Tag Archives: crisis communications

Anthony Weiner and Crisis Communications

For pajama-clad citizen journalists, the Anthony Weiner Twitter debacle is the content gift that keeps on giving. And things are heading south for the congressman to such an extent that he had to call Bill Clinton and apologize for a sex scandal. That’s rich.

Weiner represents a very liberal and Democratic dominated district in New York. He may be able to survive this mess, especially if it turns out that he did not violate any laws. But what does this say about some of the people we elect to represent us, about the news media, and about the standard advice that most everyone has memorized now about crisis communications?

E.J. Dionne Jr. has an interesting perspective in his WaPo article, “Anthony Weiner and the tweet road to oblivion“:

At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?

The breaking point for me was the Anthony Weiner story, not just or even primarily for what he did but because it came at the end of what old Thomas Jefferson might call “a long train of abuses.” You really do wonder what’s happening to our democracy and those who serve it.

The Weiner circus is bad enough. Social networking has taken us where human nature always threatens to go: downward. Do we want to give politicians incentives to limit their thinking to 140 characters? Will Weiner’s experience — and former congressman Chris Lee’s adventures on Craigslist — encourage politicians to question whether constituents want anything close to the level of detail about their lives that fans expect from pop stars and marquee athletes?

Weiner’s self-destruction is a terrible blow for cable television bookers and will create a certain sadness among liberals who are short of troops willing to take it to the other side from one five-minute news cycle to the next. And let’s simply stipulate that all the negative adjectives being thrown Weiner’s way are justified.

What’s amazing is that the Scandal Management Handbook, 36th edition, offered him the perfect way out. When caught, fess up immediately, declare right from the start that you are a victim of a terrible addiction, go into treatment and disappear for a while.

You are rarely challenged these days when you take a loss of virtue and turn it into a medical condition. And you avoid the problem of encouraging your allies to defend you on a matter about which you know you are guilty. Weiner’s congressional colleagues are reluctant to defend him because they accepted his denial and feel badly burned.

The advice from the public relations handbook on how to manage a crisis is essentially as follows: take responsibility, disclose the bad news as quickly as possible, offer a sincere apology, initiate steps to correct the problem.

Weiner understood this up to a point. According to Politico, he even offered to provide PR assistance to a “porn star” and sexting buddy. Here’s from the story:

The next day, Weiner asked Lee if she needed assistance in crafting a message to put out to the press and public. “Do you need to talk to a professional PR type person to give u advice? I can have someone on my team call. (Yeah, my team is doing great. Ugh).”

It’s not clear, though, if Weiner was referring to having someone on his congressional staff help her – which might violate House rules – or wanted a private sector PR consultant to help Lee handle press inquiries. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that she has ordered an ethics probe of Weiner and the New York Democrat said he would cooperate.

Maybe it’s time to rewrite the textbook crisis communications response to emphasize two key points that Weiner and others in similar situations apparently don’t get.

  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t do things that are going to trigger a crisis
Wonder what advice Bill Clinton gave the congressman?
Just askin’.
 

Weiner and Sarah: Apology?

OK. I said last week that I wasn’t going to touch the Weiner story. But the story that paints the New York congressman as an ethically challenged social media guru — someone expert in both digital photography and texting — is too rich to pass up this early a.m. And it’s one of two stories dominating the news cycle. The other. The midnight ride of Sarah Palin.

In the PR biz, the standard advice in crisis management is to take responsibility — and apologize. Congressman Weiner was a little late in taking responsibility, or even admitting any involvement in sending photos of himself to woman around the country. But he sure knows how to apologize.

Here’s from Dana Milbank, opining in WaPo, “Anthony Weiner’s apology-fest“:

Have you received an apology yet from Anthony Weiner? If not, you haven’t been listening.

He apologized to his wife: “I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, Huma.”

He apologized to the young woman he sent the lewd photo to on Twitter: “We exchanged some text messages, mostly for me to express my abject apologies for how she got dragged into this.”

He even apologized to his main tormenter, the conservative publisher of BigGovernment.com: “I apologize to Andrew Breitbart.”

Anybody left out? “Everyone that I misled — everyone in the media, my staff, the people that I — that I lied to about this — they all deserve an apology. . . All of you who were misled, the people who I lied to, I have an apology for all of them.”

In all, Weiner spoke of an apology or apologizing or being apologetic 19 times in his news conference during which he finally came clean — or partially clean — about his rude behavior with women in social media. He offered up the word “sorry” 11 times, expressed “regret” 18 times, spoke of his responsibility 14 times, and used various and sundry other expressions of shame and remorse.

Regrets were offered to “my constituents, my friends, supporters and staff,” to “the many people that put so much faith and confidence in me,” to “the people I care about most.”

Wow. And to think I used to make big bucks advising people to do that. I digress. Well, if nothing else, it looks like Weiner knows how to apologize.

Then there is Sarah. And the great thing about her is that she never says she’s sorry.

The latest flap. She kinda put a new spin on the old story about Paul Revere while she was visiting Boston during her non-candidate bus tour. And not only is she not apologizing, she says she is correct and her supporters are rewriting history.

Here’s from WaPo — and for you believe in media conspiracies to undercut Sarah get this, the writer is Rachel Weiner — “Fight brews over Sarah Palin on Paul Revere Wikipedia page“:

Supporters of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin have taken to Wikipedia, where they have been trying all weekend to revise the page on Paul Revere to reflect her recent comments.

In her trip to Massachusetts last week, Palin flubbed the history of Revere’s ride, saying that he rode through Boston ringing bells to warn the British that the revolutionaries were armed and ready to fight. Revere actually rode quietly, to warn the revolutionaries that British troops were headed their way.

As first noticed by the blog Little Green Footballs, Palin fans have been attempting to add her version of the story to Revere’s Wikipedia page — a source of research information for more than half of college students. Other users have been deleting the changes as they appear, arguing that what Palin said in the past week should be kept separate from a page about an event that happened hundreds of years ago.

Palin is hardly alone among politicians for getting American history wrong. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) made a similar gaffe on a trip to New Hampshire earlier this year, placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in that state.

Where Palin is unique is in her — and her fans — defiant attitude. Bachmann admitted on Facebook that “it was my mistake” and turned it into a joking jab at Massachusetts. Palin, on the other hand, went on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend and defended her version of events.

“I didn’t mess up,” Palin said. “I answered candidly and I know my American history … Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there.”

Defending Palin, some commentators have pointed out that Revere did tell the British about armed colonial militiamen — after he was captured and held at gunpoint. According to “Paul Revere’s Ride” by David Hackett Fischer, Revere was trying to lead his captors away from Lexington (where Sam Adams and John Hancock were hidden) by saying that danger awaited them there.

And for those who delight in advancing the “Sarah is stupid” mantra, here’s a story on NPR with host Melissa Block that quotes Professor Robert Allison, Chairman of the History Department at Suffolk University, as saying that, ah, Sarah basically got the Paul Revere story right.

BLOCK: So Paul Revere was ringing those bells? He was a silversmith, right?

Prof. ALLISON: Well, he was – he also was a bell ringer. That is, he rang the bells at Old North Church as a boy. But he personally is not getting off his horse and going to ring bells. He’s telling other people – and this is their system before Facebook, before Twitter, before NPR, this was the way you get a message out is by having people ring church bells and everyone knows there is an emergency.

And by this time, of course, the various town Committees of Safety, militia knew what the signals were, so they knew something was afoot. So this is no longer a secret operation for the British.

Revere isn’t trying to alert the British, but he is trying to warn them. And in April of 1775, no one was talking about independence. We’re still part of the British Empire. We’re trying to save it. So this is a warning to the British Empire what will happen if you provoke Americans.

BLOCK: And Sarah Palin also was saying there that Paul Revere’s message to the British in his warning was: you’re not going to take American arms. You know, basically a Second Amendment argument, even though the Second Amendment didn’t exist then.

Prof. ALLISON: Yeah. She was making a Second Amendment case. But, in fact, the British were going out to Concord to seize colonists’ arms, the weapons that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was stockpiling there.

So, yeah, she is right in that. I mean, and she may be pushing it too far to say this is a Second Amendment case. Of course, neither the Second Amendment nor the Constitution was in anyone’s mind at the time. But the British objective was to get the arms that were stockpiled in Concord.

BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.

Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.

I’m just reporting the news.

Sorry about that.

BP: A New Standard for Crisis Communications?

Well, I may have to change the name of this blog to PR on the ellipitical trainer. I’ve been able to chase the belt on the treadmill a couple times in the last few days. But hitting the concrete. Nada. Sore foot. Sore foot. Oh, my. Oh, my.

Oh, well. More important problems facing us these days — the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico certainly among them, if not topping the list. And I wonder what BP can say at this point to restore public trust and confidence?

Maybe nothing.

I was thinking about that yesterday when I was tethered to an exercise machine and watching the broadcast version of an ad that BP is using to apologize for the spill, take responsibility and convey the image that it is in control of the situation.

That ad should be effective. Hey, it’s classic PR strategy for crisis communications and management: apologize, get senior management involved and on the scene quickly, and take responsibility. That’s been pretty much textbook advice for more than two decades — ever since the Exxon Valdez catastrophe and the inept response by that company’s management.

So, is it working for BP? Doesn’t look like it.

Here’s from an interesting Associated Press story as posted on The Huffington Post, “BP Ad Backfires, Spur Criticism, Not Sympathy“:

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don’t thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

“Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you’ve got to do is do your job, and that’s going to be plenty of good advertising,” said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Fla., Commission, referring to BP’s efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said in an e-mail Saturday that “not a cent” has been diverted from the oil spill response to pay for the ad campaign. He didn’t know its cost.

BP management — and that of any organization in this kind of situation — has to convey a message that it cares, that it understands the scope and severity of the crisis, and that it takes responsibility for the fix today and as the situation evolves in the weeks, months and maybe years ahead.

But when you come down to it, results matter.

And today — in an era of Twitter, Facebook, and 24/7 news — that may well be the new standard for crisis communications and management.