This is the second in a series of observations about the public relations efforts by the Ferguson Police Department, specifically Police Chief Tom Jackson, following the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown. Read the first installment here.
Few executives are prepared to communicate when the unthinkable happens. And, admittedly, few know all the inner-workings of this crisis of confidence with the Ferguson Police Department. But there are some observations we can make and learn from in preparing our crisis public relations plans.
Our experience counseling corporate executives to elected officials caught up in a public relations crisis informs our observations. Many variables are in play when crisis hits. Larger-than-life egos discount public relations advice. Outside organizations with separate agendas exploit a crisis for gain. Internal politics impact acting on the right decisions. Legal exposure restricts creative solutions to communicate with key stakeholders who will decide how a crisis unfolds outside the court room. With all that in mind, we explore the public relations strategy by Chief Jackson to engage in an exclusive interview with CNN.
The strategy seems sound to sit down with CNN’s Ana Cabrera for an exclusive interview with Chief Tom Jackson. CNN is seen as more liberal in its reporting and audience. Many of whom are critics of Chief Jackson. Conversely, FOX News is viewed as right-leaning in its reporting and audience. Many of whom may be more inclined to give law and order the benefit of the doubt. Taking the message to potential foes versus friends lends great credibility to the strategy.
The interview itself, however, seemed to lack the force and forthrightness required to get critics to take notice. Not in an authoritarian way, but rather in a way that says “Dammit, we’re going to fix this community. It starts with the police department. And here’s what we are going to do to regain your trust.”
One comment in particular stood out. When asked if he was fearful of what might happen once the grand jury findings are made public about the Michael Brown shooting, Chief Jackson answered no. Expected, but his reason why came across less-than-credible and did not exude confidence in his ability to manage the next situation through executive communication or action. Chief Jackson said, “I think we can manage this, I think we can come out of this much better than we started.”
No doubt, Chief Jackson received massive amounts of media coaching from public relations counsel. What appears missing in the public relations campaign to repair his brand, however, are strong actions to back up some meager words uttered during Ana Cabrera’s CNN interview. For example, rather than Chief Jackson, during the interview, saying, “I admit there is a problem,” he says, “It’s never been the intention of the Ferguson Police Department to target individuals because of race. If there is that happening, it’s a crime and it needs to be addressed.”
Yes, Ana Cabrera’s CNN segment included plans for police officers to wear body cameras, diversity training, and a citizen review board. All solid steps, but if Chief Jackson wants to save his job, he might look at elevating well beyond what people expect.
Whether Chief Jackson remains at the helm of the Ferguson Police Department remains undecided. If Chief Jackson is the problem, he would do well to resign. If he is not the problem, he appears to need to bare his soul and the soul of the department with the understanding that change is required to win back the trust of the people and remain the chief of police in Ferguson, Missouri. Perhaps a full, independent look into the police department is what’s required.
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