Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director Clarity Solutions
You've seen the videos of Salim Mehajer's shockingly abusive rant haven't you? Or at least you've read the commentary.
So how are you feeling? What are you thinking about Councillor Mehajer?
Is he fit to serve on Council? Should banks finance his building projects (and if they do should we boycott them)? Should he be investigated for abuse or possibly fraud?
That feeling you're feeling right now, it's outrage (perhaps with some fear and disgust thrown in). That's the same feeling we have when we feel endangered or let down by a brand we know and trust.
Despite his designer suits, flash cars and expensive property, Mehajer is the personification of a brand in crisis. In an instant he's gone from being a comic but unpleasant issue to being an offensive threat.
Public opinion is vehemently against him, and unless he can manage that it can only escalate. The scale is different, but it's the same underlying reaction we had to BP's oil spill, or the Sanmarco mine disaster.
What can Councillor Mehajer, or any person or brand, do in this situation? Survival depends on managing public outrage.
Outrage is an amorphous concept, but you can make it concrete with a simple equation we call the Clarity 4S model:
Forgiveness = Sin - Speed + (Sincerity x Sacrifice)
It's a great tool to get a handle on how you should respond, because you can control all the variables except the original Sin. But all crisis communication starts with evaluating your Sin level, so getting a handle on that must guide the nature and extent of your other inputs.
Let me talk you through it using Councillor Mehajer as a case study.
Sin: How deep is the offence you've caused (remember it's the public's emotional pain you need to analyse). Mehajer's sin is extreme, graphically heinous domestic violence, which is almost at the top of the scale. So he needs to amp up the other factors to gain forgiveness.
Speed: How quickly have you responded to the outrage. Offence doesn't blow over, it festers so you need to move fast. Mehajer has yet to make an appropriate formal response so the public's outrage is multiplying. Look at how the volume and tone of the coverage has escalated over the last few days. And his complaint's it was "out of context" are fuelling the outrage.
Sincerity: Convince me you understand the seriousness of your offence. It's more than selecting the right words, you have to deliver them with empathy and conviction. When he does issue a statement, Mehajermust address the outrage he's caused and show us he gets the full extent of his offence - not just to his wife and her family, but to his community and the wider public as well.
Sacrifice: What painful medicine are you taking, what penance are you doing. This is the big one for Mehajer- the public will need proof that he's sincere in repudiating his actions. The tried and tested route is to withdraw from public life and undertake rehab or hard core counselling. Ideally to reemerge a changed man who is now a passionate (anti) Domestic Violence advocate, reaching out to damaged men to help them.
If he gets it right the public might forgive him and he might be able to continue in public life and in business. But if he gets it wrong he'll face never ending scrutiny of his private life and business dealings. As a brand goes toxic it gets increasingly difficult for individuals and organisations to associate with it.
The idiocy of Mehajer's current squeeze must make her employer question whether she's broken their social media policy. The contagion could spread to that brand as well.
This story is just not going away. And while it's one man's story, it's a perfect case study of how the public and media respond to outrage caused by a brand through crisis.
Want to know more about navigating the media in a crisis? Check out our tailored in house training courses here or email us.