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.”
What about the risk-averse lawyers and corporate executives whose default positions are almost always to clam up and offer no comment in the face of ongoing litigation and police investigations? Their job is to protect their client and it’s understandable that they often advise shutting down all talking when litigation and criminal probes are afoot.
But entities in crisis shouldn’t immediately accede to the lawyers, whose training defers to measured procedure and assemblage of facts before commenting, preferably in an official, exhaustively vetted legal document.
It takes a strong CEO or equivalent leader to listen carefully to legal advice but then reach an independent decision that accounts for other issues like reputation damage and response to gross misinformation from dubious sources.
One of the greatest pitfalls of real-time crisis is a CEO who folds to the lawyers and discounts the instincts of the communications team. Lawyers often present their views as forceful arguments because, well, that’s what lawyers are trained to do. PR folks, who tend to be more compliant, lose out.
This time it was different.
Baldwin is a co-producer, which in the film world equates him to a co-CEO of the production. He has decision-making authority. As a communications-savvy actor he either had the foresight to know this was the right course or had some good crisis communications advisors.
As NPR’s Deggans observed, “It's not something a big-name celebrity at the heart of a gigantic public controversy usually attempts. But after his measured, prime-time interview with ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos — where the actor broke down in tears several times while describing aspects of the tragedy — Baldwin emerged as a man who pushed back on criticism and told his story, without raising any new, damaging questions.”
In addition, Baldwin was prepared and well-rehearsed, something one would expect from a trained actor. He and his advisors clearly thought ahead and prepared answers for all the questions Stephanopoulos might ask, and Baldwin responded in an unprogrammed way that seemed natural.
Easy for him. He’s an actor.
The lesson for non-actor business leaders in the same situation is to drop the ego and hubris. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Consider going through or refreshing media training before the interview.
Want a good example of what happens when you don’t follow these guidelines? Look no further than Prince Andrew.
>PR's Place in Modern Warfare