Life's good once you learn
you can't please everyone.

Damned If You Do. Damned If You Don’t.

You can’t please everyone. When you’re making tough calls about how to handle a sticky situation, there’ll always be someone criticizing your actions. Same goes for happier decisions like which flavor of birthday cake to serve. When a counselor at a summer camp was accused of inappropriately touching a child, he was assigned to administrative…

Missing the full picture?Our minds will fill in the context.

Out of Context

Sometimes context is lost in time. In an episode of Star Trek, a cryogenically frozen 20th century human is discovered 400 years later drifting in space. Records identify her as a “homemaker” — a term long fallen from use. “She must have done some kind of construction work,” the Enterprise crew guesses. Other times it’s…

ID-100377107

I’d Rather Be Golfing

This is a tale of a man who’s risking his company by going DIY. A food-packaging company was rapidly becoming a heavy-hitter in its market and taking up serious shelf space in grocery stores like Whole Foods. The owner called in a panic on a Friday afternoon. A consumer was claiming a charred cigarette butt…

When is it best to
let sleeping dogs lie?

Attempt Failed: Burying the Bad

Burying bad news on the fourth page of a Google search? Good idea. Using public funds to do it? Bad idea. That’s Lesson #1, and UC Davis and Chancellor Linda Katehi learned it the hard way after being caught forking over more than $175,000 to polish their tarnished reputations involving the pepper-spraying of campus demonstrators…

ID-100224548

The Last Word

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys his data by the gigabyte.” ~ Modern twist on an old caveat It’s as true today as it was when Mark Twain, Will Rogers and others made similar observations about those who buy ink by the barrel. The media always gets the last word. And in today’s…

Asking "Why?" isn't just for kids.

Why? Why? Why?

Three people sit around a table chatting happily. Work. Family. Friends. Crazy adventures. Add a glass or two of wine. Stories get embellished, and you’re in a mood to solve the mysteries of life. Why is something the way it is? Why is it done a particular way? Why do we follow certain rules? Tall…

Don't let one bad prankspoil your reputation.

When Pranks Go Wrong

A tale of two pranks — with very different outcomes. April Fools’ Day pranks are often harmless and lighthearted. Sadly, sometimes well-intentioned companies get it wrong and end up hurting the very customers they live to serve. Have you ever tried to set up a troika via email instead of immediately after a ProVisors meeting?…

ID-100124237

Don’t Get Angry. Get Even.

Faint of heart? Avert your eyes. This is the dark side of Crisis PR. Other side getting under your skin? Take a deep breath. Hold it for 5 seconds. Calmer now? Good. Let’s think this through. What do you really want to achieve? A burst of anger may make you feel better — for a moment.…

ID-100161246

Love ‘Em, Love to Leave ‘Em

When tennis star Maria Sharapova was caught doping, sponsors rushed for the exits. While this article focuses on athletes, its lessons apply to all celebrities. Bottom line: You must protect your brand. If “the face” of your company does something that doesn’t align with your brand’s values and you don’t speak out, it looks like you…

Dose of reality can cure
unintended consequences

When Dreams Meet Reality

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  ~ Bible, Galatians 6:7 But what you reap, may not be what you hoped. Once a wheel is set in motion, inertia takes over — for good or ill. Beware unintended and unexpected consequences. Consider U.S. politics. Both major parties long whipped up passions of the…

What you don't know canbe damaging for everyone.

The Right Questions

You’re closeted with senior management. They lay out the problem. Their world seems to be crumbling. Tension is palpable. “Okay…What do you think we should do?” they ask anxiously and fearfully. You’re expected to know the right answers, right now. That’s why they hired you. But before you get there, you must ask the right questions —…

ID-100111783

It’s Not About the Facts

“It’s not about the facts. It’s about what the facts can be made to look like.”   ~ Eli Gold on The Good Wife Think back to the last time someone told you a story, and it wasn’t until later you learned that’s not what actually happened. When a couple breaks up, there are usually two…

Did you make the right choice?You may never know

Do the Math

Basic math is easy. Higher math is mind-bending. “Do the math.” That’s heard most frequently. Its meaning is simple: Add the positives, subtract the negatives, and voilà, you have the answer. We refer to it regularly to figure out who’s winning, to sort out options, and to find the best solutions to everyday issues. Do…

ID-10056803

Spin Your Way Out of Sin?

Everybody’s a spin doctor. You want to establish a certain tone, project a specific image, and elicit a desired response. From job interviews and professional networking to dating and 30-year class reunions. Even how you respond when a colleague or your friendly neighborhood barista asks, “How are you today?” It’s the same dealing with the…

That's not nice!
That's not the point.

That’s Not Nice!

“That’s not nice!” the young assistant frowned after reviewing a storyline being pitched to the media about a nasty lawsuit. “That’s not the point,” his boss explained calmly. “Our job isn’t to make the other side feel good. It’s to make sure our client wins in the public’s perception.” That, in a nutshell, is what…

When you're being intentional,
things end up on the chopping block.

Owning It

Chef Thomas Keller’s open letter in response to a scathing NY Times review of his flagship Manhattan restaurant Per Se is a case study in how to do it right. Usually, when chefs receive bad reviews, they become defensive and blame the food critic. Not Keller. He took the high ground, took ownership for shortcomings,…

Is this how you really feel?Or is it just a product of the times?

Snap Judgments and Quick Responses

We all make snap judgments. It’s part of our survival instinct. Our brains need a way of processing information quickly, especially if we perceive a potential threat. How well we control those perceptions — and how much they control us — says a lot. The same is true whether the threat is physical or to…

ID-100387876

It All Started with a Misunderstanding

“Drop whatever* you’re doing. Get over here and fix this shitstorm.” – Client Clients aren’t usually as direct as this one. But the gist is always the same. “Everything I’ve worked so hard to build is crashing down around me. Help!!!” How did we get to this point? Let’s go back 24 hours. A new…

Best way to save image?Consider all the moving parts.

Lost in Translation

You know what you said, and you know what you meant. How can anyone misinterpret it? Easy. Happens all the time. Even when you’re speaking the same language. Are words clumsily chosen? Do unintended connotations conjure starkly different imagery because of  generational, regional or cultural perspectives? Does your body language send conflicting messages? Is your…

ID-100344170

6 Bad Habits That’ve Become Common

Forget making New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, just stop doing these 6 things. Stop lying. The beautiful thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what story you told. You also don’t have to remember who you told or which version. Stop being cocky. You’ve heard the saying, “You’re not sorry. You’re…

ID-100356939

Ghosts of Goof-ups Past

Never any shortage of problems that threaten reputations. Nor any end in sight for the drama that goes with them. Some are foisted upon people by events outside their control: Lawsuits by unhappy employees. Disputes with business partners and competitors. Scurrilous allegations published by equally scurrilous tabloid and celebrity-focused “news” outlets — online, on air,…

When public is at risk,
there is no road too far.

Bringing Out the Best

Sometimes crises bring out the best in people. Even if not always immediately. When faced with threats to safety, you must reaffirm that protecting the public is your foremost commitment. Whether it’s consumers, donors, investors, or children at summer camps or schools. It’s a page out of the playbook that Johnson & Johnson used to…

In order to gain a client's trust,you can't miss the target.

Clarity & Trust

Why do some clients return again and again? Because Fixers are alchemists who turn chaos into clarity. They’ve earned their clients’ trust. They become indispensable members of the clients’ inner circle. Sometimes it’s all business. Disputes between partners. Intrigue in the corporate boardroom. Companies being investigated by government agencies or being sued by customers or…

Crisis PR team worries
so clients sleep better.

Don’t Relax Too Much

Problems create grief. The more you worry about them, the more anxious you become. When it seems they’re nearly resolved, you exhale gratefully. That’s natural. But don’t relax too much. This is the point where the other side will try to slip something past you. Red flags are everywhere. Some are easily visible. Others less…

ID-100237367

Not So Secret

“At the length, truth will out.” ~ Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1596 Some lessons are never really learned. Such as that secrets seldom stay secret for long. Certainly not forever. Hard as we try, they always leak. This month, three companies suffered the consequences: Reports surfaced that Takata, the Japanese auto parts maker, manipulated…

ID-10092055

Behind the Scenes

Often the best role for a Crisis PR team is neither seen nor heard. The reason is simple: Make the client look good while you remain invisible. That’s why Crisis PR work is conducted in the strictest confidence, why clients are willing to share their deepest secrets, and why crisis firms routinely don’t publicize clients’…

ID-10033581

Knowing When to Clean House

At first blush, it seems the University of Missouri today and Penn State in 2013 were using the same playbook: Clean house. The circumstances differed, of course. At Penn State, it was a sex-with-boys scandal. Trustees fired everyone from football coaches to the university president. The rationale: If they knew, they were culpable. If they…

Deny, and lose credibility.
Reassure, and you survive.

Rushing for the Exits

Do something that endangers the public, and you may find yourself isolated. Even in Japan, the land of the keiretsu — interlocking business and shareholding relationships where partners are helped through difficult times and routinely shielded from the most severe repercussions of missteps. But not this week. In a three-day period, airbag maker Takata was…

Job #1 is to reassure.
When in doubt, recall.

Three Things To Do During a Recall

Whenever there’s a recall, your natural response is to think, “Oh no! Does this affect me?”  If you’re an ice cream lover, Blue Bell made your stomach churn. If you’re a Volkswagen owner, you screeched to a halt recently. Skippy, on the other hand, handled things more smoothly.1 As a company, here are the top…

In a crisis, who you are
dictates how you’ll fair

Testing Brand Stamina

What do the recent Volkswagen scandals mean for legacy brands? When our trust is violated, do we respond differently to people than to companies? Legacy Brands vs. Disrupters Legacy brands have credibility. They’ve weathered storms. You assume they’re good in order to have thrived for so long. Are brands like VW too big to fail?…

ID-100144414

Will You Go Down Fighting?

Breaking up is hard to do. So do it right. What’s your goal? That nobody notice? That you catch and keep the other side off balance so they can’t recover publicly? It’s different with every client. Consider these: Scenario 1: A company with two feuding partners and a high profile. They wanted to avoid a messy…

It's not just a legal argument,
it's telling your story on your terms

Being Heard

News coverage unfavorable? Can’t tell your story because the media no longer cares? File suit. That’s an effective way of getting the attention not only of the other side — but also of the media and public. Why? Because that’s the battlefield on which disputes are frequently fought. Reporters give more credence to arguments made…

Hoping for best feels nice.
Expecting worst is better.

Truthiness

It’s a fun word for an bad idea. Hard to say — and even think — without smiling. Try. What’s it mean? “Preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”1 In other words, wishful thinking. If you wish hard enough, anything will come true, right?…

Tell inconsistent stories
and you lose credibility.

Sounds Good

“Some of my fondest memories are of things that never happened,” a prominent lawyer and raconteur told hundreds of guests at a retirement party, poking fun at himself. The same is true about some of our favorite sayings. Were those words really spoken by the people to whom they’re attributed? Were the words actually their…

Go public or lay low?
Miscalculation is costly.

Rules to Live By

Yoda had one: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” So did Kermit the Frog: “Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending.” Embrace them, and they set the tone for who you are and what you do. Life has many guiding principles. Pick the ones that challenge your abilities the most and stick…

Assess the situation
before it devours you.

Beware Shiny Objects

In the parlance of PR strategists, shiny objects are fleeting distractions. More often manufactured than real. They’re the causes célèbres of today that will be forgotten tomorrow — or at least in the near future. The media is always attracted to the dust-up du jour. It’s the newest toy they have to play with. The…

Just put it in an email?
Not the brightest idea.

How to Look Guilty

What do Tom Brady and Hillary Clinton have in common? Textbook examples of what not to do. Both denied wrongdoing, claimed there was nothing incriminating in their texts and emails, then promptly smashed their phone to smithereens and wiped the memory of their server. That doesn’t appear innocent or reassuring. Not even to those who…

What if your digital
world became public?

Don’t Underestimate Discretion

Ashley Madison has a simple lesson for all of us, even non-adulterers: The digital world isn’t secure. Don’t entrust it with your secrets. It seems like only yesterday (but was actually at least a decade ago) that retailers and banks reassuringly promised all your digital financial transactions and personal information were absolutely safe. Heard that…

If you can’t Google it, does it exist?
Did it even happen?

I’ll Never Forget, Jack.

“To be, or not to be?” ~ Hamlet If you can’t Google it, does it exist? Did it even happen? We’ve joked before about how the Internet is like an elephant. It never forgets. But Europe is leading the way in trying to allow you to erase the past, Men in Black style. You can…

When burdens stalk you,
don't just hope for best.

Unforgiving

Life is relentless. Or so it often seems. If you’re an employee, you get a break. Just show up when you’re told and leave when your shift’s over. Not so if you’re a boss. Especially not if you’re also the owner. Burden stalks you. Is everyone doing what they should? Is the job being completed…

To post or not to post?
Reddit and Gawker have decided for you.

Farewell to the Wild West?

“A bad story can have a terrible impact on our reputation, and that affects everything we do and every interaction with the outside world.” ~ Nick Denton, Gawker’s CEO Reddit and Gawker forged their reputations by pushing the envelope on what’s permissible and by their cult-like community engagement. But as with all things, they have…

ID-100248224

“You Lose.”

There’s an old adage in Crisis PR: “Lose focus, and you lose control. Lose control, and you lose.” A prominent litigator smiled when he heard it. “My version is quite similar: ‘Never let the other lawyer run your case.’” A transactional attorney chimed in: “He who drafts, rules.” Doesn’t matter whether your audience is an…

What happens when the media assumes?
Makes an @ss out of you and me.

Filling the Void

Not a lot of facts? No facts at all? Speculate. The media does it every day. In life, timeliness is important. Miss the window and you’re SOL. In dating: Meeting the right person at the wrong time. In business: Inventing a product before the market is ready. In LA traffic: A free ride when you’re…

Social Media: Who owns it? What's its purpose?

KA-PAO!!!!!

How did headline writers miss that one as Ellen Pao lost a second highly visible battle this year? The latest came this month as Pao was forced out as CEO of Reddit amid a vitriolic online campaign, including sexist and racist postings by users on Reddit’s own social media message boards, after the company fired…

A story as old as time:
Tension of old vs new

Up in Smoke

When is standing still falling behind? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is finding out. True, the Chamber’s role is to represent members’ interests. But when some members are treated more equal than others, it causes friction. It also caused angst as the Chamber’s PR team tried to sidestep the problem without talking about it. When…

First know your real goal.
Then the path is clearer.

A Timely Pivot

Sometimes people get it right, either because they have good instincts or because they receive wise counsel. Whole Foods did it right (ultimately). “Straight up, we made mistakes. We want to own that,” co-CEOs Walter Robb and John Mackey said in a YouTube video this week. That’s about as stark as an apology can get,…

Don't be a victim of verbal clumsiness.

They Say. We Say.

Until Thursday and Friday, only three women and six men knew how the U.S. Supreme Court was going rule on Obamacare and same-sex marriage. Everyone else was just speculating. That’s why pundits and politicians were ready with two sets of quotable and profound-sounding one-liners, praising the court for its wisdom and declaring the battle settled…

Cut the ego. Be sincere.

Ego & Insincerity

Tired of hearing about Brian Williams, the disgraced former anchor of NBC Nightly News? So are we. But the story demands a final peek. It’s a pitiful saga replete with so many lessons: About what the public has a right to expect (but often doesn’t get) from the media. Honesty. About how journalists should (but…

Quid pro quo of Crisis PR:
Swapping access for ink.

Quid Pro Quo

In the 1950s and ’60s, John Howard Griffin, a white Texas journalist who had his skin medically darkened then wrote Black Like Me about his experiences traveling in the segregated South, was hailed by liberals and condemned by conservatives. For years, singer Michael Jackson was a source of confusion and controversy over speculation that he…

True believers won't budge.
Middle can be persuaded.

Small Fibs. Higher Truths.

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”   ~ Mark Twain?1 Wanna make a point? Dress it up with statistics. Adds oomph to your argument. If you have “facts” to back up what you say, you must be telling the truth, right? If life were only so simple. But it isn’t, and we see the…