaks facebook

Yesterday, about 24 hours after the events, the corporate office posted this on their Facebook page (you can go to the page to read the comments):

Twin Peaks facebook 2

Is that enough? I don’t think so. It’s admirable the company shut down the franchise within a day (the TABC pulled their liquor license ) but what else are they doing to contain the damage to their image?

Very little.

Looking at their Twitter account you see they still have a Major League Baseball Opening Day tweet pinned to the top of the page–folks, that was April 6.

Twin Peaks tweet 2

I’m pretty sure my students, along with any half-decent crisis communications manager would recommend they pin their tweet about the carnage to the top of their page. I even tweeted that suggestion to them several hours ago. I’ll let you know if they do it.

A company called the Chalak Mitra group apparently owned the franchise–and another one near Fort Hood–but a check of their website gleaned no information there or on their affiliate website. Bad web presence or shut down on purpose?  Their Facebook page is gone as well. The same company owns Genghis Grill, and that company’s website and social media are operating normally. (Genghis Grill has had its own problems in the past.)

So what’s a company to do in a situation like this? The franchise owner claims they cooperated with police but the Waco police claim they warned the restaurant about the possibility of violence and were ignored. Before it was taken down the local franchisee’s website apparently promoted regular “bike nights” catering to motorcycle groups.

This story isn’t going away soon. Most people don’t know the difference between a franchisee-run restaurant and a corporate-owned location–they see the name and that’s it.  When you consider my public relations motto “If the public thinks you have a problem, you have a problem” in that context, Twin Peaks has a problem. I’m sure they would love to get the signage off the side of the building while it appears as the backdrop for all the police press conferences, but they can’t get in because it’s a crime scene. It wouldn’t matter anyway–the name is out there and isn’t going away soon. The company is doing little to mitigate the damage to their name.

What would I recommend? It could be “too little too late” but Twin Peaks needs to post a message on every landing page of their website decrying the violence, confirming their closing of the Waco franchise, and offering their sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed. They would also do well to offer some sort of assistance to the many people left unemployed by the sudden closure of the restaurant–counseling for the witnesses, a job fair, training–something that might help these innocent people get over this trauma.

After all, their own Facebook page says they are “in the people business.”

Take care of your people, Twin Peaks. There are plenty of places to eat.

The Seismic Shift in Public Relations Measurement

Over the past few years the world of public relations has gone through a radical change in the way program success is measured. The days of measuring how much space your press release occupied in the paper and calculating how much it would have cost to buy an equivalent sized ad are fading fast (for the most part). Ad Value Equivalency has been considered a bogus means of measuring public relations success for a variety of reasons. The simplest reason I cite is it assumes an ad can be purchased and placed in that location in the paper. This is not usually the case with front page stories. More important, AVE doesn’t measure any business outcomes–the number of widgets sold, for example.

The use of AVE in PR measurement has been debated for decades, and was questioned as far back as 1949. This article by Professor Tom Watson gives a history of AVE and its controversial evolution and (I hope) demise. It is still in use. Many executives and nonprofit board members insist on it because it’s simple to understand. Respected monitoring companies still use it, mainly to keep their competitors from stealing customers who insist on AVE as a measurement tool. But even they admit it’s bogus.

Things got serious in 2010 with the acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, which sound like an international treaty or trade agreement, but are the results of a major international effort to build industry consensus on measurement.

Working from that document, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications just released The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. The entire history of its development is long, and thoughtful. This is not a snap judgment by any means. It’s a seismic shift in communications evaluation. And it applies to social media as well.

A vocal proponent of outcome-based PR measurement is K.D. Paine, whose blog, The Measurement Standard, is a must-read for anybody in a field even remotely related to public relations.

Back in June she posted about The Conclave, a group of cross-industry professionals hammering out vendor-neutral standards for social media measurement. While these are not finalized yet, it looks like the world of public relations and the world of social media are getting their respective acts together regarding evaluation.

Originally posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the class blog of the social media course I teach in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

How I would have helped the NRA manage today’s press conference

I never expected the NRA to suggest support for any gun control legislation, but I still watched the “press conference” today with anticipation.  After nearly a week of silence, the largest, most influential gun rights organization in the world was going to speak out in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting.
Looking at this from a strictly public relations point of view, the NRA’s event is a good, quick case study of how not to do public relations.
Going into this, the NRA leadership knows the country is divided on this topic, and very emotional about it.  The NRA’s initial response after the Newtown massacre was to pull down their Facebook page and go silent on Twitter.  On Wednesday of this week they made a brief statement and announced a press conference on Friday, December 21, which prompted more than a few jokes about their timing and the Mayan Apocalypse.  (Hey, if the world ends, they won’t have to do it…)
There are plenty of summaries, transcripts and videos around, if you didn’t watch it. I like the C-Span version because they show the whole thing unedited.
In summary—After a brief introduction by NRA president DavidKeene (who stated they would not take questions), EVP and CEO Wayne LaPierre was introduced. What transpired was fascinating to watch. 
LaPierre’s body language and tone of voice were initially very slow and measured—too slow, in my opinion. I don’t know if he was trying to appear sad or apolitical, but he came across as disingenuous and insincere.  At times he appeared to ramble. Speaking in a tone suitable for first graders, LaPierre reminded me of Mr. Rogers reading to pre-schoolers during story time.
The gist of LaPierre’s speech was to blame gun-free zones around schools, the media, the entertainment industry, online and video games, and a culture of violence in our society. He specifically cited something called Kindergarten Killer and criticized the media for not covering it. I’ll wager this little-played, little-known online flash game has had more hits today than in its entire 10-year existence, thanks to the free publicity from the NRA.
I could hear Fred Rogers in my head when LaPierre said “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
LaPierre handled interruptions by two protesters well. He simply stopped speaking and waited while they were escorted from the room. 
The Mr. Rogers tone and pacing waned when LaPierre started to discuss the proposal–armed police officers and trained volunteers patrolling every school in the country. He announced the National School Shield initiative and introduced former congressman Asa Hutchinson as the director of the new program. Hutchinson’s remarks were brief, straightforward and clear. He demonstrated more credibility as a leader than LaPierre, and I felt more confident about the program when he spoke about it. Body language and delivery DO make a difference.
The event wrapped with Keene returning to the podium as reporters started to shout questions. This is where the most regrettable quote of the day came–Keen said “…this is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won’t be taking questions today.”  Probably an ad-lib, but the quote made Twitter come alive.
If the NRA had hired me to be their PR counsel, here’s what I would have suggested:
  • Don’t call it a press conference if you’re not planning on taking questions. Media come to news conferences expecting to ask questions rather than be lectured to.
  • Refrain from insulting your audience. LaPierre made numerous jabs at the media. They know he doesn’t like them, and most return the sentiment. But antagonizing the messenger lessens the chance they’ll really hear your message, and dilutes balanced coverage. Show the respect you expect to recive.
  • Provide facts and figures. LaPierre blamed Hollywood and the video game industry for gun violence, but offered no studies to support his claim. Research supporting both sides of this argument exists. If you want to take the emotion out of an emotional issues, try adding some facts.
  • Include a full page about your new National School Shield. initiative, with a direct link from the home page. “More info coming soon” is not a suitable response. If you’ve had time to develop the program enough to hire new leadership, you’ve got time to put together a Web page with more info than a bio and a speech transcript. And don’t make us look for it on your site. 
  • Offer support to groups lobbying on behalf of better mental health care. Yes, that’s radical, and while there still isn’t conclusive evidence the Newtown shooter was mentally ill, most spree shooters are. If you’re not going to do anything to keep “monsters” (LaPierre’s word) from accessing firearms, at least work with those who are trying to help the mentally ill. Opening a dialogue with groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) could help the NRA’s credibility with people on both sides of the gun issue as well as reduce the need for an armed police state.
PR friends, what do you think? How would you have helped the NRA improve their event today?