NFL domestic abuse crisis, mismanaged from the kickoff, gets worse as facts emerge

Two days ago, few thought the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal would cause the NFL additional pain and embarrassment. But it is doing just that.

Yesterday more facts came out. A New Jersey criminal investigator told the Associated Press that he’d sent the full video of Rice beating up his then fiancé in a casino elevator to the NFL’s offices five weeks ago.

Oops.

NFL worker bees suddenly scoured the office for the hot DVD, but spokespeople say no one saw it. A voicemail from the NFL to the investigator, however, confirms receipt.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who went on national TV to counter the perception he’s soon going to be looking for a job, asked former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to investigate the whole mess. That’s a big-time escalation.

For a multitude of reasons, the NFL fumbled this one from the start. And the sign of a runaway crisis is when facts come out that make your leaders sound like liars. On Monday, the NFL said it had never seen the full video of Rice cold clocking Janay Palmer. Two days later, it appears that was incorrect.

The Watergate mantra emerges: “What did they know and when did they know it?”

This is the nightmare scenario for crisis managers. Getting all the facts out as fast as possible is a first step in handling a crisis properly. In this case, facts have dribbled out, many of them not under the NFL’s control; which leaves NFL leaders looking clueless, confused and discredited.

And, the crisis continues heading toward a growing disaster.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Twitter elevates your carelessness to a crisis, if you’re not careful

What is it about Twitter?

Critics and even happy users focus on the restrictions imposed by 140 characters or less. But it’s really the speed, the time, the need to get into the flow seconds faster than the next person.

How else do you explain the DiGiorno pizza tweeters failing to realize that the hashtag #whyistayed was not about spending the night at a friend’s or moving back in with mom and dad?

Following Monday’s release by TMZ of the Ray Rice video, thousands of domestic abuse survivors swarmed social media, many in defense of Rice’s now wife, Janay Palmer. As Adweek reported:

DiGiorno Pizza has become one of the top brands on Twitter thanks to its quick wit and good ear for real-time conversations, but one careless tweet [Monday] night put that reputation at risk.

After a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer led to his termination from the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, thousands of women took to Twitter to discuss their physically and emotionally tortuous experiences in abusive relationships. They used the #WhyIStayed hashtag to fight the victim-blaming attitude of Palmer’s critics, who had questioned why she would marry a man who knocked her unconscious.

Jumping onto the popular hashtag, DiGiorno clearly didn’t look into its context before tweeting, “#whyistayed You had pizza.”

The backlash was swift, and within minutes the tweet had been deleted. The brand then posted the apology above, noting: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.”

It’s about speed. No one would have put that on a billboard, or in a print ad, or even in a video or on TV. That takes too long and brings with it appropriate checks and balances.

Twitter and tweeters walk a tightrope without a net.

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This small act of carelessness, especially because apology was swift and sincere, probably won’t hurt the DiGiorno brand. But there might be a couple of previously smart and effective social media managers looking for work elsewhere.

This reinforces what’s been said repeatedly in recent years. There used to be a weekly news cycle [Life, Look Time, Newsweek, U.S. News]; then it became daily, the networks and newspapers; then it became 24-hour, seven days a week, with CNN, Fox, and ESPN; today it’s minute by minute, as Facebook and YouTube posts merge into the Twitter stream.

Ask, before you hit that little blue box with Tweet inside, whether that’s really what you want to send out.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Rice crisis continues to batter NFL because it didn’t care enough to get all the facts out

This is a “bad” crisis: One of your most recognizable employees is shown on video stepping over his fiancée’s unconscious body outside a hotel elevator.

This is a “worse” crisis: You treat this event so lightly that you only sanction him for 8 percent of his work time and salary.

This is a “worsening” crisis: After weeks of denying that you acted with incomplete information and gave the gravity of the obvious crime too little weight, you admit, sort of, that you messed up and you increase the penalties on your employees in the future.

Does this finally end your already-too-long crisis? Only if all the facts are out.

Thus, here’s the “worst” crisis: An enterprising website, whose diggers realized that if there was video outside the elevator there was probably video inside the elevator, find evidence of a shocking left cross Baltimore Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice delivered to the jaw of his future wife, dropping her immediately, crumpled to the elevator floor.

His same wife, Janay Palmer, he would later presumably vow “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

This is the worst crisis because the NFL is wrong either way. Did it know about the video and ignore or cover it up? Or did it not know and not care enough to look more closely, bring its power to bear to find out fully what happened in that elevator and demonstrate for the whole world how little it really cared about domestic violence?

Rule 1 of crisis management is to gather and release all the facts as fast as possible. And continue looking for all the facts until you are certain there are no more to release.

CEOs lose their jobs for less than this. Leagues with an anti-trust exemption attract Congressional attention for less than this.

As Jerry Sullivan wrote today in The Buffalo News:

So TMZ releases the video of Ray Rice punching out his fiancee in an elevator. Commissioner Roger Goodell [above] increases the two-game suspension and the Ravens cut Rice. My question is, why did it take them so long to act?

It’s hard to swallow the NFL’s contention that it couldn’t get access to the video. How is it that TMZ could get its hands on it, but the all-powerful NFL, with its infinite resources and investigators, couldn’t do the same?

Goodell admitted – after the storm of public criticism – that he went too easy on Rice by initially suspending him for two games. He should have gathered all the evidence before punishing Rice. Maybe the commish didn’t want to know the truth.

Or try Juliet Macur in The New York Times:

Did he know just how nauseating it is to see a man crumple a woman with a single, almost nonchalant blow before he penalized Rice with a spineless two-game suspension?

Does it really matter if he did?

The league claimed on Monday that Goodell hadn’t seen the video, that the commissioner was just like the rest of us, seeing the grainy, black-and-white clip on the gossip site TMZ for the first time. It showed Rice punching his fiancée, Janay Palmer, the mother of his young daughter, in the head, then dragging her unconscious body out of a casino elevator like a pile of dirty laundry.

After he appeared to spit on her. After he shoved her. And before Rice stood by, doing nothing, as she sat up, seeming dazed as another man appeared to console her and help her to her feet.

Those vivid details of that night last winter are sickening. But you know what? None of those new details matter. Not a single one. Of course the video made the assault seem worse, and naturally it sparked a tidal wave of revulsion from the public, if only because assaults like Rice’s on his fiancée aren’t usually captured on camera or shared by TMZ. 

But the facts alone should be enough in any domestic violence case. When a man or a woman pushes a spouse down a flight of stairs or takes a frying pan to a lover’s head, do we really need to see video evidence to realize that the act was wrong and cruel, or to adequately punish the offender?

Based on the Rice case, it looks as if that’s true.

This is the worst crisis management — especially because the NFL is seen as the gold standard for dealing with its myriad public relations problems. The league is supposed to be smooth, smart, transparent and ahead of the other leagues.

The only group it’s managed to stay ahead of in this mess is New Jersey prosecutors, who saw no reason to arrest Rice or try to put him in jail for what he did. Shameful.

 The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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BP fine shows billions of reasons cost went up for mismanged crisis

The headline in today’s New York Times says it all. BP is now and for all time the winner of the Worst Crisis Management of All Time Award. [This title had been held for several millennia by the Trojans for allowing the Greeks to get a hollow horse filled with soldiers inside their gates.] The headline:

BP, Cast as Reckless, Could Pay Up to $18 Billion for Spill

The key words for most observers is “$18 billion.” That’s real money even for a global oil company.

But for crisis managers the most significant part of that headline is: “Cast as Reckless.”

The facts of BP’s actions in the Gulf are part of a legal and governmental tangle that’s as grimy as the shores of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida were after the well blew.

But there can be little doubt that BP’s executives and their attitudes added millions if not billions to this fine. It’s one thing to be wrong, even negligent. It gets really costly when you try to bilk the public into believing that oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is flowing at a slower rate than your own cameras show; deny it’s your fault or responsibility; blame others; act arrogant and dismissive of legitimate criticism; and show no care for perception, public opinion and the facts that were as plain as oil-soaked pelicans.

“While Judge Barbier did find the other companies had acted with negligence, he concluded that only BP, which leased the well and was in charge of the operation, was grossly negligent. He apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.”

We will never know what amount this fine — if finalized and confirmed on appeal — increased as a result of BP’s months-long crisis mismanagement. But there should be no doubt of one conclusion: It’s higher because of BP’s collective attitude and denial.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

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NFL wakes up, admits it’s wrong and acts appropriately — in the end

ISIS is the true crISIS.

The Washington pro football team’s name is still racist.

But a remarkable event took place yesterday in another crisis that’s very much worth noting.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he and the league made a mistake on its domestic violence stance. As William C. Rhoden wrote in The New York Times, just that fact is almost more stunning and newsworthy than the substance of the change.

Goodell kind of apologized, even. It’s almost like Buffalo’s “Wide Right” never happened. OK, maybe it’s not that miraculous.

Key elements to stemming a crisis is to take responsibility for the poor behavior and apologize, while promising to do better.

Goodell said:

“My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Goodell surely heard from his marketing people, who reminded him that half the NFL’s fans are women. And from his PR people, who told him regular season games might include pickets against the league’s lax reaction to domestic violence.

But he did the right thing — despite stubbornly defending his decision for six weeks. It’s not easy for anyone, especially a czar, to admit a mistake. [OK, he did it in a letter to owners, not in a true stand-up and take the heat news conference. But let's not see if the gift box is ticking.] The new deal is a six-game suspension for the first offense and a season on the street for a second.

Surely you know that his initial response to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s video-recorded assault of his then girlfriend, now wife, Janay Palmer, was a two-game suspension. You may even know that the NFL boss docked a Cleveland Browns receiver an entire season — for marijuana use. That’s legal in Denver Broncos land.

Goodell sounded sincere. It would have been ideal if he’d added four more games or 14 more games to Rice’s jail time, but let’s not get giddy. Goodell quelled the crisis. This one anyway.

Now let’s hope he feels so good about this one, that the over-used state of momentum is cascading through him so fully that he realizes the Washington team name is racist and makes the team change it.

That would be news.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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Lessons not to be ignored emerge from shooting death of Michael Brown

The heart-rending pictures of Michael Brown’s family mourning at his funeral yesterday say much more about life and death than anything worth recording here.

But after three weeks that shook America, made its moral superiority suspect to much of the world and started a debate over police militarization that reached the White House, what have we learned? Many, many things that sociologists, politicians and historians will parse for years.

But what have we learned, from the point of view of this niche, about crisis management?

Here’s an incomplete list:

1. Defiance and defensiveness should be the last reaction, not the first. Police commanders in Ferguson, MO vastly overreacted. Their show of military force was an affront to the citizens they’re sworn to protect and the nation’s freedoms. Instead of transparency, communications and understanding, they used force to mask their potential complicity and guilt.

2. Facts are crucial. When emotions run high on both sides in a crisis, facts are always in dispute. Nailing down the simplest facts as quickly as possible must occur or the consequences can be hugely negative. When police act defensively, their facts won’t be trusted, even if they are accurate. When a community feels victimized, members tend to minimize criticism as irrelevant in the face of the ultimate wrong.

3. Every crisis must have an effective, authoritative leader. Communication is a basic tool in any crisis and the smart organization will plan and practice before a crisis hits. Multiple police agencies floundered around in the first days after Brown’s killing. The Ferguson police chief only made the situation worse. It wasn’t until State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson came on scene a few days into the crisis that the authorities’ credibility got back to zero. He the raised credibility. As a black police officer, he came with the benefit of the doubt from both sides. But he earned it in the days that followed, with frank, honest, transparent comments and directions. If any one individual turned around this mess, he did.

As The New York Times wrote Monday — in the lesser, but best, of three profiles on the case it published that day — “He is Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who, in many days of working to restore calm here in Ferguson, has redefined leadership in crisis: equal parts police official, preacher, mediator and neighbor, unafraid to convey his inner conflict, unafraid to cry.”

4. It’s never too early to plan for a crisis. Ferguson, like thousands of other towns across this nation, was a fault line grinding toward an earthquake. A suburb that is 67 percent black with a police force that is 6 percent black is dry forest waiting for a spark. To compound matters, this was an aggressive police force.

“Data from municipal courts across Missouri show that in 2013, the city of Ferguson had the highest number of warrants issued in the state relative to its size. Arrest warrants are often served by municipal courts when someone fails to appear in court to pay fines for a traffic or other violation, like shoplifting, assault or disturbance of peace. The high rate could reflect more crime as well as heavier prosecution, and it could be indicative of a fraught relationship between law enforcement and citizens,” the Times reported yesterday.

Lack of effective community outreach, affirmative and diverse hiring and community policing were surely contributing factors in why this crisis went red hot in minutes.

5. Companies, organizations, municipalities must learn how to deal with media. Sitting down with a reporter planning to write or broadcast a positive report about you or your organization can induce sweaty palms. Facing a media horde of microphones and cameras, shouted questions and angry retorts can be downright scary. People need to train for this. Handling routine crime stories with the hometown media is a lot different than network and top cable reporters. Get media trained.

There are undoubtedly more takeaways. And none of these approach the level of what the nation still has to learn about race relations and criminal justice. But they are lessons w

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

orth noting, nonetheless.

 

 

 

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Ferguson shows how poor crisis management worsens the damage

The shooting of an un-armed black man by a white Ferguson, MO police officer stayed a local crisis for about 10 seconds.

The incompetent crisis management by the town police chief made it a regional and then a statewide crisis in minutes. Hours after that, it became a national crisis. Today, news came that Michael Brown, 18, was shot six times. President Obama will be briefed at the White House and a federal autopsy was ordered.

Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s efforts in the wake of Brown’s killing Aug. 9 only worsened matters. These included failure to publicly identify the officer involved [giving way to charges of unequal treatment, favoritism and cover up]; the release of an edited video snippet of Brown in a store prior to the tragic incident [made worse when it was revealed that the officer who shot Brown was unaware of the prior incident, making the video irrelevant]; and the military-level response to initial peaceful demonstrations.

Gov. Jay Nixon [for an older generation a name rich in irony, given the context] tried to make things better. He inserted state and county police ahead of the locals — where only three of 53 sworn personnel are black, in a city that is 60 percent African-American.

Now he’s resorted — as failure after failure and one incompetent decision after another followed — to calling out the National Guard.

The legality, criminality and right and wrong of this tragic situation is for others to decide. Surely poor race relations over decades is part of the context. That this crisis needed far, far better decision-making and actions is clear. It got so bad that The New York Times did a side-by-side comparison story about the images from 2014 Ferguson and 1964 Birmingham and Selma.

What would better crisis management look like?

One person needed to be in charge — governor, chief or mayor. That person needed to apologize for the shooting, take responsibility on behalf of the town and release all the facts as soon as possible and promise to get out those he or she did not yet have. This authority needed to immediately communicate internally — in this case to town leaders, pastors, council members and the general public. He or she needed to initiate and implement a complete investigation as soon as possible, suspend the officer and recover his weapon, pending that investigation.

A community meeting should have been held immediately, so people in the community could not only vent their anger and criticism, but push the authorities for change and progress.

And that’s just the beginning. There are no guarantees that these strategies and tactics would have diffused decades of distrust or the ensuing violent demonstrations. But American citizens peacefully assembling should not immediately face riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets backed by snipers. These are provocations, not crisis management.

Jackson reacted defensively and over-reacted tactically, making the crisis worse.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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