Category Archives: Crisis Communication

Slam Dunk Controversy

If you’ve been near a television, radio or basically any social media outlet over the last couple of days, you’ve heard about Donald Sterling and his less than appealing commentary. In short, Sterling made negative comments about his girlfriend being friends with “blacks” and said he did not want them at his games. Once the audio of his remarks were made public, Clippers players as well as the NBA were outraged. In response, the NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million dollars. Anyone else think Sterling is kicking himself right now?!

As PR people (note applicable to all human beings), this mess can serve as a teaching moment for several reasons. Numero uno: Nothing you say is private if your life is public, meaning if you live in the public eye, you are vulnerable to have whatever you say and do examined by the world. In Sterling’s case, the comments he made were said in private but clearly it didn’t make a difference. It’s important to make our clients aware of this and make sure they know what they can and cannot say in various situations.

donald sterlingPoint number two: Trust no one. Now, this is a hard sell because you need people in your life to talk to. But for those in the public eye, it’s important for them to realize not everyone should know every detail of their lives. There are bad people out there who just want to get close to someone for the story or the almighty dollar. Public figures and celebrities need to keep this in the back of their minds.

No one is denying that what Sterling said was completely wrong. He should be held accountable for his actions regardless of where or when he made these comments. One could argue, though, that more severe acts have been committed with minimal consequences. For example, Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles made racist comments at a concert. He was fined as a result of his actions but is still an active player within the NFL. I understand each sport’s leadership is different but Sterling’s lifetime ban versus Cooper’s fine makes me wonder. Other athletes, say Michael Vick for example, have gotten away with far worse too.

The bottom line is people, public figures or otherwise, need to be held accountable for their actions. PR people need to aid their clients in being responsible for their words and actions. Donald Sterling’s situation is unfortunate but can be used as a lesson for all of us.

ROC Race Sprints Past Shutdown

A couple of months ago, my friend and I decided we were going to run the ROC race in Brooklyn. The ROC (Ridiculous Obstacle Course) is a 5K race held all over the nation that has different obstacles. From wrecking balls to water slides, this race has it all! We were super excited to run the race this upcoming weekend until the government decided to shut down.

The ROC race was being held at the Aviator Sports & Events Center, which is part of a national park. Since the government shutdown, all national parks have been temporarily closed, thus postponing this race. Obviously, race participants were not happy, myself included. Not only was I training for the race, but I also paid a decent amount of money to run. The ROC race understood all of this and responded in the best ways possible. Here are the couple of actions the race took to ensure all NYC race participants were happy:

roc-race1) Constant communication: The race has sent me at least six emails since the shutdown began. They provide detailed updates about the race, our registration and any other developments. Just this morning I received a reminder to not pick up our race packets since the race is postponed. Some may think it’s overkill, but I like being informed and updated.

2) Updates on all outlets: Not only have we gotten email communications, but the ROC race has done a great job of updating their website FAQs and posting on Facebook to keep everyone informed. Their Facebook updates are particularly helpful as it’s easier to read that on my iPHONE.

3) Contingency plans: The ROC race has been very intentional with their planning. They could not have possibly known the government was going to shut down and postpone their race. They have set deadlines and already secured the space for next weekend, in the hopes that the shutdown will be over by this coming Monday. They are also taking race set-up and participant notification into consideration: If the shutdown isn’t over by Monday (October 14), they will not run the race that upcoming weekend. They are not trying to rush and just get the race done. They care enough about their participants to make sure the experience and execution are flawless.

4) Listening skills: When the race was first postponed, runners had two options: Run the race on the new date or transfer registration to another ROC race in a different location or on a different date. Once that news got out, people reacted strongly and were upset that they couldn’t choose a refund instead of a registration transfer. Race leadership responded quickly and created two additional options: a complete refund or a registration transfer to a friend. This absolutely showed how the race is primarily concerned with their runners’ experience and are willing to change plans in order to accommodate more participants.

Overall, I think the ROC race handled a difficult situation really well. Of course, there are still unhappy participants and everyone still wishes the race would run this weekend. But, given the circumstances, race leadership dealt with this mini crisis in a positive and professional way.

Shock Value of a Selfie

If you were in 10 feet of a television or computer yesterday, you heard about or even saw Rolling Stone Magazine’s controversial cover for their August 3rd publication. The cover features surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhohkar Tsarnaev with the headline “The Bomber.” The tagline underneath reads “How a popular, promising student, failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” The picture, taken by Tsarnev himself, has also been featured on the front page of the New York Times. The magazine hasn’t even hit newsstands yet but already stirred up the emotions of many. 

When the cover appeared all over the Internet yesterday, people were outraged. On my own timeline, I saw several people who said they would be boycotting Rolling Stone magazine because of it. A Facebook page dedicated to a said boycott already has 26,000 likes and #BoycottRollingStone was a trending topic on Twitter yesterday. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Wenner Media, who publishes the magazine, saying the cover was a disgrace and should have been about the first responders. Stores including CVS and Walgreens refused to distribute the magazine as well. After all this, Rolling Stone stands by their cover, releasing this statement yesterday:

“The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.” 

Rolling Stone CoverTo me, the question Rolling Stone needs to ask is was the shock value of this cover worth this fire storm of outrage from the public? It appears their intentions are good and that they are trying to shed light onto a situation many cannot understand. However, we will not know if this is true until we read the article. It is true that people who normally wouldn’t care about Rolling Stone are now talking about it and generating online conversation about the magazine. But, if this is all negative conversation that leads to boycotting, is it worth it. Shouldn’t a magazine’s bottom line be about sales not about trending on Twitter?

Rolling Stone has published highly controversial covers before. They’ve featured John Lennon holding a nude Yoko Ono as well as a nude Janet Jackson. Possibly their most arguable cover to date featured Charles Manson; the article attached to this cover subsequently won the magazine an award. They’ve been known to push the envelope and write pieces that could be considered over the edge. 

 I can understand both sides of the issue in this situation. Rolling Stone is committed to reporting every aspect of the Boston Marathon Bombing, including information about Tsarnaev. As a writer, I admire this and applaud them for broaching such a topic. However, the events that occurred that day were tragic and the general public is not ready to see this terrorist on a cover of a national magazine. While those affected will never be the same, more time might have prevented such backlash. 

What do you think about the Rolling Stone cover? Would you read the article?

Paula’s Past Shapes Her Future

Language and communication impact our lives every day, in both positive and negative ways. The words we use shape our personal brand as well as our relationships. There is no better example this statement then Paula Deen. Within the last month, Deen has gone from Food Network icon to a racist tyrant who demeans her employees. How did this star fall from grace so quickly?

It started when Deen told a prosecutor that she had used the “N” word before. Since she was under oath, one would assume that she was telling the truth. The firestorm then began, with people researching exactly when Deen used the derogatory term throughout her lifetime. A couple of suspected instances from her past came up and quickly she was labeled as a racist. Endorsements disappeared and The Food Network cancelled her show, despite her pleading video apologies to fans and a tearful appearance on The Today Show. Paula Deen’s career as she knows it, is over.

No one should use derogatory terms, regardless of their status as a celebrity or otherwise. Paula Deen is no exception to this statement. However, it appears that this woman’s past is being brought up and her entire reputation is being dragged through the mud. The word she used sounds like it is being taken out of context. Now, let me make this clear: I am not condoning her use of the word or using the word at all. But, in the situation she was in, being held at gunpoint, could anyone blame her for using the word?

We all can sit and speculate if Paula Deen has used the “N” word or other offensive terms in her lifetime. But, she told the truth on the stand that day. She deserves some credit for that. Now, her entire career and life have completed changed, for one alleged mistake that happened 30 years ago. If your life was examined, would you be proud of every word choice you’ve made?

Regardless of what Paula Deen has said or done, the bottom line is your past can come back to haunt you. As a young adult, the actions I take today can and will affect me tomorrow. That is the lesson we all should learn from Paula Deen’s current situation. The words and language we use to communicate whether professionally or in joking around will be judged by others. Words you find inoffensive can potentially bother someone else. If using such a word is questionable in your mind, then just don’t say it.

Unfortunately, Paula Deen learned this lesson the hard way. But, for the rest of us, it is a shining example of how the way we choice to communicate can impact us in the future. Below is Deen’s interview from The Today Show. Do you think she is telling the truth?

Glee’s Major Misstep

For decades, television shows have mimicked real-life events. Shows for younger people are especially famous for doing this as to drive home a point and discuss current issues faced by adolescents. For the most part, this concept is a good one that can potentially teach kids valuable lessons. However, this past week’s episode of Fox’s hit television show, Glee took it one step too far.

All of us can vividly recall the tragic events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut a mere four months ago. Twenty six innocent lives were lost in a massacre shooting that should have never happened. In an attempt to raise awareness of gun violence and possible mental health issues, Glee’s latest musical showcase featured a cut and dry “school shooting.” There was not any back story or discussion after the event occurred. It seemed to be just thrown into the middle of an episode where it truly didn’t belong.

gleeThe Glee kids are in the choir room when suddenly a “pop pop” is heard and everyone is told to hide. The camera shoots empty hallways and then shows all the cast members safe and sound. In the end, Becky, a student at McKinley High School and reoccurring Glee character, relieves only to another teacher, that she brought a gun to school to protect herself. Becky has Down Syndrome and doesn’t feel prepared to take on the real world so she thought a gun could protect her. Her teacher and mentor, Sue Sylvester takes the gun from her when it accidentally goes off and causes alarm throughout the school. Sue also ends up taking the blame for the incident and is asked to leave McKinley.

This was not a school shooting but rather a false alarm that caused a bit of panic. After all of the recent events, in particularly in Newtown, having or showing a gun in a school is just not right. It is too soon, featured on a show that younger children watch. There was also no discussion about the incident, no set-up or follow-up. Viewers of all ages were left to draw their own conclusions.

Additionally, this episodes touches the very sensitive topic of mental illness. Becky is visibly scared to enter adulthood in the episode. While the fear is natural, I don’t know if putting a gun in her hands was the best way to deliver that message. Some of the shooters in recent events did have mental disabilities, but without any discuss or accountability, the message Glee was trying to send was lost.

I understand why an episode like this was featured on a show like Glee. The audience is young and impressionable; they might actually listen to singing high school students. But, the timing and delivery were off. If they would have waited longer and executed the episode with more intention, it might have worked. I am not an expert and do not have any experience in this area. However, sometimes it is not about the media or entertainment but about human emotions trumping everything else.

A clip from the episode is below. Take a look and share your thoughts.

College Sports in the Hot Seat

RUIf you’ve turned on the news or scrolled through your Twitter feed within the last week, you’ve heard about the Rutgers University Men’s Basketball coach who was fired because of his behavior during a video-taped practice. Coach Mike Rice was released from his duties as head basketball coach on April 3rd after being caught using abrasive language and physically abusing his players. Since then, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti was also released from Rutgers. It has been said that Pernetti knew of Rice’s inappropriate behavior.

Also making the headlines this week was the Auburn University football program, who committed several NCAA recruiting violations, paid their players and had players’ grades changed. A full report was completed by reporter Selena Roberts who detailed all of the infractions on her website.

It seems a day doesn’t pass where some college isn’t in the hot seat for a sports scandal. You can’t forget the fake girlfriend mess of Manti Te’o from Notre Dame or the booster club nightmare at the University of Miami. Of course, the most infamous of them all was the Penn State child abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. The real question is why so many college sports scandals?

The possible answers are endless. People are more connected to the media. Athletes are treated more elite and therefore feel entitled and untouchable. Competition among teams has increased and translates into real dollars for both the players and the university. None of these are acceptable answers for the behavior we’ve seen from college athletes and administrators just within the last year.

Since it seems almost inevitable that some issue will arise within a college’s athletic program, everyonesocial media world involved has to be prepared for the worst. I am certainly no expert, but after watching these tragedies unfold, here are my tips for preparing for a college sports crisis:

1. Be Proactive: Communicate with your athletes the social media policies that are in place for your team and for the university. Don’t have a social media policy? I suggest you create one for your team because most of them are active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Even show them examples of what is appropriate versus what is not.

2. Discuss Hypotheticals: Take ten minutes of a team meeting each month to talk about the ‘what if’ situations that could happen to these athletes. Use case studies that have actually occurred. Make team members respond and evaluate what they say. This way, if a scandal does occur, the athletes will have a better idea of what to say and how to react.

3. Raise the Bar: While student athletes are an important part of a university, they are still students and human beings. Don’t make exceptions or excuses for them just because they need to play. It sets a bad example and makes the athletes think they can do what they want. By setting a higher standard for student athletes, they can become role models for the university.

Most schools have a crisis communication plan but coaches should talk to their teams about these issues as they happen in real-time. It might prevent further problems in the future. Why do you think there are so many scandals within college sports? Do you agree with my pieces of advice? Please share your thoughts.

The Seriousness of Suicide

Javon Belcher

Javon Belcher

On Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself at Arrowhead Stadium after killing his girlfriend. The 25 year-old professional football player hadn’t missed a start with the Chiefs since he began there in 2009. Belcher and his girlfriend leave behind a 3-month old baby girl. Both the Chiefs’ head coach and general manager witnessed the suicide early Saturday morning.

All of the Kansas City Chiefs players commented that Belcher was a great teammate and someone who worked hard on and off the field. Everyone around him didn’t see any warning signs and can’t grasp why Belcher would end his life. A professional athlete whose dream came true with supportive teammates and a baby daughter; what could have been so bad that he chose to take such drastic measures?

While the actions of Jovan Belcher were tragic, one positive lesson that comes from this situation is the attention it draws to mental illness. Clearly, Belcher was not in his right state of mind when he went trigger happy on Saturday morning. Mental illness does not discriminate or come with a warning. All different types of people suffer from depression, rage, anxiety and various other problems that put them into a dark place. Sometimes there are warning signs, but usually there aren’t. The only real way to help those suffering from mental illness is to remove the stigma from such diseases. People should not be afraid to talk about what they are feeling, regardless of how extreme.

The Kansas City Chiefs released a statement Saturday saying how great a loss it was and sent prayers to his family. More importantly, the Chiefs did not become involved in any of the speculated drama between Belcher and his girlfriend. They focused their message on the loss of their teammate. The most poignant statement was the Chiefs continuing to play their game on Sunday to honor their fallen teammate and his love for the game.

In response to the Jevon Belcher suicide, the NFL launched a suicide help line for current and former NFL players. All phone calls will be kept confidential and the service will be ran independently from the NFL. On their website, there are a series of videos featuring NFL players including Brett Favre telling players that it is okay to ask for help. This is an important step for the NFL to take in order to support all its players. It is also a smart, conscious response to a crisis that shines a positive light on a negative situation.

The Kansas City Chiefs at Sunday's game

The Kansas City Chiefs at Sunday’s game

I am beyond happy to see the NFL aid its players in the real struggle they are facing today. By bringing the issue of suicide to the forefront, hopefully other players and people will be able to get help. Suicide is not something to joke about and must be taken seriously. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, remember there are people out there to help you.

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