What follows is a PR document given to students as a way of responding to TIP criticism.
Communications Guide December 2007
This document was presented to students and faculty by Public Relations expert Chris Friemond in 2007 following a series of negative activities directed at the academy, primarily on the internet and by email. In your teacher position and as a professional, it is our hope that reading this document will assist you in understanding these events and the academy’s responses.
A group of former Training in Power trainers and students is actively working to discredit the Academy by attacking its programs and its founder, Faye Fitzgerald, through Internet websites and blog postings, and in print media advertisements in British Columbia.
The attacks are focused on undermining the Academy’s reputation by linking its activities to discredited “cults”. Much of the language used in the attacks is provocative and negative and seems to be deliberately designed to foster negative perceptions of the Academy.
So far, the issue has not attracted the attention of the news media, but teachers of the Academy’s programs and some students are concerned about how they should respond if questioned about the attacks. This Communications Guide is designed to assist teachers in explaining what the Academy is and what it does, and to help them answer questions about the critics’ attacks.
APPROACH TO COMMUNICATIONS
The focus of communications with all audiences should be to provide accurate information about the Academy and its objectives. Rather than attack the critics, teachers should explain the positive aspects of the Academy’s programs, highlighting students’ and teachers’ positive experiences. Messaging should address specific “hot button” words and phrases used by the critics, but the Academy should also maintain the high moral ground to earn the trust and confidence of key audiences.
The difference between marketing and communications:
It’s a fine line. Marketing includes communicating the positive attributes of a product or service, but tends to adopt a more proactive approach aimed at selling the product or service. Communications on the other hand aims more at protecting
and enhancing an organization’s reputation and the reputation of its products and services and the people associated with it.
THE CURRENT THREAT TO THE ACADEMY
While disagreements between Faye Fitzgerald and some of the critics may have been the genesis of the anti-Academy campaign, it is no longer possible to separate the two. Quite clearly, the critics’ attacks are aimed as much at the Academy as they are at Ms. Fitzgerald. Their objective is to damage the Academy’s reputation and credibility by positioning it as a dangerous “cult”.
Key audiences are the people or organizations whose decisions have an impact on the Academy. They are:
- Current students.
- Potential students.
- Vendors/ suppliers (e.g. providers of meeting venues).
- Teachers’ and students’ family and friends.
- The communities in which the Academy is active.
HOW TO POSITION THE ACADEMY
Keep in mind that even though the critics’ positioning of the Academy may be inaccurate and unjustified, it represents their perception – which to them is the reality as they experienced it. Therefore, it’s important to neither demean nor dismiss their experience, but rather to acknowledge it and then provide the Academy’s side of the story.
The objective is to:
- Provide the Academy’s side of the story — but retain the high moral ground.
- Retain current students by reassuring them that the Academy is an opportunity, not a threat.
- Attract new students and grow the organization. . Reassure vendors that the Academy is not a threat.
- Explain the Academy to friends and family and members of the communities in which it operates.
In essence, key messages are the “elevator pitches” that best describe an organization in the fewest possible words. Ideally, key messages ShOUld be Worked into all conversations about the Academy and in responses to tough questions.
Suggested key messages:
- Training in Power Academy is an organization that teaches people how to enhance their inner strength and energy so that they can take control of their lives and achieve their personal and spiritual goals at their own pace in a safe environment.
- Training in Power Academy’s courses are taught by certified teachers in Canada and the US. They include methods such as meditation, but also incorporate unique approaches that allow students to develop their natural abilities to help heal themselves and grow in aptitude
- One of the Academy’s courses has been used at the University of British Columbia in a research program for the nursing division, and course concepts are also being considered by other Canadian educational institutions.
RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
Using Key Messages:
What is Training in Power Academy?
Training in Power Academy is an organization that teaches people how to enhance their inner strength and energy so that they can take control of their lives and achieve their personal and spiritual goals at their own pace in a safe environment.
How do you do that?
We do it through a series of courses that are taught by certified teachers in Canada and the US. The courses include methods such as mediation, but also incorporate unique approaches that allow students to develop their natural abilities to heal themselves and grow.
It sounds a bit off-beat. Are the courses recognized by anyone?
Yes they are. One of the Academy’s courses has been used at the University of British Columbia in a research study for a nursing program, and course concepts are also being considered for courses at other Canadian educational institutions.
To address questions related to the Internet postings:
I’ve read on the Internet that some former teachers and students say the Academy is a dangerous cult and should be avoided. Is that true?
The Academy is anything but a cult. In fact, our training enhances and encourages individuality, which is the exact opposite of cult behaviour.
Then what’s behind the Internet postings?
Our organization has been growing, learning and evolving for over 20 years. Many of the comments by critics on the internet are based on some of the mistakes we made in our early days, and also on some misunderstandings. We continue make changes for the better and strive to continually improve.
Some of the language used by the critics on the Internet to describe what goes on in the Academy’s training programs and what happened to them personally is quite alarming. Do you deny it?
As an organization, we are‘ sorry if any former student or teacher had a negative experience at the Academy. That was never our intention. We take all feedback very seriously and use it to enhance our programs. We did that with the Internet postings and are confident that we have now eliminated aspects of the training that may have been perceived as negative or threatening.
The Academy is seen as very secretive. Why is that?
The Academy provides a safe place for personal healing and growth. That means there is a lot of the interaction between teachers and students, which is confidential. But it does not mean that the Academy is secretive. Information about our courses and our training methods is freely available.
Why have so many people left the Academy?
The Academy offers training courses that last for a specific period of time. Some people take just one course and stop, while others continue to higher levels. Like any organization, there have been students and teachers who found that their interests changed and they decided to move in a different direction. We accept and respect their choice.
DEALING WITH THE MEDIA
In most cases, questions from reporters will be channelled to the Academy’s official spokespeople. However, there may be times when it’s necessary to do an interview, particularly with local community media. The following tips should be helpful in achieving a successful interview:
- Remember that the media are a channel to your key audiences; they are not an audience in themselves. So think of who will be reading, viewing or listening to the interview and frame your responses accordingly.
- Stick to key messages; they are your safe haven. Keep coming back to them in response to different questions. Repeating yourself is a good thing when it comes to key messages.
- Keep your responses brief; don’t waffle and get off track. Say what you have to say (i.e. your key message) and then stop talking and waiting for the next question.
- Don’t speculate, even if the reporter asks you to. If you don’t know the right response to a question, say so. Stick to the facts and say only what you know to be accurate.
- Don’t attack the Academy’s critics in your responses to a reporter’s questions. Stick to the key messages and Q&A.
- Remember that no matter how friendly reporters may seem, they are not your friends – they are simply doing a job, which is to get as much information from you to make their story interesting.
- If possible, give yourself time to prepare for an interview. For example, if you take a phone call from a reporter who wants to talk to you, ask if you can call back in a few minutes, then clear your head and review your key messages before calling back.
- Maintain your cool no matter how aggressive or provocative the reporter may