Established in 1997 by Southern Louisiana University Professor Robert Titzer, Your Baby Can Read is an early language development system consisting of flash cards, DVDs and books that claim to help infants read at a level well beyond their months and years.
In recent years, more and more consumers, professors and child development experts have come out against the company claiming, that participating babies, in fact, weren’t improving their reading skills and that Your Baby Can Read was serving up nothing more than false hope and deceptive claims.
Your Baby Can Read is a textbook example of a company that lacks a consistent and meaningful message and has no clear crisis plan to weather legal and public criticism. Anyone who has studied the history of Your Baby Can Read could have seen the ship sinking a long time ago.
To start with, Your Baby Can Read pushed a deceptive product on consumers. The product was initially released to broad skepticism by professors and child development experts and the company was never able to deliver on its promises with concrete factual evidence. Regardless of the messaging used to market and sell the product to consumers, the product itself was never poised to meet expectations.
Secondly, Your Baby Can Read proved that “any publicity is good publicity” is not always true. In 2010, the company was the subject of a Today Show investigation, in which Titzer appeared to refute claims against his company. During the interview, Titzer said that all of the universities that countered Your Baby Can Read’s promises—including Yale, Harvard and NYU—were wrong and that he was not a traditional reading expert. Titzer had the platform to deliver a solid message, but failed. This interview only intensified the public outcry against Your Baby Can Read.
The final component of Your Baby Can Read’s demise was lacking a crisis communication plan. Amid the public heat, where prepared companies persevere, Your Baby Can Read melted. The company had no cohesive message to deliver to its audiences amid public turmoil and no public platforms or outlets to deliver its messages. By the time the lawsuits reached their peaks, it was too late to develop an effective plan.
The moral of the story?
Have a product and/or service that your consumers can believe in, develop and deliver meaningful and effective messaging and have a crisis communication plan. A crisis can affect any organization, big or small, at any time. It can happen with little or no warning, or develop gradually over time, as in the case of Your Baby Can Read.
Just like it’s never too early to start reading, it’s never too early to start protecting the future of your company.
Also on May 14, the CEO of Yahoo!, Scott Thompson, resigned after news that he had fabricated his resume. Thompson, who left Yahoo! after a mere four months of employment, lied about his educational background when he applied to Yahoo!. He stated that he had a degree in accounting and computer science, according to a Yahoo! internal investigation. In reality, Thompson only has a degree in accounting.
At the core of these three, diverse stories, is one important lesson for companies everywhere: You must be prepared, even at the most unexpected times, to address crises. You must have a crisis plan, tailored to your company’s specific needs, so you can effectively address difficult situations.
Each of the three companies responded publicly to the claims through various communication vehicles. JPMorgan Chase’s CEO offered a public apology, Yahoo! posted a press release on Thompson’s decision to leave and Best Buy released a statement outlining its investigative policies pertaining to employee conduct, among other actions.
In light of any scandal or negative news pertaining to a former employee or CEO, companies need to be ready to disclose pertinent facts and information. They must respond in a timely manner to assure that a negative situation doesn’t spiral into something even more damaging.
Most importantly, companies should be honest, open and publicly display that they are working diligently and rapidly to assure that a similar situation doesn’t happen again. Additionally, companies must be able to communicate swiftly and clearly to its various stakeholders, including employees, clients and the general public.
An unexpected crisis can strike any organization, big or small, at any time.
The companies that persevere are well-prepared and foresee the crises that others don’t see coming.
If you’re on a plane, you usually don’t want to tackle the pilot.
However, if you were aboard a recent JetBlue Flight 191 traveling from New York City to Las Vegas, you’d definitely want to tackle the pilot.
In a horrifically bizarre turn of events, pilot Clayton Frederick Osbon began screaming mid-flight about a bomb being aboard the aircraft, according to passenger and crew reports. After being removed from the cockpit and locked out by his co-captain, passengers say Osbon went on a loud, wild rant about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and September 11 and told his passengers to say their “final prayers” because “they’re going to take us down.”
Fortunately, the pilot was ultimately detained by the passengers and the co-captain made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
Needless to say, the events that unfolded aboard Flight 191 were terrifying to those aboard the plane and to anyone who instills JetBlue with their safety.
In the aftermath of the pilot incident, JetBlue is in full-on crisis mode. In any crisis pertaining to a disgruntled employee, it is important to implement a comprehensive crisis communication plan. Events like the JetBlue pilot incident can happen to any company in any industry at any time, so it is vital to be prepared.
In response to his actions, the pilot was suspended by JetBlue and remains in FBI custody at a mental health facility in Amarillo. JetBlue has responded publicly to the controversy, answering individual complaints on its Twitter page and its customer blog, BlueTales.
On March 28, JetBlue president and CEO, Dave Barger, appeared on “The Today Show” to quell customer concerns. Throughout the interview, Barger appeared calm, constantly referring to the collaborative efforts of the crew and customers to assure a safe landing.
Despite his collected demeanor, Barger appeared inauthentic throughout the interview. Rarely did he address the severity of the situation, often referring back to his crew and the brave passengers aboard Flight 191. To the average viewer, it appeared that Barger primarily utilized the interview to boast JetBlue’s efforts and failed to address the severity of the situation that directly impacts the livelihood of his passengers and company.
A more somber and reflective tone would have been more appropriate and effective, as JetBlue has plenty to learn from the incident.
In any crisis situation, it is critical to be open, honest and genuine. Your spokesperson must be adequately trained and deliver authentic emotion and an appropriate tone of the situation at hand. Without capturing this tone, the connection with your audience will not be established.
We’ve all heard of the expression “go out with a bang.”
Well, one executive at Goldman Sachs went out with a big ole bang last week.
Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs’ executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, resigned last week after nearly 12 years with the investments firm.
In a full-blown, 1,200-plus word diatribe in The New York Times’ opinion section, Smith bluntly laid out the reasons why he was leaving the firm and how Goldman Sachs needed to improve its work culture. In his piece, Smith said the work environment was “toxic and destructive,” said the firm was undergoing a decline in “moral fiber,” said CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein has “lost hold of the firm’s culture,” and even claimed that high-level executives called their clients “muppets” on repeated occasions.
Needless to say, Goldman Sachs is on its heels with the general public, its clients and employees after such a public ordeal involving a highly-respected former executive.
Goldman Sachs has responded to Smith’s opinion piece with targeted internal messaging to its employees.
On March 14, Blankfein sent a letter out to employees reassuring them of the firm’s track record of employee and client satisfaction. The letter utilized facts from employee and customer surveys that show broad satisfaction and respect toward Goldman Sachs’ history and current operations.
In the heart of a public crisis, companies big and small must be prepared to implement a thorough crisis communication plan. This exact situation, to varying degrees of intensity, can happen to any company at any time. Employees come and go for various reasons and may disclose their opinion about a company, or information pertaining to a company’s procedures and ethics.
Amid any crisis, companies must be transparent and ready to disclose at least some information pertaining to a controversy. Without firmly addressing the situation to external audiences, rumors will continue to swirl about Goldman Sachs, its future and how the company treats its employees.
In this specific situation, Blankfein and his executive staff need to be available to talk to the media about the firm and be prepared, with facts, to defend their company and its reputation.
After years of serving up 8,000-calorie quadruple bypass burgers, someone finally had a heart attack at The Heart Attack Grill.
The Las Vegas restaurant, located at the intersection of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, prides itself on its over-the-top, blatantly unhealthy menu. The menu includes “flatliner” fries cooked in pure lard, butter fat milkshakes with a butter pat on top and bacon-layered burgers weighing up to 32 ounces.
To say the least, Jared from Subway probably wouldn’t be a frequent diner.
The Heart Attack Grill takes on a medical theme–servers are dressed in scantily clad nurse attire and patrons are encouraged to wear hospital gowns as they eat. Customers weighing over 350 pounds automatically eat for free, too.
So, when a YouTube video of a patron having a heart attack while eating a massive burger emerged, was anyone really surprised?
Should the person suffering the heart attack have been surprised?
There are signs lining The Heart Attack Grill’s exterior in big, red letters saying, “Caution! This establishment is bad for your health.” And the place is called The Heart Attack Grill, after all.
From a crisis communication standpoint, a customer having a heart attack within a restaurant’s confines is never a good thing and should be addressed, if needed. But, when you’re The Heart Attack Grill that boasts a wildly unhealthy menu, has health warning signs all over your walls and has heart attack in your name, it’s less of a crisis and more of an opportunity for free publicity.
Yesterday, the heart attack news trended for hours on Twitter and was featured on several national and local newscasts. Seeing as the gentleman who suffered the heart attack is OK, the story was taken with a sense of humor and not as a hard news piece.
The owner of The Heart Attack Grill, Jon Basso, is addressing the severity of the situation, while sticking to his business’ core, gluttonous message. He’s stated over and over again that he’s in business to help people indulge, knows his menu is unhealthy and he’s there to make a buck.
Fortunately for Basso, his message is transparent, he has the right warning signs in place and he’s calm, open and willing to talk to the media.
With that being said, The Heart Attack Grill will likely be the talk of health chatter in the coming weeks and a protest or two could potentially pop up. The heart attack also, very timely, came in the middle of the American Heart Association’s “Heart Month.”
The restaurant will likely preserve its menu and needs to stay transparent, genuine and sympathetic toward the heart attack victim amid the national attention.
Amid all the media coverage, hopefully the general public will learn something too: Heart attacks do happen at places like the Heart Attack Grill and you need to take the warning signs seriously.
The scandal involves two long-term teachers, Mark Berndt and Martin Springer. Berndt is accused of participating in lewd acts with 23 children and taking nearly 200 inappropriate photos involving cockroaches and bodily fluids. Springer is accused of conducting three lewd acts on one child in 2009. Both teachers are currently jailed under $300,000-plus bails and face years in prison.
During the height of the scandal, the LAUSD decided to replace all 120 members of Miramonte’s staff. The decision impacted the employment of every single person that worked at Miramonte, including teachers, the custodial staff and administrators.
The decision to replace Miramonte’s staff was greeted with strong resistance from some parents and teachers, who find it unfair that others are being punished for Berndt and Springer’s actions. The laid off teachers are also upset because it will take time for the investigation to clear, permitting teachers to either be reinstated or find new employment.
The hiring of new teachers is expected to cost the school district nearly $6 million. The school district also faces millions of dollars in potential lawsuits.
Currently, the school has reopened with an all new staff, and protests by parents and children’s activists persist.
To say the least, the LAUSD is in the cross-hairs of a major crisis.
It must implement an effective crisis communication plan to preserve its image and stay credible in the Los Angeles community.
Matters involving the mistreatment of children are especially difficult and emotional for any business and its internal and external audiences. All it takes is one employee’s actions to shed negative light on an entire organization. In this case, two teachers’ actions brought down an entire school’s workforce.
It is imperative that organizations stay transparent, honest and proactive through any crisis. The LAUSD must actively collaborate with authorities, parents and its employees to expose all facts relating to the crimes, ensure and publicly convey that a crisis of this nature will not happen again and ultimately work hard to restore communal trust.
For the sake of Miramonte’s students, hopefully the scandal will be resolved quickly and they can get back to uninterrupted learning.
Susan G. Komen is a name that generally evokes thoughts of hope, determination and pink ribbons.
Since 1982, the Dallas-based breast cancer awareness organization has raised nearly $2 billion for the fight against breast cancer. It has sponsored thousands of “Race for the Cure” events across the country and has made a tender, reflective spectacle out of its large annual gathering at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The organization prides itself on being the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to fighting breast cancer and has maintained a squeaky-clean image throughout its 30-year history.
In December, Susan G. Komen’s announced that it was ceasing grants for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive and maternal health services for women nationwide. Susan G. Komen was a major donor to Planned Parenthood in years past, donating $680,000 in 2011 alone.
This decision was not taken lightly by some groups. It was not viewed as just another funding cut amid difficult economic times. The decision was vastly regarded as politically-motivated and has become the headline talk of high-profile cable news pundits and editorial sections nationwide.
At the core of the developing controversy is the abortion debate. Planned Parenthood supporters view Susan G. Komen’s decision as a politically-fueled jab against Planned Parenthood services and say that breast cancer screenings are falling victim to apparent political motives.
Susan G. Komen says that its decision adheres to a new organizational policy, restricting monetary grants to organizations being investigated by authorities. Planned Parenthood is currently under congressional investigation by Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, an anti-abortion Republican.
So, today Susan G. Komen finds itself in the eye of a speculative hurricane.
A few weeks ago, the organization was widely non-controversial across political and social spectrums. And now, there is much speculation as to why it makes the decisions it does and why it cut ties with Planned Parenthood.
Amid the controversy, Susan G. Komen appears to have a crisis communication plan in action. To date, the organization has released a YouTube video featuring a message from its founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker. The video is spotlighted on the front page of its website. Susan G. Komen has also released a press release outlining its new grant policy and defending its recent actions, claiming its new plan is intact to protect its donors’ contributions.
The Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood situation shows how touchy political controversies can be and how these situations must be handled with the utmost care and professionalism. It is imperative that Susan G. Komen disclose any and all information pertaining to the situation, as more accounts of the Planned Parenthood decision are made public and the truth ultimately prevails. Honesty is, by far, the best policy when it comes to any political matter.
The absolute worst thing a company can do amid heated political, and non-political, controversy is do nothing at all. You must have a plan in place. You must be ready to run an open and honest race to cure the crisis.
It has been a trying week for Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and his ex-girlfriend, former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion. It’s a long and sordid story, complete with backroom meetings, secret audio recordings and heavily edited video. Both sides have lobbed damaging accusations at the other, including illegal drug use, inappropriate actions toward a teenager, offering political favors, and extortion.
Check out the Las Vegas Review-Journal or Las Vegas Sun for more information on the specifics of the situation. Sisolak and Vermillion are both public figures who have chosen to deliver their message through the press, so there are sure to be more updates to this story in the days ahead.
Although we still have more questions about this case than answers, it is clear that both sides have a crisis on their hands. The public is watching closely, and what happens next could have major ramifications for both their public careers and private lives.
Much like a business owner, how a politician reacts to a crisis can have a long-lasting impact on his or her reputation. A politician’s public persona is their business, and even the accusation of impropriety can ruin a career.
The first rule of crisis communications is to have a plan in place before a crisis strikes. When a crisis happens, it’s imperative to be upfront, visible, and honest with the public. It may be uncomfortable to watch Sisolak and Vermillion air their dirty laundry in the media, but the story will be told with or without them. They must respond to questions or risk looking like they have something to hide.
Here are some tips for conducting an effective crisis interview:
Develop key message points – decide what you want the public to know and what information you’re willing to provide
Determine the scope of the interview – the reporter is unlikely to provide a list of questions, but he or she will tell you what kind of information they’re looking for
Be honest – this doesn’t mean that you have to answer every question you’re asked. But lying will only make a bad situation worse
Use bridging language – “bridging” is the art of answering any question with one of your key message points
That’s a great question, but the real issue here is…
I can’t get into specifics, but what I can tell you is…
Apologize – if the public is negatively affected, it’s okay to say you’re sorry and explain what you’re doing to resolve the issue.
This is video of Kathleen Vermillion’s first televised interview since the story broke, courtesy of KSNV TV in Las Vegas:
It is clear that Vermillion could have done a better job preparing for the interview. At times it appears she is caught off guard by questions that she should have been prepared for and has to search for the answers. An effective crisis communicator anticipates even difficult questions and is ready to either answer them or use bridging techniques to redirect the interview back to her key message points.
How a crisis is handled can make or break an organization. If your organization doesn’t have a comprehensive crisis communication plan in place, now is the time to create one. If your organization needs help, contact a reputable public relations agency like MassMedia Crisis Communications.
One rock off the coast of Italy took down a mammoth ship and could take the entire cruise industry with it.
On January 13, the Costa Concordia, a 1,500-cabin luxury liner carrying over 3,000 people, hit a rock off the Western coast of Italy. The rock made a 150-foot long gash in the side of the Costa Concordia and half of the ship’s body sank.
Thirty-two of the voyage’s passengers are presumed to be dead and the other half of the ship remains floating above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The remnants of the ship, now nestled lopsided on a cluster of rocks, clinging to flotation, are a dark reminder of the unfortunate events that unfolded in early January.
What started as an accident quickly developed into a full-fledged scandal, as stories of ill-preparation by the Costa Concordia crew and captain unfolded. The worst news to develop, thus far, is that the ship’s captain cowardly abandoned the ship once it hit the rock.
The entire debacle generated a textbook example of a media frenzy. Pundits and experts continue to question why the crew was so lackluster. They ask why Carnival, the parent company of the cruise ship, didn’t do more to prepare the ship, its crew, its captain and its passengers.
And now, the latest: Why in the world would Carnival reportedly offer shipwreck survivors a 30 percent discount on future cruises? The media is having a field day with this blatantly offensive offer.
Carnival is neck-deep in a PR nightmare.
There really is nothing the company, itself, could have done to avoid the rock off of Italy, but there is a lot it could do to avoid getting rocked even more.
The company needs to implement a number of crisis communication tactics. As of today, there are no statements pertaining to the incident on Carnival’s website and Carnival’s CEO, Micky Arison, has been staying out of the public spotlight and shouldering all of the inquiries to Carnival’s Italian division, Costa Crociere.
In any crisis situation, it is critical to have a clear communication channel with your audience and assure them that the crisis is being taken care of with the utmost care and compassion. In this situation, it is imperative that Carnival makes itself available and educate its employees, so they can respond to customer inquiries and answer any and all questions pertaining to the tragedy. And for the sake of the business itself, Carnival needs to genuinely assure its client base that a situation of this magnitude will never happen again and the company is working tirelessly to learn from its mistakes.
Carnival is a generally reputable company that will likely stay afloat after the Costa Concordia debacle drifts away from the public spotlight. In order to keep sailing, Carnival needs to have a concrete crisis communication plan by its side at all times in case the waters get rough in the future.
Twenty-four million Zappos customers woke up this morning with reason for concern.
Late Sunday evening, the Vegas-based online shoe shop fell victim to one of the largest online security breaches in U.S. history. Twenty-four million customer names, addresses, passwords and the last four digits of credit card numbers were compromised in a breach of Zappos’ server in Kentucky.
At this point, it’s uncertain who the culprits are and how they plan to utilize the compromised information.
Zappos joins the growing list of reputable companies to endure a major security breach in recent years, including Sony, Lockheed Martin and Citigroup.
Incidences like a major hacking occurrence, flood, earthquake or fire may be out of a company’s control, but they can drastically warp public perception in a matter of seconds. Crisis situations like these are unpredictable in nature and can unfortunately happen to any company, big or small, at any time.
The difference between those companies that survive and those that succumb to a storm of damaging speculation and public outrage is a thorough crisis communication plan.
Fortunately for Zappos, it had its shoes laced up and is ready to run the race ahead. If its detailed crisis plan weren’t in place, its shoe empire could be left without a single sole.
To date, Zappos’ crisis communication team is handling the situation effectively because it was well prepared. The company has been completely up front about the situation, has publicly apologized to its loyal customer base, has responded to individual customers’ concerns and is working diligently to resolve the problem at hand.
It’s imperative that Zappos continues to investigate and resolve the complex issue while assuring its customers that additional safety measures are in place.
This is surely a new, difficult lesson for several folks over at Zappos.
If not for a comprehensive crisis communication plan, it may be a lesson accompanied by a PR disaster.