In case you had not yet found out…the city of McKinney is currently in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
There are a few obvious things about how to handle this kind of crisis that i learned when reading the classroom materials from a class that a work colleague attended in 1997 called “how to deal with the media”. There are several simple (and rather obvious) rules:
1. If you screwed up, admit it
This is the most obvious, and the most ignored. The reason for the old saying “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is that humans have a far higher forgiveness threshold for people and organizations who admit to error than they do for people and organizations who obfuscate, bullshit or lie in an attempt to deflect accountability. (Obvious note – with video in existence of at least part of the incident, it is not a good idea for the law enforcement bodies to try to impose a false narrative. Arguing against what people can see or interpret from a video is a Really Really Bad Tactic).
2. Make Good on recompense
The case study for this is Intel, who discovered an obscure (and rarely used) math processing error in their Pentium chip. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet, they admitted to its existence (tick Rule 1). But then they did something far far smarter. They announced that anybody who felt that they no longer had confidence in their Pentium CPU could send it in and get a replacement AT NO COST TO THEM. The gesture removed just about all remaining negative impact from the initial announcement. Intel had stood behind their product and their reputation, and backed it up with action. Their long term reputation was unaffected, and possibly even enhanced.
3. Hold the Right people accountable and show how you held them accountable
This is more tricky. The temptation in large organizations is to circle the wagons and diffuse accountability, via a number of rhetorical devices (prominent among them is the use of the passive “mistakes were made”, which de-personalizes and diffuses accountability). The aim is to ride out the storm. Those tactics communicate that you are not really interested in changing for the better, you just want the noise to go away. The challenge is that it erodes your credibility and trust with the public.
McKinney has a window of opportunity to Do The Right Things. Some of them may be unpalatable in the short term. However, failure to do them will result in Google searches of McKinney returning hits that are a lot more negative than positive in the months to come. (Obvious parallel – google Ferguson).
Ultimately, it is all about credibility. Failure to respond correctly will reduce and possibly eliminate the credibility of the city of McKinney.