Whenever a company experiences crisis, scandal or disaster, it can fire its management team and start all over again. A company can lay responsibility for the crisis on the mighty heads of the fallen. Crisis management can then be structured by the new leadership whose take-charge-of-the-situation attitude and very presence strongly symbolizes that positive change is already taking place. With a change in leadership, the company sends the following message: We are on the mend. Whatever World Brands mistakes that have been made in the past are being corrected. The damage has been contained. Mea Culpa.
Managing one person’s brand is a more precarious task than it is to manage the brand of a company. If something goes wrong with your own professional brand, you can’t fire your management team. And more often than not, you do not have the resources to hire legions of PR teams to do damage control for you.
There are some professionals who have such high profile brands that they can finance strategic PR maneuvers that are as sophisticated and as costly as war. Ask Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson or BP CEO Tony Hayward. Tiger Woods took it in the pants for weeks while the tabloids roiled with revelations of one more mistress to add to his growing litany of dalliances with a small army of starlets. When Tiger finally did make his apology-rather dull news when compared to the tantalizing procession of hot babes-it was anti-climactic. Some PR strategist in the Tiger Woods camp had decided the time had come for Tiger to apologize. The buzz and gossip had run its course. It was time for Tiger to get back to the business of playing golf.
BP Oil must ask itself if it could have saved tons of money if it had credible and sincere leadership in place instead of Tony Hayward, who was clearly ill prepared and ill-suited to do the job. Instead of projecting the integrity and the commitment to solve a problem, Tony Hayward came off as Mr. Fancy Pants, a petulant British schoolboy who pretended to be attacked by a bully when he indeed had taken the first swipe at something as small and as sweet as a baby sea turtle.
In all of his stammering, sniveling and dropping of selfish little bon mots, the question remains: Was Tony Hayward ill advised by his swarm of PR advisors? It is doubtful that Tony Hayward could have gotten so much bad advice, not with the millions of dollars being spent to prop him up and to make him look good before the cameras of a global audience. It is entirely plausible that the innate material itself was seriously flawed-even with the best PR coaching in the world, Tony Hayward just wasn’t good enough to rise to an occasion that called for serious leadership.
Every company should assess when hiring a CEO if he has the talent and experience to manage any sort of crisis that could occur. A risk management program should be in place as a tool to evaluate whether a CEO will be able to exhibit the strong leadership that is needed should its brand happen to come under fire. If a company needs to have a risk management plan in place, then so should you. After all if something does go wrong with your professional brand, you can’t hire a new CEO.
Despite the failure of BP’s leadership, its PR strategy was so effective that everyone including the most staunch environmentalists referred to the disaster as an oil spill instead of naming it for the catastrophe that it really was-an outright volcanic gusher of oil. When you think about it, a spill comes from a barrel or a ship and it can be contained, but a gushing leak from the ocean’s floor demands a different type of raison d’être and response altogether. BP’s PR machinery has done a superb job, because here we are, all of us, calling this disaster a spill as if it is the smallest of environmental mishaps, a tiny oil hiccup, a little brown bubble washing out to sea.
A discussion of people who are in need of crisis management and effective PR would not be complete without mentioning the iconic Mel Gibson, to whom the concept of freedom so eloquently featured in his film Braveheart apparently means the ability to bash Gays, Jews and Women with equal hateful fervor. As of late, Mel Gibson has been battling his ex-girlfriend, Russian singer, Oksana Grigorieva, over custody of their 8-month-old baby. She claims he beat her up, which may or may not be true (it’s under police investigation), but it is clear that he called her wildly profane and unspeakable names that have been recorded and since widely circulated around the internet.
Even Mel Gibson is going to have a hard time being Mel Gibson. He has a long history of angry and violent outbursts, coupled with numerous bouts of public drunkenness. Still, no matter how heinous his back trail, he is worth a billion dollars and, whenever he chooses to do so, he can fuel a change in how he is perceived. If an oil volcano can be perceived as a spill, then Mel Gibson stands just as great a chance of turning around his brand. Maybe he will go into rehab and start a foundation that rescues Gulf wildlife from the oil so long as he doesn’t have an anger problem with dolphins.;)
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