As senior staffers drop like flies at Toronto City Hall, some would argue that it is the beginning of the end for tarnished Mayor Rob Ford. Images of the heavy set mayor slamming face first into a television news camera can only begin to describe the beginnings of a reputation gone wrong.
The mayor’s latest scandal – this one now involving crack cocaine, had me thinking about how reputation can mean the difference between life and death for an organization. Perhaps one of the best lessons in reputation management for a business can come straight from the mayor. After all, making note of what NOT to do when faced with public disapproval is a valuable lesson.
Some of the top response techniques can save your organization’s reputation.
Respond in a timely manner. When the New York based website, Gawker and the Toronto Star announced allegations of a video recording showing the Toronto mayor smoking crack cocaine, the media went on a high-speed chase trying to track down the entire story. The chase only intensified when the mayor waited over a week to make a public statement.
What was the fallout? The media grew frustrated as they followed the mayor’s every move in the hopes of getting a quote. The public took their anger to social media and drew attention to international media reports regarding the scandal. What was jaw-dropping was the fact that when you typed the words ‘crack cocaine’ into Google, images of Mayor Rob Ford appeared.
When crisis hits, organizations need to respond immediately with a detailed and strategic response. Industry leaders prepare for this by having a crisis communications plan set in anticipation of issues such as plant fires, employee deaths on the job and much more. This allows them to respond to the public quickly, before they have a chance to develop a negative opinion.
Turn a negative into a positive. When faced with a large crisis the strategy should be to showcase how the negative situation has transformed the company into something that is now better.
When he did finally make a statement, the mayor said that he is not a crack cocaine user. He blamed the media for the controversy, referring to them as maggots.
The all too brief, late and abusive response resulted in continued media reports that poked fun of the mayor and even tracked his mistakes and clumsiness in the past. It seemed too easy for writers and comedians.
What can your organization learn from the mayor’s response to allegations? It would be to take the opposite approach and respond by explaining the situation in detail and then focusing on the positive next steps. In the case of the mayor he should have avoided insulting the media and instead focused on how he is moving past these allegations and on how he is quickly moving back to what matters most, which the state of the city. Your organization can also move past an issue and communicate how that particular challenge has strengthened internal procedures, customer communications and allowed your company to perform more effectively than ever before.
Be honest. When you do make a mistake apologize for it. As human beings we all know we’ve made mistakes. People are more likely to forgive someone that has told them the truth and has admitted to their wrongdoing than those who have lied. As of post time the truth regarding the drug allegations against the mayor were unknown, yet his consistent insults towards the media painted him as a person who was trying to hide evidence of wrongdoing by focusing negative attention on others.
Honesty works for companies in crisis. In 2007, JetBlue was faced with a nightmare. The low cost airline cancelled over 1,000 flights leaving thousands of families and other travellers stranded during a storm. The CEO responded promptly by explaining what went wrong and he apologized. This allowed customers to trust the airline again. And that’s what it’s all about – isn’t it? Once you have secured the trust of your customers – you’ve gone a long way towards maintaining your corporate reputation and ultimately achieving business success.