Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can AIG's Reputation Be Salvaged? Does It Matter?

This week"s question: Can AIG's Reputation Be Salvaged? But the better question may be: Does it matter?

As the pundits and politicians haggle over AIG's reputation, there are rumors that scores of high priced public relations professionals are working to turn the company's image around. Nicholas Ashooh, SVP Public Relations at AIG, has his own staff and likely has help from one or more communications agencies.

I am anxious to read your opinion about AIG's reputation and whether it can be salvaged. I think it can.

However, the first step in the process is the same first step any company or organization, of any size, must come to grips with after a crisis -- figure out what they did wrong, take responsibility for it, and then map out a strategy to fix what's broken, and then do it.

Only AFTER that is all done, can the organization begin the slow, methodical process of rebuilding its image and reputation.

President Obama said, "I screwed up" after one of his new administration appointees turned out to be a dud. And that "screw-up" quickly disappeared from the front pages.

Earlier, if then-President Bill Clinton had fessed-up that he had, in fact, "known that woman" Monica Lewinski, and said he would never do anything like that again, instead of stonewalling and denying it for months, the nation would have been spared a lengthy and embarassing saga. The American people would have chuckled and collectively laughed and said, "yeah sure," but that would have been the end of that.

But, the more intriguing question about AIG is: Does it matter?

Think about Exxon. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez dumped 10.8-million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound and the surrounding 11,000 square miles of sea and coastline. The media coverage and public outrage was comparable to the current AIG bonus flap.

Exxon spent an estimated $2-billion to clean it up, another $1-billion to settle civil and criminal charges, not to mention the hit on its share value. In 1994, the case and its publicity was still very much alive. In the case of Baker VS Exxon, an Anchorage jury awarded $287-million dollars in actual damages and $5-billion in punitive damages.

The company appealed and appealed and appealed and in June of last year (2008) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the penalty was too high and sent the case back to the lower court.

Now, here's the potential answer to the question about AIG.

Even though Exxon is still the first thing that comes to mind when you say "oil-spill," and the next thing is the pictures of seals and water fowl covered in black crude oil, Exxon ended 2008 with a record profit of $45.2 billion.

So some executives argue that it really doesn't matter if you have a really horrendous crisis.

Exxon may be an exception to the rule, but most companies that experience that much damage, both to the bottom line and to their reputation, do not do so well. And I might argue, just how much more profitable Exxon might be if the public didn't detest it so much and trusted it more.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Preparing Your CEO for Primetime

In my last post, I raised the question: Is your CEO ready for prime time, or even late night?

Most likely the answer is no. If the answer is yes, then good for you and good for your boss.

But for those with a top gun who is not prepared, here are a few suggestions.

Media spokesperson training is a must. Coaching for specific, sensitive or controversial interviews is a great idea. Public speaking training and coaching is another good investment in the CEO's time and the organization's dollars.

Media training is not just about what to wear, where to look and what to say. If your decision maker is going into a meeting with an adversary or negotiations with a union or vendor or new client, he/she is going to want to know everything possible about the person sitting across the table.

The same is true when dealing with a reporter. You need to know who they are, what they already know about you and the subject, what their biases may be, what their motive is or the "hook" for the story they are working on. Now the CEO is not normally going to do that preparation, but he/she needs to know what they need to know and make sure someone provides that information as much in advance as possible.

The CEO also needs to know how the media works -- really works -- not what he/she thinks they do and how and why they do it. There are a lot of misperceptions out there that get in the way of a spokesperson being as effective and successful as they can be.

There are a number of techniques that you can learn in media training and/or public speaking training that will make it easier to take control of the experience and maximize the opportunity. Every encounter with the media or direct encounter with key audiences is an opportunity to tell your story, with your facts and your perspective and counter false-hoods, rumors and misperceptions that typically abound, particularly when the organization is in crisis.

Speaking of misperceptions. Some executives want to hire a reporter or former reporter to "train" them. I was a reporter, editor and news manager for more than 35 years. That did not qualify me to be a spokesperson trainer. It usually doesn't qualify anyone else to be a spokesperson trainer or coach either. I learned from an experienced trainer and coach, and learned even more from experience as a spokesperson and by training other spokespersons.

In fact, a number of organizations are hiring former reporters and anchors to head up their public relations and community relations functions. Many of them will grow into very good and effective organizational communicators. But not automatically because they were reporters, and not overnight. Reporters and PR people are trained in two different schools of communication.

Experience in both makes for a better reporter and a better PR person. But a trained and experienced reporter is not ready to head up a communication department and an experienced PR person would give an editor nightmares before she was ready to turn loose on the beat.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Is Your CEO Ready for Primetime or Latenight?

The "question of the day:"

Is your CEO or President or top Administrator ready for a one-on-one live interview or press conference, or even a one-on-one interview with a print reporter?

If you do not have an affirmative reply to that question then consider this question:

What do we need to do to get her or him ready?

Let's consider a couple of examples. President Barack Obama hit a home run on Jay Leno's "late night" show, even if he did stick his foot in his mouth once with an insensitive remark comparing his bowling game to Special Olympics. He later apologized.

David Zurawick at the Baltimore Sun compared the President to a relaxed Tony Bennett, selling his economic plan during 35-minutes of prime TV time, watched by millions of everyday Americans. The President was authoritative when he needed to be, comfortably funny when it was appropriate and his self depricating-humor made viewers comfortable with his foray into their bedrooms, living rooms and family rooms.

Never forget, when you are on television or radio, even in a short sound bite in a news story, you are a guest in the listener or viewers' home or car. They will never hear what you say, if they are not comfortable with you in their personal space.

By contrast, go back to January 15 and watch a replay of US Airways CEO Doug Parker following the splashdown of the USAir jet in the Hudson River in New York City. He had a miraculous story to tell, with an unprecedented "happy ending." All he had to do was step up to the microphones and, with a smile on his face, talk about the flight crew that pulled off a never-before successful landing of a passenger jet on water, and everyone survived.

He was wooden and his personality, if he has one, was nowhere to be found. He rushed through his brief remarks and then took off like a CEO of a company that had just done something terrible, instead of something so great. He missed a golden opportunity.

Then, contrast President Obama and USAir CEO Parker to CNBC's Jim Cramer on Comedy Central. Cramer acknowledged some mistakes were made and indicated he and CNBC would do better. So far, so good.

Then Friday (3-20) Cramer was on the NBC Today Show, and according to Eric Deggans' blog The Feed, "In a series of statements that read like they were scripted by his CNBC producers, Cramer offered a defense of the channel that he didn't bother bringing up on The Daily Show, saying Stewart's broadsides were "naive and misleading." For all practical purposes he took back his contrition and pledge to do better.

Which one of these would your CEO come closest to?

What can CEOs do to be ready for Prime Time?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Welcome to the Institute for Crisis Management Crisis Consultant blog. Along with ICM Senior Consultant Dan Hicks' blog you have two places to go to talk about crisis communications. Dan's been at this a while and I look forward to every one of his posts.

He is an excellent writer and has years of experience and a unique sense of humor to bring to an otherwise serious and often times sad and difficult subject.

Since Bob Irvine wrote the first major book on crisis communication When You Are the Headline and then founded ICM in the late 80's, our Senior Consultants have worked with all kinds and sizes of organizations ranging from international manufacturing, mining and transportation companies, to smaller local and regional businesses, telecommunications companies, healthcare providers and insurers, public schools and higher education, not-for-profits and national religious organizations.

When I'm asked what we do, I explain that we are just like funeral directors. Neither of us will ever run out of potential customers/clients. The funeral director is trying to sell you a pre-paid and pre-planned funeral. It's cheaper in the long run and less stress on the family when they need the service. ICM is trying to sell crisis communication plans and other risk management services. It's cheaper in the long run, and certainly reduces stress on the organization when a crisis hits. We and the funeral director have about the same success rate!

However, when Auntie dies or the company is in trouble, they want us there, right now, and they want us to make them look better than when they were healthy, and when that last spade of dirt is in her face or management thinks they have it under control, they want us out of the way until they need us the next time.

One of the things we'll do on this site is to pose a question, from time-to-time, and asked you to offer your opinion and then justify that opinion.

So let's see how this works.

This week's question: What could AIG do to begin rebuilding its reputation and public perception?

Go to the comment section and speak up.