For months, we’ve been watching as high and mighty men in business, politics, and entertainment have been fired or forced to resign because of their reprehensible behavior with the women (and sometimes men) in their businesses and in their lives. The list includes Fox’s Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly; NBC’s Matt Lauer; CBS’s Charlie Rose; Public Radio’s Garrison Keillor and John Hockenberry; politicians Trent Franks, John Conyers Jr., Al Franken, and Tony Cornish; Entertainment moguls Harvey Weinstein and Russel Simmons; businessman Mario Batali; and entertainers Kevin Spacey, Andy Dick, and Louis C.K, and many more.
And those are just some of the names you recognize (The New York Times keeps a regularly updated list HERE).
As you’ll see over the next few months, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. Soon, more workaday businessmen will start reaping the ills of their bad behavior. When that becomes commonplace, businesses in your own hometown — hell, even the company you work for — might have to start dealing with the long overdue fallout of sexual harassment. As the old saying predicted: From Wall Street to Main Street.
Sorry to say, I have no good advice for how companies should deal with the psychological or human resources fallout of such shameful conduct. Counseling, reparations, and ongoing team building are all outside my area of expertise. But when it comes to dealing with the branding consequences and crises management that many companies will have to deal with to stay in business, my know-how runs deep.
Simply put, there are four things your company must do to manage the public perception nightmare that will come along with accusations of egregious misconduct. I call them the Four A’s of Crises Management.
The Four A’s of Crises Management
Accept. As my friend Ray Ruga constantly reminds me, you must define your issue before someone else does. Nature abhors a vacuum and your competition is just waiting for the opportunity to fill empty airspace with negative comments. Accept what was done, decide on your best strategy, and stick to it. But do it as soon as possible and before it’s too late.
Acknowledge. Get all the information in front of the public as quickly as possible. Just like obsessively poking your tongue into a painful cavity, nothing is worse than bad information that oozes out little by little, bit by bit. It’s crucial for you to step up to the plate, admit all your company’s wrong doings, and move forward. If the public needs to hear bad news, they need to hear it from you. All at once.
Apologize. Apologize honestly, sincerely, and completely. “I’m sorry IF I did something to hurt you” is not an apology. Neither is, “I’m sorry BUT it was a different time and I didn’t know it was wrong.” If your words of remorse contain “if” or “but,” chances are you’re not being as contrite as you need to be.
Act. Fix your problem proactively, positively, and permanently. If you need direction look at the crises management case study standard bearer.
Back in 1982, bottles of Tylenol were tampered with and the poisoned product killed seven people. Yet by handling their crisis properly Tylenol not only overcame the nightmare scenario’s effect on their bottom line but returned stronger and more profitable than before. What’s more, they reclaimed their position as the leading pain reliever in the market. It wasn’t that Tylenol didn’t have serious problems that needed to be corrected, it was that they knew how to properly deal with their problems.
Tylenol acted immediately. That meant they not only removed and destroyed every single bottle of Tylenol on the shelves (not just the ones in the problem regions) but they installed tamper proof caps and redundant fail-safe foil wrappers on every bottle to assure consumers that their product was safe.
Of course none of this works if you don’t cut the head off the snake while you’re doing everything you can to cure the snakebite. Tylenol’s example shows companies dealing with sexual harassment claims that having the guilty executives quit, be fired, or step down is not enough. After you’ve eliminated the wrongdoer you must fix the problem AND show how you’re making sure it will never ever happen again. For the good of everyone else in the company, you must also appeal to your audience’s emotional side with an effective crises mitigation program.
Remember that people make decisions based on their emotions and justify those decisions with facts. Brands that forget this simple truism do so at their own peril.