Category Archives: crisis communication

UNC Scrambles for Crisis Management Amid Scandal

A sign of deeper institutional issues?

It’s not exactly a secret that star school athletes are frequently given special treatment, and we’re surprised that it hasn’t created scandals for more educational institutions. Some of that may be changing though, after revelations of academic scandal dating back nearly twenty years at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A report from former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein dug up an incredible amount of dirt, including the fact that more than 3,100 students received grades they didn’t earn, including 123 football players, 24 basketball players, and 26 potential Olympians. According to the report, certain students were directed to so-called “paper classes” that required no attendance and were graded on a single research paper, many of which were blatantly plagiarized.

Two retired administrators were at the center of the scandal, but the report makes clear there was widespread knowledge of the program at the school, and already at least nine employees have been disciplined or straight-out fired from their jobs.

While UNC is, for the most part, taking a hands off approach to crisis management and letting regulators figure this one out, Chancellor Carol Folt did release a lengthy statement, some of which we’ve quoted below:

I recognize that the past few years have been challenging for our community, but today we have a full picture of what happened. I am deeply disappointed by the duration and the extent of the wrongdoing, as well as the lack of oversight that could have corrected it sooner. We could have saved so much anguish and, more importantly, protected the students and countless members of our community who played absolutely no role. My greatest hope is that we can restore your trust and ensure that you do not feel diminished by the bad actions of others.

It is important to separate the past from the present—and the future. Mr. Wainstein found that the irregularities were confined to one department, peaked almost a decade ago and ended in 2011. Since first learning of these irregularities four years ago, Carolina took action to stop the wrongdoing and implemented numerous additional reforms, and we continue to take actions that build on the initiatives currently in place.

We already are stronger as a result of our journey, not only from the reforms, but because of our willingness to accept responsibility. Now is our time to show how resilient we can be – how we are going to continue the process of deep soul-searching and self-reflection, and how we are going to use what we have learned to become better, stronger and even more proud of who we are as an institution.

While UNC is being forced to change out in the open, we’d bet there is some intense behind-the-scenes scrambling going on at other universities around the country.

Now we’re seeing many media outlets painting this as a problem isolated to the athletic departments as well, but in our eyes that’s a dangerous oversimplification of the situation. Cheating of this magnitude cannot possibly involve only those in athletics, and acting as if that’s the case isn’t helping schools better detect and prevent potential academic dishonesty. It’s an institutional issue, and that fact needs to be recognized before it can be addressed.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – dishonest and unethical practices can get you ahead. And heck, they may go unnoticed for 20 years. But, believe us, they WILL be revealed, and you’ll be left to face the consequences when it happens.

The BCM Blogging Team
http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Leave a Comment

Data Breach Crisis Management for Kmart

You didn’t really think we’d get through a full week without a data breach story, did you?

Yesterday saw Sears Holdings Corp. announce a data breach at its Kmart stores with the statement below, posted to the Kmart website:

KMart data breach announcement

Did you spot the element that was missing from this message? If you were wondering where the compassion was, you were right on the money. As with nearly every other data breach announcement we’ve seen, this one completely fails to acknowledge the fact that these situations leave shoppers feeling concerned and uneasy.

Showing compassion is one of the premiere ways to get stakeholders to really listen, and should be included in every single piece of communication that comes out while you’re conducting crisis management. You can skate by without it sometimes, but why ignore such an effective tool that costs you nothing but a few extra words?

The BCM Blogging Team
http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Leave a Comment

Crisis Management Quotables…on Delivering Your Message

Present a clear message when communicating in crisis

I came across a quote from artist Hans Hoffman on the Mr. Media Training blog and thought it would make for a particularly interesting Crisis Management Quotable. You see, when Hoffman shared the thought below, he wasn’t speaking about verbal or written communications, but rather abstract art, which he believed was a way to “get at the important reality”, yet it applies to what we do just as well.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hoffman

This applies to all communications, and especially crisis communications, where you are trying to cement key facts in stakeholder’s minds. Plot out your key points and hammer them in, avoiding the temptation to elaborate unnecessarily, and deflecting attempts from outsiders to derail your efforts. It’s not easy, but when you get it right your crisis management becomes immensely more effective.

Erik Bernstein
http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Leave a Comment

Ferguson Chief’s Crisis Management Comes Late

Is this a sign of hope for resolution, or just smooth PR?

The handling of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has been characterized by poor communication, over-reaction, and the creation of an “us vs. them” attitude. Today, in a move that comes far too late but also sparks hope of a resolution to come, Ferguson’s chief of police released a video of him finally doing what he should have done nearly seven weeks ago.

Have a look:

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson’s Urgent Announcement from Devin James Group on Vimeo.

Chief Tom Jackson clearly had some crisis management coaching before the taping of this statement, and he really hit his marks. He’s shed the police uniform, appearing in everyday dress, and his speech nails all of our Three C’s of Credibility – confidence, competence, and compassion. This move comes incredibly late in the game, but it could signal that the Ferguson police department is ready and willing do put in the work that will eventually allow them to move past this tragic situation.

Of course, words only do so much. It will be action that determines the future reputation of the force and its relationship with the citizens it is sworn to protect and service.

The BCM Blogging Team
http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

3 Comments. Click to add yours.

NFL’s Old-School Crisis Management Doesn’t Cut It

It’s time to break the cycle of crisis

As you’re certainly aware, the NFL is once again in desperate need of crisis management as a result of not only Ray Rice, but also the league’s handling of his entire situation.  Many, especially the women who make up an estimated 45% of the NFL’s fanbase, are seriously questioning whether they can continue to support an organization with a culture of coverups, dishonesty, and violence that appears increasingly to not be contained to the field.

In an emotional segment, ESPN’s Hannah Storm summed up the conversations taking the place of the usual Sunday smacktalk and stat debates in many football-loving families around the country:

The NFL needs wake up, look around, and step out of the old school crisis management mentality that’s left fans feeling like they might need to find a new sport and major sponsors reconsidering next year’s ad spend. Proctor & Gamble has already pulled out of a major event sponsorship, and reports say others are waiting to see how the next few days pan out.

Bottom line is, everyone in a position of power within the NFL needs a lesson in how crisis management is done in 2014, or the cycle of crisis will continue to repeat itself.

Mainstream sports have traditionally been able to ignore proper crisis management because of their enormous popularity, but in today’s world the power of perception and reputation is greater than ever before, and brands have more tools to accurately track these once-nebulous factors as well. Will this one incident put the NFL on the sidelines? Absolutely not. But, could a persistence of this same damaging culture, and a failure to handle the inevitable future incidents well, eventually take big money away from the league? Well, it’s already happening.

The BCM Blogging Team
http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

1 Comment. Click to add yours.