Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing his nation by mobile phone.
by Paul Jacobson, Partner
Armchair and scholarly historians generally agree that the American Civil War was the first modern war. It was fought with the products and technologies of the industrial revolution. The astronomical rise in casualties compared to previous conflicts was the tragic by-product.
The telegraph, railroads, ironclad war ships, submarines, repeating rifles, gatling guns, aerial observation and photographic documentation were all Civil War “firsts”.
Now we’ve hit another watershed in the history of warfare. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is arguably the first modern digital war.
By Paul Jacobson --
NPR’s television critic Eric Deggans says actor “Alec Baldwin gave a master class on how to get in front of the news without creating more problems for himself.”
Baldwin sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to tell his story about what happened at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a western film set, outside Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 21, 2021.
As the world now knows, a bullet from a Colt 45 held by Baldwin during rehearsal killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured the director.
Baldwin said he was speaking out now, despite incomplete official investigations and multiple pending lawsuits, because he needs “to combat a number of misconceptions”, especially from official sources, and that he “can’t wait for the process to end.”
By Paul Jacobson -- We were privileged to provide support for our client the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation’s project to build a modern pre-K through 6th grade school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Last week the new school was officially dedicated and opened by NBA Hall of Famer and Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo and a host of local dignitaries.
Mutombo’s humanitarian work inspired Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Charlie Marie Lyons to dedicate her latest single “Change” and its streaming revenue to support the school, which is located in a rural area outside the Mbuji-Mayi district.
By Paul Jacobson -- Let us count the ways of insane dysfunction found in the Tesla-Elon Musk-Hertz schlimazel. We have Hertz, a global brand just out of bankruptcy, announcing last week -- complete with a video from Tom Brady -- that it’s ordering 100,000 electric cars from Tesla. And this is followed by a tweet from Musk saying, "I’d like to emphasize that no contract has been signed yet.”
By Paul Jacobson -- After CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would change its name, the brilliant Dispatch web site noted that "Kanye isn’t the only one ... Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand the social media giant next week like Google did with 'Alphabet' a few years ago. That’ll fix everything!”
By Paul Jacobson -- The death of former Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Colin Powell reminded me of a hard copy file stashed away from my days in Washington.
It’s a presentation by General Powell called “A Leadership Primer.” I can’t remember how it came into my possession except that I acquired it when I was on the communication staffs of Senators Dole and Rudman.
From Denver PR Blog -- If you have been following The Denver Post‘s exhaustive coverage of the issues at the Colorado Supreme Court (conveniently tagged “Colorado Judiciary Scandal” on its website for easy reference), you know that it has been a tough few months. It could have been much tougher, though.
Word on the street is that the Colorado Supreme Court hired Steve Silvers and Paul Jacobson from SilversJacobson shortly after David Migoya at The Denver Post broke the story about allegations of widespread sexual harassment, discrimination and unethical behavior throughout the Colorado Judiciary Branch.
The result has been some positive developments – Chief Justice Boatright took full ownership of the situation, asked the other branches of government to oversee an independent investigation, and has hammered the idea of wholesale culture change.
Silvers’ crisis and controversy consulting goes back to the 1993 Aurora Chuck E. Cheese murders and the building of Denver International Airport.
Jacobson spent years on Capitol Hill and in corporate communications director jobs, including the largest corporate bankruptcy reorganization in U.S. history.
InfoAndInfluence.com - The reputations of industry sectors that take care of people and improve well-being are on the rise during the pandemic era.
For the first time in the 20-year history of the Gallup Organization’s tracking of industry sector reputations, farming and agriculture sits on top as the clear leader with a net positive rating (positive minus negative ratings) of +58 percentage points.
The bankruptcy storm is coming. Here are four critical strategic communications rules to survive it.
InfoAndInfluence.com -- The New York Times predicts a “tidal wave” of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization filings resulting from the pandemic’s devastating impact on our nation’s economy.
Terrible enough. But here’s the bigger problem: Experts believe that bankruptcy courts will be so swamped that they won’t have time or resources to protect many companies worth saving, especially small to medium-sized enterprises (SME).
InfoAndInfluence.com -- The New York Times reported this summer that the Trump administration had gutted more than 70 key environmental regulations, with another 30 rules under the knife. No doubt many of these will be re-instituted if the White House changes hands.
In this era of hyperbolically partisan federal and local governments, environmental regulations are no more permanent than political appointees.
Enter the emerging “private regulation” movement.
InfoAndInfluence.com -- With all the turmoil we've been having just remaining 1) healthy and 2) a working democratic republic, it's already been three years since United Airlines ignited one of the most avoidably self-inflicted corporate public relations disasters ever.
Hopefully United has learned that its mission statement to “make every flight a positive experience” precludes dragging bloodied, screaming customers away from the product.
By Paul Jacobson -- You’d think a company that flew its CEO to Washington on a private jet for $20,000 to beg Congress for a multi-billion dollar government rescue would by now have developed sensitive enough PR antenna to spot a corporate reputation dog’s dinner on the horizon. Apparently not so at General Motors. The “new” General motors, with a different CEO, recently struggled with PR mess that shows when it comes to public outrage — it’s less about the numbers — and more about symbolic value of the transgression.
As Dr. Daniel Diermeier of Northwestern University observed in his 2011 book Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, the cost of the CEO flying private to DC was a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion bailout the U.S. auto industry sought at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. The symbolic cost, however, was much higher as taxpayers grew outraged over the disconnect between the huge financial ask and the mode of transport.
The Detroit big three soon sold their company jets.
Eleven years later it’s springtime and opening month for that most American of institutions, major league baseball, including the Detroit Tigers. Those of a certain age will remember Chevrolet’s ad slogans that painted Chevy as part of the American fabric much like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Keeping with that tradition, for the past ten years Chevy has displayed its newest models in the outfield of Detroit’s Comerica Park.
This year it was a Chevy pickup — good so far — and the new Chevy Blazer — not so good. The Blazer is assembled in Mexico and, as the irreverent automotive blog Jalopnik said, “this pissed a lot of people off.”
The public outrage followed recent GM announcements that it’s closing the Detroit-Hamtramck and Lordstown, OH assembly plants plus three others. Let’s remember that Donald Trump won Michigan by three-tenths of a percent because the auto workers there grew tired of seeing their jobs go to other countries.
As the outrage mushroomed GM quickly swapped out the Blazer for another vehicle but not without first noting that Blazer production contributes about a half-billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy, as if that fact would somehow counteract the absurdity of putting a truck assembled in Mexico above center field of Detroit’s major league ballpark.
Getting the facts out about the Blazer’s contribution to the U.S. economy was not the right answer. Eleven years ago the symbolism of a $20,000 private jet flight to beg for a taxpayer bailout obliterated any rational thinking and cost GM’s CEO his job. Today, the Blazer’s half-billion dollar contribution to the U. S. economy meant nothing to the out-of-work auto workers throwing beer cans at it from the outfield bleachers.
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.
Another study confirms what those of us in the crisis PR field know and many senior business executives acknowledge: a lot of capital destruction takes place — and it happens fast — when a company’s reputation takes a hit.
Accenture studied more than 7,000 companies around the world and found more than half of them suffered reputation damage that cost them up to $180 billion in revenue. The study was reported in The Wall Street Journal and can be found here.
The report defined trust as comprised of consistency, integrity and transparency. Others have identified key elements as commitment, empathy, expertise and transparency. Whatever the exact words, the unmissable conclusions and observations are that bad news corrosive to a company’s trust travels like wildfire on social media and is magnified beyond reason.
It can be especially devastating to companies and brands with a fiduciary or safety element: banks, utilities, airlines and car makers. The Accenture study found, for example, the a two point drop in a bank’s “trust index” score slowed revenue growth by about 22%. The impact wasn’t as great on consumer goods and the services sector.
For many businesses, especially those not normally in the media spotlight, how they decisively handle the situation in the minutes and hours it unfolds can define their public trust, or lack of it, for months or years to come. Good executives instinctively know this and there are plenty who casually assert confidence in their management team’s ability to control any situation.
But when a real trust busting crisis shows up what usually develops is a bad case of the Grand Klong. Symptoms include a sinking feeling, dry mouth and intestinal distress requiring multiple trips to the bathroom and an inability to act with clarity and decisiveness.
As much as business likes to criticize government as inefficient, there’s one place where the opposite is true: communications. On Capitol Hill I recall one time when my U.S. Senator boss told me he agreed to headline a news conference that started in 30 minute sand he needed a set of talking points. I wrote them and in a half hour he was in front of more than 35 TV cameras doing riffs off what I wrote.
Ask many private sector managements to move that fast under media deadline pressure and their heads would explode — unless they had the foresight to plan for that day and practice how they would behave — in real time.
Unfortunately, not enough do. While they’re still debating internally about what to do, the bad news story blows out the tube and torpedoes their trust factor, market cap and revenue prospects. And while the Accenture study looked at large public companies the same dynamics can affect private firms and small to medium sized enterprises that may not have the resources to even survive.
By Steven Silvers, Partner & Senior Counsel
Hello fellow occupants. We're still experimenting with Week Links to ascertain what our fan base likes best.
Ok, maybe it's not a fan base in the typical sense of the word. But it's more than 12 people not counting us or our moms. So let us know what you think as you review these few noteworthy items from the trenches of influence:
That’s just so Chicago, isn’t it? – Protesters around the country demanded President Trump’s tax returns with the usual assortment of derogatory signs and march ditties. In at least one city, however, protestors took things up a notch by using The Magic Word.
New rakes for modern muck. -- This year’s Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism are the first since President Trump proclaimed that the news media “is the enemy of the American people.” (I hate to correct presidents and all, but "media" is plural, so it should be they "ARE the enemy of the American people.")
Actually, this sentiment is fueling a resurgence investigative reporting, which has become increasingly rare as the internet decimates local newsrooms. “Pulitzer prizes reminds us that we are not in a period of decline in journalism,” said one official. “Rather we are in the midst of a revolution."
But who will play him in the movie version? -- Will a book titled The case for impeaching President Donald J. Trump influence if, when and how it actually happens? Hard to say.
But it's worth noting that the author is the same American University professor who has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1983 – including the current leader of the free world.
Having a moving influence on voters. -- Perhaps inspired by how Donald Trump majestically rode an escalator down to announce his presidential candidacy, former Colorado state treasurer Cary Kennedy announced that she’s running for governor while driving her car.
Of course, the resulting new coverage focused on how she put citizens at risk by looking down at her notes instead of watching the road. Good to get that first campaign blunder over with early.
Sieg Hokum! – Maybe this trend of comparing political opponents to Hitler has finally jumped the shark: In North Carolina, a state lawmaker arguing for a ban on same-sex marriage pointed out that Abraham Lincoln was “the same sort of tyrant" as Der Fuhrer.
Where's your next brand black eye coming from? – Proving again that PR screw-ups are often born of the best intentions, someone at Adidas approved an email congratulating Boston Marathon runners “who survived” this year’s event -- despite the deadly bombings being only four years ago, despite a movie about the tragedy still being viewed by millions of people, despite the hyper-sensitivity that ostensibly permeates risk-averse mega-corporations.
And in case you missed it: United Airlines learned the hard way that its lofty goal to “make every flight a positive experience” isn't helped by dragging bloodied, screaming customers away from the product.
The self-afflicted PR crisis underscores some important truths that your own company should consider in preparing for and responding to bad news events. Read it here.
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 -- An impressive rookie performance … In his first 63 days in office, President Trump made 317 “false or misleading claims,” calculates The Washington Post. That’s on average about five per day.
Not exactly Profiles in Courage ... President tweetacks his own party’s conservative caucus, threatening to get them unelected for spurning his tremendous tremendous plans like the yanked healthcare bill. Caucus members launch tweetalitory tweetacks dissing D-Man with eyeball-burners like "It didn't take long for the swamp to drain @realDonaldTrump."
And it's way more fun than filling potholes … In California, Berkeley's city council is struggling to address underfunded pensions, homeless people going number one and two on the sidewalks, crumbling streets and a severe lack of affordable housing. So of course it took the time to pass a resolution calling for President Trump to be impeached.
Tune in your way ... If you haven’t yet, try out National Public Radio’s “NPR One” app. Though user-clunky – we haven't figured out how to go backwards to a story we skipped – it’s still a great way to hear the newscasts and radio stories you want, whenever you want.
At long last, room to spell out dudu-hed … Twitter announces that “@usernames” won’t count toward the 140 character limit when replying to one or more people. Good news: It makes Twitter conversations less cluttered. Bad news: It's now much easier for users to spam many, many users all at once.
WEEK LINKS appears in the Influence Chronicles Blog most every Friday. Send suggested links and comments to comments(at)influencechronicles.com. We reserve the right to do whatever, etc.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- In the good old days, phishing emails were easy to spot because the Nigerian prince who wanted to split his 12 million dollars with you also split his infinitives and wrote things like “All your base are belong to us.” Supposedly some of this was on purpose, so the poorly written emails auto-qualified only the most gullible recipients. (We're not mentioning names, Bob.)
It's not so funny any more. If you have elderly parents or other less e-savvy loved-ones who bank and shop online, it’s downright terrifying -- especially since banks are increasingly refusing to reimburse consumers whose accounts are raided because they gave their information to email scammers.
Here’s why: In our nation right now, an amazing 30 percent of all phishing emails get opened. We did the math -- that's three out of ten.
With this kind of return, cybercriminals will continue getting more sophisticated at making people think that the counterfeit email from their email service, bank, credit card company, doctor or favorite retail store is exactly what it appears to be. So be careful out there, and help others who aren't.
Check out and share this article from security and risk experts CSO: 5 ways to spot a phishing email.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- We’re finding out. A new USA Today -Suffolk University poll finds that one in three voters agrees with President Trump that the nation’s news media is “the enemy of the American people.”
Not biased, inaccurate or irrelevant. Not hard to read or too preoccupied with weather. But the enemy.
Of course you have to put this result in context to the fact that many Trump supporters and rattle-the-cagers endorse his hyperbole on purpose. It’s part of the middle finger they’re giving the establishment, including news media. So when a pollster calls one of these folks on behalf of – you get where this is going – USA Today, then, why yes, this American agrees that the news media is "the enemy of the people."
But the study also is another warning to companies that make the mistake of thinking they can fix a reputation crisis just by "getting our story out there." Considering these same polls show that people distrust corporations and CEOs even more than the news media, this notion might make the crisis situation even worse.
InfluenceChronicles.com -- Walt Disney Co.’s annual shareholders meeting was marked with protests outside and pointed questions inside about how the company represents social themes in its content and CEO Iger’s service on one of President Trump’s advisory groups.
Sure, when you’re as big and visible as Disney the annual meeting will always attract activists. Some will wear funny hats. But what happened this year highlights how companies are increasingly being judged by customers -- especially but not exclusively millennials – based on their perceived political and social behavior as much if not more than on their products, services and financial performance.
Whether those perceptions and reactions are justified is a whole other issue.
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.
>PR's Place in Modern Warfare