Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogs: A Hoax and a Revenge Blog Attack Which One Is Worse?

The answer – Neither, they’re both bad.

President Obama and Rush Limbaugh, and consequently his radio audience, were all victims in the blog hoax. A blogger made-up a satirical post on a so-called humor blog.

In it, the blogger wrote that Time Magazine writer Joe Klein had received ten pages of President Obama’s college thesis. In that thesis the blogger claimed that Obama, the college student, had doubts about the “so-called founders” of our country and suggested that the future president showed “disdain” for the United States Constitution.

The blog entry somehow ended up in Rush Limbaugh’s in-box and he used it as another club to beat-up on the President he wants to fail. After an hour or more of ranting about how right he had been (no pun intended) about the inadequacy of Obama to be president, someone finally did some fact checking and alerted Limbaugh that it was a hoax.

Limbaugh did not apologize, rather he defended his poor judgment by saying the blog post “felt true.”

What if that phony story had been written about you or your business or organization and some local reporter or editor picked it up and passed it on as fact without checking first?

And then there’s the continuing fall-out from ESPN’s firing of sports commentator Steve Phillips. He was dismissed because he got caught in a sexual “impropriety.” By the way, dad or mom, how will you answer your Little Leaguer’s question, “Mom, what is an impropriety?”

That story took a new twist last week when another blogger complained that ESPN had lied to him two months ago. A. J. Daulerio, editor of, a sports blog, says he asked ESPN Sept. 9 if Phillips was going to be fired the next day. A PR person for ESPN told him the rumor was wrong.

The problem is, the response was true at the time, but six weeks later on Oct. 25 it was no longer a rumor, but fact. Now Daulerio is accused of trying to get even because he got beat on the story. He has posted articles alleging sexual liaisons and harassment by other ESPN employees and inconsistent punishment

Welcome to the Social Media World.

The point of this blog is to challenge you to think about the “what ifs” this happened to you, your boss, your organization or business. In today’s world, this kind of social media attack is as real as a tornado in Kansas or a hurricane in Florida. You cannot wait to be surprised when the blog comes ashore on your turf.

If you have begun planning for this type of crisis, I and my readers would appreciate hearing about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Do You Spell Lawsuit? TASER

Recently, Taser International, the Arizona based maker of 50,000-volt stun guns, advised local police and sheriff's departments not to shoot its stun guns at a suspect's chest.

In a training bulletin to its law enforcement customers, the company says such action poses a risk, extremely low, but still a slight risk of an "adverse cardiac event."

It is the first time the manufacturer has hinted that there is a risk of heart damage when jolted by their product. At least one study says there have been about 50 cardiac deaths resulting from stun gun hits between 2001 and late 2008.

The Arizona Republic reported, "Taser officials said Tuesday the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.

Here's where the legal and public relations challenge arises.

Even though it was carefully worded, Taser's advisory gives lawyers an argument to use to sue officers and police departments, and an excuse to seek big-dollar settlements. And for the public information officers of police agencies, it gives reporters another club to beat up on law enforcement when the rare death or serious injury does occur.

I would much rather an officer shoot me with his Taser than with his 9MM. But I would hate to be the PIO who has to defend his/her department and an officer, when they Taze a child or an elderly woman, even if they don't kill them.

One solution is for more and better training about the risks and the best way to utilize the stun gun and minimize lethal consequences. And, yes, I understand that officers often must make quick decisions under the most difficult and challenging circumstances, without time to think of the long-term consequences. But, with better and more thorough training, it becomes easier to make the correct decision in that split second.

The point of this post, is a challenge to chiefs and sheriffs to establish and enforce reasonable rules of engagement, and to the PIO's to anticipate the questions and potential firestorm that can result from such a tragic event. But, not only to anticipate, but to create a plan and talking points in case you are faced with this situation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does "ROI" Hinder Your Crisis Planning?

The founder of the Institute for Crisis Management, Robert Irvine, had worked in corporate communications for 30-years before he wrote the first book on crisis communications "WHEN YOU ARE THE HEADLINE" in the late 80's.

After the book was published, he was in such demand as a speaker and consultant that he left corporate communications and started his own crisis consulting company, ICM.

He said when he started prospecting for clients, the book and his reputation gave him access to a number of top corporate executives. When he sat down with them, he began talking about his passion for building and protecting and occasionally rebuilding the corporate reputation. He said almost every time, his potential client's eyes would glaze over.

After months of frustration, he was telling a friend about his experience and his friend said, "Bob, these executives don't care about reputation. They care about dollars and cents -- the bottom line."

So, Bob decided to take his friend's advice and he said the next few executives he pitched for crisis planning and training, sat on the edge of their seats and listened to every word he had to say about the cost of having a crisis and the dollar savings of preventing crises.

But, he said, he couldn't resist preaching about corporate reputation and as soon as he switched from talking about dollars and cents to talking about protecting the company's reputation, their eyes glazed over.

Nothing much has changed since Bob started ICM in 1989.

The leaders of many organizations know they should have a crisis operations plan and a crisis communication plan and a business recovery plan. But almost every decision they make is based on that corporate concept of Return On Investment (ROI). If it costs $20-to-$30-thousand to create or even update a thorough crisis plan and train everyone to use it, where is the dollar return and how soon is the pay-off?

Many of the same decision makers are convinced that "nothing bad is ever gonna happen to this organization while I'm in charge!" So, they can't see any return on that expenditure.

A number of years ago, one of the international public relations organizations talked to Bob about sponsoring a PR competition for the best managed business crisis.
He didn't even have to think about a response. He said, how can you judge that? "The best managed crises are the one's no one will ever know about!"

If you're trying to get approval, or buy-in on creating a crisis plan or updating an old plan, do your research. Some of your peers and competitors have been through almost every crisis your organization will ever face. Many of them have been documented. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Point out what it cost in terms of lost business, lost employees, lawsuits, investigations, business failures and rebuilding costs. Compare that to the relatively small expense of preparing a plan or updating one.

And don't give up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Will We Learn From Toyota's Mounting Crises?

If your company has a fire, you rebuild. If your company has a product recall, you manage it. If you face a patent infringement claim you prove its not true. If you have a disgruntled former employee you may have a whistle-blower and if you have all of these things or even most of these things all at once, you have a business crisis.

That would be Toyota!

The worldwide economic crash has not been kind to Toyota either. But, within a single year, The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation surrounding growing evidence that "severe frame corrosion" on 2000 and 2001 Tundra pickups is causing brake system failures and the spare tires to break away from the underside of the vehicle.

Within weeks of that disclosure Toyota began recalling 3.8-million Toyota and Lexus automobile because of problems with factory installed floor mats that may get caught in the accelerator pedal.

That recall resulted after a California state trooper and three members of his family were killed in a related accident in a Toyota built Lexus.

Within a couple more weeks, U.S. trade officials said they will investigate allegations by a Florida based company, Paice, that claims Toyota violated their patents when it developed their latest generation of hybrids cars, including the Prius and the Lexus HS250h.

Two of those issues shake the public's faith in the car company's QUALITY -- one of Toyota's biggest selling points for years.

But wait, there's more!

Dimitrios Biller, former national managing counsel of the company's National Rollover Campaign for four years, is now a whistle-blower publicly accusing the company of covering up potentially damaging information that, he says, has been withheld from victims of defective Toyota vehicles.

Do you remember Ralph Nader? He made his reputation and badly damaged General Motors' image with his campaign against what he called a death trap Chevrolet Corvair.

Toyota can recover but it must be aggressive both at cleaning up its quality issues on the drawing boards and assembly lines, AND in taking responsibility for past problems and communicating to employees, partners, regulators and customers what it is doing to restore their trust and confidence in the Toyota brand.

The company President got off to an appropriate start last week, when he offered his condolences to the California trooper's family and publicly acknowledged the company was in a "near rock-bottom crisis."

Many companies of every size will be watching, along with customers, competitors and investors, to see if Toyota's leadership can pull the company back from the brink.

Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman's Surreal "Confession"

When Bill Clinton talked about "that woman" referring to Monica Lewinsky, people rolled their eyes.

When a series of politicians confessed to illicit affairs in the past two years, members of the opposition parties were outraged. Members of their respective parties were strangely quiet.

When U of L Basketball Coach Rick Pitino confirmed that he was the victim of an extortion attempt by a woman he had sex with months earlier in a Louisville restaurant, U of L fans were still supportive of the Coach, while many were heard to whisper under their breath it's no big deal as long as he keeps on winning basketball games.

This week when David Letterman revealed on his Late Night TV show that a fellow CBS producer had demanded $2-million to keep quiet about his sexual encounters with female employees of his production company, the studio audience laughed and when he confirmed that he had, indeed, had sex with some of his staff, the studio audience applauded!

What's wrong with this picture?

Now Jon Gosselin, formerly of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" has gone to court to protect his children from exploitation by the producers of the reality show he once appeared on. He cheated on his wife and left her and their eight children. The show was renamed "Kate Plus Eight" last week, and now according to his lawyer, “Jon is resolved not to allow the TLC corporate machine to devour his family and promote the monster’s best interests over those of his family.”

We have worked with clients in similar "crises" and, for the most part, given each the same advice. Take responsibility, set out to fix the situation, and don't say any thing more. Most either ignore the advice altogether, or only follow part of it and end up with more negative public attention.

But the more publicity these situations generate, the less the public seems to pay attention. But that doesn't mean lives are not changed, families are not wrecked and organizations are not tarnished.