The left can’t is still blaming Bernie Bros and “pizzagate” for an election that they lost a year and a half ago. The right right just launched LyinComey.com and let a neo-nazi run unopposed despite claiming that they’ve had a wake up call after a few stunning losses in Alabama and Pennsylvania. Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, the astounding lack of accountability, integrity, and courage in today’s political climate is both frustrating as an American and disastrous as a PR professional.
On a rare and refreshing note, we’ve seen a few instances of business leaders stepping up in ways politicians are failing us – in some cases, before Congress’s very eyes. Here is a round up of recent crisis PR moves that can be championed, and lessons that we hope Washington D.C. takes note of. Soon.
Leaders & Their Crisis PR Moves
- Mark Zuckerberg – After what many are considering a massive data breach that lead to intense scrutiny of social media and business practices, Facebook’s stock shot up 4.5% after Mark Zuckerberg testified for nearly 11 hours. Despite the #DeleteFacebook movement (which is taking place largely on active Facebook accounts) and leaders like Elon Musk offering to buy and delete Facebook, we saw a huge uptick in what actually matters: investors.
So how can that be? Despite his exhaustive testimony, Zuckerberg did a few things very well.
- He took sole accountability for the issue: He did not blame his team. He did not blame the advertisers. He did not blame the political landscape for shedding light on the issue. He didn’t blame his mom for that time she forgot to pick him up at school when he was 11 years old. He carried all the blame on his shoulders. Having been just 19 years old when he started Facebook and only 33 years old now, he showed members of Congress with double the life experience what accepting responsibility for your actions looks like. I can only assume they were confused and skeptical of this behavior as this is not a politician’s forte.
- He stayed on message: While there were a few small glitches and some minor fact checking errors, Zuckerberg didn’t say anything too shocking or controversial in what some this is the most grave technological data breach we’ve seen yet. He was clearly prepared with clear key messages, and didn’t deviate too far from them. Like him or not, it is pretty impressive to talk for nearly 11 hours and not say anything that sets off alarm bells when 2 billion people are subscribed to your service.
- He wants to participate in a solution: Many of our congressional leaders may have forgotten was solutions are. To remind anyone reading, the dictionary defines it as “the act of solving a problem.” Zuckerberg mentioned several times that he intended and was eager to work with Congress on find a legislative solution the these missteps, and plans to take action on preventing them in the future. It’d be great if Congress worked with Congress to act similarly.
Whether you agreed with his testimony or believed it, he performed textbook crisis PR strategy. Regardless of the situation, leaders who are accountable for their actions, stick to their key messages, and stay solution-oriented will be viewed as leaders and not figureheads in nearly any situation.
- Kevin Johnson – When you have over 28,000 locations worldwide like Starbucks does, you’re bound so hit a few snags. Recently a video of two black men getting arrested in a Starbucks for trespassing (not having ordered a drink yet) went viral to the tune of over 9 million views. The two men were not only not committing a crime, but were simply waiting for their clients to arrive before ordering. In addition to the obvious ramifications, this incident tears at the very fabric of Starbucks in two specific ways. First, they stand by their employees, providing benefits to even part-time workers and allotting money the education of student employees. This situation almost certainly calls on Starbuck’s to publicly denounce an employee’s actions and maybe even firing. Second, it attacks their message of inclusiveness, which we’ve witnessed in their egregious non-specific holiday cups, work with non-profits, and strong support of gay marriage.
Here’s what Kevin Johnson did right:
- He issued a letter and video publicly apologizing for the incident: He publicly and swiftly apologized, literally using the words “I am accountable,” and clarified that these are not the values that Starbucks holds. Similar to Zuckerberg, he also agreed to find a solution to prevent further incidents.
- He offered to apologize to the two men who were arrested in private: This is so, so important because of who the target audience is in each apology. The first apology leans more to the general public and to Starbucks customers. Offering a closed doors apology is a direct apology to the two men who were falsely arrested, and gives them both a private avenue to share their anger, fear, and concern to the CEO himself. Offering these separate apologies is crucial for both authenticity, and in covering the scope of who was affected.
- He stood by his employee…for now: This may seem counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t you automatically fire someone who did something so careless? From the PR perspective, doing so can often be spun as dodging responsibility. By firing the employee who made this mistake, you’re making them the scapegoat. It may not be fair, but being the CEO of a global organization means being accountable not only for your own mistakes, but the mistakes of everyone that you hire. Another reason is the message that this sends to your employees. A lot of Starbucks employees are very young, and they’re going to make mistakes. By resolving the issue through additional support and training, Johnson is sending an internal message that his employees are allowed to mess up, and that they’ll be given the resources to improve their performance. Should they choose to fire the employee later in time, the decision will be more thoroughly evaluated, not reactionary.
Great leaders perform in the face of adversity – even if that adversity is self-inflicted! Disagree? Have other examples of great leadership in crisis PR? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org so share.