Tag Archives: Chief Bill Boyd

When reputation attacks get personal–the Chief shows the way

Chief Bill Boyd (he’s a former fire chief, but he’ll always be “Chief” to me) is one of the few I would call on if I found myself under attack. That’s why it was an honor that I would be one he would call when a nasty personal attack appeared online about him.

As you can see from his blog post about this experience, he quickly discovered that even years of experience in handling some pretty high-profile crisis and emergency communications does not necessarily prepare you when suddenly you are the subject of attacks. His retelling from this painful personal experience is a great lesson for just about everyone and every organization when facing reputation threats.

Some key lessons Bill and I discussed in the heat of the moment are clearly identified in his story but bear repeating here:

1. Stay calm. Be very careful about an overly emotional response.

2. Be careful about elevating the discussion publicly. It is quite normal that the person making the attack has a reputation for this sort of thing, enjoys limited credibility and loves the attention it creates and has a motive for increasing attention on his blog. Hence, the wrestling with the pig comment.

3. Don’t be afraid to confront the accuser. In this case, Bill found his attacker to be more reasonable than expected and after being directly confronted (in a nice way) with the facts, he quickly backtracked, apologized and corrected the record.

4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. An attack like this only is effective if it gets legs. Having someone say something nasty is like the tree falling in the forest. It’s only damaging if it is heard. That’s why you don’t want to do anything to make it more heard. On the other hand, social media gives us an unprecedented opportunity to track the momentum of an attack. Use it.

5. It’s not necessarily good to do nothing. It seems in the past most advice would be to let it die its own death, especially if it doesn’t seem to be getting traction. But, another of my favorite sayings is “a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.” That’s the nature of history, and the Internet is the best keeper and distributor of history we have–including false history. It is far better that these attacks were corrected than allowed to stand. You never know what on the Internet will come back to bite you–as many young people doing and saying stupid things on social media are finding out when they hit the job market. Do what you can to get and keep a clean record.


Try this to persuade the higher-ups

“Yeah, I get it, but those a floor or two above me won’t buy it.” That’s one of the most consistent responses I get when talking to communicators about the changes in how the world gets and expects to get information. It is a bit hard to believe but in a lot of executive suites there still is a lot of resistance to the ideas related to “transparency,” “stakeholder engagement” and even social media–particularly in a major crisis.

While this holds true in the corporate world it has also been true in government communications. While sometimes it appears that there is real progress in adopting the new “fast, direct & transparent” approach to communication, sometimes it is shocking how far we have yet to go.

The answer of course, is to talk to them. I’ve had a few opportunities in the past couple of years to brief senior executives on the communication environment, particularly related to our involvement in the gulf oil spill. But I find that Communication Managers, Public Affairs Managers or PIOs (Public Information Officers) don’t necessarily carry a lot of weight with the men and women in the C-suite. And it certainly is true for Incident Commanders–they might listen to other incident commanders, but to take advice from a PIO, well that takes a hard-earned reputation and a special relationship.

If you can relate to this problem, I’d like to propose a solution. Watch this 6 minute video. In it my friend Bill Boyd provides a compelling example of why social media is now essential. His primary point is carried with power and conviction: when it hits the fan “you can’t be fast enough.” That may be nothing new to you, but here’s the kicker–Bill is a fire chief in a mid-size Northwest city. He’s not a communicator (well, he is, and served as an effective PIO before chiefdom, but don’t tell your boss that), he’s an experienced response manager, incident commander and very respected voice in national emergency management circles. He’s one of 2-3 speakers at the FEMA webinar on social media coming up January 18.

Bill directly addresses fire chiefs, emergency response professionals and elected officials. But don’t think your senior execs won’t relate to them. Send them a link. Or, I’ll get you a download version so you can add to a presentation or training program you are working on.

View the Bill Boyd “You Can’t Be Fast Enough Video.”