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.

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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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Herbal supplements take a crisis-level hit from New York AG investigation

Business is cruising. Wal-mart, Target, GNC and Walgreens — and likely a host of supermarkets and pharmacies — sell your products.

But then along comes an aggressive attorney general for the impactful State of New York, Eric Schneiderman, and says an investigation alleges your products are bunk. Broccoli powder. Rice dust.

You might as well call your products Witches Brew and list contents like Eye of Newt, bat whiskers, mummified toenails, black cat fat, vampire blood, gargoyle sweat, troll teeth, broom sweepings….you get the idea. EEEuwwww.

The investigators reportedly tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of beneficial herbs — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained unrecognizable DNA or came from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.

 

Additionally, five of the 24 contained wheat and two contained beans, without identifying them on the labels — both substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen, who is an expert on supplement safety, told the New York Times that “if this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”

What can the health supplements industry — long looked at skeptically by consumers already — possibly do to counter this indictment?

Well, first of all, the consuming public seems to have an insatiable thirst for snake oil. Consider: The New York attorney general’s letters also cited a 2013 Canadian study of 44 common supplements, in which one-third of herbal supplements that were tested contained no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle.

And they were presumably still on store shelves despite past battering.

But one element of this we’ve seen in past issues like tobacco use. State attorneys general watch their peers and if this works for New York, other states will get on board.

This is a fatal crisis.

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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Chautauqua Institution, in crisis, has an opportunity for redemption

Much time is spent analyzing the depth and extent of a crisis [Deflategate] and, how a person, company or organization can end a crisis [Benjamin Netanyahu; GoDaddy.com; New York City’s crying wolf political leaders].

Too little attention is paid to staying out of a crisis in the first place.

Which leads us to a small local hubbub that has many tentacles, a far reach and growing national attention. It also leads one to ask: What were they thinking? Were they thinking at all? And, did they think about the backlash and dismiss it, out of hubris, arrogance or ignorance?

These questions arise in the months-old fight about the famed and iconic amphitheater at the Chautauqua Institution. Located in far southwestern New York State, Chautauqua is an intellectual summer camp for adults, drawing people from Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and well beyond for 141 years.

The amphitheater is a revered and symbolic centerpiece for the rolling 750-acre campus beside the lake with which the institution shares its name. It has supplied a roof over the heads of, among many others, William Jennings Bryan, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Marian Anderson, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Others include Jill Abramson, Michael Beschloss, Margaret Mead, Peter Bogdanovich, Rita Moreno, Dr. Paul Farmer, Gail Sheehy, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., Elie Wiesel and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

This is a special place.

“The Institution, originally the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, was founded in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It was successful and broadened almost immediately beyond courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education. … The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) was started in 1878 to provide those who could not afford the time or money to attend college the opportunity of acquiring the skills and essential knowledge of a College education. The four-year, correspondence course was one of the first attempts at distance learning.”

The 24-member board of trustees decided that the Amp, as it’s known, was looking a little shabby and needed rehabilitation. For anyone who has sat in the theater-in-the-round Amp on a warm July afternoon, cooled by lake breezes and heated by intellectual debate, this is a sacred place. Built in 1893, it is a rare venue.

As Mark Sommer reported in today’s Buffalo News:

Chautauqua’s board of trustees had announced last year it would demolish most of the structure at the conclusion of this summer’s session to build a modern replica in its place. But after a mounting uproar – including more than 2,100 online signatures and charges of a lack of transparency – the institution announced Jan. 20 that it will revisit its decision in August. Many became upset after the project morphed from a “rehabilitation” into a demolition without the public’s knowledge.

The nation’s foremost preservation organization announced Tuesday in Buffalo that it is launching a campaign to save the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the 1893 Amphitheater a National Treasure – a designation the organization seldom uses – to emphasize the building’s precarious future and national importance.

Thus the questions. What were they thinking? A move like this would inevitably rankle the activist-by-DNA population that brims the place to 7,500 people on a warm summer’s day. The board had to know this demanded sensitivity, transparency and listening to the people.

The whole philosophy and institutional underpinnings of the institution are free thought, learning, respect and intellectual fervor. People who summer at Chautauqua or even just visit for the day tend to be philosophers, intellectuals, life-long learners, lovers of history and heritage. You know, New Yorker readers and NPR fans.

For this region of the country, it would be the equivalent of someone deciding to move the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island. You just don’t do it. Reported Sommer:

“There are many significant cultural historic sites in America, but there is only one original Chautauqua Amphitheater,” Stephanie K. Meeks, the National Trust’s president and CEO, said [Tuesday] … Meeks said she was pleased by Chautauqua’s announcement postponing its decision, and encouraged its leaders to “embrace the value of the authentic building as a starting point for a renewed dialogue.”

“Any plan to demolish or significantly alter the Amp would destroy the heart of Chautauqua, and compromise the historic character that Chautauquans and visitors from around the world value. It would also threaten the National Historic Landmark status of this nationally significant place,” Meeks said.

The board members come from 15 states and Hong Kong. They are surely people of good will who care deeply about the Institution’s continued success. But the majority, at least, was not thinking clearly.

They have a chance now to “fix” this crisis, by starting over, soliciting serious feedback on its plan, and taking the time to make the entire process transparent and shared.

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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Belichick way outside comfort zone in trying to counter ‘deflategate’

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New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is the Marshawn Lynch of NFL coaches.

If the league didn’t require it, Belichick would never speak to the media. He makes that obnoxiously clear every time he must. Thus the hilarious and inevitable Saturday Night Live skit last night.

What started last week as multiple sightings of the elusive and winning coach cascaded into so many appearances you’d think Belichick was trying to out-do Jerry Seinfeld on a stand-up tour.

If you count the required Saturday evening pre-game gathering with the TV production team, the half-time snippet and the post-game news conference, Belichick has held six news conferences or media availabilities in seven days. Three of those weren’t even required by league rules. That’s Obamaland.

Why?

If yesterday’s content were to be believed, Coach Hoodie wanted the scheming sports scribes to know that the weather made the footballs soft. And investigation showed that. The team did nothing wrong. Oh, and I’m not saying another word about it.

In the media training coaches from Eric Mower + Associates have conducted for hundreds of executives over 25 years, there are a few rock-solid rules: Get the facts out fast; if there’s bad news, don’t wait for your critics to reveal it; say what you have to say and stop; and, never deny, delay or deceive. Finally, stand up there and answer every question until the reporters walk away mumbling about brain overload.

Belichick, known for pulling amazing things out of his playbook, certainly pulled some good strategies out of the crisis management playbook last week.

We still don’t know what the No Fun League will determine or who investigators might blame for illegally deflated footballs in the Pats’ game against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.

But Belichick, for one, has done everything right to make sure his and the team’s side of the story is out there and in your face.

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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