Never had a PR crisis in your business, your non-profit, or your campaign? Good for you! Just don’t get complacent, because someday you probably will.
The biggest names in their fields have been “ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.”
SeaWorld, Volkswagen, Target, and Subway are just a few of the corporate names that have suffered PR crises in the not too distant past. And then there are bold- face names such as Anthony Weiner, and Colin Kaepernick (Who actually wasn’t a bold-face name until two weeks ago, so his experience may even move from PR crisis to PR bonanza.)
You may think because yours isn’t a big company or a large enterprise that “crisis” is too big a word to befall your corner of the universe, but here’s a tip—if you have employees, if you deal with the public, if you handle money, if you have email, or a computer system—you’re vulnerable to a PR crisis. And that’s just a partial list of potential problem areas.
The best way to handle a crisis is to avoid it altogether, but that’s not always possible. Still, there are ways to prepare:
- Make a list of where you’re vulnerable: cyber security, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, on-site safety, etc.
- Look at your response capabilities: do you have someone on staff who understands crisis mitigation or how to communicate with media?
- Take stock of your internal and external communications.
- Do you have a lawyer?
- Do you have a trusted PR professional?
A crisis doesn’t always give you warning, but sometimes, you really can see one coming—if you know where to look.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are roughly 228,132 words in the English language. This includes about 47,000 that are no longer in widespread use.
With so many to choose from, you’d think those in the public eye would choose more carefully. Especially considering the forever-ness of anything uttered or written in this digital age.
If you think there’s no longevity in poorly chosen words, we invite you to Google “Depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and see how 17 years later, the most famous words of her husband’s presidency were used—rightly or wrongly—against Hillary Clinton. (Who has had her own trouble with parsing and verbal coyness.)
Some might argue that is the careful choice and over parsing of words, the excessive message development that has led to the rise of a new crop of blunt-speaking politicians. Straight talk is certainly preferable to obfuscation, but there’s a difference between being plain spoken and being irresponsible.
The natural progression here is to now take Donald Trump to task for everything from overtly racist comments to casually inciting violence but his poorly chosen words—and there are many—are hardly the only ones out there.
This isn’t a plea for political correctness. It’s a call to choose wisely, lest your poor choices haunt you for months and years to come via Google, YouTube, and the myriad social media channels that haven’t been invented yet. Reputation management isn’t always on the minds of public—or private—citizens. But it should be.
Ten years ago, Sen. George Allen’s 2006 campaign imploded thanks to a video that was shot just months after the founding of YouTube. Yet, as the digital age unfolded, promising there would be lasting records of everything, people still seemed inclined to choose the wrong words and share them publicly.
Despite riding to the Republican Presidential nomination on a conflagration of inappropriate words, Donald Trump is now seeing his poll numbers suffer. Sixty-nine percent of people in a recent Fox News poll said his comments criticizing Khizr Khan and his wife were “out of bounds.”
Free speech is protected by the Constitution and there are no laws against poor judgment or having a poor vocabulary. But the law of averages says that poorly chosen words eventually will come back to masticate you in the gluteus maximus.
The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, or – if you prefer – the 2016 Summer Olympics or simply Rio 2016 – open Friday with all of the pomp, athletes, and inscrutable “showbiz” spectacle that will leave us scratching our heads: Was that a celebration of Brazil’s history or a Cirque du Soleil/Shriners Parade/Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show mashup?
Fortunately for the 10,000 athletes from 205 countries, Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium should be relatively hygienic. The Olympic competition venues, not so much.
As has been widely reported, the beaches in Rio de Janeiro are contaminated with raw sewage, garbage, and dead bodies – which might not be a problem if, you know, they’re weren’t going to be sailing, beach volleyball, canoeing, rowing, and marathon swimming events.
Rio de Janeiro pediatrician Dr. Daniel Becker recently told The New York Times, “Foreign athletes will literally be swimming in human crap, and they risk getting sick from all those microorganisms. It’s sad but also worrisome.” Britain’s Independent quoted Rio municipal engineer Stelberto Soares as saying that Brazil’s efforts to clean the waters were superficial. “They can try to block big items like sofas and dead bodies, but these rivers are pure sludge, so the bacteria and viruses are going to just pass through.”
Sofas and dead bodies would be a crisis management issue for any company, organization, or government, short of, perhaps, 1970s-era La Cosa Nostra – but wait, there’s more. The Rio Olympics will be held in the epicenter of the Zika virus, and amid the one-two punch of high crime rates and a police strike, not to mention the impeachment proceedings for former president Dilma Rousseff.
And you thought U.S. political conventions were chaotic.
As Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins writes, wrote last month, Brazil is in the middle of its “worst economy since the 1930s,” Rio de Janeiro is “one of the most seething, crime-ridden cities on earth,” and “in the past year, state hospitals have lacked basic supplies, and medical facilities have cut hours.”
Jenkins also notes that a $3 billion subway line being built to handle the 500,000 spectators isn’t finished yet, and that two people were killed along a new seaside bike path because the builders failed to take into account that it might collapse after being struck by a wave.
- At an average cost overrun of 156%, the Olympics have the highest cost overrun of any type of megaproject in the world
- The Games are the only type of megaproject where delivery has never been on budget
- For a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympic Games is to decide to take on one of the costliest and financially riskiest type of megaproject that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril
And we haven’t even touched on the Olympic doping scandals. But that’s another blog for another day.
The IOC’s sanguine attitude about corporate image building or crisis management might be because it knows that most of the world will forgive and forget. The Washington Post’s Jenkins frames it this way, “The IOC counts on our romanticism to cover over the fiscal insanity and scandal. For two weeks, the gold medal performances and pretty screen shots … will give us temporary amnesia.”
The IOC will conduct the same host-city lottery every few years, will assure all that the upcoming city will be ready, and then will make a tidy rights-fee/broadcast-fee/marketing-fee profit at the expense of the host city. As the late Yogi Berra might have observed, It’s Ground Hog Day all over again.
So, enjoy. But keep in mind the words of Dutch sailing team Olympian Afrodite Zegers when he was asked how he plans to deal with Rio’s polluted waters, “We’ll just have to keep our mouths closed.”
Corporate image building is like filling out your data sheet at the doctor’s. But instead of again reminding your primary care physician that you’re allergic to NyQuil, always wear a seatbelt, and have no family history of the vapors, you’re reinforcing in your customers’ minds what makes your business compelling.
One of the surefire ways to build your corporate image is via online reviews. We all know that when customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction are posted for the universe to see, customers either will flock to your Small Engine Repair &VCR Rental or avoid you as fast as Keira Knightley shuns sugary soft drinks.
But not so fast. According to the Oxford University Press Journal of Research, a survey of 344,157 Amazon ratings of 1,272 products in 120 product categories found that there was “a substantial disconnect between the objective quality information that online user ratings actually convey and the extent to which consumers trust them as indicators of objective quality.” And to further damn with faint praise, “Consumers heavily weight the average rating compared to other cues for quality like price and the number of ratings.”
The good news: a handful of positive Yelp or Amazon ratings could make your company or product look like a winner. The bad news: this so-called “illusion of validity” is – well – an illusion, and can sometimes require crisis management.
David Streitfeld, who covers technology for The New York Times, recently wrote, “In May, Yelp issued 59 new Consumer Alerts, which are notices it puts on a business’s page that it has been caught trying to pay for better reviews. Among those cited were a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and an emergency room in Humble, Tex. Lifehacker.com recently took on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, arguing their way of compiling reviews was ‘fundamentally flawed.’ FiveThirtyEight.com reported that ‘men are sabotaging the online reviews of TV shows aimed at women.’ (Why? Because they can.)”
In other words, while most online costumers still put a heap of trust in online reviews, mistrust is beginning to blossom across the land.
The Knight Canney Group’s advice: Make sure the concept of complete and competent customer service is part of your company’s business plan and mission statement, and respond quickly, completely, and politely to less-than-stellar online reviews (and while you’re at it, compliment the positive reviewers).
Oh, and don’t pay for good reviews.