By Dennis Culloton, President and CEO

The most painful media and public relations crisis is the self-inflicted wound.  It happens all the time, as my colleagues have been discussing here on Checkmate.

Just about any day in the news you’ll find an example of someone who has put themselves in the hole and thinks the way out is with a shovel. 

  • Mitt Romney isn’t concerned about the poor.  Even after he was given a ladder by his CNN interrogator, he kept on digging.
  • Gov. Blagojevich launching a media scud missile at his powerful father-in-law, which was met with equal firepower that aided and abetted an ongoing federal probe into his administration.
  • Bank of America, Verizon, and Netflix alienating their customers with new fees before backtracking.
  • Every other time, or maybe every time Newt Gingrich speaks.

I’ve watched these incidents happen time and again over the years.   Top executives in government and business who plan for contingencies and surround themselves with smart people somehow are surprised by the backlash or return fire when they create a class war in the middle of a campaign; insult a powerful ally; or ding their loyal customers.   How can this be?  These are Harvard MBAs, experienced politicians and corporate lawyers making these gaffes.

Government and business often is populated by really smart people narrowly looking at issues in terms of product roll-out, immediate impact, short-term stock prices and tight deadlines.  Who has time to think through the long-term implications on customers, voters or political allies?  We have a boss to impress and the way to the top is not by disagreeing with their brilliant ideas.

Next thing you know you are hurtling off the cliff into the Grand Canyon—with or without a shovel.

The other thing I have seen in these situations is that self-denial is a powerful thing.  That’s why so many of us break New Year’s resolutions and diets.  We can kid ourselves.  Have another piece of deep dish.  Need a shovel with that?

So people delude themselves and surround themselves with people motivated to keep that delusion alive.  Next thing you know, everyone in the boardroom has concluded it is a fabulous idea to replace old Coke with New Coke.

We’re all human and we’re all susceptible to this kind of thinking.  Once you’ve shot yourself in the foot, the question is how good are you at stopping the bleeding?  The most successful case studies of crisis management have been of people or companies admitting their mistakes, reversing course and asking for forgiveness.