Whoever said bad publicity is better than no publicity must not have anticipated the boo hoo stew over Paula Deen’s reported racists remarks. Many had not heard of the former Food Network celebrity until she landed herself in the pot of national news while trying to explain herself out of a politically incorrect pressure cooker. She is not the first public personality, nor the last, in need of brand damage image control. Ms. Deen must know that when essential ingredients are left out, the chances for a successful dish are flatter than a crepe.
The following strategies apply to companies, individuals or personalities who find themselves involved in situations where explanations or public apologies are needed.
1. Face facts upfront: Denial or righteous indignation will always be a recipe disaster. The story won’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist. Anyone who avoids telling their side of the story can bank on someone telling it for them. For example, the economy crisis in 2009 left financial advisors and wealth managers in need of managing the brand. Our financial clients who faced the crisis early and communicated with their clients not only survived, they remained unscathed.
2. ‘Fess up fast: The sooner an apology is issued, the quicker the story gets off the hot burner. Apologize to family, friends, vendors, partners, employees and staff immediately if they have been embarrassed by inappropriate actions or behavior. Cover ups or delays in issuing a national apology can make it an even bigger story. Ms. Deen’s failure to appear at her first scheduled interview on the “Today Show” became headline news.
3. Focus on the message: We recommend retaining a brand damage control expert or a crisis professional to help craft the message. An experienced and objective pro who looks for the facts and key points to help to stay on message. When Ms. Deen appeared on the “Today Show,” she delivered so many story lines that one question came to mind: is this material for a potential new TV series?
4. Move forward quickly: Inform your internal support, the media and the public what steps or policies are taken to improve the situation and avoid future missteps or mistakes. Follow up with your commitment to right the wrong.
5. Emotionally connect: Avoid robotic apologies or insincere emotion. Who can forget Tiger Woods’ much too late, and what appeared to be, scripted apology? Some people think Ms. Dean’s teary mea culpa, though delivered without script, might have been more for her fleeing sponsors than remorse. We are a forgiving society and nothing trumps genuine emotion in the court of public opinion.
We capture radiant solar energy from the sun and we humans have the ability to project it as well. Think Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper or Jon Stewart. People who make you feel energized in their presence. Positive energy attracts, whereas negative energy repels.
Most of us come in contact with negative energy almost daily. Either someone close to us, a service employee or even a stranger. You know them. These are the people who project a bad hair day, every day.
You might not be able to identify why you do not like their company, but it is clear you do not want to be around them. Employers often refer to energy as a good or bad attitude, which is a symptom. I’m not confusing low energy with negative energy. Not everyone runs on high octane. It would also be wrong to categorize the shy people among us in with negative energy.
Let me give you an example of an experience that happened recently. My husband and I were guests, along with a group of friends, at a favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. Our host arrived a few minutes before us. Her first comment was: “Our server is…well, all business.” Translation: She isn’t very likable.
From the server’s perfunctory, “Hello,” to ”Would there be anything else?” her negative vibes were felt by everyone in the party. Her facial expression and her robotic service, suggested it was an imposition to serve at this hot spot. She might have dumped her negative energy on our party. Instead, in our own way, we each tried to help her by offering up positive energy. We choose to enjoy our conversation and the fabulous dinner.
You might think she was having a bad day, to which we all relate and could excuse. Except this server had waited on us in the past. Same negative energy and bad vibe. Wrong person for a customer service position? Yes. An unhappy person? Undoubtedly. Can she change her energy? Ah, good question. Highly unlikely, unless she is motivated and willing to do the work.
How do you eliminate being around these people? If my husband and I had been hosts at that night, an option would have been to change servers. I spoke with the manager the next day, who was appalled. He said he would talk with the server and to ask for him in the future. But what if your co-worker casts negative energy? Communicate with the manager. Point out the low morale and possible loss of production caused by this person.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you can offer help. Talk with them about the ill-effect their energy is causing and set up expectations of an energy shift. What if you are married to a negative energy person? Oh, let’s not go there. That is a whole new subject for another Newsletter!
TIP: Move forward with what I call, “The Conversation” with the person. Give the individual the opportunity to make a choice. If nothing changes in the agreed time frame and guidelines, you are better served by avoiding them, if possible, or jettisoning them out of your life sooner than later. Why prolong the problem?
One of my colleagues, Sarah, tells the story of her highly efficient executive whose negative energy was creating havoc within the company. She offered professional help, set expectations with time frames and in effect, put the individual on notice. Even after “The Conversation,” the executive did not care enough, or was not ready, to make the choice to change. One day Sarah had enough and the next day the executive was history. The lesson my friend learned? Hire slow fire fast!
In January, I ran a meeting for about 40 professionals in finance, legal and consulting. My topic question, “What are the trends in your industry?” The knowledge and insights shared took up almost the entire meeting.
What are the trends in your industry that help your clients, potential clients, colleagues and associates make improvements or increase revenue? Sharing trends provides an opportunity to touch with your community, highlight your expertise and takes your relationships to a deeper level. Think about your range of current knowledge that will add value to your clients and community …even when it isn’t on the clock.
6. Accountability and support: Tell people who have your best interest at heart to help keep you accountable. I’ve told at least 60 people that 2013 is the year to complete my book. And yes, I appreciate your support!
7. Measure your progress: For instance, my book proposal is due the end of March. Completion is a measurable result. It either will be complete or it won’t. No gray area. Tip: If you miss a deadline, such as your goal to lose five pounds by the end of the month, don’t give up if you only loose three. You will be three pounds lighter and that much closer to our goal.
8. Opportunity is everywhere: This year, in particular, is abuzz with people talking about opportunity. The only failure is not taking advantage of the opportunities before you. Or in creating new opportunities.
10. Reward yourself: That’s right, celebrate all of your accomplishments, each resolution you keep and every goal you make. First, it will make you feel good and second, you will be inspired to keep up the good work.
Here’s to your best year in 2013!