Wednesday, March 28

Wrapping Up Mooninites: TBS

A few days ago, Marianne Paskowski, writing for TVWeek.com, covered the Women in Cable & Telecommunications conference in New York, and shared how Shirley Powell, senior vice president of corporate communications at Turner Broadcasting System, was quite open about Cartoon Network's marketing ploy for Adult Swim that went awry, costing the company $2 million.

Although Powell said there is no crisis management playbook that prepares public relations executives on how to deal with this kind of outcome, there really is. Just not the play book people want. They want multiple choice if A = B then C answers when most communication problems are problem-solving exercises.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote about the same problem in science, noting that students were very adept at remembering facts but not so good at thinking new problems through. "I discovered a strange phenomenon," he wrote. "I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask a question—the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell—they couldn't answer at all!"

Simply put, Feynman was writing about memorized bullets vs. applied thinking. Communication is like that today, with lots of people trying to write rules and then forcing those rules to every equation. It's crazy of course, but that has pretty much been the approach to most crisis communication problems in recent months with rare exception.

TBS is one exception because it did a fabulous job for its part, while its vendor, Interference Inc., struggled with the viral outdoor marketing campaign crisis. What's the difference? TBS applied thinking. That's what Powell told the conference attendees when she said "You just jump in" and put out the fire.

I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure most attendees considered that information useless though Powell was mostly right. There is a play book, but there is not a play book. And the probelm with the play book is that most people use it wrong anyway.

Back in February, for example, Sam Ewen, founder of Interference Inc., finally talked to BRANDWEEK about the subject of the unfortunate Boston bomb scare. Here's an excerpt of Ewen wrapped up a bit too tightly in his message:

BW: Were these devices supposed to look like bombs? Was that your intention all along?

SE: It was certainly never our intention to create something that would scare people. I couldn’t comment on whether they looked like bombs or not. It’s not my training or specialty. I know that they were designed to highlight the show’s character.

BW: Was there any concern in the planning stages that it could be taken out of context? Somebody could see this as a scary threat? If so, did you have any kind of backup plan or any idea . . . just in terms of maybe a brainstorming meeting? Do you have to get permits to do that sort of thing or was it all kind of done on the sly?

SE: The signs were never designed to scare people, to get people into a panic state. They were designed for what they were, which was a showcase, the characters, the flight. That’s as much as I can tell you, anyway.


BW might as well as asked if the signs had something to do with the "cow jumping over the moon." Ewen would have answered the same, he is not an expert on farming or planetary bodies, but the signs were not designed to scare people. We're sorry. And that's that.

Let me briefly interject that this is not a dig on Ewen. He had enough drama about this incident as far as I can tell, and Interference Inc. has often produced some pretty good viral marketing ideas before the the Cartoon Network one-upmanship stunt got away from them.

But as a study in post crisis communication choices, it seems someone gave him a formula to always bridge back to a specific message. What they forgot to tell him is that message management is often a framework for communication and not just a few lines you say over and over again. You may as well not do the interview if you are going to do that.

So what's the answer? Same as it always was: recognize the real issues, identify the crisis team, determine potential impacts, prioritize your publics, synchronize the message, designate and prepare spokespeople, determine message distribution, collect feedback, and adjust.

In such a simple, no-nonsense format, just recognize that this isn't a checkbox exercise. You have to have someone who can think it through rather than someone going through the motions. If I have learned anything over the years about crisis communication, it all comes down to understanding that every crisis is different and requires thought before formula.

It's very rare to have two companies handling the same crisis, especially when one did everything right and the other did everything not so right. The bottom line: Turner applied thinking. The guerilla firm did not. And as a bonus, they proved once again that not all publicity is good publicity. Case closed.

Digg!

1 comments:

Rich on 3/31/07, 9:09 AM said...

Famous Lost Words:

With all the talk about Turner Broadcasting System, Cartoon Network, and Interference, Inc., it seems that Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, the only people charged in connection with the bomb scares that paralyzed parts of the Boston area two months ago, remain forgotten. You can catch some court details at Boston.com. Read the story .

Post a Comment

 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template