How Exxon Mobil Controlled the Narrative Masterfully

By: Helio Fred Garcia @garciahf and Maida K. Zheng @maidazheng
Logos Consulting Group

“I call the head of Exxon. I don’t know, you know, ‘How are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?'” Trump told supporters at a rally in Arizona on Monday. “I say, ‘You know, I’d love [for] you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’ ‘Absolutely sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?’”

This quote, as reported by the Washington Post is important for several reasons.

What President Trump suggested was not only a possible violation of federal law, (we can save that for another time) – he, in one statement, put Exxon Mobile in a reputational crisis while at the same time signaling big organizations that he would be happy to accept large campaign donations and that he would “wink, wink, wink” take care of them later. Trump’s tendency to imply a connection is a pattern that Helio Fred Garcia describes more fully in his book: Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It.

From a crisis management perspective, the first rule is to fully understand the risk, and to mitigate that risk quickly. In this case, the risk is that someone might interpret the comment as referring to an actual call with the Exxon CEO, who would then seem compromised.

The crisis communication strategy is to take control of the narrative and obtain the first mover advantage. If you don’t have the first mover advantage, you must respond and take control of the narrative within the “Golden Hour of Crisis Response,” a metaphor from emergency medicine. The Golden Hour refers not to a particular period of time, but to the observation that incremental delays in responding to a crisis – whether a medical emergency, a flood, or a more routine corporate setback – has greater than incremental impact on the outcome.

However, if an organization is first to define the nature of the crisis, its motives, and its actions, as Exxon Mobil did here, the result is that the organization will likely demonstrate caring and end up controlling the narrative. By capturing the first mover advantage, Exxon also deprived their adversaries of the chance to form a harmful narrative against the organization.

Upon hearing the statement from President Trump, Exxon Mobil immediately responded, posting on Twitter that, “We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO…and just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”

This was an important and timely move on Exxon’s part. They named it a hypothetical call, thereby defining the nature of the crisis. And they made clear that the call never happened. If they hadn’t acted as quickly and clearly, they would have lost control of the narrative, leading to negative consequences.

Effective Crisis Response as a Competitive Advantage

Effective crisis response is a competitive advantage; ineffective crisis response causes a competitive disadvantage and can even put an enterprise’s existence into jeopardy.

Whether an organization survives a crisis with its reputation, operations, and financial condition intact is determined less by the severity of the crisis than by the timeliness and effectiveness of the response.

Two Oxford University researchers demonstrated the extent to which effective and ineffective crisis response affects a company’s enterprise value.[1] Rory F. Knight and Deborah J. Pretty studied the stock price performance of prominent publicly-traded corporations that had suffered significant crises. They calculated each company’s stock price performance attributable to the crisis – stripping out market movements and other factors unrelated to the crisis that might have affected the stock price, and thus calculated what they called the ‘‘cumulative abnormal returns’’ for each company.

Knight and Pretty found that companies that mishandled crises saw their stock price (calculated as cumulative abnormal returns) plummet an average of ten percent in the first weeks after a crisis, and continue to slide for a year, ending the year after the crisis an average of 15 percent below their pre-crisis prices.

Companies with effective crisis response, on the other hand, saw their stock fall an average (cumulative abnormal returns) of just 5 percent in the weeks following a crisis, about half the initial decline of companies that mishandled the crisis. More significant, companies with effective crisis response saw their stock price recover quickly, and remain above their pre-crisis price thereafter, closing an average of 7 percent above their pre-crisis price one year after the crisis (Exhibit 1).

In other words, the tangible difference between effective and ineffective crisis response was, on average, 22 percent of a company’s market capitalization. Knight and Pretty assess the reasons for this disparity and conclude that the most significant factors are not the scope of financial damage or reduction in cash flows caused by the crisis. Rather, the most important determinant of a company’s ability to recover and increase its market capitalization after a crisis is the management team’s response. Knight and Pretty conclude that positive stock performance:

“. . . springs from what catastrophes reveal about management skills not hitherto reflected in value. A re-evaluation of management by the stock market is likely to result in a re-assessment of the firm’s future cash flows in terms of both magnitude and confidence. This in turn will have potentially large implications for shareholder value. Management is placed in the spotlight and has an opportunity to demonstrate its skill or otherwise in an extreme situation.” [2]

Exhibit 1: Effective vs Ineffective Crisis response

Source: Knight and Pretty (1997)

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Lessons of the Past

Looking to a relevant historical example, Exxon suffered immense reputational and organizational damage following its ineffective crisis response during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Exxon suffered significant loss of reputation and eventually a great deal of financial loss – because the public perceived that its primary concern was not the harm that the spill caused.

Fifteen years after the spill a federal appeals court upheld a lower court judgment of $4.5 billion against the company (in addition to the more than $3 billion it had previously paid for cleanup and related costs). The Court said its purpose in upholding the award was to achieve ‘‘retribution and justice.’’ The New York Timesopined that such a judgment and such a purpose were entirely appropriate given Exxon’s seeming indifference in the initial phase of the spill.[3]

This perception of indifference is the single largest contributor harm in the aftermath of a crisis, especially when there are victims.

Companies, governments, and leaders are forgiven when bad things happen. But they won’t be forgiven if they’re seen not to care that bad things have happened. This is a lesson that many leaders fail to understand or to act on in the initial early phases of a crisis.

Exxon’s early response to the Exxon Valdez spill demonstrated lack of both situational awareness and self-awareness. They also demonstrated a lack of leadership discipline and command focus. In both cases leaders fell into one of the common missteps in a crisis: denial. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch describes the need to get past denial quickly. In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece soon after the flood, Welch said:

“One of the marks of good leadership is the ability to dispense with denial quickly and face into the hard stuff with eyes open and fists raised. With particularly bad crises facing them, good leaders also define reality, set direction, and inspire people to move forward. Just think of… Churchill during World War II. Denial doesn’t exactly come to mind – a forthright, calm, fierce boldness does.”

Effective leaders demonstrate this forthright, calm, and fierce boldness early. They see crisis response not as an interruption in their stewardship of a company, but as the test of that stewardship. And as the exodus of CEOs in 2004 and 2005 showed, ignoring a crisis won’t make it go away, but it may result in the CEO going away.

It seems that Exxon has learned this valuable lesson because on Monday, Exxon’s stocks were XOM, -1.99%, and after providing the clarification, their stock rose to 0.69%. The numbers don’t lie, and reputation management is indicative of the numbers being reflected in the stock market.

Guidance for Leadership

Exxon clearly learned from its crisis response failures around the Exxon Valdez spilled. Exxon — now known as Exxon Mobil, was ready when Trump put the company and its CEO in the media and social media cross-hairs.

So, what can CEO’s do when faced with a crisis? Here is a CEO checklist for crisis response preparedness:

  1. Have a clear sense of what constitutes a crisis, and know how to mobilize energy and resources quickly:
  • Develop an early warning mechanism/rapid response capability.
  • Designate a senior executive as responsible for crisis preparedness and response.
  • Make this executive accountable and provide sufficient resources to conduct a thorough analysis of vulnerabilities, crisis response strategies, and crisis implementation.
  • Pre-authorize this executive to take initial response steps without going through usual corporate approval processes.
  • Test the system with wargames, tabletop exercises, and other processes that challenge leaders to make tough decisions and act quickly.
  1. Remember that the best plan won’t help if executives don’t know what to do or when do it. Recognize when business as usual needs to be suspended. A quick test:
  • Will those who matter to us expect us to do or say something now?
  • Will silence be seen by our stakeholders as indifference or as an affirmation of guilt?
  • Are others talking about us now, thereby shaping the perception of us among those who matter to us; is there reason to believe they will be soon?
  • If we wait do we lose the ability to determine the outcome?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is time to respond. If the answer to all four is no, then you have time to monitor the situation and prepare a response in case any of those answers change to a ‘yes.’

  1. Control the agenda: don’t let the media, adversaries, or the rumor mill define your situation.
  2. Keep in mind the Golden Hour of crisis response: incremental delays cause greater-than-incremental harm to reputation.
  3. Remember your stakeholders. What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do when faced with this? The answer to this question should guide your response.
  4. Develop messages and tactics with a goal in mind: How do you want your key stakeholders to think and feel, and what do you want them to know and do?
  5. In a crisis, assure both self-awareness and situational awareness:
  • Coordinate all functions of the crisis response with frequent meetings/conference calls.
  • Correct mistakes early.
  • Understand what your stakeholders, adversaries, the media, and others are saying about you.
  • Keep your focus on the goal: influencing stakeholders. Decisions become clear when you keep your stakeholders in mind.

[1] The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value: A Research Report Sponsored by Sedgwick Group, by Rory F. Knight and Deborah J. Pretty, The Oxford Executive Research Briefings, Templeton College, Oxford, 1997.

[2] Knight, R.F. and Pretty, D.J., ibid., p. 7.

[3]‘‘Time for Exxon to pay,’’ Editorial, The New York Times, January 30, 2004, p. A24.

Worth Reading – Crisis Counsel: Navigating Legal and Communication Conflict, by Tony Jaques, PhD

Friends,

I am pleased to celebrate the publication of Crisis Counsel: Navigating Legal and Communication Conflict.

Author Tony Jaques is a world-renowned expert on crisis and reputation. He heads Issue Outcomes, headquartered in North Melbourne, Australia. He worked for more than 20 years in Corporate Issue and Crisis Management, mainly in Asia-Pacific, and served two terms as a Director on the Board of the Issue Management Council, in Leesburg, Virginia.

 

The book opens with Dr. Jaques laying out the stakes of getting crisis response right:

“The Economist magazine examined the impact of crises which struck eight major corporations (worth over $15 billion) from 2010 to 2018 and the median share price fell by 33 percent. While most clawed back their absolute losses, compared with a basket of industry peers over the same time period the median firm was worth 30 per cent less in 2018 than it would have been without the crisis, a total deficit of $300 billion across the eight companies.

A survey of 685 business leaders from Fortune 1000 firms found they believed it would take more than four years to recover from a crisis which damaged an organization’s reputation, and three years for a crisis to fade from the memory of most stakeholders.

And an international law firm analyzed major reputational crises around the world and found that in companies unable to recover pre-crisis share value, 15 per cent of senior executives left within a year, compared with a departure rate of just four per cent in companies where share value did recover.”

The caricature of lawyers’ interventions in crisis (honored as much in the breech as in the observance) is that of forbidding the organization from saying anything or doing anything visible. While some lawyers still behave this way, increasingly lawyers are seeing themselves as business advisors as well as legal advisors. And we know that just as any crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, every crisis is also a business problem before it is a legal problem. Dr. Jaques points out that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

He offers practical guidance to CEOs on how to weigh conflicting advice, to lawyers on how to understand the bigger picture, and to communicators on how to be more persuasive in making the reputation-protecting case.

The book is well-researched and written.

More important, it is easy to read and very engaging, with a wealth of case studies, practical examples, and key takeaways. The case studies are from around the world and from a range of organizations, from companies to governments to the military. And the lessons conveyed are priceless.

I consider Crisis Counsel to be a must-read for those who advise or wish to advise on high-stakes situations, whether you are a lawyer, a communicator, a CEO, or a leader of any other form of enterprise.

Forewords

I am honored to have written one of the three forewords to this important contribution to the field.

The other forewords were written by:

 

Excerpts From My Foreword

Here’s what I said in my Foreword.

“I have been a crisis advisor for more than 35 years and have taught crisis management and crisis communication in graduate business and professional schools for more than 30 years. I have advised lawyers and been hired through lawyers to advise our mutual clients. I have taught lawyers through bar associations and have trained individual lawyers in crisis management. And I have fought with lawyers; sometimes I have won those fights. And I have learned from lawyers.

A typical interaction is this: In the CEO’s office the lawyer will give all the legal reasons to say as little as possible in the early phases of a crisis. The CEO will then look at me. My reply,

‘I believe you have received excellent legal advice. And you should take it seriously. But please recognize that you don’t have a legal problem, at least not yet. You have a business problem. And you need to make a business decision. You need to consider the risk of legal liability seriously.

But not exclusively. You should also consider the consequences of the loss of trust of those who matter to you: your employees, customers, investors, regulators, and others. You can protect yourself from legal liability that will play out years from now but lose the company in the process. Or you can attend to the immediate needs and concerns of your stakeholders now, in ways that manage future legal liability.” It’s very hard for the lawyers to object to that.

I then offer, “Between self-defeating silence and self-destructive blabbering, there’s lots of room to maneuver.”

I then ask the lawyer about categories of possible communication:

  • Can we acknowledge awareness of what has happened? The answer is usually Yes.
  • Can we express empathy toward those who are affected? The lawyers usually say, Yes, but we need to be careful not to admit blame. My reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we declare our values? We typically have them published on our website. Can we describe the overall approach we will take to address the crisis and resolve it? The lawyers usually say we need to be very careful. I again reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
  • Can we make some kind of commitment? How about a procedural commitment: We’ll update you when we know more. Or a substantive commitment: We’ll get to the bottom of this and fix it. This often leads to the lawyers and communicators collaborating early in the crisis to find the balance. It doesn’t need to be adversarial or either-or.

Tony Jaques has written a masterful guide to managing the natural tension between lawyers and communicators. Crisis Counsel: Navigating Legal and Communication Conflict is a highly readable guide to effective and respectful interaction among lawyers, communicators, and business leaders.

He helps us understand the mindset of lawyers and the mindset of communicators, and how leaders can exercise good decision skills.

He includes a wealth of real-world examples of well and poorly handled crises from around the world and across forms of organization. It contains both wisdom and practical tools for responding effectively in a crisis. And he quotes a wide range of crisis experts (full disclosure: including me). This is an important contribution to our understanding of crises, leadership, and decision-making. It’s the kind of book I wish I had been able to read when I was just starting in crisis decades ago. And it is a valuable book for lawyers, communicators, and leaders in all sectors.”

About the Author

Tony Jaques, PhD, Author of Crisis Counsel
(Author book portrait)

Tony Jaques, PhD, has spent much of his working life describing, researching and writing about crisis management, and helping to manage crises in government and in corporations.

He has served as a government ministerial advisor, corporate executive and business consultant and has an international reputation as an authority on issue and crisis management and risk communication. I

In his role as Asia-Pacific Issue and Crisis Manager for The Dow Chemical Company for more than 20 years he was responsible for implementing local issue, crisis and community outreach programs throughout the region and had a hands-on role in managing a number of high-profile crises. He continues to serve as a thought leader in those areas with new projects to educate other fellow professionals as a conference speaker.

Dr Jaques is a New Zealander who now lives in Australia, where he runs his own consultancy and lectures post-graduate students at two universities. At an earlier stage of his career he was a journalist in New Zealand and London, and later worked as a management strategic advisor and speechwriter.

He has written very extensively about issue and crisis management.in academic and business publications around the world, and is the author of three previous books in the field — Don’t Just Stand There: the Do-it Plan for Effective Issue Management (2000); Issue and crisis Management: Exploring Issues, Crises, Risk and reputation (2014); and Crisis Proofing: How to Save Your Company From Disaster (2016). He is also the author of the definitive, three-volume Dictionary of Battles and Sieges (2006). Dr Jaques is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Issue Management Council in Washington DC and received their Howard Chase Award for achievement in the field. He holds a doctoral degree from RMIT University (Melbourne).

PRESS RELEASE: New Edition of Reputation Management Published

New York, NY (July 30, 2020) – Last week, the fourth edition of Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication was released, providing much needed guidance for those charged with managing reputation in today’s environment.

Reputation Management is a how-to guide for students and professionals, as well as CEOs and other business leaders. This book provides a field-tested guide to core challenges in managing all the ways organizations engage their stakeholders to protect, maintain, and enhance reputation. When the first edition was published in 2006 it was the first book to take on reputation management in a systematic way.

“In Reputation Management, my co-author John Doorley and I strive to educate our readers on how to bolster their organization’s reputation,” said Logos Consulting Group president and co-author, Helio Fred Garcia. “By combining core principles, expertise across disciplines, and real-life examples from the field, Reputation Management is an invaluable resource for those tasked with building, protecting, and managing reputation.”

The fourth edition of Reputation Management features refreshed chapters from previous editions, as well as new information vital for communication professionals today, such as social media management techniques and communication in the age of globalization. This edition also features contributions from 36 leaders in the field, including from The Arthur W. Page Society, the International Communications Consultancy Organization, the PR Council, CVS Health, Edelman and Ketchum.

This edition also features scholarship from several members of the Logos team. In addition to four refreshed chapters by Garcia, this edition also features a refreshed chapter on corporate responsibility by Anthony Ewing and a new sidebar on social media and crisis by Holly Helstrom. Logos Institute Press authors authors Jeff Grimshaw, Tanya Mann, Lynne Viscio, and Jennifer Landis also contributed a chapter on organizational communication.

Co-author John Doorley is the former head of corporate communications at Merck and is now an associate professor of strategic communication at Elon University. He created and taught the first undergraduate course in reputation management, at Rutgers University in 2003, and the first graduate course on reputation management, at New York University in 2007. He served as academic director of New York University M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication for seven years.

Co-author Helio Fred Garcia is an adjunct professor of management in the New York University Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, and an adjunct associate professor of management and communication at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.  He is also an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The fourth edition of Reputation Management is available on Amazon here.

Five Principles for Maintaining Trust When Making Unpopular Decisions in A Crisis

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a battle not only for lives, but also for hearts and minds.

We’re in a crisis that no single sector or business is immune to. Every organization, from the family-owned pizza place in your neighborhood to a trillion-dollar corporation, is affected and faced with threats to its viability. Companies must also survive the court of public opinion through effectively responding to and communicating about the crisis.

Recent communications by Marriott and Macy’s and the consequences provide an instructive comparison:

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 17 that Marriott had begun furloughing tens of thousands of its employees, which later was confirmed by the company. Two days later, the company released a video update from its President and CEO Arne Sorenson on Twitter. Sorenson thoughtfully and authentically explained the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on Marriott’s revenues – a more severe and sudden financial impact than the 2009 recession and 9/11 combined. He then articulated a number of steps the company was taking to maintain financial viability going forward.

He closed by empathizing with his employees and highlighting his commitment to them:

“There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates, people who are at the very heart of the company, that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control. I’ve never been more determined to see us through than I am at this moment.”

“Leadership at its finest,” someone commented under the Twitter video, which had been viewed 915.5k times by the time of writing this blog. Forbes applauded Mr. Sorenson for demonstrating “truly authentic leadership.”

Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson delivers COVID-19 update

 

Conversely, on March 30 Macy’s announced in a press release that it was furloughing most of its 125,000 employees:

“Across Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Blue Mercury brands, we will be moving to the absolute minimum workforce needed to maintain basic operations. This means that the majority of our colleagues will go on furlough beginning this week.”

They contextualized this decision by referencing a decline in store sales:

“While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures.”

Like Marriott, Macy’s also announced other mitigating measures to conserve cash such as cutting executive salaries and freezing new hires.

For public companies, the individual stock price is a barometer of trust and confidence. While under the best of circumstances stock price indicates trust and confidence, it is arguably more of a critical matrix when people are anxious and hyperresponsive to changes in the pandemic.

On the day Sorenson released his video update, Marriott was at $66.80 per share, up about 4.7% from the day before. On the day of its announcement, Macy’s saw its shares down about 8.5% from the closing price of a day before, even though Macy’s essentially implemented similar business measures.

So, why did Marriott and Macy’s end up in such different places when pretty much doing the same things?

There are five best practices that determine whether companies win or lose trust when implementing unfavorable actions in catastrophic situations:

      1. Actions alone do not communicate your intent. They must be combined with communication.

Actions should always go hand in hand with communications, otherwise you leave room for unintended interpretation. Communicating your intent can frame your actions in a persuasive, positive light. Failure to frame your intent will result in audiences judging your actions alone.

      2. Reset expectations when previous ones cannot be met.

Trust is the natural consequence of promises fulfilled, expectations met, and values lived. When a business is no longer able to operate as usual, it is unrealistic for an organization to fulfill expectations that were set in ordinary circumstances. However, stakeholders’ expectations will remain the same unless the new circumstances that requires new expectations are communicated clearly.

      3. When delivering bad news, be direct, transparent, and specific.

For dramatic actions to be understood by those who matter, the magnitude of the negative event in play needs to be communicated in full and clear terms. Do not use euphemisms. Be sure to show empathy.

      4. Make connections, not announcements.

If possible, put a face to the communication and make personal connections with your audiences. Once a human connection is made, even the most undesirable decisions become more palatable. Sorenson started the video by acknowledging his “new bald look” as a cancer survivor. By exhibiting vulnerability and humility, he bonded with his audience on the emotional level. He then empathized with his employees. Macy’s, however, gave a straightforward, dry business update.

      5. It’s never about you; it’s about them.

It is important to not think or frame the decision from the perspective of the leader or the organization in a crisis. The I/me/we/us frame of reference abandons the opportunity to demonstrate care and empathy and can easily be seen as irresponsible or self-serving. For example, Macy’s simply stated that it was furloughing employees to a basic operation level to support digital sales. However, employees don’t care about “maintaining basic operations;” they care about being able to pay rent and buy food.

It’s difficult to frame any unpleasant decisions from the perspective of stakeholders when the actions will at least in the short term hurt them. However, tapping into a higher value, inspiring a sense of duty and togetherness can help bring people to your side. But this has to be done in a candid and authentic manner, as Sorenson did in the video update.

The best times are often forgotten. Leaders and organizations are remembered for what they’ve done in the worst ones. Therefore, it’s critical for leaders to remember these five principles when they need to take unfavorable actions and deliver bad news. These best practices not only protect companies from losing their case in the court of public opinion, but also provide an opportunity to win more hearts and minds.

Court-Martialed by Public Opinion: When the Navy Steered Wrong

Written by: Maida K. Zheng and Raleigh Mayer

When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.

– Winston Churchill

I salute the United States Navy.

The Navy – and the other branches of the U.S. military – serve the nation every day, protecting every American’s right to freedom, a privilege we often take for granted.

But right now, the Navy is undergoing a reputational nightmare, and it’s one that could have been avoided.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was fired after an email he authored regarding COVID-19 expressing his concerns about the potential – and very likely – harm it posed to his ship and its sailors.

The Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, spoke to reporters about his decision to fire Crozier at the Pentagon in a press conference April 2, 2020. Modly stated the reason Capt. Crozier was fired was the Navy’s loss of confidence in Crozier’s ability to lead as well as the disclosure of an internal memo to the media. Modley suggested that the leak occurred because of Crozier’s carelessness in copying too many people on an email that should have been classified, demonstrating poor risk management and poor judgement.

Navy Brass Felt Blindsided by Fired Carrier Captain's Emailed Appeal

Modly would not tell reporters who was copied on the correspondence, stating “I will not comment on that,” during his Pentagon press conference. That may have been one of his first mistakes. When communicating an issue, a “no comment” response will always be met with suspicion and conveys defensiveness, and the refusal may be interpreted as guilt.

To be clear, the reputational damage to the Navy was not necessarily because of the firing itself, which may or may not have been warranted.  The outrage is due to the manner in which Modly communicated that decision.

Effective communicators know that the framework for guiding the choice, style, and timing of a message should always start with the following question: “What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?”

By focusing on damaging hypotheticals such as “[the leak] unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our Sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns” Modly accidentally communicated a lack of empathy toward the seriousness of the situation and what the families were likely already feeling (anxiety).

Modly questioned the professionalism of Crozier, who at that point was literally seen as a hero by service members for risking his career for their safety.  “I could reach no other conclusion than that Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally,” Modly said.

Had Modly employed the best-practiced principle of crisis communication and asked himself “what would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do in this situation” he likely would have realized how critical (for the sake of the Navy’s reputation) it was for him to publicly state that this was an unprecedented situation, and support Crozier because reasonable people expect the Navy to care. Showing you care does not mean you have to give up on good order and discipline. Reasonable people understand that if a policy or order was broken, there will be consequences.

In every crisis there is opportunity, and when this story broke, the Navy had an opportunity to back Capt. Crozier and explain the actions that had been taken and planned to be taken to ensure the service members would be safe and that the mission would not be abandoned. After all – those plans were already in motion according to Modly. Instead, they punished the person the public had already fallen in love with and thus appeared callous in doing so.

With all that said, below are some tips for success in a situation such as this.

  1. Reasonable people expect an organization to care, first and foremost.  The single biggest predictor of loss of trust in a crisis is the perception that you don’t care.
  2. First mover advantage matters. Whoever is first to define the crisis, motives, and actions is the one who controls the interpretation of the event.
  3. A well-structured stand-by statement, prepared ahead of time for adaptation, is key in ensuring you are communicating effectively during a crisis.

Logos Consulting Group provides the following template for the best possible outcome in tough, touchy, sensitive situations:

  1. Acknowledgement. Open by stating awareness of the event or issue. Do not use euphemisms, which are confusing to audiences, especially those under stress.
  2. Empathy. If there are victims or potential victims, express empathy.
  3. Values. Describe the organization’s values that will give context to the response to the crisis.
  4. Approach. Describe ways the organization is handling the response to the crisis, including what has been done or what is under way.
  5. Commitment. Outline the substantive or procedural commitments you can make now.

On Sunday, April 5, several media outlets confirmed that Capt. Crozier tested positive for COVID-19; the Navy declined to comment.

On Monday, April 6, reports of a leaked speech of Modly speaking to Sailors in Guam was released via several media outlets.

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either a) too naive, or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said to the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew.

The speech continues in this manner with Sailors audibly yelling “what the F***” in the background.

Additionally on April 6, Modly wrote a response to a New York Times op-ed where Theodore Roosevelt’s great-grandson (Tweed Roosevelt) called Capt. Crozier a hero. In his response, Modly said he has the utmost respect for the Roosevelt family, but that Tweed is wrong — “he simply doe not have access to the relevant facts that led to the captains dismissal.” The letter was deleted shortly after it went live.

The Golden Hour of Crisis Response for communicators and medical professionals describes the urgency to “stop the bleeding.” Each day the Navy delays in effectively communicating and showing true empathy causes more and more reputational harm…and bleeding.

We truly hope Capt. Crozier and his crew recover. Fair winds and following seas.

-30-

 

Maida Kalic Zheng is a fellow at the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, where she helps corporate leaders maximize their presence, enhance communication, and become more sophisticated at managing their relationships and reputations.

 

Raleigh Mayer, the Gravitas Guru and principal of Raleigh Mayer of Consulting and Senior Fellow at the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, helps leaders elevate presence, enhance communication, and become more sophisticated at managing their relationships and reputations. She is an advisor, coach, educator, and speaker, serving large corporations, private firms, and individual executives.

 

Yinnan Shen Launches Multicultural Competence Elective at Columbia Engineering

On March 4, 2020, Logos Institute fellow Yinnan Shen launched a new elective, Elevate Multicultural Competence, for graduate students at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, also known as Columbia Engineering.

The course is designed primarily for international students, who are susceptible to a common challenge of living abroad – culture shock – defined by Michael Winkelman as, “a multifaceted experience resulting from numerous stressors occurring in contact with a different culture.” 

(Yinnan sharing her story when she first moved to New York)

Yinnan moved to the United States in 2015. She has dealt with culture shock herself since then and has concluded patterns of what works and what doesn’t when living in a culture outside of one’s own. Equipped with both academic research and lived-through experience, Yinnan shared ways to effectively manage culture shock and adapt to the new culture, with an emphasis on striking a balance between the host culture’s expectations and the values and identities associated one’s home culture.

When what is expected from the host culture and what is acceptable to oneself are in conflict, Yinnan shared, it’s important to consciously make the decision of whether to adapt to the host culture’s expectations in specific situations. She created a two-question decision-making criterion to guide students when deciding whether to or not to adapt.

Yinnan also explained how the process of deliberate adaptation and striking the balance between one’s home and host culture can help build an individual’s multicultural competence, which in turn transforms one’s seeming disadvantaged background into a competitive advantage. 

The graduate students Yinnan spoke to were enrolled in Columbia Engineering’s Professional Development & Leadership (PDL) program. Roughly 80% students in the program are international students. The PDL program’s objective is to build the engineering leaders of today and tomorrow, by equipping its students with the skills and tools necessary to maximize performance. The program’s curriculum was developed in part by Logos Consulting Group president Helio Fred Garcia, who teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership as an adjunct associate professor of the PDL program. 

All of the 25 students who attended Yinnan’s class were international students, who at the end of the session expressed how much the content resonated with them, and how liberating it is to know they are not struggling alone and that there are ways to effectively deal with the challenges they are facing. 

New Book by Logos President: Words on Fire

Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that the next book by Logos President Helio Fred Garcia is now available for pre-order.

Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm. Garcia focuses on the forms of communication that condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critic.

 

Sending Up a Flare

In the book’s preface Garcia writes,

“In my teaching and research, I study patterns: patterns that help leaders enhance competitive advantage, build trust and loyalty, and change the world for the better. I study the patterns of audience engagement and audience reaction. I study persuasion and influence, and the power of language to change people, mostly for the better.”

But he also provides a caution:

“I’ve also been acutely aware of the use of communication to hurt, to harm, and to humiliate, and of how dehumanizing and demonizing language can lead some people to commit acts of violence. I typically don’t teach those things in a classroom, but I often send up a flare, warning students, former students, and others of the predictable, if unintended, consequences of speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”

Garcia notes that he found himself sending up many flares in recent years, but that something changed in 2018. In the Fall of that year he posted on social media persistent warnings about stochastic terrorism, the technical term for language that provokes some people to commit violence. He says,

“My concern grew into alarm as the 2018 mid-term elections approached and as President Trump’s language crossed a line. I worried that someone would be killed by Trump followers who embraced his increasingly incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and critics.”

Garcia’s fears were soon realized.

“In a single week, about ten days before the mid-terms, two separate terror attacks took place: one killed eleven people at worship in a synagogue; one failed but had targeted a dozen Trump critics with mail bombs. In both cases the perpetrators justified their actions by quoting Trump language. One of them, the mail bomber, described his conversion from being apolitical to being ‘a soldier in the war between right and left’ that resulted from his several years in Trump’s orbit.”

The following day Garcia posted a blog on Daily Kos describing the relationship between language and violence. That post was republished by CommPro.biz. Words on Fire is the continuation of that original blog post.

In reflecting on the President’s language, Garcia noticed another pattern: the forms of his language were familiar. He realized that the president was using the very same rhetorical techniques that had preceded previous mass murders, including genocides. He worried that, left unchecked, the president would continue, with increasingly dire consequences.

Garcia explored the kinds of language that historically had preceded acts of mass violence. And he studied contemporary sources including the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The center defines “dangerous speech” as:

“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”

One of the key elements of creating such conditions is to dehumanize others. The Center’s handbook Defusing Hate notes that:

 “Dangerous speech often dehumanizes the group it targets (e.g., by calling its members rats, dogs, or lice), accuses the target group of planning to harm the audience, and presents the target group’s existence as a dire threat to the audience.”

Garcia also studied the work of Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who says that when leaders persistently dehumanize others they lessen the capacity of citizens to empathize.

The Playbook

Dangerous speech begins with dehumanization but doesn’t end there. Garcia has identified twelve communication techniques that individually and collectively create a social context that conditions an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group. Each technique is a bit different from the other, although the individual techniques have elements in common. They serve as a kind of Playbook that malicious leaders have used to divide communities and to accumulate power. The twelve forms are:

  1. Dehumanize: Calling groups of people animals or vermin who are infesting the nation.
  2. Demonize/Delegitimize: Attributing to a group or rival a menacing, evil identity or calling into question the legitimacy or qualification of a group or rival.
  3. Scapegoat: Blaming a group for all or many of the nation’s problems.
  4. Public Health Threat: Claiming that members of a group are carrying or transmitting dangerous diseases.
  5. Safety Threat: Claiming that a group, rival, or critic is a threat to public safety – likely to cause death or injury to the nation or to the dominant group – or is a threat to civic order.
  6. Violent Motive: Claiming that a group has violent or hostile intentions toward a dominant group.
  7. Severely Exaggerating Risk: Labelling a minor issue or routine event a major threat.
  8. Sinister Identities: Attributing vague or sinister identities to a group or its members.
  9. Conspiracy: Saying that something is part of a sinister conspiracy.
  10. Discredit Information: Discrediting the source of objective information or of information critical of the leader.
  11. Conflation: Conflating the leader and the state, so that any criticism of the leader is seen as an attack on the nation.
  12. Menacing Image: Juxtaposing a menacing image (noose, swastika, flaming cross) with a person or person’s image, a location, or a facility associated with the target.

Words on Fire documents these forms of communication, and the consequences of that language, both before Trump and by Trump.

But it does more. It assesses how American political life came to this dangerous and demoralizing place.

And it offers hope, a path forward: a framework, a mindset, and a set of techniques to help civic leaders and informed citizens recognize the patterns of dangerous speech early, intervene early, hold those who use such language accountable for the consequences, and ideally prevent such violence in the first place.

Garcia and a team of researchers spent 14 months working on the book. In addition to studying historic mass killings that followed the persistent use of dangerous speech, Garcia and his researchers watched hundreds of rallies, interviews, and public appearances by Donald Trump as candidate and president, and read thousands of his tweets. Garcia also examined hate crime violence statistics and trends. And he examined national security and law enforcement scholarship on lone wolf violence up to and including lone wolf terrorism. Garcia synthesizes the fruits of this research and describes how lone wolves develop a terrorist mindset and how they are activated to commit violence.

 

From Stochastic Terrorism to Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism

Since 9/11 the use of communication in ways that trigger lone wolves to commit acts of violence, up to and including terrorism, has been known as stochastic terrorism. The name comes from a principle in statistics and describes something that may be statistically predictable but not individually predictable.

But Garcia has concluded that the phrase stochastic terrorism is difficult to grasp, and even to say, and tends to limit discussion. He proposes a different way to describe the phenomenon, based on who is motivated to act on the communication – lone wolves – and what triggers them to so act – a kind of dog whistle that he calls a lone-wolf whistle.

He says:

“Acts of violence triggered by such language I call lone-wolf whistle violence. When such language triggers mass violence with a political, ideological, or similar motive I call it lone-wolf whistle terrorism.”

A Call to Action

Words on Fire also profiles leaders who stepped over the line and were called on it. All, in their own ways and in varying time frames, stopped what they were doing. As responsible leaders do.

Garcia also explores humility as an essential leadership attribute that makes empathy possible. It is empathy that allows leaders to see the damage their rhetoric may cause, and humility and empathy that lead them to stop.

The book closes by providing a framework for civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials to recognize when a leader may have crossed the line, and a way to understand the likely consequences of dangerous speech. Garcia takes the Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism Playbook and recasts it as a toolkit or checklist in the form of questions to ask that can help determine whether a leader’s rhetoric is likely to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.

Early Endorsers

Early reaction to Words on Fire by those who have read the manuscript has been quite positive, and the book has several early endorsers.

David Lapan, Colonel, USMC (ret), former Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security spokesman, says:

“Language is power, and powerful. It can uplift, or harm. Helio Fred Garcia is an astute student of language and communication. This book offers historic examples, keen insights and valuable advice on recognizing patterns of language that can harm or lead to violence.”

Evan Wolfson, Founder, Freedom to Marry, says:

“Drawing on history and his deep expertise in communications, Helio Fred Garcia documents how Trump’s barrage of hate, divisiveness, falsehoods, and triggering are even uglier and more dangerous than we thought, right out of the autocrat’s playbook. During the Nixon administration, John Dean blew the whistle on the ‘cancer growing on the presidency.’ Words on Fire provides a clear and alarming CAT-scan of the cancer growing from this presidency, and a highly readable guide to how we can call out and combat Trump’s toxic language and malignant agenda, pushing back against the corrosive forces that enable Trumpism and put our country in such peril.”

James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, says:

“Many of us were taught a lie as youngsters that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Fred courageously, graphically and powerfully illustrates that it is words on fire that bloodlessly, without scars or visible traces cause deep internal permanent damage while often triggering accompanying physical damage. And that if we remain silent one victim incinerated by words on fire damages the rest of us.”

Lukaszewski adds,

Words On Fire should be mandatory reading and a guide book for every reporter and editor anywhere. Journalists have significant responsibility for spreading the flames of intentionally incendiary, punitive, abusive language. There should be ethical and cultural sanctions for mindlessly but intentionally originating or transmitting dangerous language. Every business school needs to develop courses for managers and leaders in detoxifying and extinguishing fiery, intentionally emotional and harmful language, whatever the source, followed by every religious leader and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of words on fire.

Public reaction has also been positive. In the week after Words on Fire became available for Amazon pre-order, it became the Amazon #1 New Release in Rhetoric and #2 in New Releases in Public Administration the #3 best seller in Public Administration.

Words on Fire is scheduled for publication in mid-June. It is available for pre-order in both paperback and kindle edition.

Prior Books by Logos President

Words on Fire is Garcia’s fifth book. His first, published in 1998, was the two-volume Crisis Communications, now out of print.

In 2006 Garcia co-authored with his NYU colleague John Doorley Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication. That book’s fourth edition is scheduled for publication in late Spring. Reputation Management has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate public relations and communication programs around the world, and was published in Korean in Seoul in 2016,

In 2012 Garcia published The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively. The Power of Communication has been adopted by dozens of graduate and professional schools, and was named one of eight leadership books on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List. It was published in Chinese in Beijing in 2014.

In 2017 Garcia published The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis. The Agony of Decision was named one of the best crisis management books of all time (#2 of 51) by BookAuthority, the leading non-fiction review site. It will be published in Chinese in Beijing later this year.

Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017.  In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.

Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Garcia is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.

 

Yinnan Shen Leads Workshop on Elevating Multicultural Competence for NYU PR League

On Thursday November 14, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership hosted roughly 20 graduate students from New York University’s Public Relations League for a session on the work of the Institute and a featured workshop led by Logos Institute fellow Yinnan Shen, on how international students can turn their backgrounds into a competitive edge.

The students are part of NYU’s School of Professional Studies master’s level public relations and corporate communications program, which Institute executive director Helio Fred Garcia co-founded and of which Institute senior fellow Kristin Johnson is an inaugural graduate. Both Fred and Kristin currently teach courses in the program on crisis communication and public relations consulting respectively. Yinnan also graduated from the NYU program in 2017 and has guest lectured in the program since joining Logos.

The session kicked off with a formal welcome from Fred and Kristin. Kristin shared her professional journey in public relations industry with students, as well as details about the recently published book she co-authored with Shalon Roth How to Succeed in a PR Agency.

Fred introduced the work of Logos Institute and of Logos Consulting Group, the parent company of Logos Institute, followed by a description of the methodology of creating changes in people that Logos implements, which was originally developed by PR pioneer and first PR professor (at NYU) Edward L. Bernays. Fred also noted that much of the public relations industry has wandered far from the way the field was originally defined by Bernays: “a vocation applied by a social scientist who advises a client or employer on social attitudes and the actions to take to win the support of the public on whom the viability of the client depends.”

Yinnan then took over and delivered her newly-developed content on culture shock and elevating multicultural competence. She began by conceptualizing a common challenge international students face when living abroad – culture shock, defined by Michael Winkelman as “a multifaceted experience resulting from numerous stressors occurring in contact with a different culture.” She then shared strategies to effectively adapt to a new culture and to manage culture shock.

In the final part of the workshop Yinnan shared how to strike a balance between one’s home culture and host culture. She closed the workshop by offering a path forward to build multicultural competence through the process of dealing with culture shock and ultimately transform one’s international background into a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Many students stayed back after the presentation and had small-group and private discussions with Yinnan, in which students affirmed that they are going through culture shock and what was shared can help them build self-esteem and navigate life and study in the U.S..

Yinnan Shen developed the content based on both existing research and her own experience of being an international student from China at NYU four years ago. Yinnan is now a fellow at Logos Institute and an associate at Logos Consulting Group. She joined Logos in 2017, and has since researched and developed intellectual capital including how leaders can do diversity and inclusion right, and how neuroscience and psychology can be applied to the art of leading and communicating. Yinnan has taught at corporate clients and academic institutions, including the master’s program Public Relations and Corporate Communication at New York University and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

You can watch the full workshop here:

Logos Celebrates the Firm’s Newest Author

Logos Consulting Group and Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership hosted a celebration on Wednesday, April 3, to honor Kristin Johnson, the newest author in the firm. Kristin co-authored “How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable” with Shalon Roth and the book was released by global publisher Routledge in January.

Kim Goei, Colonel Louisa Bargeron, Kristin Johnson, Helio Fred Garcia, Genevieve Koch

More than 50 guests came to celebrate Kristin and her accomplishment of having her first book published. The guests were a mix of NYU faculty and former students from the course Kristin has taught for five years on public relations consulting, which helped inspire the book; former colleagues from her years as a PR industry pro at Edelman, TogoRun, and BioSector2; current colleagues from FairFrame, a startup she advises; as well as personal friends, many of them fellow alumni of her alma mater the University of Wisconsin.

Helio Fred Garcia

A highlight of the evening was when Logos president Helio Fred Garcia, who has been a mentor to Kristin for 14 years, led a toast in her honor, and opened the floor to guests to share the impact Kristin has had on their lives as a teacher, friend, colleague, and mentor.

Kristin then took the floor to express her gratitude for the celebration and all who came to show support, as well as share a special announcement: she is working on a forthcoming book, yet to be titled, on how to make smart life decisions when entering a new chapter of life. From navigating what comes after college or retirement, to how to get back into the work force after time away, she has a tested roadmap to help people find their “next”…whatever that next step may be for each reader. The announcement was met with many nodding heads and great anticipation.

In addition to teasing Kristin’s next book, Helio Fred Garcia teased the next Logos Institute Press title, “Five Frequencies: Leadership Signals that Turn Culture into Competitive Advantage” by Jeff Grimshaw, Tanya Mann, Lynne Viscio, and Jennfer Landis. The book will be published in May.

 

 

 

Logos Celebrates Firm’s Newest Book Author, Kristin Johnson

Logos Consulting Group and Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership are proud to celebrate Kristin Johnson as the newest author in the firm. Kristin, along with her co-author Shalon Roth, this month released the publication of How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable (Routledge 2019).

The book outlines foundational information that simplifies and clarifies public relations agency life. Readers can expect pro-tips from industry veterans and leaders on how to be better partners to their clients and agency team, and ultimately more successful in their agency careers.

Kristin started her career in public relations, spending nearly a decade working for top global PR agencies in New York. She joined Logos in the Spring of 2014 to transition to a communication consulting career. By Fall of that year, she was invited to join the faculty of New York University’s School of Professional Studies to teach an elective course, Public Relations Consulting, in the master’s degree program for public relations and corporate communication.

In teaching that course, Kristin began to appreciate the novelty of her PR agency experience. Her students were coming to the classroom with functional PR skills – such as how to write a press release, how to make a presentation, and how to pitch a reporter – but what they really craved was a comprehensive, substantive, put-it-all-together understanding of what it takes to contribute, grow, and thrive in a public relations agency. Foundational concepts such as billable hours, staff allocations, and the new business process were a mystery.

Kristin brought these lessons into the classroom, but knew there was a broader audience. PR agencies are exhilarating places to work, but there is no “how-to do PR” manual. Much of the job is “watch and learn,” and “sink or swim.” And, if foundational concepts were demystified early in the careers of PR pros – everyone would benefit. After sharing this with her former colleague Shalon, who also saw this struggle, the two set out to create a text that would help aspiring and junior/mid-level PR professionals to better prepare for career success.

The book is enhanced with industry endorsement and participation. Industry veterans are already sharing praise for the book, and 17 chapters include an “industry insights” contribution from a diverse mix of PR pros representing a broad range of impressive PR agencies. In addition to being required reading in undergraduate and graduate classrooms, the book is a primer for entry and junior/mid-level PR professionals looking to accelerate their understanding of and career growth in a PR agency.

Logos team members have several books and publications to their name, including:

Please visit the Logos Library for a full list of books and publications by Logos team members.