Thursday, May 27, 2004

Grasping for Solutions 

In an extraordinary crisis, a crisis that rises above sex scandals and plant blow-ups, there comes a time when a company may be blocked. There seems to be nothing it can do to make headway against inaccurate and accusatory media reporting. Moreover, the company might be running behind the story. Just when it thinks it has all facts in hand, new evidence emerges to reignite speculation.

It is then that weary and angry executives start making decisions that might not be best but make them feel good. It is also then that PR counselors need to muster persuasiveness to keep CEOs from blunders. It isn't easy. A CEO might have decided what to do, and the counselor must persuade the CEO to back down. This is done only through a solution that is clearly better than the CEO's choice. But there might not be clearly better solutions. One is left grasping for answers with compromises that are as risky as what the CEO wants to do.

But, the problem is that CEOs might not have media instincts. For example, a CEO might be determined to blast poor media reporting publicly. The counselor has to convince the CEO that not only is this bad form, it also can make things worse because reporters might bait the CEO into an even larger -- and more newsworthy -- explosion.

One needs psychology and credibility with a CEO to get the CEO to do the right thing. But, credibility is not conferred overnight. It is gained through consistent performance that a CEO values.

When confronted with such situations, our agency leans heavily on teamwork to produce and second-guess advice. We challenge each other to poke holes, to prod, to disagree, to find a better way to express what a CEO should do. Two of us usually work on a problem, but we bring in a third to serve as a tiebreaker when we cannot agree. The idea is that when the agency confronts the CEO, we are ready to knock down convincingly every objection the CEO has. That is easier said than done. Failure is frequent. But when one is grasping for solutions, you do what you have to do.


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