Reputation TargetedPR Crises and What Not to Do

Categories: Communication, PR, Reputation
Comments: 5 Comments
Published on: January 9, 2013

NRA: What Not To Do In a PR Crisis

The target is on your reputation.

The magnitude and horror of what happened in Newtown, CT, several weeks ago has yet to be fully understood by America and the world. It’s still too close, too big, and just too awful. And yet, there is no question that actions need to be taken, now. The event highlights a crisis, one for our culture, one for our species, one for our social and judicial policies and our politicians. And for one particular organization, it is a different kind of crisis, a PR crisis. That organization, of course, is the NRA.

Now, I would readily agree that any or all of the previous crises are much more important than the public relations of the NRA. They are much more important to us, and should be much more important to them, and perhaps they are. But the NRA has a problem. It has dug itself a nice hole of denial around gun violence, and now when the violence has reached an unprecedented level they are unable to climb out of the hole. They are forced to consider PR first, and so they have. And, according to the rut they have built for themselves, their response was not along the lines of the outcry for gun regulation, but an almost laughably contradictory message that we need more armed guards in every school in the nation.

The thing is, they had to take that position. To do otherwise made no business sense. And I think in the wake of their response that fact is painfully obvious to everyone who heard it. In the face of a PR crisis of epic proportions, they responded with the “business appropriate” response.

This Crisis as an Example of Every PR Crisis

Now, as a business person, I’m sure you can understand that. You may even sympathize with the situation they find themselves in. But I think (hope) that you, like me, are a little uncomfortable with their response nonetheless. Guns have been used in mass killings before, but these events seem to occur more and more recently, and they have never before been used in such a monstrous killing: children at school as young as six butchered right before Christmas. It is in this situation that most humans in the world worry what the world has come to and what may have lead up to this. And in this situation it is natural to lament the fact that the killer had such easy access to weapons that allowed him to kill so many so quickly. But the NRA responded in self defense. Their response was a business one, not a human one. And I think that is what makes it uncomfortable.

There is no reason to expect your business will ever be in a situation this horrible. However, PR crises happen to businesses all the time. People are quick to jump on social media to complain about how the waitress in your restaurant treated them, or how your building installation was shoddy. Did one of your products have a critical defect? Did someone in your organization say or do something that reflects badly on it? Bad PR may be all around you and can hurt you in ways you may never realize.

When you think about it, it really was just a matter of time before someone did something so horrible with a gun that the NRA would be forced to do something. They must have known that. So, when it happened, and it was so much worse than I’m sure anyone could have predicted, they took a solid week to think about how best to answer, and replied inhumanly.

How to Do Better

I’ve said, even emphasized that the NRA really didn’t have much of a choice in their response. Accepting that there are too many guns in society, and that the presence of semi-automatic firearms was a factor in how this went down, would be to betray their brand, their members, and their financial backers.

But now I’m going to contradict myself and say that, in actuality, they did have a choice, and they chose wrong. In this day and age, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that everything is business and politics, and that everyone is playing their role in the big board, trying to stay afloat amongst competition and regulation and to overcome obstacles to find the best profit and grow their cause. But that’s not reality. In actuality, businesses and organizations like the NRA exist among humanity, and this crisis was not a business one, it was a human one. It called for a human response, one that put aside the carefully constructed brand image and the gigantic marketing and PR budgets, and instead come down and say: enough.

If you are ever faced with a PR crisis in your business, learn a lesson from the NRA’s epic failure. Look carefully at what happened and, if it isn’t purely a business matter don’t respond as a business. Instead, extend your apologies or sympathies and offer actions to rectify the situation even if it goes against the short term best interests of your company. A resilient company does not think short term, and does not set itself up for worse PR down the lane by giving the wrong response when bad press hits.

5 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. Terry Breen says:

    That tragedy is still one of the worst nightmares that bother many individuals. Corporations and other business establishments should exercise utmost responsibility for such situations.

    • David Fallon says:

      Hi Terry,

      I agree with you there. We seem to be in a day-and-age where the responsibilities of corporations is in flux. On one side are those who believe that corporations ought to be in care of their community, and others who seem to believe they stand above and outside of their community. As people are communal creatures, and businesses are made up of people (both employees and customers), I really believe that things will swing towards corporations that show they care about the community. Good companies are getting practice in that now, while others are not looking long-term enough to see this future, and are standing by some cold, corporate policy that I feel will ultimately backfire…

      Thanks for the comment!

      David Fallon

  2. The big issue, of course, is in their not accepting any responsibility and coming back with “solutions” that were asinine. Someday organizations (and politicians) will realize there is so much power in a contrite apology. Time and time again we see organizations that deny, lie, and then end up apologizing AFTER they’re caught. That’s what creates the PR mess…not the issue itself.

    • David Fallon says:

      I completely agree, @ginidietrich. I really think that much of business policy has been taken over by financial professionals. Nothing wrong with being a financial professional at all! But they tend to look at things like this in black and white: which strategy will maximize our bottom line. The problem is there is more to it than that, it’s certainly not that simple at all! Hopefully businesses will start swinging the other way, towards what I would term a “human” reaction to crises and a resilient long-term strategy.

      Thanks for the comment! <3 I will reciprocate on your blog some time soon!

    • David Fallon says:

      @GiniDietrich: I loved Lindsay Bell’s post on Spinsucks about the Hamilton, ON PR disaster. Very apropos. I think there are a lot of things in common with the NRA’s response, though the fallout is still to come on the NRA.

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