5 things to do in the face of a PR disaster

July 30, 2015

Dr. Walter James Palmer, D.D.S., had 4,714 reviews on Yelp yesterday evening. His rating: 1.5 stars. Is he a terrible dentist? Does he have a slew of bad reviews because of his level of patient care? No. He has terrible reviews because he shot Cecil, the famous and beloved lion in Africa, with a crossbow on July 1st, then later killed him. “I needed a tooth extracted, so Dr. Palmer shot me in the neck with a crossbow, chased and tracked me for 40 hours, and (once I collapsed from pain and...” reads one review from Drew C, who gave him a five-star review.

 

Dr. Walter James Palmer, D.D.S., had 4,714 reviews on Yelp yesterday evening. His rating: 1.5 stars. Is he a terrible dentist? Does he have a slew of bad reviews because of his level of patient care? No. He has terrible reviews because he shot Cecil, the famous and beloved lion in Africa, with a crossbow on July 1st, then later killed him.

“I needed a tooth extracted, so Dr. Palmer shot me in the neck with a crossbow, chased and tracked me for 40 hours, and (once I collapsed from pain and...” reads one review from Drew C, who gave him a five-star review.

Related reading: Don't hold it against us: Dentists and the tragedy of Cecil the lion

Janis W’s review read, “As a biology professor who has spent much time in Zimbabwe, I am appalled and disgusted by your “hobby” of killing endangered animals. Especially a lion…”

Another reviewer describes him as a “piece of s*** animal killer.” Still another tells him he should enlist in an ISIS sleeper cell. One reviewer wishes he could give the doctor zero stars, calling him “ a shameful human being.” Yelp continues to scrub the comments, but more are always ready to take their place.

Dr. Palmer is now facing possible extradition to Zimbabwe to face poaching charges. His hunting guides are already in custody. He shut down his practice, took down his Facebook page and is currently in hiding in response to the overwhelming public outrage surrounding the life-long big game hunter’s latest kill. But he also made one good move: he hired a public relations firm to help stay the damage.

Whether you are a pop diva caught licking donuts on camera or an American dentist with an unpopular hobby who killed the “wrong lion,” handling bad PR is something one must do-and fast.

Kelly Reeves, owner of KLR Communications, a public relations firm in Newport Beach, Calif., thinks his first statement didn’t show enough remorse or concern for animals. Instead, it came across as cold, focused on the legality of the issue instead of the cause for people’s anger. His priority should be a sincere apology that recognizes why people are upset about the incident.

Related reading: Sticky situations: Managing social media for the dental practice

“The act itself is just so atrocious to a great many people that are against him right now. It’s not whether it was legal or not, it’s the fact that he did it at all,” she said. “He has to recognize that there is a certain sensitivity when it does come to animals and needless and selfish killings. I think that is what has everyone riled up is that he is showing no remorse, sincerity, or even concern about animals.”

According to an article about PR Blunders on Reeves’ site, there are at least five things one needs to do when they are facing a PR blunder the size and scope of Dr. Palmer’s.

Continue to page two to see what Reeves recommends in the face of a PR disaster...

 

Act fast.

KLR advises that one should start responding at the first suspicion that there might be a problem.

Make a statement.

It is important to tell your side of the story as soon as possible, so don’t dodge the media. Prepare your statement and be as transparent as possible, meaning you state your position clearly. Furthermore, make sure everyone on your staff knows the position and can articulate it as well.

Be smart about what you say.

Remember, nothing is off the record, especially not on social media. If you don’t want it to appear on CNN, don’t tweet it, pin it, status update it or Instagram it. Anything you say is fair game for the media.

Make a plan for a response.

Working with professionals, KLR advises you to do a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats) analysis to create a strategy that repairs the damage caused by your actions.

Make amends.

If you can and you are willing, be sure to make amends. Most people are willing to give you a second chance, provided you take responsibility for your actions.

Related reading: Online reputations: The Internet's dirty little secrets and how they can kill your dental practice

Reeves is also the co-founder of Paw Prints in the Sand, Inc., a non-profit animal rescue dedicated to responsible pet care and rescuing dogs and cats from kill shelters. Having traveled to Africa in the past to see the majestic lions in person, she is considering returning to Africa for an anti-poaching mission.

“I can’t imagine why people would poach and murder a lion for the fun of it. I don’t even get it,” she said. “This is just a tragedy and I hope the visibility that this is getting puts other sports hunters on notice that this type of action is not acceptable. They have to have a little more respect for wildlife and understanding.”

When asked if Dr. Palmer will recover from this incident, Reeves said he would likely need to rebuild his practice. His business has been shut down for the week, so the financial impact he will feel regarding this incident will have long-term ramifications. Business worries notwithstanding, Reeves explained to DPR the element that will help Dr. Palmer’s recovery most is time.

“Usually with these things though it’s always time,” Reeves explained. “People forget and move on to switch their focus to something else. But time is the only thing that could help him recover if he ever does.”

The public is currently persecuting Dr. Palmer in the form of scathing Yelp reviews and outraged status updates on Facebook. The question is will he emerge from this fiasco unscathed or will the court of public opinion throw him to the lions?

Apparently, time will tell.