New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is charged by Jupiter Florida police with soliciting a prostitute in a strip mall massage parlor. Kraft denies any wrongdoing but this is one time when Bill Belichick’s vaunted playbook won’t be of use. How will Kraft and his advisors follow a different playbook — one for crisis communications? We may not know the full answer for weeks or months but in the initial hours the answer is mixed.
Kraft, through his spokesman, was right not to clam up (that’s a New England term) with a strict no comment. Within the first 20 minutes the story was exploding across all forms of media and already headed for the late show monologues. Absent any comment the void would be filled with the kind of colorful, speculative scenarios that any sports talk show host can brew up with ingredients like sex, the NFL, a billionaire owner and a seedy massage parlor. That’ll still happen — but at least Kraft’s statement will be part of the mix.
A closer look at the statement reveals some flaws. His spokesman said that Kraft and his organization“categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Time to call a flag on the play. One of the prime rules in an unfolding crisis is to say only what you know to be absolutely true. Are they really sure there was no illegal activity? After all, the police hid video cameras in massage parlors and videotaped interactions between men and the female employees. Then, at a news conference the police chief clearly identified Kraft, the Patriots owner, as the one charged. Someone is walking out on a limb.
The second mistake was use of “no comment” phraseology. In the public’s mind “no comment” stands alongside “I take the fifth” as a euphemism for having something to hide. Changing a few words can make a huge difference in perception. “No additional statement will be made at this time” would have worked just as well.
And then we have the classic response to any court action with the phrase “Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.” There’s the courtroom, and then there’s the court of public opinion. This isn’t the CEO of some unknown company allegedly caught at a rub and tug, it’s the celebrated NFL, one of American’s most valued and protected brands. NFL policy holds players and owners to high standards and they can be punished for“conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the league.
To cut off all future public comment at this early stage because it’s a“judicial matter” is a classic legal response geared to courtroom procedure when the more important venue is outside the courthouse in the crazy, uncontrolled world of the media, which has no procedures.
Although over-responding is a common mistake in a crisis when not responding is often the best way to make it go away, it’s poor strategy to shut off all future public statements when there may come a time where something surfaces in the media that is so outlandish it demands a response.
The Patriots and the NFL have lots of PR and branding wizards. Use them. For Kraft and the League to safely navigate this crisis they shouldn’t rely on personal decisions clouded by emotion, or personal lawyers, who may focus too narrowly on their client and the actual courtroom. The more important venue is the town square where the damage to the reputations of Kraft, the Patriots and the NFL will be decided.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- Welcome to Week Links, a lovingly curated demi-collection of digital destinations, fresh from the front-line trenches of influence minus the dirty words. It took us all week to write that first line and we ran out of time for the next one, so here we go:
Is that before or after we eat it? … There are two ways to create a brand tagline that rises above the clutter. One, you can proclaim a compellingly simple truth, like Levis’ “Quality never goes out of style” and De Beers’ “A diamond is forever.” Or two, you can proclaim a compellingly weird idea, like Nature Valley’s “Everything you need to know about life, you can learn from granola.”
Flake News … Take a look at the #deepstate Twitter feed and you’ll notice how people get all lathered up about shocking but totally fabricated news reports from fake news sites. It’s almost wackily entertaining, except for the part about them being voters. Wikipedia – also a cog in the big wheel of globalist conspiracy – has a list of 50-plus known fake news sites. You’ll know which relatives need a copy.
Treachery Central … Donald Trump isn’t the first president to bring conspiracy theory to the Oval Office – that was GW – but nobody so brazenly wallowed in it as a political and publicity tool. This includes giving high praise to an egocentric Texan named Alex Jones, whose high-production InfoWars network is headwaters for conspiracies like how millions of people voted illegally, that both the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged government hoaxes, and that the Democratic Party ran a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizza joint. See for yourself.
Never saw it coming … Skin care brand Nivea went out with an ad campaign featuring the phrase, “White is purity,” earning two thumbs way, way up from white supremacists on the Internet (who knew?). We’re going to take a shot in the dark and guess that the company’s reputation risk management person wasn’t invited to the ad agency’s presentation.
A nation of touchy adult teenagers … Here’s how some sociologists explain why Americans are losing their ability to respectfully disagree with each other: The internet and social media are providing people with a constant self-affirming feedback loop, which is conditioning them toward a growing intolerance and indignation about anything that doesn’t jive with their customized Facebook reality. “New technologies are shaping behaviors and dissolving civilities,” writes columnist George Will. “There will rarely be disagreement without anger between thin-skinned people who cannot distinguish the phrase you’re wrong from you’re stupid.”
InfluenceChronicles.com -- At one of our crisis communications workshops, a general counsel said his company would use a strategy of ignoring reporters to delay or kill a negative story. It's best to ignore news media until all the facts are known, or until there's some “good news” to tell.
But this works only if your company is Boss of Everyone. If it isn't, then you can’t stop media from reporting a legitimate news story any more than you can push water uphill with a fork. Not only do your pants get wet, but you look like you're clueless about gravity and other forces of nature.
What drives media coverage of your company's crisis or controversy is being first with the headline, and then being first with new information as the situation unfolds. An editor or producer has no obligation to include -- much less wait for -- your company's spin of the story.
In the analog days, we'd say that a news story didn’t have to be complete because “there’s always another newspaper tomorrow.” We'd wait for it on the porch with our Tab and Space Food Sticks.
Today, however, updated and expanded versions of a story are delivered as fast as it takes to upload. Confirmations and clarifications, new discoveries, allegations, comment strings, Facebook posts, Tweets and real-time video spread across the ether with mind-blowing speed to form an information ecosystem that didn’t exist only hours before.
Not responding to a negative news story means you're adding another layer of risk to your company's reputation. You leave it to reporters to discover details you don’t have or don’t want to share. Information and speculation get rushed into the narrative, regardless of accuracy.
In most cases you prolong the bad publicity you were trying to avoid.
One more thing. The more obstinate your company in not responding to bad news, the more it becomes part of the story -- even the more damaging PR crisis.
Does that mean you must have answers to every question? Of course not. But there’s a huge difference between hiding under the desk and making a sincere effort to explain what you can and can't discuss. Engaging news media with sincerity during an emerging crisis -- including why you can't comment -- is a credibility factor. You may even get some breathing room to put new information in your context before it goes live.
The rule is the same whether you’re dealing with good or bad news: Say only what you know to be true.
But say it. Your company will be better for it.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- With cybercrime against U.S. corporations increasing beyond already epidemic levels, its victims remain largely ambivalent about when, why and how to communicate about it.
According to the advocacy group Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, U.S. companies have been hit with more than 2,600 significant network hacks and breaches since 2010. Yet the Wall Street Journal reports that in that same period, barely one percent of all publicly traded corporations disclosed any cyber-crimes in their Securities Exchange Commission filings – an apparently glaring contradiction in this era of hyper-transparency.
For some of these companies it’s also a precarious position. Consider the potential fallout should a company be forced by events or law to disclose a significant data breach, which in turn unveils previous incidents that were kept hidden from investors and customers.
So why are so few companies not communicating beyond what's required by current disclosure regulations? Here’s one reason: As a reputation risk management problem, a network hack or data breach constitutes a uniquely complex corporate PR crisis:
It’s no wonder that senior execs are more concerned with managing cyber threats than with almost any other risk to their companies’ reputations.
And it’s why many tried-and-true rules for crisis communications no longer apply.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- How'd you like to slog off to work every morning knowing that your customers don’t trust you? That sums up the life of local journalists, say two recent reports. Why it matters? Because it impacts how your local newspaper or TV Action News Team covers your company’s next crisis.
A Gallup Poll found that barely three out of every ten Americans trust what they see in the news. And on CareerCast’s 2016 list of the 200 worst jobs, newspaper reporter ranked dead last, with broadcasters taking bragging rights for being only the nation’s third-worst career. The annual list takes into account working environment, income, growth potential and stress factors.
Too many local reporters are overworked, underpaid, unappreciated and isolated in newsrooms that have neither time nor money to let them truly engage and understand the arenas they cover – especially the business world.
This leads to a fatalistic, cynical view of the world that steers even talented reporters down the path of least resistance, characterized by shallow, clichéd conflict stories that provide inaccurate or no context, and that give equal weight to any “contrasting” source, no matter its lack of credibility. For companies responding to complex crisis situations, this tired and formulaic approach to journalism can result in undeserved damage to their hard-earned reputation.
While it certainly doesn’t exist in every market, it’s important to anticipate this predisposition to fast-food local journalism, especially if your company’s crisis communications strategy is to speak with reporters. The best way to prepare -- aside from knowing your facts, messaging and how to handle interviews -- is to deliver as much concrete, articulate information as possible. Dish it up on the proverbial silver platter in easily digestible portions.
A seasoned and solid journalist will appreciate the directness, which will help ensure an accurate story. And for the over-worked and disconnected reporter, the closer you approach “add water and stir,” the better the chances the resulting story will accurately represent your company's position. Quite often it’ll be included verbatim.
What’s happened to local journalism – and especially local business reporting – is tragic. But the reality is that today’s lean media environment, with its ratings pressures and “pay by the click” compensation, forces many local reporters into being glorified stenographer-provocateurs looking for edgy or emotional angles.
Be aware and ready.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- Five takes on EpiPen, virtual reality, surrender ceremonies, Roger’s fall and how Donald Trump’s campaign is like one very long Twitter feed. I don't know, but that is what people are telling me, it’s so beautiful. Really really something. And it’s going to be amazing, believe me.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- Brand and reputation. It’s a critical distinction that drives a company’s ability to minimize the impact of its next public relations crisis.
Brand is how your company talks to the world.
Reputation is how the world hears your company.
Some people say reputation and brand mean the same thing. But that’s like saying the pitch and the swing are the same because they’re part of the same baseball game.
Closely related, but very different.
Reputation risk management is a paradox. On one hand the company's reputation is its most important asset. On the other hand it is the asset most vulnerable to damage by conditions largely out of the company’s control.
A brand is a promise, but more than just deliverables. It’s what the brand’s owner needs people and institutions that matter to believe to be true.
Reputation, on the other hand, is what stakeholders and influencers actually believe. It's a mix of personal experiences and influences, all weighed against motivations that drive every decision to trust a brand, buy a product or support an idea:
The wider the gap between a company's brand and reputation, the more potentially damaging a controversy or crisis.
But the more a corporate and brand reputation jive with what stakeholders want to believe, the stronger the company’s ability to navigate and even prosper through bad markets, complex public issues and crisis events. It’s no wonder that companies with solidly good reputations have market caps of 30 to 70 percent more than their book value.
Illustration courtesy Huffington Post.
InfluenceChronicles.Comm -- A new survey says three-fourths of corporate data theft is caused by “insider negligence” -- a nice way of saying “companies that for some reason still let employees do internal email while connected to a free wi-fi service.”
As many companies and politicians learned the hard way, hackers love stealing emails in part because of the whacky fun that ensues when made public. And cybercrooks are becoming steadily more proficient in how they leak e-plunder to mess with the victim’s reputation and operations for as long as possible.
Here's the kicker: More than 60 percent of those surveyed said they have access to company data that they shouldn’t see. "Too many employees have too much access to the company’s most valuable information," said the lead researcher. “Beyond what they need to do their jobs."
Worse still, a third of those companies don’t monitor any of the email their people are sending and receiving, including file attachments.
Change is coming. As the cybercrime epidemic continues, companies and organizations will begin compartmentalizing more information to the old “need to know” standard. How much that mitigates cyber-related reputation risk… We’ll see.
There’s more at The Wall Street Journal Risk Report.
Illustration | My Security World blog: Eight things to stop doing immediately