Over the past few
months so many celebrities got caught in the spotlight over sex scandals. But
when such news surfaces in the media I think it is interesting to observe how
celebrities address the poor behavior in an attempt to salvage their images and
reputations. These types of crises can also happen in large organizations. When
they do, top leaders have to decide how they are going to react and communicate
with the media to preserve the reputation of the organization.
In October, David
Letterman came forward to quickly address the media on his late night show and
describe an extortion plot against him that was based on allegations that he
had a sexual relationship with a female employee. The media broke the news in
November that Tiger Woods had been philandering with multiple women after he
was involved in a mysterious car accident outside his home. But in that
instance Tiger waited three months before talking about the scandal in public.
So what can a top
leader learn from these two men about what to do if this type of a crisis hits
and their reputation and image – and that of their organization – is suddenly
Top leaders are seen
as role models within their organization. They or someone else in the organization
can make a big mistake – but as leaders they or someone on their top staff must
address the media in a proactive fashion. Otherwise personal and professional
brands and images are threatened and can be easily damaged or destroyed.
I acknowledge that
there are millions of different viewpoints about how David and Tiger handled
their personal situations and private matters. But what I want to highlight are
some valuable professional tips for top leaders who face these kinds of
unexpected situations and then have to step out and face the cameras.
- Don’t Avoid the Confrontation – People hate embarrassing moments and
confrontation, and many times they think the situation will die down and go
away if they just ignore it. That “ostrich with its head in the sand” plan just
doesn’t work, especially in this media-driven era. Especially when celebrities
or powerfully branded organizations like Toyota make mistakes, people want to
know the truth. When leaders don’t come forward to talk about the facts, the
public and the media draw their own conclusions – and those are usually much
more sensational and damaging. We all know how the media can distort facts and
how that can do significant harm to an individual or organization.
- Do the Right Thing – Every organization needs to have a crisis
management plan in place ahead of time and decide prior to the crisis who is
the best person to address the media. This top person needs to accept
responsibility for the inappropriate action or behavior, apologize, and express
concern for those who have been hurt. Tell the facts quickly and let people
know what you plan to do to change your behavior or otherwise rectify the
Emotion – In Tiger’s media
appearance I did like that he had a scripted message to keep him focused on
what he needed to say. But I believe that his monotone voice and reading of the
script lacked real emotion. In a situation where you have hurt people you need
to show real emotion through your body language and your tone of voice. If your
physical presence, body language, and voice are not all congruent, people will perceive
mixed messages and question your authenticity.
- Get Back To Business – After you have promptly addressed the
media it is time to get back to business. Individuals or organizations make
mistakes, but it’s how they handle the situation and react afterward that can
keep a personal and corporate brand intact. When you can admit wrongdoing to
millions of people – and it shows in how you speak and behave under pressure –
the public is more inclined to respect and forgive you and let you get back to
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Sarah Hathorn is a professional image
consultant, certified personal brand strategist, speaker, and author.
Her company, Illustra Image Consulting, works
with high-achieving future leaders and large businesses by enhancing their
corporate and personal brand image to take their businesses and careers to the
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Copyright 2010, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS