BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 10:42 AM

Inside a PR crisis—through the eyes of a corporate attorney

Outstanding article on the differences between a legal crisis and a public relations crisis situation authored by James F. Haggerty in Corporate Counsel. Some takeaways below but we encourage you to read the whole article for context. Haggerty points out the following in "What Sensational Media Cases Can Teach Us About Proper PR Response":

1. "If your litigation-communications response is tailored only to respond to the first-day crisis, rather than the rhythms of the litigation itself, it will likely fail.”

2. “You can lose the initial battles, but still win the war.”

3. “Globalization brings a global media audience.”

4. “Eventually, another story will bump you from the headlines.”

Read the full article at

Special thanks to Henry Fawell, former Womble Carlyle crisis communications guru and current President of Campfire Communications, LLC for alerting us to this article and the summary in the Ragan PR Daily.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 10:51 AM

LA Dodgers’ Opening-Day Unforced PR Error

Opening Day of the baseball season is supposed to be a time of celebration, a rite of spring celebrating the good times of summer to follow.

But the home opener for the Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a tragic start, as a fan of the rival San Francisco Giants was attacked and severely injured in a Dodgers Stadium parking lot. The fan, Bryan Stow, is in a medically induced coma and may have suffered permanent brain damage.

Immediately, many fans complained to radio talk shows, Internet message boards, newspaper columnists and the like that the heinous assault was not an isolated incident, and that over time, Dodgers Stadium has become an increasingly unsafe place. Whether or not such concerns were accurate is irrelevant – what mattered was that the paying customers were up in arms and demanded satisfaction.

So what did Dodgers owner Frank McCourt do? Well, nothing much…at least at first. McCourt first made a tone-deaf statement saying he was “satisfied” with the team’s level of security. Beyond that, McCourt and the team said nothing of note.

Later, the Dodgers did make significant moves to improve stadium safety. They hired former L.A.P.D. Chief William Bratton to oversee security, brought in dozens of uniformed police officers to patrol the stadium grounds and cancelled upcoming half-price alcoholic beverage promotions.

But these steps, commendable as they may be, came a week or more after the initial incident. And they came only after an avalanche of negative feedback from fans, who said the team wasn’t serious enough about safety. To date, Dodgers home attendance is down more than 13 percent compared to the same point in 2010.

McCourt has plenty of other problems on his plate. Financial woes and an ugly, public divorce have led to Major League Baseball assuming control of the team.

However, the team’s sluggish response to the initial outrage points out a truism of crisis communications: Responding promptly is often more important than getting the message exactly spot-on.

- Bruce Buchanan

Monday, February 28, 2011, 1:49 PM

Where's the Beef? Taco Bell Takes Aggressive Approach to Crisis PR

Gene Grabowski blogs about Taco Bell's aggressive PR response to recent litigation. The lawsuit against the company made headlines, particularly the claim that Taco Bell's meat is only 35% beef (which the company says is way off base).

In response, Taco Bell has launched a fact-based response, combining You Tube videos with old school print ads. The campaign lays out the facts about Taco Bell's products - namely, that its tacos and other foods include 88 percent USDA-inspected beef. The campaign's title, "Thank You For Suing Us," shows the company's aggressive approach to fending off this challenge.

Of course, as Grabowski correctly points out, it helps that the facts are on the company's side! But in today's social media-driven world, "no comment" is increasingly an unacceptable answer.

- Bruce Buchanan

Monday, February 15, 2010, 9:29 AM

Monday's quick reads: Toyota, Tiger, and evolution of corporate citizenship

1.) Toyota and Tiger Woods: Kindred spirits? (Fortune Magazine) -- The question is being raised more and more: Can Toyota recover its reputation? There is no simple answer. The writer explores Toyota's chances by comparing the automaker's plight with that of Tiger Woods.

2.) How Whole Foods reaches millions with Twitter (Social Media Examiner) -- Have you ever wondered how a business handles more than a million Twitter fans? Want the inside scoop from the largest retailer on Twitter? Whole Foods Market is a leading example of Twitter’s power to build millions of relationships a single customer at a time. Here are key excerpts from the writer's interview with the Whole Foods team.

3.) Survey: Most marketers shifting portion of their budget to social media (Social Media Business Council) -- Alterian’s 2009 Annual Survey Results shows 84% of marketers plan to shift at least a portion of their traditional marketing budgets to digital/interactive/social media channels in 2010. The survey involved more than 1,000 marketers from around the world and was conducted between October 1st through December 3rd of 2009.

4.) Corporate citizenship for the 21st century (Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship) -- Do you know what it takes to lead in the ever-changing field of corporate citizenship? The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship has just released two reports that help answer that question and that create unique competency models for today practitioners and tomorrow’s aspiring leaders.

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Friday, February 12, 2010, 11:09 AM

Toyota’s crisis response is a two part story

(Image credit: Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Like most riveting stories, the current recall crisis that has beset Toyota can be divided into multiple parts.

In Part One, which is still unfolding, the company is responding aggressively to a crisis. In Part Two, which will unfold in the coming months, Toyota will have to respond to the inevitable question from policy makers: “What did you know and when did you know it?”

Let’s look at Part One.

In the last few months, Toyota has recalled a staggering 8 million vehicles and halted production on 11 different models due to a plague of sudden accelerations in its cars. The crisis has rocked an auto company that for a half century had been synonymous with safety and reliability.

After a slow start, Toyota is responding the way any company should that is serious about rebuilding its reputation. Here are five key components to Toyota’s crisis communications strategy.

Be honest about your situation. Toyota recognized it was in a hole and stopped digging. It halted production on nearly a dozen different models, pledging to fix cars currently on the road before pushing new ones off the manufacturing line. The move is bold and not without serious financial repercussions, but it sends an unmistakable message that the company will bear any burden to keep its customers safe.

Say “I’m Sorry.” Toyota President Akio Toyoda (pictured) apologized to customers and took personal responsibility for the recall, as did the chief of Toyota’s U.S. operations. Sound easy? Ask ACORN and Tiger Woods what happens when you respond to a public crisis with defiance or indifference.

Fix the problem. Toyota quickly found a structural fix to the sticky accelerator pedals plaguing its vehicles. This may seem obvious, but too many companies believe that crisis response begins and ends with a good public message. They ignore the underlying problem that led to the crisis, whether it’s a sticky brake pedal or, as we recently saw in the financial industry, a huge appetite for bad debt. Toyota found a solution and dispatched thousands of employees to work 24/7 to repair vehicles currently on the road.

Start talking. Toyota’s public outreach has been relentless. Here’s a quick count of media channels they’ve used to touch consumers, opinion leaders, and policy makers nationwide: press conferences with executives; live television and radio interviews; huge TV ad buys; full page ads in newspapers; op-eds by Toyota executives in The Washington Post and elsewhere; video streaming on Youtube; a regularly updated website; a toll-free hotline; paid search ads on Google, and; regular recall updates for the company’s 100,000 fans on Twitter and Facebook. In sum, they’ve used every means of communication short of the carrier pigeon.

Enlist your friends. Toyota wisely called on a few friends to speak on the company’s behalf. NASCAR star Michael Waltrip posted a message on Youtube stating his belief that “Toyota won’t settle until they get it right, and I know they will make it right.” The company is publicizing testimonials from satisfied Toyota customers, and is working closely with members of Congress who represent states with tens of thousands of Toyota employees.

Okay, so Toyota gets crisis communication. That is rare, given that a lot of successful companies believe you don’t make money by showing contrition.

That brings us to Part Two.

The recall exposed Toyota’s larger problem: their inability to resolve a brewing crisis that reportedly first surfaced in 2002 when complaints of sticky accelerators spiked. In 2005, Toyota recalled more vehicles than it sold. Two years later, Consumer Reports stopped automatically endorsing Toyota vehicles due to what it considered declining quality. Even worse, recent news reports suggest that Toyota failed or refused to disclose vehicle problems to federal regulators over a period of years.

In the coming weeks, Part One of this story will come to a close. Shortly thereafter, Part Two will begin with congressional hearings, investigative journalism, and consumer lawsuits likely to take center stage.

Toyota’s crisis communications strategy will have to adapt to this new phase. They would be wise to be as aggressive and creative as they’ve been in recent weeks because, like many compelling stories, the second act may prove to be the most dramatic.

This article was first published in today's Daily Record.

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