When to cut your losses and give up amid a crisis


Crisis managers of course work toward success, which is usually defined, from best to worst, as demonstrating transformative leadership, enhancing or maintaining reputation, limiting damage, or, at least, putting the crisis behind you.

But there are times when for a variety of factors, many of them internal, a crisis just won’t go away. Then the best thing to do is shut up, stop struggling and live to fight another day. Two examples of how it hurts you even more if you don’t arose this week, one at the oft-discussed Susan G. Komen Foundation and one at the Oxford American, a literary magazine.

The first is better known, and the example of damaging judgment more easily grasped. Nancy Brinker, the founder and CEO and sister of Susan G. Komen, was under fire for politicizing cancer fundraising and research. The foundation moved earlier this year to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood to do cancer screenings. In many places that was seen as political and unfair. Yesterday, purportedly in response, Brinker resigned as CEO. Problem solved, right?

Often, this would solve the problem, as plenty of CEO resignations have. But in this case, Brinker moved over to chair the executive committee of the board. People are not stupid and many chapters critical of Brinker weren’t fooled. She didn’t resign, she moved behind the scenes, the strings of power still in her fingers. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. The crisis, as coverage the last 24 hours showed, is not ended; it may have been made worse.

The Oxford American is a fairly obscure literary magazine in Oxford, MI [home to John Grisham], but its peculiarities and size do not limit the impact of the lesson available from its editor’s resignation last month. The publication’s board forced editor and founder Marc Smirnoff to resign after explicit and supported allegations of sexual harassment filed against him.

I won’t go into the sordid details, but they were widespread and The New York Times story linked above contains his explanations, which for most people will only prompt further disgust.

But here’s the kicker: The Times reported that on Monday “Smirnoff and his longtime girlfriend, Carol Ann Fitzgerald, who was fired along with him, showed that they were determined to carry on the fight. They published a 53-page document titled “Our Story of Losing The Oxford American,” in which Mr. Smirnoff vehemently denied sexually harassing anyone and accused former colleagues of “insubordination” and undermining him through a board that he described as “manipulated and insolent.”

Really? Really? Multiple women accused him of an ongoing and lengthy pattern of indefensible behavior and he tried to turn it into some later-day Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses?

Smirnoff and Brinker — both of whom we should note founded their organizations and invested their lives in them — need to heed crisis managers telling them to stop fighting, they’re only making it worse. Calling attention to your continued power or sins is not the way to win, nor end the crisis. Back off.

Ask yourself: What is more important, me, or the work we do here and the organization that does it?

Live to fight another day. Start another cancer foundation that won’t fund Planned Parenthood. Start another quirky literary magazine and stop harassing women. Simple.

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 at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. 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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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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One Response to When to cut your losses and give up amid a crisis

  1. Bobby says:

    Oxford, Michigan????

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