Tuesday, April 18, 2006

All Together Now

There have been countless public relations crises in the past and there are five steps that should be executed in order to properly manage a crisis. First, the corporation in crisis should be prompt, addressing the public immediately following the discovery of the crisis. Second, the corporation in question should maintain honesty because the public is more willing to forgive an honest mistake than a calculated lie. Third, it is important to be informative because the media as well as the public will create their own rumors if no information is given to them by the corporation in crisis. Rumors can cause significantly more damage to the corporation than the truth. Next, it is important to be concerned and show the public you care because people will be more forgiving if it is clear that the corporation cares about the victims of the crisis. Finally, maintain two-way relationships. This is important because the corporation can learn a lot about the status of public opinion by listening. These five steps are necessary in order to manage any crisis public relations situation.

With that having been said, each crisis situation is unique and, therefore, requires a tailored response. There are six types of responses and they range on a continuum from defensive to accommodative. First, corporations can attack the accuser attempting to eliminate the attacker’s credibility. Second, corporations can use denial claiming that no crisis exists. The third response is justification where the corporation claims no serious damage was done or that the victim was at fault. Fourth, the corporation can use ingratiation to appease the publics, such as giving away coupons. Next, corporations can use corrective action to right their wrongs. Finally, the corporation can give a full apology asking for forgiveness for their mistake. All six responses have been used in the past with varying results. If chosen properly, one of the six responses can help mitigate damage.

In March 2005, a woman bit into a finger while eating chili at Wendy’s. This crisis could have damaged Wendy’s image, but the corporation responded properly. They shut down the location, threw out the chili and had an investigation to discover the source of the finger. Wendy’s communicated with the public openly and honestly. As a result, very little damage was done to their image.

Other successful cases of crisis public relations include the well-known Diet Pepsi case and the Tylenol case. Diet Pepsi ran into trouble when consumers began “finding” foreign objects in cans of Diet Pepsi. A variety of different objects were found including a syringe, a bullet, and even a crack cocaine vial. The corporation knew that there was no possible way for these objects to be inserted during the bottling process. As a result, Diet Pepsi used a defensive strategy claiming its innocence. They communicated openly with the public, attacked the accusers, and allowed their bottling process to be shown on the news. Temporary damage had been done to Diet Pepsi, but they quickly rebounded from the situation. In a similar manner, Tylenol found itself in a crisis situation when people started dying from consuming cyanide laced Tylenol capsules. Tylenol acted quickly and pulled its product off the shelves without being forced to do so. They communicated openly and often with the public and had an investigation. Tylenol was found innocent at the conclusion of the investigation. Tylenol had a favorable brand image with the public because they pulled their product when they discovered the problem. Following the crisis, they even added safety seals to ensure the safety of its consumers.

While there are successful crisis public relations crises, there are a number of poor examples of crisis management. Ford and Firestone destroyed their images after mismanaging the crisis that occurred when many of their consumers died as a result of tire blowouts. Both companies claimed innocence and blamed the other. Ford and Firestone did not communicate openly or honestly with the public. Also, both corporations implied their lack of concern for their customers when they ignored the deaths and injuries of their customers to protect their bottom line. Ford’s and Firestone’s response to the crisis alienated their customers and caused significant damage to their image.

More recently, it seems the government has seen itself attempting to manage public relations crises, many of which could have been prevented. Dick Cheney found himself at the center of media attention when he shot his friend with a shot gun while hunting. He did not communicate with the public nor the administration in Washington about the incident until well after the incident had occurred. His actions made it appear to the public as though he were hiding something. When he finally addressed the public, it was too little too late. His mistake continues to be the foundation of many jokes to this day.

Additionally, the United Arab Emerites received the contract to protect many of America’s ports. This caused a crisis because many if not most Americans do not trust the UAE at this particular moment. In the eyes of many, Bush gave the job of protecting out ports to the enemy. Not to mention, he is perpetuating job outsourcing which makes Americans nervous. Protecting America’s ports should be America’s job. Also, Bush gave the UAE the contract at his discretion without consulting the public. He seems to have overstepped the system of checks and balances this country was founded on. Bush created an unnecessary crisis causing more negative public sentiment to be directed at his administration.

Other government flops have occurred in recent months, such as the failure to rescue Hurricane Katrina victims and Condoleezza Rice’s feud with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. These two crises caused more negative media attention on the Bush administration.

The Olympics always have their fair share of crises to handle. Athletes taking performance enhancing drugs has been an issue in recent times, not only in the Olympics, but major league baseball and other sports as well. During the Olympics in Torino, Austria’s ski team had their home raided by Italian police in an effort to discover drug use by the athletes. The police had probable cause to search because the team had been spending time with their ex-coach, Walter Mayer, who had been suspended for providing drugs to his athletes. Team Austria should have known that a visit from their ex-coach could have negative consequences such as this.

The most recent major pubic relations crisis involves Duke University and their lacrosse team. On March 13, the lacrosse team had a party with a stripper. Following the party, the stripper reported having been assaulted and raped. The fact that she was African American only made the school’s relationship with local residents, who are majority African American shakier than it already had been. Following the accusation, there is an ongoing investigation into the incident. 46 of the 47 players were forced to submit DNA and while no DNA was found on the stripper, the investigation continues. Days after the investigation began; one lacrosse player sent a horrible e-mail to team mates claiming that he would brutally kill the next stripper they had at a party. After the e-mail was discovered and released by the media, the lacrosse team’s head coach, Mike Pressler, resigned. The crisis is not over yet and continues to be discussed in the media.

No matter how much planning goes into preventing crises, there are always crisis situations that can not be planned for. Thankfully, Levick Communications exists to help corporations properly manage crisis situations. They have experience and success in the industry and were named crisis communications firm of the year by the Holmes Report. Richard Levick started the business in 1998 with the hope of helping people manage crises. Levick is a great company with great success. Maybe George Dubya could use some advice from Levick.

While Levick is experienced in crisis communication, technology is creating more ways for crises to occur. My Space.com got bad press when stories surfaced about young My Space users being stalked and harassed by sexual predators. This popular site is used by many young people and their safety has been a cause for concern. My Space is managing the situation well and plans to implement safety devices to prevent young people from being stalked by sexual predators. My Space is a new media and it is already managing crises.

Crisis public relations is changing. With new media, such as My Space and Facebook, crisis situations have occurred on the web. While products and services expand to new media, there are new ways for crises to emerge. At the same time, new media can be used to communicate with the public. Corporations no longer have to rely solely on tradition broadcast news or print advertising to properly manage a crisis. Corporations can now communicate with customers across the world using a number of different media such as e-mail, websites, podcasts, internet video, and more. With more ways to reach the public and the lower cost of reaching a higher number of people, crisis communications can communicate with the public in ways corporations never imagined during the 1980’s. While communication with the public is easier and cheaper than in the past, the original 5 steps to properly manage a crisis as well as the six types of responses continue to be at the foundation of any crisis public relations plan.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Duke Lacrosse Coach Resigns After A Player Sends A Vulgar E-Mail

Duke University is still the center of attention as authorities continue to investigate the alleged rape of a stripper at one of the team's parties.

The team has remained relatively quiet about the incident since it took place. However, one Duke lacrosse player recently sent an e-mail to team mates saying that he would "kill" the strippers when they came for their next party and he would "cut their skin off". The e-mail was signed with the player's jersey number. The e-mail was released to the public and shortly after, lacrosse coach Mike Pressler resigned as head coach. In addition to the resignation, the team's season has been cancelled.

This e-mail has created more bad press for Duke and its lacrosse team. Students and residents have marched daily since the alleged rape took place. The lacrosse team is the focus of a lot of anger and many players have changed their residence in order to protect themselves from any attacks that may be directed at them.

Duke University is handling the situation to the best of their ability. While the e-mail perpetuates the recent negetive image of the school and the resignation of the coach raises questions to how much he knew about the incident, the school is taking steps to mitigate damage to their reputation and thei already shaky relationship with local residents.

Duke President, Richard Brodhead, says that the school will undertake a serious self-study of campus culture as well as a specific study analyzing the culture of the lacrosse team. Additionally, the player who sent the vulgar e-mail has been suspended and asked to leave campus for the moment.

Duke University has maintained contact with the media, keeping them updated on what is happening. Duke is using the crisis public relations approach of corrective action by stating that it will work to build better relationships with the local community. Duke's situation is very sensitive. It is difficult to win back public support when such horrible activities are taking place on campus. However, Duke has taken the appropriate steps to mitigate damage, at least for the moment.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Duke Lacrosse Team Is At The Center Of Attention After A Team Party Goes Wrong

The Duke University Lacrosse team has had its season suspended indefinitely after the rape accusation of a local stripper following a Duke Lacrosse team party.

On March 13, the lacrosse team had a party that involved having strippers dance for them. However, the night ended with a rape accusation from one of the strippers who also happened to be African American.

Duke University has a poor relationship with the town and its residents. In fact, last yer, the Princton Review reported that Duke had the country's fifth worst 'town-gown relationship'. Additionally, the university, which is predominantly white, is surrounded by a town largely full of blue collar workers. Also, the majority of the local residents are African American, which brings racial issues to the forefront.

The rape accusation in addition to the race issue is creating a great deal of bad PR for Duke University forcing them to re-establish control of student partying as well as their relationship with local residents.

Following the incident, 46 of the 47 Duke Lacrosse players were asked to give samples of DNA to authorities in order to facilitate the investigation. The school has already lost a portion of its reputation as the media focus has shifted from its fine academics to the rape of a stripper. However, the lacrosse players stand to lose a lot as well. The guilty individual or individuals could receive anywhere from 16 to 20 years in prison.

With such a horrible event taking place, it is strange that the Duke University lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, has had nothing to say of the incident. Since his players were the ones involved, he should have spoken openly at a press conference saying that the team is cooperating with the authorities. Speaking openly with the media would prevent rumors and heresay from spreading.

The school has suffered irreparable damage to its reputation. The players (and I'm talking about the ones not involved with the incident) have had their reputations injured even more.

The school has taken some positive steps to mitigate the damage caused by the incident, but, at the same time, has made some mistakes. First of all, Duke is already making changes in order to create a better relationship with its local residents. Many of the off-campus houses leased by the Duke students will be sold after the lease runs out this year in order to prevent loud parties from occuring off-campus and prevent students from disturbing local residents. Also, the school is speaking openly about the incident. However, the lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, has not spoken about the incident. The school is handling the situation well, but the administration needs to get Mike Pressler in front of the camera in order to end any suspicion that he is hiding information.

Only time will tell if anyone on the team is guilty, but much of the damage has already been done. For the past week, the public has been talking about the incident that occurred at Duke. Their reputation has been damaged and they have taken steps to prevent further damage, but Duke will have to work hard to fix the damage caused by the incident and the rumors surrounding it.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Firestone: An Example Of The Stories And Visuals Tied To A Crisis

While writing the last entry for the Ford/Firestone crisis, I stumbled upon this webpage showing an example of one of the accidents caused by a Firestone tire blowout. I was compelled to enter the story and pictures into my blog so you can see stories and visuals that exist relating to the crisis.

It has been about six years since the crisis and pictures and stories about the crisis are still easily obtainable. It is important to understand that people are involved with crisis situations. The following story is about a man who suffered injuries when his tire blew out. The picture above is his explorer after the accident.

I was hoping you would post what happened to me and my explorer. I hate to see what is happening also.
-(victim's name)

I was coming home after visiting my fiance on Father's day 2000. I had been driving for 2 and half hours in 90 degree heat. I was traveling about 75 mph and I was cornering around a ramp and was slowing down from 55mph to 45 mph when i went off the ramp slightly. I tried to correct my position on the road but was suddenly unable to do so.

My 1996 Eddie Bauer Explorer with 16" Firestone wilderness tires on it rolled 8 times and flipped 1 1/2 times in the air as it went carreening off the interstate. I suffered severe back injuries from the accident caused by the defective seatbelts which are also on this model of the Explorer. If my pregnant fiance or my future daughter were riding with me they would have most certainly been killed as evident by the photos.

I had to sell my house and have my credit destroyed by the coverup and seemingly illegal actions of Ford and the Firestone corporation. It took a few months to realize why the vehicle went out of control. Both the front and rear tires on the left side were ripped off from the rim. I used to buy Firestone all the time and have been a lifelong owner of Ford vehicles, guess not anymore.
Please anyone who has the same situation be careful.

Think about this man's story when deciding how to handle a public relations crisis.


History Lesson Part III: Firestone

There have been several examples of public relations crises that were handled properly and did not have an overall negative effect on the company in question. At the same time, there are even more instances where companies have failed to properly manage crisis situations. The Ford/ Firestone case is an example of such a situation.

In 2000, several instances were reported in which Ford owners with Firestone tires were experiencing tire blowouts ultimately causing around 150 deaths and over 500 serious injuries. Most of the accidents involved Ford Explorers, which had a tendency to flip when their tires blew out. Not all tires were defective. Only the 15’’ ATX, ATXII, and Wilderness AT model had proven to be defective. However, Firestone suffered significant damage to its brand name as a result of the defects.

The defects were the source of the crisis, but Firestone essentially poured salt on its open wounds by managing the crisis poorly. Ford and Firestone both denied responsibility for the accidents. Ford claimed that the accidents were caused by the defective tires while Firestone claimed Ford was at fault for installing the tires improperly. Both companies essentially put the public and media in the middle of their battle. It was clear to the public that there was a problem in terms of the communications between the two companies. Additionally, Ford and Firestone implied their lack of concern for their customers when they ignored the countless deaths and injuries of their customers in order to protect their bottom line. The two companies destroyed the trust of the public by their childish bickering.

Ford and Firestone should have apologized to the public up front about the injuries and deaths sustained from the accidents claiming that an investigation would be launched in order to find the real source of the problem. Both companies should have worked together as a team to fix the problem. Ford and Firestone put their bottom line ahead of the trust and safety of their customers causing the customers to become alienated from the companies they once trusted.

While Ford and Firestone made it through the crisis, they did not do so without sustaining significant monetary and brand damage. Cooperation, concern for the publics involved, and open communication are three keys to successful crisis management. Ford and Firestone failed on all three counts.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Pre-Crisis Planning

With the countless number of public relations crises in the past and the expenses associated with them, organizations are beginning to realize that it is essential to create a crisis plan before a crisis actually occurs. As in any facet of business, planning is important. It creates a clear picture of what is to be expected and how to handle specific situations. Plans reduce mistakes and miscommunication which, in turn, reduces cost.

Now, not all crisis situations can be planned for, even though businesses dream of day where they can. However, using logic and experience to aid in brainstorming possible crisis situations will help companies prepare plans for foreseeable crises.

Planning for a crisis is important because when a crisis occurs, a company will already have a plan of action and a sense of order which will result in having a head start in managing the crisis. A major problem with crisis communications is getting the facts right and disseminating them within an appropriate timeframe. If the organization can not distribute the facts in a timely manner, news stories will speculate sharing rumors and other false information which requires correction.

A crisis PR plan will create a team which is responsible for managing the crisis. Each person will have specific responsibilities and a clear role in the team. Additionally, contacts will be made so communication can occur in a timely manner without having to research who to contact and how to contact them during a crisis.

A good crisis PR plan will have clear, specific directions on how to manage the crisis and the steps involved. A crisis plan is like having directions to building a model airplane. Without the directions, it is possible to assemble the model airplane properly. However, it is significantly more difficult than assembling the model airplane with the directions at hand. Any way you slice it, a crisis PR plan is a great idea for any business.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Options when Responding to a Crisis

According to the textbook titled Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, there are various ways organizations can respond to a crisis situation. W. Timothy Coombs argues that an organization’s response to a crisis can vary from defensive to accommodative.

The response continuum, starts on the defensive side and ends on the accommodative side.

First, organizations can attack the accuser. This response involves attacking the accusing individuals by claiming that their facts are faulty and illogical. The organization aims to take away the credibility of the attacker. Often times a lawsuit is threatened.

Second, organizations can respond using denial. This response is quite simple. Essentially, the organization claims that no crisis exists.

The third response is justification. Using this response, organizations claim that no serious damage was caused or that the victims were at fault. Firestone used this response when people died using their tires. They claimed that the victims were at fault because the tires had been used improperly.

Next, organizations have the option to use ingratiation. This response involves taking steps to appease the publics involved with the situation. Examples include giving coupons to angry customers or donating money to another organization (Wilcox).

Organizations can use corrective action to right their wrongs. This response shows that the company realizes they were wrong and are taking an active role in fixing the problem as well as making sure the problem never occurs again.

The last response on the continuum is a full apology. This means exactly what one would think. The organization takes responsibility for the crisis and asks for forgiveness. Often times, money or some other type of compensation is involved.

All responses have been used by organizations at one point or another. Additionally, all responses have resulted in both successful and unsuccessful outcomes. Each crisis situation is unique and in no way can be solved by a single response.

In order to get the appropriate results, it is important for a trained crisis communications professional to analyze the situation immediately and prescribe the appropriate response.

Wilcox, Dennis. (2006). Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. Boston, MA. 8th Edition. Pg. 261.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Leading The Pack

Levick Strategic Communications is a public relations firm specializing in crisis communications. The company was founded in 1998 by Richard Levick and it is one of the top five largest privately owned communications firms in Washington D.C. and has been assisting clients with crisis communications in both business and litigation.

Levick Strategic Communications has been named "Crisis Communications Firm of the Year" by the Holmes Report. The Holmes Report is "a leading trade publication covering the communications, marketing, and public affairs profession" (Yahoo). Levick earned the recognition from its exceptional work in the industry. The company was involved with managing several high stake matters, including global bank disputes, the largest civil litigation arising out of the war in Iraq, the Catholic Church controversy, and a variety of issues involving the Middle East.

Levick Strategic Communications successfully combats the negative public opinion of its clients. One client had this to say about his experience with the company:

A significant client of our firm was losing public opinion ground daily on its key legal objective. The client was beaten by the opposition to every major outlet, resulting in a wave of one-sided articles and opinion pieces. The cycle ended within days with the Levick team on the job. We got more coverage, with nothing but even-handed or favorable treatment, and even some reversals by those who were against us earlier. The Levick ramp-up on the issue was immediate. Guy MartinPartner, Perkins Coie LLP

Hard work does pay off. Levick Strategic Communications successfully filled a niche involving business and litigation which had previously remained generally untouched by other companies. Levick does its job and it does it well. This large privately owned company has just reached a significant benchmark.