Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi – A Teachable Moment for Nuclear Energy Communicators

Earlier this month, I conducted a workshop at the American Nuclear Society Annual Student Conference in Atlanta on how to speak with the public about nuclear energy. In the wake of the events at the Fukushima Daiichi, I presented information on recent trends in public opinion (hat tip to Ann Bisconti of Bisconti Research, Inc.) along with trends after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents.

After TMI, public support for new nuclear energy plants rose for three years. Why? We needed the energy, and the Iranian revolution a few months later brought that message clearly to the public. After a brief initial dip after Chernobyl, public support for new nuclear energy rose to 52% a month later. Another common thread – each of these events presented the nuclear energy industry with a teachable moment, and the industry stepped up.

But the events at Fukushima Daiichi present a real challenge. Although it withstood one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, along with a 70-foot wall of water, it has experienced explosions and radioactive emissions that have contaminated the area around the plant. We can’t say, as we did with Chernobyl, “our light water reactor technology will contain any radiation,” because it didn’t.

The workshop generated a lot of passionate discussion among the participants. And we came to a few conclusions. First, our independent regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, gives nuclear power plant operations in the U.S. a high level of credibility. We need to cite the NRC’s rigorous oversight. Second, our near-term messaging must focus on safety – what we’re learning from Fukushima Daiichi, our operating record, and the steps each nuclear power plant operator is taking (or has taken) to make sure that its plant(s) operate safely regardless of the severity of any external events. Third, we need to focus on the benefits of nuclear energy – clean air energy that can be generated here in the U.S., adding to our nation’s energy security.

Two hours after it began, participants left the workshop ready to step up to the teachable moment that Fukushima Daiichi presents. They recognized that it is their moment to make a positive difference in the conversation about nuclear energy in the U.S., and are now armed with the information to make it so.

For those who are interested in a post about the entire conference, don’t miss Rod Adams’ terrific piece in his Atomic Insights blog. Many thanks to Rod for permission to use his photo of conference participants.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Snapshot of the Rapidly Changing News Media

We’re a little late in flagging this, but the best annual report on “The State of the News Media” has been released for 2010, providing an invaluable snapshot of the radical changes taking place in the way Americans receive their news. The report is a publication of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The chart on the right shows the basic changes that took place last year: every news medium saw its audience shrink (cable by nearly 14%) except online, which grew by more than 17%. For the first time, more Americans said they got their news at least three times a week from online sources than from newspapers (46% to 40%). Only local TV news had a bigger following (50%).

Other highlights:

• Nearly half of all Americans – 47% - get at least some of their local news on cellphones or other mobile devices.
• Despite audience trends, revenues grew for every news medium except one, daily newspapers. Leading the list was local TV, which registered an increase of 17%, followed by online, about 14%. Newspapers saw their revenues shrink by over 6%.
• For the first time ever, advertisers spent more money online (over $25 billion) than on print ads.
• Newspapers laid off another 1,000 to 1,500 reporters and editors, leaving their news staffs 30% smaller than they were in 2000.

Structurally, the Pew report says that the most important change taking place in the news media is the shift in control – from journalists to software programmers, content aggregators and device makers that connect with the public and control the audience data that is key to communicating in an online world.

The report includes a fascinating interactive page that will let you pick the media and the topic to learn the extent of the coverage in 2010. Check it out.

- Potomac Communications Group

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hosting the Italians

PCG recently had the honor of hosting a group of southern Italian businessmen and women who were touring the United States as part of the State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The program, which began during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, has brought hundreds of thousands of foreign professionals to the United States to learn about the American way of doing business and to meet new friends and potential colleagues. Many future leaders, including Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, participated at one time.

We were happy to meet them for many reasons. One owns a solar photovoltaic company and is having trouble with siting issues, despite Italy’s push to develop more renewable energy. Another participant is an architect who produces major events and exhibits, and we were delighted when he admired our offices. They brought along two translators, so we had a chance to practice the pace of simultaneous translation – good for a firm like ours that’s doing more international business.

After visiting us, the group left D.C. for stops in Silicon Valley, Sacramento, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Albany and New York City before heading home. We wish them well – and if any of them becomes prime minister of Italy, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Distinguished Speaker?

Last week I gave a speech to about 80 people at the U.S. Department of Transportation. I was invited as a “distinguished speaker” to honor National Women’s History Month.

My charge was to talk about my career and give the audience insights about how to navigate the many shoals that one encounters over a long career. Although I give talks to many groups, I’m not used to – or particularly comfortable with – talking about myself. So, this was a real challenge for me.

Camille Hazeur, Director of the Office of Civil Rights for U.S. Department of Transportation, gave me the advice that I give clients – tell stories. And so I did. I talked about the six women who were managers and professionals in 1973 at Westinghouse’s 23-story headquarters building … about the company’s all-female financial communications team in 1997 (we spanned legal, finance, investor relations and PR, and we all were #2s in our organizations) … and on to the C-level women that we support today in our client relationships. Yes, the world has changed.

I told of some of the ethical challenges I encountered … how I almost took the wrong job (one in administration) because it was a two-step jump in grade and salary ... the day I met the executive who became my mentor, and how I insulted him by asking if he had ever thought of getting help with his presentations. (He soon asked for help.) These stories and many, many more.

I spoke for about 20 minutes and took questions for the rest of the hour. Camille tells me that her office has gotten many emails and phone calls of appreciation for my little talk. The feedback is nice, and I had a lot of fun meeting so many great folks from all the branches of DOT.

So what have I learned over the decades of my career? In a nutshell … Make friends. You’ll need them. Avoid making enemies.
  • Find a great mentor, who you believe in and who believes in you.
  • Know what you really want to do/be and don’t get distracted.
  • Do the right thing. This isn’t always easy, but it’s really important.
  • Speak truth to power. There’s a way to do this tactfully. Most executives know that they’re insulated, so they appreciate it.
  • Hard work pays off – in two ways: what you learn, what your management sees.
  • Let management and opinion leaders know what you’re doing and the results you’re delivering.
And what did I learn about communications? We give good advice to our clients. If you tell stories about real people, you’ll engage an audience.

Finally, I learned something interesting about DOT. (Actually there are many interesting things about DOT – the FAA, Maritime Administration, Railroad Administration, etc.) The Maritime Administration is the owner of the Nuclear Ship Savannah, a national historic landmark in Baltimore,which is being decommissioned. So you see, there are nuclear reactors and nuclear experts in the most unexpected places.