In just five weeks since the shooting spree that killed 17 of their classmates, a handful of these survivors have become pros at live TV interviews, created the "Never Again" campaign and raised millions of dollars -- from celebrities and organizations like George and Amal Clooney, Oprah and Gucci -- for the massive "March For Our Lives" demonstration that they've planned for Saturday in Washington.
Act fast with emotion and urgency.
We can learn -- in more ways that one -- from these Parkland survivors. Their crisis PR hasn't been about protecting a company or their brand. The stakes are much higher, literally life and death, and these kids have risen to the occasion. Their message was immediate, urgent and emotional -- three key ingredients in effective PR.
For days and weeks after the shooting, some students gave multiple TV interviews a day. "We are begging for our lives here," March organizer Cameron Kasky told "Face the Nation" four days after the shootings at his school. "The adults lets us down," fellow student activist Emma Gonzalez said.
They took to Twitter fast and furious, and Twitter worked quickly to verify student accounts with its little blue checkmarks. Gonzalez has 1.25 million Twitter followers.
These student activists have kept the conversation going -- and, sadly, there's been occasion to do so as they once again called for nationwide changes to gun laws following a shooting and lockdown today at at Maryland high school.
In times of crisis or breaking news, it's important to be prepared right away to tell your story. If you don't, others will tell it for you. I was speaking recently with a business about this very thing. This firm had been the subject of a negative news story on a Friday, and leaders wanted to wait until after the weekend to respond. Now that firm knows it needs a crisis communications plan and for leaders to be practiced in responding to news as it happens.
The soundbite rules and so does poise.
On TV and now on social media, the sound bite is important. You have to cut to the chase, break through the noise. These kids seem to be naturals at it. Growing up with cell phones in hand has its practical uses, I guess. Kasky on "60 Minutes" referred to himself and his peers as the "mass shooting generation." If that doesn't stick, in people's minds, nothing will.
And let's talk about poise here. These kids have dealt in facts and figures in the face of unspeakable tragedy with incredible grace and poise. I haven't seen an interview with these student leaders in which they've been combative, disrespectful or gone low to spread lies and hateful slurs. They're just really smart, fired up kids, learning while doing and teaching the adults in the room a thing or two, too.
They key to the soundbite is practice, practice, practice. The more interviews you do, the better you are at it. It also helps to write out talking points but to keep them short. Talking points aren't meant to be entire speeches but just brief reminders of where you want to take the conversation. I like to think of talking points in terms of headlines -- short and punchy.
Now I just wish these kids didn't have so much practice.