Here’s the first: The threat of discovery doesn’t stop some people from behaving badly.
Tiger’s melt-down isn't the failure of a crisis plan. There wasn’t one. None of Tiger Inc.'s image handlers prepared memos outlining what to do if it came out that Mr. Woods enjoyed extramarital affairs like some people collect snow globes. Damage control strategies started after the truth. Not before.
Today’s Internet-driven reality TV culture means we’re following scandals more than ever. We’re very familiar with the “PR angle” of every story. This has created a belief that PR is the end result of itself. For example: Say a professional sports star gets caught illegally playing partybingo online. The public debate over how the athelete responds to being found out will quickly become as big a headline as the issue of whether what he or she was doing online had any undue influence.
We assume that image is a universally valued currency to be saved or squandered. But this confuses how we rationalize self-destructive behavior by prominent people.
Take for example a recent Harvard Business Review article on responding to scandals. In it two researchers argue that Chinese executives who added melamine to milk sold in the U.S. might have acted differently had they only anticipated people's emotional reaction people to media coverage about dead infants.
The world doesn’t work that way. Businessmen who poison food to increase profits are criminals. And criminals are psychopaths that by definition don’t care what happens to others. They’re bad people, not bad public relations planners.
True story. Many years ago I was in my hotel room watching the local news when suddenly the TV showed a mug shot of my client. The government official at the center of our at-risk youth campaign had been arrested for soliciting a teenage prostitute.
We had nothing prepared for this. What we did have, however, was an appreciation of how things would get worse if people thought we were treating the scandal as primarily a PR problem to be resolved with spin and posturing. That got us through it.
In the same way, Tiger’s self-destruction also reminds us of the second lesson: That effective crisis planning is having the ability to respond to situations nobody sees coming.
In the real world, that has to include people in charge being caught doing very bad things.
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