There were many examples last month of organizations screwing up and resulting in crises badly handled. We could have piled on PwC for the Oscars, but given that Hollywood obsessed about it for weeks, it was hard to find much more to say. And of course, we would have loved to weigh in on the great leggings-on-United kerfuffle clinging to Twitter as, well, leggings do. But frankly, in these times, all that seemed trivial compared to a couple of serious crises plaguing America’s military.
Stories by Katie Paine
In today’s personality-driven culture, it’s sometimes hard to sort out whether it’s the guy at the top who causes a crisis or the culture he has created within the organization. Either way, most of the time, a crisis starts at the top. But in 2017, one could make the case that cultural and social norms are exerting a greater influence than the people in charge. The crises we’ll examine here, PewDiePie/Youtube/Disney/Google and Uber’s latest, we would argue, owe as much if not more to changing norms than to corporate leadership.
Although Twitter has been around for a decade, never in its history have 140 characters had the power and influence they’ve enjoyed since Nov. 9. Sure, when the Pope began tweeting, it made headlines but it didn’t move markets the way @realdonaldtrump has in the last few months. One outlet estimated that one 140-character screed about Lockheed Martin cost the company $28 million per character.
There were so many candidates for Image Patrol this month, and with the year ending we decided to forego the usual comparison of two brands and instead create the ultimate image disaster list for 2016. This PR News Pro premium content is offered to you free in the spirit of the season.
The term PR may be obsolete by the end of 2017. The concept of PR meaning ”building relationships with one’s publics” remains valid. But the common vernacular meaning of PR as being mostly about media relations is rapidly going the way of the landline and the floppy disk. Look at titles today. My database used to be filled with titles like “PR manager.” Now it includes one or more of the following words in an astonishing variety of combinations: social, digital, content marketing, PESO, public relations, public affairs, communications, advertising, marketing, development, events, etc.
In terms of the rules of crisis communications, Wells Fargo and Samsung have been following all of them, although sometimes they’ve moved slowly. Still, both brands issued apologies, took action, offered compensation—and nothing has worked. The problem in these cases is that no amount of abject apologies can make up for a lack of ethics and an overabundance of bad choices. In other words, both brands primarily are facing crises of culture, not communications.
The Olympics is not for the faint of heart. Never mind the athletes. Being a spectator or a sponsor requires as much grit and fortitude. I know. I just got back from watching my cousin, Caleb Paine, compete on the U.S. Sailing Team. For years, I observed the Olympics from the comfort of my living room, watching the celebration of human spirit and athleticism play out against what I assumed was a perfectly orchestrated spectacle, replete with major brands and a lot of media coverage. It’s not like that at all.
I decided to fill out the AMEC Framework using a PR campaign I recently helped a client measure. I used the responses that members of its PR team gave me at our first meeting. After a long day of checking the taxonomy and making sure I put everything in the right boxes. I have the following tips for you.
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.
It’s a toss-up. Who was suffering more from delusional thinking last month: UK Prime Minister David Cameron or UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi? You’ll have to judge for yourself.