The Pandemic Makes it More Imperative to Vet Guests

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(By Tim O’Brien) As we head deeper into the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our nation and our world, I’ve seen a convergence of my day job and my podcast in a way that I had never anticipated. As much as I’d like to give my listeners an escape from the day-to-day realities of quarantine, I’ve found it necessary at times to touch on some of the big issues we face together to counter the effects of the pandemic on our lives at every level.

At the same time, the fact that my day job involves a good bit of crisis management means the current pandemic has sent some new client work my way. I’ve been working with a hospital to brace for the impact of the pandemic on it and its people. I’ve also worked with another client helping to spread accurate and detailed information on a wide range of scientific and other pandemic-related issues.

In the course of all of this, I’ve consumed a vast amount of pandemic-related content, much of it not that great.

When the Pandemic Hits Home
To be sure, it’s been particularly discouraging for me to see how many of my fellow PR types have all of a sudden emerged as crisis communications experts.

As a podcaster, have gotten numerous publicity pitches from people who clearly had no crisis experience but offered themselves up as crisis experts.  One PR firm actually pitched themselves to me as “crisis experts” because in their pitch to me they essentially said their travel PR business had dried up.  When I checked them out, I could see they have zero crisis communications experience or knowledge.  They’re far from alone. It seems anyone in the PR field who’s read an article about crisis communications is now positioning themselves as an expert on crisis management, and some of the advice they’re giving is irresponsible at best.

The problem is there are too many pretenders at this time.

Some Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
Since the pandemic has impacted virtually every organization in the country, nearly all communicators have been communicating at a time of crisis. Still, this does not make them crisis communicators, but many don’t realize that. In short, they don’t know what they don’t know.

The difference between being a crisis communicator and communicating during a crisis is similar to the difference between being a meteorologist and being someone who got stuck in the rain.

Vet Your Guests
I say all of this to tell you that if you are planning to center an episode on anything related to the COVID-19 virus, be aware that there are many people working to position themselves as experts when they are not. And if you don’t fully know their industries, they can sound awfully believable.

My advice is pretty simple. If you want your podcast to maintain its own credibility and a strong connection with your listeners, make sure to vet your guests more carefully. Do your listeners a favor simply by going the extra step to ensure that not only do your guests sound like they know what they are talking about, but that they actually do know. In that sense, it could be one of the greatest public services you can provide right now.

Tim O’Brien founded Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications and has provided crisis and issues management counsel and support to clients from Fortune 500 companies, to start-ups and nonprofits. He is also the creator of the Shaping Opinion Podcast. To get in touch with Tim, call 412.854.8845, timobrien@timobrienpr.com, or on Twitter: @OBrienPR

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