Friday, December 18, 2009

"CEOs: Credibility Gone in a Blink"

Crisis Communications: Trust Lost is Difficult to Recover

"If it takes a lifetime to build crediblity, why does it take only a minute to lose it? Forever."

When your enterprise loses crediblity, you lose your future. Your sales suffer, your operations grind to a halt, your best people jump ship and your stock prices crater.

As background, consider United Way's troubles. I've donated to the United Way. And I do not believe the organization will ever recover fully from its scandal many years ago about how much of its monies were going to overhead vs. the needy. I still remember it.

Now, the ethics of another non-profit, the American Red Cross are making headlines. Bad headlines. That's a fast way of saying the organization got smacked with national, front-page headlines of the worst kind: the removal of supervisors in connection with the relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. After the Hurricanes, I donated to the Red Cross. The right choice? I have doubts.

It will not be the power or words of the CEO that gets the Red Cross through this -- if it can get through this. Assuming its operations are not fatally flawed, it will be the ability of the Red Cross to set a new standard in public and media relations to weather this crisis. The organization can not do this with just its in-house PR team. It is not big enough and can only work so many hours in a day.

Let me be clear: The future of the Red Cross is at stake. "Operationally" handling issues -- in this case dismissing supervisors -- does not equate to ending fully the organizational crisis at hand. Not even close. It's part of trying to regain the support of stakeholders. But only part. There is much more to do, and the stakes don't get higher.

What would you, as CEO, do? How quickly could you move? What contract help -- what PR "swat-team" -- do you have "on-call" for your crisis?

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