Why do I call them
It's simple - chances are good you've never thought about them.
I'm working with a client
today that had their office broken into. Despite being under lock and
key, three laptops were stolen, and along with them, confidential information
on over 8,000 customers. It's truly a case of "bad things happen to good
My client is a
they are now spending a lot of money to inform eight thousand people their
identity is at risk. Not only is this a huge financial hit short term,
the long term consequences have yet to play out. Will they lose
customers? Not if I can help it. But needless to say, my client is
not having a great day.
My role is to step
in and stop the bleeding, and turn things around. We're going to do it - at the end of
the day, this will be a fantastic opportunity to reinforce customer trust and
confidence. But it's a lot like a forest fire. Sometimes, a forest
fire is a good way to kickstart new growth. Sometimes, despite the best
intentions, you end up burning down entire communities by accident. No
one wants to see that happen.
Since a new year
brings new challenges,
I thought I'd compile a list of ways you can have a really bad public relations
day that you probably haven't thought of - yet. Since it's 2010, I'll
come up with ten (and only ten, as opposed to 2,010!) Each are
conceivable, real life situations that happen every day... and yes, each are
easily solved if you've prepped for them in advance. But have you?
1. Watch your competitors burn with
'afflicted competitor syndrome)
When "Balloon-Boy" Falcon Heene was dominating the CNN feed one afternoon last
fall, I received a phone call from one of the largest manufacturers of
ballooning equipment in North America. Obviously, this manufacturer had
NOTHING to do with the Heene family... that contraption was entirely
home-built. Nevertheless, by the time I received a phone call, the company
had received over fifty (!) media requests for interviews.
your competitor does something dumb, don't assume it reflects ONLY on them...
especially if you share a territory, a technology or a customer base. No
matter how awful your competitor is, their bad day can quickly become yours as
2. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
The Challenger blew up because of a bad o-ring. Maple Leaf staged a
multi-million dollar food recall because a knife wasn't properly cleaned.
If you discover 'little things' going wrong, the easiest way for that little
thing to become a full blown forest fire is to ignore it.
3. Short-Sell Stupid
Look - if it's
dumb, chances are good you've done it. I know I have. And if you're
so clumsy in real life, why do you expect your employees to be better?
job was it to clean that knife at Maple Leaf - and does it really matter?
Did Domino's plan for one of their employees to pick their nose, sell it with a
pizza and capture it on YouTube? Of course not. Can you guarantee
one of your customer service reps will never swear at a customer? Of
course you can't.
can be inherently stupid. Planning for that isn't insulting - it's just
good corporate practice.
4. A rising tide can lift all
boats. An ebbing tide... well, don't ask.
Imagine being in charge of a high-tech start up three months before the tech
bubble burst in the early 2000's. Or how could you manage Investor
Relations for ANY publicly traded company between October and March of last
you do anything wrong? No, not really. Does that matter to the
investors who want to turn your annual report into toilet paper? Not one
5. The Golden Competition (aka the OPPOSITE of afflicted
I try to avoid partisan examples, but look at the Republican National
Committee. In one year, their competition a) swept Congress b) won the
Presidency, and c) won the Nobel Peace Prize. If you're in charge of
communications at the RNC, that's a solidly bad year. What did the RNC do
to deserve all of that? It doesn't matter if they deserve it or not -
it's happened. And as a result, it's a tarnished brand.
time heals all wounds, especially in politics... but it's not a huge leap to ask,
"Has this happened to me or my brand in the past year as well?"
6. Assume you're Secure
Look at the example at the top of this page. My client is spending a
small mint to potentially infuriate 8,000 of their best customers - because
it's the right thing to do. Those three laptops were behind two locked
doors and chained to their desks. It didn't stop the criminals.
Whether it's a hacker, a careless employee or downright negligence - how can
you prepare for having your dirty laundry aired in public?
7. Assume your People are Happy
I'm always cynical about claims, "our people wouldn't do such a thing" or "we
have the best employees in the world." Keep in mind - I'm self employed
for a reason. I have a simple prism... I am a good, honest and loyal
person. And if I don't want to work for you, why would anyone else?
on earth do you think your employees are happy? Have you asked
them? Have you asked them... lately? Have you honestly asked them
what you can be doing better? Try a simple question: "Would you
leave this company tomorrow if you had a similar opportunity?" You may be
shocked at the results.
that ignore their own people deserve what comes from 'that.' And
typically, 'that' is never a good thing. Damaging headlines... strike
action... regulatory reviews... government inspections... Chances are good they were
instigated by a disgruntled employee.
means, as the employer, you really have no excuse not to have seen that one
8. You Don't Know what You Don't Know
The stories are legendary... Chrysler had to rebadge the "Lacrosse" in Quebec because
in French, it's a synonym for masturbation. In Spanish, the Chevy Nova
translated to "Chevy doesn't go." Tropicana pulled their packaging
after forgetting to ask it's customers if they liked the new design.
it's cultural sensitivities, regional disparities, religious differences or
accidentally using the logo of the wrong local sports team, screw ups
happen. Sometimes you can't prevent it - no one knows everything.
But how do you repair the damage after it occurs?
9. Acts of God or Terrorism
mistakes you ought to have seen coming. Not having a response is simply
bad judgement. But then - some mistakes are more than mistakes.
They're called crises. Fire, accidents, explosions, shootings...
unfortunately, none of them are unrealistic.
is an inescapable truth: The fact you were targeted by tragedy does very
little to influence public opinion. How you respond to that tragedy means
just about everything.
you know where your raw materials come from? Have you visited their
warehouse? Have you ever wondered WHY their quote was cheaper? In an
era of 'sustainability,' accusations of sweatshop labour or environmental sins
can have damning consequences. The list of accused organizations reads
like a Fortune 500 list - Apple Computer, Nike, Wal-Mart, even Kathie Lee
Gifford. It's simply not enough to make sure only your own house is in
Here is an inescapable
truth: The fact you were targeted by tragedy does very little to
influence public opinion. How you respond to that tragedy means just
How are you prepared?
Jeff Chatterton is owner of Checkmate Public Affairs in Ontario, Canada. He's a former journalist with extensive experience in governmental positions, and is fond of provoking thoughts such as "The truth is not always easy. Truth is not simple. Truth can be shouted out, picketed down, over-regulated or ridiculed...but it can, and should, persevere." Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.