BBB moves decisively to stem crisis, but will reputation still take hit?


The national Council of Better Business Bureaus moved this week to excise a cancer, alleging that its Southern California office, BBB of the Southland, ran a pay-to-play endorsement scheme.

Smart move to expel the 77-year-old chapter, one of 113 around the nation. Swift, decisive and apparently with cause. Good crisis management. Courageous as well, as the Orange County Register reported:

BBB of the Southland was the nation’s largest bureau, overseeing about 18,000 member businesses across Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Not sure what the local-to-national relationship is, but this will at least cost the council some prestige and a lot of total members.

This is one of those self-inflicted crisis wounds, as mentors Eric Mower and Peter Kapcio, chorused the last few days. Want to avoid the crisis? Don’t screw it up. Do the crime, do the time.

Few businesses, especially those that evaluate, certify and vouch for others, can afford a direct hit to their integrity. Trust is crucial, maybe for BBB more than most. Council President and CEO Carrie A. Hurt [as a long-time collector of ironic names, this is an especially fine one] said:

“Over a period of more than two years, BBB of the Southland failed to resolve concerns about compliance with several standards required of BBBs, including standards relating to accreditation, reporting on businesses and handling complaints.”

The chapter president denies any wrongdoing and pledged to go on independently without the national affiliation and a fresh name. BBB will establish a new chapter in Los Angeles.

According to a council release: Hurt first shared the news in an interview yesterday with ABC’s Brian Ross, whose “20/20” investigation more than two years ago found that BBB of the Southland was accrediting companies without checking their credentials to be sure they were eligible. In a “sting” type operation, a blogger working with ABC filled out an application for the terrorist organization Hamas, which briefly appeared on the local website as a BBB Accredited Business with an A+ rating. Hurt told Ross that his original story was “painful,” but that it helped the organization realize that the local group, even though it was the largest in the BBB network, had to change or be expelled. “When you are a standards-based organization, there is no such thing as ‘too big to fail,'” Hurt told Ross.

What remains then is the fallout. Will this cause members in other cities to wonder? The council moved to create a web site where members can offer comments and complaints. That’s smart too. Don’t think one crisis won’t lead to another. Transparency.

Time will have to pass before any other problems emerge. BBB took a hit to its reputation and seems to be reacting well — after getting caught unawares by the ABC report. At least its leaders didn’t blame the TV network. What ultimately happens depends on the integrity of all the member organizations.

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 http://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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