Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Should Tiger Do?

He hasn't asked me, but others are asking, "What should Tiger do or say?"

It's hard to give advice without some facts.

What we know is, the National Enquirer did a story recently claiming he was having an affair with a New York City night club hostess. Florida police did not test him for alcohol or other drugs and three days later, he has avoided talking to investigators.

We also know that if he were to lose all of his product endorsement contracts and never win another tournament, he still would not be able to spend all the money he has earned so far in his 33-years.

He basically has two choices. He can follow the route he has chosen so far, and refuse to answer questions and let the speculation go unchallenged. Or, he can conduct a news conference -- make a brief statement about what happened -- and refuse to answer questions, beyond the statement.

In either case, the rumors and speculation will continue just like they have for David Letterman, UofL Coach Rick Pitino, a couple of governors and other miscellaneous celebrities.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this post. We don't have enough facts to give definitive counsel. However, in almost all cases, it is still better to "take responsibility" for what you've done and make one effort to put your facts on the record, and then never get drawn into any more discussions about it.

That won't make the problem disappear, but reasonable people will accept a sincere explanation and apology if one is appropriate, and forget about it until the next time that person does something potentially scandalous. Unreasonable people will continue to talk about it until someone else trips up in public and they will then move on to gossip about the next celebrity's mistake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ATT VS Verizon To Sue Or Not To Sue, That Is The Question

We've worked with clients in the past that insisted on filing lawsuits. From a legal point of view, the lawsuits may have been justified. More often than not, they did not accomplish what the client wanted to accomplish, but there was the "legal principle" after all.

And in some cases the lawsuits hurt the clients more than their adversary because of the public perception of the motive for the lawsuits.

Now there is another such case involving the giant ATT and Verizon, and according to some bloggers and even some legal experts ATT may have missed the boat in deciding to go to court, without apparently seeking advice from their communications experts.

Verizon is running a series of television ads showing their mobile phones using their 3G network, displayed on a map of the United States, and comparing its coverage to that of ATT with another map showing its much smaller geographic 3G coverage area.

Someone at ATT called in a big outside law firm to teach those folks at Verizon they could not get away with their highly successful ad campaign. So far, Verizon is getting more attention to its so-called 3G coverage superiority and ATT seems to be drawing even more attention to its apparent inferior 3G coverage area.

No one asked us, but if they had, we would have counseled ATT to counter the Verizon ads with their own and rush improvements to their 3G or next generation 4G service.

There is a time and reason for going to court, but before that decision is made, the aggrieved organization must consider the "court of public opinion" and how, or even if, it can win there too.

If you can manage the court of public opinion and not lose there, too, then file. But if there is any doubt about how your key audiences, including employees, suppliers, customers and investors will perceive your "case" then look for another solution and hold off on the lawsuit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nobody Wins In This One

It started almost three years ago at a Wal-Mart in Kennett, a small town in southeast Missouri. A black college student, moved into a faster moving check-out lane, joining her cousin, and moving ahead of a white customer.

The young woman is now a school teacher and has insisted on vindication in a court room.

The clerk called a manager who called Kennett Police and both ordered the belligerent young woman to leave the store, although she wanted to pay for her merchandise. Police followed her or escorted her to the parking lot, depending on which version you believe. It was there, officers allege, she resisted arrest and kicked and hit two officers, leading to the charges that are scheduled to go to trial this week.

This is one of those situations where the victim/perpetrator loses no matter what.

So does the town of Kennett and Wal-Mart loses, too. Unless, cooler heads prevail, and everyone is wise enough to say "I'm sorry" and each admits they've made mistakes and have learned from the experience.

Wal-Mart apparently believes it is simply the "location" of a problem between a hot-headed youngster and the "authorities."

In the only statement I've seen from Wal-Mart, a spokesperson said, "Incidents involving our customers are unfortunate and we take them seriously." Corporate spokesman Lorenzo Lopez added, "In this matter, there was a disturbance and law enforcement was contacted, in accordance with our normal procedures. The police then determined how to proceed."

Someone at Wal-Mart is probably looking at the mostly white residents and customers of Kennett, MO, population 11,000, and thinking a conviction of this woman, won't hurt their image nor their business in that market, nor in the majority of mostly small-town Wal-Marts across America. And, they may be right.

But, the Police Chief and the Prosecutor, the young woman and Wal-Mart have allowed this "story" to live for nearly three years. The community is getting an image as a back-water, racist community. The police department thinks its righteous, but many outsiders don't.

The young woman may have experienced discrimination at that store, that day, or somewhere else before that day. And in one sense she may deserve an apology.

However, we all get upset when someone "jumps the line," no matter what color, age or gender they are. There is evidence she lost her cool and physically lashed out at two officers. They may deserve an apology.

And a better trained and more sensitive Wal-Mart manager probably could have defused the tension at the check-out lane and saved the company, the community and an angry young customer from nearly three years of fussing and bad feelings and negative publicity.

The bottom line for a company like Wal-Mart and for a police department, large or small, is to take the "conflict" out of a situation and story, not feed the conflict, as has been done in this case.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leaders Didn't Notice Missing Cash

The not-for profit Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in Lexington, KY is out $435,000, apparently embezzled by a former office manager, who forged checks to four accomplices over the span of year. About half of the pilfered money was taken in the two months before a bank employee became suspicious and notified the Board President.

To make matters worse, charitable giving has been down for the past year, and earlier this year the agency laid off a half-dozen staff and the remaining staff took a seven-percent pay cut. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported: ". . .even as they pinched pennies, nobody in the executive office or on the 28-member board noticed nearly half-a-million dollars being siphoned from the agency's accounts."

There are several lessons to be learned from this situation. All the standard book-keeping practices in the world are useless if someone is not following them and paying attention.

When the staff is not doing its job, the Board has a responsibility to notice and ask what's going on. If you agree to serve on a Board and all you want is to pad your social resume, shame on you. If you don't want to make "waves" go lay on a beach somewhere and don't take up space on the board of a worthwhile organization.

All of that probably isn't going to help, but I feel better having said it. This is not the first time an employee of a significant not-for-profit organization has taken advantage of people's good will. We at ICM, have helped a number of such organizations through this.

Now, the real lessons. Activate your crisis management team. Determine what processes broke down and why no one noticed and take responsibility for it. Be prepared to meet with staff and key volunteers, major funding sources and the clients of your agency. Do that before they read about it in the local newspaper or see the story on TV. Take responsibility for what happened and be prepared to explain in general terms what is being done to make sure it never happens again.

In each of those meetings be prepared to reassure each of those stakeholders how you're going to maintain service or what cuts will be necessary and for how long service will be curtailed.

DO NOT whine and complain and blame anyone else. The person who stole the money is only slightly more responsible, because the management and overseers of not-for-profits are assumed to be paying attention and when anything out of the ordinary happens those people should be investigating and demanding answers and solutions.

The founder of ICM and I were helping a major not-for-profit who had been the victim of only a $50,000 theft. Before the loss became public, the crisis team had been working for a week on what to do and say. At one meeting the chief fund raiser said enthusiastically, the loss was "an opportunity" for a special fund raising campaign to play on the sympathy of the community. ICM Founder Bob Irvine had one knee on the conference table on his way to "shake" the fund raiser when I got my hand on his belt and pulled him back into his chair. We still laugh about it, but that was not a good idea.

The news media seldom ask all the right questions, but that doesn't mean the Board should do the same. A non-profit has to file an annual report, usually compiled by an outside accounting firm. That report includes a sworn affidavit that affirms the books are in order. It always amazes me that no reporter ever asks how that annual audit could miss something as big as 400,000 misappropriated funds and the follow-up question "are you going to replace that auditing company?"