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 behaviour 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.
Today, looking at the gossip magazines and celebrity gossip programs on satellite TV, one would have to believe that monogamy in Hollywood is out of style. In the latest celebrity cheating scandal between Jesse James and his ex-Sandra Bullock, the world has wondered aloud how anyone could possibly cheat on such a beautiful, successful and interesting woman. For James and his mistress, business has never been better. The two have routinely had their names smeared across television and magazines.
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 at stake?
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.
1) 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.
2) 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 situation.
3) A Scripted but Heartfelt Expression of 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 work.