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Crisis PR and avoiding the “Cosby Crisis”

This year was one of many changes. Perhaps one of the most formidable, however, was Bill Cosby’s unthinkable fall from sainthood once the news of several sexual abuse allegations began circulating.

According to Time, 16 women have accused Cosby of sexual abuse with 12 of these women reporting that he drugged them to do so. This is not the first time Cosby has been accused. In a 2005 trial, 13 women anonymously testified against Cosby in a sexual abuse case that was later settled out of court, according to Time. So why does everyone care 10 years later?

Comedian Hannibal Buress featured the household name’s allegations in his stand-up routine in October and social media exploded with responses according to The Holmes Report. It did not take long for more women, including past accuser Barbara Bowman, to speak with the media on the subject.

Since the initial blow, Cosby and his team of lawyers have released numerous denials and usually refuse to speak about the allegations with the media according to Time. The closest Cosby came to elaborating was when he told a Florida newspaper that, “a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos.”

Cosby’s civil rights lawyer, Gloria Allred, suggested a last resort strategy for the comedian. Allred said Cosby should consider waiving the statute of limitations that prohibits the women from filing lawsuits against him according to NBC News. Allred even suggested that Cosby establish a $100 million victims fund for those appearing before a panel of retired judges to determine the substantiation of their claims and how victims should be compensated NBC News reported.

Allred has a point. If Cosby has nothing to hide, why has he chosen to represent himself so poorly in front of the media? The blanket silence has only given fuel for suspense in the case of Bill Cosby. The biggest nightmare in PR is when the perception of your crisis has become worse the actual case.

According to The Holmes Report, there is little hope saying, “Cosby’s in too deep, for too long, with too many allegations against him, to survive and nothing has happened since this story broke to indicate resurrection or even rehabilitation.” The Cosby crisis demonstrates how the digital age has created a whole new rule book of brand transparency according to The Holmes Report. With one share or like a person can take a small message and reach thousands in seconds. In Cosby’s case, one woman’s story gained enough followers to encourage others to come forward as well. Perhaps this explains the curious delay in victim reaction. Maybe they simply lacked the tools to be heard.

Cosby’s story also teaches organizations that the digital age holds no secrets. Everything comes to light in the end. The best way to handle these crisis when they are resurrected is with immediate, thoughtful transparency.

Dolce & Gabbana’s Gay Family Comments out of Style: Why Elton John Boycotts D&G

In a recent interview with Italian magazine, Panorama, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana promoted their spring line “Viva la mamma.” However, it wasn’t their spring collection that made headlines.

According to Forbes, the two openly gay designers discussed their views on the “classic” family and described their opposition to “chemical children” and a “rented uterus.”  Dolce said in the interview, “Wombs for rent, sperm chosen from a catalogue … psychiatrists are not ready to confront the effects of this experimentation,” according to The Guardian. He also said that he could not and would not have a child because he is gay. The interview made huge waves in the LGBT community, with Elton John and Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, at the head of the campaign.

According to The Guardian, John took to Twitter and Instagram to voice his anger at Dolce and Gabbana saying, “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as “synthetic”. And shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF – a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.”

The hashtag went viral after celebrities such as Courtney Love caught wind of the boycott. According to The Guardian, Love posted to her Twitter, “I just round up all my Dolce & Gabbana items and want to burn them. I’m just beyond words and…” Flavio Romani, president of Arcigay (Italy’s LGBT right’s organization) also criticized the interview saying “Their position is absolutely personal and it contradicts the global movement for adoption and gay rights. Gay people have the right to be considered equal to others, in bringing up a child,” Romani told the Guardian.

Dolce and Gabbana issued separate statements on Monday according to Ragan’s PR Daily, “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices,” said Gabbana.

Dolce issued a similar statement according to Ragan’s PR Daily saying, “I’m Sicilian and I grew up in a traditional family, made up of a mother, a father and children. I am very well aware of the fact that there are other types of families and they are as legitimate as the one I’ve known. But in my personal experience, family had a different configuration.”

Dolce & Gabbana certainly got themselves in a pickle. This paracrisis is a reputational crisis in which the designers allowed their personal opinions reflect the brand. This is also known as organizational venting. According to Dr. W. Timothy Coombs of the University of Central Florida, “Paracrisis is primarily a reputational threat.” However, just because there wasn’t a D&G blouse with an exploding button, does not mean that #BoycottDolceGabbana should be taken lightly.

This paracrisis has several important factors at work. Firstly, the designers were born and raised Italian. They are going to have different perspectives on just about everything compared to Americans. This means family life too. Secondly, according to The Guardian, “the tight-knit family has been a staple of Italian branding and advertising for decades.” Thirdly, the designers have been promoting their new collection “Viva la mamma,” a fashion campaign Dolce said is “aimed at encouraging families to stick together.”

Now, do I think D&G could have prevented this social media nightmare? Absolutely. However, I do not think that the two should be chastised via boycott for voicing their personal opinions. As two of the most influential gay men today, they should have considered the repercussions their words would bring from the LGBT community and worked with their marketing and public relations team to ensure they were reflecting the brand’s new spring line not their opinions on the gay family. This is where the tables turned for Dolce and Gabbana.

The overall response from Dolce & Gabbana was adequate but it could have been more effective. The three most important things in crisis management are timing, victim focus and misinformation. Had they employed all three more effectively through a faster public response, emphasizing their regret at hurting the LGBT community, and highlighting that they were not attacking other ways of life only voicing how they feel towards their own; I think the social media buzz would have died away with less damage to the company’s reputation.

The lack of Twitter response from the designers also was a poor choice primarily because it is easier to do and do well than to remain silent. A Twitter response would have allowed for the designers to diffuse a lot of pressure and force Elton John to share the social media stage. I think it is always better to safe than sorry. A well-crafted tweet would have allowed the designers to respond in a quick, clear and concise manner. Never underestimate the power of 140 characters.