‘What’s your Ferris Wheel?’ CBS comms exec asks at crisis forum

When Richard Huff and his volunteer fire and EMT pals gather at the annual Atlantic Highlands Fireman’s Fair, they’re concerned with much more than keeping the powdered sugar off their uniforms while eating funnel cakes.

“What if the Ferris wheel fell?” the veteran journalist who now serves as executive director of communications for CBS News, asked a room full of PR and marketing professionals at a PR News’ “Taste of Tech” conference.  “Think about what your Ferris wheel is.”

Huff drew dozens of parallels between his role as EMS chief and the job faced by professional communicators responsible for planning for crises.

Praise was aimed at the New York chapter of the American Red Cross for their use of Twitter to alert news outlets monitoring @redcrossny to media availability as crews assembled to help Oklahoma tornado victims in May 2013.

The U.S. Army social media team used @FtHood during a shooting rampage to tell personnel to shelter in place, following up on the base’s Facebook page with more details while the April 2 incident was still unfolding, said Huff.

Huff, whose responsibilities at CBS include “48 Hours” and “CBS Sunday Morning,” urged “Taste of Tech” attendees to create message templates so they can quickly issue alerts over digital channels in many crisis scenarios.

Ownership of Twitter hashtags can also aid management of crisis situations, allowing brands to more easily monitor third-party tweets about the emergency.  Huff used the March mud slide near State Route 530 in Washington as an example, citing emergency management personnel’s early and ongoing use of the #530slide hashtag.


For negative comments being made about a brand in crisis, Huff recommended triage that asks:

  • Who is making the comment?
  • How many followers?
  • Is it gaining traction?
  • Can you enlist others to help?
  • Must you respond?
  • Do not engage in social bickering.

Despite the best planning, mistake can and will happen, Huff said, pointing to the New York Police Department’s ill-fated attempt to run a user-generated photo campaign using Twitter.

News monitoring provided by Critical Mention