Taking Ownership of the Message & Crisis Communication – The Thank You Video from the Cleveland Kidnappings

It just came across this morning. I first noticed it on CNN’s Facebook page, then a local television stations Facebook page (WYFF-TV)….then people started sharing.

CNN recorded the YouTube video from the computer screen, then wrote and produced their own story to fit their news commentary. Many other news outlets just shared links to the YouTube video. But what really happened here…the three girls and their families took control of their message and how they delivered it to the world.

News outlets, journalists, bloggers, and many others have been trying to capture an interview with these three girls after being found in a home, victims of a kidnapping. From the very beginning…the families have contended that they wanted their privacy and have stuck with that strategy.

If you look at the description below the YouTube video released, you will gain more context:

Published on Jul 8, 2013
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight would like to say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world who have offered support to them. They are extremely grateful for the tremendous outpouring of kindness they have received and wished to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages with this video.

The women still maintain a strong desire for privacy and ask that everyone continue to respect their wishes in that regard going forward. Thank you.

The video was filmed on July 2, 2013 at the law offices of Jones Day in Cleveland, Ohio. Visible in the background of the video is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The male off-camera voice heard in the video is that of Howard Fencl (pronounced FEHN-sill), vice president of Hennes Paynter Communications. The attorneys, public relations firm, social media strategist and videographer involved in the production of this video are all working pro bono on behalf of the three women.

This was not a price gauging event to leverage this story for the immediate monetary benefit of a law practice, pr firm, and video production company. This was done all pro bono. Now I am sure people will be contacting these businesses and even hire them since they effectively executed a strategy to share this story. But…I want to quickly look at the heart of this matter.

These three girls and their families chose not to be subjected to a press conference, which would lead to a feeding frenzy of who would get the next on-camera interview. They chose not to hold a press conference so they would be subjected to some of the most ridiculous questioning from both seasoned journalists and bloggers. They chose to control the message and share it in a way that made since for their lives and fulfill their desire to maintain their privacy.

Now I am sure the feeding frenzy has escalated since this release. But…the video was shot on July 2, 2013…7 days ago.

  • They were able to share the statement they wanted to share.
  • They were able to edit the video to meet the expectations of not only the legal team, pr firm, but ultimately the family.

We have the ability to control our message. Admittedly, there is a need to involve the main stream media for many awareness campaigns; but sometimes it is just best to bypass this process.

As a former journalist…I know first hand how the process happens, especially when we interview people that have experience this type of event. We have time constraints. Whether it is an immediate deadline or the length of the story…time creates a lens by which journalists create and distribute content. Sometimes that lens can minimize the context of a story. Sometimes, the competitive nature of being “the first” to report do alter the message even more.

I have worked with SO MANY large organizations that are consistently challenged by many mainstream media outlets…tired of their story/comments taken out of context. They/We know it best…news outlets chopping interviews into soundbites that meet the needs of their business model and/or deadline constraints. Yes…if you just chop two more words out of that interview…we won’t make the executive producer mad for going 2 seconds over the time limit of their newscast. A 2 second cut can mean the world to these three ladies.

Kudos to Hennes Paynter Communications, law offices of Jones Day, and the video production staff…they put the best interests of these three girls and their families first.