How Penn State could have avoided their $3.2 million bill
Penn State’s staggering bill of $3.2 million for legal bills and crisis communication stemming from the child, sex abuse scandal is a very TIMELY reminder that effective crisis planning makes sound business sense.
The rule of the thumb is that for every $1.00 spent in effective crisis planning an organization will save $9.00 in response. For Penn State, by my rough calculations, would be a saving of about $3 million if they had invested $200,000 in scenario-building, desktop exercises and training.
The key is, of course, effective crisis planning, and having a keen awareness of smoldering issues. More on that in a minute…
You might be curious, as I was, as to how the money has been spent. According to a new website, openness.psu.edu the university outlines the costs for legal fees, consultants and public relations.
The $3.2 million includes $2.5 million for a former FBI director hired by Penn State Trustees, to investigation how the university responded to the Sandusky allegations. That investigation is underway, along with additional investigations by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the U.S. Department of Education and the Attorney General’s Office.
President Rodney Erickson and the board have pledged greater openness in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal. Both Erickson and board Chairwoman Karen Peetz have stated this new website is keeping with their pledge of transparency.
So how can you be crisis-ready?
First – get a handle on the “smoldering” issues in your organization – what is lurking beneath the surface that if triggered would bring your organization to its knees, into the media spotlight with millions of eyes and ears commenting, gossiping and speculating anywhere to anyone about any aspect (of your troubles).
One of the most effective ways to do this is to bring together a cross-section – say 10-15 people – in your organization and do some good, old-fashioned brainstorming about the top ten risks that your organization faces. Be creative, be paranoid, be your own super sleuth and list as many “show-stopping, product-stopping, company-stopping” events that will bring the media glare right to your front-door – on-land and on-line!
Work in pairs or a small group (say 3-4) and write down everything you can think of – nothing is too bizarre, in fact the more bizarre the better. Have a timekeeper and pass the list on the next groups after five minutes, then two minutes for the next and so on until you are back at the beginning. Themes are bound to emerge and you will find that you will have a solid working of about 10 (maybe five.)
Now you can get to work and start really planning. Working in the same small groups, ask who else would see the crisis the same way? Or attach them to our crisis? Write them down, share the lists and come up with your top ten stakeholders’ lists. Then match your communication messages and channels and tools to those messages and BINGO – you have yourselves a plan!
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a week-long series about crisis communications. These posts were first posted on Brad Phillips’ blog.
To be fully prepared today, organizations need to adopt the thinking of sociopaths – thinking like paranoids in order to come up with “unpalatable and unthinkable scenarios.” The more bizarre the better.
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a week-long series about crisis communications. These guest posts were originaly posted on Brad Phillip’s blog.
I m delighted to feature a guest post from Brad Phillips , Author, Mr. Media Training Blog. Brad is a good friend of the book and recently hosted a five-part, crisis communication series on his blog, featuring exercepts from the book. His tips are excellent. Here is another. Enjoy.
In the late 1990s, I was a producer for CN’s Sunday public affairs program, Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.
Because Late Edition aired after all of the other Sunday network public affairs shows, one of my tasks each week was to watch the earlier programs to monitor what politicians were saying. If a politician said something interesting, I’d edit a video clip out of the quote so Wolf could air it on the show.
I was always on the lookout for a politician saying something off message. Why? Because anything unscripted and off-the-cuff was inherently more interesting than the canned responses we always heard. And in a newsroom, a less scripted response will almost always be deemed more newsworthy.
Years later, I developed a name to describe that phenomenon: “The Seven Second Stray.” I call it that because if a spokesperson is on message for 59 minutes and 53 seconds of an hour-long interview but says something off message for just seven seconds, I can almost guarantee that reporters will select that seven second answer to play over and over again.
The seven second stray is deadly. Not only is it often damaging to your reputation, but it drowns out everything else you’ve said, becoming the only quote the audience will ever hear from your interview.
My choice of the word “drown” in the above paragraph is quite intentional. To help my clients prevent uttering an accidental seven second stray, I often use the analogy of a lifeboat.
If you’re facing tough questioning, I tell them, your message is your lifeboat. If you keep returning to your message and message supports – stories, statistics, and sound bites – it’s as if you’re swimming to the safety of the closest lifeboat. But if you stray off message, you’re treading water at best – if not drifting farther and farther away from the lifeboat until that inevitable (and entirely predictable) moment when you drown.
Case Study: BP
CEO’s Infamous Seven Second Stray
In April 2010, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and injuring 17 others.
For 87 days, oil gushed from the seafloor, washing up on sensitive shorelines from Texas to Florida. The spill wrecked local economies, leaving tens of thousands of workers unemployed. Fishermen were left without seafood to sell, hotels were
left without guests, and restaurants were left without diners.
British Petroleum, the massive oil conglomerate responsible for the rig, took a daily beating in the press. The bad press had a devastating impact on the company: the oil giant quickly shed half of its worth, a loss of more than $100 billion.
As bad as the crisis was, the spill itself wasn’t responsible for the greatest damage to BP’s reputation. Rather, the
company’s inept response, headed by CEOthe Hayward famously quipped:
“There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.”
That stunningly tone-deaf seven second stray, which slighted the deceased oil workers and newly unemployed workers, became a symbol of BP’s self-interested focus.
With just five telling words, “I’d like my life back,” Hayward reinforced an irreversible narrative of a clueless company that just didn’t get it – and just didn’t care. Mr. Hayward was forced out of BP shortly after the spill ended, but it didn’t matter. The damage to BP had been done.
Looking back, Mr. Hayward finally admitted the obvious: That he was unequipped to “deal with the intensity of the media scrutiny.”
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm based in NYC and Washington, DC. He is also the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, the world’s most visited media training website.