Insights

Managing Campus Unrest on College Campuses During the Trump Administration

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Part three in a three-part series focusing on communications challenges for brands, advocacy organizations and educational institutions amidst a Trump Administration.

Colleges and universities were faced with immediate reaction from the surprising election night victory by Donald Trump. Students gathered on campuses across the country to peacefully protest. But, not all protests were peaceful as some protesters spilled into the streets with chants of “Not My President and “No Racist USA.” In some locations police arrived in riot gear to maintain order.

University presidents made statements to their student bodies primarily by way of email, calling for calm, understanding, and acceptance. Within a couple of days, the demonstrations dissipated and students got back to class.

However, there might be more to come. President-elect Trump has shown no signs of slowing down on his inflammatory rhetoric that mobilized supporters and angered opponents. Like the rest of the nation, the student population is politically divided, and the divide could spell trouble for college administrators for years to come.

To manage protests following Election Day, several college administrators created a number of events in an attempt to pacify students. Those events included activities such as “post election recovery meetings.” Some offered “arts and crafts” gatherings, while one university provided therapy to calm frayed nerves.

In the 1960s, college campuses were hotbeds for political protests but students were mostly unified in protesting the war in Vietnam and in support of civil rights. As Trump takes office, college administrators need to have a plan to manage ongoing angst on campus and the potential for intra-student conflicts.

There are already examples of the potential dangers to come. At the University of Virginia the word “terrorists” was written on the door of a dorm room where two Muslims lived following the election; at California State University a Latina student and Trump supporter reportedly received harassing texts such as “Is it fun being a racist now,” and “When Trump is raping you are you still going to want him for president?”

If Trump makes good on his campaign pledges, then school administrators should brace for what could be unprecedented campus conflict. Envision implementation of his immigration plan that could single out or deport students and their families; imagine the backlash if abortion is outlawed in certain states and if that includes “punishment” for women as he suggested; and think about if Trump continues his rhetoric on the Second Amendment.  Any (perhaps all) of these scenarios present the potential for significant issues on campus that could adversely affect students’ ability to receive a high-quality education and potentially damage the reputation of the school for years to come.

Colleges should be working now on strategic communications plans to manage Trump-related contingencies.  Those strategic plans should include steps to further engage with students, regular student meetings to monitor the student body pulse, and specific messages to address key issue areas, including immigration, abortion, health care and guns.

Social media channels should be used to not only push messages and monitor the tone and volume of discussions taking place on campus, but to engage with students. This is an element missed all too often.  Social media engagement promotes better dialogue and powerful information-sharing.

Protocols should be established to monitor campus incidents and a plan should detail specifically when action is required. Strategic plans should answer the following questions in advance: When should we tweet? What should we say?  When should the president get involved?  When is a statement necessary?

Another important step is to coordinate with local media to ensure they know who to contact if or when a serious incident occurs.  The communications team should also coordinate with the public outreach personnel for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies so that ground rules are established and lines of communication are open.

The coming years might test the ability of colleges and universities to maintain order on campus.  Those with well-developed communications strategies will have a better chance at mitigating – or even avoiding –  crises.  These strategies and tactics might also assist with promoting compassion and unity among students, faculty and staff, and the community.

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The End of Advocacy. Time for Advocacy Groups to go to Defense

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Part two in a three-part series focusing on communications challenges for brands, advocacy organizations, and educational institutions during the Trump Administration. 

The only certainty of a Trump Administration is uncertainty. During the Republican primary campaign, one of Donald Trump’s opponents characterized him as the “chaos candidate.” Those who cannot become adept at functioning amidst chaos will be penalized during a Trump Administration.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the establishment and policies he vowed to radically change. Immigration – build a wall. Abortion – punish women. Climate change – a hoax. Affordable Care Act – repeal it. Trade agreements – renegotiate.

Many advocacy organizations rely on federal funding that Trump and the Republican controlled congress can affect. For liberal organizations, such as those, which promote reproductive rights, environmental stewardship, and fair and humane immigration policies, it is critical to be on alert as these are areas about which candidate Trump was very vocal.

Following Trump’s stunning Election Day victory, DC’s advocacy organizations quickly huddled among themselves to figure out what a Trump Administration means to their causes. Many groups are scrambling to understand the new world order. Meanwhile, some leaders emerged with a brave face. Some privately rationalized that it would be “okay” and that Trump would moderate his stances.

Then Trump began announcing his cabinet picks.  One-by-one the news hit harder and harder for defenders of key social issues. Moderation simply is not a word associated with Trump.  His cabinet picks doubled-down on his campaign rhetoric.

Senator Jeff Sessions – Attorney General – is a conservative U.S. Senator from Alabama. Sessions has pledged to overhaul immigration. He was previously denied confirmation for a federal judgeship in 1986 – by a Republican-led Senate – because of racially charged comments he made.

Tom Price – Secretary, Health and Human Services – is a republican member of congress from Georgia and a surgeon who has led opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He wants to repeal the law and replace it with a plan that favors private health insurance companies. He introduced legislation that would deny government funding to health care plans that cover abortion.  He is also in favor of privatizing Medicare.

Betsy DeVos – Secretary, Education – is a billionaire education activist who is a staunch proponent of vouchers under the “school choice” slogan.  The idea diverts tens of millions of federal dollars to private schools.

Scott Pruitt – Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency – Oklahoma’s attorney general and staunch opponent of EPA’s major initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Air Act.  

Organizations are now forced to pivot from “promoting change and moving forward” to a considerably more defensive position of “defending the status quo.” For many advocacy organizations, there is still so much progress to be made but that must now be put on hold.  Success should now be based on not losing ground.

Defending ground is not as appealing as moving forward, but make no mistake, a Trump Administration will usher in sweeping changes. Women could be denied medical procedures like abortion; our working immigrant population could be decimated; public education could be gutted; and, health care could be placed back in the hands of the insurance companies and private markets.

The negative outcomes of these dramatic policy shifts could include: an increase in suicides and imprisonments in the case of abortion rights; a loss of production in valuable sectors such as construction, food production, hospitality, as a result of immigration reform; implosion of the public education system as we know it; and, a return to uncared for patients, unaffordable medical procedures, and soaring costs to individuals if the health care law is repealed.

The “stand-and-fight” positioning is the only logical approach. In light of the prevailing policy headwinds, advocacy leaders must now reconsider plans to advance their agendas. Now is the time to dig in and protect the progress that has been made over recent years.  The goal now must be to defend the land you have.

This shift requires a strategic communications approach that must accomplish three things: first, advocacy groups must remind their members and donor bases of their successes accomplished over time; second, the strategy should outline the realities and possible consequences that are possible as the result of the new administration; and, third, it will be critical to create a specific action plan that can be concisely and compellingly communicated to stakeholders.

It’s a mistake to simply use the Trump threat as a fundraising tool. Organizations should be prepared to empty the “rainy day fund” to get their message out. This includes, for example, a significant bump in online advertising; creation of meaningful events that attract major media coverage; and, elevation of media relations to ensure there exists a nationwide network of spokespeople that can effectively advance the message.

Conservative organizations, too, need to be on alert and proceed with caution as Trump has proven to be unpredictable, at best.  Many of the issues cited above are traditionally associated with progressive groups however, conservative groups can be negatively affected by a rollback of current policies.

These shared interests presents the opportunity for coalitions of “strange bedfellows,” between progressive and conservative groups working together to defend the same ground.  For example, not all business organizations traditionally associated with conservative values are excited about the prospect of a massive drop in the workforce that is likely with the approach to immigration reform that President-elect Trump has espoused.  Similarly, many industries desperately need predictability in public policy. It’s difficult to enter into contracts and agreements that often span decades when you don’t know what the playing field will look like just four or eight years from now. Broad coalitions could be built on immigration, trade, climate change, and other issues that benefit both progressive and conservative organizations.  The most effective coalitions are the ones that represent the broadest number of people.

Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2017.  Organizations that take a “wait and see” approach will be making a mistake.  Now is the time to dig-in and take action to defend the progress that has been made.

Part three, will focus on how colleges and universities can managing campus unrest in the Trump world.

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Brands Must have a “Trump factor” Plan to Manage a Highly Charged Political Environment

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Part one in a three part series focusing on communications challenges for brands, advocacy organizations and educational institutions.

The 2016 presidential campaign and the subsequent election of Donald Trump has generated intense emotions and debate. President-elect Trump has personally fanned that intensity with provocative statements and tweets. He has attacked the character of his opponents, members of the media, war heroes, celebrities, and private citizens. He has passionately taken stands on social issues important to many Americans (and others throughout the world) including immigration, abortion, trade, the First Amendment, and the Second Amendment, to name a few. In short, it is nearly impossible for individuals not to be somehow affected by Trump’s words.

We live in a highly charged environment where Trump’s statements or proposed policies can have an impact on the bottom line and/or on a company’s customers.  If you are a brand manager you are perhaps in the most dangerous of waters. Anything that is said on behalf of a brand in connection to Trump or his proposed policies could put the brand and the company in the crosshairs of controversy.

Take U.S. shoe maker New Balance for example. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the company’s VP of public affairs told the reporter that “things are going to move in the right direction” under a Trump Administration.  Without any context, this statement would seem to indicate a wholesale endorsement of Donald Trump.  The reality is that this comment was made in response to a very specific question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a controversial free trade pact, which the company opposes.

What happened next threw the shoe company into a public relations nightmare. An influential neo-Nazi blogger declared New Balance the “official shoes of white people” causing emotions to flare on both sides.  Trump supporters cheered the statement, while Trump detractors called for a boycott of the company’s products.

New Balance made a concerted effort to manage the crisis.  In a statement, it pointed out that the comment was taken out of context and then recited its commitment to manufacturing in the United States.

The lesson here is that brand managers must be exceptionally careful about what positions they take and how they are presented. We live in a 50-50 country with a citizens’ emotions’ frayed after the last election. The current counting of the popular vote shows that Hillary Clinton received 48% of the vote versus 46% for Trump.  That’s an even split for brand managers.

Morning Consult recently published a survey that underscores how consumers, like voters, are divided. Its poll found a near equal split of respondents who say they are more likely to shop at a store because it sells Trump products (31%) compared to 35% who say they are less likely to shop there for the same reason with 34% undecided.  If you split the undecideds in half and apply them equally to the each side the result are 52% to 48% closely matching the overall popular vote. Most brand managers are not interested in excluding 50% of the market.

Brand managers must keep focused solely on their core products. Several years ago basketball star and shoe pitchman, Michael Jordan, refused to weigh in on a senatorial race in his home state of North Carolina, making the point that “Republicans buy shoes too.”  He was right then and brand managers should now take steps to follow his lead.

Perhaps more important, brand managers must be prepared to rapidly respond when their brand is dragged into the political muck like New Balance.  

Since the election, there have been at least three pro-Trump outbursts caught on video that have gone viral including, in a Starbucks, a Michael’s craft store, and on a Delta Airlines’ flight. In each instance the company issued a statement of inclusion and support of equality. Delta went farther; the man caught on video disrupting a flight with a pro-Trump outburst has been banned for life from flying on the airline and provided refunds for the cost of the ticket to the other passengers.

Brands should have a “Trump factor” strategy as part of its overall crisis response plan. This plan should include: 1) internal communications to employees reminding them of the company’s mission and the dangers of stepping into the political divide; 2) greater focus on monitoring social media accounts and media mentions to quickly identify potential issues; and, 3) a strategic plan with specific action steps to take once an issue is identified.

The current political climate will present problems for brand managers.  Americans are wearing their politics on their sleeves. A step in the wrong direction by a brand representative could boil over and end up the subject of a boycott.  Planning ahead will help brands avoid major problems.

The three keys for brand managers to bridge the political divide:

  • Stay laser-focused on the brand and its value proposition;
  • Don’t get cute and try to ride the political wave to sell your product; and,
  • Educate and train all your brand representatives to identify and manage issues before they gain momentum.

Part two will focus on how advocacy organizations can succeed during a Trump Administration.

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Why Ryan Lochte’s Lies Matter

Ryan Lochte’s attempt at an apology for lying about being robbed at gunpoint was no apology at all. Instead it was more subterfuge that suggests a gaping hole in his character, it demonstrates an undeniable level of cowardice.  

We live in a pretty forgiving society.  Everyone makes mistakes.  We pay the price, hopefully learn from it, and move on.  When it comes to strategic communications in times of crisis, the idea to alleviate the problem.  Lochte’s statement has exacerbated the issue.

The non-apology issued by Lochte suggests that he thinks the gold hanging from his neck exonerates him from his frat-boy behavior. It also suggests that he is alone or perhaps just surrounded by people who see no future for the swimmer (how else to explain that attempt at an apology?).

Olympians occupy a special place in sports – more than representing a team or themselves or sponsors, they represent their country. The rampaging of a gas station bathroom by Lochte and other American swimmers reflects poorly on all Americans.

Their actions are the embodiment of the Ugly Americans.  Not only did the swimmers vandalize a small business owner, they then attempted use Brazil’s reputation for crime as a getaway scheme and position themselves as the victims.

Lochte and Co. need to sincerely apologize.  No more statements.  They should meet with the media to explain exactly what happened and express their heartfelt regret for their actions. This is their chance as Americans to show the world they not only made a mistake but they are willing to completely own up to it.

At this point, few people really care about the swimmer’s reputations or what happens to them — they need to do the right thing on behalf of their country.  It’s an opportunity to show the world that they are winners and not cowards.

Lochte has played second fiddle to Michael Phelps his entire career.  Phelps was able to successfully rally back from a career threatening mistake. He owned his errors and seems to have become a better person for having endured. Lochte has the chance to again follow in Phelps footsteps.  We will if he is man enough to do so.  

Master Chef Peter Chang’s Flawless Crisis Management

In the restaurant business, reputations are made and broken with every customer interaction.  That includes how customers are treated from the moment they walk into a restaurant, the service they receive and of course the meal.  Customers judge all of it. Extreme restaurant experiences – either awesome or awful – tend to be the ones customers talk about.

Last week at Peter Chang’s Restaurant in Arlington, Va., some servers attempted to secretly ridicule customers they thought were being obnoxious.  After the meal the customers noticed on the check that the servers had identified them as “plaid asshole” and “i have a small penis.”

These customers told people about the experience.  And by people, I mean The Washington Post and suddenly the story went viral.  Peter Chang, was the head chef at the Chinese Embassy before launching his restaurant empire that now numbers seven locations in Virginia.  He is so popular among some devoted diners they call themselves “Changians.”

So, what to do when your reputation is being smeared in the Washington Post?  Take swift action. In a business where your business depends on reputation, customers must be reassured that action is being taken and steps are made to try to ensure the same mistakes are not made again.

Peter Chang took action.  He responded by firing everyone involved in the incident: two servers, the manager on duty, and his daughter who is responsible for running the restaurant.  He didn’t stop there.  He launched an investigation to understand exactly what happened; he’s hiring a professional management company to help train employees; and, he invited customers to contact him directly with complaints or criticism.

These are all excellent steps addressing the unfortunate situation and avoiding a catastrophic crisis.  The steps send the message that the customers always come first and he takes the situation (and his reputation) very seriously.  Below is the statement of apology Chang sent to the media:

Peter Chang’s Statement                                   

I sincerely apologize to the guests who were offended on 05/07/2016 when they dined at my Arlington restaurant. I am deeply disturbed by the incident. I am sorry, my respected guests. I also apologize to all my friends who have had trust in Peter Chang. We made a mistake and let you down.

We made a mistake and we must correct it. The following is what we are doing to correct and improve:

  1. My company has fired Qian Cheng, the manager on duty on 05/07, and the waiter and waitress on duty. Manager Lydia Zhang will also be fired after the investigation is completed.
  2. My company is contacting a professional management company and will have it as our consultant in improving the management of all the restaurants in my company. My goal is to enforce discipline, supervision of all employees and to better the training of services [sic] so as to build a managing team that is professional and effective, so that the quality of services will be guaranteed.
  3. My company will make greater effort in improving the food quality monitoring system so my insistence on offering fresh and healthy food with Chinese characteristics will not only be upheld but improved and perfected.
  4. We accept guests’ complaints and/or criticism wholeheartedly. Please call Gen Lee, who is one of the founders of my company, by dialing (434) 227-0006 if you are unsatisfied with any aspect of my restaurants. He will contact you quickly.

Dear guests and friends, I found dignity in being a chef due to your support and encouragement. I need more of your help in supervising my employees, so my restaurants will be nicer places for you to enjoy fine food in the future, and I will have a stage to continue to present my culinary skills.

Peter Chang

Wendell Scott enters NASCAR HOF for more than one reason

When Wendell Scott’s NASCAR career is discussed it is inevitably said that he had one win, and with that one win at Jacksonville in 1963 he became the first African American driver to win a NASCAR race. Wrong. Wendell Scott won at least 128 races at local tracks long before he started his premier series (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) career. Scott wasn’t just the “black driver with a win.” He was a champion and a fierce competitor who earned the respect of his fellow drivers.

wendell scott v2Based upon the strength of his lifetime stats, Scott will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, January 30, along with other NASCAR greats Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Joe Weatherly, and Rex White.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Scott is that when he began his premier series career he was 40 years old. Scott brought along his tenacity and grit from the local tracks to big time racing. In his 13-year career he managed 495 starts, which ranks him 37th on NASCAR’s all time list. During that time, Scott amassed 147 top 10s, 20 top 5s and one win. He also won the pole at Savannah, GA, in 1962 that set the dirt track record for all ½ mile tracks.

Prior to his racing career, Scott, like many of his contemporaries, served his country in World War II in the U.S. Army. There he worked in the motor pool for three years, honing his mechanical skills, which would later serve him well in his racing career.

1271360250-NASCAR-Hall-of-Fame-Logo-Full-Color1Following the war, Scott returned home to Danville, VA, and took a job as a cab driver, thus continuing his work around cars. Soon Scott began his racing career. According to a story in the News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.), “Scott’s racing career began at the Danville Fairgrounds in 1952 and from there, he moved his way up through the ranks. He won 128 races in the hobby, amateur, and modified ranks.”

Scott ran in both the NASCAR Sportsman Division (NASCAR Xfinity Series) as well as the Modified class, and ranked in the top 10 nationally in both. He accomplished this while racing against the likes of Ralph Earnhardt, Cotton Owens, Ned Jarrett, and Fireball Roberts.

In 1959, Scott won 22 races, besting the tough competition at tracks such as Waynesboro, Danville, Zion’s Cross, Roanoke, Tidewater, and others. He also won both the track championship at Southside Speedway in Richmond, VA, and the state NASCAR Sportsman Division championship that year.

1964, when Scott was 43 years old, was his best Cup year statistically. That year Scott started 56 races and had one win, eight top 5s and 25 top 10s. That’s a year that would make any driver proud.

As Scott earned his stripes, he became one of the guys earning respect and building friendships with fellow drivers. Richard Petty, Crew Chief Dale Inman, and others looked after Scott, providing him with parts and pieces to make sure he could compete each week.

Like many of the great teams of the time, racing was a family affair, and it was no different for the Scotts. Wendell’s family played a role back home in the shop and in the pits. Sons Wendell, Jr. and Frankie spent their time under the hood, building engines and parts during non-racing days and pitting the car on race day.

(Wendell Scott, Jr., and I have had several conversations about his dad. Some were good stories, some were not. But Wendell Jr. was always proud of how his dad was able to earn the respect of the greatest drivers in the world.)

In Scott’s racing days, restaurants were primarily “whites only” and when a proprietor attempted to throw Scott out, one of his fellow drivers would typically say, “if you are not going to serve Wendell, then you won’t be serving any of us.” And that was that – he was one of the guys.

Long before the NASCAR Hall of Fame recognized Scott, there was musician and fellow Danville native, Mojo Nixon, who wrote and recorded The Ballad of Wendell Scott. Mojo, who also hosts a weekly radio show called Manifold Destiny on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio, forever honored the driver in the 1980s:

“No sponsors or a whole lot of money/ sure did make us proud / Wendell Wendell Wendell Scott /Drive so fast he couldn’t stop /Wendell Wendell / He’s my man / He a stock car driving man!” (Take a listen here: The Ballad of Wendell Scott)

While Scott’s win at Jacksonville was momentous, it has actually obscured many of his other accomplishments. Scott’s tough but smart driving was his hallmark, and was not unlike the driving styles of Alan Kulwicki in the 1980s and Jeff Burton in recent years.

The number of wins a driver has cannot be the standard for induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame – there are only 12 that have 50 or more premier series wins, making it a pretty small club. So the Voting Committee wisely evaluates each driver’s entire body of work and his or her overall impact on the sport. When you look at Wendell Scott’s body of work and what he still means to the sport today, he stands tall among NASCAR’s greats.

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Ramsey Poston is the architect of the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominating and voting process and is President of Tuckahoe Strategies. (www.TuckahoeStrategies.com)

Press Freedom is Essential for Democracy Worldwide

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Thomas Jefferson


It was an interesting week for press freedom.  In Paris, 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were murdered in a terrorist attack by radical Muslims.  The terrorists struck during the daily staff meeting and took the lives of the newspaper’s editor, four Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 1.51.02 PMcartoonists, an economist, a columnist, the receptionists, security guards and a visitor.
The publication is stridently irreverent and often pokes fun at anyone including Islamic leaders.  Upon leaving the scene the terrorists reportedly shouted, ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.  We have killed Charlie Hebdo!”  The motive was clear: silence the media.

Meanwhile, less than 50 miles from Washington, D.C., Kirby Delauter, a local politician in Frederick, Maryland threatened reporter Bethany Rodgers with a lawsuit if she used his name in her newspaper without authorization.  In a Facebook exchange, Councilman Delauter accused Rodgers of writing a “hit piece.”  He concluded by writing, “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney.  Your rights stop where mine start.”  Mr. Delauter’s motive was clear: silence the media.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was tragic and part of a global threat while the Delauter situation was stupid and comical.  Let’s be clear, there is no comparison between the two scenarios — except for one: the attempt to silence the media.  It is a reminder that even here in the United States, the “land of the free,” that press freedom is occasionally seen as a nuisance and often challenged.

Press freedom is the basis of Democracy.  We cannot have one without the other.  The expression of facts, ideas, and opinions are the ingredients of a free people.  Local reporters such as Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post play an especially important role.  They are the people who are keeping local government in check.  They are the ones taking the time to sit through boring county council meetings when no one else is looking.  They churn through mountains of legal filings and keep a check upon what is happening at the courthouse.  The service that journalists provide are as important as the leaders we elect.

They are also endangered.  As media budgets plummet, the idea of being a journalist has become less and less appealing to the younger generation.  It’s hard work, long hours and little pay.   Journalists are also increasingly in the line of fire.  The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 1,109 journalists have been murdered since 1992. These journalists put their lives on the line for our democracy.

We won’t always agree with what is being reported in the media.  Reporters make mistakes, they get the facts wrong, they sometimes intentionally embellish and sometimes they flat out lie.  It’s the same as with any industry, its not perfect. However, overall, the media strive to do what is right and protect democracies.  All of us living in democracies around the world need to do our part to support the media and let freedom ring.

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Ramsey Poston is president of Tuckahoe Strategies, a strategic communications firm based on the Eastern Shore.

Bill Cosby Treading Water in Rape Allegations

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[UPDATED – July 6, 2015 – According to the Associated Press, “Bill Cosby testified in 2005 that he got Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and he admitted giving the sedative to at least one woman and ‘other people.”]

One of Cosby’s classic stories is a conversation between Noah and God regarding the construction of an ark in anticipation of the Bible’s apocalyptic flood. In Cosby’s version of the story, Noah becomes very frustrated with the process. Noah says to God, “Well, I’m sick and tired of this, I’ve had enough of this stuff.” God, replies, “How long can you tread water?”  With this testimony coming to light, Cosby sinks a little deeper.

Whether Bill Cosby is innocent or guilty of rape allegations, his “no comment” strategy is a major PR mistake and will cost him in the court of public opinion and perhaps in judicial courts. At a minimum, Cosby has been less than forthright when asked about his behavior.

The comedic icon has been dogged for years by allegations that he raped multiple women. At least one woman filed suit that was eventually settled out of court. Another woman, Barbara Bowman, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post where she claims Cosby “brainwashed” her and assaulter her “multiple times.”

NPR’s Scott Simon asked Cosby about the claims and Cosby said nothing. Literally nothing. Simon ask the comedian three times if he wanted to clear his name and set the record straight and each time Cosby remained silent.

In virtually any crisis situation, “no comment” essentially translates into “I’m guilty.” Traditionally, lawyers tend to believe the best strategy is to just wait until their day in court. That strategy was perhaps more effective pre-Internet when information was constrained to major media establishments and a handful of opinion makers. Today, when it comes to one’s reputation, we all live in the digital world and power is diffused throughout the Internet. The old media establishment and the 24 news cycle are long gone. Individuals and bloggers have credibility and can shape images in real time.

Those facing crisis situations need to adapt to the digital world and manage their reputations on the front end. The risk of a “no comment” strategy is that by the time one gets to court there may be nothing left to defend.

Cosby is embarking on a major concert tour, billed as, “Laughter is universal – Bill Cosby – Far from finished” that will cover nearly 40 shows nationwide. He will also perform in his first television concert in 30 years to be broadcast Nov. 23 on Comedy Central.

Cosby’s silence will not deter media in locals markets from continuing to raise questions about the rape allegations. Nor will his silence likely slow down his accusers; why would it? As long as Cosby remains silent, his accusers repeatedly get “free shots” and by default, they control the message.

While Cosby’s accusers remain on the attack, his reputation continues be diminished and the accusations threaten to derail his “far from finished” tour and perhaps his entire career. If their message continues to resonate, it won’t be long before Cosby’s entire career is defined as being a rapist instead of the lovable comedian he is known as by millions of people worldwide.

As this crisis rages on, the Cosby camp needs to also consider the costs to his business. How much more negative attention will it take before Comedy Central, the network of conscientious Jon Stewart, has to rethink its Bill Cosby special? What will be the environment at his concerts? Will activist groups protest his shows? Will ticket sales suffer?

Bill Cosby needs to take control of his message, whether he is innocent or guilty. If he is innocent, it is important that he look the American people in the eye and proclaim his innocence. He needs to be public in his defense and tell his story far and wide and he must be willing to take questions and be prepared to respond with details. In fact, he should find a respected national television show to present his side of the story – perhaps 60 Minutes or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

If he is guilty, the best thing he can do is to come clean. He needs to address the allegations and tell the American people what happened and why. While doing so would put Cosby in the crosshairs of controversy, he’s already there, so it would be his best shot at a new beginning. He would have to admit it all, ask for forgiveness and then try to rehabilitate his life and his reputation.

Remaining on the sidelines is a mistake. One way or another he should speak up and tell his story.

In his real life story, Cosby is the one treading water. He needs to build that ark and get to solid ground.

Dan Snyder vs. Public Opinion and Justice

Growing up in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s and ‘80s I always wanted to be an“Indian” when it came time to play “Cowboys and Indians.”  The Indians in my mind were an extension of my favorite football team, The Washington Redskins. This was a great source of pride for me and one that gave me what I thought was an important connection to Native Americans, even though the team’s connection was superficial at best.

Every few years the issue of whether the Redskins’ name is racist would surface(usually when the team was headed to a Super Bowl). Occasionally I would meetNative Americans and ask them about the name. Typically, they said they took no offense to the name and even supported the team. I took solace in the fact that some Native Americans supported the team. The controversy would just as quickly evaporate and everyone seemed to move on.

This time it’s different.The team is quickly headed to a tipping point in which a name change is imminent.

So what is different this time around? Arrogance. Team owner Daniel Snyder challenged the public’s awareness and opened the door for a more complete discussion about the name when he told USA Today in an interview, “We’ll never change the name…it’s that simple. NEVER.” For emphasis, he then said to the reporter: “You can use caps.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “public opinion, though often formed upon a wrong basis, generally has a strong underlying sense of justice.” It is now clear that the public, along with much of the Native American community, accepted Snyder’s challenge and public opinion has shifted in the name of justice.

Public opinion, followed by business reasons, has forced the team to change in thepast and it’s going to happen again. The team’s fight song, “Hail to the Redskins” hasbeen revised at least twice. The original lyrics to the song included a reference to“scalp ‘em” revised to “beat ‘em.” One version of the song made reference to the“Sons of old Dixie” which was changed to “Sons of old DC.” If “scalp ‘em” was deemed offensive and references to “Dixie” too controversial in the 1960s, then changing the name in 2014 is the logical next step.

The recent U.S. Patent & Trademark Office decision to cancel six Washington Redskins trademarks, calling the team name “disparaging to Native Americans,” may add further weight to tip the balance of public opinion. The action, which is now being appealed by the team, does not have the force of law. One patent and trademark expert who works in the sports industry told me that, “the loss of federal registration does not prevent the team from using its common law rights or state registration as a tool to enforce against infringers.” That source said, “I don’t think the organization will be affected by this unless it wants to change.”

Indeed, the decision could be used as a way out of the growing public opinion opposition for Snyder. It is the opinion of some sports insiders that Snyder has come to the realization that the change is inevitable and now he’s in position to leverage the NFL for greater concessions in return for ending the controversy.

One would hope that the NFL would not give an inch in return for Snyder doing the right thing, but make no mistake, Snyder will look for opportunities find a way to capitalize even in defeat.

A rebranding of the franchise could actually mean millions of new dollars of revenue forthe team. A new name and a new logo means new merchandise and it’s a good bet that the team’s fans, some of the most loyal in all sports, will not only clear out all remaining Redskins merchandise but the new items as well.

It remains to be seen whether a name change will maintain a connection to Native Americans going forward. If it does, the team should build a meaningful relationship between the Native American community and its fan base that provides some level of education about those who lived on this land first.

Sports can be used to better society. It can teach us about hard work, fair play, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. AND it can educate us about our progress as a society. Perhaps if the team maintains the connection to Native Americans,there might be more kids who want to be the “Indian.”

But there must first be change, which will only come as a result of the public’s insistence. Lincoln went on to say, “public opinion in this country is everything.”


Ramsey Poston is a crisis communications expert and president of Tuckahoe Strategies, a strategic communications firm.

NCAA’s Business Model Might be Redefined by Fairness

137286-Griffin_header-480x360This week, as trial begins in federal court regarding O’Bannon v. NCAA, the fate of the NCAA’s current business model comes into question. This case, brought by former UCLA basketball star, Ed O’Bannon, challenges the NCAA’s practice of generating revenue by using a player’s likeness without compensation to the player.

Really, it’s about fairness.

Meanwhile on another front, the NCAA will attempt to roll back a decision by the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago that allows the Northwestern University football team to form a union. The union came about when the student athletes requested their health insurance be extended beyond their scholarships.

Really, it’s about fairness.

Up on Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives will consider H.R. 2903, the “National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act.” The legislation, introduced by Representative Charles Dent (R-Pa), seeks to eliminate the NCAA’s ban on paying student athletes.

Really, it’s about fairness.
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Obviously, this is a critical time for the NCAA and how it does business. Unless the NCAA goes undefeated on these matters (and others) it’s safe to assume that 2014 will lead to a major tipping point for the NCAA business model. The NCAA is fighting for the status quo and seems to be holding on to as much ground as it can without compromising on any meaningful points.

The NCAA’s public response in each of these instances is consistent. Specifically, the NCAA claims to be the protector of the student-athletes and the importance of education – not money.

In the O’Bannon case the NCAA said, “the NCAA values and prioritizes all of its student-athletes regardless of whether their sport brings in revenue… but efforts to twist legitimate concerns about the current system into a rationale for paying student-athletes would do far more harm than good and would severely diminish the opportunities for academic and athletic achievement student-athletes benefit from today.”

In response to the NLRB decision allowing the Northwestern football team to unionize, the NCAA said, “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

While consistency in public statements is important, they must too be credible in order to be effective. The NCAA, which reportedly makes about a billion dollars a year, is clearly about revenue, it is about money and it’s clear that it is fighting against, not for, student-athletes to protect the revenue streams.

Here’s where the NCAA runs into its credibility issues. The Association and the colleges drive revenue based upon the efforts of the athletes, yet are attempting to convince judges and lawmakers that compensating them would impinge the purity of the student-athlete and do “far more harm” than paying them.

The NCAA and its member colleges and universities generate millions of dollars each year by using current and former student-athletes’ images for everything from the sale of jerseys, video games, DVDs, photos – not to mention revenues from ticket sales and television contracts. The NCAA contends that the student-athletes compensation comes in the form of scholarships, education, housing and so forth. The problem is that this message does not affectively address the issue of fairness. Additionally, The fact that college athletic departments seem to be faced with a never-ending stream of scandals and cover-ups doesn’t help the NCAA position either.

As judges, lawmakers and others make important decisions about the fate of college athletics they will have to figure out whether or not the NCAA’s actions are lawful. However, the essential theme might in fact be “fairness.” When considering the myriad of challenges facing the NCAA, it’s apparent the NCAA and its member colleges are on the wrong side of the fairness question. Most Americans naturally support the idea of fairness (and free markets) and it’s likely the court of public opinion will too.

There is a lot of history on the topic and in most cases fairness has won in the courts and in Congress. Take for example the case of free agency in Major League Baseball. In 1879, what was then MLB adopted the reserve clause, which essentially gave team owners full control of which teams players played for and how they were compensated. That held until the early 1970s when St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood set in motion a challenge that eventually gave way to the modern free agency system. Following the 1969 season Flood objected to a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. In a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn he wrote:

“After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

“It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”

What was Flood asking for? He wanted fairness. The case eventually led to the United States Supreme Court in 1972, which in turn led to the nullification of the reserve clause. Since then every other major American team sport has succumbed to the law and fairness.

In the coming weeks a federal judge in Oakland, Ca will have to decide whether the NCAA’s business practices represent a violation of U.S. anti-trust laws in the O’Bannon case and whether the NCAA has acted fairly.