Do avoid the self-inflicted crisis

Good reasons abound for courting public opinion and trying to graft it to your company’s hip.

But when two enormous corporations, each vying for an extra sliver of millions, intentionally dive into attack mode against each other to prove a point, public opinion usually reserves judgment, or declares a pox on both your houses.

Such is the case played out across the nation every year between cable television companies that feel pressure to limit rate increases, while still providing the best in-demand programming, and content suppliers who want the cable company to pay more for its in-demand programming.

The gainers in such brief, furious and transparently useless campaigns are the advertising vehicles that carry the charges and counter charges. You’d think the threat level zoomed to red overnight with some of the melodramatic, threatening print ads and TV show crawlers.

The tactics are likely drawn from playbook of protracted labor-management wars. Unions cast management as greedy, unreasonable, miserly and aloof. Management charges that unions don’t understand the consequences of their high demands, which are inevitably larger than the competition has to swallow. But in the end, as everyone knows all along, the two sides compromise. No one gets everything; everyone gets something.

This is the case with the suppliers of programming — most often sports — and the cable companies who have to charge their customers more and more to afford what the content owners charge for the broadcasts. In the end, the two sides always compromise because the cable companies can’t afford to not broadcast the games its subscribers demand — unless they want an exodus to dish networks — and the sports programs themselves are inherently worthless unless someone pays to broadcast them.

The issue at hand here, however, is why create an artificial crisis, stir up customers and cause chips and dents and cracks in your corporate reputation? Why not stay behind closed doors and work out your differences and announce a settlement you’re going to reach anyway? Crises inflicted upon you are one thing; self-inflicted crises are the worse.

Ego? In the current fight between Cablevision subsidiary MSG — which owns Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, the Rangers etc. — and Time Warner Cable — the entertainment giant fused from Time Inc. and Warner Bros. — will either side really listen to the calls, emails and letters each seeks to generate via advertising against the other?

If they were thinking strategy instead of just tactics, the two sides would realize that bi-partisan compromise for the good of all would be seen as a welcome and positive departure in a country where only 11 percent give favorable ratings to the Republicans and Democrats running Congress.

MSG wants TWC to pay more to broadcast Buffalo Sabres‘ games. Because they are presumably in major demand for TWC’s upstate subscribers, MSG warns Sabres fans that TWC is being unfair in negotiations over a new contract. TWC, for its part, says it’s trying to maintain a robust collection of viewing options, without having to hike cable prices twice a year — which it seems to do anyway, regardless of programming contracts.

The whole dance is artificial. The best idea is to agree to a non-disclosure, a gag order, when negotiations start. I’d bet the talks would prove more productive, and shorter, that way.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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