Crisis Communications – The NRA Challenge
I don’t like the sight of guns. I don’t like the smell of guns. I don’t even like talking about guns, but the NRA is delivering a great crisis communications lesson for any business facing an image crisis.
For the sake of clarification, I am not defending the NRA and its statements over the recent school shooting. My position on gun control would deter me from ever consulting the NRA and their public image problem. That is one of the first things you should research on a crisis communications team before you hire them. Does the firm or publicist believe in my cause? Does my crisis communications consultant believe what I say?
That’s important because you want to hire a crisis communications team that believes in your cause or you risk dissent when the image debate turns to ethical questions. I have consulted many nonprofits and politicians through crisis campaigns. It was important for me to believe in their cause and purpose because my advice frequently needed to mesh with my values. If you own a nightclub and you’re facing a crisis communications problem in the media following a sale to minors, you don’t want to hire a Mormon who thinks it’s a sin to drink alcohol. You want to hire a publicist who understands the value of your service and believes in your club. Sure, that is an extreme example, but the best examples in life are clear and cut. Your situation may not be as lucid as the nightclub example, but you should 100 percent make sure your publicist believes in your cause.
Now that the NRA has hired a team of crisis communications experts, What did they do wrong and what did they do right?
Here is what the NRA did RIGHT.
The NRA let time pass
The NRA did the right thing by waiting for time to pass. Frequently, I advise clients to get in front of the story or else the narrative will be written by your opponent, but this is a perfect example where a case study in crisis communications does not apply to ALL problems. The NRA would have been foolish to speak while children were being buried.
That is pretty much one of the few things I believe the NRA did right following this horrific shooting. The list of what the gun lobby did wrong is endless and I could probably add three more new chapters to my book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media.
What they did WRONG.
Don’t Cast Blame
Wayne LaPierre with the NRA blamed the media, video games and even crazy people for their public relations problem. That’s a mistake. The NRA thinks Americans should have the right to carry assault rifles that were designed for war. They need to take responsibility for that position and not blame others. If you are in a crisis situation, don’t blame the victim or even the shooter. Turn the situation into your favor by presenting why your side has a positive view. The media won’t report the good side of your story unless you present it and it is your job to communicate why your service helps others.
Put a face on the problem
Right now the NRA is facing a tough public image problem. It’s guns vs. little children. That is a difficult public image challenge because every parent has an instinct to protect little children from harm. It’s a difficult fight, but the NRA needs to put a new face on this problem. They need to move the conversation away from assault rifles and back to the image of a father and daughter hunting together. As long as the debate surrounds military assault rifles, the NRA loses.
Bring a solution
If you are facing a crisis communications situation, you always want to bring resolve or closure to the problem. It lets the public believe (and hopefully it is the truth) that the problem won’t happen again. The NRA tried to bring closure to this problem by saying armed guards in front of our schools would prevent violence. It won’t or as I read a parent write on Facebook, it’s like bringing a “knife to a gun fight.”
Here is what one parent wrote on Facebook, following the NRA’s press conference. His post inspired me and others to actually do something, which is why as a crisis communications consultant, I will tell you the NRA needs a new crisis management team and will need more than military assault rifles to win this battle.
“Hey Mr. NRA douchebag…our banks are protected by armed guards and they still get robbed, our president is guarded by armed secret service and still gets shot and even killed. One armed cop on each campus won’t stop crazy folks from going there. Your press conference was a joke, and you are a joke of a man. Blame the video games, movies and music…yet not offer a single solution to try to keep your precious lil gun out of crazy folks hands. You suck!! Oh yeah, said crazy person comes to school with multiple semi automatic guns…lone cop has a pistol…what’s the saying? Bring a knife to a gun fight? Then your answer will be we need cops with semi automatic rifles you douchetard. Way to bring nothing to the table today except more guns, you kind sir are a complete assbag!!”
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.