Don't let it get personalOr you lose sight of goal.

Think You’re Ready? Think Again.

“Nothing rattles me,” the young executive routinely assures colleagues. Makes sense. That’s her job. She is the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the storm, and that lets her find solutions to clients’ problems. Then the unexpected happened, and she lost it. She’d just bought a new car 10 days earlier, and…

Life with digital tether
is blessing and curse.

Untethered & Angst-Ridden

Some professionals are tethered to their work 24/7. Doctors. Lawyers. Executives and business owners. Crisis PR people. Problems don’t take time off. You don’t get to, either. When clients or customers want you, they want you now. Ten minutes ago would be even better. You wear a phone glued to your hip all day and…

Uncover the essence.
Then you can solve it.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-Maker

If problems didn’t exist, there’d be less need for lawyers, psychiatrists and other professions that fix them. Crisis PR people are in that category. They’re equal parts problem-solver, hand-holder, confessor and consigliere. Unlike spiritual leaders who want to guide their flock back to righteousness, the overarching goal for Crisis PR is to understand the dynamics,…

Get out in front of a crisis.
Or other side controls story.

Too Little. Too Late.

When is “at all cost” too high a cost? The NFL is finding out. So are other sports. Once upon a time, it was considered proper to protect the brand first and foremost, from turning a blind eye to being dismissive of accusers to giving slaps on the wrist. The Game was all that mattered,…

Job #1 in Crisis PR -Separate fiction from fact

Fiction & Fact

We’re all better for having read, seen or told fiction. Whatever can be imagined, can be. Think Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling. Not so in the world of Crisis & Reputation Management. Facts are facts. You can’t ignore them. You can polish, redefine or interpret differently. To use the vernacular, you can spin.…

When we do our job well,it is the best of times.

Best and Worst

The desire to edit another person’s words is almost irresistible. Not always for the better. Consider the publishing-house editor in charge of A Tale of Two Cities who suggested Charles Dickens shorten his initial wording to “It was the best and worst of times.” Dickens refused and his original language is now one of the…

When we do our job well,
it is the best of times.


Routine has a bad reputation. Deservedly. It conjures images of people slogging through their jobs and lives. The only goal is to get to the end so they can do it again the next day. But there’s a flip side, too often overlooked. It lets people organize the “routine” in their lives so they can…

How much your time worth?
Depends on perceived value.

Eye of the Beholder

A professor posed a riddle to his MBA students: A new device significantly shortens the time needed to complete a manufacturing process. How much is it worth? Most students dutifully crunched the usual numbers. Cost of materials. Cost of labor and overhead. Add in a fair profit. Voilà? Not even close. One student took a…

As privacy erodes, potential threats to your reputation multiply.

Demographics & Big Data

Demographics will define the future. Big Data is the future. The first concept is undisputed. The second depends on who you talk to. The biggest demographic is the one most talked about — the gray generation, Boomers born after World War II and now on the cusp of retirement. They built the economies of today’s…

Watching media contortions
-- a sport for ex-journalists

Top to Bottom

News media has always been stratified: Cream of the crop. Bottom of the barrel. Big in-between. Today there’s less cream, much more bottom and in-between. In part because of more voices with more megaphones. Read it online? On Twitter? Must be true, right? Consider actor George Clooney’s recent battle with London’s Daily Mail over allegations…

Give up a private life.Gain a dependable client.

Like a Baby

Parents of newborns share a gloriously painful experience with Crisis PR people: Exhaustion. Neither are masters of their daily lives. They rest when they find the time. For new parents, the experience is measured in weeks. For Crisis PR, it’s a relentless way of life. Thankfully, the two rarely occur simultaneously. New parents are usually…

Don't fall victim to foot-in-mouth disease.Think before you open your mouth.

Open Mics & Disengaged Minds

Foot-in-mouth disease has damaged many careers and ended others. Its history is long, colorful and likely to continue. Most of the time, it has a close correlation to carelessness and insensitivity. Sometimes it’s not even a gaffe at all, but a carefully rehearsed message. Let’s take a closer look. Cause and effect will become more…

Tools reflect technology.But essence is forever.

Tools & Essence

There’s nothing special about it. Just another nondescript suburban parking garage in Rosslyn, Va. Lots of concrete and shadowy corners. It’s where “Deep Throat” met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and guided him through the Watergate scandal that toppled President Nixon in 1974 and redefined an industry for a new generation of journalists. Besides…

Pick your fights carefully.Preferably ones you'll win.

Noise & Substance

Opinions, they say, are like assholes. Everybody has one. Doesn’t make them right. But people are seldom eager to back down. Sometimes it’s pride (no one wants to admit they’re wrong). Other times, it’s deeply-held  beliefs (no one will ever yield on those). There’s nothing new about having opinions, although the ability to express them…

First, define your audience.Convince them and you win.

Savage Magic

The British magazine The Economist is fond of phrases like “the savage magic of capitalism.” It’s also fond of describing itself as “Liberal” — in a Classical 18th century sense that is vastly more conservative than the 20th century version, let alone the 21st. Perceptions of what is real and right depend on where you’re…

Don't like the media question?
Answer the one you want.

Pandora’s Jar*

After all the evil had escaped, the legend goes, all that remained in the jar was hope — and mankind has never stopped hoping. Without hope, there is only emptiness and lack of direction. No purpose. Passed over for a promotion you know you deserved? Did you simply hope your boss would notice your brilliance…

Chief lesson for clients:Once burned. Twice shy.

Give a Fish, Teach to Fish

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” It’s one of those proverbs everyone’s heard — and used. It’s more true in some professions than others. That fact was brought home recently during a discussion of how much business comes from repeat clients.…

Society acts on expectation.Your job is to manage them.
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Not-So-Great Expectations

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”   ~ Alexander Pope, 18th century British poet Tell that to the stock market. It hasn’t run on fundamentals in years. If it ever did. It runs on rumors, hunches and mass psychology. Fall short of expectations, and stocks are pummeled. Exceed them,…

You can't unring a bell.
 You can affect outcome.

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Que Sera, Sera

Doris Day was wrong. A lot of people approach life that way, but it’s ultimately defeatist. They feel hopelessly trapped and surrender to fate. Or you fight back. Do whatever you need to right a situation gone wrong. The more cleverly you rally your defenses and project a strong offense, the more likely you are…


“So, what do you do?”

“When you’re fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher.” ~ Frank Underwood in House of Cards “We’re fixers. We’re crisis managers. It’s not about solving a crime. It’s not about justice. It’s about our client.”  ~ Harrison in Scandal Put those two popular TV shows together, take out just some of the exaggeration, and…

After the fall comesthe steep climb back.

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10 Feet Tall & Bulletproof

True for children of all ages. Just ask ‘em. For better or worse, they haven’t learned limitations and caution. The older we get, the more wary most of us become. We’ve been singed and aren’t eager to repeat it. Besides, we’ve accumulated more and hence have more to lose. It’s the difference between big risk…

Beating media at own game
is no game for amateurs.
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You hear it every day. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have been so careless. I wouldn’t have gotten in this spot in the first place. That’s wishful thinking. You don’t have your druthers. What’s done is done. Hand-wringing is a waste of time and emotion. The only pertinent question is, How are you…

Life is constantly shifting.Success needs vision & skill.
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Size Matters. So Does Foresight.

FedEx made it clear this week, and UPS is expected to follow suit: Size matters. Delivery costs will be based on bulkiness, not just weight. Prices will rise for one-third of all packages. The decision sent tremors through the e-commerce industry. Suddenly it will be costlier to send everyday items that have become staples for…

Q: What is your best strategy?A: What sells to media/public.
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Fast Is Good

Fast-acting isn’t beneficial only for Alka-Seltzer, Advil and diet plans. It’s also a basic rule for Crisis & Reputation Management. Nip the issue in the bud quickly, or you’re in for a long and painful slog in the pitiless glare of the media and public. It also lets you short-circuit potentially detrimental speculation. But timing…

Beware of playing Blame Game.It can come back and bite you.
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Blame Game, Again

Blame is a subject we all deal with frequently. We hate taking responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault — the airline that gets your seat wrong, the server who brings you a different meal than you think you ordered, the insurer’s computer that gets your coverage confused. On a larger scale, GM and Toyota for…

When cleaning house, the axe
falls fast and without favor.

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Last to Know. First to Go.

Historically, this one-liner was applied to basic PR people —  those who do marketing or general communications. They are routinely kept outside the inner circle. It’s a matter of need to know, and they don’t. What’s more, they’re considered expendable. But it pre-dates the rise of Crisis & Reputation Management — the realization that sensitive…

How to control media herd?Turn around the lead steer.
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You’re inundated by it every day. A flood of words, empty of meaning but designed to arouse emotions. Think talking heads on TV and radio. Institutionalized shoutfests that make no pretense of trying to inform. Or politicians. How many words can they use without actually saying anything? Or the chatter you hear in a patio…


10,000 Hours

Definition of an expert? “‘X’ is the unknown quantity. A spurt is a drip under pressure. Therefore, an expert is an unknown drip under pressure.” This bit of wisdom was shared with fresh-faced students by a friendly, world-wise college custodian, and it had the intended effect of deflating their tender egos. In his book Outliers,…

Best time for damage control?
Remember early bird and worm.

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Goose, Gander & Ox

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But it depends on whose ox is being gored. Contradictory concepts, yet we use them every day. Just select the one that’s most fitting at the moment. Is outrageous behavior by celebrities acceptable, if the same would land you in jail? Are sexual indiscretions by…

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The Buck Stops

Mary Barra got it right. Barely two months into her job as General Motors’ CEO, she seized control of quality problems, ordered multiple recalls totaling nearly 3.5 million vehicles, apologized personally and on behalf the GM, and pledged changes in how the company operates. In the parlance of Crisis & Reputation Management, she took ownership.…

If you don't want it public
don't put it in writing

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Loose Lips & Paper Trails

In World War II it was, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” The U.S. War Advertising Council created the slogan to caution that loose talk was a threat to the nation, the military and ultimately the public. Today the challenge is the same, but the danger is digital. Not only for governments, but also for businesses, nonprofit…

A firm hand, a clear eye,
and unwavering decisiveness.

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King, Ferryman, Shepherd

In one school of Tibetan Buddhism, there are three paths for leading others to enlightenment: The King, who knows the ultimate truth and gently guides his subjects to it. The Ferryman, who doesn’t know the final destination, but is on the path to realizing it and carries others toward it. The Shepherd, who first helps…

Knowing what sells to the media
gives you a fighting chance
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Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be, blest.   ~ Alexander Pope, 18th century English poet By nature, people prefer to be optimistic. They’re also inclined to be gullible. Tell them what they want to hear, and they will be happy. That takes less effort than being analytical…

Focus on running your business.
Let Crisis PR team worry & fix.

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Paranoia & Survival

It’s a timeless concept. Right up there with the ancient proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Andy Grove, who helped create and guide the success of Intel, even wrote a book about it: Only the Paranoid Survive. The bottom line is simple: Worrying is not only good. It’s essential. It lets you…

Rarely there's so little to say that it's best to say nothing.

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Affluence Made Me Do It

Justice for the super-rich is different from justice for the rest of us. Always has been. Always will be. They can afford to buy the best legal defense to insulate them. That’s why Wall Street banks, hedge funds and financiers historically paid nominal fines and rarely admitted wrongdoing. Only since the economic crash of 2009…

Facts are facts. Deal with 'em.
You're only job is to win
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Battle of the Anecdotes

Anecdotes are an effective way to tell a story. We all use them every day, some better than others. Politicians. Preachers. Lawyers. Business “rainmakers.” They are among the best. Already know the conclusion you want to lead your listeners to? Plenty of examples to choose from to get you there. Some facts may actually be…

Defining your message is easy.

Being convincing is the challenge.

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Gerrymandering the Mind

  “I don’t judge wine from a technical point of view, but from the pleasure it gives me,” Italian connoisseur Luca Maroni wrote in bestowing a near-perfect rating on an uncommon wine. That attitude works well for subjective things such as wine or music or movies, where “I know what I like” is the ultimate…

Technology drives progress.

The challenge is reinvention.

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Progress & Reinvention

Another bit of technology and history is biting the dust: Movies on film. But shed no tears. Paramount Pictures is notifying theater operators that, going forward, all its movies will be distributed in digital format only, as was its most recent release, The Wolf of Wall Street. Other studios are expected to do the same.…

Resisting change is useless.
Accept it or put client at risk.

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Change Happens. Deal With It.

It seems like only yesterday — and a lifetime ago — that the computer revolution began. In the 1970s, “dumb” terminals had their “brains” in large air-conditioned backrooms full of giant servers. Soon after came clunky personal computers. Since then Moore’s Law has held true: Computer processing power has doubled every two years. Today’s smart…

In a dispute, success or failure
is a measure of perception.

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Two Ears, One Mouth

There are reasons, the old saying goes, why you have two ears and one mouth. First: You learn more by listening than by talking. Second: The less you say — and the more carefully you select your words — the better your message is heard. This is true in all walks of life. It is…

Hoping for best rarely works.
Finding a "fixer" does.

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Greatest Fear, Fondest Hope

Fear and hope are never far apart when facing a threat that could tarnish a reputation years in the making. So much is on the line. The more imminent it is, the closer they are. In the same instant, clients recoil from the threat and embrace the hope that it may not happen. But hoping…

Manage expectations.
Outperform and you're a hero. 

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Counting Chickens Too Soon

“Great news,” the client emailed excitedly. “That negative story didn’t appear. Brilliant result!” “Don’t jinx it,” we suggested. “So far, so good. But don’t celebrate too soon. Give it another month. Then you can comfortably begin to exhale.” Subdued and prudent is preferable to brash and zealous. When clients are confronted with a threat to…

As the world changes, we adapt.

If we fail, clients pay the price. 

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Beyond Belief

Long ago in a classroom far away, an instructor gave an assignment to a group of fresh-eyed journalism students: Write a news story about the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. The challenge wasn’t writing a story. Presumably that was a no-brainer. It was to test whether students could put aside their personal beliefs, separate…

Always prepare for the worst.

If it happens, it's less painful.

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Everything Looks Like a Nail

“If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s a concept familiar to every schoolboy. If you’re only looking for one thing, that’s what you will find — every time. Take lawyers. Whatever happens, they see potential legal downsides. Or risk managers who wring their hands endlessly about possible threats. Or profit-improvement advisers who…

Crisis PR in digital age: No escaping
tethers of smart phones & 24/7 news.
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No Mistakes & No Escape

To Einstein, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was the definition of insanity. To Yogi Berra, who was as famous for his malapropisms as for his baseball prowess, it was déjà vu all over again. It’s never desirable to make mistakes — and it’s certainly never wise to repeat…

Reputation threat? You have a choice:
Fix it now, or after it becomes reality.
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Dissipation of Wealth & Reputation

Do you have a reputation to protect? Or do you just have a reputation? Very different concepts. Some may be downright nasty. Think wife-beaters. Or tattoo-covered bikers with a penchant for too much alcohol, drugs and brawling. Or those who are just too dumb or too lazy to achieve anything. (Add your own category of…

Some fixes may work "most of the time."

But the client wants the one that works this time.

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Protocol vs Risk

Consider this: Ten labor lawyers are presented with a problem and asked what to do. Nine give the same answer, but the 10th replies differently. Whose advice is more trustworthy? That question was posed to a roomful of lawyers, and the vast majority opted to go with the nine. Only one person — a non-lawyer…

Little room for hope? Less for trust?

You need Crisis PR more than ever.

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The End of Belief?

Is it any wonder an entire generation stopped believing? They wanted to have faith. To wit, their embrace of the wholesome beach party films of the ’60s and the silly 1970s TV series Happy Days that glorified the carefree ’50s. They stood in line for hours to see the syrupy, if ultimately sad, Ali MacGraw…

When worst happens, you're on your own.

You must define terms of the debate.

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Never Having to Say You’re Guilty

The public never really trusted Wall Street. That relationship went from bad to worse in the economic meltdown of 2008. Many were angered that bankers blamed for causing the crisis lined up at the public trough to be bailed out. What rankled more was that even in the few instances when fines were levied, no one was required…

You don't need to like other people.
But you do need to love the game.

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The Fixers

“Hell is other people.”    ~ Existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1944 play “No Exit” This could be a rallying cry for misanthropes everywhere. But it’s really a recognition that most of the aggravation you suffer is the result of other people: Misinterpreting you. Sticking their foot in your mouth. Plying schemes to…