In this moment of history in which information is shared across the world at the speed of light, the nightmares of public relations seem to affect every day leaders of companies, politicians, institutions, influencer and other celebrities (remember the cases from Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Chipotle, Harvey Weinstein, Fox News, etc.).
In reality, anyone in the public eye who has a reputation to protect must know how to handle bad messages that may be generated around his or her name. Not knowing how to handle a crisis can cause all your work to be destroyed in minutes (that's why the damage control management agencies are growing).
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Unless you lived under a rock last week, you probably heard about the recent crisis Kevin Spacey created for himself after a former colleague of his, Anthony Rapp, accused him of sexual harassment when he was a minor. Rapp alleges that the protagonist of "House of Cards" made unwelcome sexual advances at a party in Manhattan in 1986 when he was 26 and Rapp only 14.
Spacey's employer, Netflix, immediately took matters into its own hands by suspending the production of his flagship show and even pointing out that he could cancel it without even giving it an end. Has the company's decision been exaggerated or is there a method behind this apparent madness?
In his "almost apology", Spacey did not accept or deny his responsibility, saying he was drunk at the time and does not remember the meeting. He tried to reduce the seriousness of the accusations by declaring himself homosexual (after many years of speculation about his sexual orientation in the media), but he was unable to reduce the intensity of Rapp's statements.
In less than 24 hours, Spacey's "House of Cards" had collapsed. Netflix announced that it was canceling the series. Few companies operate at the level of the streaming giant, but entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the way the company handled the situation.
Large companies handle their public relations crises in different ways. United Airlines, for example, did not fully disobey after removing a passenger by force earlier this year. In its official statement, the company did not accept guilt or empathy for the situation.
After the escape of a conversation about sexual harassment with Billy Bush, Donald Trump opted to draw negative attention to his opponents in the last month of his election campaign. In the infamous recording, Trump made politically incorrect statements about women. Your response to complaints? "I said it, it was wrong and I apologize. Bill Clinton has abused real women and Hillary (Clinton) has attacked the victims. "
It was a morally questionable tactic, but effective. However, for entrepreneurs, the best option to imitate is undoubtedly the one taken by Netflix. Even if you do not run a billion-dollar company, you can imitate this tactic and protect the brand that has cost you so much to build.
1. Define your values and cling fiercely to them
What are the values of your brand? Every word you write, every statement you make, in fact, everything you do, must be aligned with the fundamental values of your company. If someone in your company does something that contradicts them, you must separate it.
In my company, Hawke Media, we recently had to disassociate an effective employee whose actions contradicted the values that define us. In less than an hour of hearing about the faults he had committed, we had already fired him. Do not stop to eliminate everything that may damage the reputation of your firm.
Netflix realized that no matter how popular "House of Cards" was, if it maintained the series, it would risk compromising the integrity of its brand and offend its customers. If Netflix canceled the show, it risked offending ... Kevin Spacey. In the end, it was a relatively simple choice: protect the value of your brand that you have built for years or keep an actor?
2. Do not admit faults immediately
This advice can NOT be applied universally. There are times when you or someone in your company made a fundamentally stupid mistake and there will be no choice but to accept that they were wrong (like Pepsi with his commercial with Kendall Jenner).
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However, do not accept blame that is not yours unless it is absolutely necessary and if you have some responsibility. Note how Netflix did not apologize for the actions of a person he did not know at the time of the events. Spacey is a great actor and Netflix's only fault was hiring him to play a role. Why put the innocent actions of the company in a negative light? Instead, Netflix took quick actions and communicated them to its customers.
3. Accept the failure and commit to do it better in the future
Whatever route you take when dealing with a public relations crisis, do not get stuck wanting to solve what has already happened. Once you have taken action to resolve the situation, focus on finding ways to prevent the problem from recurring.
For example, United Airlines realized that the best way to gain back the confidence of its consumers was to focus on the detail that really matters to them: that their flights do not fall behind. As a result, the airline improved its boarding practices and in the last quarter it broke records of punctuality in its flights.
Related: What can United Airlines do to stop the bleeding on its reputation
Publicly, United did not get stuck in the fact that it is making efforts to properly treat its clients or discussing the public relations nightmare in the press. The company simply found out what really matters to consumers and gave them to them.
Netflix is in the same situation. He is not looking for more episodes of "House of Cards" without Spacer. Simply ended the series and with it the bad press that could be generated around the subject. He accepted his losses, but he separated from the star to attend other initiatives.
If you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a reputation crisis, imitate these proven strategies. Nobody is going to believe you a prefabricated apology. But if you stay true to the core values of your company and put the blame where it should be, you can begin to take reparation measures, protect your consumers and move on.
As in all relationships, being honest, but setting clear boundaries is the best policy.