Posts Tagged ‘crisis management 101’

Letterman vs. Tiger: Why the Apology Is Necessary in Crisis PR

January 10th, 2010

Some may view crisis management as an art, but analyzing negative publicity is also part science.  Accordingly, in crisis PR, the most important step is an apology that (1) is delivered immediately, (2) is sincere and (3) appreciates the consequences of the relevant actions.  The mea culpa is a tough but mandatory pill to swallow for almost all crisis clients, and the best publicists help clients understand the immense value of taking the medicine.

If you doubt the power of the apology, you need look no further than two recent incidents.  In comparing the sex scandals of David Letterman and Tiger Woods, we can tell quickly which celebrity handled their incident(s) best.

Letterman gave his apology on his program before his scandal was even publicized.  Two months later, the amount of press devoted to the scandal fell to less than half of the publicity he received prior to the scandal.  For Woods, by contrast, nearly two months into his fall from grace he hasn’t even appeared publicly to face the cameras or the public.  And, consequently, his ordeal remains high profile with no signs of abating.

By delivering his apology, Letterman threw a big bucket of water on his fire, and the smoldering embers gradually faded away.  Notwithstanding questions of his motivation in doing so, this is an excellent example of crisis management 101.  If only Woods’ handlers would tell him to do the same…

Hewlett Packard, Racist Programming and PR Crisis Management

December 23rd, 2009

Sometimes very bizarre and random viral videos can put a big dent in a company’s reputation, triggering the need for a crisis PR response by the accused.  Case in point: Hewlett-Packard.

The viral video in question shows two electronics store personnel talking directly to a camera connected to a HP computer with facial-recognition software.  The fist employee is black, but the software appears incapable of making the camera recognize and follow his face and movements. The second employee is white, and when she steps in view the software and camera track her properly.  Based on the software’s faulty recognition, the employees conclude that HP is racist.

Many competing theories can abound from this occurrence, but let’s say for the sake of argument that this is an innocent programming error in the HP software.  The fact that the employees are laughing also softens the video’s tone slightly.  In other words, there is very likely a simple and non-racist explanation for the camera tracking patterns.

If that’s the case, then why doesn’t HP practice competent crisis management and put a brief explanation in plain view on their Web site?  And why, when asked, did the company just say it “is looking into” the issue?  As of late afternoon, you won’t find anything on their home page, nor in their press releases.  Very bad move, considering that Google News shows almost 200 articles with the words “HP” and “racist” in the headlines!

It’s highly unlikely that an incident like this will collapse a mega-billion dollar corporate titan like HP.  On the other hand, basic crisis public relations tactics could have put this fire out before HP products became labeled as “racist” – not a great place for your company to be 2 days before Christmas.

Chris Brown and the Need to Get Crisis PR Right

December 18th, 2009

D to F-list celebrity train wrecks make regular news today, for better or worse.  (This blog will comment periodically on how such trends decay the aesthetic of legitimate media, but that’s another article for another day.)  Certainly there’s an appetite for such foibles, and given that celeb media is relentlessly aggressive, the targets obviously have their own niche media needs.

More often than not, those media relations veer toward the realm of crisis PR and crisis management.  And, a primary reason we view these dilemmas from the public relations perspective is that celebrities perplexingly make things worse for themselves.  Makes you wonder who’s giving them advice not just in media relations, but in matters of life and morality.

Take a look at the Chris Brown debacle.  I won’t waste space to recount all the sad details of his recent criminal behavior, but clearly the guy is getting terrible crisis PR and crisis management advice – when you’re accusing Walmart of sabotaging your career, you’re playing the conspiracy card a bit too aggressively and come across as a loose cannon in the press.

Since his arrest, Brown’s devolution and demoted status are the result of a series of very bad decisions.  What could he have done differently?  A few points to consider – and of course, none of these alternate-universe recommendations have any worth unless a crisis pr client has sincere remorse, period.

When you do something wrong, apologize immediately.  This is Crisis Management 101.  Your lawyer may tell you differently, but a celebrity must assume that evidence of bad deeds are leak-prone.  No point in stalling the inevitable, so immediately issue a thoughtful and remorseful apology – and again, you have to mean it.

Step away from rapid-fire social media.  Since his arrest, Brown made stupid comments on Youtube about “haters” that made him look incredibly insensitive, and as mentioned above lashed out at corporate America on Twitter.  Dressing flashy at your criminal hearings also looks bad; if you’re in court make it strictly business attire – this isn’t the time for a fashion show.

Until people forgive, do not engage in openly commercial behaviorNothing looks more crass than an abusive person looking to make money immediately after their incident.  It smacks of disgusting opportunism and the inability to appreciate the consequence of your actions.  Brown should take at least a year off from music; after selling millions of records he certainly doesn’t need the money.  And when you do go back to music, donate all the profits of your next album to a domestic violence shelter, and dedicate your music to all people who have suffered from domestic abuse.

Words are meaningless if your actions don’t support them.  With that year off, instead of touring concert halls, tour the country and speak to students about why domestic abuse is wrong, and how students can work with educators, families and communities to put an end to this awful scourge.

Through such altruistic actions, Brown would give the tabloid press absolutely nothing to write about with his behavior, because there’s nothing sensational anymore.  Being boring is sometimes the right thing to do.

Tale of the Tiger, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hire Public Relations Crisis Management

November 28th, 2009

In a crisis situation, clients with high visibility often are lost on the best way to interact with their crisis counselor.  In the crisis management industry, what role does the public relations specialist play when helping a client?

Take this weekend’s Tiger Woods story – or debacle, depending on who you ask.  We can thank the era of the rapidly evolving media platform for broadcasting a torrent of details in the past 24 hours.  The narrative already involves the world’s best golfer, a supermodel, possibly a mistress, rumors of prescription medication, a car crash, the parties avoiding police investigators, and who knows what else.

Here’s how smart PR crisis management should approach this media lightning rod:

First, when it comes to crisis communications, a competent public relations firm must adopt strict confidentiality protocols similar to those of a lawyer or physician.   The public relations industry doesn’t have a licensing system like law or medicine (though perhaps it should!), but a letter of engagement or contract for services must include non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) principles.  As with these other professional services, confidentiality encourages frank discussion about the client’s problems, which allows the publicist to generate creative, thorough solutions.

Second, the publicist should recommend crisis communication steps only when they believe the client has provided all the facts.  That way the first public response – which is likely the one most media will cover immediately – can address all pertinent details and define the terms of the debate before any outspoken commentator or enemy does.  You can take control of the story and then begin driving the narrative the way you want it to go.

Third, any crisis communication plan must NEVER, ever say “no comment.”  The veritable confession of guilt before the media’s eyes, “no comment” begs reporters, pundits, bloggers and anyone else to speculate on what really happened instead of you telling people the actual facts (see the second point above).

Crisis management 101 rightfully instructs the embattled person to run straight into the crisis so you can wrestle it to the ground.  Each crisis situation is unique in its own details, but like the laws of physics, the fundamentals remain constant.  It’s a long weekend, so Tiger’s publicists still have the chance to steer the narrative favorably to their client before everyone beats their Thanksgiving hangover and gets back to the grind Monday morning.  The clock is ticking…