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…


Truth Is What You Believe It Is

When the Nobel committee announced winners of its prize for economics this year, people were left scratching their head. Aren’t Nobel Prizes supposed to honor advancement in our knowledge of how things really work? To get us closer to the Truth? Doesn’t seem so. Which speaks volumes about how we perceive and interact with the…

"Can't fool all the people all the time.
But with internet, you can get close."

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The Underbelly of Finessing Reputation

  Since time immemorial, there have been those who polished the reputations of others. Plato did it for his teacher Socrates. Historians Plutarch of Greece and Suetonius of Rome did it for Julius Caesar. In the modern era, “official” or “authorized” biographers painted over the blemishes of their patrons. In the 20th century, Crisis &…

You won't hear much about the merits.

You win or lose on an emotional level.

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Motives vs Merits

  NIMBYism. Not a new concept. Not always straightforward, either. Truth is, We see what we want to see. Or what others want us to see. Sometimes people are upfront about motives: I’ve got mine, and I won’t give it up. Like owners of oceanfront property in New Jersey who won’t let the government build…

Best result in Crisis PR? No story.

Next best: Making it less painful.

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Is Anyone Really Surprised?

  Recently, a group of people was sitting around a table for an informal chat. The topic du jour: Is Edward Snowden a hero or a criminal? Responses were predictable based on people’s political leanings: He should be applauded for revealing intrusions on American citizens, or he’s a traitor who should be hanged (or worse). But…

Being a "source" lets you color the story.
But that's a dangerous game to play.
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No Facts? No Problem. Just Speculate.

  Journalists call them “thumb-suckers.” Short on facts for a story? No problem. Rumors and speculation are fine. You don’t even need to be accurate. If events ultimately turn out differently, just blame the (usually unidentified) sources. But one thing the media can’t abide is a vacuum. They’ve got news pages, blogs and air time…

You have so much at stake.

Don't let it slip away. Protect it.

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Definitions, Leaks & Reputation

At the end of the day, it all depends on how you define things. For the secret court that oversees the NSA, it was adopting an expansive definition of “relevant.” For Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, it was leaking vs spying, liberating information vs treason. For Crisis & Reputation Management, it’s what’s going…

Sad commentary on media & politics:

Creeping partisanship. More paralysis.

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Half-empty, Half-full, No-compromise.

It’s interesting to watch how media report the same story. Same facts. Different conclusions and emphasis. Disregard editorials and op-eds. They’re opinionated by definition. Only consider the news pages. Also disregard media that wear their bias on their sleeve (Fox on the right, CNN on the left). Look at the grand dames of American journalism…

Symbols trump facts every time.

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The Fantasy of Rationality

Since we emerged from the intellectually impoverished Dark Ages, philosophers and economists have been trying to make people fit into neat boxes prescribed by universal and predictable laws. They still are. Problem is, It never really worked. For some, the laws are mechanistic — the universe is a giant machine, and we are merely cogs.…

Don't let the rush of a small victory
distract you from your ultimate goal.

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“Check Your Testosterone at the Door”

In some circles, “attorneys” and “argumentative” are considered synonymous. But one judge had had enough. In handing down his ruling, he made it clear — in unusually colorful terms — that he was more interested in resolving the issue than having lawyers puff up their chests and dig in their heels. The obstreperous attorneys not…

If you do your job well, no one
sees all the work behind the words.
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It’s Not How Much You Say. It’s How Well.

  One hundred and fifty years ago in the midst of our nation’s Civil War, prominent politician, diplomat and orator Edward Everett stood to deliver the featured speech dedicating Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Two hours and more than 13,500 words later, he sat down. Next on the agenda was another politician whose role was…

Honesty is good for the soul
-- as long as it's confidential
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We’re All Storytellers

We’re all trying to make our cases to achieve our goals. Doesn’t matter whether we’re lawyers arguing in court, businessmen selling a new widget or service, politicians pounding away at our  agendas, or Crisis PR people softening the impact of negative situations. Most of those examples are straightforward. Crisis & Reputation Management is the exception.…

There are no happy accidents.
Just ugly surprises if unprepared.
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Blank Slate. But Not for Long.

We all start with a clean sheet. But it fills up fast. Putting aside the advantages of birth and wealth that some enjoy and others don’t, we are what we write in life’s book. Do we pursue every opportunity, or let them slide past? Do we rise above adversity, or shrink under its weight? Poet…

In battles for the heart and soul,
target is emotional, not rational.
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“I just want to say one word to you — just one word: ‘Plastics.’”    ~ Friend of his father to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) in “The Graduate,” 1967 That fleeting scene defined the chasm between the World War II generation and the Baby Boomers. It was more than rejection of the gray flannel suit and…

Can this go wrong?
Let me count the ways.

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Felony Stupidity

If stupidity were a crime, our jails would be a lot more crowded than they are. Of course, we’re referring to things people do and say, not to the individuals themselves. These folks may be otherwise intelligent. From the perspective of Crisis PR, they’re either getting bad advice. Getting good advice and ignoring it. Or…


Life Goes On

  Life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.   ~ Singer John Cougar Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane,” 1982 Deservedly, there has long been fascination with and emphasis on youth. The young are unrestrained by convention. Free to envision possibilities and pursue them. Not yet encumbered by traditional mind-sets or weighted by…

Media defines your world.
But whose version is true?
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Everything’s Apocryphal

“Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice.”    ~ Will Durant, 20th century American philosopher & historian The same is true with the news of the day. In the best of times, it’s hard to get a straight story. It’s even more difficult when commentators pose as journalists and facts are inconveniences to…

Honesty is good for the soul
-- as long as it's confidential
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More Than a Little. Less Than Too Much.

A professional liar and a PR guy walk into a bar. How can you tell the difference? This is fill-in-the-blank humor. At least, an attempt at humor. No one right answer. So have at it. But consider this: A professional liar lies — by definition. A Crisis PR person mustn’t. A little misdirection is acceptable,…

In crisis, you must "know," not "hope." 
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No Margin for Error

In World War II, a new phrase entered the lexicon: “Good enough for government work.” At the time, it was high praise: If you could meet the government’s rigorous standards, you could pass muster anywhere. After the war, the meaning got turned on its head. It became a pejorative: Barely acceptable quality. But the mantra…

Those in the spotlight feel every nuance.
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Just Words, Right?

A couple whose marriage was on the rocks was sitting with a divorce mediator, explaining how the other didn’t understand them and said hurtful things. “Well, they’re just words,” said the mediator, thinking he’d hit upon a solution to the problem. “No,” snapped the couple, both professional writers. “You don’t comprehend the damage.” The same…


Comfort of Habit & Fear of Change

There’s a reason beliefs are cherished. They provide comfort. By nature, people prefer stability and resist change. Some beliefs are grand in scope — about the role of government and religion in individuals’ lives, about what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. Some are less grand, but they’re part of the fabric of society, and the…

Fairy tales fall apart quickly.
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Credibility — the Ultimate Bottom Line

Tax lawyers have a one-liner: “What’s the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion? About 20 years.” Crisis PR folks have theirs, too: “What’s the difference between a storyline that works and one that doesn’t? Everything.” Usually, clients are aching to tell their side — their version of the facts. Sometimes they sincerely believe it’s…


The Timeless Machine

After the battle comes the Quiet. ~ HG Wells, The Time Machine Wells, a child of Darwin’s evolutionary philosophy, was exploring society’s struggle to overcome Nature and scarcity. He was sure it would be achieved, eventually. The Quiet was a languor he feared may come when the battle ended and the keen skills honed by…

Cynical. Skeptical. Quick to condemn.
With no one to respect, public is adrift.
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Once Upon a Time …

There was perhaps a time when certain groups commanded respect and trust. But that’s changing. So many are sliding down the ladder and competing for the bottom rungs. Nobody is moving up. Politicians were always cutthroat and sought to impose their own philosophy. But at least they were perceived to be pursuing a common good.…

Crisis is no time for wondering what to do.

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The Very High Cost of Being Unprepared

Every organization is vulnerable to PR crises at any moment. Government investigation. Nasty litigation. Financial turmoil. Sudden management change. Data breach. Product recall. Industrial accident. Environmental controversy. Natural disaster. It’s not a matter of “if” it will happen to you. It’s simply a matter of “when.” You’ve invested years of blood, sweat and tears to…

The world isn't going to get slower.
So Crisis PR needs to get even faster.
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Speed & Accuracy

There are few, if any, better training grounds for journalists and Crisis PR people than The Associated Press. It’s unrelenting and unforgiving — a lifestyle that fuels and feeds upon adrenaline junkies. If you prosper there, you can excel anywhere. The AP’s mantra is simple and exacting: Be fast. Be first. Be accurate. This isn’t…

Hubris has a very high cost.

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Just a Little Bit Pregnant

The higher people are in business or social circles, the more they believe they can get away with. It’s hubris, writ large. When Scott London, a top Southern California partner of the global audit firm KPMG was feeding inside information to a golfing buddy, he reportedly reassured his friend not to worry — the amounts…


“Go in a Pope. Come Out a Cardinal.”

When 115 Roman Catholic cardinals walked into the Sistine Chapel recently, any of them could have become the next Pope. Some believed they would. When they walked out two days later, all but one were still cardinals. There’s an age-old precept of Vatican politicking: “Go in a Pope. Come Out a Cardinal.” It’s a caution…