Let’s Talk About That Green Hoodie (H&M P.R. Disaster)

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By now we’ve all seen the image. An adorable little black boy, posing on the official H&M retail site, in a green hoodie, with the words, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” scrawled across the front. If you’re one of the maybe few who somehow missed this story, I assure you that that is not a typo. Unsurprisingly, reactions were swift and the backlash very loud, with a number of celebrities, including music star The Weeknd and Grey’s Anatomy star, Jesse Williams speaking out against the retail giant.

Initially, I planned to approach this blog post the same way I have for other brands and companies that have had public relations missteps and that is to analyze how they handled the situation from a crisis communication perspective. And while I intend to focus on that aspect, I feel it necessary to share my immense disappointment and frustration in H&M, not just as a black woman but also as a strategic communicator.

Let’s face it, H&M is a global brand and that means, nothing is done in isolation at that company. There must be multiple chains of command and processes and various individuals and teams that either approve or veto various fashion items, campaigns, photo shoots, etc. My point is that this picture didn’t just end up on their website by complete accident or one person’s poor error in judgment.

Multiple people approved this child being fashioned in this hoodie, approved the images from the photographer, and approved the ad. So it is frustratingly mind-boggling to me that through that whole process there wasn’t one person who realized the racial implications and offensiveness of the image – really? It is 2018 and there is simply no excuse for someone to tell me that they are so ignorant to the racial history and undertones towards black people in the U.S. and around the world that you do not understand the connotations of using the word monkey with a black person’s image. And that a giant global retailer like H&M would make such a bubbling error is inexplicable. Again, because there is no way that this happened without multiple individuals seeing it and approving it.

An interesting irony of this incident is that it was only two short years ago that H&M was being praised for their brilliant “Close the Loop” campaign, which celebrated diversity. The campaign featured models of various shapes, gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. And yet, today we are here, where an entire creative team at H&M, including marketers, advertisers, photographers, and communicators, saw nothing wrong in an image of a black boy wearing a shirt with the words monkey in a jungle scrawled across its front.

What this incident has truly shown me and hopefully shows others is that while immense strides have been made in the world regarding the issues of race and diversity, we are not even close to where we should be. And more dialogue and conversation recognizing that we in many ways are still failing dramatically needs to happen. It needs to happen in all walks of life and it needs to happen in our industry. Because the fact is women and minorities are still underrepresented in top leadership positions around the globe.

I don’t think for a second that H&M intended to be offensive with this image. However, that’s what makes this issue even more telling and pressing. That so many really didn’t realize that it was and that is because there are still so many deep-rooted issues that we are not fully addressing as we should.

I was pleased to see that there seemed to some greater understanding of these deep-rooted issues from H&M in their second and more official statement, in which they stated, “Racism and bias in any shape or form, conscious or unconscious, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable and need to be eradicated from society. In this instance we have not been sensitive enough to this agenda.”

It was certainly a much better statement than their initial one which was pitiful at best, making the grave error of noting anyone that “may have been offended” by the image. One of the most important rules of crisis communication is to simply own your mistake and apologize without qualifiers. There was no may since it was clear many people were unquestionably offended. I also think H&M missed another significant step in crisis communication and that’s communicating with their audience what steps they would take to ensure that something like this never happens again. Hopefully, that plan is being implemented as we speak and they just forgot to let us, the public, know about it.

The greatest lesson I can say that we as public relations practitioners and communicators can take out of this incident is that we need to do more. Do more as individuals, as teams, as companies and as an industry to where hopefully, incidents like this don’t happen again.

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Tips for Successfully Executing Influencer Marketing Strategy on a Budget

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In previous articles, this blog has discussed the benefits of influencer marketing and tips for picking the right influencer for your influencer marketing strategy. However, while many companies and brands have embraced the importance of influencer marketing, there is still a pervasive misconception that it is a strategy for big businesses and global brands. Companies with million-dollar budgets. In truth, small businesses are more than capable of executing effective influencer marketing strategies. Like with all campaigns, it just takes having a clearly defined plan and strategy. Here are a few tips.

  • Use Micro-Influencers – According to HelloSociety (an agency that connects brands with the right influencer for their campaigns), micro-influencers are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than influencers with large followings (source: AdWeek). Micro-influencers are essentially influencers with a smaller audience as the regular influencer. However, smaller does not automatically mean less influential. As I noted in my post about picking the right influencer, it’s not always about big social media numbers. Yes, while an influencer having a large following is indicative of their reach, it does not always mean that their followers are engaged. Sometimes the individuals with 2,000 followers may have a far more engaged following than the individual with 2 million. Micro-influencers are typically cheaper than major influencers while achieving the same goals.

 

  • Contribute to their Content – Influencers do not always live on Instagram or Snapchat or the like. Many also have blogs and quite a few are willing to accept submissions from others, as long as it is in line with the theme and topic of their blog. Finding an influencer that allows guest posts for free is a very cost-effective way to utilize influencer marketing. It is also important to remember that influencers are not always individual people. Industry magazines, trade journals, news shows, television shows, brands, etc. can all be influencers. And a popular and influential magazine, for example, is a perfect avenue for submissions and guest articles that will be seen by a large and significant audience.

 

  • Offer Free Products/Services – One of the biggest hesitations that small businesses have regarding influencer marketing is that there is simply no budget for it. However, payment to an influencer does not always have to come in the form of money. Using resources that your business already has is a great way to save money while getting the most out of your influencer marketing strategy. For example, if are in the fitness business, e.g. own a gym or a vegan restaurant, etc. and you would like to work with a personal trainer or fitness expert with a large and engaged Instagram following, you can offer special discounts to the trainer and some of their most loyal customers in exchange for their posting about your gym or restaurant.

 

  • Activate Fans into Influencers – Here’s a little fact that some businesses are completely unaware of. Some of their potentially most effective influencers are already customers and fans of their brand. Many businesses assume that they need to look outward to find effective influencers, when the truth is, sometimes, someone with a fairly decent sized and active social media following is already using their product or service. Identifying those individuals and working with them can not only be a cost-effective way of executing a successful influencer marketing strategy but also an organic and credible way since the influencer was already a user and a fan of your product or service.

 

  • Become Your Own Influencer – I know what you’re thinking. It takes a long time to build enough of a following, credibility and influence to become an influencer. And yes, Rome was not built in a day. However, the potential benefits of establishing your business as an influencer are numerous, not least of all the costs saved by not having to constantly look elsewhere and pay others. Becoming an influencer largely involves establishing yourself as an expert and thought leader and there are many avenues to do so. Become a professor on websites like SkillShare, contribute to high-quality publications like Forbes and industry magazines, host free seminars, webinars and/or expos, etc. When people start to view your business as an expert and an authority, their trust in you will increase, which in turn will increase their willingness to buy whatever you’re selling.

Tips for Picking the Right Influencer for Your Influencer Marketing Strategy

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It is no secret that influencer marketing has become one of the most popular go-to buzzwords in the industry, in the last few years. Mediakix has noted that “Marketers are discovering that one of the best ways to target audience groups, drive awareness and elicit engagement across social channels is by creating innovative advertising partnerships with select social media influencers.” Hubspot also noted that 71 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding – i.e. influencer marketing is big business and it works.

A few months ago, I wrote about the benefits of businesses and brands investing in influencer marketing. However, one of the most important factors in achieving a successful influencer marketing strategy is to have the right influencer. So with that said, here are a few tips for picking the right influencer for your influencer marketing strategy.

  1. Relevance – This is quite possibly the most obvious and most important factor in picking the right influencer for your business and/or brand’s influencer marketing strategy. And yet, many companies fail at it. Finding an influencer who is relevant to your business/brand means knowing and understanding what your goals and objectives are for your influencer marketing strategy in the first place, knowing and understanding your audience and knowing and understanding that it is not a one size fits all with influencers. There are many different types of influencers that all come with their own unique voice and influence.

 

  1. It’s Not Always about the Big Numbers – As noted in my previous blog post about the benefits of influencer marketing, while the number of followers a potential influencer has is important, it is not always the most important thing and sometimes is not an accurate indicator of their influence. An influencer’s follower count indicates the extent of the influencer’s reach. However, it doesn’t always indicate the level of engagement and that is key because engagement is a true indicator of an influencer’s power. It is of little use for a brand and business to have an influencer who has a million followers but they are inactive followers. That is, they do not comment, retweet the tweets, repost the images, engage with the influencer at all, versus someone who has 200,000 followers who actively engage with everything they post, i.e. sharing it, reposting it, commenting, etc.

 

  1. Credibility – Another one of the most important factors in picking the right influencer for your business and brand is the credibility of the influencer and/or influencers you pick. Just like the case of using spokespeople for your brand, it is important to vet any potential influencer to ensure that there has not been any questionable social media behavior by them in the past, e.g. attempts to mislead or defraud followers, etc.

 

  1. Past Relationships of Influencer – Piggybacking off the previous point, in researching any potential influencer for your business and/or brand, it is important to consider any past partnerships, relationships, etc. they have in the past that may conflict with your brand and your message. For example, have they been advocates for brands or businesses that do not align with the kind of message that your business stands for and represents? Were they loud advocates for one of your biggest competitors? Because if so, your audience will likely not trust their sudden change of heart in advocating for you. Not to mention that the influencer themselves may lose credibility with their audience and by that token, no longer be as effective.

 

  1. Know What Type of Content You Want to Create – Finally, tying back to your influencer marketing goals and strategies, it is important to know exactly what type of relationship you want with your potential influencer and/or influencers, before deciding on someone. For example, do you plan to hand over complete creative control to an influencer in advocating for your brand, or are you looking for someone to share content that you create or will it be a collaborative partnership where you and the influencer jointly decide on the content that will be shared? Knowing where you stand on these issues is key to picking the right influencer and avoiding a potentially negative experience and partnership.

Is Snapchat Right For Your Organization?

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In just five short years, since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has quickly risen to one of the most popular social media platforms. Current data lists its average number of daily active users between 100 – 150 million, (second only to Facebook and far surpassing Twitter in daily usage). More people are aware of and use Snapchat than Pinterest and LinkedIn, which have both been around longer. However, despite this impressive growth, many organizations continue to be wary of the popular app as a social media channel for their business and their brand.

It is important to remember that it is not necessary for an organization to be on every social media channel. In fact, doing so can increase the risk of spreading your company resources too thin, resulting in not enough time and effort being allocated to any one channel. Also, every social media channel has its pros and cons, which means deciding to invest time and resources in any means deciding if that channel aligns with your organization. This is based on a number of factors including – your organization goals and objectives, your audience, the type of content you want to produce, your resources, etc.

So should your organization invest in Snapchat to promote your brand and help benefit your bottom line? Let us consider a few pros and cons of the popular app.

Pros

Works in Real Time – The key unique selling point of Snapchat is the time sensitive nature of the content created, i.e. posts and videos disappear after a few seconds. While the creators have since added the Story function that allows snaps to last up to 24-hours, the temporary nature of any content created continues to make Snapchat a tool that works best in real time and that can be a good thing for businesses. It allows organizations to communicate any important news about the company to their audience immediately and it can also increase engagement through promotions and discounts that require followers to act quickly because it will expire as quickly as it appeared.

One to One Engagement – Unlike many other social media channels, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat does not have a status update option and by that token a timeline of posts. Snaps are seen individually by those who follow the account and who cannot tell who the other recipients of the snaps are. As a result, this helps to foster something of an intimate, one on one feeling between an organization and its audience. This can be particularly appealing for small businesses with a very niche and close-knit customer base.

User-Generated Content & User Engagement – One of biggest appeals of Snapchat for users is the ability to create their own content they can have fun with and manipulate in different ways. Organizations can take advantage of this by encouraging their followers and audience to create videos or take pictures that demonstrate their use of the organization’s product(s), why they love said product, why they love the brand or the organization and much more. Having contests that award the most creative content will also appeal to followers. This increases not only audience engagement but user-generated content as well.

Can Influence Search and Drive Traffic – Organizations can influence search and drive traffic to their websites through the use of Snapchat, as long as they are smart about it. As is the case with most social media channels, it always helps to promote one via another. Cross promoting and cross-linking channels can help increase followers and engagement on all channels and also help solve some of the negatives of one channel. For example, using the short length of Snapchat videos, organizations can create a teaser using a 10-second snap that then encourages followers to view in its entirety on their YouTube account.

Helps Create Your Story – One of the most important goals of any organization is to tell its story. If an organization cannot really explain or show who they are, it makes it very hard for their audience to truly connect with them. Snapchat’s appropriately titled Story function helps users do exactly that – tell a story. If organizations are smart and strategic in their approach to using the tool, they can create some very interesting and compelling content that gives their audience good insight into who they are as a business and as a brand. The channel is particularly good for behind the scenes sneak peeks at organizations and brands, the organizational culture, employees and more. Fashion label Burberry did this brilliantly before debuting their 2016 Spring Collection at New York Fashion Week. In the days leading up to the show, the fashion house gave fans sneak peeks of the clothes that would be debuted, they showed the models gearing up for the show and featured Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour. The campaign worked to help build excitement and anticipation for the new collection.

Important Insights – One of the most commonly stated negatives of Snapchat is its limitations regarding measurement. While this is true, there are two important insights organizations can measure or at least gauge, based on the unique qualities of Snapchat. One is their audience on the channel. Snapchat makes it very difficult for individuals to lurk. While one can just search for an organization’s name on Facebook or Instagram and see their content without actually following them, with Snapchat, you have to follow an account to view its content. Therefore, organizations can know exactly who is following them, which can also tell them who is at least interested enough to want to see their content. Another unique aspect of Snapchat is individuals have to click on the content to view it, which also shows an interest level.

Cons

Limitations in Measurement – As stated above, there are some limitations in measuring the success of Snapchat. There is currently no defined data tracking attached to the app or an external online tool, which makes it challenging for organizations to accurately measure its success or failure to their bottom line. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Snapchat currently does not offer targeted and detailed analytics. And although organizations can measure impressions in terms of how many people opened the snaps, it is difficult to know how many actually watched it because individuals can fast-forward through the videos. Most importantly, because the content is time-sensitive, it is difficult for organizations to accurately measure how engaged individuals were with it, as is the case with Facebook posts or Instagram posts or Tweets which can be liked, re-tweeted, shared, etc. In terms of the sales process, Snapchat currently does not offer any type of user click or tracking that could direct an individual to a specific landing page so as to start them down the sales process and help establish prospects and/or leads.

Time-Sensitive – As the old adage goes, “it is both a gift and a curse”. The same element that makes Snapchat unique, is the same element that may be a downside for many organizations and brands trying to promote themselves using the app. While the element of communicating in real time has its appeal, many organizations may still not view the app as a worthwhile investment, when all the content they create will disappear, thus making it difficult to curate. There are ways to save snaps that can then be shared on other social media channels for a longer shelf life. However, that may beg the question of why not just simply use those channels instead?

Limited Two-Way Engagement – While it is true that one has to choose to see a snap, which at the least proves they were interested enough to click, there are still limitations for organizations to know just how truly engaged their audience was with the content. There are tips and ideas for encouraging engagement, such as asking viewers to take a screenshot of something in response to a snap but these options are significantly limited in comparison to other channels that offer the ability to share, like, retweet and repost the content. This limited two-way engagement also restricts interaction between an organization’s followers and non-followers, which makes it difficult to reach a new audience via sharing of content.

Niche Audience – Although Snapchat has significantly increased in active users in the past few years, its audience is still fairly niche, with an average of 70 percent female who are mostly between the ages of 18 to 34. This is great for an organization whose key target audience falls within that range but for an organization whose key audience may be males who are between the ages of 45-60, they understandably might wonder what benefit could there be for them in using Snapchat.

Competition, Thy Name Is Instagram Story – In August 2016, Instagram introduced a new feature to its popular channel, called stories. The new feature allows users to create videos and take pictures to build a slideshow that lasts for 24 hours. Sounds a lot like another channel, doesn’t it? Almost immediately, social media experts, influencers and, opinion leaders were wondering what the Instagram Stories feature would mean for Snapchat and its future. While it’s certainly far too early to tell if there has or will be any significant effect on Snapchat, it is hard to ignore that this move by Instagram throws a wrench in the former’s sail, particularly as it attacks the thing that makes Snapchat most unique. That is its short, quick and disappearing content.  While Snapchat’s growth has been incredibly impressive and exponential, Instagram still has 400 million users to the former’s 150 million. Given the choice to invest in another channel, many organizations may just decide to stick to the channel they’ve already established a presence on, had success with, especially since it now offers a feature similar to what Snapchat does.

Bottom line, should your organization add Snapchat as one of the channels in your social media marketing strategy? As previously stated, every channel has its pros and cons and it is up to you and your team to consider what your goals and objectives are, what audience you’re trying to reach, your brand identity and persona and more, and decide if what Snapchat offers aligns with those factors.

Originally published in PRNews: The Book of Social Media Strategies & Tactics  Vol. 2

What’s in the Air? (United Airlines Image Crisis)

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By now, we’ve probably all seen the video – a man forcibly being dragged from his seat and off a United Airlines flight. To say the video was disturbing would be an understatement and naturally, it immediately sparked a huge backlash against the airline company. The incident occurred less than a month after the airline found itself at the center of a Twitter backlash, after Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, tweeted that the two gate agents for the airline would not let two young girls board a flight, because they were wearing leggings.

While public opinion of the latter incident was a bit divisive, especially when it was explained that the two girls were pass customers and not paying customers, the double whammy of that incident and this latest one has made for a very negative and P.R. nightmare for the airline company. As this past week came to a close, the airline saw its stock fall by 4 percent. However, what made this recent incident particularly damaging for United Airlines is the very tone deaf response of its CEO Oscar Munoz.

Ironically, just a little over a month prior to this incident, Munoz was named Communicator of the Year by PR Week for, according to editors, being “An excellent leader who understands the value of PR”. Munoz’ response to the airline’s current PR crisis certainly makes one call the former statement into question.

I have written quite a bit about crisis communication on this blog, always reiterating the four key steps of crisis management that all organizations and businesses must adhere to in the face of any PR crisis. No matter the incident or issue, an organization should always remember to 1) do not hide, 2) be timely in response, 3) avoid being defensive and 4) explain why it won’t happen again. While United and Munoz did two of these things correctly – namely not hiding and being timely in their response, they failed at one of the most important rules, i.e. avoid being defensive. More importantly, they made one of the biggest follies of crisis management – dismissing or blaming the victim and not offering a sincere apology.

The first comment on the matter from the airline came in the form of a tweet, which stated, “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave”. Naturally, this outraged many, as it seemed to suggest that the individual being dragged off the plane was at fault.

Next, Munoz made his first statement on the matter, which was also posted on the airline’s official twitter page. In the statement, the CEO referred to the situation as upsetting and stated that the company was reaching out to the passenger. However, it’s Munoz’ apology for having to “re-accommodate these customers” that sparked outrage from some individuals. Many commented that the sentence read as dismissive of the gravity of the situation and that instead, the whole incident was merely an inconvenience to some customers.

The greatest backlash came when an internal letter sent by Munoz to United employees, went public. In the letter, Munoz is quoted as saying, “As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” Once again, to many, the statement read as blaming the victim and that the CEO was essentially saying that violently and forcibly dragging a paying customer off their plane was completely within their right to do so. Naturally, this did not sit well with many and the public outcry against the airline intensified.

Since then, Munoz has put out two more statements, each more conciliatory than the previous one and the airline has now vowed to change crew flight policy. However, the damage has been done and it may take a little while for the bleeding to stop.

This was a horrible situation in many ways but Munoz and the company’s initial response is another compelling study of why the first few hours of any crisis are the most important and why those initial public responses are so crucial. United was faced with a very damaging situation, particularly because there was visual evidence. The public reading about a man being forcibly removed from a plane is no way as damaging as the visual of a bespectacled, middle-aged man being dragged violently, as he’s screaming and bleeding, off a plane.

That visual alone should have alerted the airline company to the fact that this was a very delicate issue that they needed to navigate cautiously and with as much sensitivity and empathy as possible.  However, they didn’t do that. Rather, their first reaction was to go on the defensive and point the finger at the victim.

Not many individuals are going to initially side with a billion-dollar company over a vulnerable looking man seemingly being violently dragged. And United and Munoz should have been perceptive enough to realize this. The good news for United is that so far, tickets for the airline have not declined. That may change of course but as of right now, I’m sure any positive news is a great thing for the company. Still, the damage to the airline’s reputation has been done and that damage may cost them a lot more in the long run.

How Effectively Did The Academy Handle Oscars Mix-Up?

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It was the Oscar moment seen and heard around the world – La La Land was incorrectly announced as the winner of Best Picture, after presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were inexplicably handed the wrong envelope.  Social media immediately went crazy and the press was all over it in the days that followed.

More importantly, it was an extremely embarrassing moment for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and possibly one of the most embarrassing in the show’s 80 plus year history. And while host Jimmy Kimmel was right that at the end of the day, it’s just an award, for the filmmakers who work in the industry, the Oscars is one of the highest achievements they can receive.

And the mix-up not only robbed the winners of their winning moment but falsely made the producers of La La Land believe they’d achieved something that they hadn’t. In those moments they went from joy and pride to disappointment. The moment was the definition of a P.R. nightmare for The Academy.

The reality is no organization, no matter how profitable and effectively managed, is immune to experiencing a crisis situation at some point. The key is in how the organization manages and responds to said crisis. There are a few important steps any organization should practice, in order to weather any crisis as best as possible, including one, don’t hide, two, have a timely response, three, avoid being defensive and four, ensure and explain how it won’t happen again.

So how well did The Academy handle this recent crisis, based on these four key steps? In my opinion, they handled it fairly well and definitely get a passing grade. Regarding the four steps:

  1. Don’t Hide – The Academy did not ignore the moment and hope that in a few days everyone would forget about it and move on. They issued an immediate apology to the producers of both films, as well as the presenters and later issued a more detailed apology from the president of The Academy.

 

  1. Timely Response – Piggy-backing off the first point, not hiding also means being timely in the organization’s response to said crisis. In this case, The Academy issued a first statement hours after the incident, early Monday morning. The second statement from Academy president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs came four days later and the president addressed the time taken for her statement by acknowledging that they wanted all the facts to be properly gathered and assessed.

 

  1. Avoid Being Defensive – While those identified as being responsible for the mix-up were quite publicly reprimanded by The Academy president in her statement, the tone of both statements were for the most part contrite and chastened. There was no attempt to make light of the situation or dismiss its importance and seriousness.

 

  1. Explain Why It Won’t Happen Again – As wonderful as it is for an organization to admit their error and apologize, it is little comfort if they can’t explain how they will ensure that it won’t happen again. In this case, The Academy explained that not only would the accountants responsible for the error not be allowed to ever work the show again but that they were implementing new guidelines and reviewing the protocols of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the accounting firm that has handled the Oscars ballots for years. The statement also made clear that a future working relationship with the accounting firm was still under review. Rather than a vague promise that the incident would never happen again, the president, in her statement, made sure to explain how they would try to ensure it didn’t.

Oscars Controversy

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The Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks ago and as was the case last year, it came with some controversy, as once again all the nominees in the acting categories were white. However, unlike last year, the backlash has been loud enough and significant enough to create widespread media attention and a very vocal reaction from the entertainment industry, including many high profile actors.

I am not going to say what my personal opinions are about the issue (and trust me, I have a few) but rather would like to focus on the response by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the body that governs and votes for The Academy Awards, to the controversy. After all, this is a public relations blog and this is without question a P.R. crisis for The Academy.

If I were to award a grade in terms of how well I think the organization has handled and responded to the controversy and the issue in general, I’d say they are at a solid B. There are many things that they have done right when it comes to the rules of successfully weathering an organizational crisis.

  1. Respond in a Timely Manner – One of the first rules of good crisis communication is to never hide and simply hope that the crisis goes away on its own. While it is important to take some time to construct an intelligent, well thought out and relevant response, because you certainly don’t want to make a situation worse by rushing and saying the wrong thing, it is important that the organization delivers some kind of response as quickly as possible. It helps the public know where the organization stands on the issue and helps in trying to gain control of the story, as well as the narrative. The Academy did this, with President Cheryl Boone Isaacs releasing an official statement about the controversy four days after the nominations were announced.
  1. Avoid Being Defensive – It is never a good idea for an organization to respond to a crisis by being angry, defensive or belligerent towards the media and the public. The best approach is to simply acknowledge the issue, accept and acknowledge the organization’s failure and/or culpability, whatever that may be, and be sympathetic and understanding to the public. And The Academy did that, with President Isaacs expressing sadness and disappointment at the lack of diversity among the year’s nominees and admitting that things do need to change.
  1. Be Clear and Concise – While it is good to acknowledge an organization’s mistake or mistakes and to make promises to do better, providing a clear and concise statement on how the organization plans to make these changes and fix things is also very essential. Doing so adds credibility to the organization’s response and makes the public less skeptical, as it shows that the former has given real thought to the issue and to creating real and tangible solutions. The Academy did exactly this, when on the heels of President Isaacs’ official statement, the Board of Governors took a vote a few days later that resulted in a number of specific and detailed changes to The Academy’s membership and voting polices. The six specific changes were made public in a statement.

As positively as The Academy has handled the current controversy, the reason I gave them a B grade is because of the fact that this even happened at all. As noted above, it was just one year ago that the organization faced heavy backlash on social media when all the acting nominees and majority of nominees were white. Many were particularly upset about actor David Oyelowo not receiving a Best Actor nomination for the film Selma, as well as its director Ava DuVernay not receiving a Best Director nomination, although the film did receive a Best Picture nomination.

At the time, Academy President Isaacs made a statement insisting that the Academy was “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion”. And yet, a year later, virtually nothing had changed within the organization and its voting body. Therefore, I consider it a public relations failure on The Academy’s part that despite being aware of the public’s response, reaction and discontent, they chose to simply ride out the controversy and continue with business as usual, only to have this become an issue again. It is hardly surprising that this time the backlash and outcry was a lot worse.

The key lesson here is that as an organization, you must listen to your public and take the necessary steps to minimize a crisis as much as possible. Trying to ignore it and hope it just goes away is never the answer, as it is likely to only grow into something bigger and much more complicated.