Eric Mower + Associates’ crisis and reputation management guru, Peter Kapcio, always emphasized to clients that the damage from a crisis comes not from the severity of the act or the impetus for the crisis, it’s how long it lasts. Or, conversely, how fast you can make it go away. Think BP oil spill.
The equation is obvious, but too often ignored. Dribbling out information, or having reporters pry it out, week after week just multiplies the mess.
New York Times’ Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. is doing little to shorten the crisis over his firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson. That’s a fact highlighted by one of the nation’s most astute media critics, Ken Auletta, a former New York Post, Daily News and Village Voice reporter now writing for The New Yorker.
“While Sulzberger disparaged Abramson for the way she ran the paper, the Times’ own mishandling of this crisis could be taught at the Harvard Business School as a case study in poor management and worse communications,” Auletta writes. “It is an affair in which neither side behaved well or with any finesse and the institution, which is so central to American journalism, suffered.”
The irony of a crisis inside a media giant is not lost on the business or media worlds that follow such things closely. The Times can publish stories that embarrass Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citibank and the like, as it should, but when the spotlight it routinely turns on other corporations and their CEOs gets turned back on itself, people pay attention with a lot of zealous satisfaction.
And nothing incites the media crowd more than clear indications that the full story has not been told and that the main protagonist is stonewalling. Abramson’s friends and supporters are weighing in left and right; the Times itself is being exhorted to get to the root of the facts; readers are engaged and aghast.
There’s blood in the water.
One can only imagine how the ruling Sulzbergers, Arthur’s cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and children feel? He runs the company, but the family controls it.
As I suggested Thursday, after this stunning news broke, Sulzberger needs to sit down with a leading Times’ journalist and answer every question fully, openly and exhaustively. And then do the same for the Washington Post and the Associated Press and any other media who call. Until he does, the wolf pack will continue to circle and howl.
Until all the information is out, the Times‘ crisis will persist and eat away at its reputation.
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 seven 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.