It’s Not a Matter of If, But When


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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In our tumultuous scandal-riddled, societal crises-driven landscape, organizational vulnerability has never been more fragile. And the role of the CCO/CMO has never been under greater stress. But, for those who anticipate, plan, test and re-test the societal crisis response systems, the opportunity to rise above the fray and bring clarity to the fog of war has never been more readily available. Ah, but one needs to know where to look, determine what constitutes a brand threat, assure your response will align with the organization’s higher purpose AND then decide if, how and when to respond. I had the amazing opportunity to co-host an IPR-sponsored webinar (playback available next week) yesterday with Linda Rutherford, SVP and Chief Communications Officer of Southwest Airlines. We were simultaneously addressing the best practices IPR and Peppercomm, my firm, had gleaned from in-depth interviews with 50 leading CCO/CMOs. I enumerated the top-line research findings
my best to intersperse such late-breaking crises as):
  • The war of words between POTUS and Harley-Davidson
  • The latest revelations about Roman Catholic Church priests running amok in Pennsylvania
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s baffling remark that, “America was never great.”
(Note: I made the editorial decision that the Donald/Omarosa nonsense didn’t warrant any more attention). Linda went way above-and-beyond the call of duty to share the inner workings of SW’s iterative, rapid response model using such examples as the Texas Bathroom Bill to explain how each and every facet functioned. Our central themes were two-fold:
  • The days of remaining silent as social crisis after social crisis unfolds outside your corner office are over.
  • The social issues crisis you overlook is the one that will put you on the front page of The New York Times faster than you can say Gail Collins.
To wit, we briefly addressed a recently-released list of 15 U. S. organizations with high-priced, long-term contracts with the controversial government agency I.C.E. (Think: separation of children from their parents along our country’s Southern borders). To my knowledge, only two of the 15 have been savaged by internal constituents for “apparently” endorsing human misery. And only one has found itself a front-page story in the Times: Deloitte. I have no idea if Thomson Reuters, Dell or the other mega players playing with I.C.E. (Or F.I.R.E., if you prefer), have issued statements clarifying why they continue their relationships but they better do so soon. Any crisis counselor, whether old school or new, knows the best way to manage a highly politicized crisis is get out in front of it. Explain why you’re in bed with I.C.E. Follow Deloitte’s lead in explaining that NONE of your contracts have anything whatsoever to do with separating children from parents or detaining the kids in medieval holding pens and double down on your higher purpose and guiding principles. I hope yesterday’s webinar attendees grasped the immediacy of the situation and the need to overhaul whatever crisis plan their global agency may have created back in 2003. Those work plans are about as relevant as a Blackberry in today’s workplace. If I need to scare you even more, consider this: the mid-term elections are just a few months away. If your organization is headquartered in a state holding Congressional elections, you better be prepared for employees (and, perhaps, board members) to insist your CEO speak up on everything from gun control and tariff wars to Russian hacking and NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. And, if you should happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a vicious attack by President Trump, you better have already decided whether to respond, if an employee and dealer-only e-mail a la Harley’s strategy is sufficient as well as how your multiple constituent audiences will respond. It seems to me the days of sticking one’s head in the sand are gone with the wind (and trust me, when the wind hits your company, it will probably carry the wallop of a Force 5 Hurricane). So, get thee prepared. Now!