Politics, the spill and crisis management–an insider talks about the realities

I found this guest editorial in the Boston Globe by Juliette Kayyem to be quite remarkable. She was an assistant secretary of DHS during the Gulf Spill and since she no longer is, she speaks with surprising candor about what was going on behind the scenes with the political interference in the spill.

Here are some insights worthy of highlighting:

The disconnect between operations and politics:

In hindsight, it’s clear to me that there were two different responses to the spill — one political, one operational. Despite some fits and starts, the operational response largely worked. But it was the political response that garnered so much attention, and seemed so disconnected from what was going on day-to-day operationally.

Why the administration interfered:

Yet, the whole time, we were playing by a rulebook that no one could admit we were playing by. This was true not just for the White House, but for the governors and local leaders as well.

On the interference by the governors:

Not one of the Gulf governors — all of them Republican, at least two potentially running against President Obama in 2012 — would accept that his own experts had signed off on plans that, essentially, they no longer liked in the harsh light of day.

On the “boom wars:”

But boom was a quantifiable thing, and no governor could be seen as having less than the guy next door.

Just to summarize this a bit for the purpose of looking ahead. The ground rules she talks about, the use of the Incident Command System and the Joint Information Center established for oil spill response in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 were essentially tossed out by the administration. The reasons she provides–public expectations (I should add, driven by media intent on assigning blame) and political pressure by local and state officials resulted in overriding decisions by Incident Commanders to respond to political pressure (eg., boom wars). More than that, it meant throwing out all the rules for collaborative communication responsive to Incident Command with direct White House control on all response information. As the Coast Guard ISPR pointed out, this effectively shut down the communication operation, much to the harm of public trust.

I’ve asked myself this question many times since then–was this the best strategy for the Obama administration? He largely succeeded in avoiding the blame and the “Obama’s Katrina” label which was a serious risk. So, it looks like it was successful. But there were many others who paid the price for this, unfairly and unjustly in my mind. What if the administration had played by the rules? What if they had allowed the response to patiently explain to the reporters that if they wanted to understand how the response was being run they should do a little more investigation than looking at the latest tweets and understand why OPA 90 was set up the way it was. What if they were to explain that BP’s role was necessary, that the response was a collaborative effort under the supervision of the federal government, that the National Contingency Plan and the Area Contingency Plans worked out well in advance were being implemented and they were based on best science? What if they were to explain that boom is being placed where it will do the most good, rather than where Jindal, Nungesser and Tafaro were screaming for it, or where it would serve as a nice background for the president’s press conferences?

Regardless of how history ultimately treats the administration’s interference and throwing out the rules, as Kayyem accurately portrays, one thing is clear. Throwing out the rules has left the oil industry and the emergency management community in great confusion. What will happen next time when the federal government gets involved? Will we use the processes that the government has established, namely NIMS. Or will they once again, say that staying within NIMS is not in the administration’s best interest and just wing it? And what does winging it mean for those trying to respond on the local and regional level? What does it mean for oil spill response? What rules will be used and what does that mean for how they will communicate and try to build public trust?

Is social media a good thing or bad thing?

I know, it’s a little like asking if the telephone is a good thing or bad thing, or television, or cars. Anything we do or make as humans is used for good or ill–the more powerful (think nuclear energy) the more the extremes tend to swing. So it is with social media.

But, this study and resulting graphic was brought to my attention. It tries to answer the question not for everyone, but for students. Specifically, does social media help or hinder their success in school, their social life, their sense of worth? The answers are interesting, but as the graphic shows, there is good, there is bad.

Here’s a few snippets–Using social media in class? Twitter helps grades (sharing answers) while Facebook definitely does not (down 20%). Heavy FB users have a strong social life, but it definitely cuts into making money as an extra curricular activity. Social media provides news, but it is clearly addictive. Using FB boosts self confidence, but it creates narcissism.

OK, you get the picture. Those of you concerned about employee use of social media at work should take a good hard look at this graphic. I would conclude that heavy SM use is personality driven and that there comes a point for nearly everyone where too much of a good thing is nothing less than a bad thing.

Let the social media bashing begin.

How can NPR get the BP PR story so wrong?

I love NPR and I’m very grateful we have a source of news like they provide. But sometimes their reporting is so off base I can’t believe anyone would fund them, let alone the American people.

The story by Elizabeth Shogren is one of the best examples of how they can get it so wrong. Titled “A Textbook Example of How Not to Handle PR” is instead a textbook example of how easy it is for mainstream media to fall into their own meta-narrative traps without doing any real, substantive analysis of their own.

There is so much here to discuss but I’ll try to hit some highpoints.

1) Beyond PR. She makes the first mistake in thinking that BP’s reputation problems could have been avoided or minimized by better PR. That’s insane. No effective messaging or communication can cover for the fact that you are dumping millions of gallons of ugly crude into a body of water for months in full view of the world and with all your technical wizardry and billions in resources, are not able to stop it. Who does she think PR people are? Magicians? This is a problem that the very best and error free communications effort would not be able to overcome. Add to that the fact that the oil industry has one of the worst trust ratings of all (only media is worse as an industry). You start a problem like this in a deep deep hole, then you have the apparent inability to stop the problem, then you have a media environment that thrives on the blame game, you have politicians including the highest office in the land who innoculate themselves by heaping blame, and add to that, you have some pretty serious gaffes. BP’s reputation problem is not caused by bad PR. If any executive or PR person wants to take comfort in the idea that they would avoid such problems by eliminating BP’s gaffes, they are living in lala land. If BP’s communications had been perfect they still would have a nightmare reputation problem.

2) BP’s “failure to accept responsibility.” It is unbelievable to me that this media concocted lie continues to be repeated. All you have to do is go back to the very first releases and all subsequent information to hear BP repeat over and over and over: We are accepting responsibility, we are paying for everything, we will not quit until this is made right. The crazy thing is, despite the media’s (and now NPR’s) continual repetition of their evading responsibility, BP could have done much to evade it. First, they are one of three owners of that well. Second, as is clear from the numerous studies, there were a number of other companies involved and ultimately legal decisions will determine how much blame goes to each. There was only one time when it could be said that BP looked to be avoiding responsibility and that was when Congress forced them to testify. Now this is a judicial or quasi-judicial situation. If they had said in that setting that BP is alone is responsible, that they are absolving all others from any responsibility, that would have not only been false, it would have been completely ignoring their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. Congress put them in a legal and PR bind. But never did they publicly do anything to try to shift blame or not accept responsibility.

A corporate attorney for another very large global oil firm asked me recently: why did BP not simply commit to the $75 million limit on liability that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 allowed them. They could have done that. Instead of it costing them the billions they are paying they could have said legally we are obligated to $75 million. Instead, from the very beginning they said we are ignoring that limit and accepting responsibility to pay the bills. Come on NPR, dig a little deeper.

3) Anecdotal “evidence.”

So the reporter found a BP employee who was disgusted with their PR. His anger with BP and the widely reported gaffes of CEO Hayward are the primary basis for the inflammatory headline and thrust of the story. This event was and is incredibly disheartening to a great many good people that I know who work for or are associated with BP. And yes, was their frustration among some of them when Mr. Hayward went for a yacht ride? Absolutely. But why is there not a story (other than the one in the New Yorker which finally got it right) that showed how hard everyone was trying and the herculian efforts that were going in to stop the spill, minimize the damage and communicate openly and honestly about what was going on. Well, I guess the answer for NPR and other media is “yawn” who would care about that. Indeed, who cares about the truth, not when getting an audience is at stake.

4) The meta narrative at work. In Katrina the meta narrative quickly evolved. Response was a disaster, it was FEMAs fault, Bush’s problem. No one in the media took a deeper look and said, hey wait, FEMA is a funding organization meant not to respond but to channel federal funds to the state and local organizations who are responding. No one reported that because the meta narrative took on a life of its own. In the spill the meta narrative was and is that this event was caused by a rogue foreign company that cares nothing about the environment or the people it is hurting. The sub narrative is that their reputation problems are because of Hayward gaffes and bad PR. Such utter nonsense.

I’ve had email interchanges with a doctoral student who is doing a dissertation on the spill and the crisis communication implications. She too, like so many other crisis communication experts observing this from afar have concluded that BP’s reputation problems are because of bad PR. It did not take long to convince her there was much more to the story than the simple, melodramatic tale of a company suffering from bumbling PR. I just wish Ms. Shogren had also asked some questions and been willing to look a little deeper.

(Full disclosure–BP has been a long time client of my former company in providing crisis communication technology. That’s why I know some of the very good, hard working and well intentioned communication people who not only have been trying their best but doing some incredibly good work.)

Taco Bell shows how to fight and win against bogus lawsuits

I was so very gratified to see the news today that the class action lawsuit filed by an Alabama law firm against Taco Bell regarding the contents of its meat has been dropped. The story in the news today does not give any indication of the real significance of this in my mind.

You may recall back in January the Alabama law firm made national headlines with the accusation that Taco Bell meat contained very little real meat. They were clearly trolling for a big class and the media complied happily. There were comments about this being another “where’s the beef” stories and Taco Bell was big time on the defensive.

I was thrilled when I saw their response. They came out swinging with a brilliant ad campaign and social media effort under the headline “Thank you for suing us.” They detailed the contents of their taco meat, explained the seasonings, etc. and soundly attacked the claims of the law firm calling them totally false. They had to be right or else this kind of strong counter attack would only bite them hard.

Apparently they were right because now the law suit has been dropped. The law firm has tried to claim some kind of victory saying they dropped the suit after Taco Bell made changes to their marketing and product disclosure. Taco Bell said, uh uh, no changes made. They just had to spend the money to point out that the lawyers were liars. So, now that being proved, am I going to believe their reasons for dropping the suit? Nope.

There are all kinds of lawsuits filed every day and many for very good legitimate reasons. But, IMHO, a lot of them are unnecessary and it is part of the American way of business to use our legal system to pressure companies, often for pure gain on the part of the lawyers. The tendency of companies has been to “make a business decision” and weigh the costs of fighting it, the bad publicity attendant to it, and negotiate. Thank God for Taco Bell. They showed a different way.

“Thank you for suing us” should be appearing on many corporate responses to bogus law suits in the future. How we can prevent the media from making a field day out of these bogus suits and presuming the accuser is innocent while the accused (a big business always it seems) is guilty as charged, well, that is another matter.

I would like to nominate Taco Bell for this year’s “Tylenol Successful Crisis Communications Award.”

BP moving from vermin to victim

My how the hatred flowed like the oil into the Gulf. BP was the evil foreign monster who ruthlessly, negligently, and with malice aforethought destroyed the environment, eleven lives and millions of livelihoods.

BP’s response was to accept full responsibility for the clean up and expenses, knowing full well there were other companies involved–Transocean, Halliburton, Anadarko and Mitsui just to name a few. And they absolutely opened up their check book. To the chagrin and concern of many others in the oil industry, they set a new standard for largesse as they battled the oil, the politicians, the press and the public. It turns out both a lot of politicians and members of the public were greedy and willing to take full advantage of the outrage heaped on the company to profit from it.

The extensive research and reporting done by ProPublica displays very clearly the ugly reality of an environmental disaster, especially when a company under such huge pressure is willing to do almost anything to try to make things right. The ugly reality is human greed and abuse of power. Craig Taffaro, along with Billy Nungesser his fellow Parish President, became somewhat of a hero, testifying before Congress and shown in the media spotlight as fighting for his people. Read the ProPublica story and decide what kind of hero he is.

From a crisis communication standpoint, this raises troubling issues. I felt throughout the event, and communicated it to the highest levels in BP I could, that it was necessary for them to be more aggressive in defending themselves against the viciousness of attacks from the media, politicians, and the public. Yes, there was a gigantic spill and it was a terrible accident and a huge mess. Yes, they were accepting responsibility and cleaning it up. But it doesn’t give people the right to say things they did, to spread rumors and lies, to attack them on every front on the flimsiest of excuses (remember the brouhaha over a photoshopped image–an innocent mistake with no sinister intent but blown into an example of BP’s deviousness).

Even now, as the attention of journalists is starting to shift to other bad guys in this story (Washington Post) BP is remarkably reticent to be more aggressive in its communication. Note its reluctance to provide information that would be damning to those who so brutally ripped them off. They may be right in doing so because the meta-narrative created by the media and supported by the politicians of the evil, bumbling giant is still very much with us. And those reporters seeking to highlight how BP is not just vermin but victim will so quickly turn on BP if they see any effort to remove the blackhat. It is in their best interests in terms of building audience to keep that blackhat firmly on BP’s head. However, there is also gain to made–much less so–from graying the hats of those they painted white in the midst of this event.

While public opinion remains fixed on BP’s evil, I am convinced that long term the story of the gulf spill will be one of a company verminized and victimized but who in general responded with exceptional generosity and a real commitment to make right a most horrific accident.


Daily Dog hits new low in attacks on BP–uses Vietnam execution image

Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog I understand is one of the most widely-read email newsletters for the communications and PR industry. But, I must tell you I am thoroughly disgusted by their story today on BP.

It’s not the content of today’s story that I object to so much. I have objected to their treatment before, not just of BP, but Toyota, Goldman and almost any other major organization caught in a media maelstrom. It is the graphic accompanying the story. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that they got this off somebody else’s website–someone who clearly wants to put the company in the worst possible light. For those of you who may not know where the image comes from, it is one of the most searing, emotionally charged and disturbing images from an earlier time. In the late stages of the Vietnam war when support for the war and for our South Vietnamese ally was slowly dissolving, one of the major news magazines ran this image of a South Vietnamese general summarily executing an accused VietCong on the street. The photographer snapped the photo just as the bullet hit the man’s head, contorting his face.

If you have not seen this, I’m sorry to introduce it to you and would not if I wasn’t so outraged and disgusted by Daily Dog’s use of it. Few images I have seen have had such a profound effect, not just on me but possibly on history. It brought home the daily personal tragedies of young lives caught short and the brutality of an apparently almost effortless killing.

Apparently the editor of Daily Dog wants to communicate the message that he considers this latest effort by BP to help improve their shattered reputation to be an act of suicide. At least some homicide. Or, is he suggesting that BP is the general and is killing people? I am hoping that he/she is just young and ignorant and had no idea the associations of that powerful image on a whole generation of Americans.

I have met Jim Sinkinson, the president or owner of Bulldog Reporter, and talked with him about my concerns about the editorial management of Daily Dog. I was disgusted before when I saw how they consistently took media attacks (such as on Toyota,) then upped the outrage a good two or three notches. I commented to Mr. Sinkinson how a reputable public relations publication like this one should understand that the media’s job is to create that public outrage and what is of more interest to the PR practioners who read this is how to manage a reputation when under this kind of often unfair attack. My defense of Toyota, I should mention, was well before NASA vindicated the company and revealed the media attacks for exactly what they were–unsubstantiated inflammation. I didn’t see Daily Dog’s apology for not only taking these attacks at face value, but upping the ante on them. (Refer to previous Daily Dog stories on Toyota if you don’t believe me.)

In addition to a most distasteful and inappropriate use of a graphic, the article makes additional mistakes. It says, without reference, that the BP spill was the world’s worst eco-disaster. I don’t think so. For some reason, in part by looking at past reporting by Daily Dog, I don’t get the feeling that the writer or editor is terribly supportive of BP’s efforts to improve their reputation. It would be more helpful for a leading PR industry publication to give a little more substantive criticism on an issue of vital importance to us practitioners.

At this point in a rant like this, most would conclude by saying, “I’m cancelling my (free) subscription and never reading that rag again.” I’m tempted, but the truth is that once in a while their articles direct me to issues and topics of value. I’m hoping instead that others who may be as offended as I am by their treatment of topics like this will help encourage Mr. Sinkinson to take this issue seriously and have a little chat with his editorial staff.

More on the future of crisis communication

A month ago I commented that the future of crisis communication may be dim. My basis for saying that was that when organizations engage in on-going in-depth conversations with the people who matter most, then crisis communication is not a change from that, but merely an intensification of that conversation.

Maybe some thought I was suggesting that the future for those people with skills and experience in crisis communication was limited. Actually, the opposite. Because what is most needed in that on-going conversations are the very thought patterns, strategies and instincts that makes great communicators and great crisis communicators.

To add to this thought, I want to expand on the idea of the “right few.” I actually wrote a book about this topic of strategic relationship development a number of years ago–now out of print. But in this era of media inflammation, social media, heightened vulnerabilities, brand tippyness and all that, the subject of building and maintain relationships with the right few is more relevant than others.

What do I mean by “the right few.” When I wrote that book (called Friendship Marketing, by the way, and a handbook called “the SALT Principles”) I did quite a bit of speaking on the topic including some INC magazine conferences. Every opportunity to meet business and organization leaders I asked this question: How many relationships does your business rely on? To further define “strategic relationship” I suggested it was the kind of relationship that if you were to lose it would cause you to lose sleep at night. Insomniacs aside, I found a remarkable consistency in answering the question of how many. Think about it for a minute. OK, now I’ll give you the “right” answer: 5-7. Yes. The magic numbers was 6. For the most part it didn’t matter how big the business or even the type of business even though there were some major variations.

The point was and is that most businesses and organizations have a remarkably few number of people who are absolutely vital to their future. The way I ask the question in crisis communication is: who are those people whose opinion about you matters most for your future?

If you are a business, it is natural to think of major customers. But don’t forget key suppliers, or industry consultants or analysts who may be very influential in your market. Chances are on that list would be some very important employees–but not necessarily at the top.

For organizations, it may not seem so easy, but it really is. Organizations have “customers” too–anyone who helps you pay the bills is a customer. So who would be “strategic” to some one like the Coast Guard? I’d start with who pays the bills. No, the taxpayers don’t. At least I as a taxpayer have very little to say about whether Coast Guard has the funds to pay the bills. But there are some people who do have a lot to say. Members of Congress who sit on the Appropriations Committee or whatever committee decides their budget. That is only a few, and clearly some on that committee are more important than others.

But, if you want to go beyond that, who do those few listen to? Who influences them the most when it comes to decisions about appropriations for different agencies? Taxpayers? I sure don’t have a lot of clout over mine. But I know some people who do. Their staffs. Other than their own opinion, the opinion of staff members–perhaps presented as staff research–matters a lot. Then who would be next? My guess is that the next level of influencers would be friends and associates of the member of Congress both in DC and back in the home district. I would guess that some major donors to their campaigns may have a little to say about issues like the reputation of an agency being funded.

The point of all this is to make clear that even for a federal agency, it is not that difficult to walk down the trail of figuring out who the truly strategic relationships are. And to name those people. And to get their contact information. And to engage them in conversation–directly and through all the forms of digital communication available today. If they are truly important to the future of your organization and you have the capability of direct communication with them, why would you not?

You might say, well, those people get all the information they need about my company, my agency, my organization through the media. Youch. You are willing to put the future of your organization in the hands of people whose primary concern it is to draw as big of an audience as they can, in direct competition with thousands of others who are doing the same thing. An industry which in recent years has demonstrated that its desperate fight for survival means that it matters little who and what are destroyed in the fight for eyes on the screen? You are trusting your future to them?

Conversely, imagine you have a fully open, honest, transparent conversation with those few who really matter. You have been clear with them about issues of concern. You have earned their trust and your credibility is high. Now something really bad happens. The media goes nuts with stories, not just about the bad thing that happened, but how you conspired to withhold the truth, how you made a series of bad decisions that led inevitably to this disaster, that your management “puts profits ahead of people.” In the middle of this media maelstrom you are continuing, as you have already, to converse directly with those people who matter most. You continue to be forthright, open, honest. You call it like it is. You tell them when the media reports are accurate and when they are maliciously false and misleading or when they simply and innocently got it wrong. You answer all their questions–quickly, directly and with your credibility always at the top of your mind.

For those people who matter most, what or who will they believe? It may cause some conflict in them, some cognitive dissonance, but if they test and find out that you are trustworthy and the media is not, what will this do to your reputation? But, you say, what about the rest of the world. Yes, that is a problem and I wish I could fix it. But if the people most important to your future are inoculated against the kind of media attack you can expect, then do the rest really matter? And if you have to go to them to argue your case through paid media or a massive social media effort, who better to engage in that process than those with whom you have built trust?

That, in my humble opinion, is the future of crisis communication. That’s why I think those that think crisis communication is about trying to spin the media while you are in a disaster are barking up the wrong tree. That’s why I think if you are not doing the right work now, if you are not putting brand equity in the bank right now, if you are not building strong relationships with the right few, if you are not engaging them in on-going conversation, then you are destined to lose the crisis management game before it even begins.

Crisis management as we have known it as gone. The future is direct engagement that has been firmly established well before the crisis hits.

What does it take to be a crisis leader? And how do you motivate?

One of the most fascinating and valuable lessons learned from the gulf spill is about crisis leadership. The Coast Guard commissioned report on the spill learnings, titled Incident Specific Performance Review (ISPR) provides wealth of incredibly valuable lessons, but none more important than the issue of crisis leadership.

To download the pdf of this important analysis here’s my post on emergencymgmt.com. Those participating in this study–representatives from various government agencies and the private sector directly involved in the spill, made it clear that there were many disappointing examples of crisis leadership during this huge event. But, there were also stellar examples of the kind of leadership needed when it looks like everything is falling apart. There is one thing Japan needed about as much as more solid earth underground and that is the leadership of the likes of Admiral Allen.

From the good, bad and ugly these perceptive and very honest people observed, here is the list of leadership qualities they identified:

Command Presence: The ability to project an image of being in charge and able to effectively address the crisis. This elusive but necessary quality will have a dramatic effect on the public’s confidence in the entire response.

Authoritativeness: The ability to speak with authority. This is best accomplished with sufficient command of detail to assure national leadership, the media, and the public that the leader is knowledgeable in all facets of the response.

Integrity: The ability to be both transparent and truthful in all actions. There are many occasions in which information released may not show the organization in a favorable light, and the temptation is to withhold or script information to avoid criticism. Once a leader’s integrity is attacked, that person’s value to the organization is severely diminished, and the leader should be removed from the response effort.

Stamina: Rotation of crisis leaders at the highest levels is problematic for continuity of operations, and for the public’s expectation of seeing one face and hearing one voice. Crisis leaders at the highest levels should be prepared to manage from mobilization through demobilization phases of the response.

Strategic Thinking and Command of Detail: The ability to think strategically and have command of detail. These traits complement each other, and allow the leader to speak authoritatively.

Stress Management: The ability to function during periods of extreme stress. A crisis will most certainly bring high levels of stress during critical periods of the response.

Decisiveness: A willingness to act decisively even when provided with incomplete information. A crisis leader cannot be averse to risk. Crisis leaders are selected for their ability to assess risk, minimize that risk where possible, and decide among alternatives to achieve a desired outcome.

Responsibility, Accountability, and Authority: In the selection of a crisis leader, there is implied trust that the person possesses the requisite skills to make rational decisions. If the crisis leader is given responsibility and is held accountable, he/she must have commensurate authority for decision-making and exercise that authority.

Enhanced Leadership Skills: The crisis leader must possess leadership traits that allow him or her to transcend the pressures of a crisis and use those traits through the duration of the event. Skills such as multitasking, organizational development, analytical and communications skills (which include listening), the ability to delegate and leverage organizational flexibility is vital. At the higher levels, it is important to understand and be able to function within the political environment.

Ability to Inspire: A skilled crisis leader is calm in the midst of chaos. A crisis leader has position power but is most effective leading through “personal power.” Effective leaders inspire rather than intimidate subordinates and have the interpersonal skills to build a cohesive team able to work under stress toward achieving a mutual goal.

The ability to inspire or motivate is critical, particularly when the challenges are so great and there is much reason to just want to give up. I was just sent a link to this incredibly interesting video about what motivates humans, particularly in taking on challenging tasks. It is absolutely worth the time to view.

I know as a leader and CEO of more than one company, I failed in my understanding of some of these important findings. And I see examples all around where it is clear leaders fundamentally misunderstand the motivation of others.

For crisis leaders as well as organizational leaders, the lessons of this scientific study are worth emblazoning on the wall of your office. Nothing replaces transcendental purpose, progress toward mastery and the value of autonomy or self-direction. Certainly money doesn’t. Money used as a reward, past a certain necessary threshold, as this study makes clear serves to demotivate rather than motivate. But, many managers will rely on it because, frankly, its easier to offer more money than it is to get serious about purpose, encouraging and supporting mastery, and giving people the freedom and runway to accomplish what they are capable of without over control or over direction. Don’t believe me? Watch the video.

GoDaddy CEO and PETA face-off over elephant kill

Here’s one more example of why you should be careful about what you post on the Internet. GoDaddy, the web domain name company made famous by its racy (pun intended) SuperBowl commercials, is facing a boycott called by PETA over a video of an elephant shot by GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons.

MSNBC ran this story showing the video, PETA’s outrage over it, and Parson’s response. Actually, I thought the news story of it was unusually balanced. They invited celebrity-expert Jeff Corwin to comment and he did a good job of explaining both sides of the issue of these kinds of safaris that do double duty in helping protect villagers from over-population of elephants in some areas while providing needed cash from wealthy foreigners who like to come in and help control the population. Of course, that’s not the way PETA sees it, saying there are non-lethal ways of protecting the villagers and their livelihoods.

Parsons, for his part, stands behind the hunt, saying he was just helping the villagers out.

I suspect that the boycott won’t hurt GoDaddy much. In fact, the publicity from the news reports and from online discussion (like this one) will certainly bring attention to the brand. The Twitter conversation, expectedly is pretty negative about this with plenty of the favorite expletive expressed. But Parsons has a bit of a rogue reputation and PETA’s brand itself is a lightning rod for a great many who dislike their kind of extreme activism, which means that GoDaddy could benefit from some loyalty from those folks.

But, my question is this. In this hypersensitive world of easily offended people and groups, and where organizations like PETA long for situations like this to extend their agenda, and news organizations like MSNBC are quick to capitalize on trending topics–why, why post the video on the Internet? It has to either be ignorance of the reality of reputation management today, or, it is a somewhat cynical publicity ploy. Given GoDaddy’s reputation for advertising, I’m leaning toward the second explanation.