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Foot in Mouth Disease

April 11th, 2007

Ok, I admit it: one of my guilty pleasures is listening to the occasional shock jock. I’ll tune in Howard Stern (though not since he moved to Sirius) or Opie and Anthony to have a laugh on the way to the office. But I never got the whole Don Imus thing. He’s self important, not very funny and he can’t help but put his foot in his mouth with some ridiculous comment at least a couple times a year. And I definitely don’t get his communication strategy responding to the uproar over his latest off color comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

So he called the girls on the team “Nappy Headed Hos.” Of course there’s going to be a backlash. He made a mistake and pushed it too far. But in the wake of a media onslaught and public outcry, Imus has failed to follow the two golden rules of crisis communication: validate concern and show action. His response should have reflected the outrage of his critics and should have included some bold action to demonstrate his commitment and sincerity to changing. He has failed on both counts.

Even in apology, Imus has shown little empathy or regret. When the station suspended him, his only response was that he will serve his suspension “with dignity.” By not validating the concerns of his critics, he puts into question the sincerity of his apology.

To top it off, Imus continues to defend his actions and fight with his critics, notably in a heated duel with Al Sharpton on The Today Show. Talk about stirring up the pot.

Worse still, Imus also hasn’t shown any action. A bold action would have been to announce he was going to spend his two week suspension in an intensive sensitivity training camp or that he was going to endow a basketball scholarship at Rutgers. Now that would have demonstrated his commitment and sincerity to change.

Imus hasn’t followed the rules of crisis communications, and the situation is snowballing as a result:

The Rutgers team has come out strong against him, advertisers are pulling spots and Imus is in serious trouble. If only he had validated concern and shown action, he might not be in this situation now. People just want to know your care. Imus has shown that he cares only about himself.

I sincerely hope this is the last time we’ll be talking about Imus, but somehow I doubt it. He’ll put his foot in his mouth again sometime soon. It’s like he’s got a disease.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Media & Journalism
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