The Lessons of Challenger -30 years later

The Boston & Maine Connection – PR Disaster Planning

The lessons of Challenger – Fast Forwarded Thirty Years

January 28th  a sad but also long ago memory brought back painfully fresh. It is the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. At the time, Outer Space, was the new frontier and frontiers are fraught with danger. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the word came over the radio. Just South of Bangor Maine, heading to an important first meeting with Mark Mowatt, founder, entrepreneur and the CEO of Ben’s 100.  Like so many others, I was in shock and bewildered. I had no smartphone, social media or tools other than a pager and faced the choice of a 20 minute drive off Interstate 95 to find a payphone to seek guidance or continue on, as I did, to drive on for ten more minutes to meet the expectation of being timely. I remember the somber mood. I remember watching TV with the CEO and his staff. I was sad. I remember little else. The reason for the visit, the outcome? All trivial in light of what happened unexpectedly.

GoogleDirector KSwC_DSC_0729_©KeithSpiroPhoto.jpg

Director’s Chair awaits you. We are all citizen journalists today.

Comparing the past to today, I see such an amazing difference in the tools of communications and how communities react to fast breaking news. Today’s frontier is the internet, the wild-wild-web of human interaction.


Back then, radio was fastest with the furthest reach.

TV ran a close second but most of us did not typically have one riding shotgun in our cars.

Newspapers gathered information carefully putting out next day reports because Extra Editions were already too expensive to add to the print news delivery cycle.


We all expected to get home to the evening news with Walter Cronkite to get the full story. Yet, that day, 30 years ago, January 28, 1986 at 10:39 am, it was Dan Rather on the desk reporting live as a sadly repeating tape from Houston talked about a malfunction while our eyes told us so much more. See the video clip here

Thinking about the speed of today’s real time web, I can only imagine that 30 year old scenario playing out as bad press today for Mission Control. With Vine Loops and Vimeo, sound bites repeating the understatement of the decade and images lifted from network footage shared instantly to and by billions of humans worldwide, the potential for a virally fueled PR disaster is huge. And yet, most businesses today are ill prepared to deal with their own Mission Control Malfunction.

In today’s real time always connected world, it pays for everyone to have a contingency-A Catastrophe-response PR plan (CPR) in place. We are all citizen journalists today. See something, say something. You can be sure the phones are out capturing video and stills, circulated globally in just seconds. Yesterday’s casual bystanders are today’s reporters and social media journalists. With all senses put to use, the social enabled citizen becomes the people’s eyes and ears on the ground. What they see, feel, hear, smell and touch or taste are often amplified without benefit of backstory.

Here are some easy actions to take: Start with a list of possible catastrophic incidents that could happen involving your business. If you are in manufacturing, you instinctively know you will deal with big orders, bad deliveries, broken equipment, crisis driven fulfillment. It happens all the time. Medical and Pharma, established and start ups? Know that you or your competitor will one day announce a big breakthrough, a huge backer, a major sale but also, a mission failure, a life lost, human error and human tragedy. How will you deal with it?

As a minimum, have an outline of who speaks first and what they say. Think about the words you will use. Are they calm and measured? Do they match the tenor and tone needed if you ever have to call them into action? What is your worst case scenario list? How will you respond in the pressure of the moment? A well planned PR disaster recovery plan includes a matrix of events likely to happen in the life cycle of a product, service or company. Be prepared. Have a plan and have your own media outlets already connected to the social business world we live in.

As David Meerman Scott says, “we are what we publish.” Start publishing now and keep going.

Want some help? Get in touch with Keith Spiro.

We are all in this together. A global community connected by instantaneous access.


A Chance Meeting with author Walter Mosley

walter mosley photo by keith spiroThe best thing I did the other night was to decide to join Malia Lazu at Emerson’s Paramont theater Emerson Paramont theatre photo by keith spiro for an intimate book reading and signing by Walter Mosley. Future Boston Alliance co-organized the event as well as Mosley’s eleven day “Obsessive Residency”  with ArtsEmerson. I knew Malia as co-founder of Future Boston Alliance but I came to also learn about her long standing friendship with Walter Mosley. Author of over 40 books, he has won awards including a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  Easy to see why! We learned first hand that his parents read to him as a kid, that he began drawing incessantly at age twelve – and hasn’t stopped, and that he writes something every day. When asked – he stated “a writer, writes something.” All the time. They write.
Walter had been in residence at Emerson College most of the week and when he talked about Interrogating Whiteness, he had over 200 people in the audience with the discussion spilling out onto social media for days.

I attended the more mundane evening launch of his new book The Graphomaniac’s Primer – A semi surrealist memoir.  The evening was anything but mundane. The editor didn’t like Walter’s choice of front cover, but he loved the back cover and in our fresh off the press, evening before the official release edition of the memoir  – what was the back final page is now also  – the front cover. This is the book that Walter Mosley calls “The literary home shopping network.”

Adrian Walker & Walter Mosley photo by keith spiro

Another interesting part of listening in on this intimate  conversation he was having with Boston Globe Columnist Adrian Walker and us, was watching unfold, the path of enlightenment as he discovered that he was a graphomaniac.

walter mosley photo by keith spiro

a contemplative moment by author Walter Mosley as he realizes he is a graphomaniac.

The revelation came somewhere in the middle of an overgrown letter O but it also might have been during the escape of the letter S from its assigned space while he wrestled to push it back into line.  You really needed to be there to watch the story unfold in a most amazing way.

walter mosley photo by keith spiro
If you weren’t, grab a copy of the book and get someone who was there to read it to you!  Walter said we were the first to see and hold it in our hands, and so far,  I haven’t seen it listed on Amazon or Barnes &  Noble nor on its publishers website. So keep an eye on Black Classic Press and watch for its availability. You can see my autographed copy but I’ll have to read it to you. It’s not available for loan.

Play4TheCure Day in Photos Keith Spiro

Play4TheCure New Hampshire

New Hampshire Youth Lacrosse Association Play4TheCure

New Hampshire Youth Lacrosse Association Play4TheCure


One of the more gratifying assignments has been working with The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) and their signature fundraising

program #Play4TheCure. New Hampshire with its first in the nation primary was also the first state to sign up as an entire sport league to Play4TheCure. The New Hampshire Youth Lacrosse Association (NHYLA) recently dedicated their Annual #Lacrosse Festival to raising awareness and funds for cancer research. 6000 students, 300 teams two days of lacrosse

United States Senator Kelly Ayotte sent an awesome letter of support to the organizers which was read to the Senior Staff of The New Hampshire Youth Lacrosse Association and members of the teams that were awarded the Best Sportsmanship award.

Exploring the Mid Coast of the Rio Negro, Amazonas, Brazil

cover page CRYER Project Piaba

My photo spread from the Project Piaba 2015 Expedition made the front page of the April issue of the CRYER.

The Mid Coast of Maine and the Mid Coast of the Rio Negro, in the state of Amazonas Brazil, contain two very different fishing communities. One borders the vast Atlantic Ocean, the other is immersed in fresh water for as far as the eye can see. This winter Maine felt like the North Pole so I couldn’t help but note that the Amazon Rain Forest fishing villages are less than 50 miles from the Equator.

For everything in our saltwater ocean, there appeared to be a freshwater counterpart. In the Amazon we encountered Pink Freshwater Dolphins, otters, seals and stingrays.

Once you get to the understanding that there is nothing but freshwater for as far as the eye can see (nearly 20% of all freshwater on earth), you can also quickly see patterns of community that are very similar. Earning your living from the sea is not easy. The work is hard, the hours are long and the pay, well, check out the exchange rate and their tax rate and you get the message rather quickly. People of the Amazon share many of the same difficulties we find in Maine. These include over-regulation that can take on mythic proportion. And yes, just like home here in Bath and Harpswell, these are some of the nicest people on earth. They just happen to sit on the other side of the world.

exploring Rio Negro pg 18 exploring Rio Negro pg 19

The day I got to sing with Amanda Palmer & Matthew Ebel

Vintage video footage of the day I got to sing with Amanda Palmer and Matthew Ebel can be found here on YouTube. For me, in retrospect it was the turning point in how I viewed sales, service, marketing and communications……….

Back in 2010, in the early days of social media, pioneers  Amanda Palmer, Matthew Ebell and I were selected to present at Jeff Pulver’s 140 conference in Boston Massachusetts.

The 140 conference was started by Jeff, a wonderful and warm entrepreneur and early investor in Twitter, to explore “the State of Now.” This was to be the opportunity to talk about using the web and Twitter, a hundred and forty character communications tool, to leverage real-time communications and change the world. Today, we more clearly see how social and business have merged to disrupt old ways and old rules of sales, marketing and service, but back then, we were just beginning to see the amazing changes brought by speed and access.

I planned to reference Marshall McLuhan and Sesame Street and talk about sound bites and their impact on communications but I soon learned that I was to follow Amanda Palmer and Matthew Ebel and their music panel and mini concert.  Indeed, A hard act to follow.

Real Time Twitter lesson Number One: reach out immediately and call for help. People will respond. I tweeted to Jeff Pulver backstage and asked for all my new friends to come out on stage and help me. I was scrambling because the only thing I knew for sure at that point was that most everybody knew the Sesame Street song and Marshall whoever – was long ago interred in history. My new need was immediate, real and compelling.

I salvaged the rest of my presentation in the transition and while the talk may be lost to history, these most memorable moments, where I got to sing with Amanda Palmer and Matthew Ebel, live on.

Today, I continue to explore the power of social media and community building and I often reference Amanda Palmer’s famous Ted Talk

and newer work The Art of the Ask

along with proudly pointing to  Matthew Ebel’s successful alternative marketing with his robot army. They are both great examples of what is possible.  Back then, using social media and asking for help were new to all of us.

Collaboration for Good

In an email last month, from one of my favored non-profits, came an invitation to participate in an online auction. While I normally eschew such programs, I was intrigued by the fact that my favored organization collaborated with two, similar minded, local organizations with which I was familiar. In fact, the more I thought about what the three organizations had done, the more willing I became to support them.

Merrymeeting Conservation and Education Alliance

Merrymeeting Conservation and Education Alliance

Instead of three separate, competing auctions or fundraisers, tapping into the same businesses multiple times, these creative organizations used some very enlightened leadership and real time technology tools to improve their results and very much enhance their good reputations.

This auction was a unique collaboration of:

the Brunswick/Topsham Land Trust,
the Cathance River Education Alliance
and the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust.

BTLT, CREA, KELT, combined forces to create their first annual on line “bidding for good” campaign. I am particularly pleased with their approach. How nice to have just one solicitation for multiple organizations that I care about and allow me to distribute the money I would want to donate in an equitable and non-pressured way. By engaging me this way, they got me to be more generous than I would have been had I needed to stop to consider who else will be tapping on my pockets in the traditional end of year ‘giving’ upon which so many organizations depend. I liked the beneficiaries, they are well aligned with each other and they eliminated the need for me to balance the financial equation of who gets how much. For a couple of images from my day in photo shoot with Gary Fogg, check out The Forecaster story here.

For the auction, I got to focus on just what items I wanted to bring home for the family. No, I didn’t  “win” the item as the automated auction email implied, I chose to outbid others because I was empowered by those organizations I care about to focus on my desired results and in so doing, I better helped them achieve theirs.

Hat’s off to the planners, leaders and collaborators of this campaign because they have invoked three key concepts needed to excel in this real-time-web world:

 COLLABORATION – easier than trying to do it all alone – no-one-organization  can really do it all alone

 REAL TIME WEB –  bidding for good allows a streamlined and real time approach to raising funds for organizations that matter

 INBOUND MARKETING – SELF IDENTIFYING DONORS- yes it really works and you are less a nuisance this way. The right people with aligned interests will find you. Thank you for allowing me to have a say in all of this.

While this particular auction will be over by the time you see this blog post, you should take a look at how they put it together and gain some ideas for your own work with 501c3 organizations.  Take advantage of the real time technology tools that are all around us and recognize the revolution in social interactions and access that is occurring.

If you need help understanding the changes, send me an email. If you’re a solicitor, don’t bother to call or add me to your grinder/donor list. I don’t respond when you and your agencies make it all about you.