YouTube, Michael De Kort, and the new whistleblower phenomenon

Wow, talk about getting legs. Yesterday I blogged (based on a lawyer’s blog) about the latest whistleblower strategy using YouTube. Today it is in Time Magazine.

There are so many things to comment about this. This one I can’t avoid. James Bruni made the point that PR folks should be refocusing on mainstream media and admit they can’t control the blogosphere. He’s right about no control, but here is an example of a whistleblower’s probably unwarranted complaints suddenly making big time news via the MSM. And it came about through the new social media of the video site YouTube, plus probably the blog discussion. You simply can’t draw lines like that, Mr. Bruni. It is all important, and the blogworld and social media world is getting every more important.

Note what the Lockheed spokesperson says about not trusting what people put on YouTube. And then the comment from the reporter–”‘Anybody with a webcam and something to say, regardless of whether it’s true or not, can say it on YouTube,’” complained a Lockheed spokeswoman. This is, of course, the same charge leveled against bloggers and other amateur newsgatherers; and one could argue that is precisely the point.”

Crisis communicators–ever more vigilance is needed. You need eyes on all sides of your heads and not up your backside. What is said in one presumably obscure corner of the vast global conversation can find its way into Time and the front page of newspapers in mere moments. Is this an instant news world?

YouTube–the new opportunity for whistleblowers

OK all you whistleblowers out there, here’s a new way to get yourself some attention if no one in your company will listen. Make a video and post it on YouTube.  Like this guy (Michael De Kort) from Lockheed Martin (view story and video).
Interesting take on it from this blog called HR Lawyer’s Blog. In fact, it is precisely what I would want to say about it to communication professionals who are trying to keep up with the new risks in a world of flattening media.

Here’s what blogger Chris McKinney said (read blog) 

“The video, which can be viewed here, demonstrates the increased flattening of the media world. It is absolutely not an exaggeration to say that now everyone (and every employee) as a printing press and a television station that can literally reach tens of thousands or even millions of people. In the hands of a disgruntled (justifiably or not) employee, this media power is undoubtedly going to cause public relations nightmares for companies of all sizes.

Ah, this new world gets more interesting every day.

Which reminds me, James Bruni didn’t agree with my criticism of his comments about Edelman. I appreciate the response James, would love to converse more about this. But this example of using YouTube helps prove my point. As does me writing about this with the impact of giving the video more legs.

Wal-Mart, Young, Edelman and whether to join in the conversation

Interesting comments from James Bruni via the NowPublic blogsite about the Wal-Mart and Andrew Young problems. I find Mr. Bruni’s troublesome. He seems to see in the Andrew Young problem an argument for PR firms and/or communicators for organizations to not engage in the blogosphere.  He quotes Richard Edelman of Edelman PR:
“If there’s a mistake about your company, about your product, send them an e-mail, raise your hand. They will correct it. That’s what our studies show very clearly. Either by striking through and writing ‘here’s the fact.’ Or, by correcting. One or the other. Very few of them will leave an inaccurate post.”

But then Bruni suggests that this advice was undermined by the Andrew Young problem and that now Edelman and their “army of young account executives” was busy backtracking to try to recover from Ambassador Young’s unfortunate comments.

I’m sorry, I don’t see the connection. Edelman cannot be blamed for what Young said, even if they recommended hiring him. Based on his history, the comments are very surprising and could not have been predicted, I believe. Secondly, why would the problem with Young counter the message about engaging in the online conversation? If anything, it is more of a reason to participate. There’s a problem, the blog world is talking about it, and he things now is the time that Wal-Mart should disengage? I don’t think so,

Bruni makes the comment that the blogosphere cannot be controlled any more than the Mainstream Media could be controlled. That is pretty obvious and I don’t think Mr Edelman would disagree either. But because it cannot be controlled does not mean it is not important nor does it mean that companies should not engage.

I wonder if Mr Bruni tipped his hand about why he is thinking this way when he suggests that PR people need to refocus on traditional media while “keeping an eye on the blogosphere.” Wow, here’s where the problem really is, in my mind. Traditional PR people are focused almost exclusively on the old media. Hey, it is still very very important. But the world is changing very rapidly in public communication. To make a call for refocusing on something that almost everyone in the business is primarily focused on strikes me as pretty strange.

My take: Edelman is right, Bruni is wrong. Your take?

All crises are personal

It’s hard to imagine a crisis that doesn’t involve a lot of personal pain, agony and tragedy. That was brought home to me recently as I struggled with the personal pain of those involved in some reputation crises that I was involved in.

But this series of articles from PR Tactics gives an inside look at some of the personal pain endured by professional communicators during Hurricane Katrina. It’s a powerful reminder for those of us engaged in this line of work that ultiimately what we do and how we do it matters. Because it matters to the people who are truly stakeholders.

Hitler restaurant–who really wins?

Well, it appears the owner of the Hitler-named restaurant in Bombay has “seen the light.” He changed the name after meeting with members of Bombay’s Jewish community.

But the interesting question to me is, who wins? Did he create a brilliant PR ploy, playing to one of the most politically incorrect notions in our society knowing full well that his daring gamble would get lots of media play (and blog talk like this?) Or was he as culturally ignorant as it appears, not knowing that using the name would result in this kind of backlash? Not sure it matters to him. I’m guessing his restaurant is busy. Not only that, for alot of people it may very well be a “must see” location on their next tour to Bombay. That is the nature of fame–and particularly of celebrity in this instant fame game accelerated by the internet.

I hate to think how I am participating in it right now–but I am.

Why this job isn't easy

Crises affect people’s lives, their careers, their aspirations. A crisis manager is called in when there is a lot at risk and asked to give advice and help make decisions that can very significant consequences. I am reflecting on this now because there are at least two situations where I have been called in recently where the impact on the people who have asked me for help has been considerable and painful. In both of those very different situations, I offered counsel that in my view was in the best interest of the organization. In one case, I advised that the organization go aggressively public with a decision they made that would be received very negatively by a number of people. In another, I recommended that key people in the organization resign for the sake of the viability of the organization itself.

In the last few days I was told by someone I respect how wrong I was on one of those counts. That has caused considerable reflection. I may be wrong. My judgments, experience, ability to scope out the situation and see all factors may be limited. I wonder, why do they ask me? Why put the burden of these critical questions on me? I am well aware of the anger, disappointment, sense of betrayal and even outrage caused by the recommendations I made. Yet, I have to remember that I didn’t cause the crisis. I was not there when critical decisions were made that could have prevented it from occurring in the first place. And I was asked for my best advice and judgment in very challenging circumstances. I know in my heart that in both cases my motives were pure, that I had no hidden agenda and was playing no games. I said what I thought with honesty and candor. I told them it was not an easy decision, that I may be wrong. Above all, it is not my organization and ultimately not my decision to make. My responsibility is to give the very best advice I can.

In both cases, after thinking and rethinking and now even with the benefit of hindsight, I gave the right advice I believe. Yes, damage was done. But I believe far less than if another direction had been taken. The problem is I can’t prove that and no one will ever know because the event unfolds based on the decision that was taken. I said and thought more than once in the last few days, I have to get another line of work. But I don’t mean it. The ability to make judgments knowing the pain that will result and the willingness and ability to stand firm even when you are being called names and your integrity is called into question is one of the traits of an effective crisis manager. Perhaps it is unusual for a crisis manager to be so open about the doubts, fears and uncertainties that are part of this job. I only hope that others who are in this position will know that they are not alone.

What CEOs know and don't know about crisis management

The Burson-Marsteller research report CEO’s views of crisis management strategies is one of the most interesting documents to come around in a while. Burson-Marsteller Crisis Mgt Study

It is as interesting for what it indicates CEOs don’t know about crisis management as what they do know.  One finding that is very interesting is that it takes 3.2 years for a company to recover from a crisis.  If that isn’t a justification for preparation I don’t know what is–especially when you realize that most crises are “smoldering” in the sense that the reputation damage can be largely averted by dealing with it aggressively early on. Here are a few other key findings about what CEOs think. These are rankings of strategies in order of importance:
– Quickly disclose details of the scandal/misstep (69%)
– Make progress/recovery visible (59%)
– Analyze what went wrong (58%)
– Improve governance structure (38%)
– Make CEO and leadership accessible to the media (34%)
– Fire employees involved in the problem (32%)
– Commit to high corporate citizenship standards (23%)
– Carefully review ethics policies (19%)
– Hire an outside auditor for internal audits (18%)
– Issue an apology from the CEO (18%)

For the most part, it appears that CEOs “get it.” I certainly question why only 18% believe that issuing an apology from the CEO is important–me thinks a blindspot there. But what is truly remarkable and demonstrates a level of ignorance about the instant news world and the importance of the internet for communication these days is this finding:

One of the more surprising findings of the market research conducted by the firm is that only 5
percent of senior executives believe that updating their website can be an effective tool in their crisis
management and corporate reputation turnaround strategy.

I can only conclude from this that either I and a lot of crisis management folks I know don’t get it and place too much importance on using your website for conveying information to the public, or we as an industry have a very very very long ways to go to get the word out to CEOs that their website and all the internet communication technology is critical in emerging from a crisis. Maybe they can even avert some or shorten that recovery time. Seems they’d be interested in the cost savings there.

Wal-Mart: Andrew Young turns a great strategy into bad news

Wal-Mart’s hiring of Andrew Young was a brilliant strategy. The former Mayor of Atlanta and US Ambassador to the United Nations had the pedigree, credibility and presence to make a difference in Wal-Mart’s badly needed efforts to boost its public image. The fact that attack sites like http://blog.wakeupwalmart.com/ had a real problem with Andrew Young demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach. Here’s the anti-Wal-Mart attack blog’s comments about Young.

The problem is, Andrew Young stepped in it big time–and in a way that plays to whatever perceptions opponents and fencesitters might have of Wal-Mart. His comments were racist and sounded like they would come from an Archie Bunker type rather than from such a distinguished African-American leader. Even through the effort to put them in context, it is hard to avoid the inherent racist overtones of the statements. Young was right to resign. Wal-Mart was right to distance themselves from him. And there has to be a lot of headscratching going on in Bentonville right now, saying, “Now what?” Now what indeed.

This is what an online reputation attack looks like: Citgo

Here’s an email I just received from someone who normally sends me a lot of jokes. I’m guessing that’s a way a lot of these online reputation attacks go–from people who have a big list and are accustomed to sending things on. I’m not verifying that Citgo is indeed owned by Venezuela and this email is pushing the term dictator, but not of that is the point. This is what it looks like. If you were Citgo, what you would do if this really developed a head of steam? Tell Chavez to shove it?

Bet you have seen, but if you haven’t, worth knowing.
———————————————————————————–

Venezuela Dictator Vows To Bring Down U.S. Government

The Venezuela government is soleowner of the CITGO gsoline company.

Venezuela Dictator Hugo Chavez has vowed to bring down the U.S. government.

Chavez, president of Venezuela, told a TV audience: “Enough of imperialist aggression; we must tell the world: down with the U.S. empire. We have to bury imperialism this century.”

The guest on his television program, beamed across Venezuela, was Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar activist. Chavez had as his guest Harry Belafonte, who called President Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world.”

Chavez is pushing a socialist revolution and has a close alliance with Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro.

Regardless of your feelings about the war in Iraq, the issue here is that we have a socialist dictator vowing to bring down the government of the U.S. And he is using our money to achieve his goal!

The Venezuela government, run by dictator Chavez, sole owner of Citgo* gas co. Sales of products at Citgo stations send money back to Chavez to help him in his vow to bring down our government.

Take Action

Please decide that you will not be shopping at a Citgo station. Why should U.S. citizens who love freedom be financing a dictator who has vowed to take down our government?

Very important. Please forward this to your friends and family. Most of them don’t know that Citgo is owned by the Venezuela government.

Exceptions to the "just spell my name right" rule

You’ve heard the old saw about PR– all PR is good PR as long as you get my name spelled right. Of course, those of us in crisis management know that isn’t true. But some restauranteur in Bombay has taken the idea of no such thing as bad PR to new lows. And I think they will pay for it. Here’s the story via newsvine. Seems he thought naming his restaurant after Hitler and using Nazi symbols would be a good way to attract attention. He’s right about that. But I hope the attention he gets is that he is complete insensate jerk who deserves absolutely no business for his braindead idea. Just my opinion.