Posted by an Honored Guest Tuesday, February 13, 2007
You lookin at me? You wanna piece of this? Well bring it on 'cause my dog's here's gonna take a piece of your ass!
Just an image to make a point. Sometimes you hire a law firm that's SO aggressive that your opponent will invariably want to run let alone settle. Same is true in the marketplace of communications. Today, we've got a guest column from none other than the infamous "pit bull of public relations," Eric Dezenhall.
Dezenhall is the Founder and CEO of Dezenhall Resources, one of the nation’s leading crisis management firms. His areas of expertise include hard-news media relations. His forte is marketplace defense.
Have you read his book Nail 'Em! Confronting High Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses? If you haven't you should. In it he outlines a model for how media-hyped attacks on businesses and public figures are "packaged" to include "Villains, Victims and Vindicators" that fit a pre-cast entertainment format. He describes modern-day witch hunts and the techniques employed to preempt and defuse disparaging media coverage. It is an import reference piece widely cited in business, media and academic circles.
As a result, Eric pretty much owns the category. As such, he regularly appears as a damage control expert for international media including NPR, CNN, Fox, CNBC, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Geraldo, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The Washington Post. He is a contributing writer to Ethical Corporation magazine, and has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New Republic. Today, it is our distinct pleasure to say he's written an article for us.
Why PR Gets No Respect (Look to the Mea Culpa)
by Eric Dezenhall
One of the chief complaints of public relations executives is that our discipline isn’t respected by top corporate management. Is it possible that PR hasn’t earned that respect? I think so, and will offer one possible explanation: PR people tend to traffic in Mother Goose crisis management bromides that are at direct odds with what real world experience teaches.
There’s no better example of this than that post-Watergate canard that if Nixon has just “fessed up” and apologized, the break-in scandal would have gone away. The PR industry’s evangelical belief in the mea culpa and its attendant rhetoric don’t square with what real world experience teaches, and people in positions of responsibility know it. Had Nixon fessed up and apologized, he would have been quickly impeached, tried in a court of law and convicted, not to mention been dismembered in Lafayette Park.
I’m not, of course, defending Nixon, who richly deserved being removed from office, but pointing out that top executives under fire want to be in the trenches with war-weary veterans, not Glee Club alumni who preach that “every crisis is an opportunity.” Tell that to Martha Stewart.
When Stewart fell into the insider-trading soup, the airwaves were alight with PR pundits suggesting that she apologize. “She can’t!” shouted a client, the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, as we were watching the talking heads on a cable news show. She didn’t -- and couldn’t have because she was facing trial. An apology is an admission of guilt. Attorneys arguing that their clients are not guilty frown upon public confessions to say the least. There is a natural tension between the communications and legal processes that don’t lend themselves to pat solutions. Not only did Martha Stewart not apologize before going to prison, she didn’t apologize afterward either. Instead, she remained faithful to her feisty style by taking an unrepentant stance, which was what she needed to do to position herself among her loyal followers as the victim of this affair.
The Clinton-Lewinsky drama is another case in point. The PR chorus of mea culpa echoed in cable news studios across the country when the presidential scandal broke. Not only did Clinton not apologize, he lied: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” The following day, a poll was conducted after Clinton’s State of the Union address, placing his job approval rating at 73%. Eventually Clinton apologized – after exposing the hypocrisy of the Republican Members of Congress who could have removed him from office. Only when his adversaries had been crippled did Clinton apologize, a critical nuance not lost on battle-scarred executives.
Kobe Bryant’s lawyers understood this nuance well when they negotiated their settlement of his rape case, using a technique that I refer to as the “transactional” apology. Bryant issued a tortured, watered-down acknowledgement of his alleged victim’s pain -- after his legal team spent more than a year publicly scrutinizing her sexual and mental health histories – in exchange for her dropping the charges.
Then there is the case of Harvard president Lawrence Summers who apologized three times for making disparaging remarks about women’s capabilities in math and science. No sale: Summers left office shortly after the tempest. Multiple apologies also didn’t do Senator Trent Lott much good either after he made remarks suggesting that the one-time segregationist presidential candidate Senator Strom Thurmond should have been elected President. Lott was swiftly removed as Senate Majority Leader.
In Western culture, it’s understandable that we tie apology to forgiveness. This is especially tempting since the public relations industry, in a desperate attempt to win respect from the broader culture, preaches this line so zealously. Hard evidence from the PR war zones, however, suggests that apologies work best when the violation is either aberrant or isolated. As for defusing more chronic battles, one is more likely to get out alive by entering the fray and navigating the cross-currents rather than assuming a swiftly spun apology will win the day. Seasoned executives and general counsels understand the vicissitudes of human nature and the marketplace and are more likely to respect PR counselors who do, too.
PS: Be on the lookout of his forthcoming book, Damage Control: Why Everything You Know About Crisis Management is Wrong.
World’s Leading Agency Launches Story Wizzzzzard ™
This just in... There’s a new high-tech gadget now available that is sure to displace the legions of word-of-mouth workers. The device cost $21 each and runs on battery power enough to last about three months.
Word-of-Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is a term used to describe activities that marketing companies undertake to generate personal recommendations, as well as referrals for brand names, products and services. Research indicates that individuals are more prone to be fooled by WOMM than more transparent forms of promotion.
On the condition of anonymity, a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association said: "Well, considering that I pay that total urinal cake Jason close to $4,000 a month to generate a little buzz; this $7 a month alternative is a no brainer. I am sure the total cost would be even less if we changed the battery but..."
Rumor has it that Edelman's faux media lab is close to perfecting a knockoff. Expect to see the Story Wizzzzzard ™ roll out this Spring. Other agency lemmings are now scrambling to devise a competitive product/service.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
Kathleen Durazo about A Measly $2.8 Million Goes Missing, Lawsuit Results Fri, Jul 31, 10:58:34 AM Ray Durazo (the founder) sold the company to Dan in 1999. He was not involved in any of this. He (and I) found out about the lawsuit in the LA Times. In addition to embezzling this m [...]