By F+A Staff

Case Study: Bill Cosby

Using the Bill Cosby situation as a case study for flawed crisis communication is an exercise that touches on the absurd. Crisis communication professionals would be hard-pressed to manufacture a scenario that had more examples of what not to do.

The lawyers’ handling of the case is contradictory to our crisis communication best practices which, for decades, have guided clients from various industries as they face of predicaments of all shapes and sizes.

The latest revelation in the Cosby case is an amalgam of classic blunders that include “don’t let your lawyer be your spokesperson,” with a dash of “don’t blame the messenger,” followed by the common, “you can’t be silent, except when you want to.”

For those who haven’t seen the latest developments in the ongoing saga, Cosby’s lawyers recently sent a letter to CNN that criticizes the news agency for biased reporting and alleges that CNN selectively interviewed potential sources to support their anti-Cosby view and stonewalled Cosby advocates from being heard.

The leaked letter reveals three significant media relations blunders by the Cosby camp:


  1. Don’t let your lawyer be your spokesperson
    Many lawyers and PR professionals are divided when it comes to the best way to choose a spokesperson. While lawyers have a tendency to view their client’s publicity akin to seeing them on the witness stand – where a thorough cross-examination could potentially hurt the case and lead to unintended consequences – PR professionals prefer a proactive and transparent approach. While the first approach may save face in the courtroom, the second if more apt to foster a positive response in the court of public opinion.We work with plenty of savvy, upstanding and honest lawyers, but the truth is the legal industry itself has a bit of a reputation problem. The public is less likely to have a positive response to a sterile legal response chock full of legalese as they would to a heartfelt statement crafted by the likeable Dr. Huxtable himself – a juxtaposition that is likely the captivating factor that’s pulled so many in to this story.
  2. Don’t blame the messenger
    This marks the second time Cosby (or his lawyers) have blamed the media outlet for biased or incomplete reporting; third if we count Camille Cosby’s comment likening coverage of her husband’s case with Rolling Stone’s flawed reporting of the UVA rape case. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, media outlets are increasingly facing competition to get the story first. This phenomenon, by no means a justification for erroneous reporting, does explain some of the surface-level reporting we’ve grown accustomed to. Cosby’s camp did make one positive step in arranging potential interviews to substantiate his side of the story, but his defamatory remarks toward the media outlets not only overshadow this gesture, but also the implied credibility these witnesses would afford the Cosby case. The case deteriorates even further when CNN fires back, noting the proposed source’s past legal scuffles and poking holes in his credibility.Instead of blaming the media outlets for portraying him in a negative light, Cosby could have taken the proactive step to deliver a well-crafted statement that addressed the issue at hand, rather than attempting to pass the buck to shift the blame to the reporters covering this ongoing saga.
  3. You can’t be silent, except when you want to
    We’ve worked with plenty of belt-and-suspenders type lawyers who swear by the SANTA approach – Say Absolutely Nothing to Anyone. While it may appear the less risky route, the traditional SANTA approach more often than not solidifies incorrect conclusions of guilt or culpability and arrogance. There are times when asserting a proactive and transparent response, while it may feel precarious, is the clearest pathway to resolution.


We’ll surely keep an eye on this saga as it continues to evolve, and suggest to Mr. Cosby that he hire a savvy public relations team to salvage what’s left of the reputation that his legal team is quickly deteriorating.

By F+A Staff

Lessons from the Trenches: Five Non-negotiable Crisis Response Steps

Someone calls your company to report a suspected impaired driver driving a company vehicle. There’s a chance the story can get out and your company can be named.

When this happened to one of our clients, we immediately sprang into action with five tried-and-true steps to mitigate the fallout and prepare the company for the potential hit to their reputation.

  1. Research – We saw it when Rolling Stone retracted the UVA rape story – misadvised facts and unsubstantiated research can come back to bite companies and individuals if they aren’t accurate. Before starting the crisis response, gather all of the pertinent background information, no matter how damaging or irrelevant it may seem.
  1. Write – Draft statements for the key audiences and the spokesperson. While the tone may differ – between external audiences and staff, for example – what’s shared needs to be accurate across the board. In this case, the audiences included the caller, the company’s employees and key clients.
  1. Prepare – Run through talking points with the spokesperson and rehearse, if time permits. At a minimum, the spokesperson should be familiar with the talking points and the company’s position.
  1. Distribute – Share the messages internally and externally, and be prepared to respond to questions that arise.
  1. Monitor – Keep an eye on media, both social and traditional, and track sentiment and volume.


While crisis response is a flurry of activity in the beginning, it doesn’t stop when the initial swell of attention dies down. In the Internet age, it’s near impossible to put issues to bed for good. Keep a monitoring strategy in place so you’ll know immediately if the issue resurfaces.

By F+A Staff

Why organizations need to stop thinking about crisis as a static process

Organizations of any size – law firms included – need to change their thinking from “If something bad happens, we will address it then,” to “Issues that have the potential to damage our brand will happen, and we better think about it now.” Every organization – at every point in time – is either in, or should be in one of the following four circular conditions:

  • Preparing – You are actively preparing for the next issue, making sure your team is equipped for what’s coming. Is your current senior leadership media trained? Are your social media tools tuned to listen for early warnings of things to come? Do you have a strategy in place to make decisions when the immediacy of a crisis short-circuits your typical decision-making approach?  Do you have a plan to make sure you know how to reach key people even on holidays?
  • Addressing – If you’ve done your homework and your preparation is set, you or your client will be able to execute your plan when a crisis hits. Certainly, even the most well-honed plan won’t make the issues go away. You will, though, be able to weather the crisis better, avoiding the rudderless feeling that most experience.
  • Monitoring – Once you’ve addressed the crisis, follow news stories, blog posts and social media to see how outlets report the issue. In the social media sphere, a layperson’s comment can be just as impactful as a high-profile reporter’s. As you witness the response, modulate your messages based on the media and public response.
  • Revising – Assess the outcome and re-calibrate your strategy for the next crisis. How clearly did your spokespeople articulate key messages? Did you reach your target audience? What hurdles did your crisis team encounter? With each answer, you’ll gain a more comprehensive understanding of the media landscape and public perception, and use this advantage to refine your response strategy.

The cycle is recurrent and the most prepared lawyers recognize the cyclical nature of crisis communication.


By F+A Staff

Lessons from the Trenches: Crisis Management Behind the Scenes

Our years of experience in managing crises for clients have taught us that one thing’s for certain – it’s not a question of if, but when.

Every PR pro has their own methods for dealing with crises, and we fine-tune ours following each crisis we encounter. While every client crisis requires a tailored response, these best practices will help you keep your cool during any crisis:

  • Have a plan in place before the crisis hits. It may seem obvious, but we’ve encountered countless companies who had no semblance of one. While it’s impossible to predict exact scenarios, audits of potential threats and company weaknesses will help you to prepare for the worst and develop a plan to execute an adept and swift response.
  • Identity a single spokesperson and ensure they’re media-trained. When too many people become involved in the public-facing response to a crisis, the company’s message can become convoluted.
  • Coordinate messaging across the company. While it’s best to designate one employee as spokesperson, be prepared for the media or stakeholders to approach others within the company. Ensure that everyone’s armed with a response, even if it’s simply, “our CEO is better equipped to answer your questions.”
  • Make a commitment to transparency and hold your company accountable for its actions. Trying to skirt responsibility or cover up the truth instead of making sincere reforms will continue to harm a company’s reputation in the long-term.

Whether or not you’re managing your first big crisis, or your hundredth, these tips are universally applicable and will help you to mitigate the immense pressure that tends to descend during crisis.

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Case Study: Bill Cosby
Lessons from the Trenches: Five Non-negotiable Crisis Response Steps
Why organizations need to stop thinking about crisis as a static process