What do BP and George Clooney have in common?
Over the weekend, both the oil-and-gas giant and the suave heart throb of millions attempted to explain their positions on wildly contentious issues.
In BP's case, chief spokesperson Geoff Morrell and lead attorney Ken Olson faced off with Scott Pelley on CBS' 60 Minutes to defend the company against charges it's "backpedaling on a settlement with oil spill victims." You can watch BP's masterful defense of its brand here.
Now that we've grabbed your attention with our lede . . .
Clooney decided it was time to settle a score against Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn. In April, the two got into an argument which resulted in each using the "d" word to each other. And the "a" word, as Clooney's publicist told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Clooney, the self-appointed world conscious once lampooned on South Park, also claimed he was defending President Obama against Wynn, who purportedly used the "a" word to describe the president.
Wynn struck back on Bloomberg, describing Clooney as a mollycoddled actor cocooned from the real world by yes-men and yes-women who are solicitous and caring.
Fresh off his engagement to classy human rights champion Amal Almuddin, Clooney opted to flip Wynn off with a blow-by-blow diatribe. Highlights? "Again, he can make up whatever story he wants, but these are the facts. He said I drank 16 shots of tequila. I didn't drink one shot of tequila, not one. We were drinking but it was early and we still had two events to attend."
Too bad he's not on Twitter, which famously limits character counts, forcing the impugned to limit vitriol to a clever, pithy sentence, hash tag and hyperlink.
If Clooney wants to become a world-class thought leader - and, rumor has it, run for political office - he needs to follow basic tenets of media relations and stakeholder engagement employed by BP.
At the very least, he should hire LieberJohnson to script his public statements and make sure at least one obseqious lawyer reviews them before release.
Online gossip forums could have been all over New Zealand singing sensation Lorde today.
Instead, they're cavorting all over the reputation of an Australian radio shock jock who hinted to Lorde her relationship with country superstar Taylor Swift might be sapphic.
Lorde wanted nothing to do with The Kyle and Jackie Show DJ's inane questioning (although it was hardly surprising, considering the source). She neither deflected nor changed the topic, as most lame media-relations consultants would advise. She shot back in an intelligent, non-snarky fashion that indirectly impugned the guy's credibility.
Read the whole exchange here, courtesy of a brilliantly worded Jezebel piece.
Or enjoy a sampling here:
"I see your guys' pictures everywhere. As you guys, like together now? Not together as in lesbians...I'm not talking about 'Ellen together.' I'm talking about, like, you guys are friendly, right?"
"What do you mean you're not talking about 'Ellen together?' Is there something wrong with lesbians? Is that what you're trying to say?"
In media relations, it's all about protecting the brand. Carefully choosing your words to answer a reporter's questions the right way, the brand way. Refusing to rise to the bait while making your own salient point.
Lorde certainly protected her brand, which is herself. But she refused to pander or get caught up in the eclectic studio moment. Instead, she stood her ground and answered the question sagely. Calmly. Directly.
PR experts talk about the chatter and clutter in today's "24/7 media environment." A lot of that chatter comes from corporate executives and first-responder minions taught - at a lot of expense - how to choose their words carefully and answer the 'company way.' Small wonder most employees thrown to media wolves are terrified by the possibility their responses will reverberate in company headquarters.
Too bad there's no room for intelligence in media-training programs. Lorde's celebrated but widely respected in today's news for standing her ground in a most-credible fashion.
Sometimes it's difficult to predict who will actually perform with grace under the withering fire of a media barrage. Chances are good, though, if you rely on employees who aren't yes-people, people with a little gravitas, those with steady intelligence like Lorde's you will pull through just fine. Especially if you don't terrorize them with the 'right' way to answer questions. Let common sense prevail.
Don't scatter media-relations types to the wind in a crisis. Find the field personnel and frontline managers who won't wither because innately, they command respect from reporters.
No wonder the so-called Swifty likes her new friend. Lorde's a reliable and credible source who can't be flustered. At age 17.
You don't need a crisis communications expert to explain why this "company rep" is an idiot. Fortunately, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management taped the conversation, in which Freedom Industries' Bob Reynolds jokes then incorrectly reports the infamous Jan. 9 spill that left 300,000 people without water. Media relations consultants will make millions of dollars playing Reynold's tape to bemused clients who can't possibly imagine they, too might be clueless enough to laugh on the phone with a hotline operator. Or not even remember the full name of the offending chemical. Or provide completely inaccurate information about containment measures and the toxicity of the chemical whose name you cannot spell.
This is just the most-blatant example of how things can go south, quicky, in an emergency situation involving police, media, the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security, etc. My colleagues in Big Oil will observe this is the reason they train their executives thoroughly in JIC protocol. And coach first-responders to death in the art of giving credible TV interviews.
As a PR specialist who's served in JIC's, managed media on the scene of an "incident," and served up all kinds of press releases and briefing statements, I would argue this: Effective crisis communications and media relations begins with controlling all communications to the public. Thou shalt not contact anyone before carefully crafting a statement and vetting it through more-responsible layers of company management (hint: your environmental experts) and - most importantly - lawyers.
Was Freedom Enterprises really such a small company that it didn't know how to handle this crisis? We'll find out. The company has filed for bankruptcy and the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago is investigating.
Meanwhile, good luck if your business is next up with a highly visible incident affecting thousands of people. With each episode like this, everyone's credibility erodes just that much more.