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Kelly-MacDonald

When The Headline Is You…

by Kelly MacDonald-Hill – Partner And Senior Vice President

I had lunch this week with  Communications Expert & Corporate Consultant, Jeff Ansell, to discuss his new book,  When the Headline Is You: An Insider’s Guide to Handling the Media, (Jossey-Bass) due out in mid-October…

Jeff is a busy man. We  had to reschedule a few times, one time because he was meeting with the Government to discuss their communication strategy around release of the recent budget!  He just wrapped up five years of work with  John Furlong and his team at VANOC helping them prepare for  communication demands during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  And, after our lunch he was off to Los Angeles to consult with senior executives of one of the world’s largest restaurant chains…

Jeff’s specific expertise is in strategic communication: dealing with the media comfortably, communicating in a crisis… We sure didn’t have to turn to the weather for warm up conversation!   I just had to get his take on Goldman Sachs, Guergis and Jaffer, Tiger Woods, Toyota…  The Catholic Church!!

“Its a matter of protecting  public trust and your reputation” Jeff said.  ”People have very short attention spans these days and in the case of allegations like those made against Goldman Sachs, you aren’t given the chance to present the facts and refute claims, before you’re  found guilty in the court of public opinion.”  ”The Catholic Church”, he said “they’ve been dealing with sexual abuse scandals since Pope John Paul  II but it is the current Pope, Pope Benedict who is being forced to take ownership and must act – ‘Apologize for example!’ –  or accept  his Papacy  being seen as a failure”.  Transparency and Truth are today’s mantra and Trust our most valuable currency…

Jeff explained, there are two different types of trust violations, violations of integrity, such as Tiger Woods, and  competency violations, such as the Toyota recalls…   Research has shown that we find it much easier to forgive the latter.   But, a violation of competence can move quickly to a violation of integrity, if not handled correctly.

For an example of deft handling of a crisis situation… a violation of competence, Jeff recalled the  Maple Leaf Foods Listeria recall and President Michael McCain’s response.  Jeff says.  ”When you make a mistake, acknowledge it, genuinely apologize, and describe how you will remedy the situation.”  That’s what Maple Leaf and McCain did they acknowledged that Listeria had been found in some products despite top of the line processes for cleaning equipment, handling foods and detecting the bacteria.  They had issued an immediate recall,  shut down the plant and were reviewing all processes. Still, unfortunately some people were made ill  and some deaths occurred.  They offered deep and profound apologies.   As  Michael McCain put it.  ”At a time like this, the last people I am listening to are my lawyer and my accountant”.   We believed him,  he was real.

I could have talked to Jeff all day….so many great anecdotes and sage advice…   And, it’s complicated stuff!  We all read stories of communications gone wrong and  scoff at the gaffes, the lies and lame attempts to cover up or spin a story.   But would we handle it better?  in the heat of the moment, pulse racing and mind clamouring to retrieve the right facts,  to relay the proper messaging,  adopt the appropriate tone… “When the headline is you!?”

Hmmm.  I’m buying the book!

For more information on Jeff Ansell, please contact Speakers’ Spotlight.


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