Rob Weinhold (@FallstonGroup) is the CRO (Chief Reputation Officer) of Fallston Group and co-author of The Art of Crisis Leadership: Save Time, Money, Customers and Ultimately, Your Career.

“Crisis is a growth strategy — you have to expect it.” -Rob Weinhold

What We Discuss with Rob Weinhold:

  • What four motivations are found at the core of any damaged reputation?
  • Why bad press spread faster than the speed of truth can damage a person or brand’s reputation forever.
  • Understand the Resilient Moment Communications Model and how can it help us answer to an issue of sensitivity, adversity, or crisis.
  • How to identify the warning signs of a crisis about to happen and prepare against them ahead of time.
  • How to react to a crisis in a way that spins it into an advantage.
  • And much more…

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The Art of Crisis Leadership: Save Time, Money, Customers and Ultimately, Your Career by Rob Weinhold and Kevin CowherdCrises cost time, money, customers, and careers (usually in that order) — and, in the worst of scenarios, lives. Whether a data breach, social media attack, bad press, litigation, investigation, civil unrest, or scandal, great leaders understand how to be predictive and create organizational muscle memory to combat these crises.

In this episode with The Art of Crisis Leadership: Save Time, Money, Customers and Ultimately, Your Career co-author and Fallston Group CRO (Chief Reputation Officer) Rob Weinhold, we explore some of the warning signs of a crisis, and how to prepare yourself and react when a crisis happens in a way that sets you and your organization or family up to spin that crisis into an advantage. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

In his past lives, The Art of Crisis Leadership: Save Time, Money, Customers and Ultimately, Your Career co-author Rob Weinhold has been a public affairs director for the Baltimore Police Department, chief of staff at the Department of Justice, and a spokesperson for the Maryland Governor’s office.

Now, he’s the CRO (Chief Reputation Officer) for Fallston Group, a company that specializes in building, strengthening, and defending brand reputations and turning short-term adversity into long-term advantage.

“We spend a lot of time on defense,” says Rob. “So if you can think about some of the issues that corporations deal with: data breach, bad press, social media attack, investigations, litigations, sex scandals, rumors, sudden death, terrorism, and riots — all those things really do impact businesses, and many of them are just not prepared. They don’t have organizational muscle memory, which I speak of very, very frequently.

“These days, what we say is anyone with an Internet connection and a recording device can certainly wreak havoc on your brand and do it very, very quickly. No one needs to wait for the news anymore; everyone’s a citizen journalist.”

In other words, bad press against any brand — from an individual or a company to a city, town, or country — can be fabricated and distributed around the globe at light speed before it can be verified — and even if it’s verified later to be false, the damage caused to the brand’s reputation can last forever.

Core Motivators

When a reputation is damaged — or someone makes the effort to damage a reputation — Rob says at least one of these four core motivators is to blame:

  • Power and control
  • Money
  • Sex
  • Revenge

Magnifying the impact of any one of these reputation-damaging motivations is the fact that video proof can be captured on anybody’s smartphone camera and uploaded to YouTube to enrage people in ways that even the most sensationalist newspaper stories of decades past never could.

“A great example of this would be police-involved shootings,” says Rob. “Right now, there’s been just a spate of shootings. And every time you turned around — it seemed — six months or a year ago, there was a new police-involved shooting on camera. At that point, citizens then had an opportunity to take a look at how ugly police work can be in a life and death circumstance.

“It doesn’t mean the shooting wasn’t justified, but it does mean that people are shocked by what they see versus what they read; video has changed the way that we consume news and changed the way that companies need to plan for crises.”

Reputation Recovery

As criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos explained in our last episode, condemnation by the court of public opinion may carry a lifelong sentence — even if the condemned is officially cleared of all charges. But certain transgressions are especially damning — such as public declarations of racism, child or elder abuse, and sexual misconduct. Obviously, it’s even worse for the transgressor if it’s caught on video or audio. But should someone caught in such an act of bad behavior abandon all hope of ever regaining their reputation?

“I tend to think that America is a fairly forgiving society,” says Rob. “As long as they believe that someone truly is apologetic and they have the absolute intention not to let something happen again, people seem to get a second chance.”

It’s when we witness repeat offenders — driven by their own pet core motivators in identifiable patterns — that we’re less likely to be forgiving.

The Anatomy of a Crisis

Rob says the anatomy of a crisis involves a triggering event that affects people, assets, and brands. But this triggering event is more often than not something that can be foreseen; studies show that nearly 70 percent of crises are smoldering versus sudden — which means leaders know about them ahead of time but fail to address them.

So how does Rob and his team get ahead of such a triggering event before it can damage a brand’s reputation?

“What we do is we will put together a report and prioritize maybe eight, 10, or 12 different points of exposure which we think are of highest priority — not just based on what people in the organization say, but also what our industry research yields.”

Turning Short-Term Adversity Into Long-Term Advantage

Recently, slow-cooker manufacturer Crock-Pot ran into some negative publicity when the plot for an episode of NBC’s This Is Us killed off one of its characters in a fire caused by a faulty Crock-Pot. Reportedly, this resulted in a wave of doubt — fueled by fans of the show taking to social media — as to the safety of products this venerated American company has been making for half a century.

Rather than sitting back and letting the court of public opinion condemn the brand and sink its stock value, Crock-Pot took it as an opportunity to educate the public about the rigorous safety testing its 100 million slow cookers have endured before being released into the wild.

“Crock-Pot was masterful in how they handled it,” says Rob. “They tweeted, they went out to the public and they messaged, ‘Oh, my gosh! We understand! It’s terrible that this lead character died!’ But they were very empathetic. And then they highlighted the legacy of Crock-Pots, how they’ve been around for 50 years, have had no issues, that they research and quality control relentlessly — and so on and so forth.

“So they had — well, no pun intended — a simmering and smoldering issue which just blew up quickly! And they were able to mitigate it. And now I would say that their reputational equity is much higher than it was before the episode.”

The Resilient Moment Communications Model

According to Dr. George Everly of Johns Hopkins University, if you answer these five questions when discussing an issue of sensitivity, adversity, or crisis, more than 95 percent of the questions that people have will have been answered.

  1. What happened?
  2. What caused it?
  3. What are the short- and long-term effects?
  4. What’s being done about it?
  5. What needs to be done in the future?

“I see leader after leader after leader hold a press conference,” says Rob, “and don’t come anywhere close to answering the questions that many people have — and often rely on the ‘no comment’ approach. But this Resilient Moment Communications Model, I hope, will help your audience.”

Organizational Muscle Memory

As Greek poet Archilochus once said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

Organizations, like people, will perform how they plan and train under duress. This is why the military and law enforcement train relentlessly — and why Rob believes organizations that want to be resilient against crises (whether they’re schools, private corporations, or government agencies) need to do the same.

Rob says this planning and training pays off by developing organizational muscle memory — resilience that makes an organization capable of weathering rough storms that would devastate its weaker contemporaries.

When it comes to planning and training under duress, Navy SEALs are famously adept at knowing how to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Interestingly, Dr. George Everly discovered the single most important predictor of success for a Navy SEAL: optimism.

“If you think about it, think of who’s in your life,” says Rob. “We all know those people that we call; we say, ‘Hey, how’s it going today?’ And they say, ‘Oh, the world’s on my back,’ or, ‘You know, the sun’s out right now but I know it’s going to rain in a little while.’ And then there’s other people we call, ‘Hey, how’s it going? I need a favor.’ ‘Oh, what is it? Yep. No problem. I’ll be right there and we’ll climb the mountain together…’

“Optimism is so incredibly important. I’ve talked to teams of doctors at shock trauma in Baltimore and many other leadership teams and I have found the most creative, optimistic teams are often the most high performing. I think that’s really important when we take inventory of who we hire and who we surround ourselves with in this life.”

It makes sense when you really think about it: a natural pessimist is more likely to be a moper than a problem solver when times are tough. The optimist sees past the tough times because he knows they’re temporary; he’ll find ways to reach the other side and inspire those around him to help bridge the way.

So an organization that wants to strengthen its muscle memory should hire for optimism.

Another quality this organization should seek out is leaders who will shoulder the blame when something goes wrong rather than pointing fingers and finding fault with others.

“You also have to develop a resilient culture,” says Rob, “and what that means is there’s interdependability on success and failures: so your success depends on mine and mine depends on yours, so you don’t have the ‘me first’ attitude or you don’t have organizations that operate in a silo.

“Last but not least is really behavioral body armor. Dr. Everly talks about this, and he says ‘You have to take care of yourself during a difficult time. You have to eat well, sleep right, exercise so that you are able to take care of other people who are depending on you to sound decision make and lead this organization through a very difficult time.”

Crisis As a Growth Strategy

“The most successful people I’ve seen navigate their own worlds,” Rob says. “They embrace the fact that they’re in crisis. They acknowledge it. They admit it. And then they leverage the resources around them to get help. I always say that success is systems-driven, not hero-driven.”

The problem is that a lot of us — because of ego or embarrassment or some other reason we tell ourselves — won’t let other people know when we’re dealing with a crisis.

No matter how perfect you think your life is going, and no matter how successful your company seems to be doing today, Rob warns us to be prepared because crises are inevitable.

“I don’t care what organization you’re in; there is always crisis lurking. There is no doubt about it. Again, that crisis could take on many shapes and sizes. You don’t have to go looking for it. It will knock on your door — it could be discrimination, it could be an HR issue, it could be legal, it could be a data breach, it could be bad press, it could be a social media attack, consumer complaints — the list goes on and on and on about the myriad of issues that corporations need to deal with.”

If you don’t think that sounds optimistic, Rob sees crisis in a different way.

“I do believe that crisis is a growth strategy,” he says. “I don’t believe that it’s something to be afraid of…because it’s going to happen, and that’s where true leaders earn their money.”


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