Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: Glass Jaw - A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal

It may be only May, but if you’re starting to compile a summer reading list for the beach, and you’re one of those rare people who read about PR while on vacation, here’s one to consider.  It’s called Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, by Eric Dezenhall.  The book was published in late 2014.  For background, Dezenhall is the founder of Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., which was formed in 1987, and has handled a large number of high-profile crises.

His book, Glass Jaw focuses on crisis communications in the digital age.  He uses several recent communications crises to illustrate what he calls a “fiasco vortex,” where smaller problems escalate quickly thanks to the viral nature of the Internet.

The book explores another major characteristic of the current crisis communications climate, a twist on the old “man bites dog” scenario.  Glass Jaw focuses on how many recent crises today center on large, powerful organizations that were bullied and taken down by traditionally weaker or more powerless but tech savvy groups that know how to leverage digital media channels.

Or as Dezenhall points out, “the meek are predators and the strong are prey.”

The author explains that traditional crisis management tactics and strategies may not effectively counter some of these new types of attacks, and it can be folly to try to trade punches on social media.  He says that when some organizations find themselves the target of such campaigns, they often respond too quickly, apologize ineffectively, and generally over-react.

More to the point, he believes that both the cause and the solution to the controversy reside away from the public eye.  He likens controversies to icebergs, where the small top above the water is all that the world sees, but “Most of what’s really happening is happening in a place that few people see.”

So, while the public may see the media coverage, the statements, the apologies and the product recalls, Dezenhall says that behind the scenes are operational and strategic decisions, regulatory moves, and conflict avoidance.

Says Dezenhall, “Most crises that are successfully resolved are resolve due to business and operational considerations, which occur beneath the surface of the controversy iceberg.  Because these actions are often mundane and invisible, they go unheralded.  Above-the-surface communications strategies are over-hyped as damage control solutions, which may play a supporting role, but shouldn’t divert attention away from the big decisions that will ultimately determine the health of the principal.” 

In a sense, Glass Jaw is an anatomy of much current day news coverage and how some groups effectively leverage the power of digital media, both narrowly and as part of a broader strategy.

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