Not long after the launch of Commpro.biz, I approached Fay Shapiro, CommPro’s “business builder,” and Brian Pittman, the venture’s “content king,” about creating an awards program – “The Boney Awards” – to honor (or dishonor, if you will) excellence in boneheaded communications. I thought we could rent out the Waldorf Astoria for a black tie media extravaganza. I volunteered to serve co-host – I was thinking of Nicole Petallides, a reporter with Fox Business, as a candidate to share the hosting responsibilities with me. I offered to give Commpro.biz the total sponsorship package. If you listen closely that sound you’re hearing is digitized laughter from Fay and Brian. Needless to say, they passed on the idea. Undaunted, I decided to press ahead for there seems to be no shortage of worthy candidates this year.
Without further ado, the awards…
- In the “A Rose By Any Other Name” category: The winner is General Motors for its internal memo instructing employees to refer to the iconic brand as “Chevrolet” as opposed to the more familiar “Chevy.” GM later backed off. The lesson: Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.
- In the “How Was I Supposed to Know” category: The award goes to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for his inability to answer a question from ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer about the arrests of 12 suspected terrorists in London. His staff receives special mention for not briefing the director on the events which happened some hours before his interview. The lesson: Assume nothing as you prepare for an interview and prepare right up until the last minute.
- In the “I, Robot” category: Tiger Woods can add the Boney to his trophy collection for doing his best impression of a robot during his apology press conference. He was roundly criticized for being overly-rehearsed, mechanical and insincere. The lesson: If you’re going to apologize, be sincere.
- In the “Life is Good” category: No question here… Mr. Tony Haywood of BP fame gets the award for uttering the now infamous phrase, “I’d like my life back,” in the midst of the massive oil spill. Mr. Haywood was criticized for sounding like an out of touch rich guy who’s annoyed at the inconvenience of the largest oil disaster in US history. The lesson: Keep your mouth shut or stick to the script.
- In the “Let’s Stick Our Heads in the Sand” category: The management of Toyota for being slow to recognize the problems with their cars and their discombobulated communications response. The lesson: Have a crisis communications plan in place. Move quickly and take control of your story.
- In the “Shouldn’t We Know Before We Pass This Thing” category: Outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi takes home the Boney. Speaking enthusiastically about Obamacare to the 2010 Legislative Conference for the National Association of Counties, Pelosi said, “It’s going to be very, very exciting,” adding that Congress “[has] to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of controversy.” The lesson: Transparency is key to building trust.
- In the “There Must Be a Better Place” category: The owners of Sea World. In the wake of the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau as a result of an accident involving a whale, the decision was made to hold a press conference – the backdrop: a glass wall which offered a view of the whales swimming in their tank. Moments of the conference became heated as reporters pressed Sea World CEO Jim Atchinson with a barrage of questions regarding Sea World’s policies and procedures; questions which mostly went unanswered. The lessons: Prepare for the tough questions and remember the optics.
- In the “Best Use of $20 Words” category: Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas Van Praag takes home the Boney. Mr. Van Praag was pilloried (Ed. Note: I can do it, too) by many members of the media. Wrote The New York Post: Goldman’s silver-tongued spokesman, Lucas Van Praag has responded to criticism in a ham-fisted way, further ostracizing the firm. Indeed, over the course of the crisis British-born Van Praag, who has an uncanny facility with the Queen’s English, has become the embodiment of the view of Goldman as an elitist institution. The lesson: Public relations should not be in forefront of a story.
There you have it, the Boney Awards for 2010. I know I probably missed some of your personal favorites; however, you are invited to add to this list. Who knows, next year we may get to the Waldorf.