Careful what you write, it just may end up on CNN

Anybody who has been trapped in a car trying to get home in bumper-to-bumper traffic understands how infuriating it is.  You feel helpless and frustrated at whatever is tying up traffic.

So it is no surprise that when it was revealed that Bridget Anne Kelly, chief of staff to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, orchestrated the tie up on the George Washington Bridge last month, a firestorm resulted in Kelly’s firing.  Apparently the intentional traffic tie up was payback for the Mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.  not supporting Christie’s re-election bid.

At the center of the storm was one email Kelly wrote that said “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

It seems that every political and business scandal brings with it incriminating emails.  The fact that people, especially those in positions of power who do evil things, put their bad intentions in writing is hard to believe and understand.  The first lesson of using email is never put in writing anything you don’t want the world to see, because it may.

Actually, the first lesson is not to do things that are illegal or stupid.  But if someone wants to put their career and the safety of others in jeopardy, at least have the sense to not put it in writing.

Every email that is sent has the potential to be forwarded to someone else without the original sender’s knowledge.  More scary is the fact that email recipients can be careless and send your email to someone else not remembering or realizing that it is part of a thread.  I have received emails from people that included other email correspondence that was not for my eyes.  Perhaps you have as well.

But it is worse for those who work in the public sector.  The email communication by elected officials and their staff are the property of the government, not the sender or receiver.  That’s why many who work in the public sector use personal email accounts to send messages they don’t want made public.  But there is never any guarantee that it won’t be revealed by someone somehow.

The lesson is simple.  Every email is a document and if you don’t want to see it again in court or at your dismissal meeting, don’t put it in writing.









Christie fired Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff who apparently engineered the closures and who said in emails:  Christie said she lied to him about the issue.,0,5539696.story#ixzz2pwaA1fSh

Jahi McMath — not only a personal tragedy but a PR disaster

The case of Jahi McMath, the 13-year old girl who has been declared brain dead after complications from complex tonsillectomy surgery, is indeed a tragedy.  The last thing parents expect when their child has elective surgery is for the child to die.

The case has captured international attention because Jahi’s mother refuses to accept the fact that her daughter is brain dead.  Three neurologists examined the girl and found there to be no blood flow to the brain and no electrical activity.  In essence, the girl is dead.

Since the drama unfolded three weeks ago, there has been a public struggle between  Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland where the surgery took place and Nailah Winkfield, the girl’s mother.  The mother refuses to accept that her daughter is dead and has arranged for her to be taken to a long-term care facility.

One would think that the hospital would have handled the situation with the utmost sensitivity. Instead, as it reads in the media, the hospital pressured Ms. Winkfield to remove Jahi from the ventilator and accept her death.  Then, when the conflict escalated, the hospital brought in a local PR / crisis communications guru to handle the media onslaught.

There is a place for crisis communications experts.  We are among them and handle our share of PR crisis situations.  But sometimes the best counsel a crisis communicator can give his/her client is to show sensitivity rather than play hardball and lawyer up.  The words of condolence given by Sam Singer, the crisis PR guru, seem all too much like lip service.  Standing before a bank of TV cameras, to recite the demands of the hospital in order for the transfer to take place, seems harsh.  Yes, there are many legal issues involved here, we all know that.  The hospital has to follow certain protocols and their lawyers are calling the shots.  But sometimes crisis PR is not all about lawyers. Sometimes it is about putting a human face on an organization, this time the hospital.

Let’s not forget it was in this hospital that the surgery took place, and it was in this hospital that the girl died.  Whatever happens to Jahi, it is certain we have not heard the last from the family, as a lawsuit seems to be on the horizon.  Yet another reason that the hospital should have handled this situation with more care, sensitivity and strategic thinking.

This could have been a model PR crisis case, if handled appropriately.  Unfortunately, the only thing to learn from this situation is how NOT to handle a PR crisis.