Deflategate: A Crisis Communications Disaster (and What You Can Learn From It)

It is an understatement to say that the reputations of NFL quarterback Tom Brady and his New England Patriots football team are taking hits that would make an all-pro linebacker proud. Both Brady and the Patriots are iconic brands that now find themselves in a crisis communications disaster. Unfortunately, like many brands, they brought the disaster upon themselves.

Deflate-Gate. NFL football deflated on the field

Brady has been at the center of, “Deflategate,” the name given to the scandal that began during last year’s NFL playoffs. He allegedly directed equipment managers to deflate footballs ever so slightly to improve his grip in the colder weather. The Indianapolis Colts filed a grievance with the league, an investigation ensued and the drama began. It has intensified this week in the wake of an extremely harsh penalty handed down by the league against Brady and the Patriots. In the end, both Brady and the Patriots have severely damaged their respective brand images. Continue Reading

Shooting Organizational Air Balls That Create Crises

As long as there are humans, there will be crises. And as long as humans work for organizations, there will be organizational crises. Yes, that sounds like a Captain Obvious statement, but is your organization about to shoot an air ball and find itself on the national news because of an obvious crisis?


That’s what’s happened with two Middle Tennessee high schools. In a pathetic show of sportsmanship, two very strong girls’ basketball teams tried to lose a pivotal game to one another to avoid receiving a higher seed in the upcoming regional tournament. The reason to avoid the higher seed was to keep from playing a nationally ranked powerhouse which both teams lost to earlier in the season. The result was that both teams were rightfully suspended for the remainder of the season and both schools will pay a $1,500 fine. Continue Reading

Are you creating favorable conditions for a crisis?

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. If you park your car under a tree with the windows down, a bird may just poop in it. In other words, if you do the things that set your organization up for a crisis, a crisis is probably what you’ll get.

Crisis prevention

Many people are caught off guard when crises blindside their organizations. The interesting element is that crisis researchers have found the majority of non-natural disaster crises had been percolating for some amount of time before they escalated to “a breaking crisis.” That means something eventually disruptive to the organization’s operation and potentially threatening to its reputation took root and grew as part of the organization’s DNA until it erupted. Continue Reading

How to successfully launch a crisis in three easy steps

There are thousands of for-profit and non-profit organizations in America and I am confident none of them list “create a crisis” among their business objectives. However, many of them manage it without much effort. And to their chagrin, they find they’re quite good at it.

Crisis communications management

Photo courtesy of

You read that correctly. Everyday organizations – more specifically executive leaders – make decisions that take their organizations from normal operations to headline news at the speed of a Tweet (and leave corporate communicators in shocked disbelief!). It isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are three ways to successfully launch a crisis. Continue Reading

Learning Crisis Communications from the Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America finds itself in a kerfuffle with its proposed membership standards document. In a nutshell, the BSA is wrestling with dropping its ban on gay membership and in the process has created for itself an organizational communications nightmare that is bludgeoning a century of branding equity. It will take more than a compass for the BSA to navigate this crisis communications firestorm.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The BSA is in a five-alarm crisis communications nightmare. Very little is coming from its national headquarters in Irving, Texas, that positively positions the BSA. In fact, the organization’s leadership finds itself with few – if any – friends on either side of the debate, and has landed itself in a crossfire. Make no mistake; this is a self-inflicted crisis. Continue Reading

Is your social media marketer prepared to handle a crisis?

Social media marketing is all the rage with companies adding social media strategists faster than most people can hammer out 140 characters and send a Tweet. The rapid increase in available positions is testimony to the effectiveness of social networking in driving business and validates the millions of dollars shifted from traditional marketing strategies to digital strategies. But is the explosion in new hires exposing companies to crisis risk?

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I live in the Nashville, Tenn., area and a quick search of several job sites generated no less than 23 positions seeking social media marketing specialists. Only two of those positions were senior level positions like a digital marketing strategist. The remaining positions required, on average, two years or less experience. Translation: Companies are putting relatively inexperienced people in frontline customer interaction positions. Continue Reading

Social media attacks: Are you prepared?

The most nefarious use of social media is when an individual or a group intentionally sets out to destroy someone else’s reputation or business. Shell Oil is experiencing some of the worst the World Wide Web community has to offer.

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The extremist environmental group, Greenpeace International, launched a Website (Arctic Ready) and Twitter account (@Shellisprepared) with the intention to damage Shell Oil’s drilling operations in the Arctic Circle and it’s corporate reputation. The Arctic Ready site very closely resembles Shell’s Arctic Circle site visually, and significant effort has been expended to craft faux news articles on the site to make the hoax even more believable. To some extent it has succeeded. A Youtube video added to the reality, but it was professionally staged down to the rehearsals. Continue Reading

Social media, crises and “Who” (Part 2)

No organization wants to face a crisis, but unfortunately, crises are inevitable. They don’t have to be major events. Anything that potentially casts a brand in a negative light could – and should – be considered a crisis. A reputable brand that took years to build could bleed away like sand through an hour glass in a short,  but sustained,  social media storm. Is your team prepared to respond quickly?

To find out if you are prepared you need look no further than your crisis communications plan. In Part 1 of “Social media, crises and ‘Who,’” I shared the first five of 10 suggested strategies to consider for who should be included in your crisis communications plan from a social media perspective. I advocated that social media must be an integrated part of a unified crisis plan but too often it is a secondary priority; something to get to when you have time during a crisis. That’s dangerous. You must account for it. Continue Reading

Social media, crises and “Who” (Part 1)

Established fact: Social media has seemingly limitless benefit for organizations in today’s socially – and globally – networked world. It can also be the proverbial gasoline on a fire during a crisis. Bad news travels at the speed of a Tweet; and often gathers social momentum like a runaway train. Ten minutes earlier social media may have been a corporate communicator’s dream vehicle to the organization’s audience; now it’s a crisis communicator’s nightmare. Are you ready?

Let’s face it, every organization is going to face a crisis, and let’s consider a crisis anything that potentially diminishes the reputation of an organization. Unfortunately, the range of issues that threaten a brand is endless.

Because of the speed of communication through social media, corporate communicator’s can often find themselves behind in their crisis response before they know it. That’s why preparation is critical so that the crisis communications plan is thorough, and the best place to begin is by asking, “Who?” Continue Reading