© 2000 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Sometimes the best you can do is say "we screwed up and we're going to fix it."
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
The Danger of Stunts
Speaking of screw-ups...nowhere is crisis prevention more important than when anticipating the use of marketing/PR stunts to promote
products or services. If you are going to generate widespread publicity through heavy media contact, perhaps accompanied by stepped-up advertising, you are also making yourself into a BIG and VERY VISIBLE target.
Burger King learned that lesson recently, with a double-whammy backfire from the giveaway and sale of Pokemon merchandise. First they didn't adequately anticipate demand and had media coverage of
crying kids and angry parents outside of Pokemon-less fast food emporiums. Then it turns out they hadn't adequately safety tested one giveaway that could choke small children! I feel for Burger King's PR
folks, because there isn't much you can say at that point except polite forms of "we screwed up and we're going to do our best to make it up
to you." Did they sell a lot of burgers anyhow? From what I read, they still had record crowds and sales during that period. But they wouldn't
have to take the "hits" if they'd prepared a little better.
The industry classic, for those of you without a lot of time in PR, is a stunt that was reproduced on the TV show "WKRP in Cincinnati," but
which actually happened. Hopefully, I'm recalling this accurately and if I screw up I'll make it up to you . A radio station wanted to give away turkeys -- live turkeys -- as a Thanksgiving promotion. So they
decided to push the turkeys out of a helicopter over a shopping center parking lot, thinking the birds would fly or glide down and land. These
birds were raised on a farm and had clipped wings. They didn't fly...or glide...they plummeted. You get the picture.
A relative of mine, Nann Miller, was known as the Queen of Stunts in the Los Angeles area until she retired a few years ago. Nann pulled off
many a highly visual event without major incident, but you can bet that she did her advance work carefully and had backup plans for when things went wrong.
So although such marketing ploys often don't originate with the PR department or agency, you might want to make sure, if you're the resident Crisis Manager, that you're allowed to evaluate the plans
before they're implemented.
How to Prepare PR Professionals for the Dennis Rodman's and Michael Irvin's of Sports
by Kathleen Hessert
(Editor's Note: Doing some Web browsing, I found this wonderful outline from a presentation made at the 1997 International Sports
Summit and was struck by how succinctly the speaker summarized many of the most important points about crisis management. While her specialty is working with sports-related entities, her
advice can work for your team, too!)
In sports, winning isn't the goal, it's the EXPECTATION. In order to succeed, the team must expect to win and prepare accordingly. It's this
winning attitude that takes the players far. And when you're a winner or an unexpected loser, you're going to have to deal with the media. This means facing a variety of PR issues.
Prevention is the KEY to avoiding PR disasters
To be prevention oriented, organizations must value members' character as much as their talent.
Remember, there is no 100% guarantee that a crisis can be prevented!
The Carolina Panthers' core values helped them get to the AFL Western Division Playoff game in their second year of existence.
Seven upfront survival skills for the PR professional
Don't be satisfied being the cleanup team: try to position yourself/department to offer insight into ramifications of decisions (before they're made).
Be prevention oriented by applying a "vigilant thinking" approach to the inevitable crises. Look inside and outside of your organization for signs of trouble.
Be prepared to clean up. Have a comprehensive crisis plan (if representing a corporation or team), and customize the plan to match your specific needs.
Start with sound strategy then follow-up with response tactics. It's easy to get swallowed up by tactics and miss the big picture.
Do what you can to build a well of good will with your primary publics in advance. You'll probably have to draw from that well.
Do everything you can to retain power by establishing yourself/department/company as the primary source of accurate, up-to-date information.
Provide appropriate media training in advance of your next crisis.
Dealing with the true weirdo's vs. those who do weird things once in a while
There is consistently disruptive behavior vs. a single situation involving a personality that allows the media to have a field day. The organization must be prepared to deal with both.
Dennis Rodman fined $25,000, suspended at least 11 games, and ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation after kicking a camera man in the groin.
Oksana Baiul charged with reckless endangerment and driving under the influence after the 19-year-old figure skater's car skidded into a ditch.
Practical crisis response tips
Have a reserve budget to draw on in times of crisis (i.e., staff overtime, etc.).
Have a pre-approved list of outside resources to call upon if necessary (with access numbers 24 hr's. a day, 7 days a week).
Anticipate and prepare for ripple effects.
Don't rely on titles; rely on talent when naming members of your crisis team.
Make sure your Crisis Plan is easy to find, understand and use. If it's in someone's head, is locked in someone's desk, or reads 'like an encyclopedia, it's worthless!
If you have a morals clause, be prepared to use it.
Conclusion: "No person is rich enough to buy back his past; a shattered reputation leaves little to rebuild." This is true for both people and organizations, and is extremely costly!
(Kathleen Hessert is president of Charlotte, NC-based Communication Concepts/Sports Media Challenge, www.preptowin.com and www.sports.mediachallenge.com.)
CRISIS MANAGER ON THE SPOT
Q: What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you, professionally?
CM: I woke up on the wrong side of the bed one morning, back when I was younger, brasher -- OK, stupider -- while working as an
account supervisor for a major local PR agency. On that fateful day, I told our most difficult client EXACTLY what I thought of him, in person. Talk about creating a crisis! Then I had to do SERIOUS
damage control with my boss, admitting to him what had happened before the client called. I should have long before asked to be taken off the account (another account supervisor had given up on the same guy
earlier, but more politely), but I thought I could "handle it." It taught me a lesson in humility that has stood me in good stead when, as
addressed in our guest case history, I've had to deal with "challenging" personalities.
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