Dr. Mehmet Oz is in crisis communications mode. He has been making headlines in the media as medical colleagues criticize him for advice he gives and things he says on his syndicated television program.
His hometown newspaper, the New Jersey Register, asked for my opinion on how Oz has begun to attack his critics. You can read the full article here:
When a crisis comes, you can communicate or remain silent. My advice is that if the crisis is the result of criticism and you feel the criticism is unfair, then defending yourself by attacking your critics is a strong tactic. Oz has been on the attack against his critics, sighting that they have ulterior motives.
If the media tell the story of your critics, you must reach out to the media to tell your story. Too many executives caught up in a crisis or controversy in the media, believe in the flawed old adage that, “You should never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” (I address this in Lesson 7 of my book Don’t Talk to the Media Until…).
Here are 5 ways to address critics:
1) Call a news conference and point out the flaws in their statements.
2) Write letters to the editor to all publications that publish erroneous criticism from your opponents. Keep the letter to about 150 – 200 words.
3) Post a longer version of your letter to your own website.
4) Think carefully before taking your fight to social media. The haters can get ugly fast and make the problem worse.
5) Never underestimate the power of taking out ads in major publications so you can print your full letter.
Don’t let a critic hurt your brand, your reputation or your revenue.
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Where is the ExxonMobil news release for the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery explosion? An explosion is a crisis, which requires expert crisis communications. The media would expect information on the corporate news release page. Media want it fast and easy to find.
But look what you find on the ExxonMobil news release page – A fluff release about a summer jobs program.
Oil may have come from the age of the dinosaurs, but public relations in 2015 shouldn’t be prehistoric in nature.
Is ExxonMobil playing hide and seek with their news release?
At the bottom of the ExxonMobil page I found three social media links. I clicked on Twitter and found a statement that I’ve written about before – the dreaded and preposterous, “Our top priority statement.” The Tweet says, “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in Torrance.” Obviously it isn’t your top priority, otherwise you would not have had an explosion with four people sent to the hospital, right?
Come on PR people: Enough with the bad clichés that you can’t defend. My top priority is to get public relations people to stop saying, “Our top priority.”
The link on Twitter sends me to this news release page, which did not appear in my initial search. Note the time stamp on the hidden news release – 10 a.m. ET on February 19, 2015. Now note the first sentence of the news release – it indicates the explosion happened at 8:50 a.m. PST on February 18, 2015. If there is an earlier release, it is hidden from me.
I have to question, why does it take nearly a day for a news release to be posted? This is absurd. This is 2015 and we live in the age of Twitter. No corporation should go more than one hour before a news release is posted. And don’t blame it on your lawyers or your executives. An expert public relations leader must learn to deal with lawyers and executives before a crisis so that your crisis communications can move with haste and professionalism. Your crisis communication plan should be filled with pre-written and pre-approved news releases. Geez!
Even on Twitter on the day of the explosion there is no ExxonMobil Twitter post related to the explosion, yet citizens are posting images and details about the crisis trending on #torranceexplosion.
Now let us examine the news release as ExxonMobil plays hide the facts and details. Compare the ExxonMobil release that mentions an “incident,” to the headlines on Google, which uses words such as “explosion” and a host of descriptors such as “rips though refinery,” “rocked by large explosion,” etc.
While ExxonMobil uses clichés such as “top priority” and “incident,” the NBC Los Angeles website describes, “Crushed cars, mangled metal, flames and a health warning.” Their lead says, “Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality…”
Something tells me this was more than an “incident.”
In a crisis, it is important for official sources to provide official information. It is also important to control SEO. From a control perspective, the corporation should be controlling the flow of accurate information, rather than surrendering to the rumors and opinions for the public.
In the 2014 Fortune 500 list, ExxonMobil is listed as second. Some might wonder if their PR is second rate.
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Good media interview skills, a properly written crisis communications plan, and command of technology will be critical in the next few days as winter weather moves across the United States, especially into the Northeastern states.
Click image to watch this video on 12 Crisis Communication steps you should take today
Good crisis communications means now is the time to begin managing the expectations of your customers, citizens and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that may last for days. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today.
Meanwhile in Boston, (and I don’t want to deflate anyone’s fun here, but…) I question the sanity of a rally for the New England Patriots . People need to be getting home before heavy snow and the team should be moving up their departure time to beat the weather.
In your communications to your audiences, be very clear about the pain, problems and predicaments they will face.
#1 Do Not Sugar Coat the News
Tell people exactly how bad things may get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, give a good synopsis, and then give the details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overload your communications with corporate jargon, acronyms and politically correct phrases that may confuse your audience.
#2 Do Not Hedge Your Bets With Optimism
You are better off to tell audiences what the worst will be and then be happy if the worst does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.
#3 Be Ready to Use Every Means of Communications Available to You
Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:
Be ready to post updates to your primary website
Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube
Send e-mails to employees with links to your website and video
Post that same video to CNN iReports
Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video
#4 Media Training for Spokespeople
Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to this crisis. Additionally, do role-playing and practice with them before each interview in the coming days.
#5 Be Skype Ready
In a winter storm crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now and practice using Skype. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly media trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare spokespersons.
#6 Expect a Spike in Social Media Communications
Keep in mind that organizations that often have very little following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences have no computer access they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team needs to be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when it is absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments only lead to more negative comments and those comments keep re-posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.
#7 Direct Tweets to Reporters
Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to Tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a Tweet than with an e-mail, phone call or text message.
#8 Be a Resource
Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resources that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.
#9 Don’t Be Left in the Dark
Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all of the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.
#10 Rest When You Can
Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Naps are allowed in the middle of the day.
#11 Victory from Preparedness
Don’t judge your public relations skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by how much you did on a clear sunny day to prepare for your darkest day.
#12 Update Your Crisis Communication Plan
When this crisis is over, evaluate whether your crisis communication plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial re-write or re-design as soon as this crisis is over.
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A true leader demonstrates good character by stepping down when they are unable to manage a crisis and when the crisis gets worse. Some of the scandals and shortcomings happened before Pierson took the job. But she was also appointed to clean up the agency last year after the Cartagena, Colombia prostitute scandal in 2012.
Before she could even start to clean up the previous scandal, three secret service agents responsible for protecting the President in Amsterdam were sent home for being drunk. One was reportedly passed out in the hallway of their hotel. Pierson, as leader, put the agents on administrative leave.
But when Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence and got inside the White House, it became clear that too many problems were happening too fast. At the same time a story broke about a November 11, 2011 incident in which a man parked his car on a street near the White House and reportedly fired a semiautomatic rifle multiple times, hitting the building.
Too many security lapses means somebody needs to take the heat for the ongoing crises.
I’ve written many blogs in the past few weeks about the NFL scandals and the need for Roger Goodell to demonstrate he has leadership by admitting his repeated failings and stepping aside. Julia Pierson is a leadership role model for crisis communications and crisis management. Goodell would be well served to learn from her example.
When a crisis strikes where you work, a good leader makes the crisis go away and communicates what happened and what changes are on the horizon. Often your job in public relations is to be the one to support the leader and guide them to make the right decisions.
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What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.
1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.
2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.
3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.
4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.
5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.
6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.
7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.
A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.
But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.
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Crisis management and crisis communications depend upon honesty and ethical leadership. The easiest way to define good, ethical behavior is to consider that your behavior and discussions in private should be the same as if the entire world were watching and listening.
I suspect the NFL crisis is confounded by the same type of discussions that took place at Penn State during their child abuse scandal. Generally, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re dead. If people find out about this, we’re ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”
The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from the world as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The proper way for any institution or company to protect their reputation and revenue and end a crisis is to do the right thing the first time by:
1) Letting the world know the full extent of what you have uncovered in your investigation
2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis
3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.
1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew
2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice
3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence
Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.
Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.
Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.
The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making things worse.
If my suspicions are true, more truth will come out about what the NFL did and didn’t know. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.
The NFL must do what all institutions should do from the beginning:
1) Tell the truth
2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well
3) Announce steps to ensure bad decision-making doesn’t happen again.
Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.
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Brands live and die by sales. Sales associated with a star athlete or team are considered golden by many brands. But what happens in a crisis? What happens when the team loses? What happens when the player is disgraced?
For athletic brands, association with a team, sport or athlete is a must. For many consumer brands or service industry brands however, I have strongly advised my clients to keep their distance. I see no reason for a bank or hospital, for example, to take that leap.
Yes, a winning team wins you a degree of favor. But a losing team is a bad association. There is nothing worse than seeing your logo behind an angry coach after a bad loss. Learn from Radisson Hotels. They quickly realized their logo didn’t need to be behind the owner, coach and players of the Minnesota Vikings as the issues surrounding Adrian Peterson went from being a sideline issue to being in the spotlight.
Be a control freak. You can control paid advertising. You cannot control guilt by association in a crisis. Consult an advertising expert and research not only the benefits you may gain in good times, but also the damage you may sustain to your brand’s reputation and revenue during a crisis.
1) If you do allow your brand to sponsor a team, have a clause that allows you to remove your logo from the post-game interview backdrop when the team loses.
2) Make sure your logo never shows when there is a scandal.
3) Send a marketing or communications employee to travel with the team to set up a backdrop with your logo for good news and a backdrop without your logo when the news is bad.
Don’t let someone else’s crisis and their failed crisis management affect your brand, your reputation and your revenue.
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As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.
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The NFL crisis gets bigger in the absence of crisis management, crisis communications and good executive leadership.
Adrian Peterson and a string of other players and teams are being swept up in the crisis because as the appointed leader of the NFL, Roger Goodell failed to make the right decisions at the beginning of the Ray Rice crisis.
Expert crisis management and crisis communications involves having a plan of action that fully addresses the potential damage to an institution’s reputation and revenue. The slower an institution is to respond, the more the crisis spreads and the more damage to reputation and revenue.
What about where you work? Do your leaders have a crisis management and crisis communications plan? Do the people with the high titles possess true leadership qualities, especially in a crisis?
Most institutions fail to have a plan that would truly serve their needs in a crisis. Many have a few sheets of paper in a binder that states some standard operating procedures. These are comfort plans – they make people feel good because the word crisis plan is on a piece of paper. But experience shows that most institutions fail to write the type of deep crisis communications plan needed to handle every type of crisis they may face.
Most institutions fail to consider both emergency type crises as well as the smoldering ethical issues within the organization.
Many executives are in denial early in a crisis and throughout the crisis, as they hope and pray it will go away. Hope is not a crisis communications strategy. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that your actions during a crisis can be guided by a crisis communications plan so you can eliminate the need for prayer.
The reality is, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets.
Eventually reputation and revenue are damaged significantly enough that someone at the top gets fired.
Because Goodell has been weak, the crisis has spread to other teams and players, causing sponsors to pull out or threaten to pull out.
My prediction is the NFL owners will soon be calling for Goodell to resign.
Will this kind of failure to lead in a crisis happen someday where you work? It doesn’t have to if you prepare for it with a crisis communications plan and conduct regular drills that role-play various types of crises, especially those that deal with hard moral and ethical decisions.
Good crisis communications and crisis management should never be based on spontaneous decisions and strategies in the midst of your crisis. Good crisis communications and crisis management is derived from writing strong plans on a clear sunny day.
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What is your plan when the crisis of another entity becomes your crisis, forcing upon you a crisis communications challenge? Observe the NFL crisis as it spreads, causing damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.
You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.
The NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.
Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.
Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.
Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.
Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.
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