What do the major Firestone tire recall, Martha Stewart, Mad Cow Disease and the NYC blackout have in common? They were all seismic crisis events that occurred in the Summertime. It amazes me how complacent Corporate America is when it comes to crisis preparation. They seem to be on a permanent Summer vacation. Recently, we conducted surveys of business continuity and risk managers of Fortune 500 companies and found out the vast majority have never simulated a potential crisis. As a result, they’re not prepared for the inevitable. It’s simply amazing that this mindset still prevails in our Post 9/11, Madrid and London bombings world.
What will it take for business and industry to wake up? CEO kidnappings, hostage situations, actual terrorist attacks on fabled American brands?
It’s a chilling thought in the middle of a heat wave.
I just addressed a group of about 100 public relations college students and Summer interns. In the session, we spoke about their dreams, hopes and futures in the business. When I asked what was keeping them up at night, almost all of the young women pointed to Lizzie Grubman and PoweRGirls, the MTV reality show about a group of female PR party planners. Young industry professionals are outraged that Grubman and her party planning cohorts have become the standard bearers of the PR world. The group I met with today see themselves as being light years away from the vacuous, starstruck, one dimensional types portrayed on the show. And they’re right. Public relations today is a far-flung, sophisticated industry that provides a wide range of services, from crisis counseling and issues advocacy to marketing support and employee communications. It’s a shame that bright, young professionals just entering the field have to routinely deflect such banal questions as: "oh, so you do parties?"
Sometimes I’m amazed at the hubris of companies like Coca-Cola, who today announced a new program to encourage physical activity in our children. The program is called "Live it," and will feature sports stars like Lance Armstrong urging sixth grade kids nationwide to stay active. While the idea is laudable (and smart from a corporate image standpoint), it’s also deceptive since Coke is selling its soft drinks in thousands of middle schools around the country. Instead of positioning themselves as a solutions provider, Coke should find other ways to make money and pull its vending machines out of our nation’s middle schools. A little less Coke and a lot more exercise would start putting a dent in our nation’s childhood obesity crisis.
Mack the knife is back in the saddle at Morgan Stanley after Phil Purcells’ passion play finally came to a bloody conclusion. Mack, the former CEO, has a Herculean task on his hands to begin repairing Morgan Stanley’s tarnsihed image. He needs to first settle organizational fratricide. But, then he quickly needs to assure clients and the Street that the house is back in order. How? By initiating new policies focused solely on delighting the client. Convince the skeptics that the internecine warfare has ended and that the business of Morgan’s business will be laser-focused on client service. Communicate some current case studies of delighted clients. Showcase new and former Morgan employees extolling their single-minded focus. The sooner Mack starts to act, the sooner Morgan’s listing ship will right itself and begin sailing through smoother waters.
My, oh my. Richard Scrushy just won’t leave well enough alone, will he? Following on the heels of his surprising acquital by a hometown jury, Scrushy is now threatening legal action against Healthsouth to get his old job back. I’m sure the Healthsouth board wants Scrushy back about as much as the Mets would like to have the horrific Mo Vaughn in the starting line-up again. For Healthsouth, Scrushy’s Phoenix-like rise from the ashheap of corporate malfeasance is a reputation nightmare. Trying to distance themselves from all of his alleged wrongdoings, Healthsouth has to be struggling to convince remaining customers that they’ll stay focused on the business of their business. So, what do you do if you’re Healthsouth? Figure out a way to buy Scrushy out ASAP. You do not want to fight him in a protracted court case. While Healthsouth might win the legal battle, they’ll lose in the court of public opinion (or in this case, the court of customer opinion). Customers will only put up with so much distraction. Healthsouth needs to put Scrushy behind them pronto. Or their business will be heading south….permanently.
Tomorrow’s annual All-Star game provides a perfect time for Major League Baseball to take a seventh inning stretch to reflect on its significant image problem by announcing rock-solid strategies for re-claiming its reputation.
I suggest that MLB embark on a significant grass roots campaign aimed at tomorrow’s major leaguers. Former and current ballplayers should participate in a national education campaign aimed at young people that decries the use and abuse of steroids. What better way for a person like Mark McGwire to try and turn around his image than by admitting fault and imploring kids not to follow in his path? I’d call the campaign "strike out steroids," announce it at the All-Star game and introduce it nationwide next Spring.
It’s time for baseball to wake up and pull this one out in the bottom of the ninth.
From Enron and The Iraqi War to Jason Giambi and Catholic priests, it seems the very pillars of society have been turned upside down. With each new outrage, there seem to be fewer and fewer shining lights of hope. Fewer true icons who hold themselves and their organizations accountable and zealously protect their reputations.
As an experienced public relations practitioner, I know it can take years to build and millions of marketing dollars to nurture a reputation. But that very same reputation can be destroyed in a nanosecond by irresponsible behavior.
How about Bernie Ebbers at Global Crossing, Trent Lott and his speech about Strom Thurmond’s segregationist ways, Michael Jackson’s bizarre bedroom behavior, Barry Bonds refusal to admit he’s been taking steroids for years….the list is almost endless.
Each day, I’ll take a look at the one of the pillars of society: business, sports, government, entertainment and religion and give my thoughts and recommendations on a breaking news item concerning an individual or institution whose reputation is being threatened by real or imagined misdeeds.
The reputation of an individual or an institution is priceless. Let’s discuss why so many "pillars" are allowing their actions to undermine their reputation.