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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Stephanopoulos steps into controversy over Clinton Foundation contribution

Oops.

ABC newscaster George Stephanopoulos stepped into some doodoo this week. And he compounded the odor and error by being forced by media inquiries to admit he contributed $75,000 to the foundation of his former boss, ex-president Bill Clinton. Who’s been in the news lately a bit because his former First Lady wants the top job.

georgeThis really is not a crisis, for Stephanopoulos or ABC, certainly nothing like NBC is still contending with about anchor Brian Williams.

It’s a reinforcement that cable and network anchors are really more entertainers, or even news readers, than journalists.

The New York Times story today sums up the issue perfectly:

WASHINGTON — Even after more than a decade as an analyst, anchor and public face for ABC News, George Stephanopoulos has never been able to shake the image that many Republicans have of him: Clinton hatchet man.

That image was glaring to the Republican strategists who blocked him from moderating a debate last year in the Senate race in Iowa.

It was the elephant in the room in 2011 when, after an interview that Mitt Romney’s advisers saw as especially argumentative, Mr. Stephanopoulos visited the campaign’s headquarters to try to reassure them that he was impartial.

And it has nagged at the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who has told people repeatedly that he does not want the anchorman anywhere near a debate stage in 2016.

On Thursday, the question of Mr. Stephanopoulos’s political leanings and his future as a leader of the network’s campaign coverage spilled out into the open as he acknowledged donating $75,000 to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation over the past three years. He withdrew from playing any role in a planned Republican primary debate on ABC and called his donations an “uncharacteristic lapse.”

“I’m sorry because I don’t want anything to compromise my integrity or the standards of ABC News,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that would raise questions in the minds of our viewers. I’m sorry all of that has happened.”

Once a pol, always a pol?

Come on, George. Did you honestly believe that giving money to the Clintons was a good idea, even at the time? Wasn’t it closer to, “I sort of have to do this, but I hope I don’t get caught?”

This wasn’t a lapse in judgment. It was a judgment. In five figures.

People contribute to charities for many reasons. They support the cause. They want to take a tax write off. They want to feel good about themselves. They want to sit at the head table at the annual gala, or have their name on the new building on campus. But there’s almost always a return on investment. You get your name listed with all the other high rollers.

What Stephanopoulos tried was to have it both ways — Clinton confidant and supporter and “objective” network anchor.

There is somewhat of a double standard here, but it’s only worth mentioning as a footnote. If Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity contributed $75,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or even the Romney Family Foundation [if there is such a thing] no one would blink. But then they don’t pretend to be objective.

Not smart, George. You got caught.

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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Jeb Bush should know better than to take a hypothetical question

What family has had more media exposure and experience in the last few years than any other?

OK, if you said the Kardashian/West/Jenner clan, I can’t fault you.

But somewhere in the top two or three has to be the George H.W./Barbara/George W./Jeb Bushes.

And what any of them should know, and one of the key rules we emphasize in EMA’s media training, is you don’t answer a hypothetical question.

Whether it’s Barbara Walters asking what kind of tree you are, or Megyn Kelly on Fox asking about invading Iraq. Stick to reality. Ask me about here and now.

That’s why it’s so confounding to see the most recent contretemps involving the erstwhile Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor. Even Dubya would have gotten this one right.

And what reinforces this view is that he got the answer right — the second time, 24 hours later.

As MSNBC recounted: The story began on Monday, when Fox News aired an interview between Bush and host Megyn Kelly, in which she asked him whether “knowing what we know now,” the former Florida governor would have authorized the invasion of Iraq.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” Bush said.

Later in the day, after the you know what hit the you know where, he back pedaled, claiming he didn’t understand the question, arguing he was being asked if he’d have made the same decision in 2002-03, as his brother did.

Here’s how The New York Times characterized Bush’s mop-up efforts the next day on Fox’s Sean Hannity radio program:

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“I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Mr. Bush said. “I was talking about, given what people knew then.”

The attempt at mopping-up was quick, but it did not bring the controversy to an immediate end: When Mr. Hannity asked about the 2003 Iraq invasion again, in yes-or-no fashion, Mr. Bush said he did not know what the answer would have been, saying, “That’s a hypothetical.”

Then, he seemed to go out of his way to absolve his brother, former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion: “Mistakes were made, as they always are in life,” Mr. Bush said.

It was the third time in six weeks that Mr. Bush had to back pedal, offering a stark reminder that despite his deep political ties and his family’s history in elected office, he remains a novice on the national campaign trail.

Allies believe that Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, has had to contend with an unfair level of scrutiny that no other Republican has faced. Though his team still lacks formal structure, Mr. Bush is generally more visible than, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who entered the race for the Democratic nomination in mid-April but has not taken reporters’ questions in three weeks.

But for Mr. Bush, the last six weeks have been a bracing reminder that helping a relative run for president is not the same as running yourself.

Mr. Bush, who is said to take a dim view of his Republican rivals’ leadership qualities, prides himself on his candor, authenticity and ability to work without a script, and his skills as a candidate have noticeably sharpened. But he has repeatedly paid a price for straying from his briefing notes.

Rookie or not, if you get a hypothetical question, here’s a good way to answer:

“That’s hypothetical, Megyn, and no one can rewrite history. Obviously, Iraq did not turn out as anyone would have liked. But looking back on it now, I believe that Americans served there with honor, and we upheld the principals this nation was founded on.”

Hypothetically, at least.

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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Last week, Tom Brady had a problem; today he’s up to his hips in crisis

You know the story: NFL star quarterback Tom Brady, the hero of the New England Patriots’ decade of success, was caught cheating. He knew of or ordered deflated footballs in the AFL Championship game in January.

Rather than come clean, accept responsibility and take his punishment — a four-game regular season suspension, pending an appeal — he stonewalled and disassembled. He appealed to his fans and his base and let his agent and family talk about how outraged everyone was.

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Look around Camp Brady, if you plotted the outrage on a map, you’d have the rights to a loyal, supportive blue section of eastern New England, while the rest of the country is angry red.

Sure, we dislike the Patriots for their improbable success on a stupid call by Seattle in the last Super Bowl. But like the Yankees, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Tiger Woods and any other dominant, smart, aggressive sports franchise, we’re jealous of their success.

Nonetheless, Brady played this one like he couldn’t hold on to a wet football. He withheld evidence. If he is really as innocent as he claimed, show investigators your texts and emails. No? Then the hammer comes down.

Said team owner Robert Kraft: “Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league … Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”

Well that would make sense — if Brady would stop withholding evidence.

And what’s all the more amazing for the NFL is the penalties against the team and Kraft. Two lost draft choices, including a first rounder that could have located the next Brady, and a $1 million fine.

What choice did the NFL have? It has to be as hard on its stars as it is on its felons.

The issue now, however, is Brady. He had a window last week when he could have apologized, gone proactive, admitted that he sought to gain an advantage he should not have had. Fans would understand. How much holding goes on that’s never called? How sticky are the gloves receivers wear? Everyone seeks an edge. It’s America.

But Americans have little use for liars, especially those — the emperor has no clothes — who continue to profess innocence and should about unfair accusations, when 99 percent of the world sees the facts as they are.

He is severely risking his reputation, his legacy and his entire image.

Pete Rose is still waiting for the Baseball Hall of Fame to call.

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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