Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, a digital agency in New York recently was quoted in the NY Times about the amplification effect of the Internet and social media. He said, “It’s an age when anybody can communicate to an audience…You put something out and it may well be re-tweeted thousands of times.” (NY Times-3/15/11-Stuart Elliott)
Yes, indeed. Here are a few recent stories. Last month Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the obnoxious duck in Aflac ads, posted a number of crude jokes on his Tweeter feed (@RealGilbert) about the earthquake disaster in Japan. Japan accounts for 75% of Aflac’s business. Of course, Mr. Gottfried was fired summarily, but the damage was done. In a related vein, Kenneth Cole got in hot water on February 2, when he tweeted (with blood in the streets of Egypt), “Millions are in an uproar in Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Within minutes Cole’s insensitive glibness was transmitted in thousands of tweets around the globe (scroll back to February 8 blog). Or take Chrysler. An employee of their social media agency took it on himself to post on the official Chrysler twitter site (@ChryslerAutos), “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motor city and yet no one here knows how to [expletive deleted] drive.” The agency was let go.
I blogged two weeks ago about Howard Schultz’ new memoir, “Onward.” On Valentines Day, 2007, Schultz wrote a devastating internal memo to his top executives about Starbucks “losing its soul” in the quest for profit. The confidential memo, meant for only Schultz’ top executives, was quickly leaked. It crashed the stock, caused a crisis of confidence among employees, and created a PR nightmare. Schultz eventually turned this crisis to his advantage (a story well worth reading for any entrepreneur), but he recounts being visited by his former head of global communications Wanda Herndon, as he sat shell-shocked in his office. He recounts:
“Did you hear about the memo?” I said, still emanating disbelief. Wanda said yes, she knew about it…I shook my head and spoke about how hurt I was about the breach of trust. “Howard,” she said in the matter-of-fact tone I’d come to expect and appreciate. “Nothing is confidential. This is the new reality.” (Onward: How Starbucks fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Rodale Press, 2011, p. 28)
In such a world, discretion is increasingly a byword for many top corporate executives. My own outsourced executive sales company, Corporate Rain International, has noticed an increased insulation and caution among large company executives we approach for our clients. And with good reason. The examples of damaging privacy leaks cannot be gainsayed. An assurance of prudence and judgment is a tonality that must be part of any contemporary high-level executive communication.
To quote Hillary Clinton, “In almost every profession–whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business–people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all the worse.” (www.BrainyQuote.com)
Perhaps that is the unfortunate reality of our brave new media world.
Thank you, Hillary.