Response to Erie cop YouTube reveals city’s poor message management
The use of a pet name to refer to the leader of the internal affairs unit of the Erie Bureau of Police by the Mayor of the City of Erie was the tipping point early on in the continuing case surrounding the behavior of an Erie policeman caught on video and displayed on YouTube. The lack of professional response to the crisis set before them by the Mayor and Chief of Police Steve Franklin during that first interview by the Times-News’s Ed Palattella meant that this situation would have a much broader scope than the outrageous antics of one drunk cop “letting off steam.”
By originally putting the focus on the video author and the attempt to remove it from YouTube via court order, the city has shown that it has a deep lack of understanding of the modern media landscape and crisis management tactics. They didn’t realize that while they were responding with poor judgment when the video was first revealed, that they were already reluctant passengers on an Acela bullet train that would take this story global, complete with close to 60,000 hits on YouTube for the original video so far this morning, thousands more on the copies, CNN and Fox News calling for talking heads, and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in play.
Perhaps in the past city officials dealt with the Erie media, dominated by newly-graduated twenty-something TV reporters with great hair, with a patronizing approach. But the current reality is that three or four news outlets no longer “control” the news in Erie, but the news cycle has been handed over to the bloggers, Twitterers, and camera-phone wielding YouTubers. No need to wait for the AP regional editor to pick up the story or not, in this case the medium, YouTube, and the efforts by city brass to squelch it, is the news.
Here’s the really sad, unfortunate thing about this mess. I don’t think for a second that Erie’s mayor, chief of police, and the vast majority of city officials think in the same way this officer portrayed his feelings on the video. This guy made a fool of himself at a bar, and it was caught on camera and posted on YouTube. If the mayor and chief would have just a smidgen of media savvy and organizational crisis management training, they would have known how to respond with proper humility and forthrightness. Not with some kind of false PR spin, but with an ability to communicate both what they really felt and the department and city’s position in a clear manner.
Let’s face it; not everyone is a good communicator. And in any organization, bad stuff happens. That’s why organizations hire public relations and communications professionals. They are not there just to keep the press from bothering the management, but rather to ensure that the organization’s point of view is articulated well and presented accurately in the media.
So, for example, when Hamot has something good going on that they want to publicize, they count on Boo Hagerty to craft the message and get the word out. Likewise, when crisis or tragedy hits, Boo is the same person to express the message of the organization and ensure its distribution. Not just at Hamot, but the importance of the message is managed by folks like Karen Kraus-Phillips at Erie Insurance, and Stephan Koller at GE Transportation. Even county government has Alyson Amendola to help keep the public informed. And their top level positions allow them to help guide management through the troubled waters of problem-solving.
So what is the cost to Erie by the city’s inept approach to this situation? Certainly much more than the salary of a Communications Director.