Steve Harvey’s had a rather rough time lately between his joke about Asians and his meeting with Donald Trump. His first blunder was on his TV show “Family Feud,” where he questioned whether or not Asian men were attractive to women outside of their own race. After saying outside of Trump Tower that the criticism of him over the joke was “for no reason,” he finally took to Twitter days later to apologize. In his statement, Harvey says, “I offer my humblest apology for offending anyone, particularly those in the Asian community, last week. It was not my intention and the humor was not meant with any malice or disrespect whatsoever.” Many fans were also displeased with his meeting in January with then-President elect Trump. In the midst of this turbulent January, it has been reported recently that he’s hiring crisis control manager Judy Smith in order to salvage his reputation.
So what exactly does a crisis manager do? Their job revolves around crisis communication, “fixing” an individual’s or organization’s public image when something goes wrong. The Institute for Public Relations defines crisis as “as a significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly.” It goes on to explain, “A crisis can create three related threats: (1) public safety, (2) financial loss, and (3) reputation loss.” In the case of Steve Harvey, the obvious threat is reputation loss, though financial loss is also a definite possibility. The way to handle a crisis is also separated into three phases: pre-crisis, crisis response, and post-crisis. In the pre-crisis phase, one focuses on prevention and preparation—the goal is to never face a crisis situation in the first place. The crisis response phase is when management actually responds to a crisis, dealing with consumers and media in real-time. The post-crisis phase looks for ways “to better prepare for the next crisis and fulfills commitments made during the crisis phase including follow-up information.”
The Institute for Public Relations and Bernstein Crisis Management both highlight being quick, accurate, and consistent when responding to a crisis. Bernstein Crisis Management emphasizes, “Reacting without adequate information is a classic ‘shoot first and ask questions afterwards’ situation in which you could be the primary victim.” Responding quickly but inaccurately could only serve to create more problems.
However, while correct information is important, the Boston Globe also stressed the importance of “coming clean ASAP.” With social media feeding controversy and suppositions, the longer you wait, the more time rumors have to fester. “‘You can’t afford to be asleep at the switch or be slow at reacting,’” celebrity crisis expert Allan Mayer, who has counseled big names like Eminem, Johnny Depp, Halle Berry, and Steven Spielberg, told the Boston Globe. “‘It used to be you could take a little time to gather your thoughts and figure out what you want to do. It’s a luxury none of us have anymore.’” PR experts say the best statements are sincere and showcase the person’s true feelings. The basic PR principles of “transparency” and “accepting responsibility” still apply, says Marlo Fogelman, principal of Marlo marketing/communications in Boston.
Of course, when a celebrity goes through relationship drama or otherwise tangles with the public, the businesses that endorse and work with them also have to undergo crisis management. In an article for Forbes, crisis manger Charles Koppelman discusses some tips for companies that might need to salvage their brands. His first piece of advice is to “stay true to your brand reputation and continue to deliver on your brand promises.” He states “people need to know that you will remain true to your brand reputation.” Another tip is “good news travels fast, bad news should travel faster.” He recommends being proactive and staying ahead of each development: “This means facing facts, and telling the truth about your situation before anybody else can tell it for you.” This allows you to manage and control the crisis and the information being spread.
Steve Harvey and any business working with him will have to scramble to bolster and repair their image. Not only did he wait to respond, but he also did not hire a crisis manger until after the incident, nor have a preemptive plan if a crisis did occur. His initial response of believing he was criticized “for no reason” only added to the problem. Because of multiple blunders, whether or not Harvey will continue to sink or manage to tread water is now in the hands of his crisis manager.