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?…


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.


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.


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…


“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?


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…

To deflect accusations,redefine shades of gray.

Like Fish in a Barrel

“Why do you always pick on politicians?” a friend asked. “Such easy targets. Hardly a week goes by…” the reputation manager replied matter-of-factly. “But don’t you sometimes feel you’re being one-sided?” the friend persisted. “Not at all. I’m equal opportunity. Never a shortage of people of all persuasions who do dumb things. It infects all…

In Crisis PR, never losecontrol ... or you lose.

Winning Is Everything

“Never lose focus, or you lose control. Lose control, and you lose.” ~ The ultimate adage of Crisis & Reputation Management In Catholic middle school, a nun scolded the basketball coach, “You’re winning by too much. Let the other side score some points so they won’t feel bad.” Years later, popular educational mantra shifted from…

Wonder who's really boss? 
Follow money and find out.

Don’t Fumble, Again

Roger Goodell can’t catch a break. It’s been a tough year for the NFL commissioner. Wrestling with how to mete out penalties to players for domestic abuse and drug use. Trying to resolve a dispute concerning major head trauma in a way that doesn’t make the league seem callous about the dangers of a violent…

Timing is everything.
Get it wrong, and the content doesn't matter.

Timing Is Everything

“Wishing it could plug a leak as easily as deleting a tweet.” ~ The Economist Last week, Twitter fell victim to its own service. Its first-quarter earnings were accidently published half an hour early, and the result wasn’t pretty. Twitter learned firsthand how quickly news travels. Its Q1 wasn’t as strong as Wall Street had…

Everyone filters differently
and responds accordingly.

Reading Differently

After the Germanwings crash and Nepal earthquake, a former journalist tracked the news on his smartphone. It was more than a desire to know the latest developments. It was a basic question bred into him from years on the job: “How would I have reported and written this differently?” Everyone filters every event through their…

Want to alter perception?
Aim for heart, not head.

Liability & Emotion

Where does liability end? Is it a strict matter of law, or of what the public perceives as right and wrong? Let’s take a quiz. Which of these are legitimate claims? Why? Which are attempts, justified or not, to reach into the other side’s deep pockets? (Hint: There are no incorrect answers.) Germanwings (a subsidiary…

Success in Crisis PR?
Measuring a negative.

Making Your Own Luck

Many truisms are passed from one generation to the next. Simple rules designed to guide you through life smoothly. One stands out as especially true in any phase of life and business: Luck doesn’t happen. You create it, by creating novel ideas, by keen insights, and by hard work. Crisis & Reputation Management is no…

Violate the public trust,
and public feels violated.

When News Is the News

Rolling Stone and Brian Williams are only the latest. Sadly, there’s a long and inglorious history of media stumbles. Sometimes journalists don’t verify what they’re told if they’re crunched for time or committed to a cause. Or they fabricate articles because make-believe is easier (and often more compelling) than digging up and reporting facts. Or…

Want to know the truth?
Your perception is reality.

Altruism or Calculation?

Look from afar, and it seems corporate management is becoming sensitive to social issues. But think about it for a few moments, and you realize these are issues that affect their pocketbooks. Most recently, Apple and WalMart came out against state laws in Indiana, Arkansas and elsewhere that would permit discrimination against gays and others…

Believe media frenzy will
blow over? When pigs fly.

Mama Always Says …

You’ve heard them all your life. Nostrums. Doesn’t matter that they’re often untrue. They’re easy-to-remember rules that make large chunks of life seem simpler. No thinking required. Got sniffles? “Feed a cold. Starve a fever.” So what if it’s medically unsound? You do it anyway. Hoping for some magic? “Wish on a falling star, and your…


How’d This Mess Happen?

You hear the same questions every day, from non-profits and companies: Where’d all the money go? You mean those laws apply to us, too? Can she really sue us for harassment? It was just a joke. Hank was supposed to taking care of that. Is it our fault he didn’t? The answers: Down the rabbit…

Reacting slowly in a crisis
feels like water torture.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

There are scandals you survive, and scandals you don’t. Deal with it quickly, and you have the best chance of putting it behind you. Be slow to react, and the damage will be deeper. Think Hillary Clinton, running the U.S. State Department on her personal email. Or suspended NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams, embellishing…

Winning a fight is nice.Winning the war is better.

Short Gain, Long Value

Mutual fund guru John Bogle leaves no doubt where he stands — in the same spot as investor Warren Buffett: Chasing short-term gain is a fool’s errand. Capturing intrinsic value is the real prize. In Reputation Management, the calculus differs only slightly. You can’t ignore the crisis that’s staring you in the face. That would…

Shift tone of story beforeit takes on life of its own

Life of Its Own

Once a story is embraced, it’s hard to shake. Even if evidence proves otherwise. Take the outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland and swept across the U.S. Why did the once-eradicated disease return, and why did it spread so quickly and virulently? For a long time, a tiny segment of society opposed immunization. They…

Didn't sign on to be liked.
We signed on to do a job.

The Breakup Letters

      “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” ~ Sophocles, Antigone Breakup letters are a thing of beauty. Business world communications and lined paper communications (the 3-ring binder kind) are more similar than you might think. “I need your advice. [Followed by detailed explanation.] I don’t know what to do! What should…

Be prepared: Better to do and not need,
than to need and not have done.

The Love Letters

Love letters. We’ve all written them. Whether they’re actually delivered is a whole other matter. Likewise, we’ve also written term papers and reports. Hopefully, those made it to their intended audience before the proverbial dog ate them. It’s all about being prepared, personally and professionally. Regrettably, too many people do the opposite: Step 1: Ignore…

Ultimate test: What will let
you control the conversation?

Telephone, Telegraph …

No. This isn’t a sexist commentary on the alleged inability of women to keep secrets. It is about thinking before you speak, and choosing your words with the precision of a surgeon. Faced with unexpected and unwanted situations, clients too often are inclined to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind — You…

Expect worst & plan for it.
Don't be caught unprepared.

Wall of Worry

We all have worries. Left on their own, they skew our vision and consume us. They crowd out factors that are positive — and even those that are neutral. Consider investors who wring their hands as oil prices fall because the stock market falls in tandem — until traders pause long enough to realize that’s…

Forget about extremes.
Focus on the middle.

Belief & “Truth”

Is “truth” really knowable? Or is it a fiction we create to reaffirm our beliefs? Did Bill Cosby repeatedly have non-consensual sex after drugging women? Did police in Ferguson and Brooklyn act rashly and wrongly? Did the CIA torture prisoners at Guantanamo, and was it justified? Did University of Virginia fraternity members gang-rape a female…


$37 Billion Memo

As the U.S. Justice Department and states investigated wrong-doing that led to the financial collapse, the nation’s biggest banks dumped tens of millions of documents on them. That’d make finding anything impossible, right? Wrong. From that mountain of information, one internal memo emerged warning bank bosses, before the collapse and Great Recession, that they were…

Sin once, you may escape.Sin again, and you won't.

Fool Me Once…

Generations came and went, but they endured. Oscar de la Renta. Ben Bradlee. Joan Rivers. Nelson Bunker Hunt. All were born in the brief period between First and Second World Wars. When their end came this autumn, they were their 80s and 90s. People often die younger, sometimes older. But few so control their destinies…

Secret of Crisis PR:
Create the best light.

Different Prisms

A recent Vatican report about U.S. nuns was most significant for what it didn’t say. It didn’t condemn the nuns for “radical” and “feminist” ideas as expected when the investigation began in 2008 under conservative Pope Benedict XVI. Rather, it bore the compassionate imprint of his successor, Pope Francis. The final report shifted the spotlight…

Good Crisis PR can turna lump of coal into a gift

A Christmas Story

The holiday season is a busy time. Santa isn’t the only one who brings packages on Christmas Eve. So do judges. Recognizing and seizing every opportunity when it happens gets you the best results. The media wants their story now, not when you get around to it. Let us tell you a tale of how a smart Crisis PR…

Media's power is immense.
Use it to your advantage.

Hard Facts, Soft Feelings

Regardless of what economists say, pundits prefer their own definition of economic hard times: “A recession is when your neighbor is unemployed. A depression is when you are.” It’s simple. It’s pithy. It’s memorable. It’s based on your awareness of the moment, not on statisticians sifting through numbers after the fact. Case in point regarding…

History is often revised.
But seldom in short term.

On Second Thought

Time softens the sharp edges. As memories fade, events are reinterpreted. Sometimes to reflect new evidence. More often to better fit with what is comfortable for our purposes today. Take the Union Army’s Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. It’s the 150th anniversary of his brutal March to the Sea, and historians — including some…

Surviving crisis is tough.
Preparing eases the pain.

Be Very Afraid

“It’s only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if,’ that we are going to see something dramatic.”    ~ Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA It’s a mantra apropos to many of our professions, and often our daily lives. Hit with a liability lawsuit: doctors. Car accidents: LA drivers.  Client won’t listen to…