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Mar 15, 2011

Real and Imagined Business Panic

Bunny Watson, Student at Large

A story comes to us this morning that Spokesduck Gilbert Gottfried has been dismissed by Aflac for a steady stream of tweets making light of conditions in post-earthquake Japan.  We might all agree to cry "Too Soon!" on this play; when you are the voice of an insurance company.... well, that just won't do.

Oh, our Tweets will undo us, won't they?  Tweets are the new Send-All email gaffes we all made 15 years ago.  We all have a story of accidentally sending to an entire distribution list an off-color joke or response to the company meeting.  And that was just an extension of being caught passing the slam-book from row to row.

We at the Finishing School already hold you personally responsible for what you do.  This post is for the management.  Because it can be difficult to know when something requires crisis communication... and when you are just doing more damage.  The public does want to know you are in control, yes.  They want to feel confident that "you people" re not running some "kind of show."  A PR crisis is what company spokesmen train so hard for, like raw recruits who just want the chance to show what they got.   And as we have become accustomed to the pattern of Incident, followed by on-line polls by so-called news agencies asking what we think of Said Incident, and whether Offender should Apologize, then Formal Apology and Eventual Firing...  we may be losing sight of the scale of crisis.

We must praise this story on the American Red Cross -- an organization with its share of public image trouble, since every time America gets inspired enough to give them blood, they seem to have trouble handling it.  (reference one, and reference two).  In this case, a cooler management head prevailed, and a simple "I'm so stupid" acknowledgment and a joke at their own expense put the entire matter in its right place in the news cycle.  Even the other company implicated found the opportunity to come out ahead (and let us know there is a thing called beernews.org).

Whether the Tweeting employee was more strongly disciplined behind closed doors, we don't know, and don't need to.  We are glad to know that not everyone gets fired for every boneheaded error, however public -- that there are still Ones to Grow On , even for our media-savvy Media Specialists.  The Red Cross's official spokeswoman masterfully addressed the public "concern" while reminding us of the brand and the mission: “We are an organization that deals with life-changing disasters and this wasn’t one of them,”she said.

Nicely played.


Please remember that blood products have a short shelf life.  The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies needs blood every day. For the catastrophes, cash is better.  Give what you can, whenever you can.

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