This month we compare two crises. In both cases, the actions behind the crises had people wondering: What were they thinking? In one case, though, fast action protected the brand and helped make the issue go away. In the other, the crisis is at the very core of the business. Implications for the brand are much longer lasting.
Stories by Katie Paine
Several congressional hearings prove companies aren’t heeding crisis communication basics. The results are awful.
Two recent crises hit close to home for the PR profession. On February 16, Keith Kelly broke the news in Crain’s New York Business and AdAge that Ronn Torossian, CEO of the 5WPR Agency, secretly purchased an industry newsletter, Everything-PR, and used it to hype his firm and bash rivals. At the same time as Kelly’s article appeared, the war rooms over at CNN were busy. The issue was dealing with revelations of misconduct, ethical lapses and a widely-known-if-never-acknowledged affair.
Thanks to advertisers and the media’s focus on engagement as a key metric, crises have surfaced and been amplified at a far higher level in 2021 than they were in 2020. Because they bump up engagement numbers, the plague of misinformation, disinformation, rumors and lies skyrocketed to the top of everyone’s news feed and we all got angrier at everything. And, since anger drives engagement and engagement bolsters advertising revenue, the cycle will just get worse in 2022. But there are lessons we can take with us into the new year from all the messes that CEOs made, and PR pros were asked to clean up.
We’ve written about how founders’ personalities contributed to the downfall of Theranos, WeWork and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” And recently, we saw a similar pattern with the now-defunct media conglomerate Ozy and iconic game show “Jeopardy!.”
Whether it’s tennis associations pitted against athletes, NHL hockey teams covering up sexual abuse, the NCAA battling its member universities and athletes, European soccer bosses jousting with fans or organizers of the Tokyo Olympics seemingly ignoring athletes, doctors and the majority of Japanese citizens–the antediluvian approach of these sporting entities to stakeholder communication is inescapable.
There are a number of organizations that are not in tune with their constituencies. The most obvious recent example is the European Super League, which went from a press release to dissolution in four days. It took longer for all the problems plaguing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and its signature awards, the Golden Globes, to emerge. But both PR disasters resulted from being totally out of touch with stakeholders.
Frequently, a nonprofit crisis provides the perfect opportunity to air the dirty laundry hidden under the veneer of a charitable organization doing good. The lesson for nonprofits: You are just as vulnerable, if not more so, than for-profit organizations and you need to prepare accordingly.
If you are a crisis consultant, 2020 was your banner year. When we look back at the year, clearly there were societal changes that contributed to a proliferation of attacks on brand reputation.
The pandemic and social unrest have made their mark on crisis management, Katie Paine argues. She makes her case with examples from Jerry Falwell Jr and the university he formerly ran and Rio Tinto, the minerals conglomerate that put profits over public perception when it destroyed sacred lands.