This is the time of year when senior public relations practitioners are nominated for election to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) College of Fellows. As I begin my 23rd year as a PRSA Fellow (I’m also an International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Fellow), it’s interesting to reflect on the experiences of all those I have coached and mentored over the years, on my way to becoming a Fellow in both organizations. Just about everyone comes to the Fellow’s process with few clues about what a Fellow actually is.
Stop the production of critics and enemies. Once you victimize them, they have far more power than you’ll ever have; they live forever, will survive you and will be waiting in the swamp.
Tripping points are the ingredients of trouble, those decisions, actions or instigation steps in the process smart people initiate or allow themselves to undergo to get in to trouble. I guarantee you’ll recognize every one of them, especially if you listened to your mom growing up.
Tripping Point #1: Looking for Trouble
The first president I ever voted for was John F. Kennedy in 1960. So I, like so many Americans, have seen quite a few presidents come and go. Just based on those observations, and having served time in government some years ago, there are things about incoming presidents and other senior government officials, such as governors, that are useful to remember through all of the hype and hoopla of the inauguration and our new president beginning to work daily to “make America great again.” It’s going to be a truly tough challenge. Here are some lessons to think about from the past.
I had occasion to visit some dear friends in Stamford, CT, over the Thanksgiving holiday. Much to my surprise, he said to me, as we sat down for dinner at the Westchester Burger Co., that he was throwing out my years of writings on positive language and civil behavior. He mentioned it’s not likely to work or be subscribed to for quite a while in view of the behavior of our President-elect and the tolerance of that behavior by so many.
One thing about crisis management and leadership in difficult situations has remained the same throughout my career and that is the glacial speed at which litigation unfolds. Understand that my clients are always defendants (perpetrators). In today’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and “the new social media app being introduced next week” age, there are dramatic new pressures on lawyers, defendants and perpetrators to get more explained and done faster.
Wells Fargo took another meaningless step to avoiding their clear responsibility to clean up the mess they created, involving hundreds of thousands (perhaps even more now) of their customers. They separated the chairman and CEO posts, a gesture which is simply beyond understanding. It reflects again, their misguided focus on fixing operations without paying the price of fraud, deceit and despicable behavior toward their customers.
Tim Sloan, the former president and chief operating officer of Wells Fargo, now the new CEO and member of the bank’s board of directors, assures us that the cover-up continues. “You should expect more tough headlines, as additional accountability actions occur and other investigations and reviews are completed,” he said. But efforts to actually remedy the thousands, perhaps millions, of customer-facing problems Wells Fargo has caused, and is likely still causing, are stalled. Many may never really be resolved.
The First and Most Important Axiom of Crisis Survival:
Neither the media, your toughest opponents, smartest critics, nor the government knows enough to defeat you. Defeat is almost always the work of uninformed or over confident, overly optimistic bosses, co-workers and associates; well-meaning but uninformed friends, relatives, or from dysfunction in an organization.
Power Words and Phrases have the magical ability to get or keep you out of trouble and to move you and others in positive, constructive directions. These words counteract and detoxify the sticky, corrosive, destructive power of negative words and concepts.