The smartphone syndrome: Everybody is a reporter

Today’s 24/7 news cycle shows us that instant journalists have taken over a majority of the news. I watched the news in horror this morning as two separate incidents caught my attention — the first being a July 4 fireworks accident and the second being almost unbelievable footage of two young women being bounced like billiard balls into buildings and power lines as their parasail broke away from its tether.

Both of these events were captured on handheld devices, most likely cell phones. And the footage looked like high-quality digital feeds from a news station. Sure enough, the technology is really improving so that almost everyone is a would-be journalist.

And there, my friend, is the issue for PR people: daily, instant and uncontrollable observations and postings about our clients. The fast food industry comes to mind. Someone wants to be cool, so he videotapes his colleague flipping burgers, who thinks it’s funny when he spits on the quarter-pound of Angus beef. Oops, that video just went viral. What, as the company talking head, are you going to do?

Oh, and by the way, they released it at midnight, and it took 10 hours for you to be notified. Ring, ring. It’s the national networks calling you, the spox for Big Burger World.

Let’s cut to the chase: We are not in control. So how do we deal with the randomness, the out-of-the-blue smackdown that endangers our client’s reputation? Plan, plan and then plan. Sure, nobody likes to do worst-case scenario, crisis planning. The, “That can never happen to me,” while always naïve, is now, more than ever, unlikely.

I implore those who are handling the reputation of their companies to sit down, list a bunch of wild, almost inconceivable occurrences and then talk through potential responses. Do this regularly. Write down in very specific detail what you’d do, who would do it and what messages are appropriate. Catalogue, dialogue and demonstrate you are ready for the unreal.

Personally, I just want cheese on my burger. And hold the fries.

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