Is Marshawn Lynch a PR genius?

Somehow, it seems appropriate. The guy getting absolutely the most attention from the media in this Superbowl ramp up is Marshawn Lynch. Why? Because he won’t play their game, at least not the way they think it should be played.

He’s obligated by his NFL contract to talk to the media. Now where did that obligation come from? The media one would suspect. They want unfettered access to the players. So, when Marshawn gets the big fine for not living up to this part of the deal, who goes along. Sort of. He first answers all questions with the same response: “Yeah.”

Then, he ups the game at this pre-Superbowl media day by answering all questions with: I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” I was watching “His and Hers” on ESPN last night and they were furious. But they spent probably 20 minutes talking about guess who? Not outspoken Richard Sherman, not deflategate, not Belichick and his propensity to break the rules. No, they talked about Marshawn Lynch. Same with the print news coming out of media day. What was the story: Marshawn Lynch.

Now, I might conclude that he is doing this because he is painfully shy, hates the media, or doesn’t know the first thing about brand building. Or he could just be a complete jerk.

But after seeing this commercial for Progressive featuring none other than the non-spoken Marshawn, I’m starting to conclude the guy is the smartest PR guy in football, if not in the world. (And Kenny Mayne’s got to get credit for making this happen). Now I could still conclude that Marshawn is just a jerk, but not from what I’ve heard. In fact, it was our son Chris of BaronVisuals who helped shoot the Lynch commercial–not he’s not the guy seen behind the camera (I’m not that old) he’s behind the actual camera. And he tells me Marshawn is for real.

What does this mean for crisis communication? That one should answer all the questions the media through out at you with “Yeah”? No. But what it does suggest is that not playing their game the way they want it played can sometimes, in the right circumstances, and done right, really pay dividends.

OK, this post was just my backwards way of slipping in a comment about the SuperBowl. Hey, I’m from the Seattle area. How about those Hawks?

Honda receives record fine, but the real story is truly frightening

The big news is that Honda paid a record fine to the federal government. The stories link this $70 million fine to failure to report “more than 1700 deaths and injuries” in its vehicles. Are you kidding me? This car  company killed or injured 1700 people and no one knew about it? You would think this would be the story of the decade.

The truth is, this is not at all the truth. And underlying this little reported story is the real story: a story of huge new crisis risk facing companies doing business in the United States. The risk is the unwarranted criminalization of business for the purpose of raising government revenue.

If you are a business owner or executive of almost any size, please look carefully at this chart developed from information provided by the Economist:

Economist chart fed fines.001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That hockey stick growth is the rise in government fines against US companies. The cover of the August 30 edition of the Economist featured “the criminalization of American business.”

It so happened that at about the same time I was working with a client on exactly one of these crises. I can’t reveal details because of the threats made by federal officials against my client. But believe me when I tell you that they paid a huge fine for doing absolutely nothing wrong–a claim supported by other government officials involved in the case. Then the agency fining them aggressively promoted a press release claiming the fine proved their guilt when the settlement was negotiated under threat. If the company didn’t agree to the settlement they would face a court case that if they lost would have destroyed them. When the company tried to set the record straight in the media, explaining it was a settlement done for business reasons, the agency official threatened them with possible jail time.

The Economist article points out the billions in fines against banks like BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and others.

Add to this the $1.2 billion fine against Toyota related to the safety recall. You may remember that the federal government (while a major investor in GM) famously said the only place you should drive your Toyota was to the repair shop. This was after a series of highly publicized accidents where the media accused the company of faulty electronic systems and slow recall. After NASA investigators got involved, all the accidents were shown to be driver error or faulty installation of mats–none related to the supposed Toyota problems. But, still, the federal government extorted $1.2 billion from the company. What for? Well, like almost all agreement as the Economist points out, the reasons were kept confidential as part of the settlement.

Why? Why is this happening?

If the dramatic increase cannot reasonably be attributed to a sharp increase in corporate misbehavior, then what? The head of the Department of Justice, Eric Holder, announced that the agency’s efforts resulted in over $8 billion in revenue for the US government against a cost of operating the agency of just $2.8 billion. That excellent return on investment was for 2013 and will be dwarfed by the much larger number for 2014. The Economist reports that the return on the False Claims Act enforcement net the Department a twenty to one return. State and local agencies who participated in settlements, such as Google’s settlement of $500 million for allowing internet users to advertise prescription drugs from Canada, have gone on spending sprees. It’s not surprising that Mark Rosekind says the Department of Transportation will seek to increase the maximum fine for violations or extortion such as this to $300 million. He needs to keep up with the massive amounts of money flowing into agencies like the Department of Justice and he can’t do that on paltry $70 million fines.

Is it any wonder that the Economist, which has endorsed President Obama in each of his presidential elections, called this administration the most anti-business in memory.

If you think this new risk of your own government turning against you unfairly and without justification, you should consider the “hot goods” case involving berry farmers.

In late July 2012 the Department of Labor investigated three blueberry farms in Oregon. Using a formula they established they decided the farmers were in violation of the fair labor law. Their formula showed the farm’s pickers picked more than the formula said they should so therefore they concluded the farm hired “ghost workers.” They had no proof other than the formula. To enforce the law, the Department invoked the “hot goods” provision and notified wholesalers that the fresh blueberries could not be processed. “Hot goods” allows the government to hold the product until the issue is resolved, but of course, when the product is highly perishable you could win the argument and lose the farm.  The Department offered a way out: agree they had violated the law, sign an order saying they would not contest the findings even if it proved they were innocent, and pay back wages and a large fine. Two farms ended up paying out more than $240,000 to get their blueberries back in time to avoid ruin.

But, despite the fact that the agreement said they could not fight it or appeal, the farmers did, and they won. The courts agreed that they were coerced into a settlement and agreement of wrongdoing by the Department of Labor and ordered the government to pay the money back. As of this writing, the government is still fighting the courts and refusing to pay. And as in the other cases, may be looking for ways to punish the farmers who had the temerity to challenge this extortion.

For complete details on this sad situation, read this.

Bad behavior by business owners and leaders needs to be punished. Laws and regulations need full compliance. Enforcement is a very important part of the accountability in our system. But, these actions by our government agencies cannot be included in justified enforcement. This is what happens when the government, feeling justified by a backlash against big government, resorts to bullying and extortion to raise funds and generate left wing applause. It represents one of the most significant, frustrating and frightening new crisis risks facing business in a long time.

Paris newspaper attack sickens–and concerns

Today it is Paris. Tomorrow, where? My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible attack that once again blackens the name of Islam.

The news reports of this horrific event bear out the prediction of myself and others that in this time of instant news, we are placed right in the action through social media. The video capturing the shooting makes you want to duck even as you stand on a balcony above the street.

But the real issue of concern here is the dedication of many to take away one of our most precious freedoms–freedom of the press. Even as that freedom is more secure than ever through the millions of reporter/broadcasters carrying their global transmission equipment in their pockets and purses, more and more seem intent on taking that freedom away. We saw it in Mexico where media outlets caved to the demands of drug lords who killed reporters when the media reported on their activities. We saw it in Denmark with the publication of an offensive cartoon. We saw it in Hollywood with North Korea’s attempt to to punish Sony for producing an offensive video. And now this–and many others I’m sure.

The sad truth is, if it was my family, my employees, my life at stake I’m not sure I would have the courage to continue. Indeed, we have seen the effectiveness of these efforts to squelch the offending media channels. I still get angry that a few evil people have made traveling so much more aggravating. What will we do when we see something essential to our understanding of how to live in society being attacked and taken away?

An after thought:

After posting this I read about outlets who were censoring the offending cartoon. This, of course, feeds the bullies and terrorists. Is there another approach. Imagine if a group of POWs were accused by their guards of some misdeed but the perpetrator was not known and not revealed by the prisoners. The guards say step forward if you are guilty or we will take one of you out and shoot you. Instead of waiting for the guilty one to step forward, the entire line of POWs steps forward. Now the guards must shoot all or none. What if all editors, publishers, broadcasters who were concerned about this kind of brutal intimidation published the offending cartoon. What if they upped the game and published a whole bunch of them?

What if every theater outlet in the free world offered to show the Interview for free? Seems that might do more to send a message to the dictator than a few little sanctions.

Just a thought–but this has to be stopped, somehow.