From Tiger to Santonio: What We Can Learn About Fixing a PR Mess

Filed in Tips and Tricks by on April 15, 2010 0 Comments

In case you haven’t heard, Tiger is back.  He played in the Masters last week and didn’t do too shabby.  In addition, the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers traded star receiver and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the Jets.  Why?  Because he’s been in the news too much – and not for good things.  Coupled with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s legal troubles, the Steelers’ front office have had their hands full.

Juicy, meaty stories.  News and headlines that make healthcare reform stories jealous.  All because of what?

Bad decisions.

Yes, everyone makes bad decisions every now and then.  Lately, it’s seemed like everyone is making them at the same time.  But, no one is human.  However, when the deed is done and the mess needs cleaned, what are we supposed to do?  When a hacker gets into your Twitter account and sends inappropriate messages to all of your followers, what do you do?  How do you act?  Where do you start the cleanup process?

When everything falls apart, you need to pick it up.  It’s just a matter of how you do it.

1. Take a step back.

In times of trouble, especially moments that cause embarrassment or humiliation, the first thing we want to do is jump in and clean up whatever we can.  This is not what you need to do – at least not yet.  There will be a time and place for cleaning up the mess but this isn’t it.

In the beginning, take a step back.  Don’t become overzealous and try to fix everything.  Although you might think you’re doing something good, you are probably hurting the situation even more.  When the heat is on, the first thing you need to do is step away from the burner.  This will allow you to think clearly as you assess the situation.

PR situations aren’t solved in one day.  Some take days or months to resolve.  Keep this in mind as you think about fixing the problem on day one.

2. Own it.

It might be easy to cast the blame on someone else when your world comes falling down but, in the end, you’re the person who needs to clean it up so you need to own the problem.  Don’t give excuses, give honest answers about what happened.  Take Tiger Woods for example, he didn’t simply say that all of women he cheated with came onto him.  He owned the situation because he knew if he didn’t, there would not be a turning point to make things right.

In situations where the malicious act was done by someone else, as in our hacking example earlier, as a business owner and leader, you still need to admit the problem.  Your customers and followers are looking to you to make things right; therefore, own the mistakes and acknowledge it happened.  Without doing so, you’re only stalling and making matters worse.

3. Exercise your mind.

In order to get the ball rolling in the right direction, you’re going to need to exercise your mind with some creative and deep thinking.  At times, the solution to the problem may be fairly obvious but it doesn’t hurt to outline other alternatives, reasons why plan A is so good, and negative characteristics of all your options.  How can you make each option better?  Which plan is the best?  Should you implement more than one strategy for improvement?  These are great questions you should be asking yourself as you prepare to fix the PR problem.

4. Consult with others.

After you’ve outlines and brainstormed on your own, take your ideas to someone you trust and talk about your plans.  Getting a second opinion is a great way to improve your strategies and to flush out your ideas.  An idea might sound good to you but someone else might not think it’s a great solution.

Meeting with another person provides accountability.  In the Steelers situation, I’m pretty sure that the owners, GM, and coach met with one another to figure out how they could improve the Steelers’ image.  Trading Holmes might have been their best option.  Will it work out?  Only time will tell.  But, the important thing is that it was a collective decision and not a shot in the dark by one person.

5. Implement and support your decision.

After you have expanded your ideas and selected the best ways to improve the situation, it’s time to put them in place.  It won’t be easy, you but need to protect your image and your customers, especially in an online world.  A PR fiasco, no matter if it takes place using social media or not, is a tough fight but it can be done.  Pull the trigger on your actions and stand by them.  Don’t quake or give in to negative outsiders.  You decided on what was best and its your job to stick by it.  If you need to reassess the situation later, that would be a time to make changes.  But, in the beginning, stay optimistic and know that you are attempting to fix the situation.

PR nightmares can take a long time to clean up, just ask Tiger Woods.  However, it can be done if the right steps are put in place.  Whether it’s your bad decision or the mistake of someone else, the mess needs to be clean and the wrong needs to be made right.  The steps outlined above should help you in your quest for a positive image and they will empower you in future situations.


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Eric Alpin is the Associate Editor of Folk Media and works for a telecommunications company in Baltimore, Md. He is a social media enthusiast, blogger, writer, and student with a passion for leadership and self-development strategies and techniques. Find out more about Eric on Twitter.

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