• Making a Statement (…or Not?) – A Q&A with Local PR Legend Nancy Sterling

    In Crisis, Thought Leaders on

    There are times when acknowledging the elephant in the room is the hardest part, perhaps even more difficult than actually doing something about the creature. That is why the field of public relations is so important; someone has to deliver the tough-to-swallow pill.

    Well, how exactly do we treat such delicate situations with the deft combination of tact and integrity? PRSA, Boston member Nancy Sterling APR, Fellow PRSA and Diane Davis Beacon Award Winner, has a lot to say on the subject. With years of experience working in the field of crisis communication, she carries with her a wealth of knowledge that only a seasoned veteran could have. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview her for this article to get some insight.

    Q: Are there any general rules-of-thumb when it comes to crisis communication?

    A: Every situation is different, but there are some basic mandates for crisis communication. You normally advise clients to say something even if it’s something not very detailed, but you never want to say “no comment.”

    Q: When is the best time to say something?

    A: In a 24-hour news cycle, you don’t really have a lot of time. Often, you need to give a holding statement, such as “we don’t have a lot of information” or alternatively, “we don’t know all the details right now.” You need to be as ready as possible to respond when the media contacts you.

    Q: Is there ever a time you shouldn’t say something?

    A: Those times are the anomaly, not the norm. Examples would be if you know that an organization or individual is going to be indicted, or if you are concerned about the ramifications of any comment.

    Q: Who should relay these messages?

    A: Generally, you use someone who is an expert in the field to communicate crises. Top leadership is only used in really significant situations.

    Q: Where do you release these messages?

    A: We usually do a written statement and send it to media outlets that have already contacted us about the story.

    Q: What was the most challenging situation you had to speak on?

    A: When Nancy Kerrigan’s brother killed her father, I represented Nancy and her family.

    Q: Is there ever a time in crisis communications that you make “positive” statements?

    A: Yes! You might have good news as part of a crisis; for example, there might have been a building explosion but no deaths, only minor injuries.

    Q: What is the best part of working in crisis communications?

    A: I love my job. Work is different every day, and you’re always learning new things.

    By now it should be obvious that the world of PR is complex and nuanced. Every situation requires a unique approach. Learning to navigate them is a skill that we could spend our whole lives learning and striving to perfect.

    To end, I’d like to throw my own hat in the ring and dare say that it’s always better to say it than to be sorry, and my interview with Ms. Sterling reinforced that. I believe in that age-old adage of honesty being the best policy, no matter how difficult it is, so that in a world permeated by mirages of reality, we can find our own glimmer of trut


    Written by Janet Annika Sison, Faculty Forum Student Correspondent – Boston College.

  • April 4th Preview: Launching the Cannabis Industry with Francy Wade, Chatter Boss Communications

    Francy Wade owns Chatter Boss Communications, a boutique communications consultancy with clients in both the private, public and non-profit sectors. Some of her recent work been has been on behalf of new cannabis companies, including one of the state’s licensed dispensary pioneers, Cultivate and cbd store wicker park. Her career is a convergence of public relations, research, politics and news experience. She recently sat down with Loring Barnes to chat about the unique experiences of launching Massachusetts into the new world of legalized marijuana.

    Has serving clients in the marijuana sector in any way inhibited your PR consulting practice?

    When I started Chatter Boss a little over a year ago, I had no idea how large the market was for what I was selling: High-touch, high-energy, low-process PR. I love to tell great stories to the right journalists and audiences and not get bogged down in process. I am so blessed that I’ve had an over abundance of clients retain me over over the past 15 months. Usually, my clients and prospects love to see the crazy mix of subject areas I work in. From higher education and education equity to healthcare, fashion technology and marijuana, it has been a wild ride.

    I did, however, lose one piece of new business because of my work in the marijuana space. It was a controversial development project and the company CEO was staunchly against legal cannabis and you can click this link now to learn more about it. I am absolutely respectful of people’s opinions as suggested here as it was quite helpful for cancer patients and understood his perspective. But, before I walked away, I did want to make sure this individual knew I am the ultimate professional and one client’s point of view never impacts another’s.

    Marijuana isn’t legal nationwide, which has resulted in a prohibition or high restriction of social media usage by dispensaries and cultivation facilities. It’s almost a throwback to our pre-social communications era. How have you helped your cannabis clients to maintain a brand voice as more of these licensed companies have had to launch while being handcuffed in their use of social media?

    I like to use social media as a storyline with media pitching for my marijuana clients. In the days after legalization  in Massachusetts, all of my clients’ social accounts were shut down. On the surface, it might seem debilitating, but not for me. Facebook, which owns Instagram, never gave an exact reason for the move and I thought that was a GREAT storyline for TV and digital media. You can visit Louisiana Medical Marijuana Doctors website to know more about it. Interestingly enough, just last week, Facebook announced it was easing its ban on marijuana content, which provided a great pitch point for some stories you’ll see appear very soon. I’m such a tease!

    You’re a parent and travel in other business and community circles. And you aren’t a pot user. Do you find that when people know that as a PR professional, you are a communications counselor to cannabis companies like Cultivate and Sira, that conversations abruptly shift from scouts and soccer to the curiosities of marijuana, and how do you navigate this?

    I do a lot of work in my children’s schools and I am even a catechist for the kindergarten students at my church. So when it comes up that I also happen to work in the marijuana space, people’s jaws hit the floor. I’ve been a goody-goody my whole life, so having a shock factor in my mid-thirties is kind of fun!

    I started out my career as a journalist, so I pride myself on always seeing things from all sides. Before talking about any of my clients, I tend to allow people to tell me how they feel about the industry instead of voicing any opinions. It makes people feel at ease with the subject. If people do have a differing opinion, I tend to share some stories that opened my eyes to the benefits of cannabis as a medicine for veterans. Then let the conversation transfer to the trouble with the illicit market and how many jobs and how much revenue we will get from the legal industry.

    What do you read to keep on top of cannabis business trends, innovators and subject experts? How would you advise someone to steer clear of disinformation?

    I have to say, my clients are the best source of information for me. They have a way of explaining nuanced regulations and trends better than anyone. I feel lucky to work with such smart innovators like Sam Barber of Cultivate and Mike Dundas of Sira. I tend to use them to help journalists understand the stories they are writing, even if they aren’t going to be quoted. The way I see it, we are all building this industry together. Storytelling and the reporting being done will help us document this for the history books in the future, so it is critical we get this right.

    I really like the reporting the Boston Globe has done and the way they have dedicated reporters to this beat exclusively. I had a meeting with some of their staff, including Linda Henry, last year and encouraged them to create and entire Cannabis section of the paper. Similar to the Travel or Arts. It is complex, not only as a political and social issue, but the industry involves banking, scientific and marketing aspects too. It needs to be treated as the unique behemoth subject that it is.

    You’ve had your consultancy, Chatter Boss Communications, for just over a year, after working in respected PR agencies, political campaigns and television news. Did opportunity create the impetus to strike out on your own, or did you decide to take the plunge and hope that the clients would follow? How has life as a solo practitioner surprised or rewarded you, and how would you counsel others who are considering to follow suit to think through this decision?

    I have three children, a 13-year-old stepdaughter, a 5-year-old son and 4-year-old son. When I started taking care of my daughter when she was a toddler, I realized how fast time flies. After having my oldest son, I made a very easy decision to not go back to an agency. Instead, I networked my way into having a few clients and projects that kept me in the game. After my second son, I was approached to more formally work with a political polling firm and got involved with the campaign to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana. When the campaign came to a close, I had a series of fun lunch meetings with former colleagues and friends who kept asking me if they could get me to tell their stories and I gave birth to my fourth child which is Chatter Boss.

    I was meant to be an entrepreneur. It’s in my DNA. My dad owns his own business and he, like me, does some of his best work from places other than a desk and office. My mom, a teacher, stayed home with me until I was in high school, before going back to work and getting her masters. I am trying to take a page from both of my amazing parents and be the best mother and businesswoman I can be. None of this would be possible without my husband’s support. He is, by far, the most talented storyteller I’ve ever met. We don’t have a nanny or full-time help. We work as a team to make sure we are at the top of our parenting and professional games at all times.

    I don’t think agency life is for everyone and I certainly don’t think the solo practitioner road is one that most people find attractive. It is uncertain, exhausting but ultimately exhilarating. I’ve been called naturally caffeinated, which is the highest compliment, and what I think has been the secret to my success in this most recent chapter of my communications career.

    Meet Francy Wade on Thursday, April 4th (@chatterbosscomm) and hear about the landmines and victories on the cannabis industry’s journey in Massachusetts.  She joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the event will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.



  • April 4th Preview: Cannabis Entrepreneur Rob Toof On Leading MA’s Newest Beverage Category

    As co-founder of Altatude Beverage Company, Rob Toof has now traveled the entrepreneurial continuum full-circle with his first investor-supported venture. Rooted in product development and sales, he has worked on the front lines of word of mouth / influencer campaigns (BzzAgent), funding performance (NextGen Venture Partners), building and selling his online education platform to a fortune 500 company (Pearson) and marquee special event planning (The Boston Cup). Just back from an international sales trip, Loring Barnes caught up with him after his latest Logan touchdown to talk about the role of deliberate communications to support the launch of a new cannabis brand and what being a trailblazer requires of a business owner.

    Q. So I’m going to jump right into the deep end: the Wall Street Journal has declared cannabis beverages as “tasting terrible,” with such yummy flavor descriptions as “hints of dirty socks,” a “gross aftertaste” like “dish soap and urine.” Ouch! How do you overcome such caustic critiques to distinguish your brand as being something familiar or appealing and get people to actually track it down and try it? 

    Before I started the business I went from LA to Vancouver with my attorney (him driving), trying and ranking every cannabis beverage we could get our hands; judging them based on taste, dosage, price and packaging. Out of 60 different beverages we tried, for taste five were good, the remaining were undrinkable swill. Why? Beverages are hard to produce and they are at a higher risk of contamination because they’re always wet. It’s highly possible many of the samples we tried were filled with microbials due to lack of preservatives or food science.

    Alta is a line of beverages formulated to mask and accentuate specific cannabis flavors and aromas while also enhancing the effects. With sophisticated flavors that are unique yet familiar, Alta moves beyond beverages to deliver a “reefined” experience for the discriminating cannabis consumer.  Each product is made in small batches and tested by a third party to ensure food safety standards are being met/exceeded.

    Our team bench is deep in beverage experience including: a food scientist, a sommelier, a café owner, a soda company owner, a vermouth maker and a cold brew expert. We feel confident on the flavor front.

     Q. Communicators with IPO-readiness experience understand that an investor-backed start-up needs a strategy that supports a payback end-game, and possibly an acquisition as an exit strategy. You’ve been down this road as an investor. Now you’re the owner accountable to investors. How does this perspective shape how you value and use public relations as a value driver to build revenue?

    I’ve run my own company with a successful exit to a publicly traded Fortune 500 company. Prior to that I ran word-of-mouth campaigns for brands like SC Johnson, Kraft and IBM on launching new products, which worked closely with PR to get the word out. Word of mouth is the most important aspect of our brand strategy. Shortly behind that is traditional PR. Any credible third party, especially for a cannabis product, means the brand name is trustworthy.  There are a lot of bad products out there and in the end, it will come down to brand reputation.

    Q. Is there any aspect of investment performance that risks impatience for your company to mature and achieve its intended potential? How does financial discipline shape your marketing and PR priorities?

    A: Canning equipment is the biggest. So, if you think of us both as a brand and as a platform, we have two main goals. Our first goal is to expand our own brand. Our second goal is to help other brands produce their beverages on our platform when we have latency. We believe this strategy allows for frequent content creation, PR opportunities, and unique brand experiences that we can budget and plan for before a project even begins.

    Altatude is in a unique real-time challenge: defining a new product category and carving out a distinct brand personality within it. That’s a tall order, at a time when you are spending to hit the retail and restaurant marketplace on all cylinders. How much of your messaging is directed to educating the general population versus customers and buyers?

    A: We are a sales organization first and foremost, which means I’m measuring number of store fronts and units moved weekly, not brand awareness mostly right now. That being said, we know patients and budtenders are influencers to their networks, so we are beginning to work more closely with these audiences to help them understand the value of drinkables, nanotechnology, micro-dosing and sipping Alta.

    Q. The role of social media in the media mix has some restrictions for cannabis where marijuana is not yet universally legal. When you look at earned, owned and paid media, which of them is proving most productive for Altatude? How do you look to measure the impact of your overall media strategy, and as the owner, are you willing to pay for measurement as a feature of your overall communications program?

    We use Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, which we update regularly. We are in an interesting spot as we are about to launch our own CBD line, which is hemp derived, which opens up a bunch of legal questions regarding what we can and can’t do from a promotion stand point. At this point, I’m not willing to pay for measurement beyond SEO and CPA for online reservation, delivery and orders/subscriptions.

    Q. PRSA Boston embraces mentoring and is a career gateway to new graduates and early-stage public relations, social media and sales-focused communicators. Does Altatude offer paid internships and if so, how should someone make themselves known to you? Does it go without saying that interns or employees have to be cannabis consumers, in whatever form that is?

    A: We would love to hear from PRSA affiliated interns. Pay is based on a case-by-case basis. If you have interest in working at Altatude please email Consumption is not a requirement. 80% of our team consume less than once a month.

    Q. What is the biggest misconception about the cannabis economy that you would like legislators and/or journalists to better understand?

    A: Dosing is very individual and there needs to be more understanding/less restriction within dosing for the recreational market. For example, recreational beverage have limitations in Massachusetts of 5mg per serving/can/beverage. In that same recreational transaction, a consumer can buy a syringe with 850mg of THC, which they are more likely to over medicate with. So long as there are concentrates for sale, drinkables shouldn’t have dosing restrictions as low as they currently do.

    Q. You’ve been traveling, but you likely haven’t found Altatude at an airport bar in between flights. When you’ve got time to kill, what is your beverage of choice?

    A: I don’t drink much alcohol anymore now that I’m drinking cannabis. No hangover and lower calories. Staples though are water and coffee.

    Meet Rob Toof on Thursday, April 4th and hear about beverages as the newest cannabis industry’s  product category (plus sample some Alta Fueganon-infused). He joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the program will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.


















  • April 4th Preview: Meet Cannabis Control Commission’s Exec. Dir., Guiding MA’s Hottest Economy

    In 2008, the vote by Massachusetts to decriminalize marijuana set the BayState on its journey to legalizing cannabis by a ballot initiative eight years later. This set into motion the need for a centralized authority whose purpose was to operationalize the law for the opening of medical and recreational retail dispensaries across the state. Enter the Cannabis Control Commission, (CCC) which has handled the dizzying charter of providing host municipalities with guidelines intended to balance community impacts with new revenue opportunity. As its Executive Director since the agency’s found, Shawn Collins brings the most current perspective on this growing industry. He recently shared his insights about how public affairs have been an economic driver with Loring Barnes for a PRSA Boston’s Fast Five… and a few more questions.

    On April 4th, some members of the Cannabis Control Commission’s communications team will be in attendance. Our team includes:

    We draw agency talent from the State PRF60 Contract for advertising, graphic design and public awareness, including this campaign:  “More About Marijuana

    Q: We share the experience of holding elected office in respective hometowns. Interestingly, you were chair of your school committee. As a general statement, schools are a municipal department that will claim new budget needs to fund educational impact or mitigation programs stemming from the arrival of local cannabis cultivation or dispensaries. How has your insight from your elected office tenure factored in decisions as related to deploying state-level marijuana health and safety programs targeting youth, families, staff nurses and educators? What is the delineation of educational resources to be provided through the CCC versus the Department of Public Health?

    A: Public education and awareness, especially during the infancy of this industry, is critical.  Our campaign, “More About Marijuana,” specifically identifies the importance of parents talking with their children about the potential impact of youth access.  It also reminds parents that if they intend to purchase and consume adult-use cannabis, they also have an obligation to keep those products safe and secure within their home.  We have made these public awareness materials, including rack cards, available through the state’s clearinghouse and shared them with superintendents across Massachusetts. Education and awareness are the best tools we have, and we’ll partner with anyone that can help us get those messages out.  That includes other state agencies, as well as local and community partners.

    Q: You’re an attorney. How do you reconcile protection of First Amendment rights with the recent actions taken by Instagram and Facebook to delete social media accounts of early-stage marijuana businesses, to include those newly opened in Massachusetts? For a small business, social media is a key engagement tool used for marketing and education.  Is the CCC taking an advocacy position or providing guidance to these businesses as how to navigate social media?

    A: I’m an attorney, yes, but I’m not in the best position to offer legal advice in this particular area.  The Commission, consistent with our objective to be as available and transparent as possible, does seek to leverage social media as often as possible to get our own message out.  We know that a lot of our key constituency can be found on these platforms. We also know, too, that kids are present and active on these platforms. So, we do expect any of our licensees to be mindful of that when using these tools.  

    Q: A cornerstone of the cannabis industry is social equity, which is a program described as a deliverable by the CCC. How does the CCC advance access to small business investor capital, grants or other benefits for minority or underrepresented business populations if federal lending laws make it so difficult?

    A: This is really the challenge that is facing this industry and these entrepreneurs across the board.  Access to capital limits everyone’s access to this market, but especially hinders those small business owners that aren’t independently wealthy.  Given the federal constraints, the solution may have to be multi-faceted. This could include state-run and supported programs, including grants and loans, as well as private investments targeted specifically to small business, particularly those economic empowerment applicants and social equity program participants.  There is no one, single solution to this.

    Q: Does the CCC hire paid interns for experiences supporting communications, public affairs or outreach functions? Will the CCC be expanding to meet the needs of the growing cannabis industry?

    A: As a start-up agency, our Commission is always looking to add additional resources and support.  We have tried to develop a strategic approach to public awareness and community outreach, and both are two areas of potential growth within the Commission.  We do not currently have any opportunities for internships, but think they are something we will absolutely consider in the future.

    Q: What is the biggest misconception or information gap that the CCC is working to address?

    A: While the Commission has broad regulatory authority, we do not oversee all things cannabis-related.  We rely on other state agencies and scores of local partners to regulate this new industry. Relatedly, residents have a lot of rights with this new law, including the ability to grow plants in their home.  This isn’t something the Commission has the authority to police, but we’d gladly work with residents to understand their rights and limitations, as well as local authorities in a similar manner. Lastly, I think it is important for folks to remember that we’re still a young and growing agency.

    Q: In the morning when you’re enjoying your morning coffee, what are you reading to start your day? Then during your commute, do you listen to podcasts or news stations as might intersect with your need to keep on top of cannabis-related topics?

    A: I rely on local media in the Boston area and other regional outlets in the state to get my news every morning, including the Boston Business Journal and Boston Globe.  I also make a point to scroll through Flipboard, which helps me cast a much wider net for all news – including cannabis.  As for my commute, I’ll admit I’m much more likely to listen to “The Daily” from the New York Times, or “Up First” from NPR, as opposed to cannabis-related podcasts.  Sometimes I need the break.

    Meet Shawn Collins on Thursday, April 4th and hear from the agency tasked with shaping a safe and equitably accessible cannabis industry in Massachusetts.  He joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the event will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.



  • Columbia Gas and the Failed Response by FOX 25 Producer and Emmy-nominated Journalist Joe Chambers

    In Crisis on

    It has been one month since gas lines across the Merrimack Valley blew causing one death, and dozens of fires. Hundreds of homes and businesses are still without gas service, and it will likely be another month before everything is fixed. A new poll from UMass Lowell and the Boston Globe found that only 27 percent of voters are satisfied with Columbia Gas’s response. Who could blame them? From the beginning Columbia Gas has been unresponsive and uncommunicative with the public. Here are the ways Columbia Gas could have changed the narrative, and helped win over the public.

    First and foremost, say something!

    No one wants to be on live television with nothing to say, ever. This is only amplified when you are covering a major news story and you have hours of airtime to fill. If you go back and watch coverage of that day you will hear one thing over and over again, “We reached out to Columbia Gas, but haven’t heard anything yet.” Our reporters mentioned it in the car accident news section at least every five minutes for seven hours straight. Columbia Gas didn’t bother to communicate until late into the night after the accident. When people knew about the first aid courses, then they would avoid the heavy losses of lives in any kind of accident. If you are involved in an accident, contact experienced Washington personal injury lawyers to help you out. If there is one thing everyone in crisis PR should know, it is that we don’t need much since we have the Orlando’s trusted accident attorney by our side to clean up this mess. All Columbia Gas had to do to change the narrative was release a short statement that read something as simple as, “We are working with local police and firefighters to figure out the cause of the problem.” That would be enough for the initial response. Instead 1.4 million households watching that night heard every reporter, on every local station, say Columbia Gas didn’t bother to release a public statement.

    Your crews are working hard, give them credit for it.

    There was a point just before midnight on the night of the explosion when dozens of trucks began lining up near the media staging area. The trucks were out of sight of crews on the ground, but all of the choppers could see them. We didn’t know what was going on. We would later piece together that these crews were preparing to go door-to-door to make sure the gas was off. We didn’t hear that from Columbia Gas, we heard it from Governor Baker during the first news conference at 12:15 AM.

    This is an example of a huge missed opportunity. If you give me numbers about how many of trucks are in the field or employees are on the ground, I can turn that into a full screen and you earned 30 seconds every 10 minutes reminding people that you are working to fix the problem. If you send me a generic statement that reads, “We are working to make sure everything is safe before people can return home” I will ignore it, because no one wants to report a generic statement.

    Keep talking!

    As time goes on Columbia Gas and its parent company continue to rely on government officials to provide updates to the public. Information is hard to come by, and people are reminded of that often in the countless stories about the company’s shortcomings. If you want to fight the notion that you aren’t doing enough, then you need to come out and say so. Daily updates give you a chance to talk about any and all progress you are making. It doesn’t have to be much. You could just show a map each day highlighting the streets your crews are working on. Set up a time and a place to get updates. If you call the news conference you don’t even have to take questions. This is the biggest disaster to hit your company. What else do you have going on that is more important?

    These major missteps could have easily been avoided. There is still time for Columbia Gas to improve their response and earn back some favorable public opinion. Putting a face to the company’s response and increasing how frequently information is disseminated may sway a few more than 27 percent of voters.

    Joe Chambers is an Emmy-nominated journalist with more than 10 years of experience working in television newsrooms across the country. He currently lives and works in Boston



  • Fast 5: Five Things to Know about Social Media and Crisis Communications

    Elaine Driscoll, Massachusetts Gaming Commission

    @ElaineDriscoll  @MassGamingComm


    The words “community policing” typically conjure up images of police officers walking the beat. In the 21st century, cops on the beat have moved online as well.

    The Boston Police Department was one of the pioneers of the use of social media as a communications and outreach tool. Elaine Driscoll was with the Boston Police Department when it began using Twitter in 2009, and it has turned into a method of community engagement as well as crowdsourcing tips. Elaine, a media relations professional with almost 20 years of experience in public relations, crisis communications and community outreach, now serves as Director of Communications at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

    We caught up with Elaine in advance of the Social Media Summit to talk about social media, crises and what she looks forward to most about the summit.

    Q: What role can social media play in a crisis?

    Social media is the gasoline that spreads a crisis like a wildfire; it can also be the bucket of cold water that helps to put the fire out. The traditional sense of “news cycle” now has far less significance when considering the timing and strategy for addressing a PR crisis. As a result, an organization must be prepared to be nimble and decisive with an initial response, whether the crisis was anticipated or a spontaneous occurrence.

    Social media also provides an organization with a quick and efficient mechanism to respond directly to the masses. This direct access to the public provides an extraordinary ability to control the presentation of your message and influence public perception minus the filter applied by traditional media outlets, but that’s IF you get your response right. You can count on the court of public opinion to let you know quickly if the response is inadequate (Hello, United Airlines).

    Q: You have worked at both the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the Boston Police Department. How have those organizations used social media to communicate to their audiences?

    The Mass Gaming Commission and the Boston Police Department have different missions, but they are similar in their need for a robust communications infrastructure. MGC and BPD require a communications outreach strategy that is efficient and practical for executing a high volume of external communications, provides for two-way interactions and public participation, and enhances transparency. Both agencies depend on social media to achieve their organizational priorities and goals.

    Q: Can you give an example of how you may have effectively managed social media during a crisis in the past?

    Social media is a tremendous tool to assist with the management of a crisis, particularly one involving public safety. It’s important to note that it will only be truly effective if it has been test-driven before an organization needs it to perform. Building an audience and your organization’s reputation for communicating prior to an inevitable crisis is paramount. The BPD is highly adept at crisis communications because of how they utilize their communications system when they are not in crisis. The BPD was one of the first police departments in the country to use Twitter. It started in 2009 by simply issuing public safety and traffic instructions for a St. Patrick’s Day parade. In the years that followed, the department’s use of Twitter and other social media channels evolved significantly and became everything from a friendly and innovative way to connect with the community to the remarkably effective use of crowdsourcing tips and investigative leads.

    The 2011 Occupy Boston movement offers an interesting case study in the department’s advanced use of social media. Other cities had a far more contentious experience with the Occupy movement than Boston. I believe that strong and non-adversarial communication was a major contributor to the largely successful outcome of the 70-day protest in Dewey Square – much of that communication took place over Twitter, which was an approach unique to Boston.  That same year, the BPD’s Twitter account had more followers than any other police organization in the world.

    Q: With the number of social media platforms out there, how can organizations effectively monitor the conversation and address crises?

    There are many effective ways to monitor social media conversations. I prefer Tweetdeck and Meltwater News. When an organization is deciding which social media channels to use as part of its communications infrastructure, it depends on what you are selling and to whom – a high fashion boutique has different communication needs than a government agency. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all strategy except that I would always urge quality over quantity. I don’t think most organizations can adopt every social media channel and do them all well. An organization should identify where it is most likely to reach its target audiences and master that communication before casting too wide a net.

    Q: What are you most looking forward to about the Social Media Summit?

    I enjoy the opportunity to share my experiences and also deeply appreciate the chance to learn from my peers. As PR practitioners, we have to continue to evolve in our trade and enhance our skill set in order to stay relevant and keep up with an ever-changing world of traditional and social media.

    About Fast 5

    This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics ( blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is on the fly! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, authors’ books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos

    Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email Joshua Milne at ( and pitch your subject expert!

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or  board of directors of either organization.