When One Employee Inspires a Crisis

By: Mark Macias

Rupert Murdoch runs a global media empire that includes Fox News, Fox Business News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Television Network, The New York Post, 20th Century Fox – and others, making him one of the most powerful people in the world.

When it came to influencing readers, Murdoch holds the ink that moves the pen.

But cracks in Murdoch’s concrete empire began to appear in 2011 after a few employees were accused of illegally hacking into voicemails of the British Royal family.

You don’t need to run a global media empire for this type of crisis to impact your company. It only takes one rogue employee to create negative news that splashes your business name on the front pages of the local newspaper.

There is no universal crisis communications book or one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to managing a crisis situation. Each case is individual based on the situation, but here are a few rules that apply to all crises, regardless of the scandal.

1) Get to the bottom of the truth as quickly as possible.

“I don’t know,” can be an acceptable response in the early stages of a crisis as long as it is followed up with “let me find the answers.” Reporters won’t walk away just because you can’t answer their questions, but they will give you time to research it. So if you are learning in real-time that your employees may have engaged in any unethical or illegal behaviors, it is your job to get to the bottom of it quickly.

2) Hold the Guilty Accountable. 

If you discover an employee engaged in any illegal behavior, fire him. It sends a strong message to the media that your company won’t condone any form of behavior that breaks the law.

Likewise, many professions — like journalism — involve ethical standards. If you discover that your employees violated  ethical codes while conducting their jobs, make an example out of them – and don’t be afraid to share it with the media. The public is more forgiving once they realize it is less likely for your mistakes to happen again.

3) Be Open With Your Findings. You may not like what your employees did, but if reporters ask you specific questions, don’t be evasive with your answers. Allow yourself to be human and share your disappointment with the media. Contrition is a trait that makes us all relate to one another.

4) Be Prepared to Announce New Policies. If your internal investigation into the crisis discovers a systemic problem, now is the time to announce a change in policy.

This crisis communications advice isn’t just for business owners. It’s practical information that can apply to managers, political leaders, public personalities, or anyone who could become the face of a scandal.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias has consulted politicians and nonprofits on their crisis communications strategies. He now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

 

Crisis Communications – The NRA

By: Mark Macias

(This story was originally published in 2013 following a school shooting. Here’s a shortened edited version of that article)

I don’t like the sight of guns. I don’t like the smell of guns. I don’t even like talking about guns, but the NRA is delivering a great crisis communications lesson for any business facing an image crisis.

Here’s what the NRA did wrong and right in their crisis following a 2013 school shooting.

The NRA let time pass

The NRA waited for time to pass. Frequently, I advise clients to get in front of the story or else the narrative will be written by your opponent, but this is a perfect crisis communications case study where that does not apply to ALL problems. The NRA would have been foolish to speak while children were being buried.

That is pretty much one of the few things I believe the NRA did right following that horrific school shooting. Here is a more detailed list of what they did wrong, along with why it was a poorly executed communications plan.

Don’t Cast Blame

Wayne LaPierre with the NRA blamed the media, video games and even crazy people for their PR problem. That’s a mistake. The NRA thinks Americans should have the right to carry assault rifles that were designed for war. They need to take responsibility for that position and not blame others. If you are in a crisis situation, don’t blame the victim or even the shooter. Turn the situation into your favor by presenting why your side has a positive view. The media won’t report the good side of your story unless you present it and it is your job to communicate why your service helps others.

Put a face on the problem

Right now the NRA is facing a tough public image problem. It’s guns vs. little children.

That’s challenging because most parents and adults have instincts to protect children from harm. It’s a difficult fight, but the NRA needs to put a new face on this problem. They need to move the conversation away from assault rifles and back to the image of a father and daughter hunting together. As long as the debate surrounds military assault rifles, the NRA loses.

Bring a solution

If you are facing a crisis communications situation, you always want to bring closure to the problem. It lets the public believe (and hopefully it is the truth) that the problem won’t happen again. The NRA tried to bring closure to this problem by saying armed guards in front of our schools would prevent violence. It won’t or as a Facebook friend more eloquently posted, it’s like bringing a “knife to a gun fight.”

It sums up why the NRA needs a better communications strategy if it is ever going to persuade the parents in America.

 “Hey Mr. NRA douchebag…our banks are protected by armed guards and they still get robbed, our president is guarded by armed secret service and still gets shot and even killed. One armed cop on each campus won’t stop crazy folks from going there. Your press conference was a joke, and you are a joke of a man. Blame the video games, movies and music…yet not offer a single solution to try to keep your precious lil gun out of crazy folks hands. You suck!! Oh yeah, said crazy person comes to school with multiple semi automatic guns…lone cop has a pistol…what’s the saying? Bring a knife to a gun fight? Then your answer will be we need cops with semi automatic rifles you douchetard. Way to bring nothing to the table today except more guns, you kind sir are a complete assbag!!”

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

PR War vs. PR Battle – Crisis Communications

By Mark Macias

A General must sometimes lose a battle to win a war. That tactic can also be applied to crisis communications.

When a crisis situation hits your business, remember that war adage because sometimes, losing a small customer service battle will help you win the larger public relations war.

It’s an older example from my crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media, but it is a situation that applies to any business today.

How the PR Battle Begins

In December 2007, a Las Vegas man sued his gym for gender discrimination. He filed a formal complaint with the state, alleging the health club was giving preferential treatment to women, which he claimed was discrimination.

This news story had larger ramifications across Nevada since it could potentially end all “Ladies Nights” at bars that offered free drinks to women.

Making matters worse for the gym, the angry customer was vocal with the media.

“Imagine a whites-only country club or whites-get-in-free deal or something like that,” the gym member said. “When things are based on race, we have kind of a knee-jerk reaction because we’ve had poor race relations in America for 400 years now. But when it comes to treating people the same based on sex, that’s much more recent in our memory.”

The gym manager refused to give the member a discount and the PR nightmare grew. The health club was now dealing with national negative publicity that could ruin the pricing structure for bars, nightclubs and casinos. The owner of that gym made many enemies with just one discount refusal. And to think it all would have gone away by appeasing one customer.

Stopping the PR Battle from Becoming a PR War

The health club could have diffused the negative story by saying they were trying a new marketing approach to get more women into their health club, or to even it out.

Management could have added they were reviewing the policy to see if it was fair for men and women. The club could have said they were researching similar discounts that appealed just to men.

But, the club didn’t take that approach. Instead, they went on the attack and the negative publicity got worse.

“Our men are very, very happy with how we conduct our business,” the vice president of the company said. “This particular person is the only one who has had a problem with it. There are legitimate discrimination issues out there, and I wish he’d spend his time addressing those that really need addressing.”

Never turn an angry customer into a victim. You don’t want to give the perception that the victim is really a victim. Don’t give the public a reason to root against you.

There will always be an angry customer. If you get an expressive angry customer, make sure you tread lightly in the battle or risk waging war with others.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.