At the heart of every crisis is a reputation iceberg. One that may sink the ship right away or punch a tiny hole that will eventually swamp the boat. If you don’t seize the wheel right after impact, someone else will. They’ll steer your reputation right onto the rocks using traditional and social media.
Today, more than ever, it’s easy for just about anyone to try to seize control of your reputation for their own benefit. Crisis manager, Eric Denzenhall puts it this way: “One person’s crisis is another person’s meal ticket.”
Yard Goats Stadium Strike Out
It’s amazing to me how often companies cede control of their reputations to everyone else instead of seizing it as soon as possible after a crisis. I’ve had a front row seat on this phenomenon as I watch the ongoing saga of Hartford’s stalled attempt to build and open a minor league baseball stadium for the Hartford Yard Goats. There’s a lot of finger-pointing and legal grandstanding about the $60 million+ ballpark that now sits unfinished, unloved and unworked upon. And, most recently, also sits at the center of a lawsuit by its fired developers against the owner of the team.
On June 6, the city held a news conference to announce that they would be firing the organization’s developer, Centerplan, operating as DoNo LLC. “…we simply lost confidence in DoNo and Centerplan’s capacity to complete this project…,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. DoNo’s President Jason Rudnick held his own press conference in response, calling Bronin’s decision “irresponsible governance.”
As the situation marinated Centerplan’s reputation became the favorite punching bag of every politician and journalist in the state, egged on by a rising tide of social media buzz. While Centerplan trashed the politicians and the Yard Goats’ management they looked very much like a fighter throwing wild punches while lying flat on his back on the canvas. Make no mistake about it, there’s more on the line than the stadium job. Centerplan had expected to get much of the work in the area surrounding the ballpark which was to include retail, office and housing. They’ve also got other projects in process around the city. At that same news conference, Bronin acknowledged that the city’s firing of the firm from the stadium project would probably have an impact on those other jobs.
So why, oh why, I asked myself has Centerplan not stepped up to defend their own reputation? Why has the company spent its time (and reputation) filing a lawsuit, pointing fingers, trashing all involved and, in a surprisingly bloodless editorial, touting their superior judgement on the project’s viability?
The editorial in the Hartford Courant by Centerplan’s CEO Robert Landino is a great example of the company’s attitude. It included these gems:
- “Terminating Centerplan Cos. from the development of Hartford’s Dunkin’ Donuts Park — with merely weeks to go before completion — because deadlines needed to be extended was reckless, extremely short-sighted and indicative of a newly elected city administration without any experience in public office.
- “Considering the breadth of my experience in the private and public sectors during both times of economic boom and recession, I have never seen such ill-advised judgment and drastic action taken to sabotage a public project as I have this month from Hartford city hall
- “I say this from the perspective of the last 25 years during which I have always tried to commit myself to public service, nonprofit work and charity, all while working at my profession in real estate development and construction.”
The 600 word diatribe only stoked the controversy. Strangely, the company waited another two weeks before Robert Landino did an interview on NPR-FM during which he said the company would complete the ballpark and pay for the remaining work out of their own pocket. That’s a very impressive gesture. It would have had a lot more impact if it had been part of that editorial. It’s the kind of offer that would have helped Centerplan take back control of their reputation and lay the foundation to rebuild it over time.
Tom Brady Deflates Deflategate
Let’s contrast that with another sport-related story. Think about Tom Brady’s Facebook post about a federal appeals court’s decision to reinstate his four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate. Whether you agree or not with that decision (or hate his guts like you non-Pats fans!), you have to admire the way Brady took it. On Facebook, he wrote, “I’m very grateful for the overwhelming support I’ve received from Mr. Kraft, the Kraft family, coach Belichick, my coaches and teammates, the NFLPA, my agents, my loving family and most of all, our fans. It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process. I’m going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.” Brady’s alway had a reputation for unrelenting attention to the game. To those of us who are Pat’s fans, he’ll always be the Golden Boy and with this statement, I believe he cemented it. After all, isn’t it those fans he needs to play to?
Steve Harvey’s Gaffe Heard Round the World
Steve Harvey did the same after what AdWeek called ”… the gaffe heard round the world …” While hosting the Miss Universe pageant in late 2015, he incorrectly announced that Miss Columbia, Aiadna Gutierrez, had won the crown. Only moments later, he had to apologize for the mistake and name the actual winner, Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. “I took the hit. I read it wrong and it is what it is,” said Harvey. He sought out Gutierrez to apologize and interviewed both women on his talk show. And, in a display of smarts over ego, he even starred in a Super Bowl sport poking fun at the incident. “He owned it. He showed people that you can make mistakes, but you’ve got to be accountable for it,” said Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer at Initiative, a global communications network within the IPG Mediabrands Agency. Since the gaffe, Harvey has maintained his status as “the busiest man in TV”, with five shows to his name. And he’s already said yes to return as host of the Miss Universe pageant next year.
Be Your Own Reputation Defender
My point is this: During and after a crisis, it’s critical you take control of your own reputation. Don’t allow others to do it for you. And don’t wait for things to “calm down” before you take control of your reputation. Seize the tiller. Define who you are and what you’re doing to proactively respond to the crisis. Demonstrate understanding, compassion and yes, even a little humility.
In today’s on-line world, it’s easy for anyone to tell your story. Don’t let them. Tell it yourself. Tell it authentically and tell it often. If you don’t, expect someone else to do it for you – whether you like it or not.
UPDATE: A version of this post appeared in the Hartford Business Journal’s Aug. 16, 2016 edition http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/article/20160815/PRINTEDITION/308129954