What happens when you try to bluff in a crisis

Eric Mower + Associates teaches many executive media and presentation training sessions. Two of the techniques are “stop,” and “facts are your friends.”

These seem fairly simple, if not easy to execute. Stop means, answer the question and stop. Don’t fill silence; don’t embellish; don’t brag; don’t show the questioner how brilliant you are; get in, get out.

Facts are your friends is also a simple and clear dictum. Don’t lie. Tell the truth. Use facts to explain what happened.

So what happens when you don’t stop and you don’t tell the truth? Thanks to my partner and colleague Rick Lyke, we see it’s not pretty.

As The Anti Media reported last week:

French television station Canal+ recently sat down with Dr. Patrick Moore for an upcoming documentary. Dr. Moore, who claims to be an ecological expert and is currently the frontman for Ecosense Environmental, stated to the interviewer that Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup was not responsible for skyrocketing cancer rates in Argentina.

This claim comes on the heels of last week’s World Health Organization report citing the weed killer[‘s main ingredient] as a probable cause of cancer.

Soon after the interview began, it took a turn for the surreal.

Dr. Moore insisted that Roundup is safe to drink, at which point the interviewer did the only logical thing one could do in that situation. He offered the doctor a glass of the weed killer to allow him an opportunity to back up his statement

moore

 

According to various media, including Newsweek, Moore is a former Greenpeace member and a Ph.D. He supports genetically modified crops and in 2014, testified to a U.S. Senate committee that there is “no scientific proof” that humans are driving the global warming.

You can imagine that his interview wasn’t pretty. First, Moore got his facts wrong. Then, he didn’t cut his losses and stop.

The exchange follows:

Canal+: “You want to drink some? We have some here.”

Moore: “I’d be happy to, actually…. Uhh…Not.. Not really. But I know it wouldn’t hurt me.”

Canal+: “If you say so, I have some glyphosate, have some.”

Moore: “No. I’m not stupid.”

Canal+: “So, it’s dangerous, right?

Moore: “No, People try to commit suicide with it and fail; fail regularly.”

Canal+: “Tell the truth, it’s dangerous.”

Moore: “It’s not dangerous to humans.”

Canal+: “So, are you ready to drink one glass?”

Moore: “No, I’m not an idiot. Interview me about golden rice, that’s what I’m talking about.”

A dramatic example of how not to conduct an interview. What would the alternative be: “It’s a weed killer, it’s obviously dangerous and that’s why we put warning labels all over the container. There is no evidence it causes widespread health problems, however.”

Not surprisingly, according to Newsweek, the chemical giant sought to distance itself from Moore.

“Dr. Patrick Moore is not and never has been a paid lobbyist for Monsanto,” Charla Lord, a spokesperson for Monsanto, wrote in an email Friday.

Factual. Defensible. Stop.

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 eight 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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Lufthansa CEO shows how not to respond in a crisis

Even as Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr defiantly and defensively told reporters yesterday that the airline, whose subsidiary airliner crashed in the Alps killing 150 people, that the company would not change its procedures, it did.

Image result for Carsten Spohr news conference alps crash

And in an exchange with NBC reporter Katy Tur, he further mucked up his credibility and with it, his management of this crisis.

“I wish you understood my German, because I said twice and I repeated in English, without any doubt, my firm confidence in the selection of our pilots, in the training of our pilots, in the qualifications of our pilots, and the work of our pilots has not been touched by this single tragedy.”

Really? Dude, your selected, trained, qualified, working pilot drove himself and 149 innocent people into a mountain at 440 mph with calm breathing as his only explanation.

It’s natural for a CEO to be defensive in the face of the facts of a tragedy. But good training would have produced an answer more like this:

“Given the facts of this tragic event, Lufthansa will review its selection, training, qualification and work rules for all our pilots. While I am confident that our professional staff meet or exceed the highest standards in our industry, this is a stressful occupation and we want to be as certain as we can that something like this never happens again.”

As for the rule changes, The Los Angeles Times reported that “in response to the revelations about the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, the German Aviation Association announced Thursday that all German carriers had agreed to new procedures, similar to those already in effect in the United States, that would require two people in a plane’s cockpit at all times. Several other carriers — including Air Canada, EasyJet, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair — announced similar changes in protocol.”

Thus we have in full denial mode a CEO faced with a tragedy caused by a criminal intervention that will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of insurance company payouts to the victims. Let’s give him credit for standing up and answering questions, and in at least two languages no less. Few American CEOs could match that.

But his defiance in the face of the facts will just lace the reporting corps with motivation to ask tougher questions.

No one in crisis management suggests that a CEO become a patsy or a wimp in the face of a crisis. Quite the contrary. It’s easy to be defiant. Anger fuels it. Fear does as well. Jobs are on the line. Millions in ticket sales and profits are as well.

It’s much harder to stand up and see the world factually and how everyone else sees it and admit something went wrong.

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 eight 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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Hillary Clinton’s email crisis not yet ended — by a long shot

Add to the land of lost wishes the desire to see a prominent public figure stand up and tell the world what everyone would instantly recognize as the unvarnished truth:

“I used my personal email because I always had an eye on running for president in 2016 and therefore knew that my every word would be scrutinized, especially by my political enemies, so I didn’t want to provide them with easy fodder.”

OK, I get that.

hillary

Hillary Clinton, all but conceded the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, was already the most watched woman in the world. The revelation by The New York Times that she used her personal email account for her Secretary of State work set off predictable howls of protest. Two weeks after the story broke and other media outlets added to it, she held a news conference in New York Tuesday.

She said using one hand-held device for all emails — rather than one for work and one for personal — was more convenient. True, to a point. It is more convenient, if you are a 20-year-old waitress. If you are Secretary of State by day and presidential candidate by night? Not so much.

The reviews are coming in and they are not all good. Her explanation, like so many Clintonesque responses over the year, has just enough plausibility so as not to be rejected out of hand as ludicrous lying. But it fell short of convincing and well short of ending the crisis.

Which takes us back to the “wouldn’t it be nice” wishes at the start. The duration of a crisis is measured in time. The longer the crisis persists, the more damage done. The longer this goes on — and you can take it to the bank it will either go on right through Election Day 2016 or will go away briefly and return in primary season — the worse it is for Clinton.

The best way to combat a crisis is by issuing factual, documentable accounts that can be independently verified, and take responsibility for any wrongdoing. This is especially so with Clinton. She knows that. Her advisors know that. Therefore the inescapable conclusion is that this is the best she could do.

Which is not going to be good enough.

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 eight 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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America has a crisis it seems incapable of coping with: Winter

There are run-of-the-mill crises, like Brian Williams lying, Bill Cosby sexually assaulting women, ISIS marauding across the Middle East and human-driven climate change destroying the environment.

But there is one overriding, super, mega, un-ending crisis in America today: Winter.

The usual crisis management techniques have no effect, bouncing off this juggernaut like sleet off a windshield, like tires on black ice, like a snow plow off parked cars on a snow-clogged street.

Telling the truth about 13 below just makes it worse. Taking responsibility for 35-below wind-chill [or, “Real-Feel”] readings just seems to freeze the soul all the more.

Boston’s record-breaking snow is, well, wintry. The mayor warned people not to jump out of their windows into snow banks. Glad he got the word out on that.

And look at the calendar. We’re in mid-February. This crisis could go on until … April, or even May. Ghastly.

Image result for weather channel reporter in storm jim cantore

As with most crises, this one is exacerbated by the media, especially TV, which now apparently feels it needs to place its correspondents in excessive weather so they can be blown and pummeled about on camera. Oh, and do have them grow a post-hurricane-season beard for ice and snow to cling to — more dramatic.

How serious, how life-changing is this crisis? TV weather people who once had 60 seconds of air time to tell us Northeasterners that it was winter outside for another day, replete with ice, low temperatures and snow, are now given five minutes or more per broadcast. That way they can prattle on about what we can all see out our windows and feel on our exposed skin, all the while promoting their exclusive, over-the-horizon super-duper Ch. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 9 radar.movie

This is a near impenetrable crisis. Personally, I’m glad the National Weather Service hasn’t called me to help advise it on how to handle this shocking annual event.

It actually seems like the extreme weather movie The Day After Tomorrow is playing outside the homes of 100 million Americans each morning and evening.

Will this crisis ever end? Can’t we find someone to blame? Can’t we get someone to own up to this beat down and flick off the misery switch?

When will a minor crisis like March Madness arrive so we can escape this torture?

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 eight 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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Brian Williams should cut the cord, spare himself and NBC more embarrassment

As the Brian Williams’ saga continues — albeit now behind the scenes as he announced Saturday he would ‘Temporarily” step back from his anchor’s chair — everything he’s said and done is under scrutiny.

Soon we’re going to get stories about whether his hair is real.

bri

Judging from the intense readership I’ve witnessed on this topic, it’s still white hot.

Media critic Ken Auletta, writing in The New Yorker, makes excellent observations about NBC’s complicity in all this, as well as the image building that surrounds TV anchors.

But, while the spotlight is on Williams’s transgressions, a word about the complicity of NBC and the other networks’ marketing machines. The networks have a stake in promoting their anchors as God-like figures. By showing them in war zones, with Obama or Putin, buffeted by hurricanes, and comforting victims, they are telling viewers that their anchors are truth-tellers who have been everywhere and seen everything and have experience you can trust. On his helicopter in Iraq, Williams was accompanied by an NBC crew. Did they not speak up to correct the record for fear of undermining the powerful anchor? NBC had a stake in promoting Brian Williams as all-knowing, just as a promo ad for ABC anchor David Muir I saw today portrayed the lightly experienced forty year old as worldly. Brian Williams has valuable experience reporting from the White House, but unlike ABC’s Peter Jennings, or Dan Rather for “60 Minutes,” he has never been a correspondent overseas. (Anchoring a broadcast from Baghdad or Moscow is not comparable.)

Top NBC News executives met with NBC Universal CEO Steve Bufke at Burke’s home over the weekend to discuss Williams’ future, POLITICO’s Mike Allen reported. Former anchor Tom Brokaw has emerged as a loud voice in the discussions, with Allen reporting that he is wary of some of Williams’ claims. http://politi.co/18IzEdG

If you were Brian Williams, what would you do — especially, as Auletta goes on to note, thousands of internet sleuths are out for bear? Now there are reports that he may have fabricated a story about a job he had selling Christmas trees for a church in Red Bank, NJ when he was mugged at gunpoint.

True or not, the real surprise here is that he got away with fibbing and lying and embellishing for so long — but not forever. You’ll always get caught at some point.

The only defense is telling the truth. And, the only way to maintain some semblance of reputation is to resign, admit to the lies and start over.

The sooner the better, too. The outcry won’t end until he either quits, or all the facts come out and he’s fired.

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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Brian Williams should resign or lose his anchor job, but ethics aren’t only factor

Predicting the future is always tricky, just ask Seattle Seahawks fans when the team had second and one yard to win the Super Bowl.

Right now, it’s hard to gauge NBC Nightly News’ anchor Brian Williams’ chances of surviving his lies and contradictions and disassembling over whether a helicopter he was in over Iraq in 2003 was shot down. Journalistic ethics demand his head. No reporter or anchor — Dan Rather, Janet Cooke — should be allowed to stay on the job after such an ethics breach.

But as Buffalo News Life & Arts editor Bruce Andriatch so smartly noted yesterday, it’s not just about ethics, it’s about money and an enormous corporate network and advertisers.

In the end, cynics among us will agree, it’s not about doing the right thing, it’s about what the advertisers say.

He clearly has friends in the business — and he’s hard not to like. The Washington Post today ran a soppy rationalization disguised as science absolving his behavior, noting that people remember things wrong at times of great complexity, emotion and stress.

The story cites President Bush saying he watched the first plane crash into the Twin Towers on 9/11 before he read a story book to school children, when everyone knows he was reading the book when he found out about the first attack.

The story also cites Hillary Rodham Clinton’s account of being shot at in Bosnia, when it proved to be only precautions against being shot at.

But the Bush memory altered the sequence of events just prior to the biggest catastrophe of the man’s life, president or not. Clinton did have to put on a flak vest because of sniper warnings. These are nuances of memory.

Other outlets, and apparently NBC icon Tom Brokaw, are calling for his ouster.

Did your helicopter get shot down and crash or did it not? That’s the crux here. And, then, why did you so obviously lie about it for 12 years?

Ever been in a car accident? Do you recall vividly the exact moment and circumstances of impact? Of course you do. And unless Williams rode dozens of helicopters in war zones and crashed in many of them, such an event would stand out in his life and memory.

There’s no fog of war here. So let’s turn to money and advertisers.

NBC officials have said nothing since this crisis went public Wednesday night. That’s smart on their part — no hurried expressions of confidence to embarrass them later as more facts emerge. It also reeks of testing the waters.

No doubt chief marketing officers for the newscast’s advertisers are being called. Are you going to pull your ads? Will you publicly balk at supporting Williams on the air? Are you running focus groups of viewers to see if they’re going to switch to ABC or CBS?

Honestly, there’s one solution here. Williams should resign. He’s probably got enough money to live among the 1 percenters the rest of his life. And people have short memories. Look at David Letterman, who announced an affair and was eventually welcomed back to TV. Alec Baldwin’s been in more scrapes and crashes than even Williams’ imagination could conjur. Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman, went down in scandalous flames, yet re-emerged a decade later making movies again. And the list goes on.

Quit now, let NBC make Lester Holt the first African-American prime time anchor, and come back in six months or a year at CNN or as lead face of a Google/Snapchat/Vimeo startup newscast for iPads only.

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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Brian Williams in a major crisis that should and likely will cost him his job

Liars pay.

Liars who apologize usually pay.

Liars whose profession demands complete honesty and whose credibility is central to their role and performance become hypocrites and pay dearly.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is in quicksand. I would bet he’ll lose his job as the nation’s top-rated anchor, as he should.

Stars and Stripes reported that he lied about being on a helicopter in Iraq in 2003 that crashed due to enemy fire. Crew members said he wasn’t. Last night he admitted he wasn’t and blamed it on confusion caused by subsequent chopper rides.

Sorry, if you were in a crash — a singular, life-changing event — or you were not, you’d know. And, it’s compounded because you let your network repeat that canard in promotions and other reports for 12 years.

brianMy speculation is that Williams, following in the footsteps of the exalted “Greatest Generation” anchor Tom Brokaw felt he needed some creds with war veterans. NBC goes out of its way to — justifiably — tell vets’ stories. So Williams apparently stretched the truth.

Understandable. Unforgivable.

You cannot anchor a national newscast that reports on people lying and doing other bad things when you’ve admitted lying yourself.

As a personal crisis, there is no greater sin. Perhaps he has enough standing at his network to avoid a sacking. But I feel his credibility — the coin of the realm for any journalist — is shot. Just because he comes into millions of homes each evening doesn’t make him any different from other journalists who lied and got caught and were fired. Google Janet Cooke.

Media critic Howard Kurtz wrote the following:

The admission raises serious questions about his credibility in a business that values that quality above all else. Williams is the longest-serving network anchor, his “NBC Nightly News” has been No. 1 in the ratings for nearly all of the last decade … For such a high-profile journalist to acknowledge that he essentially invented a story that dramatized his bravery in a war zone is hard to fathom.

No amount of apologies can restore Williams’ credibility, create trust in the future, or change the past.

Bring on Lester Holt.

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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