Crisis in The Office

April 27th, 2007

Did you see The Office last night? I laugh out loud every week at the show, but last night was by far my favorite. In it, the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin sent out something like 500 cases of paper embossed with an obscene water mark. Ok – it was a duck and a mouse in a compromising position.

So the office manager, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), decided to get out front of the issue by calling a press conference. According to him, when you bring a story to the media, you control it. There’s some truth there.

But a point to consider – would the media otherwise have caught on to the paper company’s little mistake? You could make a pretty good argument that they would have, and for two reasons – first, the crisis is visually compelling. There is something to show to the TV cameras and to reprint in the paper. Second – it turned out the local high school had printed their prom invitations on the paper. So you add the element of kids. The media loves kids and covers them whenever they get the chance – especially when a crisis is involved. (unwritten rule #1: kids + crisis = coverage).

It would seem Michael Scott may have actually been right in wanting to get out front of the story. There are other situations where you should think about getting to the media first in crisis. They are:

- When public health is in danger
- When a death has occurred
- When children are involved
- When a larger crisis is looming

There’s a lot of power in apologies these days. Just look at Jim McGreevy, Bill Clinton, Mel Gibson or any one of the many, many celebrities in rehab. America loves a good apology and if you can get out ahead of a crisis, making a public one may actually save your reputation in the long run.

Of course, that’s not what happens on The Office. Michael meets with one of his biggest clients with a reporter from the Scranton Times in the room. He gives her a big novelty check for free paper (unwritten rule #2: the media does love a big check), but he somehow sticks his foot in his mouth and she asks him to resign. His ensuing “apology” video is one for the record books. Download it from or iTunes when you get a chance. And remember, while Micheal’s bumbling is always funny, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to crisis communications.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations
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