Sunday, April 16, 2006

How to handle a PR nightmare

Over the last month, the Public Relations juggernaught that Disney released has been pushing the new attraction at the Animal Kingdom -- Expedition Everest. This is a roller-coaster thrill ride set against the myth (?) of the Yeti, also called the Abominable Snowman, in the Himalayas. Disney has initiated numerous television shows about the real Mt. Everest and tied in the attraction to the plot or coverage. I have noticed a new show nearly every day on one cable station or another. They have invited press from all over the world to fill their rooms and participate in the opening week of the ride.

Then, in the midst of all of this self-generated hoopla with hundreds of reporters and media people around, another Disney thrill-ride is blamed for the death of a visitor. This tragic turn is bad enough in the normal course of events, but to have it happen at a time you have invited the media to your business location, and specifically for the openeing of another thrill ride is the kind of thing that keeps most PR folks awake at night.

How Disney handles this will be critical for their near future. Unfortunately, the public and media has a short attention span for such stories, but I have seen several instances of writers digging up other guests with negative experiences on such rides. You can almost feel the cross-hairs on Mickey Mouse.


People generally want and need to be recognized for their accomplishments. It validates their contributions while letting them know that their work is worthwhile and being noticed. In our organization, we have an Exceptional Achievement Award program for company-wide recognition. There are politics involved in getting a nomination approved that the general employee-base doesn't understand. As a manager, we have to be sure that we are recognizing the right people, and they are being rewarded for their contribution and not someone else's. It could otherwise be easy to upset just as many people as you reward if you were to fold someone else's contribution into the award.

Our award is not large; it's merely $100 and a certificate. For highly compensated staff, it's but a drop in the bucket. I find the amazing thing being that the highly paid seem to value being presented with the award much more so that the staff at the lower end of the pay scale. I still haven't been able to reconcile this to my own satisfaction though. For the lower paid, $100 can represent more the net value of a whole day's pay, while barely a few hours for more senior staff. The entry-level staff sometimes leave their certificates laying around or file them in drawers. I have even seen some show up in the paper recycling. But the senior staff generally mount them on their walls in a conspicuous location for all to see.

I find it a bit surprising that the award has such a profound effect on senior staff while only a minimal impact on entry-level staff. I'll have to think more about this and, should I have a revelation, post it here.