CBS and Don Imus
What did CBS management do well?
Crisis born of publicity problems can be especially challenging when society places conflicting demands on an organization. CBS was faced with conflicting expectations in responding to this crisis. CBS management handled the crisis quickly and decisively in exactly the manner good PR crisis management requires. They had a difficult issue; they responded and acknowledged the problem. There was limited commentary, when they could have joined the feeding frenzy or taken what you expect from a shock jock approach. The management team considered the matter carefully. They let it play out for a couple of days and then made their decision. Although the decision was made after sponsors started pulling out, so the decision may have been made for economic reasons more than ethical ones. But nevertheless, the decision was made. It was quick, the reasons were stated, and it was done. What did CBS management do poorly and what should they have done differently.
In every organization the very people who deliver success can be the same people who sometimes derail it. The most important thing for the organization is not just the final straw incident itself (in this case Imus’s widely-reported derogatory comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team), but how they deal with it. What Imus said about the Rutgers women’s basketball team was mean-spirited and hurtful. But Don Imus said lots of things that are mean-spirited and unfunny. It was practically his job description. Should CBS have been shocked by its own shock jock? Hardly. Its own contract with Imus called on him to be controversial and irreverent. CBS should have set clear boundaries, made the consequences of overstepping those boundaries transparent. They should communicate concerns and consequences early on, rather than waiting until the situation becomes untenable. As soon as high performers in the organization breach the boundaries set, the...
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