Thursday, February 05, 2004

Have You Noticed? 

Have you noticed that the same stories written about Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean are now being scribbled about John Kerry? Who is John Kerry? Can Kerry be stopped? Is Kerry untouchable? It's as if reporters simply tore the headlines off Dean stories and slapped new ones on with Kerry's name.

How quickly perception changes! I'm sure Dean's people are still asking themselves how it could have gone so bad so quickly. After all, this is the candidate who around Christmas time was no longer running against the other Democratic candidates but against George Bush because, well, because his nomination for President was all but locked up.

All organizations can suffer turnarounds as quickly, and they should be ready. When the shuttle Challenger burned up entering the atmosphere, NASA went from an agency that had rehabilitated itself to a bungling bureaucracy that seems incapable of learning safety. It happened in 15 minutes -- the time it took to confirm the falling meteor was Challenger and not an extraterrestrial phenomenon. Exxon went from a mighty oil company to environmental monster in the minute it took the ship to gut its bottom on the rocks. In the Super Bowl, Janet Jackson ruined her reputation in less than five seconds.

This is not a meditation on crisis communication. It is a reflection on the fragility of credibility. We like to think at our company that we have built credibility with the media over years of working with them and doing what we say we will do. Yet, last Monday, a guest who was to appear on a TV show failed to show up and suddenly, we were idiots. It was not our fault the guest didn't show, but that makes no difference. We had arranged for the guest, so we had better produce the individual. As far as I know, the producer of the show has forgiven us, but it had better not happen again. Of course, we won't use this guest again. He broke the rules: His credibility is shot.

Never mess with your personal or organizational credibility. The consequences are too great.


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