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•• Every PR Person Works with a Rob Ford

November 19, 2013

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The Rob Ford debacle has been tremendous fodder for late-night TV hosts.  Despite the sad truth that a man’s addictions and inability to own his issues have caused harm to himself and his family, you have to admit — it’s great TV.

In PR, especially crisis management, many of the things we’ve seen with Rob Ford and the Toronto city council are eerily familiar, though perhaps not on such a grand scale.  And they’re the kind of thing that makes crisis communication a challenge.

1. Refusal to acknowledge the problem.

Just as Rob Ford refused to acknowledge an issue with alcohol and drugs, executives facing a PR challenge are occasionally prone to their own form of denial.  No plan for crisis communication, no chain of command, no training for designated spokespeople to handle issues — all of these can add up to a snowballing issue.

2. Blaming others.

Whether it’s the media, the union, the employees, the consumer watchdogs — it’s always someone else’s fault.   The executive that shifts the blame to others and doesn’t take a portion on his or or her shoulders is going to be a tough person to coach.

3.  Not apologizing.

In crisis, sometimes the most important thing you can do is say you’re sorry.

4.  Inappropriate comments.

You hear them in the meeting, you hope they don’t come out on camera.  Training a loose cannon to guard their tongue is no small feat.

5. Temper, temper!

Emotional spokespeople, or those who lash out under pressure, are ticking time bombs in media interviews.  In high-stake media, or sensationalistic interviews, reporters and producers are looking for those kinds of emotional reactions to undermine the spokesperson.  And if your spokesperson loses their cool, you can bet it will end up as the story.

6. Insisting on the spotlight.

If your potential spokesperson has any of the above traits — the best course of action is of course to find another spokesperson.  But sometimes, the buck stops at your spokesperson’s door, however risky it is.  A solid media training — including video feedback at the scene– is key to making a case for another spokesperson or demonstrating how various behaviors are seen on camera.

The good news is, for every potential spokesperson that is problematic, are 100 spokespeople who truly want to do a good job.

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