One thing folks in public relations and the media thrive on is giving fancy names to simple stuff. The Amy’s Baking Company fiasco is a case in point. Having been humiliated by chef Gordon Ramsey on the reality show “Kitchen Nightmares,” the owners of Amy’s took to Facebook to respond to their critics. There, they flipped out, doubling down on nastiness and causing the online hatred to spin wildly out of control.
Now, we are told, Amy’s owners must immediately engage expert help to handle “crisis communications.”
As a guy who earns a living in PR and the management of such crises, I’m here to let you in on a secret: We experienced pros who help CEOs, politicians and celebrities recover from blatant, usually self-inflicted stupidity, don’t know much more about “crisis communications” than the average kindergarten teacher. In fact, a stern mother of two probably could handle your next “reputation management” issue with the same deftness as a spokesman-for-hire.
Why? Because successful kindergarten teachers, moms and PR wizards apply the same basic rules to solving festering conflicts. The only difference between a 6-year-old who steals his sister’s Wii controller and Amy and Samy Bouzaglo is audience size – and maybe spelling ability, but let’s not get bogged down in the details.
On the off chance you draw national ire for your stupidity, allow me to save you the hassle and expense of hiring professional help. Here’s what you do, a prescription that will sound familiar to teachers and parents everywhere.
Step one, admit you were wrong. As in, “That wasn’t nice to take your Skittles, Brianna.” Or, “It was wrong to call 6,000 Yelp reviewers ‘little punks,’ then let loose with a string of profanity worthy of a Tarantino film.”
Step two, take responsibility for your behavior. “We should not have lied, claiming our Facebook was hacked. We should not have threatened legal action against all residents of the Milky Way. Our behavior was unacceptable.”
Step three, apologize. And mean it. “We’re sorry for the ill will we’ve created and for the people we’ve offended. As a gesture meant to demonstrate our sincerity, free pizza for all Arizonans tomorrow!”
Okay, maybe I like pizza too much, but you get the idea. The tricky part, however, is what comes next. The bad actor must understand that not everyone will accept this apology – think of this penance as a “time out” for adults – and he or she must handle the ongoing criticism with true grace. This is the lather-rinse-repeat phase of crisis management, one that will last in proportion to the seriousness of the offense committed. The Bouzaglos surely have a tough year ahead. For Jodi Arias, well, there aren’t enough eons in the universe.
The final step is the toguhest of all. Once your crisis ends, you actually have to be nice to people. For most of us, re-reading the Golden Rule should suffice. For the folks at Amy’s Baking Company I’d suggest a few years of psychotherapy.
Either way, it’s less expensive and a whole lot easier than hiring a crisis communications pro like me.