Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Balance and Accuracy, the YoYo Factor

Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 996
From Chapter 5, page 167, of “Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management” by James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

5.8 Balance and Accuracy, the YoYo Factor
In 30 years, I have seen only one satisfactory correction by a news outlet, and that was because the reporter was arrested and jailed for hacking an executive’s e-mail. If you want a satisfactory correction, remember the yo-yo factor… you’re on your own.
When it comes to balance and accuracy, you’re on your own (the yo-yo factor). I generally advise avoiding asking for corrections, letters to the editor, or even op-ed pieces or special blog commentaries. If you act preemptively when you know you have bad news, as we spoke of in the last section, coupled with an aggressive, web-based correction, clarification and commentary strategy on your website, combined with preemptively distributed messages to your constituencies, employees, stakeholders and others, you are going to find yourself in much more control of the story, and much more in control of the interpretation of the coverage.
In journalism today you have zero recourse for forcing corrections or clarifications. There are still one or two operating News Councils in the United States, but they really will not help you. The bottom line recommendation they make is to find a sympathetic reporter and do a news story about your concerns or your umbrage or your dissatisfaction. Clearly, this is a pretty lame approach, but reflects all media’s reluctance to correct mistakes, or to apologize. Even when the media is operating at their worst, which usually involves mass casualty situations, there is never an apology, never a concern for their impact on the lives of others. The New York Times is the classic example. Early in this century, they hired a consultant to analyze their databases to determine the level of errors, mistakes and wrong information. It was significant. There is a report available through their website. However, after a very brief period, less than a day, they decided that rather than clean their database, it was more important to leave the errors in place, apparently so that they would never miss an opportunity to pummel some unsuspecting news subject. When your job is saving the world, and in America you have a Constitutional Amendment that essentially says journalists can do this without many, if any, restrictions, rules or regulations, the responsibility for balance and accuracy is yours rather than the reporter’s. One of the most important ingredients of your media relations strategy in crisis is preparing from the beginning to maintain the balance, accuracy and credibility of your behavior and actions with your constituencies directly, rather than through traditional or new media channels.
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Preparing to Do the Right Thing

Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 997
From Chapter 4, page 98, of “Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management” by James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

4.1 Preparing to Do the Right Thing

When bad things happen to good organizations, the people in charge often stall, delay and deny, doing everything except those very actions that most people would recognize as the “right” thing to do. By considering the behaviors with the most potential to affect the organization directly, we can identify a list of weaknesses that those in trouble tend to exhibit before, during, and after a crisis occurs. The list is important in preparing for a crisis because it is those reputation-redefining behaviors for which you must be prepared and for which those in your organization must be trained to help management overcome.
  1. Lack of empathy (meaning arrogance).
  2. Communication delay caused by management timidity or hesitation, and the lack of legal or administrative preparation.
  3. Failure to anticipate a problem or the failure to anticipate the degree of angry community response.
  4. Lack of coordination among groups within the organization and between the organization and its outside agencies and resources.
  5. Lack of clarity about the respective roles key decision-makers are expected to play.
  6. Failure to communicate quickly and directly with those most affected, especially employees.
  7. Inconsistent messages or no messages.
  8. Failure to forecast changes in situations or outcomes.
  9. Overestimate readiness.
  10. Underestimate community or government concern or unwillingness to cooperate.
  11. Lack of training and familiarity with established procedures and techniques for handling these emotional challenges, circumstances like embarrassment, humiliation, angry neighbors, or defeat.
  12. Insufficient commitment and on-site leadership to respond quickly, compassionately, and conclusively.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How Good Does a Good Company Have to Be?

As seen in DuetsBlog, July 9, 2013
This week’s news is again full of the relentless legal, political, and adversarial pounding British Petroleum (BP) continues to receive as a result of its huge and disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico. If one takes a breath, steps back, and maybe goes to 10-12,000 feet to review this company’s response following the spill, there is no parallel in US business history, or any business history on the planet, for that matter.
How do I define a good company? Here are some items to consider:
1. THEY STAYED and are still staying and paying to fix the problems they caused.
2. They shut off the leak while many others, U.S. politicians, state politicians, opportunists of all stripes, citizen journalists, the save the world journalists and activists just huffed and puffed. Many are still huffing and puffing.
3. The company installed a video camera at 5,000 feet below sea level to broadcast the spill 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, to anybody who cared to tune in.
4. The company established and fully funded a $20 billion trust fund to prepay (imagine that) claims, without a lawyer . . . imagine even that.
5. The company began almost immediately replacing people’s incomes and paychecks, revenue from lost fishing, small businesses and tourism, even subsidizing the tourism, promotion and economic restoration costs of four states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, plus the Federal Government and assorted other states.
6. The company hired thousands of people to literally stand on the shore and be ready to react when the oil showed up… in five states. Initially they paid the boat payments, house payments, and other obligations of those who lost their livelihoods in the recreational fishing industry.
7. The company committed to decades of financing environmental restoration.
8. The company is paying for major environmental restoration projects in five states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
9. The company has provided more than a $ billion to finance long-term research on the impacts of the spill and the recovery of the Gulf.
10. BP continues to actively monitor or pay for the monitoring the status of 4,376 miles of coastline, of which 4,272 where removal of debris and oil is deemed complete.
11. To finance these initial and on-going activities, dozens of billions of dollars have been raised by the company through systematic sales of operations to raise the needed funds.
What does British Petroleum get in return for this huge penance it is paying and providing? More lawsuits, new and novel interpretations of previously agreed upon settlements that continue to broaden the risk and liability, including payouts involving businesses and individuals more than 40 miles from the coast, and a judicial interpretation that allows claims having no relationship to the spill to be submitted and paid. Some claimants are blatantly applying for refunds for things that never actually happened.
The company keeps being vilified by many forces. There seem to be many who feel that the company needs to be sacrificed as an example to others. My colleagues in public relations can’t resist criticizing the communications of British Petroleum. But all the while, BP erected more than a dozen websites to keep the public informed and stayed accessible. How many companies, nearly two years later, still have their websites up talking about the problems they created? Not many, if any. Not even the fabled Tylenol can come close to the kinds of resources British Petroleum has put forth. Remember, it took Johnson & Johnson more than a decade to settle the victim claims. And as of May 31, 2013, British Petroleum has paid out more than $11 billion in claims. The websites and dashboards are still running, still reporting.
How good does a good company have to be to catch a break from the media, various public and professional do-gooders, bloggers, bloviators, and bellyachers? Here is a company that has put its money and its reputation where the damage was done. Name a reporter, news organization, activist or activist organization, bellyacher, bloviators, or back-bench complainer who has accomplished as much.
Let’s all take a breath.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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