Saddam Hussein's letter to America

Yesterday, July 20, 2006, Saddam Hussein offered a handwritten letter to the citizens of the United States. As he states in the letter, it was prompted by his attorney, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Here is the letter.

I am going to comment from a crisis management and reputation management standpoint. Hussein is in crisis I would say. And in the worst possible spot in a crisis in that his credibility has been destroyed. That’s always the first rule in crisis management and reputation management–never let your credibility be damaged. Because once you do, you have a very difficult time communicating in a way that anyone will believe or take you seriously.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting attempt at persuasion.

Saints, sinners and saveables. Audiences can normally be divided into these categories. And here is a good case in point. His frequent complaints about Bush lying, about the dishonesty of the American government, about the undemocratic way he is being treated, about American violence (prisoners killed by American investigators) will not fall on completely deaf ears. The more the hearer is in the “sinner” category from the Bush administration perspective, the more credible Hussein’s words will be. The more one is inclined toward the Bush perspective, the less credible. That’s why communicators normally appeal to the saveables. The problem here is that Hussein does not at all appeal to the saveables because he gives no credence whatsover to another perspective, nor does he give even the slightest nod to the saveables perspective on him and his credibility.

For example, his complaints about American violence, bad democracy, the poor innocent Iraqi population, etc. fall on mostly deaf ears because of what is well known what he did. Where is the recognition of his faults? Where is the admission of errors. Now his lawyer of course would not allow him to do that. And so his lawyer, the esteemed Mr Clark who prompted this letter, has put Mr Hussein in a ridiculous spot. To defend himself he has to charge his enemy with the very same things that he has already been accused, tried and deemed guilty of in the court of public opinion. Mr Clark, what were you thinking?

If Hussein and Clark did think it was in his best interests to try to redeem his reputation, a much better strategy would be to have someone else speak on his behalf. Someone whom the American saveables would have respect for, who it would be surprising to see speak on behalf of the defendant, and who would recognize and admit that terrible deeds were done. No excuses. No rationalizing. Just admissions. From that platform, the complaints against him and his people would be more acceptable–not necessarily compelling, but more acceptable.

One thing the letter has going for it is a sense of authenticity and humanity. In that regard it is pretty compelling. It reminds me of Pres Reagan’s appeal to the USSR leader, Breshnev I believe, when he asked why are they treating us an enemy when we did not attack them when we could and have done nothing to show willingness to destroy them. It’s humanity and personality was a huge part of its effectiveness. Hussein wrote this letter himself. That makes it highly interesting and immediately we can, to a very limited degree, see and understand that there is a human being behind these words. If onely the human being were not so self-obssessed, so unremorseful, so self-important, so accusatory, so ignorant of American ideals and perspectives. The fact that all this comes through in a way makes it more compelling, but does not make his message more effective.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Should the letter have been written at all? Was it at all effective? What should have Ramsey Clark advised his client to help rebuild his reputation? And is it a worthwhile enterprise?

– saitns sinners and saveables

– Ramsey Clark

– appeals to decency, democracy, American violence hollow with his reputation

– where is the mea culpa

YouTube owns your content

With blogging really taking off now in the corporate and PR world, content control is going to become an interesting issue. Primarily because blogging is all about sharing, and linking, and grabbing stuff from other sites, and reacting, etc. So when you do a post, who owns the content? Can you put something on a site and protect it? Can you use something from someone else’s site without a copyright infringement. One online critic with a record of doing and saying anything he wants about his target is complaining because the company is showing his posts on their responses in order to demonstrate his lack of honesty and responsibility. So he turns around and complains of copyright violations.

This issue may come to a head when the thousands of hundreds of thousands who post video content on YouTube find out that they just signed away their rights to the content according to the fine print that no one ever reads. In fact, YouTube reserves the right to sell it, change it, do whatever they want with your content. They can make a zillion dollars on your little video and you may not have the right to. Interesting to see how this turns out.

Read the story. 

Everything you need to know about bloggers

If you are curious about bloggers, who they are, why they blog and almost anything else of interest about bloggers, see this report. It is from Pew, which has a strange name, but does a wonderful job of tracking how the internet is changing our lives. I will comment more about these findings after I’ve had a chance to review the 25 page full report.

Princess Cruise on a roll

If you’re in crisis management and you do drills for things that can go wrong, you often wonder how the media would report your story if things went terribly wrong. Look at the coverage of the Crown Princess incident off the coast of Florida.

Interesting first to see how uninvolved people such as myself get the news. My son called at about 10 pm asking me if his grandparents, my parents, might be on that ship. What ship? The one that almost capsized, he said. No, they were on a cruise ship in Alaska, not headed to the Caribbean. He doesn’t have TV so got his news from a website. That’s how I first found out.

I watched the 11 pm news. They interviewed by phone Seattle area residents who were on the ship, honeymooners who described the horror and a ruined honeymoon.

Then the newspaper reports and other web reports this morning. The AP story shown on newsvine is a great example. First the bare facts. Then several paragraphs of recollections, selected primarily because of their vivid descriptions that describe the horror of their experience. A quotation from the Port Canaveral CEO. Finally, and this is my point, a brief comment from an unidentified spokesperson from Princess Cruises. The obligatory “we’re very sorry, inconvenience, reimbursement, etc., etc.” Nothing wrong with their statement, really. But the company seems strangely in the background. Why are they not out front? Where is the CEO? Why, in the stream of video from frightened passengers is there not at least one senior level executive seen actively dealing with the situation, involved with passengers, talking about addressing their concerns.

One cardinal rule for crisis communicators is to avoid discussing cause. The lawyers make certain of that and no doubt prematurely identifying causes can cause huge problems. But it is one of the first questions reporters ask. Here is a great example. The cause apparently was a steering problem. Oh boy, that raises concerns. I’ve been on a few cruises and now when or if I get on board again I am going to think about their steering systems. Are these ships so poorly designed that some computer glitch or a loose bolt gets caught in a cable and the whole dang ship tips over? Come on. If you want passengers to have some assurance, you better come up with a much better answer than this and in a big hurry.

And the hurry again becomes the point. This story will be off the news by this afternoon. But the impact of the coverage will linger for a long time. Sure, people will continue to take cruises, but with a stronger sense that things can go horribly wrong without any clear explanation. And that if things do go horribly wrong, the Coast Guard, the Port that ship came from will be involved, but the cruise company itself will send out some attractive cruise director-like “spokesperson” to simply say how sorry they are. Fellow communicators, we need to do a lot better than this.

Crisis management basics and ICS

It’s easy for me who is into the communication and communication technology game to forget that crisis communication starts with an effective crisis response. In working with clients, I have to keep going back to the basics of crisis management. It’s been a great benefit to me to have had much exposure to the Incident Command System. If you are not familiar with ICS and you have anything to do with managing crises for your organization, I strong advise you to become familiar.

ICS was created in the 1970s by the fire service. It was designed to help manage a fast moving event (like a wildfire) when there are multiple agencies involved. The problem was simple. You have all these people show up to help. They have their own ways of doing things, their own command structure, their own language, their own communication technologies like radios, their own cultures, their own attitudes, etc. How do you get them to all cooperate and work together. The answer is a very simple, scalable management structure that everyone must learn and adhere to. Plus other key principles such as interoperability of systems.

ICS has been proven to be very effective. It moved out from the fire service into fire departments, emergency management departments and eventually some federal agencies like the Coast Guard. From there it began moving into the private sector, largely because of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the post-ExxonValdez legislation. This law requires oil companies, shipping companies and those dealing with oil near the water to conduct annual drills with the Coast Guard and other local and state agencies. These drills as well as actual spills always use ICS.

I first became aware of ICS in the middle of a major incident involving a gasoline pipeline explosion with three fatalities and an entire community in shock. Since then I have been involved in dozens of incidents and drills using ICS and have adapted it for use in responding to crises for almost any kind of organization. If you have interest, comment here and I will send you my own basic document.

Dell Flack Attack

Attn Corporate Bloggers. Here’s a good example of what not to do. Apparently Dell’s PR firm assigned one of their staffers to review blogs for negative comments about Dell. OK, standard procedure. But the guy commented on a well known blog in terms that, well don’t even meet the “angry blogger” standard of decency. Let alone, appropriate in defending his client.


Here’s what the anonymous “PR” guy wrote on Jeff Jarvis’ blog:

Hey Jarvis. I honestly think you have no life. Honestly? Do you have a life, or do just spend it trying to make Dell miserable. I’ve been working with Dell the past three weeks researching trashy blogs that worms like you leave all over that frigen blogosphere and I cant honestly say that Dell is trying to take a step towards fixing their customer service. They hire guys like me to go on the web and look through the blogs of guys like you in hopes that we can find out your problem and fix it. But honestly I dont think you have a problem Dell can fix. Your problem is you have no life.

Interesting that Richard Edelman, head of the largest independent PR firm and a competitor of the firm in question decided to raise this issue on his blog.  Well, I guess it is OK for a competitor to help point out a serious mistake on the part of a competitor. At least Edelman was gracious enough to point out that the culprit was likely a summer intern.

The point here is that there is no such thing as anonymity on the web–and the sooner anonymity as a presumed option goes away the better as far as I am concerned. So warn everyone who presumes to be speaking in your defense to not be so stupid. And to conduct themselves as they would as if everything was in the light of day. As it should be. And as apparently it is.

Online critics

Maybe it is just my little view of the world, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that dealing with online critics is going to be one of the biggest jobs of those in corporate or organizational communication. Hopefully, your organization will be immune. But if it is of any scope and deals with very many people, there’s a good chance you are going to really tick someone off along the way. That’s always happened and often with minimal impact. Because the ticked-offee (as opposed to you, the ticked-offer) normally has minimal impact. Sure, he or she will tell his or her friends and family, and depending on the severity of your offense, it may go somewhat beyond that limited group. But now more and more people are discovering and participating in a vast and exploding “water cooler” called the internet, or more specifically the “blogosphere.” And in that world it is all about connections. The word gets passed quickly. There are built in incentives to make those connections and make them fast.

Another think about the ticked-offee who blogs or sets up a critic website, or simply participates with his/her story in others blogs. The blogosphere has an edge to it. It is also not subject to normal definitions of truth, credibility and fair play. Anything goes. Lies repeated become the truth. And they are in print no less, so you know what they say about print.

The point is, one or two or five people, can make a huge dent in a reputation firmly built over years of good work.

Crisis communicators, it is an important new avenue of work and revenue. Corporate communicators, you just got handed a new responsibility that may bring you to the heart of brand and organizational value. Don’t mess up.

Do you really need to blog every day?

Here’s a great article about corporate blogging by corporate blogger Eric Kintz of HP.

A few key points.

– If you want to get top traffic on the likes of Technorati you still need to do like the bigtime bloggers and post multiple times a day.

– most people can’t do it because it just isn’t a priority.

– there is getting to be something called RSS fatigue according to Seth Godin.

– Most corporate marketing blogs still do not feature top executives.

CEO Blogging. Why cross-eyed looks?

It happened again yesterday. I mention the idea of CEO blogging to a business person I respect and the response was a laughing “Oh yeah.” Like, are you out of your ever loving mind? Are you smoking crack? Why does this seems so strange? I realize this is what it looks like to observe a major culture shift occurring. Having one person in the organization talking openly to anyone who will listen on any topic he or she desires to address, without legal review, without PR polishing, without board consensus, without the executive team having 13 meetings to ponder the wisdom of it, just doesn’t seem right. And that is exactly the point.

I wonder if Henry Ford would object to blogging? I wonder if some VP suggested he might screw up in something he said that would cause the company some damage, how he would respond. I wonder how Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, would respond if someone suggested that it would be a bad idea for him to blog. I think he would say, “Why?”

I’m thinking right now the blog world is not so new after all. The desire for openness, honesty, transparency, freedom of expression, the ability to say something stupid once in a while without the world crashing down, is something we all want and always have wanted. The iconoclastic methods and expectations of bloggers are expressions of a universal human desire for authenticity in relationships and communication. It’s more that we have gone far away from that mode of communication in our mediated, hyper-sensitive, politically corrected and over-litigated world. Well, I think it is tiime to go back.

Let’s start talking again. One to one, face to face, if possible, but when not through this remarkable new medium. Let’s reveal ourselves, tell each other who we really are and what we care about. Let’s show a little respect. Let’s forgive a little more. Let’s accept honest mistakes and misstatements without getting the courts involved. And let’s not be so afraid to take the risk of honest communication.

Zidane apologizes?

I heard on tv last night that Zidane finally apologized. Typical, I thought. Like most companies caught in a crisis with their reputation at stake, they finally think about long enough, consult with all the attorneys in the Outlook, get lots of conflicting advice, and then do the right thing. Too little. Too late.

The problem with Zidane’s presumed apology is that I can’t find it. The Seattle news station who carried the story didn’t show Zidane apologizing, they showed video clips about how the French treat tourists (you guessed it, a whole series of vicious headbutts with the words “merci.”

And now I did a quick search of news sites and I can’t find the apology. What I do find are more and more videos that not only replay the vicious headbutt but take it to outrageous new extremes. Here’s one from a UK website that shows the headbutt as seen by the Germans, French, Italians, Americans, etc. Pretty good.

But for crisis communicators there’s a really big lesson here. Apologize early, apologize often, and get it out there fast. If you don’t you will get lost on the far more entertaining comment that is web-driven and far more compelling than your most tearful mea culpa.