When is a controversy not a crisis? Cameron's "Titanic" PR game with "The Lost Tomb"

At first glance, the airing of the Discovery Channel’s documentary on the “tomb of Jesus” looks like it might be the making of the mother of all crises. A crisis for the world’s biggest religion that is, because if the proof is there, the billion or more people who call themselves Christian will have to go looking for another faith. The idea of the resurrection of Jesus is that central to the faith–even the Bible makes that claim.

But, not all controversies are crises. Because I see no threat to either party here. Cameron, Discovery Channel and most others involved will benefit enormously from the press coverage, blogs (like this) and all the hoopla surrounding this event. But the faithful who believe in the historicity of the resurrection will also benefit because the compelling “evidence” is so seriously flawed that it will bring a great many to a stunning challenge: who to believe. And if they come to the conclusion that if this is the best evidence against what billions have believed for so long, what are they to do with it personally?

So, no crisis here because everyone gets what they want.

Will JetBlue be better off after the crisis?

One of the most important lessons in crisis management is that you will change, your organization will change. Will it be for the better? The Chinese character for crisis, I learned some time ago, can be translated “risk” and “opportunity.”

It appears that the judgment of the best minds on crisis management is that JetBlue did very well and that they may very well come out ahead–with their brand enhanced around the position as the best in customer service. That seems a big statement given the excessive media coverage about their nightmare of Valentine’s Day. But, Richard Levick, one of the most well known and respected names in crisis communication gives an explanation as to why this may very well be the case.

Perhaps an even more interesting reference in this lengthy post is Levick’s take on BP after their year of troubles. Being close to many of these people and their situation I have been careful not to comment much about BP, but I am much encouraged by Mr. Levick’s comments about BPs recovery.

"Blogwars," rumors and other dangers of the Internet

Frequent readers of this blog know that dealing with online attacks and rumors is one of my favorite topics. It appears the concern is going a little more mainstream, because here is an excellent story on the phenomenon in the Seattle Times.

Some excellent tips in this article useful to crisis managers and communicators. These include the use of  “truth filter” sites (this is what I called them in my book in 2001) such as www.snopes.com and wikipedia. Also discussed is the use of a rumor response section on a website. While there is certainly the point of not wanting to feed a rumor that may be weak or dying, in my view, more mistakes have been made in not addressing these quickly, aggressively and directly enough so they take on a life that was not necessary. “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” And I’ll repeat that a few more times.

Can Google be beat?

Anyone who uses the Internet uses search engines a lot. Google has rocketed to the top of the world based primarily on its search engine, plus some smart ways to leverage that through ad revenue, etc. But, can search get better. I just looked at a beta of www.medstory.com and my answer is yes. It’s going to get a lot better. While medstory is set up primarily for health related searches, the basic concept is applicable to any number of subjects. Obviously, Microsoft thinks medstory’s search methods are valuable because according to this article in today’s Media Post, Microsoft has purchased the technology and sees it as a key part of its strategy to win the search wars. Ah, isn’t competition wonderful.

Aha, some hints as to why JetBlue did so well in crisis communication

Jonathan Bernstein’s outstanding email newsletter called the Crisis Manager is the “bible” more or less for many of us in crisis management. In this issue he interviews Sebastian White, head of corporate communications for JetBlue and the interview gives some important information useful for all crisis managers and communicators. To sign up for this newsletter go to www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com.

Incidentally, this same issue reprints the excellent white paper on media tracking during a crisis by Chip Griffin, CEO of CustomScoop–another reason to sign up for the newsletter.

How to respond to a rat problem–use video. Taco Bell and KFC president speaks

A few months ago it was new–now it seems common. Starbucks used YouTube to respond to the accusations of Oxfam, David Neeleman from JetBlue posted an apology video on their website and now President Emil Brolick of Yum (Taco Bell and KFC) has put an apology video on his site relating the rat story that made its rounds on the Internet. (See my PIERblog post).

Note to crisis managers and communicators: your crisis plan had better now include provisions for quickly videotaping an apology from your CEO as well as the knowledge and capability of quickly putting this up on your website and on the proliferating video sites such as YouTube.

Where are the media defenders re Delta Zeta?

My post on Delta Zeta has generated a lot of traffic and more comments than any other post so far. And a few other links, for example: (http://wagnercomm.blogspot.com/)

I kept looking for defenders against what I thought might be an overly aggressive and unwarranted attack on the reporting of the NYT. Instead, I found a lot of people very frustrated with this kind of media story which creates a headline out of essentially nothing.

Just a couple of additional comments. I wondered why I was seeing it this way and so many others seem to be accepting the NYT report at face value. I sort of think it is the old story of the frog in a beaker. Over the years (Ted Koppel and I attribute the change to the start of 60 Minutes) we have become accustomed to news and entertainment being completely blended. After all, what is this thing called “reality tv”? But as a society we have been remarkably uncritical of the implications of this. Neil Postman did his best in the late 70s I think, when he wrote Entertaining Ourselves To Death (this books ranks up near the McLuhan sphere in my mind). Too many good people have been hurt, too many good organizations have been severely damaged or destroyed, too much economic and life value wasted on the altar of media entertainment. This has been a primary theme of mine since 2001 when I started drafting Now Is Too Late. What continually amazes me and surprises me is that this insight about the harmful effects of infotainment still strikes a lot of people as new and innovative.

The other comment has more to do with how a story like this evolves. This is important for everyone in PR and crisis communication because the main point I wanted to make relating to this story is what happened to Delta Zeta is an accident waiting to happen to you. No one is safe from a media-created crisis. Now, this is pure speculation, so don’t think I really knew what went on.

I suspect one or more of the young women in the chapter who were asked to leave were unhappy about the action taken. They may have even noted that it seemed to them more than coincidence that the ones who were left were attractive while some of the others were not. It certainly is better to be a victim of a situation like this–particularly a victim of racial or attractiveness discrimination–than to accept that you were asked to leave because you did not meet a commitment standard. So they talked. And they may have even called a reporter. At some point someone did. “Did you hear about this sorority who dumped all the unattractive, non-white ladies?” If it got like this to Mr. Dillon, his ears would have perked up. He’s a good reporter. So the story was written in his mind. The headline was already there. Hey, let’s talk to the girls, get their story. Sure enough, it was all about discrimination. He talked to the University. The president was aghast. When he finally got around to talking to the sorority and found a considerably different story, he had a problem. Either dump the great headline and story to match that he had painstakingly researched, or accept that what they said was the truth and there was no story here. Let’s see, be honest, or get ink? Hmm. I think I will get ink. This is a good story. Ok, we’ll include what the sorority said, but we will so bury it, and add the suggestion that they really wouldn’t talk to us, to firmly attach the black hat. And so the story goes… As I said, pure speculation.

But, on the other hand, the communication from the sorority leaders was sorry at best. The statement sent to Good Morning America was completely confusing.While the letter on the website contained the relevant information that made it pretty clear and obvious that the report was maliciously bad, it was buried in the middle of the letter. An experienced communicator was badly needed here. The message on the website should have made it clear that the NYT report was completely off-based and deliberately ignored the key facts that the reporter was presented.

I know a lot of people have been hurt by this report. And an awful lot of people and good organizations continue to hurt by news people who are not bad people and not incompetent people, but people responding to the pressures of their job. And the rest of us need to understand, their job is not to report the truth. Their job is collect an audience for the sake of the people paying their bills–the advertisers. Let me repeat it. Their job is to collect an audience for the sake of the people paying their bills. If telling the truth lets them do it effectively, then fine. If not, then fine. That is way overstating it, but it is also very important that people start understanding the real situation we are in.

If you have any doubts about what I am saying, I beg you to get and view the outstanding PBS three part series, News War. You will see this New York Times story, plus all the garbage on PrimeTime, etc., in its proper light.