With the 2016 Olympics just around the corner, bringing with it concerns about Zika as well as the water and air quality in Rio de Janeiro, it’s a good time to refresh our awareness for handling health crises. When you think about it, there are countless organizations that could be damaged by associations with a health crisis at any moment.
On August 5 Brazil is set to become the first South American country to host the Olympics. Some half million people are expected to join a city of 6 million inhabitants. While it has been well documented globally that Rio faces extreme challenges ( PRN, May 16), you’d not know it looking at the communications the Rio Olympics’ organizing committee is producing. The committee has a user-friendly, visually attractive website with stunning photos, press kits, news updates and social media links, among other PR tactics. Similar to many other sporting events, there is a festive and triumphant tone to the committee’s storytelling. While it’s understood that PR pros are expected to stress the positive aspects of stories, this must be balanced with at least some level of transparency. The committee’s lack of honest communications about the economic, social and health challenges facing Rio could become a negative story and perhaps reflect poorly on brands taking sponsorship roles at the games. At the least, the social and economic problems represent opportunities missed for brands on the CSR front.
Although DNC officials are bound by the rules of their own party to remain neutral in the primary contests, the leaked emails show some of them discussing how to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. Among the more objectionable content were suggestions to question his religious beliefs and raise questions about whether he is an atheist.
When negative news, such as a recall or a possible E. coli outbreak, hits the headlines, how should brand communicators handle it? And since most PR News Pro readers are outside the food sector, let’s broaden the discussion: How should communicators react when negative items about their brand make news? We’ll use food as a jumping-off point. The tactics and strategies we’ll cover apply to most sectors.
The root cause of most scandals is institutional belief in infallibility. For the Catholic Church, papal decree established it in 1870, and as the award-winning movie Spotlight so clearly illustrated, it is still a part of the Church’s culture. For politicians, winning elections seems to convince them that they can get away with anything (think John Edwards and Mark “hiking the Appalachian trail” Sanford). In corporations it generally comes from a narcissistic CEO. We’ve noted this corollary in numerous columns: the more ego-driven the leader, the more likely the corporation is to suffer a PR crisis.
Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention on the evening of July 18 included a passage that was clearly plagiarized nearly word for word from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. PR pros, take heed: If you’re working with a high-profile personality who’s going to be giving a speech, you need to vet it for plagiarism.
Did Disney do all it could from a PR perspective following the fatal gator attack on 2-year-old Lane Graves at its Disney World property? How about the Cincinnati Zoo’s handling of the incident where Zoo employees killed Harambe, a rare, 450-pound lowland gorilla, after a 3-year-old child fell into the animal’s moat? And don’t forget the Academy Awards and #OscarsSoWhite.
For a brand that so aligns itself with happiness and childlike wonder, it must be difficult even to address the tragedies that have occurred on and near its property recently. But since addressing them is necessary, brevity has been the name of the game when it comes to official messaging from Disney.
It’s the equivalent of spraining your ankle during warmups for the big game: Lots of people are expecting something great from you, and you fail to deliver. Sunday night’s Game of Thrones episode, “Battle of the Bastards,” was one of the year’s most highly anticipated, but when they went to log on to HBO Go or HBO Now, the GoT network’s streaming services, would-be viewers across the United States were greeted with error messages.
When Volkswagen sputtered in September with dieselgate, we had little trouble finding PR pros to opine about how VW could use the crisis to remake the brand through trust and transparency ( PRN, 9/28/2015). Similarly, trust and transparency were in play during a crisis management competition at PR News’ Digital PR & Marketing Conference on June 8 in Miami Beach. Crisis pros Pia De Lima, VP, corporate communcations, Western Union, and Allison Steinberg, communications strategist, ACLU, formulated a fictitious crisis scenario (below) and judged several teams’ crisis plans. The teams had 30 minutes to concoct their plans in pursuit of a $1,000 prize that PressPage—a sponsor of the conference, along with Business Wire, Cision and LexisNexis—provided.