Information distribution remains one of the most challenging aspects of high-speed communications. Many professional communicators rely on their email program to manage media contacts and in the event of a crisis will email releases from their desktop, faxing them to people who might not have email addresses. Others rely on outside news distribution services for distribution of all releases. These solutions represent significant problems in the event of a crisis.
Crises rarely occur during business hours when you are sitting behind your desk looking for something to do. If you are away from your office, accessing your contact list might delay the release of information from minutes to hours or even longer. As we have discussed, these delays can be very consequential. Additionally, in a crisis, many of the reporters and others seeking information (e.g., a U.S. Senator or local state representative) might not be in your database of contacts. A large number of names, phone numbers, email addresses, fax numbers, and so on, will need to be added. The new additions need to be kept in a place where multiple members of the team can access them. Using an outside service invariably means that although the service will distribute to their previously developed lists, the important names you collect during the event will need to be managed independently.
If you take the reasonable approach that these predeveloped contact names and the ones captured during the crisis should reside on a server within your LAN, you still have the very real issue of the access of team members to the LAN. Will they always be in a position to access that critical data? Unless you have developed a means of capturing names from the public site and automatically having your LAN-based database updated, there is an important manual step that must be included in your planning and execution.
The rather obvious solution to this, just as in the document creation issue, is to put the contact database on an Internet platform. Having the contact database available to all team members via password access enables any team member, anywhere, anytime, to get at the contact names. When integrated with other Internet-based communication management functions such as inquiry management and automated distribution, the data management element becomes much more manageable and contributes to the speed of response.
Standard data management capabilities need to be available if the data resides on the Internet. Communicators without technical skill beyond that required by basic word processing software need to be able to sort, find, organize, and set up sublists of all kinds within databases. The data management system should also be able to easily accommodate not just media, but all potential stakeholders and audiences who might seek information, including shareholders, employees, executives, neighbors, elected officials, and so on. In other words, the data fields need to be flexible to handle the different types of data you might want to collect on each of these types. This is one critical difference between a system such as this and the many wire services that many communicators use. To use only a media list and not an integrated list including all key stakeholders is strong evidence of operating in the media world of the past and not the instant news postmedia world. Managing these contacts must be simple enough so that communicators can "slice and dice" the data on the fly without requiring a database programmer or technical help that might not be available at 3:30 a.m. when you are trying to prepare and distribute information while on vacation in Bora Bora.
With both document preparation and data management available on the same intranet site, the real power of the Internet as a communication tool becomes accessible. The Internet is the best platform for getting the right information out quickly to the right people. Current technology allows you to take the press release you created and approved online and distribute it instantly to databases of reporters and stakeholders managed within the same intranet site. With a click of a button, the document is simultaneously posted to the public Web site and instantly emailed to the mailing lists you select. It is a simple one-step process.
Faxing is accomplished in the same way. Currently available technology enables you to automatically fax the same document to any name you select that does not have an email address attached to it. If you prefer, for safety's sake, you can both email and fax to each name on the list.
A third automated distribution option is also available: text-to-voice conversion and automatic telephone messaging. Voice engines take written documents prepared on the private intranet site and when approved, convert the words to a synthesized voice. The phone numbers on the list are dialed and when answered either by a person or an answering machine, the system delivers the text message in a remarkably human-like voice. Voice options include male or female, with even regional accents as options.
The implications of this kind of currently available technology are quite significant. Fenceline neighbors, for example, want and have a right to know about activities within a plant that might affect their safety, security, and peace of mind. The telephone notification system makes it possible for a communicator to quickly type up a message and distribute it via mass telephone calls to the neighbors surrounding a plant. That message or a modified version can simultaneously be emailed, faxed, or telephoned to reporters or anyone else needing the information immediately. In an earlier chapter we discussed how expectations and demands for information change when it is understood that technology makes needed information available. What becomes possible becomes demanded. The commonsense reality of this situation means that every company and organization now needs to become aware of the technologies others are using to see what standards are being set and how that is adjusting the expectations of their audiences.