Thursday, November 27, 2014

How PR Failed Jian Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi leaves court in Toronto, Wednesday, Nov.26, 2014.The Canadian Press 
Torstar News Service
In a single month, Jian Ghomeshi has gone from being one of North America’s most beloved radio hosts to facing five criminal charges and a throng of cameras.

It’s been a precipitous fall from grace, aided by Ghomeshi himself, who made a series of terrible strategic errors in managing the crisis, say public relations experts.

“He failed to understand the magnitude of his actions and the reaction to his disclosures. He was so wrapped up in his own self-interest and in positioning himself as victim that he failed to see that there are many women in our society who have been victims,” said Bill Walker, principal at MidtownPR, which specializes in crisis management.

Each time Ghomeshi tried to bring people onside, they ended up turning against him, starting with his own employers.

When Ghomeshi showed the CBC material he thought would exonerate him, they fired him. He then published his side of the story on Facebook and asked people to support him in the face of unfounded attacks.

“These moves demonstrated he was in involved in heinous acts, but he didn’t recognize that,” said Scott Reid, a political analyst who worked for former prime minister Paul Martin. “Maybe that’s a reflection of self-delusion. Perhaps it’s narcissism. Maybe it’s just flat-out idiocy. But those misjudgments are striking.”

The Facebook posting, which followed the crisis management textbook by getting out in front of an issue, was initially successful in reframing the issue as one of sexual proclivity. But it also spurred the alleged victims from his past to go public.

“It literally antagonized his victims,” said Reid. “It’s waving a red flag.”

Ultimately, the Facebook post provided the Star with the public interest obligation to publish allegations of non-consensual sexual violence.

After the Star report, more and more women came forward, eventually totalling nine, claiming that Ghomeshi had sexually assaulted, assaulted or harassed them.

“He fundamentally misjudged the social environment that this story was going to land in,” said Walker. “His case will be a textbook case of a colossally, horribly misplayed first step. He’s opened up a whole Pandora’s box.”

Filing a lawsuit usually prevents accusations from flying in public. But in Ghomeshi’s case, a $55 million suit against CBC for breach of confidence, bad faith and defamation did nothing to stem the flow of allegations. The former host of Q ended up withdrawing the lawsuit this week and paying the CBC’s legal fees of $18,000.

“How he could believe that he could just bully his way through it is now, in hindsight, unfathomable,” said Walker.

He hired Navigator, a prestigious crisis management firm, to clean up his image. Then — according to Star sources — they quit after he lied to their advisers.

“All of this appears to be a guy who’s hiding the truth,” Walker said.

He retained a top defence lawyer, but it soon emerged that she had made a public joke at his expense days before.

Ghomeshi then disappeared from the public eye, which was probably the only thing he did that wasn’t a mistake, Reid said.

This week, he deleted his Facebook and Twitter accounts, an action that may have been dictated more by legal considerations than public relations.

“At this point, his reputation is incinerated,” said Reid. “He’s oblivious to communications now. I assume he’s utterly devastated and is working on salvaging his freedom.”

On Wednesday, he appeared in public for the first time in a month at his court appearance, and it turned into media pandemonium worse than the height of Rob Ford crack video scandal.

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