Tom Brady continues to demonstrate what not to do in a crisis

Here’s the question I’d ask Tom Brady: Given where you are today — accused of not only being a cheater, but now a liar as well — wouldn’t it have been far better, smarter and easier to have stood up at that pre-Super Bowl news conference and instead of denying everything about Deflategate said something like this:

“Yes, I knew the balls were deflated. I asked for that. It gave me an edge. This game is all about milliseconds and inches. I should not have done it. I’m sorry. I take responsibility. I apologize to Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, my teammates, our fans and my family. I’ll take whatever punishment I have coming.”

Image result for Tom Brady pre-super bowl news conference

Of course it would be better.

Brady’s got no one but Brady to blame for this prolonged crisis that now actually seems to be damaging his legacy and reputation. He could have avoided the Wells report, avoided destroying his phone with 10,000 texts on it, and avoided being branded a cheater and a liar.

The measure of a crisis is its duration, not the severity of the original act. Most fans would have forgiven him the deflation. Own up to it.

Now, as he continues to fight, everyone outside a ZIP code starting with zero thinks he’s an arrogant sleazeball. What does he tell his children? ‘They’re all out to get me.’

All he’s done is generate more negative questions. What else is he hiding among all those texts? A girlfriend in every city and two in New York? That he secretly hates Belichick and bridles under his coaching dictums? That he thinks Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft is a phony? That his agent is a fool and his financial advisor is stupid and that his mansion has a leaky roof?

Is Brady just another Tiger Woods? A superstar athlete seemingly without peer who turns out to be a fraud?

It’s only going to get worse. Now this whole silly mess is going to move into federal court? Really? With the life-and-death issues facing our society, we’re going to ask a federal judge to determine whether Brady deflated some footballs? No wonder the Chinese think they’re passing America as a superpower. Is the Super Bowl really worth that much?

I have no illusions that Brady will suddenly see the light, cut his losses, take his punishment and move on.

But he should.

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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Planned Parenthood’s exposure is any organization’s worst nightmare — and a sign of the times

By now you’ve likely heard, read about or seen the videos an anti-abortion activist surreptitiously recorded of a Planned Parenthood medical director from Los Angeles apparently talking about the organization selling fetal tissue for medical research.

ppThere are more debatable points on this one than a porcupine’s quills and each is just as sharp and unforgiving. But for our purposes, let’s put all that aside.

Forget who is right or wrong, in this case and in the broader debate. And let’s not bog down in the ethics of secret videotaping. Nor should we bother about people who maybe go beyond the facts and say things over a glass of wine they don’t truly mean.

Let’s not even get into what this might mean for the 2016 Republican president primaries, or the general election after there’s a nominee. Or, that this could lead to criminal investigations and possibly charges on both sides of this video frame.

And, even for the mission of this blog, let’s not talk about how Planned Parenthood has responded to this crippling crisis. For the most part, in terms of crisis management, it has done a credible job. But it is pushing a boulder up a ski jump.

Let’s all instead take a deep breath and over-reinforce for ourselves, our co-workers and our companies that the stupid stuff we do in private can look really bad in public.

Let’s remind ourselves and others that language used in a flipped off email can bite us. That embellishing of facts to a friend can sure sound like outright lying to others. That one person in our organization can, even unwittingly, destroy the organization.

We must keep front of mind that a crisis will ensue, jobs will be lost, millions of dollars won’t be contributed and C-levels will be fired when what was thought to be a confidential, private moment instead becomes public. We all say things all the time about others that we don’t really believe. But out of ego, spite, comedy, cynicism, self-aggrandizement … stupidity … we say anyway.

Decades ago, the listener may have tattled. Years ago, you might have been recorded. Today, your whole sorry, exaggerated speech can be videotaped without your knowledge and your embarrassing choice of words broadcast from Alaska to Wyoming and back — much to your chagrin and much to the horror of your employer.

If you don’t want to see it in tomorrow’s headlines, re-live it endlessly on YouTube and have it engraved on your Wiki page, don’t say it.

What this says about us as a society, as a world where we assume trust exists between people, is not encouraging.

Beware.

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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Jared gives Subway a crisis that it should respond to more affirmatively

The worst crises are those that involve abuse of trust with the very people you’re supposed to help and protect.

Priests/parishioners, Boy Scout leaders/scouts, Wall Street/Main Street, generals/privates, and so on.

Subway was stunned today to learn that the FBI is investigating its long-time spokesman, Jared Fogle. If you don’t know his name, you surely know his face. He’s the guy who for 15 years has been helping Subway restaurants take the high road on healthy ingredients, compared to McDonald’s and Burger King, etc.

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Now he’s apparently under investigation, with another man linked to Subway, for child porn. According to an AdAge account:

But the search of Mr. Fogle’s Indiana home comes two months after Russell Taylor, executive director of the Fogle Foundation, a group that is dedicated to helping teach kids healthy lifestyle habits, was arrested on child pornography charges. Following that, Subway and Mr. Fogle said they had severed all ties with Mr. Taylor.

According to a local Fox affiliate, FBI sources said that the raid on Mr. Fogle’s home was in connection with a child porn case. “FBI sources told FOX59 state and federal investigators were serving warrants at Fogle’s Zionsville home in connection with a child pornography investigation.”

Subway apparently reacted slowly to the shocking news, perhaps hinting at its failure to have a crisis management plan in place in advance. AdAge:

It took Subway some time to craft a statement, which came out around noon. “We are shocked about the news and believe it is related to a prior investigation of a former Jared Foundation employee,” said a spokesman. “We are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation closely. We don’t have any more details at this point.”

This statement says almost nothing, and helps even less. If your chief spokesman, the face of your company, is under investigation, you had better be a lot stronger and faster.

Even Tiki Barber, whose major talents involved carrying a football, had advice for Subway:

“You would think that @Subway needs to say something rather than let social media have it’s way with this trending story.

He’s right. Subway needs to part ways with Fogle, condemn child porn as obviously unhealthy and destructive and not what the restaurant chain is about. If Subway doesn’t realize this guy is toast, then its executives are in denial and are the only people who don’t.

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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EMA eBook details what to do when bad things happen to good companies

Eric Mower + Associates started in the crisis management arena almost 30 years ago, working with Fortune 500 companies that needed help with overwhelming bad news.

That expertise, built up by a staff of experts, is more easily shared these days, including through an eBook that went out today. The gist is this:

Sometimes, Bad Things happen to perfectly good companies and organizations…randomly or by accident. Sometimes, not-so-good people do Bad Things to, for or while working at perfectly good companies and organizations. Other times, companies and organizations cause nasty self-inflicted wounds through bad decisions, thoughtless actions, hubris or just plain cluelessness.

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The eBook is a useful guide to a situational reality that multiplied exponentially in the social media era. When EMA started in this realm, three network television shows for 22 minutes each night and newspapers, for a similar duration, were the main examiners of corporate, non-profit and individual crises. Now, there are potentially thousands of eyes on all of us all the time.

Just recently: Dr. Oz. Blue Bell Creameries. United/SkyWest Airlines. The Clinton Foundation. The White House, having to admit that a drone attack killed two innocent hostages, one American, one Italian. The list goes on; and is refreshed weekly, if not daily. Tom Brady and Deflategate; Jeb Bush tripping over his brother’s presidential legacy; Brian Williams’ demotion to MSNBC. And so on.

Death and taxes remain inevitable, but these days a crisis consuming your company is equally as certain.

How to respond? Whether to respond? How to communicate internally? Who should be out front? How to limit the extent of a crisis? These are all aspects of crisis management EMA explains in the eBook.

We also set out five key rules that you might find instructive:

1. If bad news is going to come out anyway, you should release it first, proactively and preemptively.

2. Always reveal and share the bad news with your own people first.

3. Take all your hits in one round. Get all the bad news out at once.

4. The best way to answer tough questions is to answer them before they’re asked.

5. Facts and actions are the only things that trump rumors and speculation.

There are more aspects to successfully managing a crisis, of course, but these are good starters. And as far as coping with inevitability of a crisis, the best time to plan for one, train for one, calmly figure out how best to respond to one, is now. Not when you are in the midst of one.

Please find the eBook at http://bit.ly/1QTnF24

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 is back, but why is he and does anyone care

He’s baaaaaack.

As Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger will say in the next summer blockbuster movie, former NBC News anchor Brian Williams returned to the air last week in an in-house interview with  Matt Lauer on Today. Williams professed sorrow, apparently accepted a pay cut and will work starting in August on MSNBC, which several commentators noted is like going from winning the U.S. Open to playing for the U.S. Publinks title.

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Did Williams rehabilitate himself? Did his time away from the anchor desk calm the credibility waters he’d been drowning in when he stepped down? A lot of people say no, and many say it really doesn’t matter anymore. People consume news and information so differently that a network anchor is now just another blogger — with a bigger pay check.

The one good aspect of all this is that Lester Holt is now the #1 anchor and the face and leader of NBC News on air.

One of the better analyses of Williams’ performance came from Al Tompkins on Poynter.com. That’s a site that evaluates journalists and their issues and Tompkins hit the high points well.

Brian Williams’ attempt to explain himself to the Today Show’s Matt Lauer didn’t explain anything. And one reason his mea culpa rang hollow is because Williams did what children and criminals do; he used passive verbs when he should have used active verbs.

Williams said:

“I would like to take this opportunity to say that what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed. Has been dealt with. And going forward there are going to be different rules of the road.“

He does not say WHAT has been identified or WHAT has happened. He does not say HOW those mistakes have been fixed and he does not say what the new rules of the road will be. I wish he had said something like:

“I exaggerated or fabricated 10 stories that I told on late night talk shows and speeches. (Then name them.) In each case, I apologized to the people who were harmed. In the future I will stick to doing the news.”

Williams is a dead man walking, he just thinks he’s walking out of the prison cell he built for himself.

He’s moving to a largely ignored channel that desperately needs a boost, but probably won’t get one from Williams. There he will be largely forgotten by the millions of people who don’t watch business cable news all day, rather than the reliable nine million he attracted each night on the prime time news. MSNBC gets about 380,000 viewers a day. Ouch.

As Fox News pointed out, if you don’t think Williams was fired, think again.

Could Williams, as Tompkins implied, have improved his lot with a more forceful apology and a less-veiled approach? Probably not.

The time to do that, as we noted at the time, was in February, when the story broke that Williams had lied. Fessing up now, six months later after your obituary already ran, does little.

Nor should it.

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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Charlotte restaurant, consumed by a crisis, handles it correctly and wins praise

It’s rare that people or organizations get public notice for doing the right thing, especially in a crisis. And thanks to my public affairs colleague in our Charlotte office, Pete Smolowitz, for flagging this one to me.

A popular and successful Charlotte restaurant, Cowfish, had to close twice in 10 days when people became sick from eating there. Cowfish serves burgers and sushi, hence its name.

And that would probably be the end of this restaurant, because when there are so many restaurants to choose from, who wants to risk getting sick where customers repeatedly did?

Here’s why, in the words of The Charlotte Observer, which deserves credit for not being predictably condemnatory in its analysis of this business’ issues. Here, wrote the Observer, is why patrons should return.

We should do the opposite. We should go back – or just go, if you haven’t already.

From business executives to government officials to public figures, people do all the wrong things when something goes wrong. They pretend the bad thing didn’t happen. They hide it.  They admit only what they think they have to – which is often what people already know.

Cowfish did none of that.

And for those of us who evangelize that handling a crisis well, transparently and quickly can not only save a business’ or individual’s reputation, but enhance it, here are some sentences to warm the heart.

When faced with PR disaster, the steps are simple: Recognize the problem quickly, act fast and thoroughly, and over-communicate with everyone who might be affected.

The pain of doing so – and yes, it’s painful – is rarely as bad as what you endure when you’re caught hiding something.

So why do people avoid coming clean? Because it’s human nature – not to mention business and political culture – to want to minimize the short-term damage.

That’s what Hillary Clinton tried to do in her slow and bungled responses to email and Clinton Foundation scandals.

It’s what the University of North Carolina did with years of denying and deflecting reports of academic fraud involving athletes.

It’s what happened to countless businesses that have waited too long to respond to crises big and small, hoping things would blow over.

In those moments we learn about the people and companies involved. We learn who would elbow their way onto a lifeboat, and we learn who’s smart enough not to think of themselves at the expense of others. We learn whom to trust with our money, our political decisions, our food.

Yes, we do.

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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Cardinals’ apparent hacking of Astros scouting raise questions about all major sports teams

The St. Louis Cardinals, one of Major League Baseball’s most successful teams, apparently had front-office personnel hacking the scouting reports of the Houston Astros, which are not.

This raises many questions. Like, did the Cardinals’ hackers think the Astros’ scouting on the LHP from Fresno was that different from their own? And, did they really think they would get away with it? At what cost? And what did they have to gain? Stupid isn’t a crime, but maybe it should be.

The larger question, however, emerges from scandals like the Black Sox, Spygate, Deflategate, and the Cleveland Browns’ GM texting coaches on the sidelines, and on and on down the list of sports cheaters. Do all or most team sport players, coaches and front office people cross the competitive line into cheating?

And, if they do, is it a crisis? Do we care? Does it even matter?

Do we cheat as individuals? Running a red light? Pumping up the expense report? Shaving a few hours off the work day after a meeting ends early?

The Cardinals’ action seems directed at a former front-office official who is now the Astros’ GM. Maybe it was more personal than institutional or competitive. But surely it was dumb.

The Cards’ front-office types might know Billyball or Moneyball, but they obviously are Single A hackers.

They’ll get caught, fired, maybe prosecuted and we’ll all wonder what, if anything, they really gained that might add to the Cards’ won-loss record.

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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