News & Politics

Having a PR Crisis? Here’s Expert Advice From a DC Pro.

What to do if, say, fans are abandoning the NFL team you own.

Photograph by Mylan Cannon/Edelman.

Crisis management is a booming industry—which is good news for Lisa Osborne Ross, a DC native who runs the Washington office of the global communications firm Edelman. How does she help brands deal with big issues? To find out, we came up with a handful of scenarios that may or may not resemble real-life events.

What would Ross advise a client who . . .

. . . runs a politically neutral company that’s getting slammed on Twitter by the President of the United States?

“You have to be clear about your goal. He or she might say, ‘The way we’re going to measure if we’ve been successful [at managing the situation] is the volume of positive tweets we get in response,’ or ‘Our employees are enthusiastic about how we’ve handled this.’ Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re working toward.”

. . . owns a bar with a dress code that some people consider discriminatory and is being criticized by the media?

“We’d ask them to have an honest look at their practices and to allow others to review their practices and come up with a consensus on whether it’s discriminatory. Whether it is or not, if the people you care about think it is, you have a problem. If you want those people to come to your establishment, you have to make changes.”

. . . is a high-profile person credibly accused of sexual harassment?

“If there’s credible evidence, we probably won’t represent them. We have to know if we can be successful on their behalf and that they’re truly willing to course-correct. There are clients we have not accepted because we don’t believe them, and also cases where we’re like, ‘This [situation] is too far gone.’ We’re magicians, but we don’t have magical flutes and pixie dust.”

. . . is a school that’s in the spotlight for the alleged misdeeds of an alumnus?

“We’d start with asking them questions: What’s the validity of the allegation? What are you trying to achieve? What is your brand and what is your purpose? Does the allegation interfere with your [ability] to operate? Do you have an infrastructure that’s allowing these problems? Do you have a safeguard in place that’s preventing them? We’re putting out the fire but also looking at operations and culture, saying you want to be the best you can be.”

. . . owns a football team with an offensive name and a dwindling fan base?

“A lot of people have been advising that client—we’re not one of them. Again, it starts with: Is it impacting your business? If you’ve got a dwindling fan base, it’s impacting your business. What’s the impact on your brand? It hurts your brand. It’s also what’s important to your audience. If the fan base is overwhelmingly upset about what people perceive to be an offensive name, then you have a problem.”

This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.