Archive for the ‘Crisis Communication’ Category

Media Minute: To popular to fail?

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Media Minute: To popular to fail?

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: To popular to fail?Is the NFL in trouble? Or is it too popular to fail?

With all the recent headlines about domestic violence involving players and the ongoing saga about professional football and brain injuries, the NFL clearly is in crisis mode.

Is it too popular to fail? Or is it in trouble? Only time will tell.

As I see it, the brain-injury issue is a bigger long-term threat to the league than domestic violence.

After years of more or less ignoring domestic violence incidents involving its players, the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell have finally been forced to crack down because of the publicity and public reaction to the incidents involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and others. The league has been burned bad enough that its punishment for players involved in such incidents is going to be more severe.

There still will be players involved in domestic violence. But the incidents are less likely to be ignored or tolerated. And that means domestic violence involving players probably will fade as the hot potato it has become for the league.

The brain injuries are tougher to deal with. And it’s an issue that affects kids playing organized football. Fixing this problem won’t be easy.

My reason for writing about these issues isn’t about football. It’s about the nature of crises.

Some crises that put companies in the headlines and/or threaten their viability happen suddenly. But, despite popular belief to the contrary, most don’t. Most of them evolve over time — with plenty of warning signals that something’s wrong and needs to be fixed.

The crisis happens because the warning signals are ignored. That’s certainly true of both issues confronting the NFL right now. There were plenty of warning signals, going back many years.

I once worked for U S WEST, one of the Baby Bells created by the 1984 breakup of AT&T. The company’s leadership skimped on investments in the company’s network infrastructure for years to make their quarterly and annual financial statements look better. Despite complaints and warnings from customers, employees and public utilities commissioners, the company ignored the warnings until we had a full-scale crisis on our hands that cost the company millions of dollars and major damage to our reputation and credibility.

So, here’s my question for you: Is your company ignoring warning signs of a coming crisis? Is there anything you can do now to help fix it? If the warning signs are there and your company isn’t doing anything to fix the problem, then get your crisis management plan in order. There’s trouble ahead.

We all have stories to tell. Let’s talk if you need help telling yours. 303.594.8016.

Media Minute: Redskins should change name now

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Media Minute: Redskins should change name now

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Why Redskins should change name nowThe Washington Redskins should change their name now — or as soon as possible.

I’m not making a moral argument. Just offering some PR advice.

When you’re in a fight you can’t win, it’s usually a good idea to find a way to end the fight. The Redskins can’t win this fight. So, they should find a way to end it. The only way they’ll do that is by changing their name.

This issue isn’t going away. It’s a moral and cultural issue for opponents of the Redskins’ name. It’s hard to argue that keeping the name reaches the same level of moral importance for those opposed to changing it.  They’re fighting for the status quo.

It’s hard to see how supporters of the status quo gain any strength. If anything, the tide is moving in the other direction.

The critics are likely to get stronger over time. Fifty members of the U.S. Senate signed a letter last month urging the Redskins to change their name. And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks last week on grounds that the team’s name disparages Native Americans.

All of the senators who signed the letter are Democrats. So, it’s still a one-party issue there. And the Patent Office’s action apparently won’t have any major practical impact. But you can count on there being be more pressure applied until the inevitable change ultimately happens.

Team owner Daniel Snyder claims he has poll results showing most fans want to keep the team’s name. And some fans undoubtedly will be upset when (not if) the name is changed. My guess is most of them will get over it pretty quickly. The popularity of athletes and sports teams rises and falls with their performance. A winning NFL team in Washington — whatever its name — will have strong local support if it wins.

To build local support for a name change, Snyder should ask fans to come up with the new name. I wouldn’t commit to using whatever name gets the most votes no matter what. You might end up with a successful campaign for naming the team something like the Washington Gridlocks. But a workable name with strong fan support would provide community goodwill from the start.

And there are marketing opportunities for the team and the NFL. Just think of all the new jerseys, pennants and other team paraphernalia that would be sold.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Good advice, badly delivered

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Media Minute: Good advice, badly delivered

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Good advice, badly deliveredI think it’s safe to say things aren’t going well when you feel compelled to tell employees not to use words or phrases like “deathtrap,” “widowmaker” and “rolling sarcophagus” to describe your products.

I’m referring, of course, to the General Motors memo with a list of 68 words and phrases GM employees documenting potential safety issues were told to not to use.

The GM employees were told to avoid the word “defect” because it could be seen as an admission of guilt. Other words on the list included “bad,” “terrifying,” “dangerous,” “horrific” and “Hindenburg.” The phrase “Corvair-like” was on the banned list, along with “unbelievable engineering screw-up” and “this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Written in 2008, the list of banned words predates the dustup over the ignition-switch recalls that have killed at least 13 people and inflicted repeated hits to GM’s reputation over the past several months.

But it surfaced in the news media just a few weeks ago, unfortunate timing for the folks at GM because it served as an opportunity for another round of stories on the ignition-switch recalls and how poorly GM has handled them. I suspect I wasn’t alone in missing the fact when I first heard about it that the memo was six years old and not written in response to the current situation.

The admonition to stick to the facts and avoid offering opinions when describing potential safety issues was good advice, I believe.

But it was badly executed. The list of banned words and phrases was too specific, too long and ultimately caused the kind of harm it was designed to prevent.

I’ve often advised clients to avoid putting certain information in writing so their words won’t come back to haunt them in the media or a lawsuit. But I don’t put that advice in writing, either.

Anything you distribute to a large group of people — and sometimes a small group of people — is going to be shared with others, potentially including your enemies, your competitors and the media. That doesn’t mean you never share sensitive information in writing. But say it carefully. And use caution when deciding how widely to share it. Distributing a memo with a list of “banned” words to a large group of employees has a good chance of being leaked to the media.

Offer your employees guidance. But try to do it in a way that does no harm.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Credibility Crater

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Media Minute: Credibility Crater

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Can you say too much?Have they finally found Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? I hope so. But I’m a bit skeptical. And, I suspect, I’m not alone.

Normally, I’d probably assume the “pings” heard over the weekend were from the plane. But there have been so many conflicting stories and false hopes that I’ll believe they found the plane when there’s solid proof.

There’s an important lesson in that: Once you’ve lost your credibility, it’s hard to get it back.

As I see it, the search for the missing plane has been nothing short of remarkable. And the ships picking up the pings aren’t responsible for all the conflicting stories and false hopes. But it’s sometimes hard to make those distinctions.

Whether you’re dealing with a crisis or everyday business, honesty is important. And transparency is absolutely essential when you’re addressing a situation in which people’s lives have been lost or are in jeopardy.

It’s important to tell us what you know. But it’s also important not to speculate about what you don’t know. Unfortunately, there’s been far too much speculation in this case.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

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Looking for tips for telling your story more effectively? Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com.

Media Minute: Can you say too much?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Media Minute: Can you say too much?

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Can you say too much?Where did it go? And why? I’m talking about the missing Malaysian airliner, of course. Its disappearance has become an intriguing saga.

It also raises a question for anyone interested in crisis communication: Can you provide too much information? My answer: Yes, you can. But it’s more dangerous to provide too little.

In the days immediately after Flight MH370 disappeared there were multiple reports about debris sightings that might have come from the missing plane and a variety of misinformation — some from official sources — that had to be corrected.

“At best, Malaysian officials have thus far been poor communicators; at worst, they are incompetent,” one U.S. official told CNN of the misinformation provided in the days following the plane’s disappearance.

As I see it, the debris sightings were useful information even though none of them panned out. The debris was real. The need to check it out was real. Some of the speculation and rumors that proved to be false? That was too much information.

In virtually every case, the sources of the misinformation probably were just trying to be helpful. There’s always an information vacuum immediately following an incident like the disappearance of Flight MH370. And both the media and the public — especially families and friends — are clamoring for details.

In that pressure cooker, the temptation to release “information” that hasn’t been verified can be overwhelming. Giving in to that temptation is usually a mistake.

Here’s my simple guide on how to avoid saying too much or too little:

Say what you know, not what you think you know. When the health or safety of the public — or some portion of the public — is at stake, you owe it to the rest of us to share all relevant information with us. But never speculate. No matter how well intentioned, putting out misinformation will destroy your credibility.

Don’t withhold the bad stuff. It’s always tempting to withhold information that reflects badly on you or your organization. Don’t give in to that temptation. The information you most want to withhold often is the information you most need to share.

Communicate as soon as you can and as often as necessary. If it’s something the public will want to know as soon as possible, don’t sit on information you’ve verified just because your next briefing is scheduled for eight hours from now. Get it out now if it makes sense to do so.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?
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Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com. And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at http://bit.ly/18KOmgg.

Media Minute: Turkey pizza, hold the holiday

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Media Minute: Turkey pizza, hold the holiday

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Turkey pizza, hold the holidayGoliath never learns, it seems.

You may have seen the story last week: The manager of a Pizza Hut store in Elkhart, Indiana, was fired for refusing to open on Thanksgiving. The manager said he didn’t want to make his employees work on the holiday.

The dismissal created an uproar online and in the media. Did store manager Tony Rohr take his story to the media or did they pick up on it from online comments? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. Once he took it online, the chances of it getting to the media were pretty high. And once it got to the media, Pizza Hut was bound to lose.

Rohr was fired by the owner of a Pizza Hut franchise in Elkhart. The company’s corporate headquarters was smart enough to recognize this was a sure PR loser for the company and quickly issued a statement saying it respects employees’ rights not to work on a holiday, that the vast majority of Pizza Huts are closed on Thanksgiving, and that the company “strongly recommended that the local franchisee reinstate the store manager and they have agreed.”

David 1, Goliath 0. And not a surprise. Variations of this saga have played out in the media many times before and almost always come out the same.

Which brings me to a final point. Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink, Tipping Point, Outlier, etc.) has a new book out. The title is David and Goliath. It opens with an interesting analysis of why the Biblical David was the odds-on favorite to win his fight with Goliath — just as the David of last week’s Pizza Hut saga was the odds-on favorite to win his fight.

We all have stories to tell. Contact me if you need help telling yours.
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Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com. And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at http://bit.ly/18KOmgg.

Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the Wilderness

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the Wilderness

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

 Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the WildernessI came across one of those what-were-they-thinking stories last week: A Boy Scout leader destroyed one of the rock formations in southern Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park while another Boy Scout leader captured it on video and posted it on YouTube.

Now, those two men and yet another Boy Scout leader who was with them could be facing felony charges.

What were they thinking? I have no idea. But they handed the rest of us at least three good media-related lessons. Given the number of times I’m forced to learn from my own mistakes, I consider it a bonus any time I can learn from the mistakes of others.

Lesson #1: If you don’t want to see it in print or on the air, don’t say it within range of reporters. YouTube postings are within range of reporters. I was making this point to clients long before social media came along. But Facebook, YouTube and Twitter make this lesson even more important. If you do or say something stupid — and, as this case, potentially criminal — don’t document it on the Internet.

Lesson #2: Going viral isn’t always good. I frequently hear from clients that they want to produce a YouTube video that will go viral. What they really want is to produce a video or some other vehicle for their message that will get their story heard, understood and remembered by as many people as possible. But, more often than not, going viral is a bad thing. The video posted by the Scout leaders went viral. My guess is they wouldn’t have posted it if they had realized what would happen once it did.

Don’t focus on going viral. Focus on telling your story in a way that it reaches your audience most effectively. And, if that leads to a video or other social media post that goes viral, great! That may sound like a small distinction. It isn’t. Focusing on your message and how to deliver it effectively means figuring out what you want to say, who you want to say it to and how to reach them. Focusing on going viral just means figuring out how to put yourself in the limelight on a public stage. Any two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum in a mall can do that.

Lesson #3: Know when to shut up. These three guys did something stupid and posted it on YouTube. The video showed the rock formation being destroyed and their celebratory high fives afterward. Once the smelly stuff hit the fan, they kept talking to claim they did it because they were afraid the rock would fall on its own and kill some kid. Yeah, right.

We all have stories to tell. Need help telling yours? If so, let’s talk. Want to comment on this article? Go here.
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Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com. And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at http://bit.ly/18KOmgg.

Media Minute: Ejected from the game?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Media Minute: Ejected from the game?

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Ejected from the game?With today’s expected suspension of Alexander Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and an unknown number of other players, baseball and drugs will be making big headlines for some time to come.

The stakes are extremely high for everyone involved — the players, Major League Baseball and the players’ union. At least some of them will come out losers. It’s not clear to me any of them will come out winners.

Among other things, the events that will unfold in the wake of today’s expected suspensions will be a good case study in communications strategy. To succeed, everyone involved will need realistic, achievable objectives and clear, credible messages to convince the rest of us they deserve our support.

The players will be fighting for their careers and reputations. The stakes are especially high for A-Rod, given his celebrity and where he is in his career. Even if he isn’t banned from the game for life, one of the possibilities mentioned in stories leading up to today’s expected announcement, any lengthy suspension could mean the end of his career as a player. Being banned for life would also preclude A-Rod from being able to manage, coach or participate in any of the other baseball-related jobs players turn to when their days on the field are over. Avoiding a lifetime ban is probably the most he can hope for at this point.

Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to drug use among players for many years. So, one of the league’s objectives will be to convince fans and other members of the public that those days are over. But it also has to guard against overreaching. If Rodriguez or others challenge any disciplinary action against them, the league’s evidence better be overwhelming.

The players’ union balked for years at allowing effective drug testing. Part of the union’s job is to defend its members. But union officials will have to decide whether the players involved in this case are worth defending. Whatever it decides, the union will make some people unhappy.

The lesson for the rest of us? Total victory isn’t always a realistic objective. And fighting for total victory when it’s unachievable can lead to total defeat. A realistic objective and the right message to go with it are essential.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
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Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 10:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com.

Media Minute: They never learn

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Media Minute: They never learn

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: They never learnThey Never Learn.

Former Congressman and would-be mayor of New York Anthony Weiner is the latest politician to become a member of that club.

Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after being forced to own up to sexting a half dozen women.

Turn the clock ahead two years and Weiner is a candidate for mayor of New York.

And now we learn the sexting didn’t end with his resignation from Congress.

In a painful news conference with his wife at his side, Weiner acknowledged he continued the behavior that forced him out of Congress after he left office. And then we learned more than one woman was involved in the post-resignation round of incidents.

Several newspapers including The New York Times have joined a number of prominent Democrats in urging Weiner to get out of the mayoral race. At least a couple of the women who were targets of his digital attention have spoken out against him. And his campaign manager has quit.

The Weiner saga keeps unfolding, one news cycle at a time.

For now, Weiner says he’s staying in the race for mayor. But two things ultimately will force him out: His poll numbers will drop drastically and the donations he needs to sustain his campaign will dry up. Stick a fork into Mr. Weiner. He’s done. And he’s probably destroyed any chance for political redemption this year — or ever.

I normally don’t comment on political races in the Media Minute. But Weiner’s behavior is such a classic example of people who never learn when it comes to crisis management I couldn’t resist.

So, let me repeat what I’ve noted here many times before. Crisis Management 101: When you mess up, acknowledge your mistake, fix it and then explain to the rest of us what you’ve done to prevent it from happening again. And when you find yourself in a crisis that’s making headlines, try to find a way to limit the number of news cycles in which the media mention you and your problems.

Telling us you’ve fixed it and then having us learn later on you didn’t is a guaranteed way to destroy your credibility. And keeping a story alive with serial disclosures just makes the problem worse.

So, Weiner may not be able to learn from his own mistakes. But the rest of us can. If you tell us you’ve fixed a problem, make sure you have. And find a way to get your problems out of the news as quickly as possible.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
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Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 10:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com.

Media Minute: Controversy is where you find it

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Media Minute: Controversy is where you find it

By Jerry Brown, APR
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Media Minute: Controversy is where you find itControversy is where you find it — on the cover of Rolling Stone or in a Cheerios commercial, for example.

The Cheerios “controversy” surfaced and died a few weeks ago. If you’re aware of the issue, you’ve almost certainly seen the commercial. If not, here’s a link to it. Or you can Google it.

Everyone I’ve talked to about this particular Cheerios commercial had the same reaction I did: What’s the controversy about? Apparently there are still people in this country who think interracial couples with multiracial kids are controversial. Have they looked around lately? That’s part of mainstream America. And that little girl is cute!

The Rolling Stone controversy is more interesting. Or so it seems to me.

You’re probably familiar with it, too. Some folks believe Rolling Stone glamorized Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by putting his picture on the cover of their current issue.

The photo, which also has appeared above the fold on the front page of The New York Times without kicking up any controversy whatsoever, is accompanied by the headline: “The Bomber How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster

That doesn’t sound very glamorous to me. And the accompanying story is a serious look at how someone who seemed “normal” to those who knew him could commit such a horrible crime.

Once the controversy hit, some stores in the Boston area and perhaps elsewhere, quickly announced they wouldn’t sell that issue of the magazine. And pundits sounded off criticizing Rolling Stone for running the picture.

My own reaction was pretty much the same as my reaction to the Cheerios commercial: What’s the controversy about? Rolling Stone ran a solid piece of journalism examining an interesting issue. The picture fit the story. And they make clear they’re not on his side. They certainly didn’t glamorize him.

But controversy is where you find it. You can choose to be controversial. But you don’t always get to choose when something you do or say will trigger a controversy. That depends on how people react to what you do.

I don’t happen to agree with the people upset by the Rolling Stone cover. But I have no doubt their reaction is real.

Good journalism often is controversial because it examines issues that stir up raw emotions.

So I’m glad Rolling Stone published their story and I believe the photo on the cover of their magazine is perfectly appropriate. It fits the story. And the story’s worth reading.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
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Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 10:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at www.JerryBrownPR.com.