Kardashian, with 48.3 million followers on Twitter and 84.2 million on Instagram, is the antithesis of shy. She generously shares every moment of her life with her fans and they with her. You may well wonder why she has fans, but that would just reveal your card-carrying membership in the Society of Crankypants.
While her reported ordeal at the hands of masked gunmen who tied her up and helped themselves to $9 million of her well publicized jewelry did elicit an outpouring of sympathy for the mother of two small children, it also unleashed a storm of scolding and outright skepticism. Everything from “Who travels with $9 million worth of jewelry?” to “Well, you know, Kanye West is $53 million in debt…”
Despite the tens of millions of fans, Kim Kardashian’s is a love/hate brand. Her fans love her. And, as they say, the haters gonna hate. In this era of living out loud and bilious anonymity, where everyone’s a pundit (yes, the irony of writing this in a blog abounds), love is all around, until it isn’t.
Is the Kim Kardashian brand in trouble? Does her crisis communications team need to swing into high gear? (The Paris Tourism bureau’s certainly does.) Will her new status as crime victim eclipse her image as CEO in charge of her fame and growing fortune?
With a net worth pegged at $51million derived from reality TV, and a mobile app, her savvy goes beyond being a PR machine. Her brand will withstand the raised eyebrows and the doubters, and likely will emerge stronger than ever—especially if the culprits are found and brought to justice.
One piece of advice for Kim: Get a new security firm. The one you have now has a real PR problem.
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.”
Shigehisa Takada was caught up in his company’s defective-airbag crisis that engulfed more than a dozen automakers and resulted in the recall of 60 million vehicles in the U.S. and millions around the globe. Fourteen deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to those faulty airbags.
Scarier still is that last month the Senate Commerce Committee reported that Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Volkswagen were still selling new vehicles equipped with defective Takata airbags – airbags that will eventually need to be recalled.
Takata and its car-company customers are arguing over who will pay the costs of the recalls and the lawsuits. As one of only three major airbag manufacturers, Takata controls about a quarter of the market. If it is forced to repay the entire expense, not only will the company be bankrupt, carmakers will lose a key supplier.
Takata’s lack of crisis management is a textbook example of what not to do. According to industry observers:
- Shigehisa Takada never personally addressed the crisis head-on during its almost two-year span
- He instead instructed his underlings to deal with regulators and journalists
- The company issued no public statements for almost a year
Then there’s Volkswagen.
It agreed this week to pay up to $14.7 billion to settle diesel-emissions claims in the U.S. That tab will chew up most of the $18 billion that it had set aside to resolve the scandal over 11 million so-called “clean diesel” vehicles that had been engineered to purposely cheat on air-quality tests.
But that’s not the end of Volkswagen’s woes. The U.S. and other countries – notably Germany– are weighing criminal probes and additional fines. As U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said, “The settlements do not address any potential criminal liability, though I can assure you our criminal investigation is active and ongoing.”
So… what about Volkswagen’s crisis management?
John Voelcker, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, noted that “there’s a known crisis management playbook; VW has ignored it.
- “Volkswagen’s PR and communications tactics during the crisis may go down as a case study in crisis communications that equals the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in wrong-footedness.
- “Denials by executives that the company did anything wrong or illegal – after its own engineers had admitted to the EPA that VW deliberately lied and deceived regulators and the public for eight years – haven’t helped.
- “Nor has the paucity of customer and public outreach, which contrasts with that demonstrated by Johnson & Johnson during the 1982 Tylenol poisoning scare, considered a model of crisis response and communications.”
Takata, Volkswagen, Exxon Valdez, and Tylenol: Three wrong ways and one right way to deal with a crisis.
We’ve said it before, but since we know that Takata and Volkswagen never took our advice, here it is again. When dealing with a crisis:
- Utilize an internal or an external crisis management team
- Communicate often with the public and your customers
- Always be honest and transparent about the problem
One more tip: Drive your Takata-airbag-equipped Volkswagen Jetta diesel safely, and fill up often.