- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Not a day goes by without a corporate or political crisis that cries out for professionals to handle — a crisis that usually ends up in a terminal FUBAR state. In just the past few days we’ve had a Southwest Airlines plane from Chicago land at the wrong airport near Branson, Mo.; a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia that resulted in the virtual shutdown of the most populated part of the state — and of course, the sordid spectacle of “Bridgegate” in Chris Christie’s New Jersey.
David Silver, a Los Angeles-based public relations and crisis management expert, offers his solutions to the problem of “groupthink” that impedes the crisis management process in “Managing Corporate Communications in the Age of Restructuring, Crisis, and Litigation: Rethinking Groupthink in the Boardroom” (J. Ross Publishing, Plantation, FL, 232 pages, appendices, bibliography, index, $34.95, $29.95 direct price).
Silver posits that corporate executives, lawyers, and boards of directors suffer from groupthink when confronted with a crisis, restructuring or litigation, which results in a communications meltdown that hurts a company’s number one asset— its reputation.
Silver traces the history of the word “groupthink” to American sociologist William H. Whyte, who coined the term in a Fortune magazine article in 1953. Whyte (1917-1999, wikipedia entry:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Whyte) — whom I’ve always thought of as primarily a journalist — defines the term as follows:
“Groupthink being coinage and admittedly, a loaded one, a working definition is in order. We are not talking about the mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity, an open articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not expedient, but right and good as well.”
Whyte’s most famous book is “The Organization Man” (published in 1956, which sold more than two million copies, making it one of the all-time bestselling business books).
Silver says the failure to understand how to communicate in distressed situations results in lost credibility and trust on a global basis in front of many target audiences: customers, employees, vendors, business partners, the media, analysts covering the company, lenders, bankers, regulatory agencies, and elected officials.
Silver provides examples of corporations who failed to communicate in a crisis, litigation, or restructuring in this era of financial meltdowns. By analyzing real-life examples (Lehman Brothers, BP, Toyota, MGA/Mattel, etc.), it offers innovative solutions and communications strategies for decision makers to help avoid groupthink and keep good reputations intact.
If you are a CEO, CFO, general counsel, a member of the board of directors — or anyone in a position of authority — understanding how to communicate in a distressed situation is crucial. A public relations nightmare might be just around the corner, so it’s best to follow the slogan of the Boy Scouts: Be prepared!
As is the case in all the other crisis management books I’ve read and/or reviewed, Silver says perhaps the worst spokesperson in a corporate crisis situation is a lawyer. Let’s face it: Everybody hates lawyers, especially other lawyers! Lawyers are trained to say as little as possible, to clam up, to say “no comment” — perhaps the two most provocative words to a journalist’s eager ears. We journalists don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty: We believe a company like Toyota or BP has to prove it’s not guilty.
In his relatively slim book — frankly, I would have liked it to be more comprehensive, but there are books about the Toyota sudden acceleration crisis, with “Toyota Under Fire” (McGraw-Hill, 2011) by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy Ogden, being the best; and tomes about the BP crisis — Silver:
> Outlines failures in corporate communications that have brought down successful executives, ruined their reputations, exiled them from the boardroom and ultimately destroyed their companies
> Shows how to re-educate boardroom executives to avoid groupthink and embrace critical reasoning to create innovative solutions when planning your communications strategies amid a crisis, restructuring or litigation
> Explains how independent intelligence gathering is crucial for executives during a distressed situation when formulating successful communications tactics
> Details how to change educational curriculum in business and law schools so that communications becomes a critical important subject and not just a throwaway elective
> Illustrates how determining strategies in distressed situations helps prepare decision makers to communicate key messages to target audiences at all other times
> Teaches how to use the media when communicating during a crisis, why employees are your most important audience, and how to proactively train senior executives and board members to understand how the communications process works when confronting distressed situations
I was surprised and delighted to see Silver put in a plug for liberal arts majors — I’m an English major — as people who can be ideal crisis management personnel. He cites articles from employers on why they hire English majors and mentions Verlyn Klinkenborg’s wonderful NY Times piece from last summer on the decline and fall of the English major:
The book includes the publisher’s Web Added Value (WAV) GAP VII: The Seventh Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices Study from the USC Annenberg School, a checklist for performing an internal communications audit, and a presentation on effectively communicating during a litigation — available from the Web Added Value™ Download Resource Center at www.jrosspub.com
Table of Contents
Introduction: Groupthink Revisited
Part I: Case Studies
Chapter 1: Managing Reputation in Distressed Markets
Chapter 2: Litigation and the Court of Public Opinion
Chapter 3: The BP Disaster in the Gulf & Rampant Groupthink in the C-Suite
Chapter 4: Leading by Example: Steve Jobs and Effective Corporate Communication at Work
Part II: Theories & Paradigms
Chapter 5: The Role of Communication Theories
Chapter 6: The Evolution of Public Relations into the PR-IR Nexus
Part III: Remaking Corporate America
Chapter 7: Anatomy of a Crisis
Chapter 8: The Communications Audit
Chapter 9: Reeducating Corporate America
Chapter 10: Effective Communication for Litigation, Mergers, and Acquisitions
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About the Author
David Silver, born 1954, is the Chief Executive Officer of Silver Public Relations, a public relations and investor relations firm in Los Angeles focusing on crisis, litigation, and restructuring financial public relations for publicly traded companies and private corporations. He has counseled more than 1,000 national and global corporations and its boardroom executives in his 25 years as a financial public relations executive.
His proprietary crisis and litigation communications audits are sought out by corporations as he focuses on the cause-and-effect of corporate crises. He has written for a number of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and the Daily Journal, has been profiled in the Leaders and Success page of Investor’s Business Daily, and has been interviewed by CBS national news and other network news media as a crisis and litigation public relations expert.