Archive for the 'Crisis Advice' Category

The link between reputation and company value–BP shows the high cost

September 16, 2010

Public relations pros often deal with the question as to how to get CEOs to pay more attention to the vital role of reputation management. Some CEO’s seems to inherently “get it,” and others, often financial-metric driven, have a harder time understanding the link because they don’t see an obvious connection between investments in reputation management or protection to the all-important quarterly results.

Crisis expert James Donnelly pointed this out in a recent post referencing a Forbes article which suggested we may be entering an age of reputation management. But, if anyone doubts the stunning impact of reputation loss on economic value, all one has to do is look at BP. One of the highest value and most respected (albeit hated by anyone who thinks hydrocarbons are evil) companies, has dropped out of the list of the 100 most valuable brands as a result of the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. This according to brand valuation expert Interbrand.

I suspect that BP will be used for many years by anyone pitching PR services and particularly crisis preparation services to senior leaders. And well they should be. But I do have a fear. I’m afraid the pitch will be: See what happens when you don’t do good PR? Your reputation will go to heck and your brand value will be destroyed.  A much better pitch in my mind would be: There are some problems that even great PR can’t fix, so if you have any chance of doing some really serious damage to people, their futures or the environment, let’s look first at minimizing the risk of those bad things happening, and then let’s look at how to respond effectively if some really bad things do happen.


New York Times weighs in on crisis PR–will the hypocrisy never end?

August 23, 2010

First it was the Washington Post who declared that the high-priced crisis PR folks were out of their league when it came to crises like BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs. I gave my opinion about that bit of silly reporting earlier. But the article this weekend in New York Times really takes the cake.The overall message seems to be that the reputation problems that BP, Toyota and Goldman all now presumably share were if not fully preventable by more competent PR, they certainly wouldn’t be in as bad a shape as they are. (Again, full disclosure, I count both BP and the US Coast Guard among my valued clients.)

As “evidence” of BP’s bad reputation the NYT’s reporter Peter S. Goodman provides an egregious but typical example of the kind of reporting done by Rolling Stone referring here to Goldman: “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Let’s see, what kind of invectives might this kind of reporter use against BP: “A giant radioactive death cloud dripping oil and toxins on innocent families below, skillfully and malevolently directed by a foreign cabal intent on sucking the very life blood out of the American way of life.”

Let me ask you, how would your reputation hold up to that kind of treatment? What if every newspaper and TV station in the land were clambering over each other, competing to see how bad they could make it to attract the biggest possible audiences to get the ratings that would let them charge their exorbitant advertising rates? And how would your reputation withstand the withering attacks of politicians like the representative from Massachusetts who see an opportunity to lead the parade of public outrage by heaping on scorn and new legislation? And what if the holder of the highest office of the land, intent on protecting his electoral future, makes certain that the news media blame game is focused on the “Responsible Party” rather than the government?

My point is this: It is the news media today, operating in a hyper competitive environment, that is one of the most important factors in the damage to reputations we see. For them to observe as both DeBord in the Washington Post and Goodman in the New York Times have done that the “spin” of public relations professionals has failed these organizations is hypocritical and ludicrous. It is a little like a guy standing next to a train track in the aftermath of a horrific head-on collision saying, someone could have prevented this, when he has just pulled the lever that put the trains on collision course.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming the news media for the mess of BP, Toyota or Goldman. In fact it is my firm belief as I have previously stated, that some events are beyond PR. As my colleague Tim O’Leary says, there is only so much lipstick you can put on a pig. When you spill a few thousand or hundred million gallons of oil in the Gulf or practically anywhere, and you can’t stop it for months while the public looks over your shoulder, that is a mighty ugly pig. The best PR in the world is not going to fix it.

And don’t get me wrong about there being no mistakes. Of course BP made mistakes. Nothing like the mistake that led to the explosion and spill and then the “mistake” of not preparing better to contain an event that exceeded their worst case scenario planning. But the focus on the statements like “I want my life back” is just ludicrous, as if Tony Hayward singularly caused the reputation crash of BP by casually making himself the victim. Give the guy a break. If you had cameras stuck on you 24/7 in the worst days of your life, would you say something stupid too Mr. Goodman? BP’s public relations team and advisors made a mistake in allowing Mr. Hayward to be accessible 24/7 which enabled him to say things that minimized the spill or conveyed that he too wanted the spill done with. But, here’s the dilemma–if they hadn’t they (the media) would complain about the absent CEO, if they allowed it, which they did or he insisted, they run the risk of making a comment that the media will use to hang him and the company with.

I find the comments of Mr. Rubenstein referring to BP particularly troublesome: “It was one of the worst P.R. approaches that I’ve seen in my 56 years of business,” says Mr. Rubenstein. “They tried to be opaque. They had every excuse in the book. Right away they should have accepted responsibility and recognized what a disaster they faced. They basically thought they could spin their way out of catastrophe. It doesn’t work that way.” Mr. Rubenstein’s problem is that he’s been reading the New York Times to get his news. He should have been looking at what BP and the coordinated response was doing and saying rather than letting the media “spin” the story for him. From the very beginning BP accepted responsibility, said it was their spill, said they would compensate all legitimate claims, said they would do all they could to stop it, said they would communicate. They did.

As evidence of opaque communication two examples are continually provided: the inaccurate initial spill volume estimate and the fact that in front of Congress BP indicated they were not the only ones to blame. Giving the initial estimate was a mistake–it was a mistake not just made by BP but by Unified Command. Remember, that number was provided by the Federal On-Scene Coordinator speaking for the government and all agencies. The number no doubt came from BP. It was the best estimate they had at the time and it was wrong. What Doug Suttles said later as reported in the Times-Picayune was that what he said when he provided that number was that the number didn’t matter because they were treating the spill as if the volume was unlimited. In other words, there was no scaling of response to the estimated volume. It was all hands on deck to get it stopped with nothing held back and every bit of oil clean up equipment possible was called on. What he should have said when pressed for a number–and here is the lesson for crisis communications in the future–is similar to what Mayor Giuliani said when pressed for an estimate of those killed on 9/11 when the buildings were still falling. Suttles should have said, “We don’t know, we can’t know for certain, but whatever it is is, it is more than we can bear.”

Now, if he said that, what would the media (and Mr. Rubenstein) have said? “You’re being opaque, you’re hiding information, your trying to minimize.” The fact is the response leaders including all gov agencies required an estimate, BP provided their best based on the info they had, Unified Command communicated that to the world, and in the media spin that followed it simply proved how inept and evil BP really was and is.

The other complaint is that BP tried to duck blame. Evidence for this is their testimony to Congress. I challenge you to show me one public statement that BP ever made disowning their responsibility for this event. The truth is that in an event like this there are undoubtedly many complex causes–it is not one single failure. They will be able to point to a whole number of things that if someone had chosen to do something different, the outcome would have changed. If the valve controlling the ram that would pincer off the riser had been manufactured better, or designed better. If a third or fourth or fifth backup emergency shutoff system had been put in place. If alarms had been handled differently, if, if, if. There are more companies involved than BP and more people involved than work for BP. That is the truth. It will take the next 10 years to determine all the liability and where it falls. It would be stupid for BP to hand over to the lawyers of those who also may be liable all the fodder they need to make an open and shut case. So while BP has clearly accepted responsibility and is focusing on cleaning it up, they also have to keep in mind that the courts will make a final determination on cause. An intelligent, responsible media would point this dilemma and problem out. But such nuanced reporting doesn’t create compelling headlines needed to get eyes on the page and advertising rates up.

Once again, I am in agreement with Eric Dezenhall, even though I think the reporter seemed to miss his point. Dezenall said in the NYT article: “The two things that are very hard to survive are hypocrisy and ridicule,” Mr. Dezenhall says. “It’s the height of arrogance to assume that in the middle of a crisis the public yearns for chestnuts of wisdom from people they want to kill. The goal is not to get people not to hate them. It’s to get people to hate them less.”

The public–in a very broad generalization–hates BP. But they hate Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Citgo and all the rest. These companies and the people who run them are the poster children for planet despoilers. They are fouling our atmosphere, causing global warming, forcing us to buy SUVs to take them to the next protest rally. The public’s hypocrisy in their animosity to these companies is of course too obvious to comment on. I have complained for years at the terrible job the oil industry has done in addressing this public sentiment. But when you do something like spill an almost endless amount of oil into a body of water terribly important to fish and people, it is not going to make people like you or the industry any better. When you add the kind of coverage we have seen on this spill–coverage based on competition for eyes–it heaps on the outrage.

So what does this mean for crisis communication of the future?

I’ll repeat my old mantra: Trust is based on two things–do the right things and communicate about them well.

BP did the wrong thing by whatever they did to contribute to this event happening. That is done. What they can do now that they have finally stopped the leak, is continue to do all they can to clean it up and make it right with the people they have harmed. They are doing that and I’m confident they will continue to do that. And they need to communicate well. They need to make certain the world and the American people know what they are doing. In communicating that, they have some very significant obstacles–the media and the politicians who use the media for their own agendas. In my mind (and since I do some work for them I have so advised them) they need to be much, much more agresssive in challenging the kind of coverage that we have seen. They need to correct the facts and mis-information, and challenge the spin that media reports put on the bare facts of this response.

Will it end their reputation problems? Heck no. At best what they can look for is earning the respect of the millions of people in the Gulf that they are working with closely day to day. From that almost one-on-one trust and relationship building, the world will begin to see that there are good people here, doing their best to make things right.

Communicating well in this era of hyper-competitive major news outlets is increasingly going direct with your message. When BP began to advertise nationally that the public could get information directly from the website, it was a smart thing to do. It doubled the website traffic overnight. It was smart because people going direct for information had a different view than those who only got their info from the media. However, the value of this was minimized for BP when the Unified Command communication’s became a platform for White House talking points and the primary talking point was that BP was only doing what they were doing because of a boot on their neck.

Crisis communication of the future is going to be increasingly technology-driven and increasingly direct. The event website, social media channels, live video feeds, 24/7 “broadcasting” from the response will be the primary means by which the public gets its information. Sure, bloggers will spin the information according to their agendas and all news outlets will be recognized as the same as bloggers. The communicators for the response will not allow rumors, misinformation, Rolling Stone-type hyperbole to go unchallenged. The communication channels provided by the responders will be a place of lively public debate about the truth. And those providing the information will be committed above all to credibility, to being believed, to provided the unvarnished truth regardless of its damage to them. The news outlets, desperately fighting for audiences, will have a hard time creating salacious headlines in that kind of truth-filled environment.

Vacation musings–it’s a beautiful, ugly world

July 21, 2010

If it seems crisisblogger has been quiet lately it is because I was enjoying an absolutely wonderful family vacation in the San Juan Islands. When you combine the delights of spending time with your beautiful wife, three grown children, their wonderful spouses, and seven angelic (usually) grandchildren all under the age of seven, along with the majestic beauty of the San Juans, what can be better? The weather was great, and we were successful on two out of four whale watching adventures in my little boat.

What can I say, other than it is a beautiful world and if we have eyes to see it we can catch glimpses of Eden through the veil of this life. However, the veil is there and while the vacation gave some respite from thoughts about crisis management, BP, the Gulf Spill and all that, it also provides some time to get perspective. And the perspective I have on the overall situation is that it is a beautiful, ugly world.

There are few things uglier than the sight of millions of gallons of dirty oil spewing into water inhabited by so many good things and on which so many people depend. To think that this tragedy is caused by ordinary people making bad mistakes makes it more painful for all of us to endure. Our natural reaction is anger, frustration, rage. The spewing forth of this anger matches in ugliness that which came from a mile deep. But there are some differences. The investigation into the spill will no doubt get focused on a few key decisions that had they been made differently would make all the difference. But the spewing forth of vitriol that has accompanied this is not the decision of a few, but of millions. And it is fed by the economic necessity of our desperate media whose only response to the hyper competitive environment they are in is to find a flame of anger and fan it to the greatest extent possible. This too is great ugliness.

This is not just my cynical observation and obsession. “Bagehot,” the pseudononymous columnist for the Economist made this comment about the media in his farewell column in the July 3 issue of The Economist. He is referring to British media but what he says about them can be said even more about American media: “The British newspaper business cultivates provocation rather than consideration. The crowdedness of the market mean people feel a need to yell to be heard; for all their virtues, political blogs and the Internet have intensified the competition and the shrillness, making analysis ever more instant and intrusive.”  Provocation rather than consideration–a wonderful but somehow too quiet way of saying what we face in media coverage around an event like this spill.

Bagehot goes on to comment about the British voters. He is a British political commentator so he writes from that perspective but what he says about politicians applies also to business leaders, particularly when caught in the cross hairs of a major crisis: “British voters seem increasingly inclined to think of their politicians as either heroes or (more often) villains. There is little room for honest mistakes or good intentions gone awry, and little sympathy for the challenges of reconciling competing public priorities. The puerile simplicity of some political coverage, Bagehot submits, reflects a broader and worrying immaturity in the way the country thinks about politics and government.”

Again, in such an understated British way Bagehot has captured the ugliness of our world as it relates to this monstrous event. The problem is, of course, I know many of the people involved, both with the US Coast Guard and BP. I have known many of them for years. These are the villains that have been so thoroughly demonized in the press and in the political firestorm that most of you and the public cannot even any longer conceive of them as decent, respectable, intelligent and honorable human beings. This demonizing it is not at all unlike what happens in a war. Having written a book on a fighter pilot who survived Buchenwald, I have become aware of what happens to both the victim and the perpetrator in the process of dehumanization. That is what is happening here. When you turn someone else into sub-human, it not only destroys them, it destroys you. The people of BP are not perfect. But neither am I and neither or you. No doubt terrible mistakes have been made. But I would bet my life no decision was made with any intent to destroy people’s lives and the environment. If I am wrong, I hope it is revealed and the evil is punished. In the meantime, the judgment goes on every day in the media coverage, in blogs, in conversation, in the criminal process, and in a zillion lawyers offices.

I urge you to be cautious in your own judgments about those who have already been accused, tried, and convicted. Remember, it is not only the victim of unjust dehumanization that is damaged in the process. We have enough ugliness in the world without adding to it.

Goldman Sachs–what to do when in a deep hole

June 24, 2010

Thought it might be interesting to comment on the efforts of Goldman Sachs to dig out of their deep hole, while about to visit the command center for the spill in New Orleans.

Daily Dog says that Goldman is about to start a PR campaign and maybe even go on Oprah to help communicate what banks do.

One thing for certain, when you are in a deep hole you can be assured that every tiny effort to improve your status will be observed, reported, and attacked. Usually with exceptional venom. I’ve seen Daily Dog do that with regard to BP and the spill but they are not alone. Not sure why some PR publications seem to want to outdo the outrage. By the time such reporting hits the blogs and social media, the effort has been so twisted and trashed that it is hardly recognizable. Just a warning to you, Goldman.

On a tv program I was on with Peter Firestein, a crisis communication consultant with a book with the best title around: Crisis of Character, he said BP should just be quiet. I disagreed but have thought about it alot. Everything that is said is attacked, discredited, and in most cases, turned against them. Same may be true (to a lesser degree I would suggest) of Goldman. Should they just be quiet?

A few key principles I believe in and have promoted in my book and presentations:

1) Credibility is everything. You cannot exist in the public arena, in the marketplace, in the stock market, without it. But what if you completely and unutterably lose it? You must borrow it from those who have it. That is what I have suggested before. Goldman needs friends now, and it is not the only one. Friends trusted by many of its worst critics. Hard to do? Maybe, particularly as deep as some of these holes are, but absolutely necessary. Credibility must be restored and it is likely that few within Goldman will have the credibility needed to do the job, or can earn it by a PR campaign or a trip to the holy shrine of Oprah.

2) Don’t let lies stand. In the current situation I am observing and somewhat involved, I have seen countless lies propagated, many by the most mainstream of the mainstream. I call them lies but sometimes it is sloppy or ignorant reporting, sometimes especially vicious twists on the truth, sometimes repeats with added flavor of misinformation reported elsewhere. Many times the lies are not untrue, they just are presented in a way that does not represent reality. But I see little effort on Goldman’s part to counter what they may consider lies. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. They cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. But, if you are the one without credibility or with it seriously damaged as in Goldman’s case, you are probably not the best one to challenge the lies. Someone, or some organization, with credibility must be found.

Short of those kinds of game changing, aggressive actions, perhaps it is best to just be silent.

Behind the Scenes at the Austin Plane Crash–an exercise in virtual communication response

March 4, 2010

On the Frontline of a Virtual Communication Response—The Austin Plane Crash

For several in days in February the major news story was the crash of a small plane into a building in Austin, Texas. This is the kind of event that is discussed here on this blog all the time and I was fortunate to have a front row seat of sorts to the public communication and news coverage of this particular event.

The City of Austin, specifically the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is a new client having recently implemented our crisis communication system. While the agency’s website was set up on this platform and ready to roll, the agency’s PIO had little experience in working with the system. To make matters worse she, like several others from the office were in San Antonio for the Homeland Security conference.

I was sitting in a meeting in Houston when I was called out and informed that there was a plane crash into a building in Austin. The initial information we received, not from the City, was that the building may have housed FBI offices. The specter of a terrorist attack was immediately raised. We made contact with the PIO who was on her way back to Austin from San Antonio. We quickly informed her of the information that was being broadcast and that was coming via Twitter. She confirmed some of the information from her sources and we placed an initial statement on the City’s OEM website—from Houston.

For the next day and half we continued in almost continual contact and pushed out a total of nine information releases. Since the city staff were out of their offices and away from their normal tools and systems, they could not push the information to their normal media lists. But we quickly built an up-to-date media list of all Austin media and distributed the releases to them. These were in addition to the almost 400 contacts of Austin area agency contacts and other officials that had been built into the platform.

There were several times during the incident that we were able to report back through the PIO new information that was emerging on Twitter. This information would quickly find its way into the news coverage which had geared up with remarkable speed.

The various agencies from the City of Austin soon formed a Joint Information Center using the OEM site as the focus of new information. News reports began to reflect a coordinated flow of information from the City. Clearly the most significant communication came from the several press conferences held at the scene of the crash and fire. But the PIO was able to maintain the relevant information on the website by calling us from the press conference and we would quickly add and update the information on the site. Plus the agency was able to very quickly and efficiently distribute updates on the fast breaking situation to the media as well as to numerous agency leaders and others in the Austin community.

I say “we” because those involved in supporting Austin remotely during this event included Kevin Boxx, VP PIER Systems and Timothy O’Leary, my colleague at O’Briens’s Response Management. Direct support was also provided by Sandra Salazar, PIER’s Project Manager located in Houston who was at a different location than we were. Geoff Baron at PIER’s HQ in Bellingham, WA also provided direct assistance.

Some key learnings from this event:

–       Austin Police and Fire have received some strong kudos for their fast and effective crisis communication during this event—both from people within the community and from experts outside observing.

–       Virtual communication operation, or the Virtual JIC, does indeed work as has been demonstrated in other events. But this event was particularly telling because of the speed of information flow between the PIO and those on the scene and those operating remotely to keep the updates going.

–       Twitter and other social media are no doubt driving the information about an event of this nature. Reports coming from Twitter were almost concurrent with the event as some early “tweets” were from people witnessing the event as it occurred.

–       Major media use Twitter and other social media as primary sources of news. When you see “reports” or “eye witness reports” in the media coverage do not think it is that they have talked to someone directly but are likely getting it from the many tweets or posts on the internet.

–       The initial reports are virtually certain to be wrong—that is the nature of the internet and witnesses commenting from their perspective and speculating. But it is quite amazing to see how the online community sorts things out and gets to the facts faster than you would imagine.

–       Where it used to be that official sources would be the primary focus of the media’s interest a quick review of the media coverage will show that a primary interest of the media is to talk to eyewitnesses—often those same people who are reporting what they see or know (or speculations) via the internet.

–       PIOs and public officials have to scramble very, very hard to keep up with, let alone try to get ahead of, this kind of instant information coming from so many sources. As the official source of the news about the event, their primary role becomes rumor management—correct false information as it emerges—rather than focusing on being the first with the news.

Congratulations are due to Candice Wade and the team at Austin for a job well done in very difficult circumstances.

Seaworld’s online response is impressive–building trust with social media

February 26, 2010

The Orlando Sentinel pointed out how SeaWorld is using online media to respond to the media and public reaction to the death of one of it trainers by a killer whale.  The organization’s blog demonstrates both the opportunity and the risks of using these very open, transparent and interactive channels for communicating. Unfortunately, those with strong feelings about using trained animals for entertainment purposes take full and insensitive advantage of these opportunities to press their agenda. What communicators need to do is to prepare the organization’s management that this is exactly the sort of thing that will happen and while it needs to be monitored and not get out of control, showing this willingness to participate and provide a venue for that discussion is very important today.

This example is timely related to a mashable article that Mr. Malley forwarded to me, about building trust with social media. While I consider it still much more art than science, there is no doubt that social media is an increasingly important means and opportunity for organizations to build trust. But if science helps us understand the reasons behind what we intuitively sense is right, it is more than helpful.

One very important point made in this article is the value of speed. Responsiveness as seen in speed of response is critical when dealing with text (not having advantage of personal interaction). Here is the relevant quote:

Olson finds that when only text is available, participants judge trustworthiness based on how quickly others respond. So, for instance, it is better to respond to a long Facebook message “acknowledging” that you received the message, rather than to wait until there’s time to send a more thorough first message. Wait too long and you are likely to be labeled “unhelpful,” along with a host of other expletive-filled attributions the mind will happily construct.

Stephen M. R. Covey wrote the Speed of Trust, and now here is more evidence that speed and trustworthiness are related. This is so critical to understand because I keep running into communicators and their bosses who think that you can’t get out with anything until you have it absolutely right and complete. Having it right is critical, but you will never ever be complete, so you have to go with what you know right now. It is SOOO much better to say: “These are the facts that we can confirm right now, these are things we know are being said and reported but we cannot confirm that they are facts, but as soon as we verify them we will let you know.”

But, but, but, you say, that doesn’t read like a press release. Exactly.

Apple hype and why it matters to you

January 26, 2010

I know, you’re into crisis communication, reputation management, emergency response and all that stuff. So what does watching Apple computer have to do with you? Quite a bit actually, and for several reasons.

1. Apple is the leading technology innovator–particularly in mobile computing. Yesterday the company announced a stunning 40+% increase in profits. And Steve Jobs has promised, scarily it seems, even better in the future based on new products coming out. Apples innovation with laptop computers spurred lots of competition, but its innovation with the iphone has been even more disruptive. Certainly there are some very good non-Apple options out there, but ever notice how much they try to look, feel and quack like the iphone?

2. Apple is blending work with fun. Nothing new here in many ways because so many other industries are doing the same. Wars are being waged with joysticks just like Nintendo of old. The news media like news magazines and primetime programming are looking more and more like entertainment TV (what after all is reality TV?)–with a more or less complete blending of information and entertainment. But, was exactly is an iphone, or a tricked out MacBook Pro after all? Is it a game machine, a communication device or a serious work computing machine. All three, all at once. That has very significant implications for those who provide information to the masses. Masses which I’ve noticed along with the expanding forehead, are getting increasingly young. What form will public warnings and emergency information take in the future? Today I advise news websites and crisis websites to be structured like the major online news sites. And they are very good at blending compelling information with all kinds of entertainment and commercial messages.

3. Apple is trying to save content providers. Someone I know and respect and knows a heck of a lot more about this stuff than I ever will told me this morning that all the hype about the big Apple announcement tomorrow was really about Apple saving the world. The world of content providers. How quickly we forget that until Apple made iTunes a fabulous success and the biggest seller of music and digital content, the big issue was that musicians, filmmakers, tv folks and everyone who provided entertainment was going to disappear into the internet world of everything free. Now, it seems, we happily pay 99 cents for all kinds of things including billions of things we load on our iphones called apps. What the heck was an app before this? A half-eaten apple? Every rock group and audio book producer should get on their knees three times a day and thank Daddy Jobs. Now, my Apple and pop culture guru is telling me that what Apple did for entertainment, he may just do for more news and info content (I know, false distinction between that and entertainment, but you know what I mean). If Daddy Jobs got with Rupert and the fine folks at NYT to solve the dilemma how to get paid for putting all that good content online, he will be having lots of people bow to him three times a day. The tablet computer, which we will know much more about tomorrow, just may combine the Kindle, the iphone, the laptop plus maybe the workout capabilities of the Wii into a single, lightweight device that we will all find irreplaceable. Or it may just be another wildly successful profit making technology disrupter. We’ll soon see.

In case I lost any crisis communicators in this technology meandering, here’s are the points: 1) mobility will drive our lives and that means how we do crisis communication. If you can’t do everything you need to do with that little device in your pocket real soon, you will be as out of date as the mouse. 2) news and where we get it will change. It already has, but most in crisis communication seem to not realize it. Something tells me, tomorrow it will change a lot more. 3) those of us like me (unlike my much smarter guru) who didn’t buy Apple stock when the market crashed and it was under $100 bucks are going to be even sadder than we already are.

THIS JUST IN: My guru confirms the hints about tablet relating to content (also suspicion of link between table and iphone operating systems) McGraw Hill CEO gets the jump on Apple.

You’re Invited–Listen to the inside story of the Ford Firestone crisis

January 25, 2010

I’d like to personally invite all crisisblogger readers to a webinar with Jon Harmon this Thursday. Jon was the lead public relations person for Ford during this crisis, the first big crisis of the new century in 2000, and one of the biggest business and reputation crises of all time. He had a front row seat to this devastating crisis which set Ford on its heels, ended an over 100 year business relationship, and permanently ended one of the most revered brands in tires. Jon has written an outstanding book on this called Feeding Frenzy and this Thursday you’ll have the chance to listen to Jon tell his story. There will be time for some questions and interaction.

By the way, Dave Fleet took my advice and got the book. Here is his review–I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Webinar: Feeding Frenzy with Jon Harmon

Sponsored by PIER Systems

Time: 2:pm ET, Noon CT, 11 a.m. PT

We will send you an invitation to join the webinar. To register click here.

Here’s why the media’s investigative reports make me angry

December 29, 2009

Certainly a lot of investigative reports are valuable, perform an important service. But far too often they are far more harmful than helpful. The harmful part is driven by the media’s need to entertain, which they do by creating a white hat/black hat story regardless of the truth.

Like many farms, Randy Adkin’s blueberry farm uses migrant workers which are housed in camps–about 250 of them. Farm labor was plentiful this year and Adkins turned away over 1000 adults looking for work. Normally the children of the migrant families attend a state-supported day care, but Michigan’s economy was in the tank so no day care and no summer school program for the kids. So the migrant families had to supply their own daycare and some brought their kids to the field with them. It is not a practice Adkins supported, but much to his regret, he did not do enough to stop it.

I just want to mention a side note here. I grew up in berry picking area and every summer since I was about five years old I would go and pick berries. First with my mom, then when about nine or ten, on my own with my brothers. We would ride our bikes, pick berries, eat a whole lot and earn a little money for candy, school supplies, etc. It was where most of us around here learned what work was all about. But some enlightened do-gooders decided that child labor was a throw back to bad old days of the industrial revolution and now it is illegal for anyone under 12 to work. Sure, there is some value in that, but my gosh don’t we go overboard.

Back to the Adkin’s farm. Some college kids said they were doing a documentary on how blueberry farms work and shot video of the children in the fields working alongside their parent. They turned it over to authorities and the media. The Department of Labor stepped in and levied fines. ABC News ran a big story with Chrlie Gibson and Brian Ross who were suitably shocked and dismayed at the shameful exploitation of child labor by this berry farmer.

But of course, that is not enough. The big image-conscious companies who marketed the blueberries, Meijer, Kroger and Walmart all suspended business with the farm. As the editor of Food Grower News points out, Walmart’s righteous indignation was especially galling since they have become the behemoth they are largely on child labor in China.

As a result, every farmer in the nation was scurrying to make certain that not a single child any where near age 12 was to be found any where near their fields. Is that a good thing? Certainly not for the strapped migrant families. Beyond that I’ll let you be the judge. The Department of Labor of course looks good because they did their enforcement thing. The big companies protected their image because they told the world they won’t stand for this kind of brutal exploitation of child labor. ABC can feel quite good because it was definitely a white hat black hat story that played well to the credulous masses.

The sad thing is the truth escaped the agendas of all those involved. And that is something that every American ought to care deeply about.

Leave it to a pastor to write one of the best crisis response messages I’ve seen

December 18, 2009

My son-in-law who lives in Ballard (neighborhood of Seattle) sent me this link. It contains one of the best crisis response letters I’ve ever seen.

The situation: a church operated homeless shelter was the scene of a violent crime, one shelter guest stabbed another. The shelter operates in a friendly community. The degree of sensitivity and concern expressed by the pastor to the neighbors suggests that neighbors near the shelter may have been concerned about having a homeless shelter in the neighborhood and the impact on their safety. So, the stabbing was a serious crisis.

I’ll tell you a few things I like about this response, but I’d love to hear from you–whether you agree that it is as good as I say it is and what you like or don’t like about it.

1) Tone–It is clean, simple, straightforwad, never sappy, but conveys a great deal of sensitivity, concern for everyone involved, and appreciation for the responders.

2) Direct acknowledgment of their concerns–“we nevertheless deeply regret the disruption of our neighborhood security”

3) Granting neighbors their rights–“We affirm that, as neighbors, you have every right to a secure street.” He doesn’t go down the path of challenging this, even in-directly, by saying something that hey, these homeless people have rights, too. He just simply acknowledges their key concern and their right to that concern.

4) Places the incident in context–this is tricky, but beautifully handled: “this is the first incident of violence with a weapon in the ten years of our active ministry with the homeless.”  This heads off those who would say that it is a big risk because these things are happening all the time. Later in the letter he re-emphasizes this point by calling the incident
an anomaly.” Also he places the event in context of events outside of their control: “with this economic downturn, the streets are becoming more desperate and despairing.”

5) Explains what’s been done for neighborhood security: “As you know we have recently added a paid Security Officer that monitors our Saturday Soup kitchen.”

6) Takes advantage to explain (promote) their mission: “It is also a matter of moral concern: we acknowledge that feeding folks and housing folks is not enough. What is needed is transformation of character, and reorientation of desire, along with a restructuring of our economy.”

7) Seeks their support: “At Trinity we desire to move beyond charity into relational ministries of transformation. It is a long road, and difficult work. We acknowledge our dependence on your good will, and we take very seriously our responsibility to provide neighborhood tranquility.”

The other point that should not be missed is that he is not only sending that letter to neighbors but making certain the media (including new media such as the Ballard news website) got the information and distributed it. This may be the biggest lesson of all. I imagine there were those who said, “What!? Why not just let it go quietly? Why tell the whole world about this? Why alert people so directly to our primary vulnerability? Are you crazy?”

Crazy like a fox. If I was a neighbor and got that letter, I’d be tempted to call them and ask if I could volunteer.

Great job, pastor! And thanks Gabe.