Crisis Communications, Michael Jackson & Your Executives

I’ve been wanting to share these thoughts with you since the story first broke about the death of Michael Jackson, but I thought some may consider it insensitive or overtly opportunistic too close to his death. But now that some time has passed, let’s examine what we, as communicators, can learn from the death of Michael Jackson.

The first thing I would ask is whether a Michael Jackson mentality exists in your company and among your executives?

If you consider Michael Jackson, he provided great service to his customers… in other words, his fans loved his music and shows.

At the same time, Michael Jackson did many good works, traveling the world and giving away millions of dollars to charities, especially for children.

But then, there is the negative. The suspicions about whether he had inappropriate relations with children haunts him to this day.

These 2 sides of Michael Jackson polarized audiences.

Furthermore, the death of Michael Jackson, the investigation and the massive quantity of drugs found in his home, indicates that he had a big problem. I would even go so far to say that his advisors probably knew about his dangerous drug addictions and they failed to speak up, take action and do something about it.

I see this very same behavior everyday in corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Many of you work in organizations that have a loyal customer base and give back to the community, but there are those in your organization that simultaneously do things that raise suspicion… sometimes to internal parties; sometimes to the suspicion of the public.

It is a classic case in which you know that someone needs to tell the emperor that he has no clothes, but no one will.

I’ve seen those in the C-suite lose their temper so outrageously, in meetings, to the point that everyone is afraid to speak up, because no one want to be reamed out next. I’ve known of non-profit executives who own businesses or property on the side and have suspicious dealings with their own non-profit, and they have fired those who have questioned those dealings. In the world of government, there are constantly questionable relationships with vendors.

In the world of public relations, media relations and crisis communications, these are classic smoldering crises.

They also put you in the awkward situation of even compromising your own ethics if you fail to speak up. Yet, you also know that if you do speak up, you could jeopardize your own career and possibly get fired.

So what do you do? My first suggestion is that if you can’t fix the problem, you should start looking for a new job. I’ve challenged my bosses before and faced repercussions. When I couldn’t fix it internally, I decided to change jobs. I knew that eventually the company would pay the price for their bad ethics and misguided deeds. My goal was to be long gone so I wouldn’t be tainted by those bad deeds. After leaving I was happier and I always got a significant raise in salary.

If you do find yourself trapped between bad executive behavior and no prospects for a new job, realize that you, as the communicator, may eventually have your good name and reputation smeared when the scandal breaks, affecting your own future.

Does a Michael Jackson mentality exist where you work? If it does, your crisis communications plan may be need of a serious rewrite. Before you begin the rewrite, consider conducting a full blown vulnerability assessment so you can include all of the smoldering crisis that exists. Chances are there are other people in your organization who know of other misdeeds that you may not know of. Many crisis communications plans are flawed because they are only made to deal with a sudden crisis.

Don’t delay. Act now. Move it to the top of your priority list. It’s only a matter of time before your smoldering crisis ignites and everything goes up in flames.

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