Posts Tagged ‘crisis public relations’

Following the Maine Sugarloaf Lift Incident

December 28th, 2010

At the moment, the best news so far is no fatalities from today’s horrible ski lift collapse at Sugarloaf in Maine.  Incidents like this require smart crisis management so that safety personnel, emergency response, and other skiers have the latest and most accurate information available.

That’s why it’s worth pointing out that Sugarloaf has, so far, done an excellent job with crisis public relations.  Not only are there visible press releases and updates on the official website, the Facebook and Twitter accounts are up on full alert as well.

This kind of smart, coordinated response almost always requires prior crisis management planning and consultation with experienced crisis PR practitioners.  If you’re in charge of a similar site or facility, are your plans as tight as Sugarloaf’s?  If not, get started now.

Tumbling, Stumbling, Bumbling PR

December 6th, 2010

Alas, poor Tumblr… Let’s get right to the point: If your company’s entire presence is online, i.e., your website is the heart and nervous system of your business, then at some point your business will disappear — at least temporarily.  Your site will have an outage or downtime.  It’s a matter of when, not if.  This has happened to Facebook, foursquare, Gmail, Amazon… the list is lengthy.  There’s even a site dedicated to tracking outages!

Consumers and site users, though they get frustrated, will understand if your site has a simple, regular-speak statement that explains the problem.  Sites like Twitter (assuming it’s not down as well!) allow you to update your core base and interested media tracking the outage.  So, as the C-suite of your online titan, you really have no excuse to skip crisis PR basics on the situation.

As of this time, Tumblr has been down for 15 hours.  Here’s what they have to say about it:

Anyone know what a “database cluster” is, assuming you’re not an IT guru?  We certainly don’t, and a good bet is that the massive universe of Tumblr stakeholders also have no clue.  Their Twitter account isn’t much help either, other than to tell you how “painful” the downtime is.

Tumblr, dearest Tumblr… how about telling us what a database cluster is?  Even in playful or tongue-in-cheek language, it would go a long way.  Maybe a quick explanation that also discusses how long such problems last, and how they’re resolved?  And when the outage ends, how about some good crisis management that explains what steps you’ll take in the future to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again?

Without taking these steps, each second of Tumblr‘s outage only encourages competitors to poach the user base.

Krisis … Er, Crisis PR Gone Kaput

December 1st, 2010

Crisis PR can push a client to act very quickly in changing or ending certain business practices.  One recent noteworthy case is the ubiquitous celeb family the Kardashians, and the quick vanishing act performed by their name brand pre-paid debit card.

Just as soon as the card was announced, numerous critics pounced on the card’s predatory and heavy-handed fee structure.  The primary concern was that the card was being marketed to teenage girls, who critics argue lack the understanding of the delicate finances and responsibility required to manage such a card account.

To that end, the wise thing for the Kardashians to do was to, ahem, cancel the card.  And, a simple statement acknowledging their error could have put a nice end to the PR crisis and helped them move on.  That’s largely what happened, except for a couple of poorly executed twists:

First, their lawyer issued such a statement on the family’s behalf, instead of the family doing so themselves.  Effective crisis public relations counsels the client to make such statements directly to show authenticity and sincerity in seeking redemption.  Having your lawyer make the statement runs counter to this consideration.

Second, if you’re going to make a statement, don’t throw in any laughable points for the media to highlight.  The lawyer’s key quote was that the Kardashian sisters “have worked extremely long and hard to create a positive public persona” and that effort was compromised by the card’s fees.  This statement is incredibly arrogant, particularly since the family’s biggest claims to fame are association with a likely murderer and a notorious sex tape.  Unfortunately for the Kardashians, it’s the quote that most connected with the media.  Plus, it’s hard to reconcile a “positive public persona” when this is the front of the card you’re marketing:

We’d give the Kardashians a C+ for their crisis management.  The timing was great, but the delivery was a bit off mark.

Crisis PR Corner: foursquare Checks in to Apology Mode the Right Way

October 6th, 2010

The latest social media darling, foursquare, ran into trouble this week when its entire site went down for more than a dozen hours over two days.  All the big social networks have faced outages, so it’s certainly a common problem such sites will inevitably face.  What separates foursquare from the herd, though, is the very savvy way the site handled its crisis public relations.  To understand this, we’ll analyze fourquare’s apology and highlight the key quotes.

“We’re really sorry.” WHAT?  A big media-related company actually apologizing for its actions, instead of blaming its fans and users for its problems?  Yes, believe it with foursquare.  The smartest crisis PR step toward redemption is to apologize for your faults, and to do so in simple and clear terms.

“What happened.” With the toughest part of crisis PR out of the way, foursquare next gives a technical, but digestible, explanation of the database error that caused the site’s malfunction.  Sometimes an organization uses their explanation to hit stakeholders over the head, thinking that getting all high-and-mighty with technical smarts will distract everyone until the fire is extinguished.  That’s almost always a bad move, and smacks of arrogance.  In this case, foursquare takes time and care to give a straight-forward explanation of the error, which humanizes the site’s operators and makes the reader think, “hey, this could happen to anyone.”

“What we’ll be doing differently.” Don’t you love the nice titles in the foursquare apology?  Serves as good guideposts to get the reader through to the most important points.  The apology and explanation are only part of the crisis public relations drill; you also have to explain how things will change going forward.  This reassures skeptical foursquare users and anyone else with a stake in the site’s success.  And, setting up independent feeds and sites to keep users updated on status alerts shows discipline in the re-engineering process.

Because of this very well written apology, foursquare will continue to set the standard compared to other location-based competition.  And, judging from the overwhelming positive foursquare user comments to the blog post apology, the site earned tremendous goodwill and will live to see another day.  Bravo to the foursquare PR team!

Crisis Corner: How Oprah Can Combat Kitty Kelley’s Tell-All Book

April 14th, 2010

This past week, famous (infamous?) unauthorized celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley released her latest tell-all book, this one about talk show host Oprah WinfreyKelley’s pen has struck many famous targets in the past, such as Frank Sinatra, the Bush family and even royal dynasties.

Oprah is more than just a celebrity, she is a bona-fide billion dollar brand – therefore the stakes are much higher in protecting and managing that image.  Crisis management 101 dictates that attacks on one’s brand and reputation must never go unanswered, and the two Oprahs – the person and the brand – are no exception.

So what crisis public relations steps should Oprah take as Kelley continues her book publicity tour, dishing seedy details and other awkward revelations?

Stay above the frayOprah’s handlers already maintain a tight perimeter around their boss, and no doubt that circle will hold strong during the book’s initial release.  Still, Oprah’s fans will seek reassurance about their idol, and that guidance is best administered from Oprah herself.  At the same time, Oprah shouldn’t indulge the book’s themes or specifics, so getting on the record with a diplomatic and confident statement is a smart move.  Something to the effect of “I don’t traffic in rumors and speculation … Ms. Kelley peddles in gossip, so I think that speaks for itself.”

Have third-parties criticize aggressively.  Oprah’s brand has empowered a legion of other stars in her orbit.  These loyal and trusted advocates can criticize the book openly without dragging Oprah into it.  Imagine having Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray all drop responses here and there: “well, regardless of what’s in the gossip pages, this isn’t the Oprah that I know.”

Lean on past success.  This isn’t the first time Oprah has faced a sharp attack, such as several years ago when Texas beef producers sued her for defamation, claiming that Oprah’s criticism of beef consumption was a direct attack on their business.  Instead of relying simply on scorched-earth litigation tactics, Oprah took complete command of the controversy by actually moving her television production to Texas for several days.  In doing so, she won over the locals, made the plaintiffs seem foolish and greedy, and looped the media theme back in her favor as a talk show host who cares about her fans.  Oh, and by the way, she won the lawsuit.

Advantage: Oprah.

Crisis Corner: FCPA Outruns Benz

March 23rd, 2010

As explained earlier on this blog, FCPA prosecutions have increased priority in the Department of Justice, and companies are on notice to behave nicely.

Part and parcel of diligent FCPA compliance requires communicating positive steps, which is where crisis public relations becomes an important strategy.  This time around, the perpetrator is Daimler AG, the venerable German automaker that manufactures Mercedes Benz.  Daimler today agreed to pay $185 million in fines to the U.S. government for its alleged corrupt business practices.

While crisis management would recommend a media holding statement at a minimum, Daimler should also take active steps to explain any new transparency measures it plans to implement to avoid this type of scandal in the future.  (In this case, Daimler gave a very lame “no comment” response to the allegations … sigh.)

If a tree falls in a forest… ah, you get the picture.  Remember, in crisis public relations, the redemption narrative works only if people know you’re making that same effort — so publicize it!

Activision AWOL, Losing the Battle, about to Lose the War

March 5th, 2010

Activision is suffering one of the worst crisis public relations tailspins the tech industry has seen in a long time.  The legacy game and entertainment company recently fired two of its top developers responsible for the fastest selling video game ever, Modern Warfare 2.  This isn’t just kids cramming quarters at an arcade — the game’s sales topped more than $1 billion within a few weeks of release.

If your flagship product developers have been pink-slipped, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think they may retaliate.  That’s exactly what Jason West and Vince Zampella did — suing Activision for $36 million, claiming wrongful termination after being subjected to interrogation, abusive employment practices and documenting how the company terrorized fellow employees.  Their law firm put out a press release that amps up the coverage and makes Activision look supremely arrogant and insensitive in treating their staff.

As of now, Activision is getting pummeled online and in the echo-chamber of industry fans and commentators.  So far the only push-back the company appears to have done is issue a statement calling the lawsuit “meritless.”

Hey Activision — what buttons do you push on the joystick to stop the head-in-the-sand public relations strategy?  You are rapidly losing engagement of millions of fans who spend a ton of their time communicating and networking on-line.  Why doesn’t your Twitter page have a single tweet reassuring fans, investors, partners, etc. that you are on the right side of this issue?  NOT ONE SINGLE MESSAGE, really?  Your Facebook page hasn’t been updated since June of last year!!!

Good luck Activision, you’re gonna need it…

Crisis Corner: Companies Must Prepare Messaging for FCPA Investigation

February 8th, 2010

As the Department of Justice steps up enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, chances are that companies with household names will get snared in the coming dragnet.

If a company cares about their corporate identity, they must take active crisis public relations steps before a crisis occurs.  Think of it this way – a small investment in crisis management can prevent more fuel being thrown on the publicity fire.  If you don’t believe preparation matters, tell that to BAE as they start clawing out of the $400 million penalty they’ve incurred from violating the FCPA.  Having your company executives arrested and paraded out during a trade show is about as bad a publicity hit as you’ll ever get.

So, what can companies do?  The basic crisis public relations tactics often focus on simple messaging.  For example, if the executives know the crisis is around the corner, a holding statement can be drafted well in advance that alerts the media to the problem, and explains that more details will be forthcoming.  Forget about hiding the problem – the reporters will find out anyway.  And, this step satiates the media machine and buys time for the publicist to recommend next steps.  By doing so, the company gets out ahead of the story and controls the narrative.

Your company’s bottom-line matters to an ever growing audience, so make sure your messages get to them – especially when people are raising eyebrows and scratching their heads.

Crisis Corner: Kleen Energy Needs Visibility for Connecticut Explosion

February 7th, 2010

The tragedy at the Kleen Energy plant in Connecticut has been a rapid-fire assault of news today.  But, go to the plant’s website and there is no official statement (at least as of this blog posting).

In crisis public relations, the affected entity must be the first — and most visible — point of communication and messaging when it comes to information and assistance.

No information + no media relations + no website information = bad crisis PR.

Crisis Corner: How Toyota May Turn LaHood Into an Ally

February 3rd, 2010

As is his want, today U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, testifying before Congress on the Toyota recall, said that if anyone owned a Toyota, they should “stop driving it.”  Immediately afterward, Toyota’s stock price fell nearly 8%, adding to the almost $30 billion hit the carmaker has taken since the recall on faulty gas pedals began.

Toyota has been under an amazing swarm of bad press and it’ll be a long, hard road back to redemption and better image reputation.  What’s different about today’s mini-crisis public relations drama, though, is that Toyota quickly shored up its position, and in a way that may have pivoted LaHood to be more sensitive when he speaks about the carmaker.

To Toyota’s benefit, LaHood clarified his remarks and said he meant to refer only to recalled models, not the entire Toyota fleet.  Toyota smartly followed up with its own statement that struck the right tone, which thanked LaHood for the clarification.  Instead of being combative and harsh, Toyota took the high road, and by doing so let LaHood save face.  This simple, delicate move by Toyota will keep LaHood from going off-script in his public statements, making it unlikely that the nation’s top transportation official is going to attack the company any time soon.