“13” was an unlucky year for a number of people trying to make their case with the media. And at 15-Seconds we enjoyed pointing out some of the best examples of mis-communication and offering the occasional tip on how they could have done better.
As the year draws to an end — here are ten of our favorite blog posts from the year almost gone by:
A bureaucrat from the Defense Intelligence Agency calls a reporter from “New Energy Times” and demands he remove material from their website which quotes from an internal email about a Cold Fusion Conference that went out in her name. The reporter informs her he is recording her call and she proceeds to threaten him with reporting him to her public affairs staff. That’ll show him!
Having her name out there was the kind of annoyance better left un-addressed. Instead she made a federal case out of it and made thousands more people aware of whatever she was trying to keep under wraps.
Gore tried to tell questioners that he understood the public’s concerns — but he laughed in the face of serious questions — undercutting the impression that he really got it….and at times he brought up the negative connections of Qatar’s oil and gas background before his questioners did.
The 15-Seconds Lesson : Prepare for tough questions in advance and don’t introduce negative thoughts yourself.
Here is an item about an outfit that HAD to fight back against the media. A South Dakota company called Beef Products Inc (BPI) says it was harmed by a series of reports on ABC News about their “finely textured beef” product which was portrayed as a disgusting stream of goo with no redeeming nutritional value.
BPI said their revenues plunged more that $650 million and they had to shutter three plants and lay off workers. So they sued ABC alleging “veggie libe.l” and claimed that ABC knew, but failed to report, that among their sources was someone who had been fired by BPI and who had previously lost a wrongful termination suit.
Ultimately, BPI may have been done in by the power of a cleverly craafted phrase. ABC and their critics called the product “pink slime.”
The 15-Seconds Lesson: A dramatic picture or a colorful phrase can often overwhelm the facts.
Considerably more edible are the offerings from Paula Deen’s kitchen. But we found some of her media performances hard to digest. As you may recall, the Southern chef got in trouble for alleged insensitive actions and past use of the “N-word.” Deen issued multiple video apologies
after failing to show up for an scheduled interview on the Today Show — a program which regularly featured her. Eventually she showed up on today and gave a lengthy tearful defense that also collapsed like a bad souffle. She spent more time talking about how much she had been hurt — as opposed to addressing how she might have hurt others.
The 15-Seconds Lesson: You get only one chance to apologize – so get it right the first time.
Back in September we ran an item which demonstrated that reporters from a variety of major news organizations (ranging from the London Sunday Times to USA Today) had a very different understanding of what the phrase “off-the-record” means.
If people who make their living doing this can’t agree on what it means, how can you avoid disaster?
The 15-Seconds Lesson: The safest thing is to never tell a reporter anything that you can’t live with seeing in print — right next to your name.
At the start of the year Boeing’s revolutionary new 787 Dreamliner aircraft started catching fire on the ground. While somewhat better than catching fire in the air — it was nevertheless not the kind of news any aircraft manufacturer would want.
Initially Boeing told the media that they saw no relationship between a burning Dreamliner in Boston with earlier incidents. They told the New York Times that “Before providing more detail, we will give our technical teams the time they need to do a thorough job and ensure we are dealing with facts, not speculation.”
It took them several days before company officials held a press conference and addressed safety concerns. Meanwhile, rumors and speculation were raging.
The 15-Seconds Lesson: In a crisis you cannot wait until you have ALL the facts. You need to start communicating before your reputation goes down in flames.
About three weeks before the November elections, the Associated Press published an explosive story saying that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe may have lied to federal investigators looking into a scam to steal death benefits from terminally ill people. That is not a talking point you would want on your resume.
Turns out the story was wrong. AP went with it, in part, because McAuliffe’s campaign “did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment about the allegation.”
An hour and 38 minutes after the story was published — AP withdrew it. A few days later they fired the reporter and an editor involved.
McAuliffe narrowly won the election — had the allegation remained in circulation for a little longer — you have to wonder what impact it might have had.
The 15-Seconds Lesson: Fact checking is dead in the media whose desire to get a story first sometimes trumps getting it right. Organizations and individuals have to monitor the media and respond instantly when they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.
This is a case of a news organization being the subject of media scrutiny — and not liking it. CBS’s venerable 60 Minutes program aired a segment on October 27 with a guy who claimed to have some explosive news about what happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 when four U.S. citizens were killed.
The credibility of their source (who had a book to peddle) quickly came under attack. And initially 60 Minutes rushed to his (and their own) defense claiming they “stood by their report” and were “proud of their reporting.” As the story started to crumble — they dialed it back — eventually admitting about ten days after the initial report — that they had been duped. Even then initially they sent out the correspondent responsible for the report, Lara Logan, to apologize on their own morning show.
Eventually Logan and her producer were put on administrative leave (although the network refused to say for how long — or whether it was with or without pay.)
The 15-Seconds Lesson: When under attack, avoid the knee-jerk self defense statement until you have a chance to investigate. Don’t give the answer you HOPE turns out to be true “We stand by our story” until you know if your story stands up.
In July there was a tragic plane crash in San Francisco that was badly handled by the airline involved — Asiana. In their initial press release the airline failed to say anything about offering concern and condolences to the victims, families and friends.
They reportedly refused crisis communications advice from local experts thinking that their Korean-based in house team had it handled — they didn’t
Then when a local TV station got duped by a stupendously inappropriate joke about the names of the flight crew – the airline threatened to sue the station for hurting their ethnic feelings.
The 15-Seconds Lesson – When there is an accident with injuries or death – the first statement and most of the subsequent ones MUST start with a statement of genuine heartfelt sorrow. Hire some local crisis communications expertise — and remember — this is NOT about you it is about the victims.
And our favorite media relations gaffe of the year:
A local TV station tried to find out why a local company wouldn’t remove a dying tree that was threatening to fall on a retired woman’s home. When the company wouldn’t answer calls — a camera crew showed up and were treated to the scene of the company’s receptionist literally hiding under her desk to avoid the media. You can’t make this stuff up.
The 15-Seconds Lesson: Don’t run, don’t hide. Get some media training and meet the media with a smile not with a rain coat — or your desk — over your head.
Happy New Year from 15-Seconds.