In the first public comments from Tiger Woods since he issued a statement apologizing for his marital transgressions, we were witness to a press conference called by Tiger himself to address the controversy that has surrounded him, his marriage, and his alleged infidelity. From a crisis management vantage point, the only real challenge Tiger had coming into the event was to appear genuine, appropriately contrite, and committed to making it right for his family. That’s really all the public wants to see and hear from public figures who are coming to us for some degree of redemption or forgiveness.
But unfortunately, we were treated to the exact opposite. What began on an appropriate note with something along the lines of “I am deeply sorry for the irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in. … I had affairs. … I cheated” sadly ended somewhere after that. Exactly where isn’t clear since the obviously scripted statement was a really long and winding road, which quickly became almost too painful to keep watching.
Before the tsunami of commentary commences, let me go on record suggesting that watching the just-completed Tiger Woods press conference was probably one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in my adult life – excepting the triple root canal, perhaps.
Aside from rambling on for way too long, doing a pretty poor job of appearing genuine, and making the classic mistake of scripting his remorse – all the while making South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s post-infidelity discovery press conference look like a candidate for an Emmy – Tiger did himself and his image no favors, and perhaps did more damage than his complete silence for the last 70 days.
The blogosphere and traditional media have for weeks been screaming about the need for Tiger to say something about his reported infidelity, to provide some sort of context or rationale that the public could use to put his behavior in context, but there was nothing. Not a peep. Not a sighting. Not even a Tiger-penned article somewhere, besides that vaguely written blurb posted on his Web site about two weeks after the crash. Then earlier this week came the news that an official press conference was planned. We were alerted that media access would be tightly managed, with no questions allowed. Not long after it became clear exactly how tightly media access would be managed by Tiger’s people, the golf writers’ group made the decision to boycott the entire event, expressing dismay at the ban on questions.
Suffice it to say that today’s press conference will go down in history as perhaps one of the most awkward, mismanaged and disingenuous events in the history of spouses attempting to make atonement for their indiscretions. One thing is for sure. We certainly know more than we did before the press conference began, but in my opinion we know none of what we really wanted to know.
Here’s what happens when Brian Ross of ABC News ambushes Jim Lentz (outside what appears to be the Bloomberg News building, of all places):
All the same problems as before, now presented in the form of a perp walk.
And here he is again on Fox Business News (where he looks much more in his comfort zone) minimizing the problem and putting as much of it as possible into the past tense.
An old friend used to say that the First Rule of Holes is that when you find yourself in one, stop digging.
Company needs a better face delivering a credible message quick, or it’s only going to keep right on rolling downhill.
Posted on February 5, 2010 by Admin — 1 Comment
I’m showing my age here, but a recent article on the front page of The Wall Street Journal rekindled memories of the American sitcom Soap, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1981.
This classic series, a parody of day-time soap operas, chronicled the foibles of two dysfunctional Connecticut families. Richard Mulligan played the role of Burt Campbell, who suffers from mental illness and believes he can make himself invisible by closing his eyes and snapping his fingers. After snapping his fingers, he would simply go about whatever he was doing believing he was invisible to everyone around him.
The article that made me remember invisible Burt had nothing to do with television sitcoms, but in many respects, the topic was just as comical. Apparently, some luxury hotels are dropping the words “resort” and “spa” from their names in order to retain corporate clients currently under scrutiny for largesse.
Snap your fingers, and – “Poof!” – you’re no longer a resort.
Just how stupid do these resorts, um I mean conference hotels, think people are? More to the point, how stupid are corporations that still book meetings at these facilities, believing that no one will notice there’s a lavish party going on poolside? Or are those companies suffering from the same mental malady as the fictional Burt Campbell?
I sympathize with the hotel industry, which is trying to keep a lucrative business model alive in the wake of the outrage that followed reports that AIG was planning a $400,000 party at a California resort — on the heels of receiving a $180 billion government bailout. Adopting a more pedestrian name, however, is not a solution to the crisis of confidence faced by American corporations.
Current perceptions are being shaped by sincere changes in behavior. Smoke and mirror solutions are about as effective as Burt snapping his fingers. It is okay to have offsite business meetings. It is even okay to allow employees to have a little fun at these meetings. But the day of the egregious junket is over. The sooner companies accept and embrace the realities of this new world, the faster confidence in big business will be restored. Conducting business as usual at a “non-resort” resort, however, is recipe for a public relations disaster.
Even Burt eventually figured out that he wasn’t really invisible.
I’m of that age when doctors recommend that I take a daily low-dose aspirin to prevent everything from heart disease to arthritis. I have followed this routine daily for several years now, confident that the St. Joseph’s “baby aspirin” my mother gave me as a child was a safe and effective over-the-counter medicine for me to take as an adult.
My decades-long trust in that brand was shaken Saturday morning, when shortly after taking my daily pink aspirin tablet, I read in the newspaper that McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the manufacturer of the St. Joseph’s brand had announced a recall of several of its over-the-counter brands – including St. Joseph’s Benadryl, Rolaids and Tylenol.
Wait! Tylenol? That has to be a mistake. You see, McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson – the company that set the bar for crisis communications for its swift and transparent response in 1982 to the deaths of people attributed to contaminated Tylenol capsules. Johnson & Johnson is the gold standard. It is THE company every communications professional studies for its exemplary behavior in the 1982 crisis.
It seems that the communications team at McNeil skipped reading the case study on J&J’s response to the earlier Tylenol scare. This round, it took the company a full 20 months to issue a recall after it started receiving complaints that several of its brands were giving consumers stomach cramps and making them barf. The company did recall a small batch of Tylenol Arthritis Formula in 2009, but it failed to launch a full investigation into the alleged problems for almost five months. Last week’s broader recall came only after the FDA sent the company a warning letter.
For more than 25 years, the Johnson & Johnson brand has benefited from the company’s prompt and open reaction to the tainted Tylenol crisis. The company’s conduct in the most recent incident threatens to erode the goodwill and trust that consumers have attached to the brand over the years.
The standards set by J&J in 1982 – transparency, alacrity and frequent communication – are even more important in 2010, when social media and expanded cable and broadcast media can transmit news around the world in a nanosecond.
The company now has to play catch-up with its consumers. It needs to explain why it failed to take immediate action, assume accountability, assure us that its products are safe, and re-earn our trust. It also has to answer to federal investigators. If only the company had adhered to that sage medical maxim “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
As for me, I am switching to Bayer.
Torod B. Neptune
Late last month U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former federal prosecutor and Arizona governor, made what is perhaps one of the most seminal missteps in crisis communications — speaking without the benefit of the facts.
As a quick refresher, a failed effort (thwarted thanks to some brave and quick passengers) to blow up a Detroit-bound flight en route from Amsterdam caught the U.S., and perhaps the world, completely off guard. But during an interview in which she was called on to discuss the Obama administration’s handling of the incident — and more specifically the security screening procedures that had failed to detect the explosives hidden by the attempted bomber in his underwear or keep him from boarding a plane altogether — the nation’s top homeland security executive responded by suggesting that “the system worked really smoothly.”
Her comments, quickly the topic of public scorn and debate among political operatives, the public and elected officials worldwide, have been described as “bizarre and inappropriate” by one prominent member of Congress and more graciously as “subject to a misunderstanding” by another.
Now a typical defense of Secretary Napolitano’s comments could be that she was dealing with a crisis which, in the span of only a few hours, was escalating while an increasingly angry public was demanding to know how such a near catastrophic breakdown in procedure could have happened. The questions were even more pointed when you consider the unprecedented post Sept. 11 security investments in technology and protocols since that tragic incident nearly nine years ago. It’s also obvious that, at the same time of her remarks, neutralizing or mitigating the political damage to the Obama administration of this incident was of significant importance as the administration was attempting to appear on top of the situation. So it is in this context that Secretary Napolitano, put on the spot to respond, could be said to have been merely speaking to the facts as she understood them at the time, even though unconfirmed. All are logical points to make, and all are examples of excuses we’ve probably all used before — either professionally or personally. But unfortunately in the heat of a crisis, logic and reason seldom prevail and the time to prepare a thoughtful and accurate response is always in very short supply.
So the question now is how to avoid being caught in the same situation as Secretary Napolitano. Perhaps continuing to recommend early preparation for any crisis is not making the point strongly enough anymore. During my career I’ve spoken those cautionary words to countless numbers of clients and colleagues. But then again, I can’t imagine that in all her years as a prosecutor and then as governor of a very large state, Secretary Napolitano would underestimate the value of not speaking without the benefit of all the facts. And that, when forced into a box by people trying to get her to comment, she would be so easily prodded to say something she could not confirm. But alas, she did, and we now have another proof point as to the value of crisis planning.
But the admonition bears repeating — the only time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens. I’m sure the folks over at the Department of Homeland Security have this lesson fully engrained now. Let’s all hope so anyway.
Posted on September 17, 2009 by — Leave a Comment
Welcome to the first posting on the Waggener Edstrom Worldwide Crisis and Issues Management Blog. Through this forum, we hope to foster communications on the differences between an issue and a crisis, as well as strategies and tactics to anticipate and manage these situations. We will also explore the paradigm shift under way in the global marketplace —— the evolution of social and mainstream media, shifting consumer behaviors, new regulatory and corporate governance requirements, and the emergence of powerful and sophisticated interest coalitions —— and the opportunities and challenges this creates for communicators and others tasked with crisis and issues management responsibilities.
To many, these shifts are the prime ingredients in a recipe for disaster. To others, it creates an opportunity to seize control of an issue and advance their organization’s goals. No matter which view you espouse, it should be clear to everyone that there are many variables that affect how rapidly issues and crises are recognized and spread.
The underlying theme of E.M. Forster’s novel “Howards End” is the phrase “Only connect.” I believe that this premise has always defined, and will always define, the most basic tenet in issues and crisis management. Yes, the environment in which a crisis unfolds has changed dramatically in recent years, but no matter what the landscape, organizations that successfully handle these situations have done so because they have made investments to anticipate what might happen, identify influencers on all sides, and forge connections with these stakeholders.
I am writing this post aboard a flight home, so I offer an example that is top of mind.I can think of no more stark a contrast between connecting in the modern world and old-school thinking than the airline industry.
Granted, all airlines have protocol in place to deal with an “aircraft incident” —— a true crisis such as a plane crash. There are however, true catastrophic crises, and then there are issues that, if not managed via connecting with stakeholders, can rapidly boil into a crisis of another kind – brand crisis. So it amazes me that some of the world’s largest carriers are facing a reputational crisis because they refuse to adopt (or are even repulsed by) new ways to connect with their customers. If you have a complaint about United or American Airlines, don’t bother to call or send them an e-mail. You need to send them a letter or a fax. I don’t even know how much a stamp costs these days.
This adherence to an old-school stance is mind-boggling at a time when airlines are slashing services and charging fees for everything from checked baggage to bottled water. It is even more ludicrous in an era when social media and the Internet offer frustrated travelers a global forum to post complaints (and compliments) instantaneously.
Juxtapose this disconnect of these dinosaur carriers with the progressive upstarts such as Jet Blue, Virgin, Southwest, and Alaska. These companies have taken the time to figure out new ways to have an open and immediate dialogue with their customers via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and the like. Of course, these airlines can still subject us to canceled flights and poor service —— but when this does happen, we feel like there is someone listening and responding to our concerns. The result is customer loyalty and advocacy. From the carriers’ standpoint, it is turning inevitable travel issues into a competitive advantage.