Christopher Lehane joins The Cycle in today’s guest spot to discuss his book Master of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. Lehane made his name during the Clinton White House years when he helped manage crises from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky, earning him the name of "Master of Disaster".
We've all been there -- found ourselves in a crisis situation at one level or another. We've seen it in political campaigns, corporate blunders and PR nightmares. So what should you do? Christopher Lehane’s book provides some suggestions and outlines his “Ten Commandments of Damage Control” to help during times of crisis.
Be sure to tune in at 3:30 p.m. for the full conversation and check out an excerpt from his book below.
PrologueNot a Question of If, but WhenI n t h e Informat i o n Ag e , t h e r e a r e two k i nds o f p e o p l e , two k i nds o f i n s t i t u t i o n s ,two kinds of organizations: those who have been hit with a crisis and thosewho haven’t been around very long.Whether you are a multinational corporation such as BP responding to oilgushing into the Gulf of Mexico or the neighborhood restaurant dealing witha bad Yelp review, confronting a crisis is not a question of if but of when. Andof those who have looked a great crisis squarely in the eye, there are similarlytwo kinds of people, two kinds of institutions, two kinds of organizations:Those who were able to be masters of their disasters, and those who failed.The landscape is dotted with a few winners but crowded with many loserswho simply did not have what it took to survive the crisis.For every Bill Clinton—who left office with the highest presidential jobapproval rating in history despite having been impeached—there are disgracedformer politicians like Gary Hart and John Edwards.For every Goldman Sachs—which, despite being widely portrayed in thewake of the 2008 financial meltdown as a pack of real-life Gordon Gekkos savagelytrouncing all in their path in the service of the bottom line, has continuedto have great success—there are companies like Lehman Brothers, Enron,and Arthur Andersen, consigned to the ash heap of Wall Street.For every franchise athlete like Yankee’s star Alex Rodriguez—who in2009 went from being the spring training goat of ridicule over revelationsabout his use of performance-enhancing drugs to being the 2009 World Serieshero—there are disgraced former superstars like Barry Bonds and MarkMcGwire.4 Masters of DisasterThese same battles play out every day not just in The New York Times andThe Wall Street Journal, but also in the Peoria Journal Star and Palo Alto Online.The names may not be known to all, but the problems are just as serious tothose in the vortex, such as:• The local bed and breakfast that suddenly discovers it has beenreported to BedBugRegistry.com;• Your colleague who inadvertently left his resume in the printer andis being called in by his boss to address whether he is applying foranother job;• A neighborhood fast-food franchise that is suddenly dealing with aso-called foreign particle in its hamburgers that may or may not havebeen planted there by a spiteful customer or a disgruntled employee;• A principal at a private school who is trying to explain the dip in thelatest test scores to a group of angry parents;• A guy in the adjoining cubicle who inadvertently hits “reply all” whensending his best friend a scathing criticism of their boss.All of these examples are, in fact, real-life cases—and versions of themhappen every day. And while these crises may not be leading national newsreports, when they happen to you or your organization, it’s personal, it’s profound,and it will have an enormous impact on you, your family, and yourfuture.It’s like what Ronald Reagan said about the economy when runningagainst Jimmy Carter—when your neighbor’s out of work, it is a recession;when you’re out of work, it is a depression.Similarly, when your neighbor faces a crisis, it is someone else’s scandal;when you face a crisis, it is a disaster that you must master.We are often asked how to identify a crisis. A crisis can manifest itself in aseemingly infinite number of ways: It could be a legal problem, such as whena Fortune 500 corporation is sideswiped by an accounting scandal; it couldbe an economic challenge, such as when a restaurant is losing market share toa competitor because of poor Yelp reviews; it could be a personal issue, suchas when a spouse is caught cheating on their partner; or it could be organizationalin nature, such as when a high school principal removes a teacher for inappropriateconduct. In whatever for the crisis appears, the most accurate wayfor you to know whether it is, in fact, a crisis is to apply one very simple test:No t a Q u e s t i o n o f I f, b u t W h e n 5Is there something that is putting you or your organization’s trust at risk withthose very audiences—be they shareholders, consumers, your spouse, or yoursuperior—whose trust you must maintain to be able to survive and thrive?Simply put, crisis is everywhere and impacts everyone, whether you are bigor small, established or less established, powerful or not so powerful. Crisis is aconstant state of nature in our Information Age. And in the modern spin cycle,whether you are a business protecting a brand, a public figure guarding yourimage, or that guy in the cubicle defending your reputation, if you do not fightback—even after a short, nasty, or brutish experience—you will no longer haveyour brand, your image, or your reputation.Successfully fighting back—whether it is fending off a national story oryour neighborhood blogger—involves the application of a set of basic principlesof crisis survival coupled with the execution of field-tested tactics.This is the survival of the fittest.This is the black art of damage control.And this is what we do.For more than twenty years, Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani have mannedthe frontlines of scandal patrol. In the 1990s, the two of us helped lead a teamof lawyers who were responsible for representing President Bill Clinton, FirstLady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the White House on various scandals relatedto Ken Starr’s investigation of the president. During that time we becamepublicly known as the “Masters of Disaster.” Since leaving the White Housein 2000, our crisis communications firm, Fabiani & Lehane, has representedglobal Fortune 500 companies, high-profile CEOs, elected officials, celebrities,and athletes.Our partner in this, Bill Guttentag, a lecturer at the Stanford UniversityGraduate School of Business, comes from the journalism side of the damagecontrol house. Bill is a filmmaker who has made films and television programsfor ABC News, HBO, NBC, CBS, PBS, and others. He has worked with multiplenational network news anchors and has won two Oscars, three Emmys,a Peabody Award, and other awards. And he’s spent enough time inside thenetworks and other media to know what works in deflecting a crisis and whatthrows gas on the fire.When we began to write this book in June 2011, the United States experienceda month that saw record-high temperatures, matched only by whatseemed like a record-high number of breaking scandals—from CongressmanAnthony Weiner’s salacious tweets to teenagers and a porn star and revelations