Crisis Communications – How to Ensure You Capture Meaningful Data to Inform Your Crisis Response


Here are some tips and tools to help you measure your crisis comms efforts and use data to drive important decisions.

Ted Kitterman, Ragan Communications

When a crisis hits, and you don’t have a measurement strategy in place, you’re going to have a hard time capturing accurate, actionable information.

The problem isn’t that the data is hard to come by, explains Nicole Moreo, senior vice president of analytics for Ketchum and chair of the North American chapter of AMEC. Data is everywhere—but knowing which data to pay attention to requires expertise and a bit of forethought.

And the chances are good that your organization hasn’t done its homework on preparing ahead of the next crisis. “Only 30% of marketers and PR pros conduct a threat assessment for their brands once a year,” Moreo says—and failing to regularly update your planning, benchmarks and more will give you an incomplete picture when you try to measure an acute event.

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Crisis Communications: In Modern Reputation Management, Brand Journalism is an Essential Tool

How to help establish your story and brand position in today’s media landscape—a crucial preventative measure for brands to avoid crises and fight misinformation.

Ted Kitterman

As a crisis communications advisor, Mindy Hamlin is often called in once the fire has started. Someone has taken to social media, or is threatening public action that could jeopardize how an organization is perceived in the community.

Real money is on the line, and many organizations say they now place reputation and trust at the center of major business decisions—even before considerations of profit and revenue. In a report from Signal AI, over 85% of business leaders and decision makers say that reputation is a higher priority than margin when making decisions.

Yet, if preventative measures aren’t taken, crisis mitigation efforts can be too little, too late.

Hamlin, principal with Hamlin Communications, shared an example of one client on a recent call for Ragan’s Crisis Leadership Network, who had visibility in small communities they served where leaders were faced with a reputational threat when a disgruntled former employee accused them of failing to support women and people of color in the organization. When Hamlin talked to leaders, however, “they start telling me all these fantastic stories.”

Hamlin was floored by the ways that the organization had helped employees and there were diverse leaders and women who held meaningful positions—but the company hadn’t told their story sufficiently, and they were vulnerable.

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Employees and Crisis Communications

It's a Whole New PR Ballgame


Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

After over a year of unpredictability and drastic change, plenty of people around the world are still looking to feel safe. Although many have already gone back to feeling relatively normal after the tumultuous months that have passed, there are still people who are operating on high alert and stressed about potential disruptions.

Additionally, although all employees are not the same– and they’re all going to respond differently to different situations– employers should be aware that plenty of those responses to potential disruption are due to the employees still feeling a lot of stress. Given how humans have six core needs according to scientists – choice, belonging, equality, progress, significance, and predictability – employers can infer that some of those needs aren’t being met in the workplace given the employees’ reactions to the pandemic.

Fortunately despite the global crisis, employers can still reframe the negative responses that some employees might have, and make the workplace a better space for everyone.

Questioning Behaviors

One of the common signs that employees are still facing a lot of stress is when they start questioning whether the company’s future plans are going to have positive results. The employee might start asking more questions that sound doubtful about the plans themselves, and perhaps not even suggest any potential alternatives. On the other hand, they might push back against a plan because they don’t believe in it.

When that happens, employers should communicate with the employee on why the employee feels the way that they do. They should have a discussion with the employee on what things could be changed for a better outcome, positively receive  recommendations from the employee, and make them feel heard.

Escape Behaviors

Alexei Orlov of MTM notes that, “Another sign that an employee is under a lot of stress from the crisis is showing that they have a need to escape. This can range from talking about looking for a new team to changing their role, and even to leaving the company altogether.”

To mitigate their feelings and those types of situations, it’s best to show that employee that the employer and the rest of their team can support them whatever their future decisions might be. Once again, there should be an open and transparent discussion to figure out what’s making the employee strive towards ‘escape’ type decisions.

Avoiding Behaviors

The avoiding  indicator is relatively easy to spot, as it’s easy to see how much attention someone is paying during meetings, for instance. It’s one of the classic behaviors of avoidance and unfortunately, it can cost the rest of a company quite a lot. That’s why it should be discussed as soon as it’s noticed, and the employee should understand how their behavior is impacting the rest of the team.

One of the best ways to go about these types of employee behaviors is to open the door to discussing what’s troubling the employee, and making sure they receive the feedback positively. Additionally, in these cases, it’s best to work towards finding a solution that will benefit all sides together.

RONN TOROSSIAN - HOW MANY FOLLOWERS DO YOU NEED ON INSTAGRAM TO GET PAID?About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.

Changes in Crisis Communications

After a year of disruption and chaos, what about the practice of crisis communications is new and what’s the same as it ever was?



Ted Kitterman

After months of a global pandemic, racial justice protests and heaps of economic uncertainty, crisis communications has taken on new meaning. Some communicators have even gone so far as to suggest that everyone is a crisis communicator these days.

But what about the tactics and strategy is specifically different and how can brand managers adapt to be better prepared for whatever comes next?

Jennifer Granston, head of insights for Zignal Labs, shares her take on what the past few months means for the communications industry and what steps should be taken to be ready for an uncertain 2021.

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Cool, Calm and Cuomo: What We Can Learn About Crisis Communications from New York’s Governor

Filomena Fanelli, CEO and Founder of Impact PR & Communications, Ltd.

A short while back, the New York Post published an article about how New York women are crushing on their state’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and YouTube star Randy Rainbow released a parody song, in which he identified himself as a #CuomoSexual. Extreme as these examples may sound, whether you get excited when an alert for his press conference hits your social media feed or roll your eyes at the very thought of it – yes, like any politician, Governor Cuomo has his detractors – there are admirable takeaways from the way he is navigating the current COVID-19 pandemic and communicating with New Yorkers. Below are a few of the public relations lessons we can learn from Governor Cuomo: 

  1. Be authentic and accessible. Make like the Gov and remove the rhetoric from your communications. Your audience is smarter than you think and will appreciate the lack of double talk, insider lingo and evasive replies. The reason many people are enamored with Governor Cuomo’s addresses are because they are honest, compassionate, thoughtful and right on their level. 
  2. Share stories. It has been proven that humans remember messages with greater clarity when they are underscored with stories. In fact, famed cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner has said that we are 22 times more likely to recall a fact if it is wrapped in the package of a good allegory. Governor Cuomo’s stories about his mom, Matilda, conversations with his daughters and even lighthearted sibling rivalry banter with his brother, Chris, memorably highlight more serious points about staying at home, exercising health precautions and minding the safety of our most vulnerable loved ones.
  3. Keep consistent. Listen to Governor Cuomo’s press briefings and you will hear a message that is clear, concise and incredibly uniform. He repeats the same simple phrases often, such as “We over me,” and with as much passion and conviction behind them as possible, which drives the point home, persuades and makes listeners feel like they are part of a movement rather than the recipients of a message. 
  4. Look like the authority you are. Dress the part, whether you are holding a press conference televised on every major station or a webinar from your socially distanced home office. Confidence and polish command respect and inspire trust.
  5. Use visuals to underscore your message. Charts, graphics and boldfaced words, even with a dash of humor in the mix, help people understand complex matters with greater ease, particularly if these visuals are simple and limited to one key concept per slide. If you want your message to be absorbed, it should speak to multiple senses, including sight, sound and the all-important sixth sense Governor Cuomo appeals to: spirit.

One last bonus tip: If you want to deliver a message with influence, leave petty politics out of it. Staying above board, and framing arguments through cooperation and positivity, will unite your audience rather than divide them.

About the Author:  Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications, Ltd. (, an award-winning public relations agency based in NY’s Hudson Valley and serving clients throughout the tri-state area. Fanelli can be reached at 845.462.4979 or at

From The Front Lines – Best Practices for Managing Crisis Communications and Business Continuity

On-Demand Recording




Event Overview

Crisis communication is a critical function in any organization – yet often underappreciated until they are “needed”. In this webcast our experts will share personal stories about crisis preparation and having the data you need to execute your plans from their careers working in crisis communications and measurement. We will answer questions like “How does the role change when the Business Continuity team is activated?” and “How do you stay prepared and in charge of your reputation at all times?”

Key takeaways include:

  • Understanding of the function of Business Continuity
  • The role of the Communications professional working with the Business Continuity team
  • Differentiating between crisis communications and issue management
  • Using consistent measurement practices and data to understand what is working and not working very quickly.


John Taylor
Founder and Principal
White Oak

Mr. Taylor is an award-winning corporate communications executive with more than 20 years of experience providing strategic communications, public affairs counsel to leaders of Fortune 500 corporations, medium-sized businesses, and start-ups. Currently, he runs his own communications consultancy, advising technology and telecom clients. Previously he served as Vice President of Communications at Cruise Automation, GM’s self-driving car business in San Francisco. Before Cruise, John spent four years as the communications director at SpaceX, the world’s largest commercial space launch services provider. Prior to SpaceX, for more than a decade, John spearheaded all public affairs, issues management, and crisis communications strategies on behalf of Sprint. John has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. and a Master of Government Administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.


Eric Koefoot
Co-founder, CEO & President

Eric is an Internet pioneer, having either founded or served as a senior executive in Internet companies since 1996. He was CEO and Publisher of U.S. News Ventures, CEO of Five Star Alliance, and CFO and later VP of Sales at Washington Post Digital.  Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavors, he was an executive at Ford Motor Company and Deloitte Consulting.  Eric has an engineering degree and an MBA from M.I.T.

An accomplished Olympic-distance and Ironman-distance triathlete, Eric is currently a co-founder, and the CEO and President, at PublicRelay. PublicRelay is the most trusted media analytics solution for communications and marketing professionals at the world’s most recognizable consumer and business brands, associations, universities and government agencies.


Uber’s Crisis Communications are Far From Over

Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR 

This month, Uber recorded one of the largest losses suffered by a US firm since the 2008 financial crisis, after the ride-sharing giant bore a huge charge related to the firm’s Wall Street listing in May. In the three months to June, Uber lost an eye-watering $5.2 billion, due mainly to a $3.9 billion charge in stock-based compensation to staff. 

This latest figure shows the company has lost more than $14 billion since it was founded just a decade ago. The news is just more bad press heaped on an already rough few years, and raises new questions over whether Uber’s controversial business model can actually turn a profit. 

Uber’s Crisis Communications are Far From UberBusiness model issues aside, we can be sure of one thing: the way Uber handles its crisis PR issues is only hurting its bottom line. In a data-security sensitive climate, Uber has come under fire in recent years for allegedly tracking journalists who were painting the company in a bad light; the scandal has not only caused a number of loyal users to delete the app, but provided some key lessons in crisis communication. 

First, it is essential that your company never speaks or responds without a plan. While you should never ignore the crisis, be sure that you plan your goals and the path to achieving them from the outset. Ensure that all key stakeholders are aligned with this message: during the data security flare up, investor Ashton Kutcher tweeted about the incident. Though he claimed not to be speaking on behalf of the firm, it provided an opening for even more criticism of Uber. 

Second, never assume you are above saying sorry. Remember the power of an apology: sometimes, a good apology is all that’s needed to defuse an otherwise charged situation. Uber, it seems, hasn’t quite got this message. In the past, blog posts by the company drew attention for their demonstration of a lack of ethics. Rather than apologize, Uber took them down without comment. 

Third, keep things above board and apologize when you misstep. As important as it is to ensure transparency in your dealings with customers, it is also essential that play within the boundaries of the law. In 2016, Californian regulators ordered Uber to remove self-driving vehicles from the road after the firm launched a pilot without the proper permits. Before the sun had set on the first day of the program, footage showed Uber vehicles running red lights, and creating hazards in bike lanes. Uber blamed “human error”, but no one else was convinced. The brand had failed, once again, to respond adequately and inspire confidence. 

Finally, invest in good leaders. Former CEO Travis Kalanick put a black mark on Uber in 2017 after he was caught on camera yelling at his own Uber driver who complained about the company’s declining rates. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh*t,” Kalanick argued. He later issued an apology and said he intended to get “leadership help,” but his response was far from adequate. 

Uber’s cash-flow issues might be a case of disruption teething issues, but their crisis communications skills aren’t helping.

Uber’s Crisis Communications are Far From Uber - Ronn TorossianAbout the Author: Public relations mogul Ronn D. Torossian was referred to by Politico as ‘perhaps the most prominent practitioner of a brass-knuckled form of public relations.’

Boeing’s Crisis Communications Strategy Doesn’t Fly

Linda J. Popky, Founder of Leverage2Market Associates

The aviation world is in free fall in the wake of Sunday’s crash of a brand new Ethiopian Air 737 MAX 8 plane, killing 157 people.  Early indications are the incident bears at least some resemblance to the crash of a similar Lion Air 737 MAX8 plane last October, which took 189 lives.

While it’s too soon to know the definitive cause of this latest disaster, it’s highly unusual for two brand new airplanes, flown by experienced pilots of airlines known to be safety conscious, to fall out of the sky like this. The odds of two brand new aircraft of the same make and model randomly crashing within five months of each other are something like 1 in 10 billion.

Boeing maintains its aircraft are safe. And for the most part, they’re right. In spite of these fatalities, air travel remains one of the safest possible modes of transportation. But that’s not what’s on the minds of the flying public, government regulators, or the media. Since Sunday, every country in the world except the US and Canada, has restricted the movement of 737 MAX 8 planes within their air space.

Perception is reality. While the aviation experts examine black boxes and scour the crash site for clues, it’s Boeing’s reputation that’s at stake here. They’ve already delivered 350 MAX 8 planes, but there are more than 5000 more on order. That means hundreds of billions of dollars of orders are at risk, not to mention the $28 billion of value the stock has lost since Sunday, and of course the loss of hundreds of lives.

Other industry leaders have been hit with similar crises.

  • In 1982, Johnson & Johnson recalled 56 million bottles of Tylenol after seven people in Chicago died from ingesting poisoned tablets. The tampering happened at the retail level—not in J&J factories. Still the company took immediate decisive action. Sales losses were minimal, the brand continued to thrive, and J&J’s stock price did not suffer.
  • In June of 1994, a college professor discovered a flaw in Intel’s flagship Pentium chips that could cause incorrect calculations. Intel downplayed the error for months, finally agreeing to recall all defective processors in December of that year, at an earning hit of $475 million.
  • In 2010, California utility PG&E was found criminally responsible for the deaths of 8 people in a gas line explosion in San Bruno. Sparks from downed PG&E transmission lines were blamed for 17 of 21 major CA wildfires in 2017. The utility promised to take aggressive action to trim trees, replace outdated equipment, and proactively shut down power in high fire danger zones, but didn’t follow through. They recently admitted PG&E equipment was the likely cause of the 2018 fires in Paradise, CA that killed 80 people and caused over $16 billion in damage.

Johnson & Johnson emerged from their crisis pretty much unscathed. Intel survived but at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars. PG&E is in bankruptcy and will likely emerge a much different, smaller company as a result.

Given this kind of crisis, we’d all like to be Tylenol and not PG&E. Here are the steps Boeing should take:

  • Immediately order all 737 MAX 8s to be taken out of service. Most of them are grounded due to government action at this point anyway. The longer these planes fly under a cloud of suspicion, the greater the angst and hysteria surrounding the company.
  • Aggressively gather everything possible to determine what’s going wrong. While the NTSC and others are analyzing black boxes, Boeing should be reviewing data from every single MAX 8 flight, interviewing pilots who have flown the plane, talking to those who maintain it, working with representatives of each airline customer to be part of the solution. The goal is not to assign blame but to focus on getting to a solution. If you are doing this now, you need to be more public about it.
  • Create a “tamper proof” fix. This might mean adding a warning mechanism for detecting problematic automatic function, creating a “kill switch” that can immediately shut down the process if the pilot feels he can’t control the plane, or something else. This fix may not be necessary 99% of the time, but 99% of the time we don’t need plastic seals on over the counter drugs, either.
  • Rollout a retrofit program for each plane in service. Upgrades should occur at no cost to the airlines, regulators, or the flying public. Boeing should commit to doing what’s necessary to make things right, as soon as possible.
  • Take a public stance of humility. Don’t tell us how safe your planes usually are. Tell us what you are doing to make them even safer and to ensure incidents like this won’t happen again. Create an accountability plan. Stake management jobs and bonuses on getting this right. Then keep us informed on the progress being made to meet these goals.
  • Develop a process to prevent these problems from occurring in other new models. Whatever testing has been done previously, it wasn’t enough. How will you uncover possible fatal scenarios like this in the lab, rather than in the sky?

No one wants Boeing to go out of business. Flying is a part of modern life and we don’t expect to give it up. We just all want to feel Boeing jets are as safe as could possibly be.

It’s time for Boeing execs to make the tough calls to change perception. Maybe they should take two Tylenol first.

Linda Popky - Boeing’s Crisis Communications Strategy Doesn’t FlyAbout the Author: Linda J. Popky, founder of Leverage2Market Associates, is an award-winning Silicon Valley-based strategic marketing expert who is the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters. Follow her on Twitter at @popky #mktgabove.



Crisis Communications in the World of Small and Mid-Size Businesses

David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group

Most small and medium sized business owners never believe they will face a major crisis that requires a crisis communications response.  When they hear the term, crisis communications they believe only large corporations need to worry about crisis communications.  But nothing can be further from the truth.  In this world of social media and online reviews, one disgruntled customer can create a spiraling crisis for any sized company especially if this company has no plan on how to respond.  Recently I observed this firsthand with a small veterinarian practice and a disgruntled customer that played out on social media and online reviews.  The story should serve as a cautionary tale for small and medium sized business owners of what not to do in a crisis and why they need a crisis communications strategy.

A customer of 15 years brought her dog to her veterinarian practice for a ‘free spa day’ she had been given for being such a good customer.  When she picked up her dog, she was surprisingly charged for the spa day despite being told that it was free and presenting her coupon for the free service when dropping the dog off.  The invoice she received did not show the various services the veterinarian was supposed to have provided and was just told by the staff they had been done but they forgot to detail them.  Receiving no satisfaction about why she had been invoiced, she left annoyed.

Compounding the situation while returning home, her dog began to collapse on its side.  The woman instantly called the veterinarian and was told that one of the doctors would return her call.  When the doctor finally called her back, the woman relayed what had happened and said the dog seemed to be acting normal, asked if it could have been related to the spa day.  The doctor read a list of things that could have been wrong with the dog.  When the woman responded she couldn’t make it back prior to when the practice closed but asked if she should take the dog to an emergency vet, the doctor responded, “if you can’t afford a vet, just observe how she acts.”   The woman reported that she was outraged at that comment particularly as she had been going to the practice for 15 years spending over two thousand a year with the practice.  She told the doctor that she felt insulted, was taking her dog to the emergency clinic, and hung up on the doctor.

Fortunately, the dog was ok, but the emergency clinic told the woman it believed the dog’s reaction was due to the spa treatment.  An angry customer took to practice’s social media pages about the incident.  An employee who manages the pages, responded not apologizing on behalf of the practice nor suggesting the woman bring the dog in to be examined, but that she would convey what happened to the doctor who owns the clinic.

By Monday night, not hearing from the practice since Friday, the woman posted again not just on social media bit Google reviews, Yelp, and other online review sites.  The customer was still livid that no one from the veterinarian had contacted her directly regarding her dog’s healthy, apologized, or suggested she bring the dog in to be examined.  She spelled out in detail again what happened, and this time named the doctor at the practice who made the comment.  This led to other people who had given the practice positive reviews to respond saying while they loved the practice and various doctors, they also had issues with this particular doctor.  It went back and forth and then all of a sudden, the practice began hiding the comments.  This just led to a greater reaction from various people.  So, then the practice allowed the comments to show but began posting all positive reviews by staff members praising the doctor in question.  After nearly a week, the owner finally called the customer and left a message never once apologizing for any misunderstanding that may have happened.  Yet by this time, the practice’s rating on Facebook and Google had plummeted and the local media had been contacted.

This story is a textbook example of how a crisis can hit a small business and spiral out of control.  Small businesses can implement certain practices that can help prevent episodes like this.

  1. Address any issue on social media right away. While the employee handling the veterinarian practice’s social media might not have had authority to apologize on behalf of the practice, she should have alerted one of the owners or doctors right away who could have apologized and reached out to the customer to alleviate the issue.
  2. Don’t ignore or hide complaints. Once a complaint is on social media and other customers are responding to it, don’t attempt to hide the comments or not respond.  This just increases suspicions and anger among the posters.  Respond to comments even if it is just a generic response of, I am passing your comments to our owner who will be responding.
  3. Don’t try to counter negative reviews with reviews from your employees.
  4. Accept responsibility for your company and apologize.
  5. Be proactive in responding to complaints. The longer you wait to respond, the more the narrative has already been set.

Social media and online websites help raise visibility for companies regardless of size.  They also can bring a crisis to your company regardless of the size of your company unless you have a plan on how to respond before disaster strikes.

David E. Johnson: Lessons Learned: Let's Rock Public Relations in 2018!About the Author: David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, a public relations and public affairs agency.  Additional information on him and company may be obtained at


What Should Crisis Communications Mean to You?

Ronn Torossian On What Should Crisis Communications Mean to You?Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

In almost every industry today, within businesses of all shapes and sizes, crisis communications have emerged as a hot topic of discussion. As the world becomes more digitally connected, and social, a growing number of companies are investing more time and resources into their emergency communication methods and disaster planning. In fact, according to some studies, around 84% of today’s organizations have their own crisis communications plan in place.

So, what is crisis communications? Crisis communication is a term used to describe the systems, technologies, and methodologies that allow organizations to communicate effectively during an emergency. It’s a special wing of the PR strategy which involves mitigating impending damage to a brand’s reputation. Additionally, some people describe crisis communications as the reverse of “standard public relations” wherein you’re attempting to get the attention of third parties for positive reasons. During a crisis communications strategy, PR firms work at dealing with negative media as quickly and effectively as possible.

Putting Out Fires in the PR World

Essentially, crisis communications are about putting out fires that might have been set in a number of different places throughout a business. One example of a fire that a business might be facing is a problem caused by another company when they claim that an organization did something improper, or unjust. Sometimes, fires in a firm come from internal issues, such as problems with messaging strategies, or the poor behavior of an employee. Like a fire, a public relations nightmare needs heat, fuel, and a catalyst. If something has gone wrong and your brand is on fire, you have the fuel – the thing that’s causing damage to your brand reputation, the energy, which is the tide of opinion that occurs after the problem takes place, and the way people respond to the event and the catalyst – how quickly you respond to the issue at hand. If you deny the fire any of these sources, you can break the chain reaction of reputation issues, and the problem can effectively burn itself out.

How PR Companies Offer Crisis Management

PR agencies use a careful combination of speed, ownership, and knowledge, to handle fires around a business reputation. For instance, by offering correct knowledge and information about an event, a PR firm can remove word of mouth rumors that might add fuel to the fire. Sometimes, in a crisis, people can try to fill in what they don’t know with assumptions, the right knowledge can solve this problem. Speed is another important element of proper crisis communications. The faster someone responds to a crisis, the more likely it is that you can stop the issue from spreading or getting out of control. Quick response times allow PR agencies to turn crisis stories into old news.

Finally, PR companies can give organizations the strategies they need to take ownership of the issue at hand, which helps to preserve that brand’s reputation after something negative happens. Being forthcoming and apologetic about an issue can remove some of the heat around a crisis, and make an audience feel better about the future, so they’re more likely to move on from the issue.

About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading crisis PR agency.

3 #MeToo Sexual Misconduct Considerations for CBS: Lessons in Crisis Communications & Public Relations

Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

3 #MeToo Sexual Misconduct Considerations for CBS-Lessons in Crisis Communications & Public RelationsVariety magazine is writing about the CBS public relations crisis surrounding the sexual misconduct allegations against CEO Les Moonves. Many of you reading this blog could be faced with similar allegations against one of your executives and wondering what you should do and how you should handle such a potential crisis. This requires both expert crisis management and expert crisis communication.

Variety asked for my thoughts as a crisis communication expert. My quote to Variety is identical to expert crisis management and crisis communication advice I would share with all of my clients. It begins with deciding a proper course of action and then sharing a sincere statementthat explains what you are doing and why. CBS has said they will leave Moonves in his position while they investigate. I would have gone one step further and asked Moonves to take a leave of absence during the investigation. Trust me, he won’t really be doing his job well with the weight of the accusations and the negative publicity of the crisis. This is the crisis management phase.

First, you should consider the perspective of the crisis. People believe they were hurt and want justice, while someone has been accused. Without a confession, it becomes a situation that requires a third-party investigation. This is the personification of “she said; he said.”

Secondly, consider that this is a highly volatile topic and that the #MeToo movement evokes strong opinions. There will never be a 100% agreement on how to handle such matters.

Thirdly, in business, the decision makers must remember the saying, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” Hence, when multiple accusers come forth with similar allegations, it is logical to assume the accused person is likely guilty. But lost in many sexual misconduct cases is the basic American principle that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. CBS, however, is following that principle.

My crisis management advice to any company facing allegations against an executive would be to ask the executive to take a leave of absence with pay while an investigation is conducted. My crisis communications advice would be that such a move must be accompanied by a thoughtful and sincere statement, such as:

“Because of the sensitivity of the allegations being made, we feel the best course of action is to conduct a thorough investigation. Because such investigations can prove disruptive to the day-to-day operations of the organization, we have asked the accused individual to take a leave of absence until the investigation is completed. Once the investigation is completed, we will share our findings with you.”

Of note in this modern age of frequent sexual misconduct allegations, employers would be well served to work out the logistics of such a leave agreement, during the hiring and contract phase of onboarding any new executive. Take your cue from police departments, who take an officer off of the street after a shooting, while an investigation is conducted. Some police officers are put on desk duty while others are put on paid leave. The police departments know that a distracted officer should not be on the street with a gun. Likewise, a distracted CEOshould not be making decisions that affect the reputation and revenue of the company.

Finally, remember that the time to address your crisis management and crisis communication plan of action is to make these hard decisions on a clear, sunny day, when you have clarity of thought. The best time to deal with a crisis is before the crisis happens.

Gerard Braud Discusses 3 #MeToo Sexual Misconduct Considerations for CBS: Lessons in Crisis Communications & Public RelationsAbout the Author: Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in new New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”


Starbucks Crisis Communications Quandary: 4 Expert Observations

Gerard-Braud-headshotGerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

The average public relations person, who claims to be a crisis communications expert, usually tries to sell reputation management to a CEO in crisis. The Starbucks crisis drives home the point that I always try to make, that an expert must consider both damage to reputation and revenue in crisis communications.  Here are key components of this case study:

  • A flawed corporate policy led to this crisis.
  • The CEO’s apology is flawed because the policy is flawed.
  • The crisis will be expensive because of the flawed policy.
  • Social media, once again, amplified a crisis.

On May 29, 2018, Starbucks will shut all stores for three hours for racial profile training. What will be the cost of a three-hour shutdown? This comes after two African-American males were removed from a store by police because a) they wanted to use the bathroom and b) they had not made a purchase, which is company policy for anyone who wants to use the restroom. No #Java No #Pee

The event was amplified by a video on social media. How much money has the company lost in revenue from customers who took offense and took their business elsewhere?

And how is the CEO doing in controlling the crisis? To Starbucks’ credit, they are using their website to post a message from the CEO.

However, my expert advice would have been to put the CEO’s video on the homepage, and not buried in the Newsroom. Furthermore, the headline says, “Statement from Starbucks and Attorney Stewart Cohen from Cohen, Placitella & Roth.” Are you kidding me? Attorney? This says, “We are covering our ass because we’re going to get sued.” How about “Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson Apologizes” as a better headline.

On HLN News, Money Expert Jennifer Westhoven showed a great checklist for CEOs who need to apologize. I agree with her. She’s as cynical as I am when it comes to judging CEO apologies. However, if the bad Starbucks corporate policy is not fixed, the apology lacks congruency, i.e. the CEO’s words don’t fully match his actions.

It is good that the CEO is out front owning the crisis. In a CNN media interview, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson says this won’t happen again. But it can happen again because Starbucks has a policy that says a person cannot use the bathroom if you don’t make a purchase, and employees are taught to refuse the bathroom to all non-paying customers, regardless of race.

We can only guess if race played a role in this. Yet the company is going all in on training regarding racial profiling by staff. While race is the amplifier of this crisis, I think this crisis may be more rooted in a flawed corporate policy in which employees are trained to question all non-paying customers.

Think about it… a major corporate crisis because someone didn’t spend $3 for a cup of coffee so they could pee.

Let’s calculate the lost sales from bad publicity and shutting down for a day of training because of a corporate policy that demands $3 for a cup of coffee.

Crisis communications is not about reputation management; Crisis communications should be about reputation and revenue… and preserving it by doing the right thing.


About the Author: Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC (Jared Bro) is an international expert, coach, trainer, author and professional speaker, who has worked with organizations on five continents. Known as the guy to call when it hits the fan, he is widely regarded as an expert in crisis communications and media issues. Gerard has been active in the field of communications since 1979. For 15 years, he worked in print, radio and television as a front line journalist, on the scene of every type of disaster imaginable. His affiliate reports have been seen around the world on NBC, CBS, CNN and the BBC. Since 1994 Gerard has specialized in helping organizations communicate more effectively through media training, crisis communications plans, and employee-manager training. Following the events of September 11th, he was commissioned to write the crisis communication plan for the Internal Revenue Service and its 800 offices across America. His plans are also used by the Library of Congress, the U.S. Army Missile Defense Command, numerous city, state and county governments, international corporations, national retailers, national and global non-profits, hospitals, and numerous schools and universities. Gerard has a gift for foreseeing and predicting crises before they happen. Fifteen years before Hurricane Katrina, he predicted the catastrophic destruction that would befall New Orleans through a series of award winning reports called, “When the Big One Hits.” For 2 years prior to the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, Gerard warned that the crisis communications plans at most universities were insufficient and would fail when they were needed most.  

Best of Silver Anvil Highlights: Carilion Crisis Communications Response to WDBJ7 Shootings


On the morning of August 26, 2015, WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward were killed during their morning show’s last live segment around 6:45 a.m. Interviewee Vicki Gardner was rushed by ambulance to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH), the region’s level 1 designated trauma center, for emergency surgery.

Carilion Clinic’s crisis communications team began monitoring the event by 6:50 that morning, but their work actually started long before that.

Carilion Clinic’s crisis communications team is made up of marketing, research and communications experts. They also have a specially trained incident command team (ICT) of employees representing various departments, including clinical and non-clinical employees who have the relevant expertise and experience needed in managing incidents. They work with outside agencies to assist with hospital operations and safety, eliminate duplication of effort and provide logistical and administrative support.

The Clinic’s crises plan breaks down crisis response to its fundamentals – preparedness/mitigation, response and recovery – and is designed to remind users of appropriate steps to take and needs to anticipate in a crisis. It offers the base framework for communicating during a crisis.

Most importantly, the plan highlights the necessity of continued plan evolution and application through exercises and drills. As a result of this planning, Carilion is able to actively anticipate and respond to any crisis, not just react to an immediate need.

By 8 a.m. the day of the shooting members of the ICT met to debrief and draft the first internal messages. Objectives were to:

1.   Facilitate an efficient flow of timely, accurate and credible information between all parties.

2.   Protect the victim’s family by anticipating their needs and the needs of the media.

3.   Help the community cope and heal after such a devastating loss.

As the day progressed, the ICT drafted internal and external statements and planned a contingency news conference (later sending a representative to the Sheriff’s press conference instead).

In the days that followed, they maintained a log of media requests so none would be overlooked, issued daily patient condition reports, used social media to distribute messages concerning medical office closings, and coordinated media interviews for Vicki Gardner’s husband.

One standout among activities too numerous to list was the creation of videos about coping with loss at any age and addressing grief with children, as many children had seen the shooting live on television while they were getting ready for school.

Carilion’s response illustrated extreme professionalism in the face of personal tragedy.

For more information, click here:

Crisis Communications Management and the Cyberattack

Crisis Communications Management and the CyberattackElizabeth K. Hinson, Associate, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough

Preparing for a cyberattack is not only a job for the C-Suite or Information Technology Department. Public relations professionals work in lock-step with other decision-makers following a data breach, especially because the legal requirements related to a cyberattack when consumer information is involved include public notice. As evidenced by public reactions to the recent, high-profile breach reported by Equifax, regulators and security bloggers can respond quickly by posting real-time feedback to breach events on Twitter and other social media platforms. As such, communication professionals need not only to sit at the table as company leadership prepares announcements to affected customers, but communicators are also likely to be called upon after the breach event is made public. In that capacity, they can help to strategize regarding the response in the face of often emotional, fast-changing criticisms from a variety of interested parties, including those persons who are directly impacted by the breach, as well as shareholders, law enforcement, and government regulators from various jurisdictions.

Because a cyberattack is an inevitable event for most organizations, preparing how to create a messaging strategy for the event when it occurs is just as important as any other possible crisis and is the key to remaining calm with key stakeholders, including customers, employees and investors. Emphasizing the significance of a strong communications team following a cyberattack, insurance companies are now providing for public relations costs in some cyber liability insurance policies.

Incident Response Communications Plan

By crafting a cyberattack communication strategy today, you will help your company, or client:

  • Tackle reputational risk.
  • Control the message.
  • Get out ahead of leaks (e.g., a customer’s detection of fraud on a credit account).
  • Dodge regulatory scrutiny by timely disclosure of the event.
  • Provide mitigating resources to impacted customers.

Consult Legal Counsel

Announcements regarding cyberattacks are communications tailored to regulatory requirements. Always consult an attorney who can advise on the appropriate language from applicable legal statutes. Ask for legal review before releasing a statement related to the cyberattack, including question-and-answer scripts, which should be prepared in consultation with legal counsel. If you work with counsel to coordinate the messaging in any consumer-facing messaging on a company website or in press release, you will protect your company or client from risks related to legal disputes that can result from a cyberattack.

Engage Multiple Communication Avenues

In addition to the regulatory notice that may be required by law, a company may utilize other strategic avenues for communicating with the public about the event. Prepare to engage the following resources after a breach:

  • Call center or staff to answer questions about the breach event and any questions related to mitigation services, such as identity theft monitoring.
  • Dedicated e-mail address or social media accounts to monitor and address concerns.
  • Direct line to executive tasked with managing response or responding to clients.

Cyberattack Taxonomy

Crucial to conveying a message about a cyberattack is understanding the categories of breaches, as well as basic vocabulary related to a breach event. Before an attack, know your breach types. You may be called upon to explain to a reporter the difference between a ransomware attack and a phishing attack and a compromise, as compared to a vulnerability. Think through the potential perceptions and consequences of referring to your company or client as victim of a criminal when reporting the event to the public.

30-Day Countdown (or Less)

Unique to a data breach event are the legal deadlines to provide notice to impacted customers and authorities. For example, some states like Florida require notice to affected consumers as soon as 30 days after a company has knowledge of a breach. For international companies that store data about EU citizens, the EU General Data Protection Regulation cuts notification deadlines to as soon as 72 hours after a company becomes aware of the attack.

While not all companies announce data breaches or cyberattacks within 30 days’ time – and for good reason, as law enforcement works to track down the hackers or as the company works to conduct a thorough computer forensics investigation – a company hacked by a criminal must still act as quickly as possible to contain the breach and determine what happened. If working to meet a statutory deadline, the company will need to accomplish myriad tasks in cooperation with company leadership across departments, cyberexperts, vendors, and in some cases, law enforcement. For example, a forensic investigation of the hack will report essential details regarding the scope of the incident for any public communications. Law enforcement investigations may further provide crucial components of the public message. Legal experts will weigh in with perceived legal risks, as well as advise on elements of the announcement required by law as content requirements vary by state.

In addition, a company may prepare scripts for company leadership and for call center staff to answer questions about the cyberattack. If notifying affected customers by mail, a notification vendor is often employed and this vendor typically needs the final communication several days before the deadline to ensure timely printing and mailing. For some breach events, notice via press release may be permitted and communications staff must coordinate the release of this notice with counsel because of legal requirements regarding how the message might reach affected populations.

These deadlines and required outside resources highlight the necessity of an incident response communications plan for any PR firm or communications professional likely to assist with a cyberattack crisis.


About the Author: Elizabeth K. “Bess” Hinson is an associate based out of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough’s Atlanta office where she practices in the Privacy and Information Security Practice Group. 




Next Day Crisis Communications & Opinion Survey Tool for Corporate Communications Professionals & PR Agencies

CommunicationsMatch has established a partnership with Researchscape International, a leading provider of research services to the communications industry, to launch a new next day crisis and opinion survey tool tailored to corporate communications professionals and PR agencies.

The new service offered through CommunicationsMatch enables communicators to ask 10 or 20 questions of either 500 or 1,000 respondents and have the results data within 24 hours of fielding the survey. The affordable survey tool is designed to be representative of the general population and to automatically generate results reports.

“We are delighted to have developed this new research option for the communications industry with CommunicationsMatch, which like Researchscape, leverages technology to help communicators achieve their goals,” said Jeffrey Henning, Founder & President of Researchscape International. “This is a powerful tool for industry professionals dealing with crisis and other situations where understanding how messages are resonating or quick feedback on the impact on a brand is a priority.

Once the tool has been selected, Researchscape’s survey experts work with clients to develop questionnaires, field the survey and cleanse the data. Within 24 hours of approving the survey, an automatically generated PowerPoint presentation, Word document report, and Excel file with results are provided to clients.

To ensure that survey data matches the overall demographics of United States adults aged 18 to 80 years old, Researchscape uses quota sampling with 32 mutually exclusive subgroups of region, gender, and age to ensure statistical validity. Watch a short 3-minute Communicators-to-Communicators Insights Video interview with Researchscape’s Tony Cheevers, Head of Business Development, about the approach.

“Expense and the time to complete surveys are perceived barriers to conducting research during a crisis,” said Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch. “The technology underpinnings of our next day crisis and opinion survey make it quick and cost effective to execute statistically valid research. The tool is an example of the way in which we are using technology to create value-added solutions for communications challenges.”

A ten-question survey of 500 respondents representing the general population is available for $3,995 and a twenty-question survey of 1,000 respondents is $6,495. As with other solutions on CommunicationsMatch, custom research options are also available for specific audiences and projects.

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Expert Crisis Communications & Crisis Management Begin with Managing Expectations

Expert Crisis Communications & Crisis Management Begin with Managing Expectations - Gerard BraudGerard Braud

As the flooding disaster in Houston continues from Hurricane Harvey, and as I look back today, August 29th, on the 12th anniversary of my own experience with Hurricane Katrina, one element of crisis communications, crisis management, and disaster management looms heavy: Manage the expectations of your audience.

In the case of Houston, managing the expectations of your citizens before disaster strikes.

Numerous news reports are focusing on whether Mayor Sylvester Turner should have called a mandatory evacuation. I would raise a different crisis issue: Did Mayor Sylvester Turner fail to manage the expectation of his citizens? Did he fail to tell them the trauma they would experience if they failed to voluntarily evacuate?

Powerful communications and rapid communications before a crisis has the power to move people out of harms way.

A community does not need to spend millions of dollars and hours on rescues if you move people out of harms way in advance of the storm.

The National Weather Service clearly predicted 40 inches or rain. A mandatory evacuation was not necessary, but more forceful communications about the impending danger and the need for an aggressive voluntary evacuation was needed.

In 1985 I started chasing hurricanes as a television reporter. In every hurricane and associated flood, humans immediately regret not evacuating and they are consistently in need of the same creature comforts: water, ice, and electricity.

Life and death are legitimate concerns for those close to the eye of a hurricane. But for most people, the way to appeal to them is to explain the misery they will experience. This is called managing their expectations.

Believe it or not, the fear of death doesn’t frighten people enough. However, making them afraid of the misery they will live through can motivate them. (At the risk of sounding sexist, men especially think they can survive even the worst storm. I’ve interviewed many who lived to tell the story and the story they tell is that they were stupid to try to ride out the storm because of the misery they lived through.)

Motivating people to leave before a storm is an art form that frankly, I do not see politicians and elected officials learning, despite so many case studies, including Hurricane Katrina.

Millions of dollars and millions of hours do not have to be spent on rescue efforts if there is no one to rescue because you have successfully motivated people to leave by explicitly describing their future human misery.

Exhibit A: A television news report I aired in 1990. Fifteen years before Hurricane Katrina, the report explained the pain, problem, and predicament the New Orleans metro area would face.

Officials in every parish in the area, except New Orleans, ordered timely, mandatory evacuations. Their residents were responsive. New Orleans, however, had a mayor who dropped the ball. He showed no concern when he needed to, and thousands died, while tens of thousands were stranded in their flooded homes. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on rescue efforts required because people were not strongly encouraged to evacuate in a timely manner.

Here are some things I would have encouraged the mayors of Houston or New Orleans to say:

  • “Your life could get very miserable, very fast. You could be trapped in your home, with your children, with elderly family members, with sick family members. This is not something you want to do.
  • If you stay, expect water to possibly enter your home without warning. Expect it first to ruin your floors. It will continue to rise and ruin all of your belongings on the ground floor of your house. For some of you, it will overtake your second floor as well.
  • You won’t really be able to save your personal belongings. You will be too busy wondering if you can save your own life and the lives of your family members as they panic and cry in terror.
  • You’ll likely live through it, but you might be standing in water up to your chest.
  • Your neighborhood may have never flooded before. But it very well might flood this time. No two storms are alike. Do not think you will stay dry because you have not flooded in the past.
  • Your neighborhood may be lucky and not flood, but your neighborhood may be surrounded by floodwaters without creature comforts.
  • You will be trapped, without electricity in the hot August heat.
  • Your water supply might likely become contaminated and unfit to drink.
  • Your toilets and plumbing may not work. They might even overflow into your home.
  • You may run out of food.
  • You may run out of water.
  • Your cell phone may not work.
  • You may need emergency help and no one will be able to come for you.
  • If you are willing to endure what might be great trauma, then stay. However, if you are wise and if you recognize the suffering that awaits you and your family, you should voluntarily leave now. 
  • Millions of people who have stayed behind in storms, only to regret their decision, would tell you just as I am telling you, a voluntary evacuation now is the smartest decision you could make.”

Regardless of whether your community is facing a hurricane, a tornado threat, a blizzard, an ice storm, or any of the many predictable disasters, moving people out of harm’s way is much smarter than dealing with the crisis of responding and rescuing people.

Be an expert in crisis communications and disaster management: Manage the expectations of your citizens.


About the Author: Crisis communications expert Gerard Braud, CSP, IEC has been the go-to expert for organizations on five continents for nearly 25 years. He shares his passion for effective communications through his keynote speeches at conferences and conventions, as well as by helping organizations write an effective crisis communications plan. Additionally, he media trains spokespeople around the world. Braud began his career in journalism in 1979. During his 15 year career on television, you may have seen him on CNN, NBC, CBS, The BBC or The Weather Channel. In 1994 he left television to venture out into the world of public relations. This video will help you get to know him better.  

#Ransomware – Crisis Communications Management Steps for Impacted Companies

#Ransomware – Strategic Communications Steps for Impacted CompaniesMike Shultz, Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder, Cybernance  

On Friday, May 12, ransomware cyber attackers indiscriminately attacked state agencies and enterprises all over the world. As the ransomware virus spread through company networks, putting valuable company and customer data at risk and stalling operations for many, organizations were going into crisis mode. It’s pertinent that a crisis communications plan include protocols for cyber attacks, as these are becoming increasingly common.

For companies who were impacted by Friday’s global cyber attack, the following are important steps for ensuring your key stakeholders remain confident and calm in your company’s ability to remediate the damages.

  1. Act quickly and accurately. In order to stay in control of your story, know what the facts are and stick to them. You need to quickly retain control of your processes and information and ensure that each line of business is aware of the crisis plan, and is sending all status updates and problems to the appropriate channels.
  1. Break the story before media does. Own up to the issue with as much accurate information as you have at the time. Understand the size and scope of the problem before making any definitive statements. If you report inaccurate numbers—such as number of customer accounts breached—you run the risk of having to backtrack on previous statements and admit the problem was worse than expected. Maintaining that you’ll share the accurate figures upon analysis of the scope of the incident in the face of tough questions from media will be more beneficial for you and all stakeholders in the end.
  1. Assign your crisis spokesperson.The spokesperson for a cyber attack crisis should be both technically knowledgeable and an authority figure in the business. Top leadership should take the responsibility to address the issues at hand. If your spokesperson is the CEO, ensure she or he is able to speak accurately and intelligently about the technical details. You wouldn’t want your spokesperson to lose credibility by accidentally misstating factual elements of the event. People need to know that top leadership is in control and command of the situation.
  1. Be fast and unwaveringly clear about the remediation steps.Your company must be accountable—leaders in every department included—to the company plan for remediation. Data loss is not only harmful and expensive, it’s becoming increasingly less acceptable by the public, and you must do everything possible to remediate the damanges of data loss and interruptions to business continuity. Ensure that you’re being uprfront and clear about what your company is doing, here, so your key stakeholders can rest assured their data is in good hands. Customers and people are number one priority.
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.Monitor the situation every step of the way. Communicate about what is going as planned. Communicate the good news AND the bad. Don’t attempt to conceal information, and don’t sugar coat a bad situation. People are not going to react well to anything but the truth.
  1. Summarize.When the crisis has been managed, be sure to hold a leadership debrief to review the crisis plan and how the company fared. This is the time to make amendments to the plan, and to reinforce what worked and what didn’t. If needed, share a high-level summary with your stakeholders so they can rest assured the company is in good hands.


About the Author: Mike drives Cybernance’s strategic vision and directly oversees finance, sales, and operations. As CEO of cybersecurity firm Infoglide Software, he led it to a successful acquisition by FICO in 2013. Under his direction, Infoglide was named to the Inc. 500 twice to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 and Software Magazine’s Software 500 three times. Mike was formerly founder and CEO of QuestLink Technology, where he structured $26.5 million in equity financing and eventually provided a successful financial event for the shareholders by negotiating a merger with eChips, Inc. Before QuestLink, he was CEO of CMG Computer Products, a manufacturer of notebook peripherals and software, and CEO of Specialty Development Corporation, a developer and marketer of high-performance integrated circuits and software applications. He has also held executive sales and marketing management positions at Philips Semiconductor and Wyle Electronics and was part of the founding management team at both Cirrus Logic and Integrated Device Technology, setting the sales strategy that contributed to successful IPOs for both companies. In June 2004, Mr. Shultz was awarded the Ernst & Young 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and he accepted the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2002 Business Award for Innovative Business. He is a frequent guest speaker at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Fox News Followed The Money In Firing O’Reilly – And Failed Crisis Communications Test

Tom FladungThom Fladung, Vice President, Hennes Communications

The axe that hovered for weeks finally fell as 21st Century Fox announced that Bill O’Reilly would not be returning to Fox News Channel, the cable news outlet O’Reilly helped build, in the wake of a string of explosive sexual harassment claims, broken by the New York Times.

Here’s what didn’t happen:

Fox didn’t apologize or even attempt to distance itself from O’Reilly. Indeed, an internal memo sent to Fox News Channel employees called O’Reilly “one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news.” The memo added: “In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable.”

O’Reilly didn’t apologize. “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.” He called Fox “the dominant news network in television” adding “I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

As divorces go, this wasn’t amiable. This was a love-in.

So, what happened? Economics happened.

An April 1 article by the New York Times broke the news that Fox and O’Reilly had reached settlements totaling about $13 million with five women who complained about sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by O’Reilly.

The $13 million apparently was chump change. Fox made no move on O’Reilly as those claims and settlements played out.

But then as the Times reported, since that initial April 1 story “more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for him to be fired. Inside the company, women expressed outrage and questioned whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on ‘trust and respect,’ as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi further pointed out that beyond the advertising boycotts, the “O’Reilly controversy has been casting a shadow over 21st Century’s $14 billion bid to win the British government’s approval to buy Sky TV, the British satellite service. Leaving O’Reilly in place would likely have been a public-relations nightmare for James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons who head 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent.”

So, as they said in “The Godfather,” it wasn’t personal. It was business.

And 21st Century Fox won’t be the last company to finally and reluctantly “do the right thing” that people are calling for because business dictates it. But let’s consider how Fox ignored some basic precepts of effective crisis communications and crisis management – and how Fox might still pay for that:

Don’t deny the obvious. Fox cut ties with O’Reilly only because of the business pressures. And we all know it – or they would have cut the cord with him long ago. Fox ignored that fact in its short public statement.
Tell the truth. And tell it all. See the above.

Worry most about your key stakeholders. In this case, I would argue, it’s the employees who continue to work at Fox News. They want to do a good job. And they want to be proud of their employer. Every employee does. Think they’re concerned about the atmosphere in their workplace? And how do you think they felt when they got an internal memo heaping praise on O’Reilly?

Plus, Fox News is just that – a news business. A business employing a lot of people who should be dedicated to ferreting out the truth and digging for the whole story. That business should have an even higher standard of fessing up after messing up.

What’s the immediate damage? Very little, if any. O’Reilly can get another job on cable news if he wants one. Suitors already are lining up, as CNN Money is reporting. O’Reilly’s book publisher, Henry Holt, said almost immediately that “our plans have not changed.” As Reuters reported, shares of 21st Century Fox ended Wednesday’s trading on the Nasdaq down less than 1 percent. Analysts say the network’s viewers would likely remain loyal.

Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research, told Reuters, in regard to the loss of “The O’Reilly Factor”: “They could literally go dark during the time his program airs and they would still be profitable.”

But this story is not over. Organizations can mishandle crisis communications and crisis management and bear no short-term penalty. Think again, though, about those employees and what Fox News now symbolizes as a workplace.

And think about how businesses and organizations, like fish, rot from the inside.


About the Author: Thom Fladung is vice president of Hennes Communications, one of the few firms in the U.S. focused exclusively on crisis management and communications. Fladung’s a 33-year news veteran, including serving as managing editor of the Detroit Free Press, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, the Akron Beacon Journal and St. Paul Pioneer-Press.