Okay, who is advising Tiger Woods on his public statements? Seriously, his handlers can’t be professionally trained in best practices of public relations. If they were, they would have insisted on knowing the truth and the facts - without the prejudice of emotions or pride. Then they would have made the decision of what, if anything, to say as the argument for “this is a private matter” has merit. Any public statement would answer questions before they’re asked to significantly cut off the legs on this story. They also would have a plan to address lies and speculation, which is pretty much all the quasi media need considering the vagueness of Tiger’s statement and his cancellation of all golf tournaments for the rest of the year. As avid golf fans know, Tiger rarely plays in tournaments in December and January.
What began as a car wreck has become a global inquisition regarding what led up to Tiger’s accident. This slow-removal-of-a-band-aid approach is painful to watch, especially for experienced crisis managers. And herein may lie the problem. Until now, Tiger Woods has enjoyed a stellar reputation. He’s the highest paid professional athlete in the world. He’s an active supporter of several charities, including his own nonprofit foundation. He really hasn’t experienced an actual crisis until now. Considering his cadre of agents, publicists and managers, I seriously doubt there’s a professional public relations practitioner among his peeps.
While I don’t know the details, I do know that people can handle the truth and are gracious with their forgiveness. But you have to be willing to speak the truth, and make an informed decision that involves experienced public relations counsel and legal minds. Thoughts?
One football weekend, business is going great with the usual 200 to 300 cases of chicken sold. Within days, barely 80 cases are used. What gives? A false rumor via the Internet - the kind of virus that attacks the 20-year upstanding reputation and cash flow of a small eatery renowned for its fried chicken wings and Chinese food.
Owner Tommy Nguyen fights the Internet. Photo courtesy of the Times-Picayune.
In this modern day David vs. Goliath scenario, Manchu restaurant owner Tommy Nguyen took several crisis management tactics that have helped turn around the inaccurate rumors of unsafe food. Among the steps taken include:
* Hung a large banner saying “Rumors Are Not True”
* Asked the Health Department and the Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau for an investigation
* Requested an immediate inspection by the Health Department that resulted in an overall good report
* Bought broadcast and print ads to get out the facts, which led to a comprehensive media story
Nguyen’s experience with viral media illustrates the power of the Internet, an unmonitored medium that doesn’t involve fact checking. The situation also reinforces the need for all organizations to have a crisis management plan. In addition to the steps Nguyen took, what other crisis management tactics could help? And what are we, as public relations professionals, doing to ensure that our clients and organizations are prepared in today’s Internet world?
After a week of talk about whether or not Late Show Host David Letterman is outrageously funny or painfully out-of-touch, he finally apologized to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, her daughters and family. The original “joke” on June 8 opining that Palin’s daughter was “being knocked up by Alex Rodriguez” during a Yankees game was followed two days later by a half-hearted attempt at an apology, which was more like a defensive play with a few self-deprecating audibles. While better late than never, Monday’s apology was as heartfelt as Letterman can get, and maybe that was the plan.
Like the recent Domino’s video fiasco, Letterman’s apology was over-the-top late. By any public relations or crisis management standards, the timing was nearly unrecognizable to the original transgression. As professionals, we counsel our clients and employers to genuinely and effectively begin the healing process of a crisis as soon as harm or even the perception of harm is realized. Customer (and fan) relationships involve trust, authenticity and appropriate timing.
The original 47-second Letterman clip caused much discussion about boundaries, genders, ages and laws. Debate is a good thing. And although belated, Letterman’s apology should be accepted.
Yet who’s to say what roles, if any, web sites like Fire David Letterman, organized boycotts of CBS advertisers, anti-Letterman events outside studios and/or the current multi-million-dollar contract talks between the late night host and CBS played in all of this? Timing is everything.
While Domino’s Pizza continues to recover from a tasteless YouTube video, companies should take a clue and think about how to preserve their brand in today’s cyberspace world. Domino’s learned the hard way – its failure to anticipate the negative ramifications of social media caused much reactive, costly and time-consuming activities.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid or at least minimize cyber victimization before it turns into a verb as in “Hey, man, don’t Dominos my food.” While large, longtime companies are likely to survive brand damage, small and mid-size organizations are much more vulnerable to the power of social media. Marketing experts believe some businesses are only a click away from a crisis premiering in the public domain. Even bleaker is this reality: the absolute worst time to try to build relationships or to start establishing effective communications tools is during the crisis.
Wayne Hill, president of Ohio-based Edward Howard, says the most important first step is a change of mindset. “Many companies suffer from ‘magical thinking’. They simply believe they are immune to a crisis,” said Hill. “If businesspeople took the time to really think about everything that could possibly go wrong – not so much operationally, but more technologically – then their mindset couldn’t help but change.”
Once that shift in thinking occurs, other steps that a company can do to protect its reputation include:
Know what’s being said – good and bad – about your organization. Surround yourself with people (in-house or outsourced) who have a working knowledge and application of all forms of social media to monitor your organization and to immediately activate communications, including live, as needed.
Take small steps, such as Internet news alerts, establishing social media accounts or developing a dark web page.
Ensure that your organization has most, if not all, of the basics of a crisis communications plan, no matter how remedial.
Develop a crisis communications plan that includes social media elements, media training and messaging. If in-house resources aren’t available, look for a reputable service provider with both crisis management and social media experience.
“People may think they can’t afford to do something about their branding in today’s warp speed travel of cyber news and viral media,” said Hill. “The reality is that people can’t afford not to be prepared, and the basic steps are more affordable than they realize. With today’s 24/7 news coverage, combined with online avenues, information is continuously recycled. Technology lasts forever (see www.digg.com), but every day, companies may see their reputations damaged in minutes.”
Susan Hart, APR, is an independent public relations consultant with 25+ years of experience. Beginning as a journalist, she represents clients in health care, financial, technology and real estate. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America, she serves as Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee for her local PRSA Chapter.