AutoZone is in the middle of a public relations crisis and firefight.
The company fired an employee being called a hero today for using his personal handgun to stop a robber.
Their social media pages like Facebook are under assault with hundreds of comments posted on threads that have nothing to do with the attempted robbery and subsequent employee firing.
The AutoZone public relations crisis is doubled.
Devin McClean used his handgun in a manner that professional concealed carry weapon (CCW) instructors teach to students to insure safety and responsibility.
That’s because McClean is an Air Force veteran. Firing a veteran for doing the right thing is a major disaster for anyone. He got his handgun training from the best teachers in the country.
McClean practices better communications and public relations than AutoZone executives who fired him. The Blaze compiled this quote from McClean and his reaction:
The former AutoZone employee explains that his decision to go back into the store and rescue his co-workers was informed by lessons he learned in the U.S. Air Force.
“Never leave a man behind,” he said. “I’m not going to leave my brother in a room with a guy with a gun — that’s threatening his life.”
“If I can save somebody’s life, I put that way above a store policy,” he adds.
AutoZone picked the wrong time to fire a hero.
McClean was fired just before Thanksgiving for responsibly using a handgun.
People are still feeling the emotion of the handgun issue after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher recklessly used a gun to kill his girlfriend then himself.
McClean is about to be a father.
AutoZone boycotts are underway.
McClean is paying the price now for being unemployed.
It won’t last long. A company will see McClean will be an asset for them.
AutoZone created its own nightmares.
One, the reason given for the firing was enforcing a “no-tolerance policy about weapons in a store.”
Inflexibility is never a good thing. A great example is the image the Federal Government has in regards to the upcoming fiscal cliff.
AutoZone follows up the firing by practicing a “no-comment” bunker mentality.
An Autozone employee in Virginia was fired for using a handgun to stop a store robbery
The company isn’t inexperienced on how to deal with these incidents. There was a carjacking and shooting at one of its stores in Colorado last year.
Digging your heels in the ground means your fall is faster and harder after getting punched. Doing it after having a similar incident at another store shows a “wall around us” culture.
Public Relations Crisis Management and Communications is a strategy that every company needs to plan and implement. Like insurance, disaster may not happen but its best to be prepared when it does.
ProVergent Media practices crisis communication management and here’s what we tell current and prospective clients:
Consult public relations before making a decision that will result in public emotion and opinion. AutoZone should have done this before firing McClean. Disasters always erupt because someone practiced “Fire. Aim. Ready.” Had AutoZone consulted public relations in advance, one of their staffers would have told executives the brand damage result from firing an expectant father and military veteran who stopped a robbery
Start counter-messaging immediately on social media, not with newspapers, television or radio stations. People post message faster about their opinions and feelings faster than reporters and writers produce a story. Remember – media now gets their cues from social media. Beat them to the punch.
Connect with standard media after the social media counter message campaign is underway. First thing you state: Request equal time. That stops every news editor and manager in their tracks when they see that message. It gets in their conscious immediately and you get a better treatment.
Never use the language that’s inflammatory. Companies that counter with comments like, “We’re responding to slanderous/libelous accusations” might win the battle but lose the war. Don’t use the words “wrong” or “incorrect” in your statement about an accusation unless your lawyer says you’re in the clear for doing it.
Be honest. If you screwed up, apologize. Again, refer to the Federal Government. They never apologize but wonder why citizens blast them. Again, refer to #4 about not using the words wrong or incorrect. If you do and you’re wrong again, you wasted time and made the problem worse.
An example what to do: Tiger Woods. He screwed up. He apologized. He lost sponsors. Then he gained new sponsors. It might surprise you but there are 10 official Tiger Woods sponsors in 2012. Not as many as before 2009 but still an asset to companies.
O.J. Simpson never apologized. He lost everything.
Bob Costas recently came under fire for handgun comments after the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.
How did he solve the problem? By scheduling himself for interviews on shows like The O’Reilly Factor. No bunker mentality is a good thing.
The writer he used as a reference, Jason Whitlock, is in hiding. After calling the NRA the new Ku Klux Klan, perhaps he should.
Better yet, he needs crisis communications management.
Remember that crisis management and communications is just a small but important part of your public relations plan and strategy.
- It starts with creating your own media instead of depending on media.
- Your public relations success is only as good as you want to make them.
Just do it in advance instead of after-the-fact.
Scott Simon is the Executive Producer for ProVergent Media and web publisher of Winning Web Video which highlights the power of video for standard and online marketing. For answers to your questions about Convergent Media and Marketing, contact Scott at BeSeen@provergent.com.