Wednesday Morning Meeting for December 23, 2009:
Damage Control: What to do when your top talent gets chased with a nine iron
Hot topic for GMs, GSMs, LSMs, and PDs this morning. With so much recent focus on the Tiger Woods saga, it’s timely to discuss what to do when your station’s top talent gets into hot water. Through the years, we’ve all lived through talent getting arrested with prostitutes, personalities charged with DUI, and even petty theft. In the olden days, management simply dealt with these digressions by firing the personality. But in today’s business climate, where the public is more forgiving of “mistakes,” and top talent is tied to significant client endorsement deals, we’re often forced to make delicate decisions.
Both David Letterman and Tiger Woods have admitted to recent infidelity, but Letterman’s story was contained to a few days and Tiger’s was, well… The difference was how each camp reacted to the crisis.
So, here’s a basic list of some of what to do in a high-profile matter:
- Determine if the infraction is worthy of termination or other disciplinary action; consult the station’s attorney and appropriate HR folks. Designate a spokesperson. Order the rest of your staff to not comment on the matter.
- If termination is your decision, issue a statement (best if it is a written statement) with the proper HR language, but be sympathetic, too. One or two sentences will be fine; it’s better to say less than more. Often, it’s best not to comment on “personnel issues.” (And the public will read between the lines.)
- It becomes a little bit of a dance if you decided to stick with the talent. You’ll have three goals with your following actions: Protect your brand, protect your revenues, and calm the media/public frenzy. (Notice I didn’t say protect the talent—that’s their job).
- Immediately issue a statement stating how shocked WXXX is, then condemn the inappropriate action. Let the public know that your thoughts are with the talent’s family (or anyone who he/she hurt). Now, here’s how you start turning it around: WXXX will work with [talent] to ensure he/she gets the help they need. (Here’s where you pay for a small stint at rehab, etc…) At this point, the station can focus on the advertisers.
- Directly after the station has released its statement, have your talent issue a written statement. It should say how deeply sorry they feel about making the mistake; the talent should apologize to their family, colleagues and sponsors at WXXX, and the listeners. The talent also should ask for forgiveness, acknowledge the long road ahead of gaining trust back, and accept any resources the station will provide. At this point, the talent should focus on a comeback and keep out of the spotlight.
- Have an open and honest conversation with sponsors. Talk about the rehabilitation process for the talent and sell the dream of what’s ahead. Do this fast!
Speed is of the essence when it comes to damage control (think Letterman vs. Woods). It’s important to remember that the media needs pictures and new information to move a story. If you only issue a written statement (don’t appear on camera) and refuse further comment, you won’t fuel your own story. It’s also important to note that your HR staff is trained in HR policies and not in dealing with public perception. If retaining naughty talent, your statement will need to go beyond the standard HR “no comment.” (The stress of this decision may cause your HR person to rapidly gain weight and have immediate hair loss—sorry.)
Please contact my office if you need further assistance with a complex issue like damage control, and as always, I welcome your thoughts. Please e-mail me: email@example.com or follow me on Twitter@BobKnightAdMan
Next week: Forecasting 2010
Bob Knight is Vice President, Advertising and Digital Media with Harrison Edwards PR & Marketing in New York and oversees the company’s advertising and HEdigital divisions, which include podcasting, webcasting, blogging; and print, electronic, and broadcast advertising and media buying. Prior to joining Harrison Edwards in 2005, Bob worked for some of the nation’s largest broadcasting companies, successfully developing programming in some of the most competitive markets including Chicago and San Francisco; his stations and shows were consistently top-rated. In addition to Bob’s work as program director and on-air personality at AMFM, Inc., Clear Channel Communications, Citadel Broadcasting, Entercom, and NextMedia Group, he served as a consultant to Internet radio stations during the dot com boom. Bob’s national and regional radio commercials have won a Gold Clarion Award (AWC) and Gold “Big W” Awards (Ad Club) for commercials he produced. In 2008, Bob was named a “Rising Star Forty Under Forty” by the Business Council of Westchester and is a graduate of Leadership Westchester (Class of 2009).