Mess Media, September 10, 2009
After killing Darcy Allan Sheppard, Michael Bryant immediately called his lawyer and then his PR firm Navigator Ltd. He held his first news conference as he stepped out of the police station the next morning.
Other than his resignation letter from Invest Toronto we haven’t heard from him, even though it sounded like the PR plan was for further statements.
Navigator Limited senior partner Robin Sears confirmed Mr. Bryant had retained the top-tier communications firm. He said Mr. Bryant will speak publicly again in the coming days.
Perhaps the exposure of Navigator as the source of speculation set them back or perhaps Bryant does not have a side to the story.
Howard Levitt, in the Financial Post reviewed his PR campaign so far
Although he began well, he made major errors. First, the fact that his every word is being dictated by a PR firm is indelibly imprinted in everyone’s mind. One would think that, if his PR firm was doing its job well, no one would know of its existence. Many will now believe that whatever Bryant states was written by others and calculated for PR purposes rather than being a disingenuous reflection of the truth.
His ability to win the PR battle should have been simple. There were, it appears, only three witnesses, one of whom is dead. The other two are Bryant and his wife. Their evidence will, in those circumstances, be rather difficult to dispute.
Levitt points to a glaring omission in Bryant’s PR campaign:
For him to have retained credibility, he should have quickly announced his version of events, with his wife beside him, expressed profound sympathy for the victim and his family, but leave the public with a convincing and cogent message that relieves him of any guilt.
If he had done so, his reputation would have been quickly rehabilitated and he would have engendered overwhelming sympathy for his present plight. Since we are dealing with criminal charges, he need not have spoken himself. Armed with the veil of privilege, his counsel, knowledgeable in the law, could have done so on his behalf. If that had occurred, counsel’s statement cannot be used in the courts in the same way as his own.
The Checkmate public affairs blog came to a similar conclusion as Levitt in its review of Navigator’s public relations performance. Checkmate notes that Navigator has failed to engaged the public and get a message out. Under the bad performance aspects it lists:
Not engaging the public or engaging in real conversation
Lack of third party, verifiable information. If the role of the account is to respond to misinformation, at least point them to the correct information. Merely saying “Um, no, you’re wrong” isn’t going to cut it.
Checkmate is left perplexed by Navigator’s strategy
What is their version of the truth? We may never know. The author doesn’t tell us what the truth is. There is no verifiable information provided to an information-hungry, albeit skeptical public.
In this very high profile case, hiring ’spin doctors’ carries a risk in and of itself. Which is why this is just so perplexing… This ’strategy’ leaves the reader with more questions than answers, and sadly, does so in a way that may make the problem even worse.
Generally a PR campaign wants to get the client’s view out there but all Navigator has done is supply speculation about possible scenarios that might help Bryant. No where has Bryant said what happened. He did not give a statement to police and his wife did not give one either.
Levitt explains one exception to the PR scenario. If Bryant is guilty he doesn’t want to his version of the events to be contradicted by witnesses or security camera video.
This scenario assumes, of course, that he is innocent of criminal charges or, at least, that criminal conduct cannot be established. Otherwise, if he provides a version of events that is contradicted by what video footage proves or potential passersby state, his legal lot will be further imperilled. His delay in providing his version of events could compound the speculation that that is precisely what has occurred and that he is guilty accordingly.
The goal in crisis management is not to fly below the radar in the hope that everyone will forget. I position my clients to overcome the assault and both change and create the narrative. But if there is inappropriate behaviour, acknowledge it and then deal with it quickly so as to let the public understand that your organization is rehabilitated and emerged healthier, stronger and more ethical than ever.
Navigator’s role as stated on their website is to “deliver an analysis [of the facts] that will illuminate the issue in new ways. They “take an issue that has been looked at, sometimes for years, and radically shift perspective to reveal new insights.”
In other words Bryant is waiting to craft a defense that fits the known evidence and video. In the meantime Bryant’s PR team will attack the victim, create speculative scenarios and attempt to discredit any evidence in the public domain.
Silence not golden in a crisis – Financial Post – September 9, 2009
Mangling social media in a crisis – Checkmate, September 09, 2009