Navigating the lightening quick paths of the (social) media landscape is hard enough on a good day. On a bad day, PR peeps (Food Shelter included) live in a real-time hell where the fallout ranges from mildly hurtful to irrevocably damaging, in seconds flat.
Scary yes, but even worse are the well-paid figureheads who cry, blame others or make any excuse they can instead of owning the problem. Many of them have great teams who probably went to great lengths to build a strategic plan, yet when it’s time to face the music, the figurehead thinks whining will soften the hearts of Twitter’s angriest. This is an unacceptable approach to crisis control.
In light of the recent United shitshow, we here at FS Public Relations thought it would be fun to stroll down a memory lane of PR fails and offer alternatives to their frightening lack of leadership, at a time when their employees or brands needed them most.
Following, in no particular order, are our top five crybaby buck-passers we wish we could have sent speaking points – the first of which would have been to take ownership of the problem and deal with it like the professional they are so handsomely paid to supposedly be. Don’t agree? Totally cool with it. Give us a valid point showcasing why we’re wrong, how they didn’t destroy their brand or how “all PR is good PR.” Unlike the following five, we eat constructive criticism for breakfast. (Kidding, we use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.)
1) Tony “I want My Life Back” Hayward. Really? The first problem is you said this to an actual media person. Yes, you were tired. Yes, it was awful. Yes, you had additional, tertiary issues to figure out. Here’s what we would have done (aside from muzzling you). First, we would have boiled it down in a one-page memo outlining the loss of life (11), how many species were at risk environmentally (400) and supplied the contact info for the head of the EPA, who you would tell everyone you were working closely with. Next, we would have gotten someone in graphics to develop the logo for the nonprofit you were initiating to set up scholarships in the names of the surviving families. Finally, we would advise you to get the entire board together for a call, maybe your favorite analyst/head numbers guy and in a second memo we would bullet point for you how this immense tragedy is impacting everyone and how [insert name of numbers person] is going to explain what this means short and long term for BP stock impact. With this plan, you may have been able to not get canned and BP’s share price may have only come down 45% instead of the 55%.
2) Ryan ‘I was robbed so disregard the fact I was a drunk degenerate who destroys property for fun’ Lochte. We understand the knee jerk impulse to lie. But it’s always a bad move. First we’d suggest, not lying. Then, donate a couple of thousand to MADD, pay fully for the damage, admit the drinking was a celebratory stress reliever but it was a huge judgment lapse and apologize. As your publicists, we would have booked you on morning and national talk shows to discuss the dangers of drinking, the stress athletes are under and the fact that although these may sound like excuses, they are sincere. And don’t forget to mention how relieved you are that only property, and not people were damaged and that you hope your fans and supporters don’t use this one moment as a reflection of who you really are.
3) Heather ‘blame the broken system and not my greedy ass’ Bresch. As the only company that makes a life saving allergy treatment, we’re sure you were blocked every step of the way to make it affordable. As your PR firm, we would have advised you to not use this as an excuse in the first place. Instead, how about cutting into the 400% markup to showcase to shareholders and industry peers how decreasing profit margins can be an investment in your brand. Let us turn you into the hero instead of the villain with a huge Epi-Cares campaign focusing on strong, positive brand longevity. We could even send out a release on how much time, money and effort you are giving to help save the bees in the world. And in the end, you may not have been hit with a racketeering suit.
4) John ‘I’m going to blame the 5,000 plus employees under me and not me’ Stumpf. The cry heard ‘round the fiscal world and what did we learn? Taking ownership of mistakes while leading actually shows the strength and wisdom for which you were hired in the first place. Using smaller, less powerful shields against a barrage of bullets is never going to be a popular strategy with the public. Let us build you a plan chock full of positive spin and messages you could pivot on in record speed and above all, show some accountability immediately. Yes, you’d probably still lose your cushy CEO job and the stock would still tank, but maybe not so epically.
5) Sean ‘everything that literally comes out of his mouth and we have too many instances to choose from’ Spicer. Well, we really have no advice here. Another good quality of leadership is to know when you’ve lost and it’s time to throw in the towel and walk away.