2013 Communications Disasters

Welcome back!
It's that time of year when we pay tribute to the Communications Disasters of 2013.  The purpose is to recognize the people and the organizations who defied the odds, went beyond the merely expected and tarnished their brands. But hey, at least you can say..... they did it their way!
1. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.....it does!
 Paula Deen The cooking guru from Savannah, Georgia who managed to take an allegation of racist comments and single-handedly used it to destroy her own empire.  At first, she ducked the Today Show to respond to the accusations by citing 'exhaustion'. Then when she finally appeared several days later, the damage had already been done. She was branded a 'racist' and took a pounding in all media - especially online. She lost her credibility and watched her brand become badly tarnished. She either received very bad crisis communications counsel, or she didn't listen to it.
2. Lululemon's customers just want him wrapped in his (over) stretched leotards and thrown to the wolves. 
Lululemon founder and Chair Chip Wilson. Responding to questions on Bloomberg TV's Street Smart program, Wilson clearly was blaming women of a certain weight for causing the pilling problems about which customers had begun to complain. But the final straw was this so-called 'apology' on his website:
“I’m sad, I’m really sad, I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions, I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of my actions.” This is an apology?! The focus of his apology should have been to his customers and to women, whom he had clearly insulted.
3. The one good thing is ... smoking crack can never again be seen as 'cool'....
Rob Ford was the clear winner of the "Disaster of the Year" Award. The long-running, slow-motion, disaster featured crack-smoking, drunken binges, insulting comments about his wife, attacks on the Police Chief, video surveillance of the Mayor exchanging packages with known criminals, stolen video of the Mayor allegedly smoking crack, massive denials and then reversals, bowling over a fellow City Councillor, allegations of groping, and a threatened lawsuit earned in a TV interview with newly minted host, Conrad Black, in which he implied that a Toronto Star reporter who had been taking photos of his backyard fence was a pedophile. Of course, becoming the number one fodder for jokes on Letterman, Leno, Kimmel and Fallon turned him into an international celebrity. Watch this clip of Rob and Doug Ford clearly enjoying the video of Jon Stewart on the first (and only) episode of Ford Nation on the Sun News Network. Defiant at all times, even while stripped of many of his powers, he seems determined to stand for re-election. However, at year's end, just when you thought he doesn't have a prayer for re-election...what does he do? He oversaw the Christmas time hydro ("it's not an emergency") blackout in Toronto to mixed reviews. For Mayor Ford, perhaps there is a Santa after all?
4. Nothing like a 'spending scandal' to boil taxpayers' blood, right?
Nigel Wright        Sen. Mike Duffy
The original story about three or four Senators, who were alleged to have claimed expenses to which they were not entitled, morphed into a full-blown crisis of credibility for the Harper Government with the revelation of the $90,000 paid personally by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, to Senator Mike Duffy. Throw in revelations that the Conservative Party Fund paid for Sen. Duffy's legal bills and there you have it - a full-blown crisis that knocked out of the headlines the government's accomplishments, including the EU Free Trade Deal. With possible criminal charges and no end in sight for the crisis, the Harper Government needs a Plan B if they're going to emerge fully from it.
5. I promise you that you can keep your own health plan if you want. Well not keep it exactly, but visit it, you know..just sign up on the internet...d'oh!
A mere 12 months after his election victory in which 'Obama-care'
played a major role, the failed launch of the internet program triggered enormous public outrage. It didn't help that it took the Administration a couple of months to get hold of the situation and put it (mostly) back on track. All of this came on the heels of a recovering economy that the President would clearly have wanted to be lead the news. That's gotta hurt.
6. At least you have to give him 'E' for Effort! 
The Lac Mégantic Train Derailment and the bizarre news conference four days later held by MMA Chairman Ed Burquardt will be a classic 'how not to' for years to come. 

Paying Tribute and Looking Ahead
So, as we look ahead to 2014, one has to hope that those in positions of responsibility will learn from these disasters. Nah! That's not going to happen. Remember why crisis communications is an on-going business....apparently some people have to learn the same lessons over and over again!

A few disasters were exceptionally well handled - the Boston marathon bombing was well handled even as the city spent several days with the bombers on the loose. The Mayor, the police and community leaders did a terrific job of pulling the city together in a united way. That is one of the hallmarks of effective crisis communications. When the Red Sox won the World Series later that year, it brought it all together in such an emotional and positive way.

The Alberta flood was a nightmare that was well handled by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi in cooperation with Prime Minister Harper and Premier Alison Redford. The Mayor's ability to pull those communities together at a time of emotional chaos was a critical factor in the response to those crises.

The qualities of true leaders
So let's remember, finally, the two leaders who seemed to have understood what it means to be a leader:
First, Pope Francis (Time's Man of the Year) whose simple style and powerfully inclusive messages have served to change the climate, the tone and the priorities of the Church in a few short months. As a result, he has created the opportunity to be a truly transformational leader throughout the world.
The passing of Nelson Mandela in December has reminded the world of his incredible journey that has inspired the world. I just saw Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and was inspired all over again by what a true leader - even though he was an admittedly flawed human being - can do in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. The genuine worldwide sorrow at his passing underscores what he meant to the entire world.
Happy New Year!
On behalf of Laura and the entire McLoughlin Media company and family, we want to wish all of our clients, friends and suppliers a Happy, healthy and 'no crisis' New Year!