A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal
November 29, 2014
November 19, 2014
November 10, 2014
BOOK REVIEW: GLASS JAW – A MANIFESTO FOR DEFENDING FRAGILE REPUTATIONS IN THE AGE OF INSTANT SCANDAL
November 5, 2014
October 11, 2014
October 10, 2014
A Glass Jaw in the Face of Crisis: An Expert's Guide to Confronting Business Controversy and Public Condemnation
—Rescue a CEO | September 18, 2014
"Dezenhall (The Devil Himself, 2011, etc.) counsels beleaguered corporations on how to deal with bullying citizens and their social media attacks.
A novelist and teacher as well as the founder of a leading crisis management firm (whose clients have included Michael Jackson, though there's no gossip here), the author plainly knows which side butters his bread—and that is the side typically seen as the powerful target of scandalmongering—but is here more often portrayed as the victim of "the bathrobe brigade," as "online advocacy makes the powerless powerful." He offers no road map through the minefields of new media, no playbook for the best defense (or a good offense); the landscape changes constantly and each scandal is different. "I am hired by those who are anticipating or embroiled in controversy," he writes, "who are enduring intense criticism—corporations, public institutions, prominent individuals—and they want me to shepherd them through the storm so they can return to their pre-scandal lives." Most often, the best that can be done is minimizing the damage rather than winning the battle, especially when the target (Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer) has been caught doing something flagrantly wrong. Someone like Bill Clinton has an advantage, since his scandal simply added evidence to what people suspected him to be, and they liked him anyway. This is not a book of morality but of pragmatism, of trying to determine what goals are within reach and what audience is crucial. Dezenhall suggests that most spin doctors are charlatans, and most bromides about getting in front of the story and other clichés are bunk. The author jumps around a lot, with bullet points and lists providing jarring juxtapositions, but he effectively shows how dramatically things have changed, from a partisan perspective that maintains, "social media promotes warfare," and that, as with guerrilla warfare, "David has become Goliath, and Goliath has become David."
More an illumination of the challenge than a pat solution.
Dezenhall, a crisis management consultant, reflects on the contemporary challenges of reputational damage control in the digital age. Arguing that both organizations and individuals are increasingly more susceptible to scandal, he takes readers through the “fiasco vortex” of new media, detailing several controversies from recent headlines, many of which ran amok with bogus information (including a wildly misleading ABC News report on “pink slime” in ground beef and the Toyota sudden-acceleration drama). When it comes to mending a broken reputation, Dezenhall offers advice by way of example, emphasizing that these remedies depend on context. (Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart were able to weather the storm; Paula Deen fell on the side of less successful). The author defends corporations against whistle-blowers and activists, claiming, dubiously, that “the meek are predators and the strong are prey.” However, he rightly identifies a public schadenfreude inherent in the taking down of wealthy targets and finds a more palatable enemy in “Big PR” firms that are ill-equipped to handle the intricacies. While Dezenhall claims to address a wide audience, he freely admits to favoring those at the center of a scandal, and as a result the book favors corporations both in applicability and ideology. Agent: Kris Dahl, ICM. (Oct.)
"With GLASS JAW, Eric Dezenhall once again offers fascinating and timely insights into the gladiatorial arena of modern crisis management. Like an Amazing Randi of communications, he debunks anyone claiming to perform PR magic as a fraud. Instead, he offers realistic strategies tempered by hard truths. We've been studying human behavior and how good and bad people react under great stress for quite some time, but we always learn something valuable from Eric."
"From Silicon Valley to the factories of the 'old' economy, marketplace power has never been more precarious. Eric Dezenhall's GLASS JAW is to damage control what Taleb's BLACK SWAN is to economics — a jeremiad on how the seemingly powerful are increasingly at the mercy of the seemingly powerless. This book is the field guide anyone in a position of responsibility will want in the foxhole with them when their reputation is on the line."
"Today, one product defect, one offensive remark — combined with the power of instantaneous world-wide social networking — can bring down the mightiest giant. GLASS JAW analyzes how scandals spiral out of control and details the hard work required to regain a lost reputation. Dezenhall's cautionary tales are fascinating — and should serve as a stern warning to anyone with a reputation to lose."
It may be only May, but if you're starting to compile a summer reading list for the beach, and you're one of those rare people who read about PR while on vacation, here's one to consider. It's called Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, by Eric Dezenhall. The book was published in late 2014. For background, Dezenhall is the founder of Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., which was formed in 1987, and has handled a large number of high-profile crises.
His book, Glass Jaw focuses on crisis communications in the digital age. He uses several recent communications crises to illustrate what he calls a "fiasco vortex," where smaller problems escalate quickly thanks to the viral nature of the Internet.
The book explores another major characteristic of the current crisis communications climate, a twist on the old "man bites dog" scenario. Glass Jaw focuses on how many recent crises today center on large, powerful organizations that were bullied and taken down by traditionally weaker or more powerless but tech savvy groups that know how to leverage digital media channels.
Or as Dezenhall points out, "the meek are predators and the strong are prey."
The author explains that traditional crisis management tactics and strategies may not effectively counter some of these new types of attacks, and it can be folly to try to trade punches on social media. He says that when some organizations find themselves the target of such campaigns, they often respond too quickly, apologize ineffectively, and generally over-react.
More to the point, he believes that both the cause and the solution to the controversy reside away from the public eye. He likens controversies to icebergs, where the small top above the water is all that the world sees, but "Most of what's really happening is happening in a place that few people see."
So, while the public may see the media coverage, the statements, the apologies and the product recalls, Dezenhall says that behind the scenes are operational and strategic decisions, regulatory moves, and conflict avoidance.
Says Dezenhall, "Most crises that are successfully resolved are resolve due to business and operational considerations, which occur beneath the surface of the controversy iceberg. Because these actions are often mundane and invisible, they go unheralded. Above-the-surface communications strategies are over-hyped as damage control solutions, which may play a supporting role, but shouldn't divert attention away from the big decisions that will ultimately determine the health of the principal."
In a sense, Glass Jaw is an anatomy of much current day news coverage and how some groups effectively leverage the power of digital media, both narrowly and as part of a broader strategy.