After a 2-year-old boy was killed June 14 by an alligator at Walt Disney World, a brand representing magic seemed to be without pixie dust. In today’s news cycle, it is impossible for companies, especially those as large and iconic as Disney, to hide from online critics who thrive on call-outs of organizations undergoing a crisis.
Anxiety will run high during the Aug. 5 opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, especially for Olympics organizers and the Brazilian organizing committee. They’re already dealing with three (by our count) categories of ongoing crises specific to the Olympic Games, and a fourth potential crisis that is the stuff of nightmares.
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.