Are these signs of the times?
Last week a sports announcer was pilloried for what some felt was an inappropriate remark. The University of Virginia men’s basketball team in the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament had what seemed to be a comfortable 15-point lead over Syracuse with fewer than 10 minutes to play. When the game ended, and Virginia had choked mightily, TBS’ Kevin Harlan said, “Jim Boeheim and Syracuse have done it! Back from the dead on Easter Sunday! They’re going to the Final Four!”
As has become the custom, Twitter exploded. An unscientific survey had the majority of the Twitterverse protesting Harlan’s remarks. @nbamark: “I find his comment totally inappropriate. To liken Syracuse win to Christ's resurrection is just wrong.” @KyMyLove15: “An apology is due from Kevin Harlan for his remarks during a game. Saying they rose from the dead on Easter is offensive” NY Post sportswriter Mike Vaccaro (@MikeVacc): “If I were Kevin Harlan, I'd be getting my apology ready. Quick.”
On the other hand, Harlan’s oral tradition had some supporters. @timmy_p23: “I don't understand why people are offended by Kevin Harlan's announcing. "Back from the dead on Easter Sunday" is phenomenal. Great call!”
In addition to being the subject of newspaper articles, Harlan’s words even prompted a spoof from another TBS employee, Conan O’Brien.
Another incident: On Friday a woman, Imani Cezanne, was traveling from Charlotte to Atlanta. Cezanne was removed from the aircraft, however. She alleges the cause of this incident was her ethnicity. Cezanne is black. Again, this incident hit Twitter. It even showed up on Twitter’s curated Moments feed over the weekend with Cezanne tweeting multiple times about what she alleges occurred. She also tweeted that she’s stuck in Charlotte without enough money to get to Atlanta.
One of her tweets should strike fear into brand communicators’ hearts: "Who knows a lawyer? Specifically one that is well versed in racism/discrimination. American Airlines bout to cash this Black girl out."
Was Cezanne treated unfairly? Purely from a PR point of view and for the very limited purposes of this blog, it doesn’t matter.
This incident, too, has escaped rising to crisis level. American Airlines jumped in and tweeted to Cezanne that she should contact the airline directly. The two parties apparently are negotiating a settlement.
Let’s go back to the Harlan situation. The lessons for PR pros seem apparent.
In the digital age, situations like these can get ugly very fast. Assume they will. So far, this situation has not. As of this writing, Harlan and TBS have not apologized.
Monitoring is crucial. All that said, we’d be surprised if TBS’ PR team, as well as the NCAA’s PR squad, was not following the conversation on Twitter and elsewhere. It also would be prudent for the organizations involved to have a plan ready should this situation become a crisis.
But if crises can mushroom quickly and surprisingly in our digital age, then organizations' crisis plans should be as commonplace as having an official website, right? Uh, maybe not.
A survey PR News conducted early in March with Nasdaq Public Relations Services and published Monday in PR News found only slightly more than half the brands and organizations polled had crisis plans in place. A full 50% felt their brands were unprepared for a crisis. Another 23% said they weren’t sure.
As we know, an important part of crisis planning is rehearsal. Yet nearly 60% of those polled said their brands or organizations don’t engage in role-playing scenarios for crisis preparation.
So, back to the question we posed at the top. Are these incidents really signs of the times? Yes. But you’d never know it based on the number of companies that are lacking adequate plans for response.
—Seth Arenstein, editor, PR News @skarenstein