This weekend’s NATO summit will bring to Chicago thousands of reporters, protesters, and top officials from governments around the world.
And wherever the press gathers, communicators are not far behind, whether they are U.S. Secret Service
officials discussing security or Occupy Chicago
protesters seeking to seize an international stage.
—whose Chicago headquarters protesters are vowing to shut down—is fielding media calls and communicating internally with employees. The Federal Aviation Administration
is spreading the word online and at airports about flight restrictions.
“As a group of public affairs professionals who deal with events like this, the point is to have the news of the event really be the news,” said an FAA spokeswoman who asked not to be identified. “We’re not trying to make the security surrounding the event the news story.”
Still, such stories are inevitable, given the way a major summit disrupts city life, shuts down commuter train lines, and brings out demonstrators. Some 18,500 visitors
are expected this weekend.
Bull’s-eye on Boeing
Protesters have targeted Boeing’s world headquarters on the Chicago River on Monday, calling it
“a corporate war criminal that profits off violence.”
Given this kind of language, Boeing is preparing for the worst. A senior vice president of HR emailed employees telling them they should work from home because of the protests and transportation problems, said Communications Director Todd Blecher.
But communicators will be at their desks, fielding media phone calls and doing on-camera interviews as needed.
Boeing has a long-established contingency plan, Blecher says. Communicators practice crisis simulations once a year, walking through their roles in a response effort. Boeing’s public statements so far have sought to defuse tensions.
“As an organization, we respect the protesters’ right to lawfully exercise their freedoms,” Blecher says. “And we hope that they will respect our property and the folks at Boeing who attempt to work here in the building on Monday.”
Boeing’s Twitter feed
is global, so Blecher won’t use it to address protests in Chicago unless things get so out of hand that the company decides to respond via a worldwide channel, he says. The same goes for the website.
Secret Service communications center
The Secret Service and Chicago Police have gathered communicators from city, state, and federal agencies to staff a 24-hour media center, said Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie. The tight-lipped agency won’t say how many people will be working.
The Secret Service has also partnered with Chicago Police in holding press conferences and issuing statements about street closings
in a swath of the South Side. Planners have also held meetings in affected neighborhoods.
“We’ve done some outreach, and we definitely have to take the community into account in communicating this,” Ogilvie says.
The Secret Service is doing little on its Twitter feed
. As of early Wednesday afternoon, only one tweet in the past month dealt with the NATO event. Three summit-related tweets popped up, but the agency was focusing its efforts on communicating to reporters with emails about its communications hotline.
By contrast, Occupy Chicago and other antiwar groups launched a social media outreach to argue for military spending cuts and increased social and educational funding. Allied protest groups are also taking on a potpourri of issues such as immigration enforcement, the environment, and discrimination against gays and lesbians.
‘Elevate the struggle’
“We are seeking to elevate the struggle in the Chicago community to the international stage,” says spokeswoman Rachael Perrotta, who volunteers through a nonprofit called HammerHard MediaWorks Collective
. “We’re trying to say that instead of spending money on war and destruction around the world, we need to be funding services here in Chicago.”
The protesters are using multiple websites, Twitter
channels, and other platforms, and they have created an online press kit
. The demonstrators, too, have a 24-hour media center, which includes French-speaking volunteers.
Perrotta has said Occupy and other organizers are calling for peaceful protests. But authorities are bracing for violence of the sort associated with major international events such as the World Economic Forum
The Chicago Police Department is handling a heavy volume of calls from local, national, and international media, said department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton. The department has held press conferences to communicate about road closings and to tout its preparations.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told the press Monday that 3,100 officers will be assigned to NATO duty, and police announced
the purchase of new horse armor and “sound cannons” to drive back the crowd.
But where there’s a communications channel, there’s likely to be an employee with a beef. Second City Cop
, a blog purportedly written by a Windy City police officer, suggested that not every officer was getting needed information. The author writes to fellow cops that “I’m sure nobody has told you yet” but an anti-police march is planned for Tuesday.
“Beware,” the blog warns. “Some of the events they are holding are titled: how to disarm [a] police officer and anti-police brutality meeting.”
Stratton said the department has been communicating with employees by posting on its intranet sites, briefings officers at roll calls, and issuing a training video featuring the superintendent.
“We’ve obviously tried to message internally and keep updates as timely as possible as well,” she said.
Communicating to aviators
The FAA has designated channels—email and its website—to communicate with pilots about flight dangers like wildfires and volcanoes that send smoke or ash plumes, said the spokeswoman. The agency has issued press releases and published both plain-language
and technical descriptions
of this weekend’s flight restrictions.
(Anyone planning to spend the weekend firing rockets or flying hang gliders and hot-air balloons over the summit will be disappointed; they’re banned.)
The restrictions will have little effect at major airports. But FAA staffers are visiting smaller airports around Chicago to distribute flyers and make sure everyone gets the word.
“The part of it we’re dealing with, we already have pretty robust communication vehicles set up to deal with this type of issue,” said the spokeswoman.
City Hall referred reporters to the Official Host Committee for the Chicago NATO Summit
, which has been offering information through its website and Twitter feed
Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.