Monday, October 11, 2010

Doing a Schultz

Associated Press reports that a congressional candidate from Ohio has been criticized by a leader of his party for donning a Nazi uniform during historical reenactments.

Baby Boomers may remember Sergeant Schultz, a character in the inane 1960s television comedy Hogan's Heroes.  

To dodge conflict of any sort, Schultz would constantly grimace and exclaim, "I know nothing!"

When asked by AP's reporter whether it might be a tad offensive to go around wearing a Nazi uniform in the middle of Ohio, our hapless congressional candidate replied, "I don't see anything wrong about educating the public about events that happened."

By remaining clueless and unapologetic, the candidate is guilty of what I'll call "doing a Schultz."

PR 101 teaches that the crucial first step in "handling" a public relations crisis is the swift public apology.  (And not only must that apology come forth immediately; it must be offered with a reasonable facsimile of remorse as well.)

To understand the power of the swift public apology, recall the recent cases of David Letterman and Tiger Woods.

Letterman apologized for his sexual indiscretions on his show before they were publicized.  A month later, no one cared.  A few media critics actually praised Letterman for his honesty.

In contrast, Woods shunned public attention after news of his sexual escapades broke.  When his apology finally came three months later, it was too late.  The damage to Woods' reputation was severe.

You can find more good advice about responding to a PR crisis in Chapter 9 of Michael Maslansky's The Language of Trust

Maslansky emphasizes the importance of establishing context before offering apologies or explanations.  Without context, audiences will always interpret your statements negatively.
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