Although it makes us cringe to see publicity go bad, we find that sticky situations can lead to lessons learned. After mulling it over, here’s what we think were a few of the top public relations/communications bloopers and blunders of 2016. Let's hope for fewer in 2017!
Ryan Lochte gets rowdy in Rio:
Olympic medalist and swimmer Ryan Lochte made headlines during this summer’s Rio Olympics after sharing a dramatic account of being robbed at gunpoint after a night out partying. However, once the press realized a few of his details didn’t quite add up, the Brazilian police conducted an investigation and revealed a different story: Surveillance footage had Lochte and posse drunkenly vandalizing a gas station. National embarrassment, a public apology, and a 10-month suspension from swimming ensued.
Mack assessment: As we’ve said before, honesty is the best policy. Lochte might have been able to prevent the situation spiraling into an international spectacle if he had copped to his mistake right away, and done damage control from there.
Flint, Michigan's water woes:
After switching water sources in 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan began to complain about dirty, discolored water, rashes and bad aromas. By 2015, water testing done by Virginia Tech revealed elevated lead levels, and the Michigan EPA began sounding the alarm over water quality. Yet even as evidence of the toxicity of Flint’s water continued to mount, officials at the Michigan statehouse downplayed the concerns of residents. By 2016, Obama declared a state of emergency in the city. The state government was pilloried over their handling of the situation, which put tens of thousands of people--including children--at risk.
Mack assessment: This is a classic case of a mismanaged crisis. When things go south, the first step is to acknowledge the crisis and speak to the concerns of the people affected. Too often companies and governments bury their collective heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. Ignoring the problem only exacerbates the crisis.
Brain cramp takes down Gary Johnson:
During an interview with MSNBC in September, a commentator asked Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson how he would address the refugee crisis in Aleppo, Syria. Johnson’s response-- “What is Aleppo?”-- was like the shot heard around the (Twitter) world. In what would later turn out to be an accurate prediction, the New York Times speculated that “the stumble could be a serious blow to Mr. Johnson’s campaign.”
Mack assessment: For TV interviews, it’s crucial to prepare beforehand to avoid being caught off guard. Sometimes, though, journalists may throw you a curve ball. Johnson would have benefited from learning how to block a question in order to respond only on topics you’re ready for.
[Photos via CNN]
The internet and social media make it easier than ever to spread information (factual or not) like wildfire. If your company or organization has big news to share, choosing to make a big announcement gives you more control over the message and tone of your news (rather than waiting for the media to find out on its own).
Here are three things to consider before making big announcements:
With today’s endless news cycle, it’s more important than ever to respond to crises promptly and directly. That’s one reason why having a crisis communications plan in your back pocket is so important. It’s good to have facets of your plan memorized however, just in case you get caught off-guard by a particularly persistent reporter.
Although it’s best to always answer as honestly and directly as you can, keeping these five questions in mind may help you have more confidence in reassuring the public.
1- What happened?
Mack advice: Only tell what you know, and avoid speculation.
2- Why did [problem] happen?
Mack advice: Be willing to admit fault, but avoid pinning blame on anyone/department in particular. Making guesses can hurt the reputation of parties in the short run that weren’t involved at all.
3- Can this problem happen again? How do you know?
Mack advice: Be honest. Reassure the public that you’re doing everything to solve the current issue.
4- What are you doing to solve the problem?
Mack advice: Again, honesty is key. People want to see companies take action after a crisis, so give tangible examples of what your employees are doing to solve the problem.
5- Who else can we talk to and where can we receive updates?
Mack advice: It’s important to have a website available for crisis situations that can provide updates to the public. Be sure you can direct people there if asked.