Category Archives: Crisis Communications

CEOs Under Attack? A Lesson in Corporate Communications from GM & Apple.

CEOs Under Attack? A Lesson in Corporate Communications from GM & Apple.

Editor’s Note:  With media focus on GM CEO Mary Barra and Apple CEO Tim Cook, CommPRO reached out to our community to get their commentary about diversity in the c-suite.  

By David E. Johnson,CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC

First it was Matt Lauer on The Today Show asking General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra if she could handle being a mother and CEO and was she selected as the CEO of General Motors because the company wanted a “maternal presence”.  Next it was Apple’s Tim Cook on CNBC, being publicly outed as a gay man.  The social media response towards the media was that of outrage and disgust with these incidents.  Yet in both incidents the media stood by the interviews.

Why is this?  What should corporate communicators learn by this and put into practice in response?

The first question is easy to answer.  Despite strides made by women and minorities, the corporate boardroom is still largely dominated by white men whose ages range from the 50s to the 60s.  The corporate mindset is to not shake things up and interviews are about the company not about the CEO’s personal life.  Likewise despite the transformation in America regarding the LGBT community, the corporate boardroom remains largely untouched in this category.  Yet this is changing, as is the concept that a CEO’s personal life is largely not part of a company’s story.

Image of CEOs Under Attack?  A Lesson in Corporate Communications from GM & Apple.This is no longer true.  Consumers are buying the story of a brand and also that of the storyteller – the CEO.  Consumers expect not only to know the brand message but also the story of the CEO, President, or Chairman of the Board who communicates the brand message.  This means all aspects of a CEO’s life is subject to media scrutiny.  Additionally, as this happens those who do not fit the corporate stereotype of old will find they are under greater media interrogation.

Is this fair?  No.  But it is the nature of our society, with a far more intrusive media operating, 24/7, social media, and citizen journalists with blogs.

Corporate communicators need to understand this changing dynamic and help affect a change in the corporate culture of companies.  Corporations need to recognize that society has changed.  The fact that a woman can be both a CEO and mother is no different than a male being both a CEO and father.  Indeed, in this post recession society, many mothers are now the primary wage winner and the father is the stay at home parent.  Corporations need to reflect and understand this dynamic.  As they do, the media questions will begin to change.  But for this to happen, the companies must reflect in their leadership and their culture the changes that are occurring in society.

Executives need to know that their lives will be examined under a microscope.  The best thing to do is address personal issues proactively.  Cook’s sexual preference should never have been outed on a national interview but the better course would have been for Cook to address this long before this, very much as football player, Michael Sam addressed his sexuality.  Sexuality will continue to attract curiosity until corporate cultures reflect the changes we see in society.  For this to happen, corporate communications must work in tandem with the executive leadership in conveying the message and new culture.

Yes, Mary Barra and Tim Cook seemed under attack this past week.  Not because of anything they had done as CEOs but rather because they don’t resemble the CEOs of old, just as America doesn’t reflect the nation it was in the 1990s.  For others who will resemble Cook and Barra, following in their footsteps, the challenge must be to communicate to the media and consumers that it’s a new culture in the boardroom.


 About the Author:  David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and branding agency that specializes in crisis communications, branding, and media relations.  Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at

GM CEO Barra’s Crisis Management Failure – What NOT To Do During A Press Conference

GM CEO Barra’s Crisis Management Failure – What NOT To Do During A Press Conference.

Editor’s Note: Crisis communications expert David Johnson shares his latest analysis of the ongoing GM recall crisis.  To gain more insight on the situation, click here to read David’s post, “GM’s Crisis Management Scorecard.”

Image of GM CEO Barras Crisis Management Failure – What NOT To Do During A Press ConferenceBy David E. Johnson,CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors has been attempting to give a new face and brand identity toGeneral Motors since taking her position.  In her initial response to a crisis that had resulted in 13 acknowledged deaths and the recall of over 2.6 million vehicles, Barra had scored high marks with the media, stockholders, employees, and consumers by showing empathy, taking responsibility, and reaching out to all key stakeholders in her initial response.  That is why her announcement of the results of an internal investigation that led to the recall and her answers to reporters’ questions seemed lacking and unable to shake the crisis.  In many ways, Barra, the new face of the automaker resembled the old General Motors.

What did she and General Motors do wrong with the press conference and her answers to reporters regarding the company’s internal investigation?


Lessons To Be Learned From The Chris Christie Crisis: You Have Responded

Lessons To Be Learned From The Chris Christie Crisis: You Have Responded.

Lessons To Be Learned From The Chris Christie Crisis: You Have Responded

Editor’s Note: encourages and welcomes debate on issues that are relevant to our community. Yesterday, the Governor of New Jersey stepped up to the podium to address an issue that in his own words “side lined” him. As the CEO of a state, that caught our attention. So we reached out to our community and posed a number of questions relating to management. They included:

  • Is Any CEO Totally In Control?
  • Should They Be?
  • How Can They Be?
  • Trust. Can We Depend On it? is pleased to share these commentaries:

How to Stop Gov. Chris Christie’s ViralBy Adele Cehrs, CEO of Epic PR Group

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Takes Charge in a Crisis: All Eyes on Gov. as Bridge Crisis UnravelsBy Cindy Rakowitz, CEO, BR Public Relations and co-author Emergency Public Relations; Crisis Management in a 3.0 World

Unanswered Questions: Governor Chris Christie:  By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC

Chris Christie’s Press Conference: Being First. My View… By Ronn Torrossian, CEO, 5W PR

Building and Losing Trust During A CrisisBy Davia B. Temin, President and CEO, Temin and Company

Own-Up and Take Control: Kudos Governor Christie!By Adam J. Handelsman, President & Founder, SpecOps Communications

Lessons To Learn In Governor Christie’s Crisis ManagementBy Mark Stevens, Author of “Your Marketing Sucks,”& CEO of MSCO

Honest Communications. A Dream?Observations from Honesty Expert, Steven Gaffney

SeaWorld Crisis Management: The Textbook Case of What NOT To Do

SeaWorld Crisis Management: The Textbook Case of What NOT To Do.

SeaWorld Crisis Management: The Textbook Case of What NOT To Do

Image of SeaWorld Crisis Management:  The Textbook Case of What NOT To Do By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC

In today’s world a crisis plays out as much on social media, as it does through traditional media.  Brands and companies need a strategy for both.  Yet many never fully consider the social media aspect.  The ongoing crisis for SeaWorld is a case in point.  They have mishandled both their traditional and social media response with no end to the crisis in sight.

Image of SeaWorld Crisis Management:  The Textbook Case of What NOT To Do SeaWorld’s crisis began with the airing of the film, Blackfish on CNN.  Blackfish exposed practices at the aquatic park, including an exposé about whales in captivity and the orca-related death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.  SeaWorld’s response to the film was to lash out at it before it actually aired by sending a critique to film critics.  Company executives had also refused to be interviewed for the film.  This was a wrong way to deal with the brewing crisis as it created more attention for the film.

Next began the online protests in reaction to what the film depicted with Facebook pages being established calling for a boycott of the sea park until SeaWorld changed its policies.  Posters on SeaWorld’s Facebook page who expressed concern or disapproval of SeaWorld’s policies saw their posts deleted.  SeaWorld wouldn’t even address their concerns.  Rather as part of their crisis communications response they began highlighting the good work they have done for animal rescues (which was never disputed).  Consumers who saw their posts deleted were outraged causing further social media commentary of the story.  Social media allows corporations and brands to directly engage consumers during a crisis.  Allowing consumers to voice their opinion as long as it is civil allows consumers to be engaged and often helps level off anger.  Explaining a company’s position on social media is critical.  Ignoring the crisis and the consumer comments or in this case deleting them, keeps the flames going, as SeaWorld found out.

Consumers began contacting musical acts that were scheduled to perform SeaWorld’s “Bands, Brew & BBQ” series, one of the park’s biggest events.  Social media petitions began with one getting over 12,000 members urging the acts to cancel.  The musicians took notice.  Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Willie Nelson and others cancelled their scheduled appearances.  Singer Joan Jett asked the park to stop using her song “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” during its “Shamu Rocks”.  SeaWorld’s response was to criticize the musical acts, attack the people using social media to protest their policies and state that park attendance was being affected.  Yet they refused to engage consumers or deal with the issues raised in Blackfish through traditional media.

Next a California school class cancelled a field trip to SeaWorld because of concerns over the issues raised in Blackfish.  SeaWorld responded by saying this was an isolated incident and disparaging the class.  Students from across the country took to YouTube calling for SeaWorld to change its policies and again SeaWorld remained silent.

The latest blow has been an online poll that the Orlando Business Journal posted an online poll asking if reader’s if their opinion of SeaWorld had been affected by the controversy.  Fifty-four percent of voters who voted no, were traced back to a SeaWorld ip address (note don’t try to rig a newspaper poll and use your ip address, the paper may become suspicious).  The result more bad press and ongoing social media controversy.

SeaWorld is becoming the textbook case of what not to do in a crisis.  Social media as much as traditional media drives narratives.  Ignoring the consumer and not engaging them on social media doesn’t make the crisis go away, rather it keeps it alive.  Now more than ever, when developing a crisis communications plan, the social media element must be incorporated into the plan.

 About the Author:  David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and branding agency that specializes in crisis communications, branding, and media relations.  Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at


Planning for Success: 14 Top PR and Integrated Marketing Communications Trends for 2014

Planning for Success: 14 Top PR and Integrated Marketing Communications Trends for 2014.

Planning for Success: 14 Top PR and Integrated Marketing Communications Trends for 2014

Image of Planning for Success: 14 Top PR and Integrated Marketing Communications Trends for 2014By Kenneth Kracmer, Managing Partner and PR Director, HCK2 Partners

It’s hard to believe that 2013 came and went so quickly. Fortunately, consensus is that it was a pretty good year for communications and marketing professionals alike. Looking back at 2013, most of the 13 trends we anticipated came to fruition. There is definitely a return to strategic planning geared toward identifying integrated campaigns that possess clear calls to action and measurable results.

Those of us who lived through 2008, and the years that immediately followed under the economic downturn, know the impact it had on the marketing communications industry, clients, corporations, agencies and hiring. Anyone responsible for hiring in 2013 knows PR and marketing professionals are once again very much in demand (also a top prediction made on last year’s list).

As a result of this momentum fueled by growth and optimism, there is no shortage of trends to anticipate for 2014, which is convenient since this list increases by one additional prediction each year—barring any major negative event or market correction, we should be happy this time next year.

Without the benefit of a dramatic drumroll, here’s a breakdown of the 14 marketing trends to watch for in 2014:

  1. Finding the right marketing mix remains an art, not a science. Now that Integrated Marketing Communications strategies appear to be here to stay (for a while), it is important to determine just how much emphasis to place on each element since resources and budgets are still finite.
  1. Communications and marketing pros are going retro and reinstituting increased number of email campaigns.For a number of years, the use of email declined, but many are rediscovering the value of direct contact and a clear call to action that is not always achieved through advertising or social media campaigns. Note to readers, email campaigns are only as good as the list you have, so create, update and maintain good databases.
  1. A clear, consistent, concise, customized content strategy is vital to success. Positioned as the foundation and building block of any successful integrated campaign, it is necessary to review and refresh key messaging on an annual basis. Dynamic content will need to be tailored to reach and engage target audiences, and timing will be equally important.
  1. Social media is here to stay but continues to evolve. Social media pros were among the hardest candidates to identify and hire in 2013. We don’t expect that to change for another year or two. Avoid jumping on bandwagons. Just because competitors are doing it, does not mean it is the best use of time and resources for your client or company. Determine who your target audiences are and then identify the best channels for engagement.
  1. Identify and interview candidates before you need them. For the first time in many years, demand for talent is so high that some undergrads have jobs secured before they actually graduate. There was a recent article that resulted from a poll, indicating that PR jobs would grow by 23 percent, while journalism jobs continue to decrease.
  1. If you did not overhaul your website in 2013, this is probably the year to do it. SEO strategies have evolved and there are better tools for managing content strategies that keep your site fresh, relevant and engaging. A content management system or CMS-based site might cost more initially, but it will pay off in the long run.
  1. Mobility solutions continue to gain momentum. Smart phones are ubiquitous and tablets are this year’s hottest holiday gift. Digital media is here to stay so adapt and optimize your strategy accordingly.
  1. The transition from traditional print to digital collateral will continue to accelerate. While there are still a few vertical industries that still rely heavily on print collateral, most marketers recognize the value and efficiency of digital materials which can still be printed on demand when necessary.
  1. Client case studies and testimonials will only increase in value for your business. While it still remains a challenge to secure permission to use client references and endorsements in sales, marketing and PR materials, it is worth the time and effort, given the value and credibility that comes with third-party validation for your client or company.
  1. Internet advertising campaigns and strategies will become a more significant portion of the marketing mix.Experts predict that Internet advertising will comprise nearly 25 percent of the entire ad market by 2015.
  1. If you haven’t already done so, check out the statistics on the impact visual marketing has when combined with a content strategy. Consider leveraging infographics or custom charts to summarize and reinforce your content.
  1. As a marketing tool, video is here to stay… at least for a while. Given the appeal, communicators are seeking new, creative ways to integrate video into content strategies and campaigns. Consider that each month more than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube and more than 6 billion hours of video are watched there. That’s almost an hour for each person on Earth, which is up more than 50 percent from last year.
  1. For PR pros, revisit your media pitching strategies. In 2013, there were continued cuts in newsrooms while the number of total publications actually grew due to an increase in the number of digital media outlets. Basically, you have more opportunities to reach audiences more directly but you don’t have the luxury of time and interest from your media targets – make every pitch count.
  1. Networking is more valuable than ever. Online tools, such as LinkedIn, allow you to efficiently and effectively determine the targets that will help you grow personally and professionally, but it still helps to have a personal touch. Reach out often and expand your sphere of influence with the movers and shakers in your business community. It’s easier than you think.

Clearly, there is much to consider as you plan for success in 2014. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

As always, I love hearing feedback in the comments section about your predications and what you’re doing to prepare for them in your specific industry.

 About the Author:Kenneth Kracmer has more than 20 years of combined agency and corporate communications experience spanning industries, including banking, energy, information technology, healthcare, financial services, direct selling and telecommunications. Kenneth’s management portfolio includes Trend Micro, The Dallas Morning News, Texas Instruments, American Airlines, Sabre, MaryKay and HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS). His bio: 

The Consequences Of Not Delivering On Time. UPS & FEDEX Have A Lot To Ponder.

The Consequences Of Not Delivering On Time. UPS & FEDEX Have A Lot To Ponder..

Image of The Consequences Of Not Delivering On Time. UPS & FEDEX Have A Lot To Ponder. By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC

No company wants to be portrayed as the ‘Grinch who stole Christmas’, especially in this age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle.  Yet United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx are both in that position having failed to deliver Christmas presents before the big day.  Both are being pummeled on social media which is once again driving the narrative of the story with UPS taking the brunt of the hits.  This story is getting more play because of social media and the Christmas component with many irate customers having taken to Facebook and Twitter on Christmas to voice their outrage at having paid for express shipping only for the presents not to arrive.  Add to it that this is the slow holiday news cycle and you have the perfect media crisis.

Neither of the two shipping giants are faring well in media coverage over this crisis or with postings on social media, especially as a day after the Christmas holiday many presents are still undelivered.   While some bad coverage and social media hits are to be expected, some of the wounds the companies are suffering are self-inflicted and serve as object lessons of what to avoid.  Among the lessons to remember from this crisis:

1.  Always have a way for the media to reach a spokesperson or company decision maker even after hours or during a holiday.

News stories dealing with the failure of UPS and FedEx to deliver all the holiday gifts by Christmas all state that attempts to reach the two shipping giants on Christmas day by the news media went unanswered.  Organizations always need to have a way for the media to reach them in case of emergency.  Failure to do so means the media will not carry your side of the story in the initial coverage, losing a news cycle and the narrative.  As a result of UPS and FedEx having no way for the media to reach their spokespersons to address this crisis, the narrative implied in the media coverage was that while numerous families had their Christmas ruined, the higher ups at FedEx and UPS were at home and enjoying their holiday.  Spokespersons must be available 24/7 to respond to the media.

2.  Be able to address the problem with a strong apology and have a solution when you speak to the media.

The cardinal rule in crisis communications is to address the problem and state how the company is dealing with the crisis.  Yet neither UPS or FedEx have done this adequately.  First they can’t state how many customers were affected by non-delivery of packages.  As I write this column, the spokespersons for both claim they are still working in ascertaining the figure.  The apologies issued by the two companies have been tepid at best.  Christmas is a sacred time for millions and not having Christmas gifts delivered in time is very upsetting to families.  The outrage we are seeing in parents upset because gifts for their children did not arrive in time or food ordered for a family’s traditional Christmas meal is genuine.  Yet the apologies issued by the companies seems almost standard and robotic.  Consumers expect a genuine heartfelt apology especially when their holiday has been disrupted and when they called customer support numbers and were treated rudely.  Finally, besides promising that packages will be delivered neither company has volunteered if they will refund customers their shipping fees.  That should have been an automatic in their apology.

3.  Have a social media policy in place and address the crisis.

This crisis is being driven by social media.  Facebook pages voicing consumer outraged formed instantaneously when the gifts were not delivered.   Remember social media drives narratives and often traditional media picks up a story based upon social media postings.  Yet stunningly, neither of two companies is addressing this crisis on their social media pages.  When caught in a crisis, utilize social media to speak directly to your consumer, addressing the issue, offering an apology, and stating your solution.

Mistakes happen in business.  Social media and the 24/7 news cycle magnify mistakes and even the smallest crisis.  That is why a crisis communications plan is essential.  For FedEx and UPS, this failure in planning compounded their problems and made them look Scrooges to consumers and the media on Christmas Day.  Now the challenge for both is to recover and rebuild trust that was lost because of not merely their failure to get packages delivered by Christmas but by their mishandling in responding to the crisis.


 About the Author:  David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a public relations and branding agency that specializes in crisis communications, branding, and media relations.  Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at


What PR PROs Can Learn From Justine Sacco

What PR PROs Can Learn From Justine Sacco.

What PR PROs Can Learn From Justine Sacco

Image of What PR PROs Can Learn From Justine SaccoBy Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO and Creative Director, Crenshaw Communications

Friday morning, IAC PR executive Justine Sacco had about 300 Twitter followers and was known mostly to her family, friends and colleagues. But after a racially themed tweet and 12 hours of silence as Twitter raged, she became a PR crisis case history and an example of a personal reputation meltdown in real time. How did it happen, and can we learn anything from it?

As everyone knows, it started with a tweet. Not an ordinary one. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white,” is pretty startling, particularly coming from a senior PR professional at a well known media company. There’s quite a bit to unpack in the short tweet. It’s doubly offensive: first, it makes light of the AIDS scourge in Africa. Then it brings in race. Nothing amusing or clever in either case.

Unfortunately for Sacco, Valleywag caught the update and posted a brief but snarky item about it, “A Funny Holiday Joke From IAC’s PR Boss.”

At that, Twitter took notice. To many, it was pure ignorance and racism. Others thought it was an attempt at edgy humor. Some speculated about a hack. The tweet was RT’d thousands of times, and Sacco’s Twitter account ballooned to over 6000 followers. Before the close of the business day on the East Coast, IAC had posted an apology for the “outrageous” and “offensive” tweet and implied she would be dismissed as soon as she could be reached. Sacco’s name was then scrubbed from the IAC website.

As Twitter waited for a response, it became obvious Sacco was on a flight without internet access. In the meantime, the community went into overdrive and the story went mainstream, picked up by Business Insider, Huffington Post, and even The New York Times, among others. A faux Twitter account appeared, complete with Megyn Kelly jokes. Buzzfeed wasted no time in creating a listicle of Sacco’s most dubious tweets.

In a clever, or, some would say, questionable, bit of newsjacking, Gogo, the inflight Internet service, jumped on the controversy to promote its in-flight wifi. Then Twitter briefly cheered when the domain was acquired and redirected to an African aid donations site. All were glued to Sacco’s account, waiting for the moment when she would realize the ferocity of the twitstorm, punctuated with the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet. Many actually likened the spectacle to O.J. Simpson’s low-speed Bronco chase of 1994…a pretty tasteless comparison if you ask me.

At some point, Sacco did land, and her Twitter account was deleted. The story may not be over, but it does point out some things of import to communicators. Already, in PR-land, Sacco’s meltdown is a lesson in social media’s power and to some, she’s a poster child for self-indulgent, oversharing millennials.

Personal is professional. If your employer is named on your social media account, everything you post can be linked to the company. Any PR professional should know that. And the standard disclaimer that “opinions are my own” is a waste of character space. Does anyone think it would have made a difference in this case?

Edgy humor (if that’s what it was) is hard to pull off. Even if you’re a professional comic, you’re taking a risk with any humor that crosses lines involving serious issues of race, sexuality, mortality, or violence.  Ask Daniel Tosh,  Bill Maher, and Gilbert Gottfried, to name just a few. These are guys who do it for a living.

Response time is critical. The amount of internet rage that built against Sacco because she was (presumably) unable to delete or apologize for her tweet was astonishing. If we have ever doubted that the media/web/community will fill the void of a non-response, it’s now a certainty. And the window of opportunity for responding and trying to make things right is breathtakingly small.

Consider a backup plan if out of touch. Some PR pros on Twitter tonight had practical tips. One suggested giving password and login access to work colleagues if unplugged for a day or more. Media trainer Brad Phillips (@MrMediaTraining) advises against setting auto-tweets if you expect to be out of touch for a long while –  as we’ve seen when tragic news hits and brands are caught tweeting trivia, or worse. Of course, a better idea is not to post stupid tweets in the first place, regardless of internet access.

So, what should Sacco do now? PR pros will debate it for some time to come, but once she realizes what’s hit her, she should start with a real apology. Not a mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry to those I offended,” but a true expression of contrition. The 12-hour silence couldn’t be helped, but deleting her entire Twitter account and retreating isn’t the right move, assuming that she’s not actually a bigot. If she is, then this is a wake-up call.

Jason Alexander’s heartfelt apology after a “gay” skit he performed on a late-night show is a good model. The social mob is ruthless, to be sure. But social media can also be a powerful tool for communicating regret and asking for redemption. It may be quixotic, but I hope it can also help turn the schadenfreude the PR community feels about an entertaining, but basically horrible, reputation disaster into something a little bit instructive for all of us.

About the Author: Dorothy Crenshaw has provided the inspiration and initiative behind a range of high-profile and award-winning campaigns for clients, including those in CE and digital technology, retail, consumer products, and health promotion. Before opening her namesake agency, Dorothy was President of Stanton Crenshaw Communications, which she helped build into a premier mid-sized New York PR agency over 13 years. Earlier she was Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Worldwide Consumer Marketing at the PR unit of Grey Advertising. Prior to Grey, she was with Edelman Worldwide as Senior Vice President. An industry influencer, Dorothy speaks frequently on brand-building, marketing to women, and workplace topics. She serves on the board of New York Women in Communications, Inc. and Cancer Care and was named one of the industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week.