Attention span a mitigating factor in a flash crisis


Francesco Guerrera, the investment columnist in the Wall Street Journal, recently provided an interesting take on corporate crises, concluding that the public’s tightening attention span helps companies weather their mistakes.

He didn’t add the corollary that with shorter attention spans comes lack of interest and the assumption that one is unaffected. Consider the panic that would have ensued 30 years ago if one of the three national TV channels went off the air, compared to that happening now, when there are hundreds of alternatives.

Guerrera cites recent problems at BATS Global Markets Inc., JetBlue and Global Payments Inc., and also mentions Goldman Sachs. [I’d provide the link to Guerrera’s story but, alas, WSJ profits behind a pay wall].

BATS fumbled its own initial public offering, JetBlue had a pilot freak out and hackers stole 1.5 million credit card identities from Global Payments.

He quotes several public relations pros, who provided useful observations.

As Robert H. Bloom, the former U.S. CEO of the marketing giant Publicis Worldwide, says, “Business leaders today have less and less control of the narrative around their own business than they have ever had before.”

Paradoxically, however, companies’ loss of control of the news can work to their advantage because the investing and consuming publics seem to move on faster than traditional media.

The corporate PR guru Robert L. Dilenschneider has a simple recipe. “Tell it and tell it fast.” If you do that, it goes away in a day. The attention span of the public is very short,” says Dilenschneider.

Facts fast is at the top of our strategy list as well.

The approach especially makes sense these days, when the social media engine can start rumors you’re ill, got worse, died and were buried before you even felt a fever.

Despite the propensity to have a crisis du jour every jour, the very best way to limit damage from a crisis is to plan for it, understand how to fight and facilitate the media and get your business back on track.

Here’s a short list of just today’s crises, pulled straight from the morning’s headlines: Bankrupt Pinnacle Air paid its top executives bonuses; an Indiana school district expelled a student for foul language on Twitter, unrelated to his school; an Oakland college coped with mass murder; tornadoes in Dallas; a Buffalo city councilman’s wife wrote $564,000 in fraudulent checks; New York cites a local hospital for failing to catch a child abuse case, leading to more abuse.

And on, and on. And I didn’t even look in the Sports section yet. Tomorrow new crises will arise. Are you ready?

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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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