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 letting defects slip through in the first place, then denying or pooh-poohing them for years. Or food processors whose wares get tainted or whose plants emit unpleasant odors that bother neighbors.
One of the latest incidents in the headlines is the South Korean ferry that capsized and left 300 known or presumed dead, many of them students on a field trip.
The first explanation: The captain was inattentive. He’d left subordinates in charge of the bridge. The second explanation: The third mate who had the wheel was inexperienced and had never navigated the treacherous waters where the ferry went down.
Then the spotlight shifted to the shipping company that was squeezing as much profit as it could from the operation. A far different picture emerged. The ferry was overburdened and unstable. It was retrofitted with extra passenger cabins that added 240 tons and made it top-heavy. It was laden with 3,608 tons of cargo (more than 3 1/2 times its recommended cargo limit of 987 tons).
In Crisis & Reputation Management, it’s always a delicate balance. You must simultaneously be careful and decisive. The ultimate goal is to fix the problem quickly and shift the focus onto the future — what you’re doing now to make things better going forward.
What’s that process look like? Don’t be too eager to embrace blame. Doing so may staunch the hemorrhaging, but it can create a nightmare of liability. At the same time, beware of flat denials. They have a nasty tendency to come back and bite you.
There’s an old saying that has more than a kernel of truth:
Next time you point a finger at someone, remember that there are three others pointing back at you.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Preparation & Training. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.
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