Those Chilean Miners. . .

December 15, 2010

Several weeks have passed now since the dramatic rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, and many of us continue to ponder the spectacle we just witnessed. One of the miners became a huge celebrity in the U.S. (appearing on Letterman and at the New York Stock Exchange and the New York Marathon), and several movies about the rescue are already being made. But beyond observing the reach and power of today’s media to focus attention on a disaster, what are the bigger lessons we should take away from this event?

Andres Saiz Kafack, CEO of Ketchum’s affiliate in Chile, ASK Comunicaciones, recently offered these perspectives:

“The rescue of 33 miners trapped in the San José mine captivated the interest of the world, as it involved one of the more complicated rescues in mining. Altogether, there were 69 days of uncertainty, a time when Chileans put aside their political and religious differences to come together as one to support the safe ending of an accident that shocked the country.

This successful rescue showed the world the most important values of Chileans: calmness, professionalism and hope. Though fate may deal a blow to their country, joining together, they can overcome adversity. This accident occurred the same year as the devastating earthquake in February that rocked Chile, events that have marred the celebration of Chile’s bicentennial this year.
 
In the end, the success of the rescue, with 33 miners brought out alive, has strengthened the spirit of the Chile as few could have expected and offered a number of lessons so that never again in Chile or abroad will this type of accident be repeated.”
 
From a PR point of view, I would like to add to Andres’s thoughts that this was one of the first truly global catastrophes to take place live. Seen by more than a billion people, the disaster spotlighted 33 miners trapped far underground that were reached and set free after a miracle rescue. But before you drop your first tear at this feat, let’s remember we are in communications and note a few things.
 
Before taking office, the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, was the owner of Chilevision, one of the largest TV stations in the country, and knew well the power of media (or you did you think that the big flag and the chi-chi-le-le shoutings were natural?). The more than 2,000 journalists camped out and covering the rescue was all about reality TV.
 
The personal profiles of the miners, the bizarre stories like the wife and the lover of one miner, and the leadership examples offered by the miners’ little paper message of “we are all 33 in the refuge” — no author could have written a better script. Take one part thriller (will they make it out?), add one part inspiration (they’re alive!), sprinkle in a little romance (“when we go out, prepare the wedding dress, we are going to church to marry”), and don’t forget a little science fiction (NASA and the zillion dollar lenses), and you still wouldn’t get the real taste of it.

Watching coverage from the global networks — BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera — you could see the best and the worst of journalism. On CNN, one correspondent report (for more than 10 TV minutes!) was about a miner who didn’t speak English yet could sing Elvis songs as if he could, and a whole debate to see which song would he choose to sing when he emerged (he didn’t sing an Elvis song in the end).

Amazingly, all of us around the world became glued to the tube (and to social media, too, where, if you Googled “TV, miners and Chile” you could get more than 11 million results) by these 69 days of coverage. I only hope the movie is as good as the real thing.  They say Javier Bardem has already been contacted. . .