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How The Hell Did This Happen?

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I don’t know how I dodged the bullet as long as I did, but as a high visibility public servant I escaped public attacks on my character and professional reputation….until New Year’s Eve, when I learned someone had publicly attacked my public service record and ethics. I was looking forward to a peaceful day of food and football. That plan was flushed down the drain about as fast as my reputation seemed to be going.

For those of you who have been following my social media “career” over the past few years, you know I have been quick to share opinion and articles on how to respond when under public relations attack as a result of honest mistakes, company/agency wrongdoing or blatant attempts to discredit. I studied, commented and shared articles about the “How To” of PR crisis management. It is one thing to abstractly opine on what the right move is and play Monday Morning Quarterback. It is an entirely different situation when the howitzer of “How The Hell Did this Happen?” is pointed at YOUR head.

I called a few of my trusted friends and mentors, all highly respected in the community, who understand the political landscape and have extensive experience in responding to PR dust-ups. In discussing the attack and my feelings I took comfort in their advice. While each responded somewhat differently, they each said the same things in their own unique way:

  • The statements attributed to me are so blatantly untrue that even without correction they would eventually be exposed as such, undermining the author’s credibility.
  • Going to battle in a public forum would likely only exacerbate the issue. A mentor I highly respect-Gerald Baron- used the old analogy “If you decide you wrestle the pig, both of you will get muddy and the pig will like it.”
  • Calm down, take emotion out of it, and develop a Plan A, Plan B strategy.
  • Monitor social media/Twitter channels. See if folks are commenting and/or spreading the accusations (They were not. The author has very limited readership).
  • Talk to the author by phone or in person. Express concerns about the inflammatory and incorrect information that was stated as fact, and my concerns about how it may impact my professional reputation. Provide the facts and background and give him an opportunity to ask questions, verify information, and most importantly – correct the story!
  • If that doesn’t work, continue to monitor the site and any related social media fallout. THEN, depending on what folks are – or are not- saying, develop a message and a vehicle to deliver the facts in a way that does not attack the author, but rather state the easily verifiable facts in a simple and concise message.

This ended satisfactorily. The author pulled the post early the next day, called to apologize, and posted a correction and apology. It was all I wanted.

The real world lessons I learned from this relatively small reputation crisis;

  • Take a deep breath and DON’T act immediately.
  • Read the article, reread it, repeat.
  • Take notes. Jot down your immediate response, even it is emotional (It can be cathartic, trust me).
  • Talk to your trusted network. They are not being attacked, so they can provide support and objective, unemotional advice and observations.
  • Sit down and really think about what was said. Look for nuance and overall theme.
  • Reaching out to the author in person or by phone can be a quick and easy solution. Even if it doesn’t work it may provide further insight into the author’s true agenda.
  • Your reputation is perhaps your greatest treasure, or your biggest albatross. If you have a good one, protect it. If you have a bad one, heaven help you…

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About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.