PR students: time to pay attention and take notes.
Rob Ford has reached an all-time low and is easy fodder for late-night comedians. His every move has been cringe worthy. Accusations, denials, and headline after headline, Rob Ford is the perfect example of crisis communication how-not.
“What the HECK is his PR team telling him?! Can someone, anyone PLEASE stop this train wreck” are some of the common complaints I’ve seen online. It may seem easy to blame advisors, but what Ford says is his poor choice. Chances are they did make a crisis communication plan, but maybe Ford just didn’t listen. The better question is, WHY isn’t he listening to his PR team?
We don’t know details but we can still take notes. If any good can come from this crisis it’s some valuable lessons – for students at least. One day it will be our job to help manage a crisis. Three key reminders that Ford has taught us are:
1. Tell the truth – the whole truth – sooner than later. I was hardly surprised by the time Ford finally admitted to smoking crack-cocaine. I mean really, was anyone? The real story will surface eventually and it’s better to own up to mistakes than deny, backtrack and later apologize.
2. Even if you don’t know the answer right away, “no comment” is not the right answer. It never sounds good and leads to assumptions of guilt. In Ford’s case he underestimated the importance of public perception. Good communication requires using language that will resonate with your public in a positive way. “No comment” shows a lack of concern and doesn’t deliver a message that helps protect your reputation.
3. Choose key speaking points and stick with them. Ford’s explicit language during an impromptu news conference yesterday might be the final straw. Jumping from one topic to another, the last remark seemed like a poor after thought: “Oh and the last thing…”. Don’t diverge from your chosen messages; it may be as disastrous as his final comment.
If all else fails, follow the lead of Ford’s former chief of staff Mark Towhey. His interview with CBC was professional and demonstrated that you can still show how you should handle an interview –even if your former boss hasn’t. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
Our final issue this semester will be November 29. Good luck in the final weeks of class.
Create, communicate and collaborate away!