Fans devoted to hot yoga typically embrace the heat, but in recent days Bikram’s founder Bikram Choudhury is sweating for a different reason. The famed guru is currently facing six U.S. civil lawsuits for rape or sexual assault. The latest legal case has been filed by a Vancouver woman who claims Choudhury sexually assaulted her while she was yoga training and working with him.
When a negative allegation is made, even if it’s eventually unproven or dismissed like in the case of John Furlong, the damage is done. It takes years to build up a brand, but only seconds to have it shattered by slander or harmful rumours. There is much at stake for the reputation of Choudhury’s trademarked empire. With 650 yoga studios around the world including 29 in B.C., a breach of trust will have a detrimental impact on Choudhury along with the businesses that spent years building their individual success upon the multimillionaire’s personal brand.
This is where crisis management communications comes into play. Peak Partner Alyn Edwards was recently interviewed on CBC News to discuss what local Bikram franchises can do to confront the current reputation crisis. He also looks at the dangers of why it’s precarious to build a brand around a single person’s name. Unless you have an irreproachable reputation, it’s impossible to escape the burden of risk. Watch Alyn’s interview below for expert PR tips on what brands can do to mitigate the impact of a crisis. *Hint – it starts with having positive key messages and sticking to them.
Layers of truth have defined every crisis I have been involved with during my 15 years in public relations. While it seems obvious that a client would recount their story fully when first meeting with the team they’ve hired to help them, in my experience that has not always been the case. I’ve learned that people often ‘forget’ major details, and it can take a few days or longer for all the information to come out. Indeed, in some cases it never does.
As the story of Jian Ghomeshi and his accusers unfolded last week, and the media and public narrative around him shifted, I asked myself: If Ghomeshi had asked Peak to work with him through this crisis, would we have said yes?
On Monday, the answer was yes. By Thursday, the answer was no.
When Ghomeshi first published his 1,600-word Facebook post last Sunday, some assumed it had been written without assistance from his publicist or the PR firm he had hired to handle his crisis, yet it displayed fundamental principles of crisis communications 101:
Take control of the message and frame the narrative
Be credible and human
Provide media with enough detail to cover the story
His confession was shocking and intimate, and was directly communicated to a huge audience via a social channel that is both personal and viral. In the first 48 hours, tens of thousands expressed their support for him and shared his post, which had soon garnered over 100,000 Likes. His support was palpable and very real. By all accounts it was a PR win.
But, over the course of the week, more women came forward and more accusations of non-consensual, unprovoked sexual violence were laid against him. The stories these women told were shocking, disturbing and offensive. Doubt began to collect around Ghomeshi’s side of the story. People began to question what he didn’t reveal in that candid Facebook post.
By mid-week, Ghomeshi had begun to lose Facebook Likes at a rate of 350 an hour. By the end of the week, he had been dropped by Navigator, his crisis communications firm, and Rock-it Promotions, his longstanding PR firm. He was also dropped by his publisher, two speaking firms and an electro-pop singer whose career he managed through his production company. Perhaps most importantly, Toronto’s Metro police have now opened a sexual assault investigation into the allegations against him.
Public opinion is stacking up against Ghomeshi and has moved to the side of Ghomeshi’s accusers.
Did Ghomeshi reveal everything to Navigator when he first met with them? Instinct and experience lead me to believe he withheld major details. As a PR professional advising clients in a time of crisis, you need your client to be forthcoming with information, accept the consequences of their actions, and work collaboratively with you to manage their brand and public perception. Without equal measures of credibility and accountability—and without co-operation—planning and implementing a successful crisis commuications strategy becomes almost impossible. Without these elements, I would never want to support a client through a crisis.
At the end of the day, it is up to the client to decide if they want to move forward with the agreed-upon communications strategy. But PR consultants also have the option of saying no, and at Peak we have said no to potential clients in the past. Ghomeshi, had he sought our expertise, would have been another. By the end of last week, it was clear Navigator and Rock-it Promotions felt something similar.
We shall see how Ghomeshi manages public perception and his brand in the weeks and months going forward. For now, though, as Ghomeshi’s layers of truth begin to curl and peel away, we will wait to see what week two of the crisis brings.
The cover depicts accused Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev but unlike the 1970’s cover of Charles Manson which showed a demonic killer, this cover shows someone who could be the latest teen heartthrob.
Reaction has been swift and damaging to the Rolling Stone’s reputation, a reputation founded on the cache of being on the cover as much for the often profanity laced articles inside.
The PR mistake that Rolling Stone made was failing to understand that emotions were still raw surrounding this terrible event. The editors forgot PR 101, lesson one, people react emotionally to what they see and not what they read.
What they saw and are fixated on is the picture. The words “bomber” and “monster” don’t come close to balancing that, even in bold, large print.
A picture is still worth more than 1000 words. In this case it’s worth hundreds of thousands of tweets threatening never to read the magazine again, and some retailers pulling the magazine from circulation so as not to offend their customers.
Having created its own “PR Crisis” the steps that Rolling Stone have taken are good ones:
Publishing the entire article so that people can read for themselves that the article does not glorify a “monster”.
Giving away its cover story, so that Rolling Stone is not seen to be benefiting from the controversy
Acknowledging the bombing victims at the top of the article and explaining why they pursued the story
The article is legitimate. TV entertainment shows do this all the time. Sometimes entertainment news just becomes news.
In 1970 Rolling Stone published a Charles Manson cover story, but the picture demonized Manson. This one didn’t. It showed the boy next door or the newest rock star. The public wanted to see the devil and they saw themselves.
It has been 40 years since Dr. Hook released “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” a song which immortalized what it meant to get on the cover. The public hasn’t forgotten what that means.
If Rolling Stone had a do-over they would pick a different cover.